Saturday, March 31, 2007

Life imitates art

So I'm driving back from the auto body shop, having just learned that it will cost almost $2,000 to get my extra car in good enough shape to return it when the lease expires. I'm complaining about this to my father, who has come along to help me transport Car No. 2, when a voice suddenly pipes up from the back seat.

"Mom ... I have gum stuck in my hair."

At the next stoplight, I turn around and discover that the gum is embedded horizontally in the hair just above her left ear.

"How did you get it there?" asks my father.

"I was trying to stick it behind my ear," says G.

"Why would you do that?"

"I know why," I say. "Don't I, Violet Beauregarde?"

G looks sheepish.

"That is why, isn't it?" I press, and she nods.


Damn you, Roald Dahl!

Can't fool me, I'm in marketing

Oh, Borders, you wound me. You really do.

Here's how the Borders Rewards Program used to work: for every $50 I spent, I got a personal shopping day during which I received 10 percent off everything I bought. Now, every time I spend $150, I get $5 in "Borders Bucks," good for one month. I'm not a math whiz by any means, but this doesn't seem like nearly as sweet a deal. (Previously: spend $50, get personal shopping day, spend another $50 and save $5; now, spend $150 to save the same $5.) I especially loved the headline in the e-mail telling me about these changes: "Now Simpler Than Ever!" Uh-huh, it's simpler all right ... for Borders. I am not impressed.

Speaking of books, I forgot to mention that I recently read Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, which I found fascinating in a trainwreck sort of way, but hardly surprising. (Is there a grown woman alive who doesn't know that girls can be evil to each other? I doubt it.) I agree with the second reviewer on Amazon that not enough page time was given to girls who are complete social outcasts, but it was still interesting to read other people's stories of being bullied by so-called "friends." I experienced that when I was around 11, at the hands of a friend who abused me physically, by digging her nails into my arms and raking them until I bled, and emotionally, with the classic "now-I'm-your-friend-now-I'm-not" technique. Like the girls profiled in the book, I refused to end the relationship, despite urging from my parents, because in my mind it was better to have a mean friend than no friends at all. Sad but true.

The funny (and scary) part of that story is that my arm-clawing "friend" grew up to be a pediatric dentist. I've occasionally been tempted to go sit in the waiting room at her practice, which is only a 15- or 20-minute drive from here, and ask the other parents "Did you know that Dr. _____ is a sadist?" I doubt I ever would, but it makes for an entertaining fantasy.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Busted!

Yesterday's mail brought a letter from G's school, scolding me for the number of times she's been late this year. I know this is nothing personal -- it's a form letter that they customize and send out to everyone whose child has X number of tardies or absences. (I got the same letter when G was in kindergarten because she'd been sick several times and had missed more than 5 days of school as a result.) Still, it's annoying, both because it makes me feel like a deadbeat parent and because I'm supposed to sign the bottom of it, just below the line that reads "I have read this letter and will take steps to improve my child's attendance, blah blah" and return it to the school. It's not unlike being in school myself and getting sent home with a note for my mommy to sign because I've behaved badly, only in this case I am the mommy.

As it happens, the reason we've had so much trouble getting to school on time lately is because G's sleeping problems have grown exponentially worse over the last few months. We're not just dealing with the normal don't-wanna-go-to-bed complaining all kids do to some degree, but the vicious cycle of true insomnia, where she worries about not being able to sleep and is upset when her worries become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lately she's been lying awake, intermittently moaning "I can't sleeeeeeeep," until almost 11 p.m. every night. This is not good. I considered the possibility that she just might not need as much sleep as kids her age are "supposed" to need, but rejected it because 1.) she says she's tired in class, 2.) she's half-comatose in the morning, leading to lateness, and 3.) she's as grumpy as a bear most of the time. On the rare nights when she does fall asleep early (because she's so exhausted she can't help it), she's like a different kid the next day -- cheerful, calm and cooperative.

