New Year

I’m still not religious and yet the Jewish New Year is always a time where I pause and consider what sort of person I am and want to be and how I’ll do that.

I look at how I treat other people and how I want to change.

For me it’s a time for resolutions – not small ones like “go to the gym” or “go on a diet”.

It’s a time for big resolutions like “make sure you put your friends first”.

The religious traditions for this time of year include those things but they also include that book of life that I think of each year.

The tradition is that your name either is or isn’t in the book of life for the next year if you’re going to make it through this year. The book is written in on the New Year and sealed on Yom Kippur.

I don’t think much of that tradition.

For the last eleven years I haven’t been able to understand who would leave a six year old out of that book.

For the last year – two holiday seasons – I need to ask how anyone could leave Kimmy out of that book.

How?

Also it’s been tough for this second sweep through all of the holidays, anniversaries, and important dates.

The first time through Maggie’s birthday without Kim is a first. We were still reeling from the loss. So much was different that this different stood out but didn’t make the proper impression.

The second time is different.

Somehow it’s more permanent.

The second time is when you realize, “oh, Kim is never going to be here on Maggie’s birthday ever again.”

Ever.

The second time around is when I notice my footprints on the path and realize I’m just going to go around and around this yearly track and there are no footprints next to mine.

Those sandals taking short strides – as long as her little legs would allow.

It’s a New Year.

I need to decide who I’m going to be this year and how.

I think I did pretty well this past year.

But it was my first time around the track.

I met a ton of people for a cup of coffee. I hung out a lot. I didn’t get as much work done but that’s ok.

This is my second time around.

I guess I could do worse than just placing my feet in the footprints that got me through this last year.

Let’s get together this year – have a cup of coffee – sit and talk a bit.

Happy New Year.

Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 1:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Gotcha

Twenty years ago today, a woman I had never met, placed Maggie in my arms and I became a dad.

Such a gift.

Twenty years of being Maggie’s dad.

Here’s to many more.

Happy Gotcha Day, baby.

Published in: on September 15, 2017 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Happy Birthday

A wonderful thing happened for Kim’s birthday today.

I was at the Sharpe’s for their pre-Labor Day picnic and their daughter Jennifer told me she was looking forward to coming over for dinner Friday for Kim’s birthday for pizza.

I looked puzzled.

She told me her dad had told her and besides, she said, “it’s in my planner.”

So there you go.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll see you Friday.”

I invited Kim’s mom and sister to come over after the mass for Kim and they said they’d be there.

And then I remembered the last thing Kim texted me.

“Burgers”

I’d wanted to know would we be going out for our anniversary or did she want burgers. She figured we could go out after we took Maggie back to college. Tonight we could grill in the back yard. So she her last text to me was,

“Burgers”

Then again, I had two pizza dough recipes I wanted to try.

I could make burgers and pizza.

And potato salad to use up the potatoes from our farm share.

And greek salad to use up some of the other ingredients.

And I could heat up a can of baked beans – these turned out to be one of the biggest hits.

I made four sheet pizzas. One was cheese and basil, another was mushrooms and peppers, another was pepperoni, and the last was sausage and onion. I put olives on one of them but I don’t remember which.

The rule in my house is you have to take leftovers home with you.

People did.

We ate as much as we could and then split up the leftovers.

People left and cleanup went quickly.

Happy Birthday, Kimmy.

Published in: on September 8, 2017 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Empty Nest

This is the year that Elena would have gone away to college.

This is the year that Kim and I would have been empty-nesters.

It happened early for us. It happened a few years ago when Maggie went off to college and it was just Kim and me.

And Annabelle, of course.

Kim started traveling with me more and more. We went everywhere together and we had a blast.

It was the best of the old and the new.

She’d apologize for how much it cost for her to come too – but, man, the value from those trips was incredible.

We had twenty years of marriage behind us. We knew what each other liked. We loved making sure the other got to do the things they liked.

Traveling with Kim was great.

These last few years were like the trailer for the rest of our lives.

We were going to have a better second twenty years of our marriage than our first twenty – and the first twenty was pretty darned good.

It’s not that we were only planning on being together another twenty years, but after another twenty we’d be too old to do the things we do, to go the places we go, to move through life with ease and without pain.

So twenty more amazing years and then a comfortable fade to black.

