Life As It Becomes More

The holidays when you’re 50 are much different than the holidays when you’re, let’s say, 30. I’ve had years in between where my enthusiasm ebbed and flowed. This year I was eager to get the Christmas tree and Veruca was equally excited. The two of us drove to the tree farm and there were about a half dozen families toting dwarf trees to their cars and the pre-cut Frasers were, well, NONE. Anyway, a google search revealed another tree farm in our area I’d never even heard of and let me tell you right now – the tree I reluctantly chose (reluctantly because the branches were upright and tightly hugging the trunk) was the Most Beautiful Tree I’ve had in years.

Anyway, my 50-year-old enthusiasm was limited to the Christmas tree and the stairwell I decorate with garland and baubles every year. The artificial tree we put up in the rec room never made it out of the box. The Christmas Village ceramic houses never made it out either. We didn’t decorate the outside of the house. I’m not sorry. I just didn’t have it to give.

There’s an old quote: “just don’t have it to give.” Came from a Gemini male I once shared a home with in my 20s, who was full of prolific bullshit like statements about me being “uptight.” I learned to cringe when these statements flowed from his or, even years later, others’ lips. But today, older and wiser, I realize that the former statement is a confession moored in self-awareness that is more positive than negative.

I’m trying to avoid the inevitable cliché that comes when one pontificates about life and becoming conscious of what really matters when it happens at the turn of a new year. That it’s also a new decade does not have an elevated significance in my particular case. Unless we’re talking about my new decade.

Anyway. My friend lost her dad in December. The memorial service was earlier this month and I made the hour-and-twenty-minute drive to honor him and support her. Our families have an interesting history.

We were both born and raised in the same town. Like I think it is with most folks, the town is one which is spoken of with both reverence and disdain, often in the same breath. Our town is, uh, town. The town isn’t exactly small, but so many people know each other in a seemingly impossible way that it’s almost incestuous. (Okay not really.)

So… my mom worked with T’s grandmother before I was born and for a couple of years after. My mom somehow always knew T’s parents too. My dad and former stepmother were friends with T’s aunt and uncle (her dad’s brother) – which is where it gets really weird because I remember a time when they took me with them to the aunt and uncle’s home and there were other kids there that I played with. It wasn’t until many years later, when two of those kids (T and her brother, now adults) were working at my mom’s restaurant, that I realized that we had met so many years before. (Do I need a diagram?)

In another strange twist, thanks to Facebook, I noticed that T was friends with someone I went to high school with. T didn’t attend the same school as us, and she is also five years my junior. When I finally remembered to ask the friend how she knew T, it turns out her mother used to work for T’s father.

Anyway, back to the memorial service. Many, many people came. Mom met me there. We stood in the line to see the family, which was really long and moving like a backwards river. Seriously. I found my patience waning fast as folks were stepping out of line to greet and hug others and then the line would come to a standstill until they stepped back into the line. And there’d be this huge gap between people that ramped my anxiety to blast-off.

This well-dressed little old lady with impeccable hair and makeup in front of me stopped moving altogether as she stood staring at her husband who had left the line to chat with old buddies from somewhere. I pondered the possibility that he was deliberately ignoring her gaze. And then was struck with the urge to scream, move the fucking line! But thankfully I’m not yet old enough to pull off shit like this in public, so I said it in my head.

The line went on like this for about 25 minutes and I was beginning to wonder if the services would start on time. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.) At one point when I thought I’d hit the peak of my anxiety and intolerance, T and I made eye contact and for a brief moment I was sure I felt her. There’s something between us that can be read as instant understanding sometimes. If I ever had a sister, she’d be it. Not because we might be alike, but because in many ways we’re not and there’s this innate understanding that cannot be explained. There are things over the years we have shared with each other that with others might be a, “huh?” that for us is, “haha, YES.” And she is no nonsense. You better buckle up because she will tell you straight up Truth.

So we moved through the line and sat down, which is when my entertainment really begins. The older folks with the bouffant hairdos and the outfits and the jewelry. Familiar faces too (it’s our town, after all). There was this one man who clearly was either wearing a hairpiece or using Grecian formula, with a pencil-thin mustache, and was a dead ringer for one of my family members.

The photos on the monitor could easily have been photos of my own family … the clothes, the hairstyles, the furniture, the backgrounds. There was a picture of T’s dad as a boy on a pony. We have an identical picture of my uncle. It’s all this weird six-degrees-of-separation that isn’t limited to just our town, and it’s so very cool.

I don’t know how all this segues into my thoughts about life and where it’s going and what matters. I suppose funerals do that. T’s brother spoke eloquently of time spent with his father and the value of memories…. Though he didn’t say it quite this way, that we have an obligation to impact our children with memories the way our parents did for us.