I've already been through the insomnia battle with P, who spent the last several years of his life on a constantly changing parade of sleeping pills that didn't work (and in one case, made him psychotic), so I know how hard it is to combat. We've already tried a series of home remedies for G -- eating bananas, sleeping with a lavender aromatherapy pillow, listening to soothing music, backrubs -- but none of them have worked for more than one or two nights. She's not worried about anything as far as I can tell, and she doesn't have more than the normal quota of nightmares you'd expect from an 8-year-old. She just can't sleep, and I don't know why. But I do know I resent having my hand slapped by the district (not the school -- the staff have all been supportive of our situation and are just doing what's required of them) because of it. I wrote a brief note on the portion of the letter I'm supposed to return, explaining that she's having these problems and we're trying different strategies to solve them, so we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mirabile dictu

G is in her room, with the night light on and Catherine for company, attempting to go to sleep on her own.

G never goes to sleep on her own. Ever. Bedtime means at least an hour of me sitting on the end of her bed, waiting and waiting and waiting for her to succumb to the Sandman, so this is very weird. Weirder still: it was her idea for me to leave the room. But you won't hear me arguing, especially since I've been able to use the last 45 minutes to clean the kitchen, pack her lunch, scoop the cat box and iron my clothes for tomorrow. Now I just need her to actually go to sleep so I can bake the brownie dough that's calling to me seductively from the refrigerator.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Up the creek

My very first college professor liked to say, when her lectures on the history of England were going well, that she had everyone "in the boat, furiously paddling, in the same direction." She said it so often that by the end of the semester, all she had to say was "in the boat," and all 30 of us would chime in with the rest.

I'm the only one paddling my boat these days, and yet lately I've been having a hard time getting the oars lined up, never mind going in one direction. Something is always out of sync: when I've got things under control at work, the home situation is dire, and when all is well at home, work overwhelms me. I get up on Monday morning thinking I'm prepared for the week ahead, and then I discover that I forgot to buy some vital ingredient for G's lunch, or she has a day off I didn't know about. I'm constantly wondering what I've already missed, what I'm forgetting right now, or what is about to leap up and bite me in the butt. It's hard on the nerves, let me tell you.

So many well-meaning people have told me that P would be proud of the way I've handled things since he's been gone, but the truth is, P would not be proud at all. P had excruciatingly high standards for himself and everyone else, and every day of my life, I can see all the ways I'm falling short of them. I procrastinate too much. I don't do enough housework. I let things slip through the cracks. I don't discipline G as firmly as I should. I disappointed P often when he was alive, and even though I'm trying even harder now than I ever have before, I know I'm still failing -- always scrambling to catch up, always telling myself I'll do better next time. Yes, it's been a rough year, but I know what P would say: So, what, because I'm dead you're going to let things slide? You've got to step up, babe.

I want to step up and do everything right. I swear I do. I just get so tired of trying to paddle this effing boat on my own. I don't remember covering that in History of England.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The good kind of tired

This afternoon, we met friends at the park, where G and the other kids spent nearly an hour acting out various plays on an outdoor stage. The highlight: a somewhat abbreviated version of "Romeo and Juliet" that ended, as all performances of "Romeo and Juliet" must, in high tragedy. My friend tried to soften it a bit by telling "Romeo" to expire of a broken heart, but her plans were thwarted when "Juliet" (played by G) opened her eyes and said "No, she's supposed to stab herself!" Oops.

After the drama, we walked around the park and found a low-slung tree, shaped a bit like a flying dragon, that was perfect for climbing and sitting on. Then G found a muddy part of the lake that was perfect for falling into (hee), and then all three of the big kids found a "dinosaur bone" to excavate from a dirt hillside. They also found something that they called an onyx, but which I think might be a piece of carbonized wood: it looks like wood on the outside, but the inside is smooth and dark and shiny, like obsidian. It's definitely not stone, though, because it's very light and easy to snap in pieces. I tried to take a picture of it just now, but couldn't get one that showed what it's really like -- I've never seen anything quite like it.

