Saturday, December 30, 2006

Overdoing it

Today I managed to take a shower, put away the Christmas tree, wash (but not fold) all the laundry, carry out the trash, fill up the car, drive through the car wash, go to the pharmacy for Tylenol and cough drops, and buy takeout for lunch.

It just about killed me.

Luckily, G, who is still not 100-percent healthy herself, decided to watch some of her Scooby-Doo movies when we got home from doing errands. I slept through Scooby-Doo and the Cyberchase and now I'm slumped on the couch while Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders plays. Love that dog.
I dreamed about P again last night. I saw him at G's school, and we walked out to where his car was parked -- not the last car he owned, the one I have now, but the black Accord he had when I first met him. He asked me, "How am I going to die?" and I told him some sort of story that wasn't the truth. Then I said "No, that's not right. You're going to die at home. I'm going to find you."

It occurred to me a while ago that right after he died, I couldn't even stand to look at our bed, but now I sleep in it every night, more or less on the exact spot where he took his last breath. Somewhere along the line it just stopped bothering me. I still sleep on my own side of the bed, though, not his. It's hard to break the habit of more than a decade.

Friday, December 29, 2006

House of ill health

G and I are still sick. She seems to be almost to the fine-by-day, coughing-by-night stage that comes at the tail end of all her illnesses. I feel like a dog turd with a tire track through it, but I think I've turned a corner and my white cells are starting to win the battle. Maybe by tomorrow I'll be halfway human again.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was telling my father that I was concerned about what would happen if I got really sick, now that P isn't here to help me. This wasn't my worst-case scenario -- it's an icky virus, but it's nothing like the flu that knocked us all flat at Christmas two years ago -- but it made me even more worried. I've been able to take G to her sitters and go to work for part of every day this week, but what if I was so sick I couldn't get out of bed? (I'm having visions of the chapter in Little House on the Prairie when they've all got malaria and Laura has to crawl across the floor to get water for Mary.) What if I needed to go to the doctor, or worse, the hospital? It worries me.

Another problem has been keeping the place from going to hell around us while I've been indisposed. When P was alive, he did most of the housework, so if I was sick, things stayed pretty normal, and if he was sick, I could pick up the slack. The last few days I haven't felt like doing anything but lying on the couch, and it shows. I've forced myself to stay on top of the most urgent stuff -- throwing out the used tissues, running the dishwasher every night, doing a load of laundry here and there -- but there's a lot of cleaning and washing and grocery shopping awaiting me when I'm feeling better, or by the end of the weekend, whichever comes first.

I have to admit that I've just plain been feeling sorry for myself too. It's bad enough being sick and miserable, but if you start reflecting on how much life as a widow sucks on top of that, it's only a matter of time until you hear the sounds of flat champagne being poured and broken horns wheezing as the pity party begins. Wah.

Anyway, enough gloom and doom. I am getting better, and at least I have G and the cats to keep me company. Catherine likes to lounge elegantly at a discreet distance, but Malcolm is a snuggler, and he's been stepping on me and bumping me with his head and trying to lie down on top of me all evening. He's on the floor right now, though, because Catherine got annoyed with him and pushed him off the bed. Lucky for me I'm bigger than she is, or she might decide to give me the boot too!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My VapoRub brings all the boys to the yard

What G gave me for Christmas:

1. A sweet note that said "I love you, Mom!"
2. A cold.

Loved the first gift, could have done without the second. I've just come home sick from work, and I'm sitting here covered with Vicks' finest and eating kung pao tofu in an attempt to clear my head. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen.

Germs aside, we had a pretty good Christmas. We spent the night of the 23rd at my mother and stepfather's house, and on Christmas Eve morning, drove up to Big Bear with them so G could play in the snow. That was lots of fun, although she got soaked to the skin and had to change clothes afterward. We got back to their house in the late afternoon and made it home about an hour past sunset. I knew there were probably some other family events going on, but I was so tired of driving that I opted to stay in and have a quiet night. G put out cookies and hot chocolate for Santa, and an apple and a bowl of water for the reindeer, and then we both went to bed.

The following morning, she was up at 7:00, and by 7:15, she'd unwrapped everything under the tree. It's never taken us very long to open presents, but that's got to be some sort of record. After the Great Unwrapping was over, the rest of the day was taken up with church, eating, more driving, and that classic Filipino family activity, karaoke. I can't remember the last time I heard that many Doors songs sung back to back. Oh, yes, and there was also a white elephant gift exchange, in which G quite deliberately stole a chocolate fondue fountain from one of the adults and then sat clutching the huge box and daring people with her eyes to try to take it from her. There were plenty of wrapped gifts still on the table, but she wanted that chocolate fountain, dammit! I see lots of chocolate-dipped strawberries in our future.

Of course, the $64,000 question is how we handled this first Christmas without P. G commented that Daddy would have liked the pop-star guitar Santa brought her, but other than that, she didn't mention him, and seemed to enjoy the holiday in spite of being sick. As for me, I couldn't help getting a bit depressed while she was unwrapping her gifts, since it was so different from previous years when we were all together. One parent and one kid may be a perfectly acceptable family, but it doesn't feel like a family, at least not if you're used to the other way. There were other moments throughout the day when I felt his absence very keenly, but that was the worst, and at least I got it over with early. One Christmas down, only fifty-odd more to go.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Heaven forfend

G is sitting at the table, post-dinner, playing games on one of the laptops. I approach with a wet paper towel.

Me: Can I clean your little face? It's covered with spaghetti.
G: Okay, just don't block my view.

I suppose I should have corrected her, but I was too busy laughing. I've never heard six words that so perfectly summed up a kid's egocentric worldview.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things I'd Like To Give People For Christmas

1. To G, the ability to daydream, so she'll never be bored again.
2. To Catherine and Malcolm, peace on earth ... or at least a temporary truce in our house.
3. To my elder brother-in-law, an apartment full of real, grownup furniture. And also a dog.
4. To my sister, enough money to go to any college she chooses.
5. To my friend Megan, salary equity and low-cost, high-quality childcare for all working women, and a wheat-free, dairy-free vegan chocolate cake for herself.
6. To Britney Spears, a clue. Jeez.
7. To my mother-in-law, her own mahjong parlor.
8. To my father, a job that isn't at night and doesn't involve moving tons of newspaper by hand.
9. To the couple who lives next door to me, a better -- and quieter -- relationship.
10. To my friend Zandra, good service in every restaurant she goes to for the rest of her life.
11. To the homeless lady who hangs out at my local Starbucks, an unlimited coffee card, and a warm blanket.
12. To my younger brother-in-law, a free wireless signal.
13. To all the people who read this blog, a big virtual hug -- better than a real-life one, because I'm not so great at giving those!

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. Laura
2. Local Girl
3. Sweet Kitty
4. Caylynn
5. Di

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Colder than a witch's unmentionable body part

When I took G to school this morning, the thermometer in my car said 48 degrees. Yes, I know that in many places, 48 degrees is topless sunbathing weather, but in this part of the country, it's cold, cold, cold. The heater is on right now and you could still hang a side of beef in the upstairs hallway. I'm even wearing socks, which I never do if I can help it. (I hate socks; they suffocate my feet.) I feel like having my own telethon: "Help a poor freezing Californian! Send cocoa and electric blankets!"


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Me and my shadow

In just under a month, Malcolm, a.k.a. Boo, a.k.a. Little Boy Boo, has evolved from a hissing, hiding, touch-me-not feral cat into a purring attention whore who lives to follow me everywhere I go. When I sit down, he's there. When I get in bed, he's there. When I go upstairs or downstairs, he's there, usually getting underfoot in a manner that threatens to send us both tumbling to our doom.

It might be giving Malcolm too much credit to say he's figured out that a warm, snug home, replete with food and petting and soft furniture to lie on, beats a cold, wet, dirty alley full of cars and other dangers. However, he does seem to be enjoying his good fortune. He's filled out lots, has a ridiculously thick and glossy coat, and has learned how to play with toys and sit on a lap. He's also locked in a struggle for dominance with Catherine, who has no intention of letting some little upstart overthrow her as ruler of the house. She kicks his ass at least five times a day, sometimes for a specific infraction like trying to take the coveted spot on my bed, sometimes just because she walked past and decided that he needed some schooling. On the other hand, I've also caught her sniffing and licking him, so she must not think he's all bad.

Now that he's out and getting around more, we've discovered that he has a slight limp and some trouble jumping up on things, possibly from an accident when he was living wild. It doesn't hurt him or stop him from running around (or away from Catherine, when she's in a mood), and he can make it onto the bed or sofa by grabbing the edge with his front paws/claws and scrabbling with his rear legs until he gets up, but it's probably for the best that he's not trying to fend for himself outdoors anymore. He's a happy kitten -- a teenage cat by now, I suppose -- and we're glad to have him.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Conversations I Would Rather Not Have

1. Let's Make Awkward Small Talk While Waiting For The Meeting To Start
2. No, You Still Cannot Have a Bratz Doll
3. I'm Sorry, He Passed Away This Summer
4. I Don't Eat Meat (and its follow-up convo, Not Even Chicken, Not Even Fish)
5. One Of Us Has Royally Screwed Up And We Both Know It
6. How Are You Coping?
7. It Slipped My Mind
8. Rhetorical Questions, a.k.a. The Argument I've Already Lost
9. What Were You Thinking?
10. Why Mom Has To Work
11. I Just Want A Little Cooperation
12. Wardrobe Wars, a.k.a. Is There Anything In This Closet You Will Wear?
13. Explaining For The Fifth Time Why I'm Calling

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. Deanna
2. Caylynn
3. k t cat
4. Janeen
5. ancsweetnsassygal

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Run, run, as fast as you can

Let's say that for the last couple of days, you've really been craving gingerbread (the soft cake kind, not the hard kind) and telling yourself that you'll pick up some mix when you do your regular shopping. When you finally get to the grocery store, you arrive in the baking aisle to discover an older lady kneeling on the floor and loading her arms with boxes from the bottom shelf. Ha ha, wouldn't it be funny if she were buying all the gingerbread mix? you think. Then, drawing closer, you realize that she is buying all the gingerbread mix -- eight boxes of it -- and there's nothing left on the shelf for you but a black, empty, gingerbread-less hole.

