Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Particle

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.