When it was finally time to leave, all the kids pleaded to stay longer and then to be allowed to do it again tomorrow, which to me is the sign of a really good time. Unfortunately, all good times come to an end eventually, and we had to say goodbye. I took G up to the nearby library and washed the worst of the mud off her in their bathroom, and then she quickly chose some books on paleontology and we left just as the library was closing. All in all, a very good day.

Missing memory

This evening I nearly turned myself inside out trying to remember the name of the surly Asian man who lived upstairs in our old building. I remembered that just a couple of weeks before P died, I was complaining that we had termites again and the landlord didn't want to do anything about it, and P said "What's he waiting for, [upstairs guy's name] to fall through?" I remembered that the way he said it made me laugh so hard that he gave me a Who is this crazy woman I married? sort of look and said "It wasn't that funny." I remembered all that, but I couldn't remember the neighbor's name, and it was driving me mad. P would have been able to tell me right away, and the impulse to ask him was overwhelming, but of course I couldn't. It was like having an old floppy disk and no disk drive; I knew the information was stored in P's memory, but I couldn't access it.

I did remember the name eventually: Alan. But it would have been so much easier just to ask P.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Drawing with a trackpad is hard

drawing personality

What does your drawing say about YOU?

The results of your analysis say:

You tend to pursue many different activities simultaneously. When misfortune does happen, it doesn't actually dishearten you all that much.
You are a thoughtful and cautious person. You like to think about your method, seeking to pursue your goal in the most effective way.
You are creative, mentally active and industrious.
You have a sunny, cheerful disposition.


Interesting, but ... a sunny, cheerful disposition? Me? The Marquise of Melancholy? The Duchess of Dejection? Bwahahahaha!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Across the void

When P's grandmother died last autumn, I was prepared to be upset at the funeral. I thought that, coming only a few months after P's funeral, it was bound to be hard for me, even though I hadn't known his grandmother well at all.

Well, I got through that all right, but I was completely blindsided by my reaction to this weekend's wedding. I hadn't been expecting to feel sad -- why should I? It was a wedding, not a wake -- and at the beginning, as I was watching G scatter silk flower petals down the aisle, I didn't. But then the minister got up and started talking, and from that point on, I cried without stopping through the entire ceremony. If you know me in real life, you know how unlike me it is to cry in public, or to show any strong emotion really, but I couldn't help it. The best I could do was cry silently, which I did, sitting there alone in the corner of the third pew. And it's a good thing I was alone too, because if anyone had tried to touch me, I might have died of shame on the spot.

What set me off was the minister's speech, which was all about the bond of marriage and the melding of two people into one. Of course she didn't mention the flip side of that coin: what happens when that bond is broken against your will, and the other half of you is ripped away in an instant, while your back is turned. I didn't want to stop being married to P, damn it. In my mind, I still am; I still wear my wedding ring (and his too, on the finger right next to mine); and I hate every time I'm forced to tick "single" or "divorced/widowed" on a form. A few weeks after he died, the Social Security Administration sent me a lot of paperwork that said "marriage ended in death on 7/2/2006," and it seemed like the cruelest cut ever, that some government agency could pronounce my marriage over just like that, when I still feel married and think of myself as married. There's something there, no matter what they say. It's less as if the bond's been severed and more as if it's stretched out long and thin, as if I'm on one side of a chasm and P is on the other, a tiny black dot far off in the distance. But is that true, or is it only in my head?

Anyway, I managed to get hold of myself as the ceremony ended, and I don't think anyone saw my little breakdown, or if they did, they probably just assumed I'm one of those people who cries at weddings. Certainly the bride and groom didn't notice, and I'm grateful for that. Not everything is about me, and the last thing I'd want is for my personal issues to spoil their day.