You’re not guaranteed anything – but actuarially we can reasonably expect certain things.

I didn’t expect to be living in a house with no one there but me.

And Annabelle, of course.

I’d forgotten that this is the year that Kim and I were going to be empty nesters until I came back from dropping Maggie at college.

The house was so quiet.

Annabelle was at the kennel.

Maggie was away at school.

Elena was dead.

Kim was dead.

This – this is an empty nest.

Recently I had to give a deposition about what the loss of Kim meant to me.

The questions had to do with income and insurance.

The questions didn’t get at the next twenty years of our marriage – the part that was even better than the last twenty – the part that I’ll never know.

The questions were about money and stuff.

A marriage isn’t just money and stuff. Money and stuff is what divorcing couples argue about when they’re splitting up because the important parts of a marriage are gone or were never there.

I’m glad for my money and stuff but it’s not the important part.

The house is so quiet.

When people joke with me about their empty nest or complain about their empty nest I want to show them what empty looks like.

It’s a house with just me.

And Annabelle, of course.

Published in: on September 6, 2017 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

21

Every year since 2008 my calendar shows that the month of September begins with a three day event:

Sweetheart’s (maggie) birthday

Sometime before she turned twelve, Maggie set up a three day recurring event to celebrate her birthday.

I don’t know when she accessed my calendar, what made her decide to add the event, or what made her create the event that begins a day before her birthday and ends a day after.

There may be a hint in the note:

Get a BIG ROCKING gift!!!!

The wording, all-caps, and four exclamation points were all hers. That’s what she was thinking when she was eleven.

Now she is 21.

I can’t believe it.

She is an amazing child who I need to stop thinking of as a child.

Her drivers license is now oriented in landscape not portrait to indicate that she is of legal drinking age.

But that’s not what makes her an adult.

Talk to her for a moment and you know she’s grown. She’s still a young adult with the sureness when she might be cautious and the caution when she might be more certain – but she’s an adult.

She doesn’t need my permission for many things but she still accepts restrictions that I suggest.

She is the most important person in my world and I try not to let that be oppressive or make her uncomfortable.

I love her more than I can ever express and so I don’t express it – it would be awkward and she’d hate it.

She’s 21.

She wrote to her school to ask if she could check into her room a day early on her birthday so she could be with some of her college friends on her twenty-first birthday.

They said yes.

So on Friday, September 1 we drove to Washington, D.C. for a birthday eve celebration with Kevin, Lisa, Ben, and Eric. Ben and Eric are essentially her cousins so it felt perfect to spend her birthday with them.

Birthday eve – also known as the end of day one of Sweetheart’s (maggie) birthday.

The day began with filling the car up with the stuff Maggie would need for her junior year and strapping her bike on the back using a borrowed rack.

We stopped for coffee in Ohio and lunch in Pennsylvania and pulled into our destination in time for an amazing, multi-course, leisurely dinner. Each course was distinct and paired with a perfect beverage.

After we finished with dessert, we sat in the living room for a bit. I was exhausted. I thanked everyone and said I was going to bed.

It turns out I wasn’t – we waited the twenty minutes until midnight for Maggie to officially be 21 and then went to bed. So much like New Year’s Eve celebrations at our house.

The next morning we stopped at my cousin Ben’s house to have brunch with him, Rachel, and their one year old baby. It was hard to leave them (especially the baby), but in early afternoon we headed up towards Philadelphia.

We got all of Maggie’s things moved in from the car and down from the dorm storage. We set up her bed after she wiped down all of the surfaces with a disinfectant.

I never would have thought of that and I’ve been an  adult for a while.

I looked at my 21 year old daughter and just asked what I could do to help.

We met a couple of her friends and one of their mother’s for a birthday dinner and Maggie had her first legally purchased cocktail.

I dropped her back at the dorm and said good night to her and left her on her twenty-first birthday.

I drove two hours towards home in the pouring rain and stayed in a hotel that Kim and I had often stayed at.

I got up, did some work, and then headed back home – stopping at Rick and Laurie’s for their pre-Labor Day picnic.

Day three, the last day of Sweetheart’s (maggie) birthday, and I came home to a very quiet house.

Annabelle was at the kennel.

Maggie was at college.

Elena and Kim, well, you know.

Maggie is grown and I’m adjusting.