For the first time I didn’t cry at a funeral. I don’t know if it’s because there wasn’t a profound sadness permeating the room or whether I drew my cues from T, or whether there was larger, deeper impact poking at me. I left there feeling like I needed time to process and reflect on the feelings circling like birds overhead.

Much of my twenties was chaos. Not in the literal way… just chaotic movement from place to place, person to person, living in the moment (sometimes self-destructive) in anticipation of “what’s next.” Never quite sure of myself while being fully myself and lacking the awareness to understand why I did what I did and how not to do certain things again.

The thirties introduced a long period of change and more chaos which turned out to be more destructive even than that of my twenties. The juxtaposition of becoming a parent and loving something more than my own life while simultaneously fighting for my identity. It was a period of survival. I’d forgotten that I had choices. That I’d always had them and that somehow I’d relinquished them to someone else, who had no business deciding for me.

The forties: a rebirth. A remembrance of me. The final hitting of a wall; a wall I couldn’t climb or go around. The revelation that the only choice I had was in fact no choice at all. I had to move forward and away from toxicity and vicious words because the only thing I could change was how I chose to live. And look where it got me!

The fifties have just begun. I embraced that birthday with the spirit I have always had. I’ve been living in joy and peace and contentment for the last 9 years. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Except for less debt and a swimming pool.

Still, there’s more. I want to live in the moment, every one, but this time with the awareness and connection I didn’t have 25 years ago. Less distracted. More tuned in. And I knew this before I googled what it meant to dream of thousands of cats running around my house.

 

 

 

To be continued….

Where We’ve Been

It’s been a busy month or so. September – a friend’s 50th birthday celebration, a living history event with Frida Kahlo, two wine festivals we planned but bagged out on, and dinner with Todd’s parents.

We, on behalf of the college, attended a fundraiser for families of children who passed suddenly. The mother of a 19-year-old boy who was killed in a car accident on his way to work spoke first and I sat there trembling with tears. A fellow dean and friend also attended and he, like a true Gemini, tried to lure me onto the dancefloor for one of the newer line dances I don’t know and I – unlike a true Gemini – refused on merit of self-preservation. I did, however, buy $40 worth of auction tickets and Todd and I deposited them in various bags and won – NOTHING. Typical.

Opac came home for fall break – Todd picked him up and he was already gone by the time I’d gotten home from work. He couldn’t wait to drive the Mustang again. But he did pop home around 9pm between visiting friends to see me and gave me the biggest hug. God, I love him!

The next night we had friends visiting from out of town and went out to dinner and then hung by the fire pit for the rest of the night. O came home around 11 and sat with us for a while, entertained by Greg and his whiskey-fueled musings. I don’t know what time “we” called it a night but the next morning Leila told me she yelled at Greg for being so loud at 3 a.m. and he said someone was a real pool shark, which prompted me to say – wait, WHO is a pool shark? And Greg said, Todd. The two of them were playing pool until 3 0’clock in the morning. Apparently very loudly. And I slept through it all.

Sunday was our JDRF fundraiser and I was so proud to have O there with us (V wanted nothing to do with it) – friends and family were there and he got to talk about school and how he’s doing, and I just stood back and took him in. My heart just swells when I look at him. He amazes me and yet he is exactly who he has always been. Yes, I’m gushing. Deal with it.

He spent the night at my mom’s because she offered to drive him back to school the next day, so I had to say goodbye to him in front of everyone and after I hugged him I ran away and burst into tears. I was so not expecting to have that reaction to saying goodbye this time. My heart wanted to explode. WTH is this? This is me. In a nutshell, I have always, always had this separation anxiety that feels like fear. But I refuse to have either of my children feel this.

So the following weekend was Homecoming for V. She got the last hair appointment at the salon that was at EIGHT THIRTY IN THE MORNING for… are you sitting down?… SIXTY-FIVE DOLLARS. For a set. And spent the rest of the day trying not to lay her head down. This was $30 more than a wash, cut, and style. I’m shocked and more than a little pissed. I guess I’m too told to know that this is normal for special events, but for lord’s sake, it’s not a gad-dang wedding.

So her girlfriend came over and they got ready together, we took some beautiful pics of them and, on the drive to the school, friend was gushing about some boy from the private school who’s Russian and has an accent and “he’s so pretty.”

I left early to pick them up so I could park close to the building and watch all these girls walking out barefoot in dresses just long enough to cover their underwear. When my two got in the car they told me those girls have “spandex” on underneath, but I still don’t know exactly what “spandex” entails unless it’s just shorts. Nevertheless, WAY too much skin showing and now I know I sound old. I will take comfort that one day they too will know the betrayal of middle age.

Oh! And there’s this “new dance” called “grinding.” I had to laugh because it’s so NOT NEW and to V I said, you know that Prince was singing about this in the 80s, right? They were chatting in the backseat about who was doing it and, “did you do it?” “No! I didn’t do it.” “It’s disgusting.” And I’m still wondering how those other girls were doing it in those shirts disguised as dresses. Oh right – spandex.