Friday, March 16, 2007

La vie noire

I wear a lot of black. Rare is the day when I leave home without at least one piece of black clothing on my body, and quite often I'm in black from head to toe. Colleagues tease me and little kids ask me "Why you got all black on?" but I really don't care. Black is comfortable; it goes with everything; it's soothing to the eyes and nerves. It may fall in and out of favor on the runways, but in the Stygian depths of my closet, black is always the new black.

I've been dressing this way for years and years (P, who always did the laundry, just rolled his eyes at me and bought that special detergent for dark fabrics), and it only causes trouble when I have to go to an event where black just won't do. I've got one of those tomorrow -- it's a wedding where G is the flower girl -- so tonight I went out in search of something with color. G and I pawed through every rack at Target until I finally found a sort of dusty rose skirt that I thought I could wear. But then I caved in and bought a black top to wear with it. I am incurable.

While we were at the store, I also let G get an i-Cat, which is something she's been wanting for a long time. (Yes, we bought the black model. Why do you ask?) I did not think the i-Cat was going to be all that exciting -- okay, it flashes lights in time to your music, big deal -- but it's absolutely mesmerizing. I've tried it with all sorts of different music, and it seems to do best with songs that are up-tempo and/or have a strong beat: the three best results so far were for "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" by the Arctic Monkeys, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" by the Chieftans, and "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani. However, just about any song produces patterns that make me sit, transfixed and probably drooling slightly, as I wait to see which colored light is going to flash next.

The i-Cat is also a virtual pet that asks for "feeding" and attention, which is something of a drawback as I already have two non-electronic cats that demand the same things, loudly, at three in the morning. However, the i-Cat has one advantage that Catherine and Malcolm don't have: you can turn it off by pressing its nose. Wouldn't it be great if real cats came equipped with the same feature?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It came from the freezer

Next in the never-ending parade of frozen food at our house:



These organic cheese quesadillas are from O Organics, the Safeway company's signature line of organic food. Since I bought them two weeks ago, I have sniggered to myself every time I opened the freezer, because the name "O Organics" reminds me of "The Story of O," which is a famous movie about sadomasochism. (Disclaimer: I have not actually seen this film.) As it turns out, the name is appropriate. I can imagine the Marquis de Sade having a few of these quesadillas to get himself in the right frame of mind for an evening of whips and chains.

Okay, maybe they're not quite that bad, but they are pretty bad. When you heat them, the cheese glops out like molten lava and then immediately congeals into an oil-soaked cheese sponge that gets harder by the second. The bland, greasy taste is nothing to write home about either. Plus, after you eat one, you're left with a lingering residue that resists napkins and feels a lot like wearing quesadilla-flavored lip gloss. They come three to a box; I ate one, and the other two are going in the trash. Live and learn.*

In other news, tonight G and I read a story about Robin Hood that led to some interesting discussion:

Me: So do you think it's okay to do something bad for a good reason, the way Robin Hood did?
G: Like what?
Me: Well, suppose you found out that someone was going to kill a lot of people, so before he could do it, you killed him instead. That's murder, so it's bad. But you saved a lot of people, so does that make it all right?
G: Yes.
Me: Or suppose someone had stolen a lot of money from someone else, so you stole it from that person and gave it back to the second person. It's stealing, but is it okay because it's for a good cause?
G: Um ...
Me: Actually, I don't know the answer either. But it's definitely something to think about.

*Not all O Organics food is like this. Their cheese lasagna is very tasty.

The monkey on my back

Is there a support group for people who can't stop buying books? If so, somebody needs to sign me up, stat. There are two overflowing bookcases in my living room, one in my bedroom and one in G's bedroom; the top shelf in my bedroom closet has books stacked all the way to the ceiling, and I've got three or four boxes of them lurking in my storage unit. Books are on the verge of pushing me out into the street, and yet I keep buying more of them, despite regular trips to the library. I also have a shameful addiction to ordering from Amazon, because having books delivered right to your doorstep is better than Christmas. (Well, isn't it?)