I’m so proud of her.

I’m so happy for her.

But man the house is quiet.

 

Published in: on September 3, 2017 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Obvious

I don’t know why I didn’t expect to be so upset this morning.

I guess I figured that by the time Kim actually died a year ago today, it was clear that she had passed.

But today was the actual day that she died.

On that day, Maggie made two requests of me.

My first instinct was to ask what her mother had said – but, of course, if her mother could have answered her we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Parenting without Kim is so very different.

She was just so smart about so many things.

She knew when Maggie was talking back that she wasn’t angry, she was hungry. She’d have Maggie eat a snack and the moment would pass.

So Maggie told me she wanted to be there when they turned off her mother’s machines. And she told me she wanted to be there alone – she didn’t want me down there.

It felt so important to her – I said “yes”.

I asked that she take a friend down to the hospital with her – someone who could be with her and drive her home afterwards. She agreed.

There’s no sense in second guessing things, but I have no idea if that was the right answer or the wrong answer.

I think Kim would have said “yes” but she might have said “absolutely not”.

She might then have looked at me and asked, “what were you thinking?”

So a year ago today, Maggie went down to the hospital in the middle of the night and waited for her mother to die.

I lay in bed with the dog next to me – awake all night.

The nurse had promised to text me to tell me what happened with the organ donation. She promised to tell me when Kim was actually dead. She promised to keep an eye on Maggie.

She did all of that.

The nurses in the unit were just amazing. The nurse called me in tears to tell me that Kim had passed and that Maggie had left for home. She told me a little about the night before.

And so when my brother called me this morning to check on me I thought, “I don’t know why I didn’t expect to be so upset this morning.”

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Crying,” I said.

“Me too,” he said.

I still think that Kim was killed on August 19th, but she died three days later.

She died a year ago today.

Today was just awful.

What did I expect?

 

Published in: on August 23, 2017 at 4:08 pm  Comments (5)  

The Passive Voice

We’re taught not to use the passive voice and yet it wanders past us – like in that phrase right there – without us noticing it.

You have to notice how words are used. Your ears have to be tuned to hearing when the conversation is being shaped because it’s so easy to make little adjustments that change everything.

I was listening to the radio on my way to meet a friend for coffee and the announcer turned to his next guest for a comment. The guest started by saying he was clearly out-numbered. It was true. He was the only member of the panel that was there to take up the side of the KKK and the Nazi’s while cloaked in the less obviously offensive identity of a right wing response.

He was there to provide balance to the discussion – as if there are two sides to a story on the KKK and Nazis.

He talked about the alt-left as if there was such a thing and the host and other panelists began to use his language when they debated him.

He’d won.

He talked about how it was, of course, tragic that a woman had died – and then he paused and softened it to  – a woman had passed on, but there was responsibility on both sides.

There wasn’t. But that’s not what I noticed.

The host began to use the words died and passed on until another guest stopped him.

It could be that I’m particularly sensitive to the way we phrase these things.

A truck ran Kim off the road a year ago today.

I got a call from a social worker at the hospital telling me her arm had some severe damage. They didn’t tell me that the truck that had hit her had also caused a severe brain injury that would lead to her death.

It would be days before Kim passed on … days before she died … but she was killed a year ago today.

In one sense it doesn’t matter whether we use the passive or active voice. Kim would be dead either way.

In another sense, I think it’s important to note that Kim is dead because of the actions of another.

I remember rushing to the hospital and getting there just after her father. We met with the social worker just as they were taking Kim up to surgery.

By the time they were done with surgery, many of our friends and family had joined us at the hospital. We talked to the doctor who described the severe amount of damage caused by the accident. Ironically – I think that’s the right use of the word – had her injuries been less severe she would have died at the scene.

We sometimes choose to use passive words because it’s less accusatory – it’s more polite.

We sometimes choose to be passive because it’s easier – it’s more polite.

But it’s a choice.

We choose to speak passively.

We choose to be passive.

When we do, it shapes the world around us.

A year ago a truck driver changed lanes and ran into Kim’s car.

Her car spun out of control.

There was nothing she could do from that moment forward.

Her car spun across three lanes of traffic and someone who didn’t see her coming and who couldn’t avoid hitting her, hit her car and knocked her back under the truck that had hit her in the first place.