Do you:

A. Say, "Get back here with those boxes, woman! Who told you that you could buy all the frickin' gingerbread?"

B. Say, "Excuse me, ma'am, I hate to ask, but I came here especially for gingerbread mix and I was wondering if you'd mind letting me have just one box?"

C. Stand there gaping at the cruelty of life and muttering "I can't believe she took every single box!" indignantly under your breath until your child asks "Are you really mad at that lady, Mom?"

It will probably come as no surprise that I chose option C and sulked off toward the milk, all unfulfilled and grumbling. Isn't there some sort of unwritten rule of shopping etiquette that says Thou shalt not take all there is of anything, unless there's only one to begin with? Sort of like leaving the last slice of pizza in the box in case someone else wants some? If there isn't, there ought to be.

Anyway, G spotted a box of gingerbread cookie mix in another aisle, so we were able to make gingerbread men (snowmen, because I couldn't find a people-shaped cutter in the drawer) with some gingerbread stars and moons to use up the dough scraps. It wasn't quite what I wanted, but it was better than no gingerbread at all. Bring on the holidays!

Monday, December 04, 2006

And on a lighter note

G's Top Ten Tips for Wile E. Coyote

10. Don't use Acme products.
9. Use an invisible thread net.
8. Use a rope, a cloth, and a brain.
7. Please don't use a rocky arch!
6. Get a cookbook.
5. Call (our phone number).
4. Go on a non-meat diet.
3. Use live bait.
2. Go in disguise.
1. Use your brain!


A tale to tell

I've been trying to write this for months, and no matter what I do it won't come out right, so I'm going to go ahead and post what I have.

I wanted to explain exactly what happened on the day P died, both because I've never really talked about it here, and because some of the details are starting to get hazy in my mind. I don't want to remember, but at the same time, I can't stand to forget. So this is the story, and if you think it might be upsetting, then this would be the place to stop reading.

To begin with, you should understand that P wasn’t in the habit of seeking treatment for every little thing. He’d been told years ago to stay out of the emergency room if at all possible, as running there constantly would ruin his quality of life and probably not help his condition all that much. There were certainly times when he or I called his doctor for advice, but in general, he tended to shrug off symptoms that would make most people dial 911. So when he felt ill the Friday night before he died, he wasn’t too concerned about it, even though he was uncomfortable enough that we had to leave the movie theater less than 20 minutes into the show.

The next day, Saturday, he was feeling better, and we went back and finished seeing the movie. When we got home that evening, he had a migraine and took his regular medication for it, plus an extra painkiller because his legs were hurting too. After G went to bed, he was restless – he played guitar for a while, then wanted me to come and lie down with him in the other room. While we were lying there talking, he said, apropos of nothing, “I’m ready to let go now. I’m tired of being a burden to everyone.” In retrospect it seems significant, but I'd heard him say similar things before, so at that moment I just gave him my stock answer: “You can’t do that; there are people [meaning me and G] who want you here.” He didn’t say much in reply, and not long after that I went to bed.

I’m not entirely sure what happened over the next few hours. Later, I found a set of guitar tabs he’d printed out at 4:02 a.m., and the history in his iTunes showed that he’d been listening to the same song (“Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam) at about that time, so I think he must have been teaching himself to play it. And I know he was in a lot of pain, because sometime around dawn, he woke me up and said, “My legs really hurt. Can you rub them for me?” I said “Sure,” and half-awake in the grey morning light, I reached over and rubbed his left leg. After a few minutes, he said, “Now this one” and turned around so I could reach the right leg too. They were the last words he would ever say to me, and that was the last time I would ever touch him while he was alive.

I went back to sleep after that, and he must have fallen asleep too, because he was sleeping when G came in and woke me just before 10 a.m. I got up, put on a DVD for her and made her some cinnamon toast. I know that P was still alive at that point, because while I was doing all this I heard him make some sort of noise in the other room – not an unusual or alarming noise, just the sort of sound people sometimes make when they're sleeping. It may have been the moment when whatever killed him happened, or it may not. I've spent five months wondering whether it was, and if so, whether I could have changed the course of events if I'd gone back to check on him right then. But I don't know, and I never will.

So after I had G set up with her cartoons and her toast, I went back to take a shower. Weekends are the only time I can take long showers, so I was probably in there for 30 minutes, maybe 40. When I came out, wrapped in my towel, I walked past the bed – again, without noticing anything out of the ordinary – and went into our office to check my e-mail. That took maybe 15 minutes, and then I returned to the bedroom to get dressed. I was standing there with my back to the bed, rummaging through the drawers for clothes, when for no apparent reason, I turned around and looked at P.

This is the point at which people who are getting interviewed for news stories usually say things like "And then it hit me" or "I knew right away." It's true that it did, and I did, but those words don't begin to express how suddenly and completely the knowledge entered my mind. The room was dark with the blinds drawn, and I couldn't see P clearly, but even so, I could see that his eyes were slightly open, and so was his mouth, and that there was an awful unnaturalness to the way he was lying. And I felt it all over, all at once, like a splash of cold water drenching me from head to toe. I knew.

I said "Oh shit," which wasn't very eloquent, but seemed to sum up the situation. The black electric stand fan was whirring gently away on my side of the bed, so I went around the other side, still wearing my towel, and leaned over P. His eyes were glassy and fixed, staring past me at nothing; they didn't look as if he'd opened them, but as if the lids had slid back on their own. I shook him and called his name twice -- "Peter, Peter" -- and when he didn't respond, I slapped his cheek hard, also twice. There was no resistance, and he just felt wrong, like a half-filled sack of sand, or something else loose and heavy. I did, and still do, feel terribly guilty that I slapped him, but at the moment I couldn't help myself. It wasn't the time to be gentle or polite. He was so far away that only drastic measures could reach him, and if he'd suddenly snapped back into focus and demanded to know why I was hitting him, I would have been more than happy to explain.

But he didn't. He just kept lying there.

I knew the next step was calling an ambulance, but I also knew that once I called, I wouldn't be able to hang up until the paramedics came, and I didn't want to meet them wearing nothing but a towel. As quickly as possible, I went back to the open dresser drawer, grabbed the first two pieces of clothing I touched, and yanked them on. The next bit is a little hazy in my memory, but I do know G came in and asked what I was doing (she told my mother later that she'd heard me "yelling Daddy's first name"), and that I told her Daddy was sick and I was going to call 911. She was right behind me as I went down the hall to get the phone, and she started to follow me back as I dialed. I wanted to keep her out of that room at all costs, so I told her to wait by the front door for the paramedics and let them in when they came.

G went off to do what I'd asked, and I went back into the bedroom. I felt a little shaky -- it had been hard dialing the phone -- but other than that, I was full of the artificial calm of shock. It was like being wrapped in a heavy blanket; everything seemed slightly muffled and farther away than it should have been. The 911 dispatcher had answered while I was giving G her instructions, and now she asked me a lot of questions: Was P breathing? Did he have a pulse? I knew he wasn't and he didn't, but I checked anyway and told her no. She said that the ambulance was on its way and asked me if I wanted to start CPR, and lowering my voice so G wouldn't hear me in the living room, I said, "To be honest with you, I think, I think it's too late. But I'll try."

I'd taken a Red Cross course in CPR once, but that was a long time ago, so I asked her to remind me how to start, just in case. She asked whether I could put P on the floor, and I said I couldn't -- he was thin enough that I probably could have lifted him, or at least dragged him, but the bed was so high off the ground that I was frightened of dropping him and breaking his bones, and although I didn't think it could have hurt him at that point, I didn't want him to suffer any damage or indignity. I said that I could lay him flat instead, and she said that would be all right. And I approached the bed.

I will admit here that I was afraid to touch him. I knew he was dead. I knew it. You couldn't have seen him and not known it. And I didn't want to feel again how death had changed him; turned him into a lump of clay that was the same in shape, but not in substance. But I couldn't let him go without trying everything I could to bring him back, and so I climbed up and knelt next to him on the bed, and I put my hand behind his neck. He was as warm to the touch as ever, but his face, his eyes ... I can't explain it. Still, I was there, and I was the only one who could help him, if anyone could. So I lifted him up with one hand and pulled the pillows out from underneath him with the other, and I tipped his head back and bent down.

I don't think I would have been able to perform the actual CPR if not for the shock. Shock is the body's gift to the mind; it's what protects your sanity while you do what has to be done -- while you crawl out of the wreckage, while you fight off the mugger, while you put your mouth over your dead husband's mouth and breathe air into his still and useless lungs. That's what I did. His lips were just a tiny bit cool -- not cold by any means, but not as warm as the rest of him -- and I couldn't get his mouth to close properly and make a really tight seal, but I did the best I could. I could hear the air going into him with an awful whistling sound, like wind blowing across the entrance to a deserted cave, but his chest wasn't moving. It wasn't working.