So, since more books are obviously what I need, this evening I stopped at the Crack House, a.k.a. Borders, in search of a parenting book I'd seen recommended somewhere. I couldn't find it, but somehow managed to leave with three new books for G: Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse (the sequels to The Mouse and the Motorcycle), and Dragon of the Red Dawn (the new Magic Treehouse book). I then went to pick G up and prodded her into putting on her shoes and getting ready to go by telling her that I had a surprise for her down in the car. I'm sure a lot of kids would go "Awwww, books?" when the "surprise" was revealed, but G was all squee and delight and "Thank you, Mommy!" As P would have said, "She's your kid."

Despite having new books in hand, she opted to read more Story of the World at bedtime. My dad had read the section on the Norman Conquest, knights, and the feudal system in England to her when he was over last night, so I moved on to the next bit about samurai. This is one of the things I'm not sure I like about the way the book is set up: it's fantastic that it covers what was happening in countries and cultures outside Europe at different times, but the jumping back and forth can get confusing, like a movie with too many subplots. I'm not sure how I would organize it differently, though, so maybe I just need to change my approach to the way we're reading it. I've also found myself skipping a lot of the setup to each new section, where there's often an entire page of narrative devoted to locating a country on the map. It doesn't take that long to say "Here's England, and then here's Japan over here," does it?

G was interested in the samurai, but a bit disappointed that there was no mention of ninjas, as she's a great fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. TMNT turned out to be helpful, though -- she said "Oh, I know what a katana is; Leonardo has two of them." It's amazing what you can learn from cartoons!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Old before my time

So I took the test at RealAge.com, and it seems my RealAge (the shape I'm in) is 40.3, almost 5 years older than my chronological age. This is depressing, though not surprising as most days I feel about 100. Where I did well: eating breakfast, wearing a seatbelt, not smoking, eating red meat or drinking and driving, and being the right weight for my height. Where I really fell down: too little sleep, too much stress, an insufficient social network, not enough exercise, not taking vitamins, and having dodgy gums.

*goes to floss*

Anyway, I've had a very productive day for an unhealthy old bag (ha). I got quite a bit of cleaning done this morning while G was glued to the computer, and then she went to sleep at 8:30 with no struggle, allowing me to do even more. In between, I took a break and we went to California Adventure for a while. I knew it was supposed to be warm today, but I wasn't expecting the 97 degrees I got, nor the unseasonable wildfire. I saw a plume of brown smoke in the sky when we were on our way into the park, and by the time we left, the light had that sullen reddish cast you only get during fires -- the sort of light I imagine there must be on Mars -- and there were tiny flakes of ash whirling through the air like snow. Eerie! I know fires are a good thing ecologically speaking, since they fertilize the earth and clear out old deadwood, but it's awful to think of people's homes being destroyed. Although I suppose if you insist on building your house in a fire zone, you have to take them as they come.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Grumpy McCrankypants

It's a good thing G and I live with each other, because I don't think anyone else would be able to stand either of us at the moment. She is moody, hypersensitive and prone to slamming doors and stomping off in huffs, and I am impatient, irritable and sluggish. In her case, I suspect it's down to hormones starting to kick in -- my mother and sister were both very early bloomers who got started at eight or nine, and she seems to be taking after them physically. In my case, I left puberty behind when Reagan was still president and am 10 years too young for menopause, so I don't know what my excuse is. All I know is that if I had a lawn, I'd be out there yelling at kids to get off it right now. If I could find the motivation to leave the sofa, that is.

In between spats, G and I did manage to accomplish a few things today. We took a walk and met a pair of mallard ducks whom we named Danny and Dora; we played a game G learned at school that's like Cootie, only with paper and pencil; we went to the grocery store and bought a box of Girl Scout cookies on the way out (after last year's cookie-selling experience, I'm no longer able to walk past a table manned by a desperate mother without buying something in solidarity); and we picked up Story of the World, Vol. II again for the first time in a few weeks.