The day after, V went to another friend’s house for a birthday party. I went to the door with her to talk to the parents and I mistook mom for V’s friend when she opened the door and then I really felt old. I swear they’re making parents younger and younger these days.

So last weekend – the highlight of October thus far – was a long-awaited concert with Dennis DeYoung. We got the tickets during a PBS fundraiser one cold winter night by the fire with a bottle of wine, with a meet-and-greet attached. It was held in an old, small, historic venue about an hour and half from us, and we were front row and center. It was awesome. His band was great – the lead singer, August Zadra, a perfect blend of Dennis’ voice and Tommy Shaw’s. He and guitarist Jimmy Leahey were amazing and they were having so much fun up there it was impossible not to smile back and by the end my cheeks were sore.

Dennis is the consummate and most gracious host. And funny. He asked who in the audience was seeing him live for the first time. I raised my hand. And then he fired back at the crowd, well what the hell have you all been waiting for? I’m 72 years old for God’s sake. And then, what? You said to each other, we better go see that guy before he dies, right? And we all laughed. He’s still got it and you know how some long-time rockers’ voices have altered with age? Not his. It’s the same, perfect voice that sang in the darkness of a 7th grade dance long ago.

And we were surrounded by old people. Well, not really, but the average age was easily 55. I was in line for the bathroom before the show, a line about 30 women long so I was texting Todd who was waiting downstairs. Are we really this old? He said, they’re old. We’re not. But, we blend, I said.

But we’re not all old. A woman in one of the stalls: Does anyone see a tampon machine out there? A collective “no.” And then, Can you guess what my next question is?

I do, I said. Because I have these things in every purse I carry, because – middle age. You never know when the body is next going to fuck with you, because middle age is a bitch with a ruthless sense of humor. I agreed to play along once I realized this was a one-way street, so I come prepared in most cases.

After the show we lined up with all the other fossils in the VIP section for pictures with Dennis, who was flanked by his wife of 50 years (Suzanne sings backup) and his lead singer – interesting, we assumed so no one can get too close to him. Dennis said to Todd, you were in the front row. And Todd thought that was cool that he noticed, and I really think it was because he was the only one holding up his phone for two hours (after Dennis, during the concert, remarked about getting away from technology and current shitstorm for a night). Then he asked if we got sprayed with sweat/spit in the front row, and I said, only a little, which was my way of joking but no one really laughed so now I’m wondering if they thought I was serious and now I’m feeling bad.

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Copyright Taraka and The Tara Chronicles, 2019.

The rest of the weekend was sort of anticlimactic – I got up after 5 hours of sleep to do the neighborhood yard sale and, after making exactly 25 cents in the first hour, declared it a waste I’ll never do again. Meanwhile Todd, who was carrying random shit out during the sale, made $10 and a new friend in a half hour.

I leave you with the lyrics to this song recorded by Dennis DeYoung in 1980 and that in-the-moment, nearly-40-years-later revelation of how its timelessness resonates today. (Thank you Dennis.)

Tonight’s the night we’ll make history, honey, you and I
And I’ll take any risk to tie back the hands of time
And stay with you here tonight
I know you feel these are the worst of times
I do believe it’s true
When people lock their doors and hide inside
Rumor has it it’s the end of Paradise
But I know, if the world just passed us by
Baby I know, you wouldn’t have to cry
The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain some shine, we’ll make this a world for two
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times
These are the best of times
The headlines read ‘these are the worst of times’
I do believe it’s true
I feel so helpless like a boat against the tide
I wish the summer winds could bring back Paradise
But I know, if the world turned upside down
Baby, I know you’d always be around
The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain some shine, we’ll make this a world for two
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times
These are the best of times
And so my friends we’ll say goodnight
For time has claimed it’s prize
But tonight will always last
As long as we keep alive memories of Paradise…
Source: Musixmatch

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

So, in case you missed it, I’m still in recovery. Todd says, YOU’VE HAD MAJOR SURGERY, at least once a day. He’s living life dangerously.

Last week we had the septic system pumped out. I got up that morning and suddenly remembered the 3-foot-tall mint patch surrounding the cover, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that NO ONE else in the house remembered this. I texted Todd and inquired before I actually went out to look. You know what he said? No worries, they’ll crush it when they come in to pump.

REEEALLY? That’s assuming they can even FIND the cover. Which I told him. And you know what he said next? He said, you can go out and cut some of it down. Yes, that’s right. Mr. you’ve-had-major-surgery just told me I could go outside in 97 degrees at 7 a.m. and CUT DOWN the mint around the septic cover. This requires me to bend over, reach out, and use my arms. I don’t know how “they” define straining, but this seems to me to be maybe a little bit of straining.