But you can't stop once you've started, and I didn't. After breaths come chest compressions, and if anything, those were worse, because I could see the way his head rolled from side to side; the way his half-open eyes were looking at me without seeing me. As I compressed and counted, I heard sirens in the distance -- the most welcome sound you can possibly hear if you need help. I finished the set of compressions just as the paramedics arrived, and got off the bed as G opened the door for them. I can't remember whether she told them where to go, whether I called out to them, or whether they just came and found me. All I remember is that suddenly they were there, filling the room with movement and noise. One of them said "Why's it so dark in here?" and ripped back the blinds, letting a flood of sunlight in through the window. The others picked P up under his arms and knees and carried him down the hall to the living room, where they shoved aside one of the couches and laid him out on the floor.

G was right there, and I told her "Go into your room and close the door, and don't open it until I come to get you." She obeyed (thank God) and I sat down on the edge of the other couch and watched the paramedics work. There were other people there too -- two cops, and someone who looked like a fire captain -- and some of them were asking me questions about P's name, his history, what kinds of medications he was taking. I answered them all with one eye on the floor, where the paramedics were inserting IVs and pushing meds and firing up the defibrillator, which they ended up not using.

They'd put P on a backboard, and when they picked him up to take him out to the ambulance, one of his arms fell off the edge and dangled there, thin and limp and pale, until somebody put it back and strapped a belt around it. That image, along with the way his eyes looked, is going to be burnt into my brain for the rest of my life. If I hadn't already known he was gone, I would have known it then. But I did know it. I'd known it all along. I never once, from the minute I found him, expected any sort of positive outcome, and the emergency crew didn't either. After the EMTs had carried him out the door, the fire-captain guy -- he was maybe ten years older than me, with a tanned face and a salt-and-pepper mustache -- told me "We'll do everything we can, but it doesn't look good," and from deep inside my blanket of shock, I said, "I know."

The men who were left -- if there were any women on the crew, I don't remember them -- started picking up the mess of wrappers and needles and tubing they'd dropped on the floor, and I went down the hall to get G, who was sitting on her bed with a book open on her lap. She came back to the living room with me, and while I found P's driver's license for the fire-captain guy, the two cops, who were both youngish and good-looking and deserved a medal for kindness, stood and talked to her about the cartoons that were still playing on the TV. She warmed right up to that and chattered away; I finished the paperwork; and then everyone left and shut the door. And just like that, G and I were alone.

There's more to tell, more about the emergency room and the doctor and the social workers and the hours and hours that passed before I was finally able to get someone from P's family on the phone. But that was the part that haunted me -- the instant when I saw him and the 15 minutes or so that followed. I couldn't get it out of my head for the first few weeks. Every time I was alone, every time it was quiet, every time I was someplace where my thoughts could run free, those images drifted across the lens of my mind's eye, and I felt like bolting out of whatever room I happened to be in, as if I could run away from something that was inside my own head.

It didn't take me long to figure out that this was not compatible with going on from day to day and doing what needed to be done. I couldn't live with it, but I thought I might be able to live around it. And so I very deliberately put the memory of those moments aside; walled it off; dismissed it every time it tried to come back. It's still there at the center of my mind, like the room you never enter, the bruise that only hurts when you touch it. Every now and then I check to see if it's lost any of its horror, and I back off quickly, because it never has. The rest of the time I don't think about it. I know it's there, but I choose not to go to the place where it is. Life without P is hard enough without torturing myself with the details of his death.

In a way it amazes me that I can do this: there are certainly things in my past that I don't dwell on because they're painful, but I've never made such a conscious decision to put a terrible experience aside. I didn't know I could do it until I did. And in a way I suppose that even though I wish I hadn't been the one to find him, even though I'd give almost anything not to have been in that room, it's good that it was me, because I can do that. No one else was there, except for G who didn't really see anything. No one but me will ever have to know what it was like. And I imagine that it's what P would have preferred: he had told me explicitly that he wanted a closed casket and I was not to let a lot of people come and look at him after he was dead. Better, then, for it to be me who found him, and if there's a cost (and there is), for me to be the one who pays it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


The last seven days in a nutshell:

Thanksgiving. Early-morning church, followed by cemetery visit, followed by dinner at two separate houses.

After morning of frantic packing, leave on Royal Caribbean cruise to Mexico.

Cruise. Eat lots. Hang out in stateroom to avoid being hit on by drunk men. Occasionally slip outside to enjoy ocean breeze.

Come home, have computer/network problems. Do not unpack.

Drive to San Diego for workshop, drive back. Still do not unpack.

Try to catch up at work. Finally unpack. Start laundry.

Continue trying to catch up. Go to early holiday party. Eat lots. Put Wednesday's laundry in dryer. Realize that Christmas is in 25 days. Panic.

Someone wake me up when it's January.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

There's a cat in my bathroom

G has been begging for a second cat to go along with Catherine, so I decided to upset the delicate balance of cattery in the house (two humans to cater to the demands of one cat is the perfect ratio, at least from the cat's point of view) and take in a little black alley cat that a friend of mine had found. We named him Malcolm, because we like to give our pets people names, and he's been here since yesterday.

So far, he's not adapting nearly as well as Catherine did. After having to retrieve him from tight spaces several times, we shut him in G's bathroom, where he apparently spent the night in the sink despite having a nice blanket-lined box to sleep in. This morning, he mewed at us when we went in to check on him, and seemed interested in coming out and looking around, so we left the door open. As he was venturing out onto the stairs, Catherine came by and hissed and spit at him, prompting G to shout "Bad girl, Catherine! Don't you know the meaning of friendship?" and prompting Malcolm to shoot under the couch and attach himself to the carpet like an inky black slug.

I moved the couch at least ten times and still couldn't get him out, but I didn't want to leave him there because Catherine was watching him balefully from the other side of the room and I knew she wouldn't let him come out once we left. So I turned on the vacuum, and he shot out again -- straight into the fireplace, where he clung to the gas logs and wouldn't let go. G and I finally managed to shoo him out of there, and I wrestled him upstairs and into the bathroom again.

When I came home from work, I opened the bathroom door and went downstairs for, I kid you not, twenty seconds to get the bag of cat food. I came back and he had vanished without a trace. I knew he hadn't gone downstairs or I would have seen him, but I couldn't find him anywhere. G finally spotted him lurking far underneath my bed.
The cat's like a damn ninja -- fast, strong, and impossible to see in the shadows. He's come out of hiding a few times this evening to walk around and explore, and every time Catherine has hissed or growled at him and sent him flying again. She hasn't tried to attack -- they're about the same size, so it's anyone's guess who would win if she did -- but she's not pleased by his presence either.

On another note, we're going to church tomorrow morning for Thanksgiving, and G is already complaining bitterly about it. We went to a memorial Mass for P a couple of weeks ago (at Saint Monica's, which is an awesome church), and I let her sneak in a book to read because I wanted to concentrate on the service and not spend the entire time telling her to be quiet. I don't suppose I ought to let her get into that habit, though -- it's not very respectful. This is exactly why P thought, and I agree, that kids really shouldn't be forced to go to church if they don't want to: when you go with an attitude of resentment, you get nothing out of it and might as well have stayed at home. Personally, I enjoy going, and I'm not even Catholic -- I'd gladly take G every week if she wanted to go -- but I'm an adult and it's my choice to be there. She's got no choice. Though I do think that almost eight is old enough to suck it up and sit quietly for an hour, especially when you're only asked to do it once every few months.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

These four walls

I could not pry G out of the house today for love or money. Except for a brief expedition to McDonald's to get pancakes for breakfast (because there was not one single item of breakfast food to be had in the kitchen) and a slightly longer trip to the grocery store (because there was also no lunch, dinner or snack food, or indeed anything other than wilted celery, two heels of bread, and a quarter bag of old Doritos), we stayed home.

I hate staying home.

I don't mind it if I'm by myself, but on weekends, I need to get out. I love G madly, but after forty-eight hours of nonstop, uninterrupted, one-on-one togetherness, it starts to feel like we're in our own little production of Waiting for Godot: "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" Going out saves my sanity, even if it also usually costs me money. Plus, I actually do better at giving G focused attention if we're not at home -- at home I'm always getting distracted, mainly by housework, but also by books and telephone calls and the computer. Tomorrow I swear we're going somewhere, even if it's just to the park.

I did discover something wonderful at the grocery store today: a new DVD rental machine. You choose from a selection of new releases, swipe your ATM card, and your DVD pops out of a slot on the front. I do have a Netflix account and use it, but it doesn't work for those spontaneous let's-get-a-movie moments, and I haven't set foot in a video store for ages. (Is it even called the video store anymore? G is always scolding me for referring to movies as "videos" -- "They're DVDs, Mom!") It's so nice when technology comes up with something that's exactly what I need.

In other news, G told me yesterday that she wants to start taking ballet again. She's been away from it for several months, and I didn't expect her ever to go back. In fact, I'm a little surprised that she wants to go back now, although I know why: it's because she wants to learn pointe. She mentioned not long ago that Miss Michelle had said she could get pointe shoes when she was 10, so it must have been percolating in her mind since then. If it were up to me, I'd want her to try a different type of dance -- she doesn't have the right body type for ballet, and it was always a struggle for her -- but I'm willing to let her take another shot at it. I guess I'll e-mail the studio on Monday and see if they still have a slot open in her former class.