Since G and I are reading the SotW books for fun and enrichment rather than as a serious history curriculum, we tend to cherry-pick the parts that look most interesting, so tonight we read about Amaterasu and Susano, Australian aborigines, and the Maori in New Zealand, skipped Charles Martel and Charlemagne (we'll get to them sooner or later) and then read a long chapter about the Vikings and the Norse gods. G is already pretty familiar with those characters -- we've got D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths and have read quite a bit from it -- but she'd never heard tonight's story, which was about Thor trying to steal a giant's drinking horn. She loved it, especially the part where the giant's cat licked Thor and batted at him with its enormous paw. All I could think was Man, I'm glad I don't have to scoop THAT litter box. Hee.

Party at my house

Last night I dozed off on my bed while G was watching a DVD in my bedroom. When I woke up, I was greeted by the following scene of chaos:

• A chair that had been upended and draped with quilts and pillows to make some sort of Roman lounge
• A nearly-empty bag of Goldfish crackers
• Several half-empty water cups
• Toys scattered hither and yon
• A camping lantern on the floor
• Clothes of both mine and hers, also on the floor
• Underneath the clothes, a lot of my jewelry (grrr)
• One of those feather-wand cat toys with half the feathers pulled out

I'd woken up because G had climbed onto the bed with me and said she was tired. After I packed her off to her own room and started cleaning up, I went downstairs and discovered that this was because it was 1:16 a.m. Well, no wonder.

Note to self: Next time, don't lie down.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high

Who else remembers all the lyrics to the Reading Rainbow theme song? I was in junior high when the show started, but since my closest sibling is eight years younger than I am (and the next-closest is nineteen years younger), I had plenty of opportunities to watch good old LeVar Burton talking about books.

Anyway, since every day is a reading rainbow at our house, here's what we've been reading lately.

G's Reading List

The Stolen Sapphire: A Samantha Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) -- American Girl Samantha and her friend Nellie encounter a jewel thief on a trans-Atlantic ocean voyage.

The Curse of Ravenscourt: A Samantha Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) -- Samantha and family stay at a fancy new high-rise apartment building that is supposedly cursed.

Snooze-a-Palooza: More Than 100 Slumber-Party Ideas (American Girl) -- Exactly what it sounds like!

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary) -- At a run-down hotel, young mouse Ralph meets a boy called Keith who lets him ride his toy motorcycle.

My Reading List

The Herbal Bed (Peter Whelan) -- A play about an actual historical event in which William Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna, was accused of adultery.

The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) -- A woman recalls how, as a teenager, she discovered the terrible secret of her father's involvement in a centuries-long hunt for the real Dracula.

The Faraway Tree Collection (Enid Blyton) -- A group of children discover an enchanted tree full of strange people, with a portal to an endlessly rotating series of magical worlds at its top. (Blyton books are a total guilty pleasure for me -- I never read them when I actually was a child, but I would have loved them if I had.)

In other news, I learned tonight that G thinks I lose my temper and yell all the time. This wasn't a tearful confession; she was laughing as she said it, like "Haha, Mom, you nut!" I freely admit that I've been just a wee bit stressed out since P died, but I really don't think I yell that much. (Although it occurs to me that a kid's definition of "yelling" is often not the same as an adult's; I remember believing that my parents or teachers had yelled at me when in fact they'd just spoken sternly.) I suggested that if G thought I yelled, she must have forgotten that her father could practically burst your eardrums when he was angry, and she laughed again and said "Yeah, he sure could!" I'm not sure what to make of that.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Under my spell

On Mondays, part of G's homework is writing her spelling words three times each. Tonight, as I was sitting next to her and watching her do this, I decided to entertain her by writing a story that had her entire spelling list in it.

He dragged the boat out into the cold water. The road was not visible from the lake, and the only sound was the blowing of the wind across the snow.