But I did it. But I only cut halfway around the lid and left the cuttings lying on the ground nearby in a neat pile, you know, so it was obvious that I did it.

On a side note, if you want to grow mint, plant it somewhere that won’t encroach on anything else (like NOWHERE). My mom gave me a small bunch from her garden about three years ago. It was one.little.plant. It was cute, like crocuses. NOW it spans the length of a commercial airline strip and is about as wide as the tailgate of our pickup truck. And you know what else? You can’t give that shit away. Apparently none of my neighbors drink mojitos either.

Anyway. I’m still trying to get stuff done around the house, and have managed to firmly delegate to the prince and princess of the house a handful of chores I need done to not become a screaming lunatic maintain my sanity. Opac’s room does not presently fall into this category, but today I changed my mind when I passed his closed door in the hallway. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

He is in driving school (mandatory in the state of Maryland) again this week, with two days left to go (in the classroom) before he does the behind-the-wheel portion. They “highly recommend” the driving coach ride along for the first session. Well, that aint gonna happen. I’m still restricted from “long car rides,” thank GOD. Sessions are two hours long. TWO HOURS.

So far, the longest I’ve ridden with him was a little over an hour – to meet his dad to drop off/pick up Veruca, because I’m not supposed to drive that far yet, let alone ride. My muscles were screaming so loud I had a headache and when we got home I crashed on that worn spot on the couch.

And while we’re on the subject of long car rides I’m not supposed to take, my mother – who expressed concern over an upcoming 12-hour shift I’m covering at work – asked me to come up to the restaurant (an hour and 20-minute ride, minimum) AFTER I worked my first day back, three weeks post-op from [insert Todd: MAJOR SURGERY] to “oversee” things at the restaurant. This is confusing at best.

So I returned to work last Saturday. And trust me, you have never seen anyone so happy to go to work. Like, ever. We were only open 8 to 12, so it was a short and very quiet morning. But I remembered how to do my job! Great boost for the morale!

And then Todd left to go grill at the restaurant (she needed help) and Opac left for a party and I was home alone for 8 hours! I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but I spent most of it in that place reading, watching Netflix, eating ice cream, and not sleeping. At least until Opac got home, and then I was out cold until I heard Todd’s keys on the kitchen counter.

I don’t know what I did on Sunday. I have no memory of Sunday. All the days are melting together like a popsicle in the sun.

We had the family over Sunday a couple of weeks ago, because I haven’t seen Dad in months. He travels a lot for work, sometimes for weeks at a time, and I still had his Father’s Day gift. He acted all, oh-I-didn’t-need-a-gift, until he opened it and saw the Trump coffee mug: Nobody is better at Fatherhood than you. All the other dads are a total disaster. Everyone agrees, believe me. I don’t think he found it as hilarious as my brother and I did, but as long as it made me happy – that’s all that matters, right?

It was a nice day, albeit exhausting for me. I didn’t do that much, but it was enough that I needed to lie down for a while.

Surgery changed me in ways I am still discovering. I’m normally all in for socializing and I love going out and being with people. Not now. Peopling is hard right now, and I don’t want to. I’ve always been upbeat and positive and, like the title of my former blog, Finding Joy. My last good joke was when I told the person in the hospital that I was having breast implants. Nothing seems funny right now.

It’s like I’ve been Ignoring Joy, which could be the title of another blog post but I’m done with serious bitching and being negative. Todd has hinted a handful of times that he just wants to enjoy life and be happy, which is a like an elbow to the ribs and a great big, hint hint. He’s not used to this side of me. Even back when he carried me through the darkest days, he still got the good parts of me that were still flickering like the last bit of wick fighting not to burn out. He knows who’s inside of me, and he hasn’t seen her in over a month.

He also understands the struggle, because he’s been there. When I have a particularly bad day, he reminds me – you’ve just had major surgery. It’s only been 3 weeks. And then he follows with, it’s going to take a couple of months. Which is where his rallying speech becomes a warning, really, when you think about it – for himself.

But, as I return to my old work schedule tomorrow, I am feeling eager and grateful. It’s the gateway back to “normal.” I get to see my coworkers and smile again, because work has always been – for me – that place where you leave your troubles outside and forget them until the work is done. You can be anyone you want to be while you’re working. And when you leave, you can pick that shit up and take it home with you, if you want. It’s all a choice. For me, it used to be about survival. But now, it’s the way I choose to live.

And, for the record, I am finding joy again, slowly, even as my body will remind me it’s time to rest. Pull just one more weed? Nope, I’m tired. I need to lie down. Mop that kitchen floor that hasn’t seen water in 4 weeks? Maybe today. Either way, it will all be here tomorrow, as it always is – but my children are growing up too fast and my husband is so busy with his new responsibilities and the time we get alone together when we’re both awake is short for now.