In other other news, Catherine has claimed P's pillows as her personal sleeping spot. I'm in bed right now, and she's all curled up there with her paw over her little nose. P would shit a brick if he were here -- he was very particular about his pillows and would never stand for a cat sleeping on them. Heck, I wasn't even allowed to use them. He had the tags labeled with his initials so they wouldn't get mixed up with mine, and if I happened to fall asleep on one of them, he'd wake me up to switch. Catherine doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks. Her cat-logic goes like this: They're soft, they're near Mom and I want them, ergo they're mine. You can't argue with that, can you? No, I didn't think so.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dr. Seuss has nothing on me

G: Mom! What if we had a hound, and he was on the ground?
Me: He would be a ground hound. What if he was also shaped like a ball?
G: What?
Me: He would be a round ground hound. What if we'd gotten him at the animal shelter?
G: What?
Me: He would be a pound round ground hound. What if we tied him up?
G: What?
Me: He would be a bound pound round ground hound.
G: I don't think we should tie him up and leave him on the ground. He could get hit by a car.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

School news

Had G's parent/teacher conference this afternoon. She's reading at fifth-grade level, which I had gathered from the types of books she's been choosing lately; writing competently, which I also knew from the comics she makes; and excelling in science. She's also doing well in math even though she complains about it constantly. Most of what she's asked to do in school is very easy for her, but math doesn't come naturally: she has to work at it, and she doesn't like that. It's good for her, though. A lot of bright kids figure out that they can get by without trying very hard -- and I say this as a former bright kid who did exactly that for years and years -- and then they have trouble when it comes time to actually put forth some effort at something. (Again, the voice of experience.) Her teacher told me that she'd met with last year's teacher to discuss the possibility of accelerating G a grade, but they'd decided that it probably should have been done in kindergarten and that she'd miss too much math if they did it now. That's fine with me; as long as she's happy and not bored, I don't see any reason to move her from where she is, and if she does get bored, I'll probably be looking for a completely new educational setting for her.

Anyway, to celebrate G's good report, I told her that I would take her to dinner anyplace she wanted to go, and she chose the place I knew she would: a little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant that she loves. After we ate, I bought her a new DVD, and now we're at home watching it. I let her have Coke at the restaurant, which she's not usually allowed to do, and she's so hyper that I keep waiting for her to take off and fly around the room like one of those toy planes you wind up with a rubber band. I hope she calms down enough to fall asleep sometime before midnight.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Holy crap

On a lighter note, G and I had some time to kill this morning -- our parking lot was being resurfaced, and we had to get the car out of there by 7:30, an hour and a half before it was time to drop her off for the day. We went out for breakfast and then stopped at Target, that great waster of time and money. While we were there, G asked if she could have a new Barbie and I said she could, so she chose this:

At first glance, it looks like a basic Barbie with a dog, and that's what I thought it was, at least until we got to the checkout and G started reading the back of the package. In reality, Barbie Forever with Tanner is all about poop. Dog poop, to be specific. You lift Tanner's tail; her mouth opens; you feed in a brown plastic "dog biscuit" (strangely heavy, like a piece of lead shot); and then you push down on the tail and the biscuit falls out of Tanner's ass.


So after this semi-realistic act of excretion is complete, you use Barbie's magnetic stick to scoop up the ass biscuit and deposit it in a little plastic trash can that comes with the set. And then guess what? You dump it out and feed it to the dog again.

Let me repeat that. YOU FEED IT TO THE DOG AGAIN

As someone who works in marketing, I can't help imagining the brainstorming session that led to the development of this toy. "Okay, we need to get a new Barbie on the market in time for Christmas. What can we package it with? ... A pet? Great! Little girls love pets! But how can we differentiate it from our 298748387 other Barbies that also come with pets? I know! We'll have it eat its own poop! Yeah! They'll go crazy for that!"

I actually went ahead and bought the Barbie anyway, because I have a sick sense of humor and was groaning "Ewww!" through my laughter. G promptly dubbed the dog "Tanner the Pooping Dog" and could not wait to get in and show it to the people who watch her while I'm at work. I guess it's not any grosser than those dolls that drink and pee, but man!

Who's another year older today?

Yep. That would be me.

P and I never did a lot of celebrating when it came to our own birthdays. He, especially, had a deep aversion to anyone making a big deal out of it (although if you had wanted to buy him a flat-screen TV or a nice DVD box set in honor of the occasion, no problem) and would usually try to find a way to hide out at home, watching a basketball game or something similar. So it isn't a lack of recognition that's bothering me on this, my first birthday without him. It's the idea that I'm getting older and he isn't. He's supposed to be the eldest, not me. In two years, I'll be older than he ever got to be, and that upsets the fundamental balance of the universe as I see it.

He had a lot more birthdays than anyone expected, you know. First they said he'd die as a newborn, then as a child, then before he reached his teens, but he never did. He kept on living, defying all odds and predictions, for thirty-six years and four months and five days. He never cared about getting older the way so many people do; he thought it was stupid to mourn your lost youth. How could he? Every year he lived was a year he hadn't died. I suppose that's a morbid way to look at it, but it's better than crying over your grey hair and crows' feet. And God knows I've got enough of those already at the ripe old age of thirty-five.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Behave, or the horses shall smite thee

Yesterday afternoon, G ran up to me in the hallway and said:

"Mom, MOM! Do you want to see the cool human sacrifice I set up in my room?"

This is an invitation you can't really turn down, if only to help you gauge whether you ought to praise your child for her creativity or find her some professional help. So I followed G into her bedroom and saw this:

Here's how she explained it to me: "The Barbie tried to take away one of the horses, so they have to sacrifice her to the horse goddess. They don't want to, but they have to, because she broke the rules. They'll chant and dance, and then they'll remove her heart, and her spirit will go into the spirit ball (that multicolored thing on the left) and be taken up to the horse goddess."

I swear I haven't been letting her watch anything weird on television ...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Longest day EVER

So far today, G and I have gone out to breakfast, visited a pumpkin patch, gone to two stores on a fruitless search for a copy of Nightmare Before Christmas on DVD, drawn pictures, carved a pumpkin, watched a movie (her), taken a nap (me) and done the grocery shopping, and it's still not even five o'clock yet. I'm cooking dinner now in hopes of filling up half an hour or so, and then we're going to bake Halloween cookies, and then I guess we'll just sit here and stare at each other till bedtime.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

So I was wondering

I know a lot of the people who read this blog, either in real life or through comments/other blogs. And I know that there are bound to be a few lurkers hanging around also, and that's totally okay -- I lurk on plenty of blogs myself, and if I didn't want people reading what I write, well, I wouldn't be posting it on the Internet.

However, I'm really curious about who's out there, so would you do me a favor? If you read -- even if you don't know me at all, even if you've never commented, even if you only read occasionally or this is the first time you've passed by, heck, even if you know that I know you're out there -- leave a comment and say hello. Enquiring minds want to know. :)

Pop quiz

If you find yourself thirsty at two o'clock in the morning, your best option is:

A. Get a drink of water from the bathroom.
B. Decide you want orange juice, go downstairs, and pour yourself some in a plastic cup.
C. Decide you want orange juice, go downstairs, reach for a glass, change your mind about the size you want, attempt to put the glass back, fumble it, and watch it smash all over the kitchen counter, stovetop and tiles. Spend the next half-hour cleaning up 3084593982 tiny glass shards while trying to chase off a cat who thinks you cannot possibly accomplish the job without her help. Go back to bed still thirsty.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Not fade away

Seven totally selfish reasons I miss P:

1. There's no one here to distract G for 20 minutes while I take a shower.

2. There's no one to back me up when I tell her she has to do something, or alternatively, when I tell her she can't do something.

3. If I want a soda at 11 p.m., I can neither go out and get it myself nor send someone else to get it.

4. There's no one to remind me of things, like when school conference day is or the fact that we desperately need more toilet paper.

5. On a related note, half of my collective memory is gone; I can't ask anyone, for example, "Did we go to San Francisco in 1997 or 1998?" or "Who the heck gave us these plates?"

6. There's no one else to answer when G says "Hey, guess what?" or "Look at this!"

7. I can't tell someone a story about my day without first having to spend 10 minutes explaining who everyone is and how they know each other.

Of all these, no. 5 is easily the worst. Now that P is gone, none of our past -- everything we did together, all the conversations we had, all the inside jokes and shorthand and things that only we two knew about -- exists anyplace outside my own memory. I've got no backup copy, no witness for the defense, no one who can say "Yes, that's how it happened" or "No, you've got it wrong." Who else remembers the night G was born, or the grumpy old people who lived upstairs at our first apartment, or how P wrote his initials on his pillow with a Sharpie so I'd stop taking it by accident? No one. If I want to reminisce about those things, I have to do it alone, and when I die, they'll all go with me, as if none of them ever happened. As if we never happened.

G will forget what it was like when we were all a family together, and that's probably for the best; she can't miss what she doesn't remember. But God, I wish it weren't all on me to remember everything myself, to be the sole repository of our history. It's a job better shared, if there's someone to share it with, and a lonely task to shoulder on your own.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Oh. Em. Gee.

Yesterday I spent half the morning cleaning and doing laundry, from the time I got up at 8 until we left to meet P's brother for breakfast at 10:45. I'd washed almost everything and was just finishing up the sheets and towels when G came downstairs and said "There's a problem with the toilet."

"What?" I asked.

"I kind of made a big thing of toilet paper and it got stuck," she said.