There’s nothing this second vehicle could have done differently.

Nothing.

I’m sure there’s a broader point to make about the world we live in.

About slowing down.

About being responsible.

About noticing that you’re sharing the road with others.

About the dangers that any of us can present to others if we are distracted or irresponsible.

About all that. But …

A truck ran Kim off the road a year ago today.

It would be days before Kim passed on … days before she died … but she was killed a year ago today.

Published in: on August 19, 2017 at 11:18 am  Comments (1)  

A Second First

Kim and I celebrated our first anniversary with her parents and my parents.

We’d wanted to spend it alone together but both knew that we’d not only married each other, each other’s family was part of the bargain.

So we all went out to dinner on the west side and finished by sharing a piece of our wedding cake that my mother had stored in the freezer for the first year.

Apparently, it’s a tradition.

A year ago if you’d asked me how long I’d been married I would have said what I always said – “23 years. 22 happy years and one not-so-happy year.”

People always assumed I meant the year after Elena died. That was a not-so-happy year but our marriage was a big part of what got Kim and me through that year.

Another big part was the families we’d gained when we got married.

The third big piece was, of course, the wonderful friend network that had woven itself around us and cocooned us as best it could. (I don’t know if cocooned is a word, but I’m pretty sure you can’t say it on the radio.)

No, as I’ve always said, our “not-so-happy” year was our first year together.

Most of it was great but there were moments when two, stubborn, eldest children who hadn’t married until they were in their thirties couldn’t step back and see how great our life was together.

We would get caught up on things that just didn’t matter.

So often the things that get in our way, just don’t matter.

We don’t have the sense to step over them and keep going.

It’s not enough that we’re right or that everybody is happy, we need to make sure the other person knows they’re wrong.

Why?

The other night we were over at Kim’s parents’ house for an early celebration of Maggie’s 21st birthday. My sister drove home. It’s a long drive and I like her to text me that she’s gotten home safely.

About an hour later I was in the basement with Kim’s brother and sister. Carolyn had just cut my hair and I was hanging out while she cut Tommy’s hair.

My watch tapped me. I glanced down and Jill had texted me that she was home safe. I texted back “Thanks.”

On my watch – magic.

A moment later Kim’s mom called down the stairs, “Your sister just texted me. She got home safely.”

In that first year of marriage I would have called back up, “I know. She already texted me.”

Why? Why would I do that? Why is it important to let her know that I got texted first? Why is it important to let her know I was texted at all?

It isn’t.

So I called up the stairs, “thank you.”

And meant it.

Kim’s mom had cared enough to ask my sister to text her. My sister had texted her. Kim’s mom had cared enough to tell me. Those are all things worth being thankful for.

So often we get caught up in credit. Things that just don’t matter.

Even though I say that our first year was rough – it mostly wasn’t. And besides we’d fixed it well before we got to the end of our first year.

We’d had “the talk” and knew we wanted to stay married to each other. We knew that we meant forever.

And so last year if I’d said “22 happy years and one not-so-happy year”, I was mostly joking. I might have said “22 good years and one not-so-good year”. I was still mostly joking.

I did know that each of the last five years had been better than the last.

So we spent that anniversary surrounded by family.

Now that Kim’s gone, I am thankful for my family and for hers. I’m thankful for that web of friends we have.

The only thing missing is Kim.

Really. I’m not lonely. I’m just Kim-less.

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary.

My first without Kim.

 

 

Published in: on August 8, 2017 at 12:37 pm  Comments (1)  

25

The first time Kim and I ever went out on a date was January 25, 1992.

It was one of those divisions in time.

There was the time before I ever knew her.

There was the time when I’d first begun to notice her.

There was the time when we first became friends.

There was that night in January when we first went out on a date.

Then there was that period where we were dating but not quite committed to this being “it.”

That changed 25 years ago today.

That was the night that Kim and I decided we would date each other and no one else.

It’s the night that we knew we would probably end up married – and, because we were in our thirties, sooner rather than later.

She was still my friend before all else. One of my favorite things about my time with Kim was that we were always friends first. It was in our wedding vows – but it didn’t really need to be said.

There was also always a spark between us.

You know that feeling you get when you have a crush on a new love and you touch in some way? A hand grazes yours, your knees touch under the table, or she reaches out and puts a hand on your shoulder? That little jolt you feel. Your heart pounds a little more quickly. You relax into the touch and smile because of it.