He had been told that the most gold lay under the lake -- a load of it, old and valuable. Forget the pot at the end of the rainbow; the muddy lake bottom was his goal. All he had to do was break the ice enough to float out to the middle.

Unfortunately, as he was climbing into the boat, he stubbed his toe, fell over the side and drowned. His bones were the only part of him that ever saw the golden treasure at the bottom.


I thought this was going to be a source of mild amusement, but G was entranced. (Although she did say "Mom, you could have just had him hit his head when he fell out of the boat. You didn't have to drown him.") She used the blank area at the bottom of the page to draw a picture of a skull resting next to a heap of gold coins, and then she announced "I'm showing this to Mrs. K tomorrow" and tucked it into her homework folder. Gulp! Her poor teacher is going to think we're a family of freaks, which isn't too far from the truth is certainly not the case. I'd sneak it back out of the folder later on, but I know I'll never hear the end of it from G if I do.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Letting go

One thing nobody ever tells you about is the amount of business involved when someone dies. Five minutes after you get the news, while you're still sitting in a hard hospital chair all frozen with disbelief, people start wanting you to sign things and make decisions. Which mortuary should we notify? Will you be doing organ donation? Here's a bag full of clothes and jewelry to take home. The business goes on and on, like a jungle you have to hack your way through, and every time you think you're finished, another bit crops up.

In the beginning, I thought I'd be done with the business part of things when the funeral process was over. It took forever because it was a holiday weekend and they couldn't order a casket and we had to go outside our parish (the same church that was rude about our wedding was rude again about the funeral, surprise surprise) and the crematorium was overbooked and the priest was busy. With all that, it was nearly two weeks from the day P died until the day we interred his ashes, and afterward, I thought, "Okay, now it's over."

But it wasn't over, because then a month later we moved and I had to go through all of his things and box them up and decide what to keep (nearly everything) and what to get rid of (hardly anything). And then we got to the new place and I thought "Now it is definitely, absolutely over." Only we couldn't get the plaque for the niche straightened out and I had to take all the money out of P's bank account and pay his car registration and tell people who called for him that he had died, and it still wasn't over, damn it.

So all that got resolved and we got through the holidays, and I thought, "It's been six months and it's got to be over." Except then I had to file the taxes and tick the little box that said P had died in 2006 and list myself as a "qualifying widow," and then G's pediatrician didn't know and I had to tell her. And today is the eight-month anniversary of P's death, and I just realized that two of my dresser drawers are still full of his socks and underwear. I'm so used to them being his drawers that it never occurred to me to open them or empty them or put anything of my own inside. So now I have to decide: do I hang on to thirty pairs of socks, or do I let them go?

Can I let them go?

Letting go is at the bottom of this process, this business of wrapping up all the loose ends. You can't do it all at once and be done, no matter how much you might wish to. First you let go of the physical part, the body, and that isn't as difficult as you might think, because it's so clear that the body is not the man. But then you have to let go of all the things that tied that person to life, and that's much, much harder. I would say I've had only limited success in that area: I forced myself to cancel the cell phone and send back the DVR box and notify Social Security, but the cable is still in P's name and I haven't closed our joint checking account. Worse, I've still got the last two DVDs he ordered from Netflix. They came in the mail the Friday before he died; he never had a chance to watch them, and I can't bring myself to send them back, even though every month I keep them costs me money.

Then after that comes letting go of objects, and there I've failed completely. I have the clothes P was wearing when he died and the sheets that were on the bed, all neatly packed up and sealed in a box. I don't take them out and look at them, but I have them. I have his toothbrush. I have his razor. I have scraps of paper with his writing on them. How can I let go of those things? I can't even let go of possessions of my own that I had while he was still alive. It's especially hard with clothes: I go to throw something away, and I remember that P was with me when I bought it, or that he liked (or didn't like) how it looked on me, and I put it back in the closet. It's a part of the business I can't finish, even though I know that this will never be over until I do.

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