We had to go out and buy a plunger because ours somehow disappeared while we were moving. Then, in the process of unsticking the clog, the toilet overflowed like Niagara Falls. And what did I have to use to stop the flood? Right. All of my freshly washed and dried bath towels.

Weep with me.

Anyway, aside from the endless washing -- or as my grandmother would say, "warshing" -- we had a pretty good weekend. On Friday night, I took G to get her hair cut, thinking that this might help with our ongoing battle over hair maintenance. She was a little leery of having it done, but she loves my hairstylist and thinks she's the coolest person ever (true that), so I correctly guessed that she would go along with whatever Liz thought was best. She had at least two inches cut off the bottom, plus a lot of thinning with a razor, and it does make a huge difference: I shampooed her hair today with very little fuss, and brushed it before bed without a single scream. Plus, she looks so much neater -- we'd been trying to grow her bangs out, and between that and the long, unbrushed mass hanging down in back, she looked like a vagabond child most of the time.

Perhaps because her head felt lighter, she was in a much better mood for the rest of the weekend than she has been lately. She accompanied me on all the errands we had to do without complaining, and was generally pleasant and cooperative. In fact, she was so good that this afternoon, after grocery shopping, I offered to take her to Disneyland for a few hours but she chose to stay home and have a Care Bears movie marathon instead. I sat on the couch with the laptop during The Care Bears Movie and Care Bears II: The Next Generation, but I'm afraid I could not tell you the plot or title of the third movie, because I slept all the way through it. I woke up just as it was ending, and then it was time for dinner, one last quick errand, and bed for G.

And now the place is quiet and it's Mommy time. The cat has just made sweet, sweet love to her favorite fuzzy blanket (kneading it, purring, and then lying down on top of it and going to sleep), and I've downed a glass of extremely cheap wine and am contemplating whether I want to clean the bathrooms and fold the still-unfolded laundry, or watch a DVD. Something tells me the DVD is going to win.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Days pass

Today, for the first time this year, it felt like autumn outside. It was subtle, just a coolness in the air, a lower slant to the sun, but it was there.

It doesn't seem fair for the seasons to be changing without P, but they are changing regardless. Time doesn't care how you feel about its passage. It just keeps on rushing forward and sweeping you along with it, like a dead dry leaf in a gutter full of rain, carrying you away from the people you've lost.

I've been told that time and space are really the same thing, but I never believed it until now. It's not like P went away, more like he stopped somewhere and I kept going. He's still back there in summer, and I'm moving on into autumn, and every day takes me farther and farther from where he is. And there are so many thousands of days, so many changes of seasons, that I have to live through until I can get back to him. I feel tired just thinking about it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Slow on the uptake

Half an hour ago, I walked past G's bathroom and saw the cat standing with her front paws on the toilet seat and her head in the bowl.

"That's disgusting, Catherine!" I said, chasing her out and shutting the lid.

Ten minutes later, I found her in the tub in my bathroom, licking up the leftover drips from my shower.

"Yuck, stop it. There's soap in there. You'll get sick," I told her. She just looked up at me with her big green eyes, then went back to licking.

Five minutes after that, I walked through the kitchen and discovered that her water dish was empty. And it still took a few seconds of the hamsters running on their little wheel inside my head before I figured out that this might have something to do with her sudden obsession with alternative water sources.

Maybe I'm not as over that blow to the head as I thought I was.

Anyway, I have to take G grocery shopping now. Pray that I don't get lost somewhere in the pasta aisle!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Accidents will happen

Yesterday afternoon I was stopped in traffic on the freeway, waiting for my lane to start moving again, when I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw what looked like my imminent demise bearing down on me in the form of a big, black SUV. I had just enough time to scream before the other driver hit me from behind -- hard -- and shoved me into the car in front of me. (Also an SUV.) For whatever reason, the shoulder part of my seatbelt failed to lock, and as a result, my head bounced right off the steering wheel, the same way the crash-test dummies' heads do in those slow-motion videos, except in this case it all happened in about .000025 seconds.

All three of us pulled over onto the shoulder and looked at the cars, which were in remarkably good shape for how hard the impact was. My rear bumper was hardly scratched, and even the woman who hit me only had minor damage. My head, however, was another story. We all exchanged information and took off, and the farther I drove, the more it hurt. It wasn't aching (yet); it stung, like I'd been hit with a baseball. But, it wasn't cut or bleeding, so I went on home, called my doctor's office, and asked what I ought to do. They sent me to urgent care, where a nice young doctor looked in my eyes with a pen light, tsk-tsked about the failure of my seatbelt, and told me to take Advil for the headache I was going to have. And boy, did I end up having one. It didn't kick in until around 9:00, almost seven hours after the accident, but when it arrived it was a doozy.

Today, the external injury doesn't look bad at all -- I have a bump about the size of a quarter with a nice red imprint of the steering-wheel cover in the center -- but my head feels as delicate as an eggshell, and it still aches when I have to bend over or turn abruptly. My neck is all sore, too. Still, I count myself lucky: if the lap part of my seatbelt hadn't worked, I would have been thrown right into the dashboard, and that would have been bad. I didn't have G with me either, which is a very good thing. It could have been a lot worse.

Weirdly, I had a sort of premonition the day before that I was going to be in a car crash. I'd been thinking about this long drive I was going to make, and out of nowhere, the idea that I might get into an accident popped into my head. I never worry about car accidents -- God knows why, since they're more likely to get you than most of the stuff I do worry about -- so it's strange that the thought would even cross my mind. Maybe I should set up as a psychic.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cats and kids

Cats are like furry toddlers. You buy them all sorts of colorful and stimulating toys, and what do they want to play with? Some old thing they find around the house, that's what.

Here is Catherine attacking her nemesis/favorite plaything, Black Shoelace:

Just now I made the mistake of thinking that Catherine and I could play with Black Shoelace for a few minutes and then call it a night. When we'd finished (I thought), I patted her on the head and went upstairs. After 15 minutes of pathetic mewing, I came back down to discover her waiting next to the shelf where Black Shoelace lives when she's not stalking trying to eat playing with him. Ooooookay. I got Black Shoelace down and we did a few more rounds. Went upstairs again, heard the same pathetic mewing, and came down to find her waiting by the shelf again. Look, Catherine, I know you love Black Shoelace, but I can't play until dawn. I've got to sleep sometime.

In non-cat-related news, G and I went to a children's book fair this weekend. It was on the campus of a community college where I took classes way back in the day, which made me feel hideously old. G's favorite part was the Wild Animal Arena, where she got to see a show with a red-tailed hawk, a serval cat, and a few other unusual creatures. My favorite part was the moment when G while watching one of the animal handlers syringe-feed a baby ground squirrel, asked, "It has rabies, doesn't it?" I see all my warnings about not playing with squirrels at the park have taken root.

In addition to the wild animals, we watched some dance performances, ate churros, visited the bounce house; oh, yes, and bought two books: A Squirrel's Tale and The Great History Search. I cannot listen to G read the squirrel book out loud without snickering because it's full of lines like "Mr. Owl, have you seen my nuts?" and "I can't find my nuts anywhere!"

Secretly, I am still twelve. But then aren't we all?

Today we went to see Open Season, which I was not expecting to like very much. First, I've seen my fill of animated movies about clueless animals in and out of the wild over the last couple of years (Madagascar, The Wild, Over the Hedge, etc.). Also, we were seeing it at the movie theater where we saw Superman Returns the day before P died, and I still get upset every time I go there. But, this movie was surprisingly funny, and I ended up enjoying myself after all. Yay for that.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tub full of trouble

When G was two, she had a bath every night before bed. She'd splash around happily while I washed her, and then she'd get out all clean and soapy-smelling and let me wrap her in a hooded towel before putting on her fuzzy pink footie PJs. She loved bathtime, and so did I.

Fast-forward five years, and bathing is one of the most contentious issues here in the Fortress o' Fights. I think G should take a shower at least every other day and wash her hair at least twice a week. She thinks she should get into a tub with half a bottle of bubble bath and a lot of Polly Pockets in it once every ten days or so, play for an hour, flood the bathroom floor and still be dry above the shoulders when she gets out. You might say we have philosophical differences on the subject. You might also say it's driving me batshit insane.

I swear I do everything I can to make it a less traumatic experience for both of us. I try to give her plenty of warning before a bath/shower. I announce "Time to get undressed" as cheerfully as I can. I offer to let her bring a reasonable number of toys in with her. And the next thing I know, she's screaming, running away, slamming her bedroom door in my face and leaning on it so I can't get in.

I really don't see why it has to be such a huge deal. It wouldn't be a huge deal if she'd just get in the frigging shower and wash like a normal person. I keep telling her, "Look, G, all you have to do is get wet, soap your hair, soap your body, and rinse. If you do that, you can be out of here in 15 minutes, maybe less. If you have a fit, it's going to take forever." My logic falls on deaf ears every time ... or maybe she just can't hear me over the screams. Argh! How much longer until this phase ends?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Parting shot

I recently opened iPhoto for the first time in months and discovered this, the last picture I ever took of P. It was taken at a barbecue on Father's Day, two weeks before he died. I like it because it shows P doing something he loved to do, but it makes me sad because he's turned away from the camera, as if he's already saying goodbye.

I have his guitars in my bedroom closet, all three of them. I wish I could hear him play them again. I wish I knew how to play them myself. Maybe G will learn, one day. He'd like that.

Monday, September 25, 2006

You're not a real mother until ...

... you've been the author of your child's total public mortification.