That feeling never went away.

She used to smile and roll her eyes. I’d tell her it will be a sad day when I don’t feel that way about you. I never didn’t.

A couple of weeks ago I texted a friend of Kim’s and asked, “wasn’t it 25 years ago when you guys went on that cruise.”

Kim always talked about how their cruise was quite rough because of Hurricane Andrew.

I knew it couldn’t have been Hurricane Andrew for two reasons. First, Andrew was an Atlantic storm and Kim was on a cruise in the Pacific. Second, Andrew didn’t hit until August and Kim and I got together a couple of weeks after the cruise and we were together on July 25.

“How do you remember?”

I just do. I don’t remember everything but I remember that.

Kim could remember the dog’s birthday but not mine. She remembered her parents’ anniversary but not ours. There are a lot of things I don’t remember, but I remember January 25, July 25, and our anniversary August 8. They were all days in a progression of my relationship with Kim. There are other dates I remember along the way and since – but those are the ones I mark publicly.

Her friend texted me back that she wasn’t on that cruise but her sister was – she’d check.

Within moments she reported back that yes it had been 25 years and that it was Hurricane Darby that had rocked the boat they were on.

A few days later I got a nice card from her sister with two pictures. One of Kim wrapped up in a towel by the pool and one of her on the plane with the flowers I had delivered in flight.

I felt a jolt. My heart raced a bit. I smiled.

Kim still has the ability to touch me.

Published in: on July 25, 2017 at 10:19 am  Comments (1)  

Meet the Family

About once a year I take a writing course in some genre completely different from the ones in which I work. This year I’m taking a class in writing for Comics (the graphic novel types not the stand-up types).

The most recent assignment I did had us start with a silent image from the old “Nancy” comic strip and let it job a childhood memory.

I paused when I came to a drawing of Sluggo looking over a wall having just spotted something that captured his interest.

I don’t know why but it took me back to a memory of when I was four years old. It’s something I haven’t thought about in many years but there it was graphic and real.

My sister Jill and I were born in Boston – and no, I don’t remember either of those births. Just after my sister was born, my parents moved the family to Oberlin so dad could start a new job as a professor at the college. I don’t remember that either.

I do, however, have a strong memory from when my brother was born.

In those days, young kids weren’t welcome into hospitals as visitors.

Fortunately, Oberlin was a very small town and the hospital only had one floor. Perhaps it had more than one floor but I think my mother was in the old part of the hospital that only had one floor – or at least she was on the ground floor.

I remember that, because my father took my sister and me to see my new brother.

We drove up and didn’t park in the hospital lot. We parked in the adjoining lot that was mainly used for the Tennis Courts and college swimming pool before the new gym was built.

We walked across the parking lot, over the grass, up to a window.

My father picked us up – me and my sister (not at the same time) to see our mother and Ethan, our new baby brother.

That was the first moment that all five of us were together – my parents, my brother, my sister, and me.

I don’t know why that’s the memory that leaped out, but I have a theory.

About a year after Elena died I took a workshop in writing features for radio in LA.

The teacher was amazing. He helped us craft stories, find audio, but most importantly, find the emotional core of the story.

As a warm-up exercise we had to think of a trip that we remembered.

I told the story of our family’s trip to Portland.

The instructor pushed and pushed at why that trip was important to me. Why, he wanted to know, with all the trips I’d taken in my life, why was this one special.

As he pushed – I didn’t know.

He pushed more – I didn’t know.

And then I knew. It was the last trip we would ever take as a family. With Elena dead, Kim and I or Kim and Maggie and I would take trips together but that was the last one with Elena.

Firsts and lasts.

And so to this assignment.

Why?

Elena’s been dead eleven years.

Kim’s been dead eleven months.

All that’s left is Maggie and me.

As I learn to live with this smaller version of my family, the sense memory I have from my childhood is when my first immediate family became complete.

My parents, my brother, and my sister are, thankfully, still alive and part of my life. That was the moment it all began.

Twenty-five years ago today was the day before Kim and I decided we’d date exclusively. It was the day before the family we would build would begin.

There are these moments.

These moments that stick.

These moments where you meet the family.

Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm  Comments (1)