This afternoon I dragged G out, over her protests ("I don't want any new clothes!") to go shopping. ("Well, you need them, so get in the car!") We were going to one of the huge outdoor shopping centers that are so popular around here -- the kind where you don't just shop, you have an experience -- and I thought I had an enticing offer for her: we'd go in a store, then ride the Ferris wheel, then go in a store, then have ice cream, then go in a store, etc. She wasn't impressed, but she went along.

So, at our third stop, she spotted a pair of black cowgirl boots she loved. We were attempting to read the tags to find her size, but they were all confusingly marked with "2Y" and 3Y" instead of actual sizes. And then we had this exchange:

Me: I don't get it. I would think 3Y meant "three years," but these are way too big for a three-year-old.
G: Maybe it stands for "three 'yeee-haws.'"

It struck me as hysterically funny, as not-that-funny things sometimes do, and I nearly fell backward into a rack of marked-down summer clothes as I tried to contain myself. I was dying of mirth; G was dying of embarrassment. She put her hands over my mouth to stop me making a scene, and when that didn't work, she whipped off the snazzy little Audrey Hepburn-esque neck scarf she was wearing and attempted to tie it around the bottom half of my face. This was even funnier. I was all but on the floor, my stomach aching, my eyes full of tears, while G looked around with a desperate expression that said Oh, please don't let anyone I know be in this store! I'm sure it was just the first of many mother-related humiliations to come.

In other weird kid news, last night G made a large sign that says:

Lost: Giant Carrot

Goes by the name of Philip.

If you find him call [our phone no.]

She drew a big orange carrot on it and stuck it to the wall behind the sofa. I can't look at it without giggling. Philip the Carrot! Hee!

I promise I have not been drinking. It was just a funny weekend.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The doldrums: six forty-five a.m.

G: I'm boooooooored.
Me: Go get dressed, draw, read a book, play with toys, watch TV, bother the cat.
G: I don't want to do any of that.
Me: I've got bad news for you, G. Big kids and grownups are responsible for their own entertainment.
G: I don't want to be responsible for my own entertainment.
Me: Ah, I see. You'd like me to wear a red clown nose and put my pants on backward and walk around on my hands to amuse you. You'd like me to dance up and down and sing and skip to lighten the burden of your ennui.
G (half laughing, half mad): Yes!
Me: Too bad. Go get dressed.

I know it sounds mean, but it's for her own good. I was an only child until I was almost nine, and the self-entertaining skills I learned then are still with me today. If I'm left on my own to do what I like, I'm never bored. (Long Friday-afternoon meetings and days at jury duty are another story.) She'll thank me for it twenty years from now, I swear!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's a cat's life

Hey, lady, some of us are trying to sleep here.

Well, if you absolutely insist on taking my picture ... how about some kitty p0rn?


When you're still awake, and even your supposedly nocturnal pet is crashed out on the couch, you know you've got a problem.

At least now I have time to finish the laundry and pack G's lunch for tomorrow.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This fragile bond

Unlike the rest of the family, I very rarely visit P's niche at the cemetery. I've been two or three times since the interment, but it isn't a meaningful place for me. I don't feel any closer to him there. If anything, I feel less close than I do at other times and in other places. P's ashes may be there in the wall, but he -- the real he -- is not. Nothing there has anything to do with P as I knew him, P who could draw and play the guitar, who collected comics and once wanted to grow up to be Steve Austin.

I felt the same way about his body and the coffin during the long, long viewing and funeral process. Other people wanted to touch him in the coffin and to caress the wood of the lid after it was closed, and I understood that desire on an intellectual level, but I didn't share it. I did touch him once or twice, to be sure, and it only confirmed what I already felt. The body was his, but it wasn't him. I'd known since the moment I found him that he wasn't inside that body anymore, and I had no sense that he was anywhere near it, either: not around the coffin or in the viewing room or even in the funeral home.

It seemed particularly inappropriate to think that P of all people would linger around his body, because in life he hadn't liked it very much. He loathed his physical limitations, his thinness, his clubbed fingers, his surgical scars, the lump of his pacemaker. He always felt ugly, even though he wasn't, and went overboard with grooming and dressing nicely in an attempt to compensate. I can only suppose that feeling the way he did about his body, he never looked back once he was free of it. He wanted to be free of it. He told me so himself, the night before he died, and whatever he may or may not have known about what was coming, he absolutely meant what he said.

So I rarely go to the cemetery, but that doesn't mean I don't think of P. I think of him every day, all the time. So many things remind me of him: of some favorite phrase or joke or moment we spent together. And knowing P the way I did, I think that would mean more to him than a weekly pilgrimage to a niche in a concrete wall. When he was alive, he didn't visit graves or lay down flowers for people who had died, but he always, always remembered them. His only fear about dying himself was that he'd somehow lose his memories of me and G -- "I don't want to forget you," he said. And he wouldn't want to be forgotten.

You can rest easy, P. I remember.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Dear Cat,

Would it be too much trouble for you to visit the litter box and take your massive daily dump before 2:00 in the morning? I don't mind scooping the box (much), but I do mind waking up in a bedroom filled with a miasma of cat excrement. I mean, really. I don't know how the smell gets up the stairs, but it does, so please try to confine your poopage to the pre-midnight hours.


The Janitor


Dear Kid,

I think you have a skewed definition of the word "mean." It is not "mean" of me to insist that you take a shower and brush your teeth before bed. It is also not "mean" of me to tell you that slippery-soled party shoes, two sizes too small, are not appropriate footwear for school -- no matter how sparkly they are and how well they go with your dress. For examples of what "mean" actually is, I refer you to such classic tales as Oliver Twist, Cinderella, Harry Potter, and the collected works of V.C. Andrews. Perhaps these stories will help you understand that even if you're tired of chocolate Teddy Grahams, finding them in your lunch box for the third day in a row does not constitute an act of child abuse.


Your Mother


Dear Universe,

What are you trying to do to me? Stop it!


A Small, Insignificant Speck

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

That Which Must Not Be Named

Tomorrow is G's first day of second grade, and she is not pleased. All day today, she kept begging me not to talk about it, which led to conversations like this one in the snack aisle at the grocery store:

Me: Hypothetically speaking, if I had to pack a lunch for you for no particular reason, would you want pretzels or cheese crackers in it?
G: Aaaaargh! I said not to talk about it!
Me: Yes, well?
G: Pretzels, I guess.

She's always enjoyed school, so I'm not entirely sure where this resistance is coming from. I think it's partly to do with P, because when I asked if she was worried that people would ask her about Daddy, she said yes. (He volunteered last year and was well known on campus.) I reassured her that I already told her teacher and the people who work in the office, and that seemed to make her feel a bit better. Hopefully I'll be able to get her out the door in the morning with a minimum amount of drama.

In other news, Catherine has just played that classic cat game known as "Sudden Demonic Possession," a.k.a. "Run Around the House After Midnight Like a Crazy Thing," and is stretched out in the middle of the living-room floor looking exhausted. If only I were that easily entertained.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The feline life

Dry cat food is so bland and harmless-looking. But as those little nuggets rattle into the cat's dish like cereal into a bowl, you look at them and have to wonder: What happens inside the cat to turn such inocuous stuff into a substance so foul you need a hazmat suit and an oxygen mask to handle it?

It's a real mystery.

Aside from the litter box, we're enjoying Catherine, and Catherine seems to be adjusting nicely. After a few hours under the furniture, she came out, ate, drank, washed, and settled down on G's bed with us, purring, for the bedtime reading hour. She's a very friendly little thing and wants to be right next to me all the time, preferably being petted. She's so well socialized that I'm surprised she was a stray, although I guess it's possible that she was someone's pet and they dumped her when she got pregnant. (Punk teenage cat-boyfriend: "Well, what do you want me to do about it? How do I know they're MY kittens?) We do need to get her a scratching post today, though. I can hear the telltale sound of claws in the couch right now. Bad kitty!

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Meet the newest member of the family:

After all the prospective names G came up with, when the moment of truth arrived, she decided that she wanted to call her cat just plain "Cat." I said I'd no more name a cat "Cat" than I would have named G "Girl," but we could name her Catherine and call her Cat for short. So, this is Catherine. She's about a year old and was rescued from a parking lot with her four newborn kittens, all of whom went to new homes last week. Catherine herself came home with us this afternoon, and has spent most of her first two hours with us hiding under various pieces of furniture in the time-honored cat tradition. In fact, she's under one of the couches right now, sitting stubbornly while G calls to her in dulcet tones and tries to lure her out with toys and food. I told G not to worry, that in a day or two she'll be tripping over her every time she turns around!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Tonight I'm coming to you live from the first floor of my new apartment, a.k.a. Box Central. (I can see the carpet between the boxes, but only just.)

Earlier today I stood in the empty, echoing kitchen of my old apartment, next to a gutted hole that previously held a stove, and laid my keys out in a line on the countertop: screen door, front door, garage door. With the final key, the transaction was complete, and I no longer lived in the place where P and I spent the last five years.

I came home to the new place, but it didn't feel like home. I'm having a hard time believing that we really live here now, just me and G. I keep thinking that I'll wake up tomorrow and P will still be alive, and my real life will resume. Because that's how I feel, how I've felt for the last two months -- as if everything I'm doing is temporary, a stopgap to fill in the time until this mad dream is over.

None of it feels real. I don't feel real.

I don't know who I am anymore.

It isn't that I derived my entire identity from being married to P -- I've always had a job, and my own friends, and pursued various interests as far as time allowed. Plus, I'm G's mother, and that role hasn't changed. When you spend 13 years with someone, though, part of your sense of self becomes wrapped up in that person. It's inevitable, and it isn't a bad thing; it just is. The problem is when the person is taken away, that chunk of your self, your ego, goes too. It's like -- oh, I don't know -- it's like being a nuclear physicist your whole life, and then going to the lab one morning and finding that the entire profession of nuclear physics has been eradicated. Now you have to be something else, but no one's told you what it is, and you haven't been anything but a nuclear physicist in so long that you've forgotten what it was like not to be one. And what then? What do you become? How many days, weeks, months, years before your life stops feeling like it belongs to a stranger?

I can't go back to being who I was before I met P. I was only 22 then, and too much has happened since; too many things I can't forget and wouldn't want to if I could. And I can't carry on being the person I was with P now that P isn't here anymore.

I don't know what will happen to me next. All I know is that I miss nuclear physics. I miss it a lot.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Of beginnings and endings

Note to self: When you wake up at 2 a.m., do not get out of bed to brush your teeth, even if it feels like Hannibal's army and all its elephants marched through your mouth while you were sleeping. Unless, of course, you want to be awake until dawn, in which case go right ahead.

With two days to go until we start moving, I've reached the point at which I'm so overwhelmed that inertia takes over and I stop doing anything. I still need to finish cleaning under my bed, pack the contents of a few drawers and cupboards, and decide whether I'm going to have cable Internet or DSL at the new place. I can see the detritus of daily living piling up around the boxes, and I know I ought to collect those odds and ends before they reach critical mass. But it all seems like too much effort, so I don't. Even sitting on the couch seems like too much effort. I don't know whether I need a day off or a kick in the pants.

One really good thing about leaving this place: its problems will soon be my problems no more. Termites boring their way out of the ceiling again? Not my problem. Treacherous rip where the hall carpet's wearing out? Not my problem. Blasted heath backyard where nothing grows? So not my problem. Even regular chores like vacuuming are no concern of mine, at least temporarily.

Of course, you have to understand that I'm focusing on the benefits of leaving so I won't have to focus on the leaving itself. At the end of this weekend, I'll hand over the keys to this, the last home I lived in with P, and that will be it. I'll live a place he'll never see, with floors he never walked on, with a door he never entered, and in a way, that will be like losing a tiny part of him. And yet at the same time, I won't look at the floor and think, There's the place the paramedics put him down, and I won't look at the door and think that when he walked through it for the first time, we didn't know he'd be carried out through it one day, sightless and unaware, under a bright summer sky.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

There is no normal

"I want to have normal weekends again," G said last night. "I want to have normal days at school and normal dinners and normal nights with the two of us."

"Things will be more normal after we finish moving and school starts," I promised.

"I hate this summer," she said.

Me too, G. Me too.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Still not queen

Names G has suggested for her cat-to-be:

• Stenchy
• Debbie
• Sir Meows-a-Lot
• Cat 412

I'm telling you, this cat is going to need therapy.

On another note, have I ever mentioned that G is not a morning person? She isn't. Even as a toddler, she was never one of those kids who wake up singing before sunrise, and now that she's discovered the fine art of sleeping in, she'd remain blissfully unconscious till midmorning if I let her. Unfortunately, I can't let her. I have to go to work, and she has to go to Grandpa's office, and both of these things have to happen before 9 a.m. every day.

To say that this causes problems would be a understatement. This morning, I went into her room five times between 7:45 and 8:25 to wake her up, and every time, she rolled over and went right back to sleep. At 8:30, I started dressing her as she slept -- entertaining evil fantasies about buckets and ice water all the while -- and that finally got her to open her eyes. And boy, was she grouchy when she did. Just what I need before I've had my coffee.

I know part of the problem is the time she's going to bed at night. For years, we've had a good, consistent bedtime routine that ends with lights-out at 8:30 p.m. Now, for a variety of reasons, everything is off schedule, and she's been falling asleep closer to 10 p.m. That's still ten hours of sleep, but G has always been an eleven- or twelve-hour girl. I'd love to just leave her asleep and carry her out to the car in her pajamas, but she's not much smaller than a small adult at this point (I'm 5'6" and she stands about shoulder-height on me), which makes that maneuver more or less impossible.

So, we have to find some way of getting back to the 8:30 bedtime. I think it'll be easier after we move -- it'll take less time to get home after I pick her up, for one thing. But for now, it's going to take discipline on both our parts. This morning, as she was wailing about having to get up OMG SO EARLY, I said, "You know you're tired because you went to bed late last night, right?" and she said she did. Then I said, "So when I tell you it's time to go to bed tonight, you're not going to argue with me, right?" and she said she wouldn't. Well, she didn't argue (much), but it still took her nearly an hour to settle down and go to sleep after I turned the light off ... mostly because she was cracking herself up by suggesting cat names like "Poopsie."

I await tomorrow with slightly weary trepidation.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Moving right along

Today my mother and sister came over to help me pack. Before they left, we filled thirty boxes, bringing my packed total to forty-one. I'm embarrassed to admit that twenty-three of those forty-one boxes contain books ... and that doesn't include the crate of books they took home or the three crates that are waiting to go to the used bookstore. ("Do you not have a library card?" my mother asked as she surveyed my collection.)

Anyway, it was good to have them here to help. I've been doing bits and pieces all week long, but it's hard to get much done on my own. G will help here and there, but then she loses interest and wanders off to play or watch TV. In contrast, the three of us managed to pack all five bookcases, the shelf of books in my walk-in closet, the DVDs, the games, P's action figures, and most of the pictures and knickknacks. The heap of boxes in my dining room looks like the Great Wall of China, and yet it feels as if we hardly made a dent.

I have too much stuff.

Also, moving without P is no fun. We moved together four times, and although it was always hard work, we had the excitement of a new place to look forward to, and we could make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of together. Now it's all on me, and there's nothing at the other end but an escape from this house of tragedy. I don't like it. I don't want to have to make decisions about what to do with P's things. They're not mine, they're his. How can I say what's important enough to keep and what ought to be given away? I know P trusted me to do it, but I don't trust myself. I can't wait for all this to be over.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hello, kitty

When I told G we were moving, the first words out of her mouth were not "Where to?" or "Are we bringing my toys?" or "Will I go to the same school?"

They were "Can I have a cat?"

I said yes. And it's a good thing I meant it, because G seized on the promise like a fruit bat on a ripe papaya. At each complex we toured, she turned to me in the leasing office and asked very seriously, "Is it pet-friendly?" Now that we have, in fact, secured a pet-friendly place to live, her excitement knows no bounds. She talks about her future kitty every day, and tonight she coaxed me into putting a Tupperware dish of milk outside our front door in hopes of luring one of the neighborhood cats for her to "practice" on. I'm sure one of the 40-pound raccoons that lurk around our trash cans is out there right now, enjoying a free drink on us.

The thing is, since G has never had a cat, she has unrealistic expectations of what they're like. Here are a few of the things she plans to do with her hapless pet:

• Dress it in little outfits
• Train it to walk on its hind legs and push a baby carriage (she saw this at the circus last weekend)
• Buy four tiny tap shoes and teach it to dance

As a veteran cat person, I've tried to prepare her by explaining that while (most) cats like to sit on your lap and be petted, they don't generally do tricks or tolerate dressing up. In fact, they do pretty much whatever they please, whenever they please, and don't appreciate having their plans altered. I have the feeling that G will end up getting scratched a few times before that truth really sinks in. She loves animals and would never do anything to hurt one, so there's no need to worry about the cat's safety. She just seems to think that a cat is more like a dog or a baby than, well, a cat.

She'll learn.

This and that

For the last three years, P and I have done schoolwork with G during the summer. Quite a few people have been scandalized by this, but here's the thing: G likes to learn stuff. She enjoys reading and science and history, and she doesn't mind doing workbook pages. (Unless they're math. Math is another story.)

This summer, I had just finished working out her mini-curriculum when everything went to hell, and as a result, she spent the entire month of July watching DVDs and playing "My Fantasy Wedding" on the computer. After that, I wasn't sure she'd be in the mood for anything educational, but I went out last week and bought her a couple of workbooks anyway. This morning, I handed her the reading comprehension book and suggested that she do a little of it while she was at Grandpa's office. I hadn't even finished backing out of the garage before she asked "Have you got a pencil?" and started scribbling away. I guess she's been missing having work to do. Oh well, next year things will be calmer and I can go back to the old routine.

In a way, I regret that we're moving so soon, because it means that the last few weekends of summer will be entirely consumed by the moving process and all that goes with it. I had wanted to do some fun things, like the science center and maybe a short road trip, but now there won't be time. But at the same time, I think it's good to get settled in before school starts.

ETA: That is, if we're able to move at all. I got a letter from the Social Security Administration informing me that I'm not eligible to receive survivor's benefits on P's account. This is bad. He didn't get that much, but it was an important part of our family income, and losing it is a big blow. They did throw me a bone by saying that I may be able to get widow's benefits when I'm 60. Great. I'll be sure to mark that on my 2031 calendar.

P would be so upset about this.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Thoughts while cleaning the fish tank

I'll bet P is furious that the goldfish outlived him. And after he wanted to flush it last year, too.

Trust me, it's funny. But maybe only to P and me.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Screw your courage to the sticking place

I finally steeled myself to call T-Mobile and cancel P's cell phone service. Good Lord, that was hard to do. He loved his phone and had spent hours downloading ringtones and picking just the right wallpaper for it. Canceling the service felt so permanent, like an admission that he's gone. Only the thought of him saying, "Are you high? It costs $53 a month! Cancel it!" spurred me to make the call.

I can see why Arthur Conan Doyle and the Spiritualists felt the way they did. You want to be able to talk to people who are gone, to ask their advice, to find out how they feel about things, to hear them say they forgive whatever wrong you did during their lives. I have no intention of running off and consulting mediums -- not least because I think they're a bunch of fakes -- but I understand why someone might. But living by the words and wishes of the dead can only go so far. Decisions belong to the living, and we have to make them for ourselves.

At least, this is what I keep telling myself to justify the fact that I'm moving to a new apartment, even though P specifically told me to stay in this one if something should happen to him. I've tried, and it's gotten better, but I just can't keep living here without him, always expecting to hear his key in the door or see him coming down the hallway. I have done and am doing everything else he told me to do, but I can't do this. I've already signed the paperwork on the new place (just a few blocks from here) and will be giving notice on this one when I pay my rent tomorrow. I hope he'll understand that I'm not just disobeying his wishes to be difficult. I swear that if the situation were reversed, he would do the same thing. Anyone would.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Oh, for heaven's sake

Let's turn down the dial on the morbid-o-meter for a moment and talk about everyone's favorite topic: books. Here's what G has been reading lately.

The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Return to Howliday Inn
Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman
Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets
The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby
Time Warp Trio: The Not-So-Jolly Roger
Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter's Companion

Now, you'd think that since G loves reading so much herself, she'd be understanding when someone else wanted to read. But that's where you'd be wrong. Yesterday, after playing action figures with her for close to an hour, I said I'd like to read my book for a while, and we had the following conversation:

Me: What would you like to do while I read?
G: *pout*
Me: You could read too, or play with toys, or watch TV, or draw ...
G: *sulk*
Me: We played for a long time! I need a break!
G (with folded arms and heavy sarcasm): Go ahead and read as long as you want. I'll just be over here, bored.
Me: Okay, look. I'll read for ten minutes, and then we'll do something together. See, the clock says 5:33 now, so when it says 5:43, I'll stop.
G: All right.

So the reading commenced. For the first five minutes of it, G lay sprawled across my feet like a dog and asked, "How many minutes are left now? How many now? What about now?"

Me: Seven more minutes. Are you sure you don't want to read your own book?
G: No, I want to stay down here.
Me: Okay.

Silence fell. A moment later, I felt something hot and damp on my lower leg.

Me: Are you licking my ankle?
G: No.
Me: What are you doing?
G: I'm sucking it.
Me: Argh! Do not suck my ankle! That's disgusting!
G: *suck suck suck*
Me: Will you please go do something else?!
G: How many minutes left now?

You can imagine how well I was able to concentrate with all this going on at my feet. When my time was up, I shut the book and said, "Okay, what do you want to do now?" And do you know what the child chose? She chose to sit at the table and make little figures out of clay BY HERSELF! Why could she not have done that for a measly ten minutes while I read a few pages? The world may never know. Anyway, the next time she's happily absorbed in a book, I'll make sure to lie down on her feet and slobber on her ankle. That'll learn her.

A thousand cuts

I always thought losing P would be like a tidal wave, something huge and elemental that would swamp me and suck me under. Instead, I'm learning that sorrow isn't always big. It's small, too. It comes in bursts throughout the day, in dozens of tiny moments that spring up and jab me when I least expect it. When I dump out my purse and see the bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol, and I realize that I don't need to carry Tylenol for P's arthritis anymore. When I come home with grocery bags and realize we'll never put the groceries away together again. When I see an ad for a movie he'd like, and I think how excited he'll be, and then I realize that he won't get to see it. And I wonder -- did it really happen? Did I really find him dead, did I stand beside his coffin, did I hold his ashes in my arms?

I know I did those things. But at the same time they seem like something that happened in a dream, a long, strange dream from which I still might wake.

I've been dreaming of him almost every night, much more than I ever did when he was here. Each dream is different, but in all of them, he and I say something to each other like, "What a good thing it was all a mistake," or "I'm so glad you didn't die after all." There's never a moment when I find this out; it's always taken for granted that of course he's still alive. If there's a message for me in these dreams, I don't know what it is. Maybe that he does still exist somewhere, in some way. I had a hard time with that idea for a while, even though I've always believed in an afterlife, because of the way he looked when I found him. I've seen plenty of people who have died before, at funerals, but none of them ever had that sense of complete absence, like a vacant house with the front door hanging ajar. Whatever vital essence that made P who he was had gone without a trace, and there was no bringing it back. It shook my faith, hard, although I can't explain why. It might just as easily have reinforced it; after all, something has to provide that essence, and what is it if it isn't a soul?

I could try to explain for fifty years what it was like to find his body, and I'd never be able to convey the trauma of it. Well-meaning people keep telling me what a blessing it was, such a peaceful way to go, and I just nod and smile. It must have been peaceful for him, and I'm grateful for that, but it was pure shock and horror for me. It was like finding him murdered. For the first few days, I thought I would lose my mind every time the memory came back. It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and I say that as someone who has not had a particularly easy life to this point. And of course, the person best equipped to help me deal with it would have been P himself, except he wasn't there.

Irony hurts too. Just like those sharp little moments of sorrow. You bleed to death slowly, one drop at a time.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Murphy's curse

Things that have gone wrong today:

1. Woke up at 2:45 a.m. and didn't go back to sleep till after 4:30. AGAIN.

2. Fought with G when I told her it was time to turn off the TV and take a shower.

3. Lost my watch -- a gift from P -- at the county fair, and couldn't find it despite retracing my steps only 10-15 minutes later. (Insert many uncharitable thoughts about the person who took it.)

4. Went to view an apartment that, at $1,700 a month, I can barely afford, and found that it was too small even for one adult and one kid.

5. Out of curiosity, viewed the other 2-bedroom model at the same complex, and it was $2,200 a month. Agh!

6. Got sunburned AGAIN despite wearing no. 30 sunblock.

7. Was beastly hot all day, and am still hot at midnight. It's tolerable if I sit in the wind tunnel between the two electric fans, but only just.

Suck. Suck suck suck suck suck suck suck.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

And now for something completely different

In less depressing news, I'd like to direct your attention to MathRaps, a new CD designed to help kids learn about math through music.

The "Rappin' Mathematician" is the husband of a dear friend of mine, and when P and I visited the pair of them a year ago, they were just brainstorming ideas for sharing his teaching tools with a wider audience. I'm so glad to see this CD reaching the market, and I know P would be thrilled. (Heck he probably is thrilled.) Anyway, I've already ordered a copy for G -- she won't be covering these math topics in school for a long time, but if my childhood experiences with Schoolhouse Rock are any indication, the raps are likely to get into her head and stay there for life. I'm looking forward to playing it for her!

Here's some news coverage on the CD for anyone who's interested in learning more: Math Teacher Has Student Success 'Rapped' Up.

Life, or a reasonable facsimile

Everything takes on a sort of retroactive significance when someone dies. You look at pictures and automatically calculate how many days, months, weeks he had left when they were taken. The magazine on the table becomes not just a magazine, but The Last Thing He Read. When folding clothes, you think, He didn't know when he bought these that he was going to die. The universe is infinitely kind in not revealing the date of each person's demise in advance, because if everything we did was fraught with those sorts of thoughts when we did it, we would all be insane. Guaranteed.

Here's a good example: the day P died, he was wearing a T-shirt I got at my college graduation ceremony ten years ago. It was too big for me, so he immediately commandeered it as sleepwear, and every time he wore it, he'd joke about his "alma mater." Imagine if I had known that it was the shirt he was going to have on when he died. It doesn't bear thinking about. But then so many things don't these days.

I'm still not sure what G is thinking. She's mentioned P a few times, but very rarely. From the little she has said, I'm amazed at the depth of her understanding of what his absence means. Everything I've read about kids her age has said that they're just beginning to grasp death and may not really get it, but G appears to be totally grounded in reality. If I say something about P in the present tense, such as "Daddy likes this," she'll correct me: "You mean liked." Or she'll ask, "Was that when Daddy was still alive, or after?" She has no illusions about his coming back, which is a good thing, because it would be very hard to have to have that discussion over and over. On the other hand, it's a bit sad to see a little kid be so flatly realistic about death. I'm glad she understands, but I wish she didn't have to, at least not regarding her own father.

This weekend she went back to ballet class, and the night before, she asked me, "Did Miss Michelle tell the girls about July 2?" (This is how she refers to it, the way adults talk about Sept. 11. I suppose that makes sense, since to her it's the same sort of watershed date.)

"I told her about it," I said, "but I don't know if she told anyone else. Do you want her to?"


"If she didn't, do you want to tell them yourself?"


"What are you going to say?"

"I'll say that my dad died and we're all sad."

Luckily, it turned out that her dance teacher had told the class, so there wasn't any need for G to go into it. She wants people to know, but I don't think she's really comfortable about delivering the news herself. I think the parents of her non-school friends have already explained to them, and I've talked to her teacher from last year (he came to the funeral -- P was a room parent, and they knew each other well), but it'll be hard when school starts up again, especially since P and I both know a lot of the staff and kids through volunteering. G's teacher suggested that I notify the office and have them alert whichever teacher she's assigned to for next year, which sounds like a good plan. Poor G is going to have to explain forever that her dad died, but perhaps I can cut down on the amount of explaining she has to do right now.