Sunday, August 18, 2013

milestones

On July 26th, a couple of friends sent messages to say that they were praying for or thinking of the girls and me extra on that day. When I read the first of these messages, I had to think hard about why that day warranted extra thoughts and prayers. I finally figured out that July 26th was one month after Adam's accident.

Though I will never forget the day of his death, the date does not stick in my mind as well as the events. In fact, when filling out the first batch of estate paperwork, I had to repeatedly check the calendar.

When I mentioned this to our grief counselor recently, she asked if there were any upcoming milestones that concerned me. I've realized that for me, the milestones of grief will be not dates, but events: canoe trip, apple butter stir, Thanksgiving, the girls' first boyfriends, their drivers' licenses, graduations, weddings.

Today was one.

This weekend, one of the local living history groups is holding their annual summer gathering, at which Adam and our friend Doyle have roasted a hog for at least the last twenty years. Though I have gotten used to the empty space that Adam left in the house (and really, the process of rearranging the house to better suit the girls and me has made that space less garish), Adam's absence was a gaping hole in the events of this weekend. Adam and Doyle's partnership had at least as many habitual patterns as Adam's and mine, and they all crumbled to pieces this weekend, one after another. Each successive task that he was not there to do and each tradition in which he did not participate was a fresh reminder that he is never coming back.

A steady stream of fresh reminders all. day. long.

I'm glad that I went. For the most part, I enjoyed the day: I visited with people I don't often see, I got to pet greyhounds, the girls ran amok in the woods with a pack of great children. There was amazing music and delicious food. It was so very difficult.

As in other years, I felt like the pig pit was my center of gravity, the place to which I returned between other things. But it was not a center that sustains. Instead of my favorite person there was his absence because he is never coming back.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

ring

I'm still wearing black, but I'm not wearing this:
I could give you lots of reasons.

It's heavy. 
It doesn't fit very well anymore.
Adam rarely wore his.
It's not really the embodiment of the vision I took to the jeweler who made it.

If I'm being honest, though, the real reason is that I just don't feel married. Sitting at dinner with friends the other night, I looked at my own hand and thought, Why are you still wearing that?!?

I've never believed in the family-reunion-up-in-the-clouds vision of the afterlife that is so prevalent in American culture, so I don't believe that Adam is 'looking down on us' or that his soul continues to have agency in my life. It is through our stories and our memories that the dead are present in the lives of the living, but that is our agency, not theirs.

So, I'll just put this over here.


I don't particularly feel single either. This is that wilderness between end and beginning.

Monday, August 5, 2013

stats

I don't really remember why I started this blog in 2008. That's a little sad, isn't it?

I do, however, remember that one of the things I was hoping for was conversation in the comments section. Blogging is often described as being inherently narcissistic, and I suppose sometimes it is. After all, here I am putting my personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings, what I once might have put into a locked diary, out in the ether for all to see. My conscious purpose has never been to use this space to declaim as from a soapbox. I have always wanted to generate conversation. You talking to me, but also you talking to each other.

Rarely does this happen on this blog, friends.

Though, I have been somewhat gratified to see this sort of conversation developing in the comments on the Facebook links to these blog posts.

But what really rings my bell is the stats page! A couple of years ago, I had almost given up writing in this space because I figured no one was reading. Then I discovered this:
Is this not a thing of beauty? It shows me how many pageviews the posts on kolokolchiki are getting and when. This particular shot shows activity over the past week, and that tall spike is when I posted "how are you" and "black."

I could go on about the stats page for pages, but I'll limit myself to one more thing right now.
This is an analysis of you, the audience of the blog over its entire existence. Which browser gets you here, which operating system organizes your life, where you come from. 

I especially love the map of the world. Readers, you are everywhere! For most of these countries, I can think of someone I know who lives there, but not for all of them. I might have readers who don't actually know me in real life. WHOAH! 

I am humbled. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing links. Thank you for commenting. 

Happy 100th post!


Friday, August 2, 2013

black

I can't really explain why I have chosen to wear black or how long I will continue to make this choice. Though, I suppose it will be at least long enough to justify the shopping I've done.

I do occasionally geek out on tradition, but I don't embrace tradition simply for its own sake.

I can say that in the aftermath, color felt wrong. Wanting my outside to represent my inside, I craved the emptiness and despair of black. I wanted to mark myself so that the people with whom I interacted could see my state, my in-a-fogness, my dropped-out-of-timeness.

I'm not in that place anymore. I've re-entered time, and the fog is lifting.

But I'm still choosing black.

Beginnings and endings are different sides of the same coin. The tragic end of my marriage is also the hopeful beginning of a phase I can not yet name. I miss Adam terribly, but at the same time I am intrigued by the possibilities ahead of me. My practical self is incapable of wallowing, but forging ahead too quickly would be folly.

Limiting myself to the plain emptiness of black is a call to dwell in my grief, to inhabit the liminal wilderness between end and beginning, to slow down.

It is like a fast from color.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

how are you

One of my favorite lessons to teach English language learners is one that I never plan. Inevitably, my advanced students, who have sufficient mastery of the what and how of using English to start wondering about the when and why, one day come into class and ask me, "Why do Americans always want to know how I am?" or "Americans always ask me how I am. Why don't they listen when I tell them?" The students are always shocked when I say that even though Americans ask the question "How are you?" all the time, most of the time they really don't care how you are. They don't want to hear about your headache or your challenging day at work or the problems in your love life.

A lot of what happens in an advanced language class is learning to move beyond the simplified interactions that are taught at the beginning levels, so my students have been surprised when I say that in this case, you really just need to stick with the conversation pattern:
-Hi, how are you?
-Fine. And you?
-I'm good.
The space for creativity and individual expression here is in the choice of adjective. Any synonyms for the word 'good' are acceptable: fine, great, good. Positive words like wonderful, excellent, and splendid are probably safe, but okay and so-so are as negative as you can go without making the other person uncomfortable by pushing him to ask you what is wrong. This interaction is really more ritual than conversation. Really, this ritual is so ingrained, that sometimes a distracted person will answer "Fine. And you?" even if you didn't ask the question. Or people passing in the hallway will say this exchange as they are moving away from each other.

There are times, however, when Americans do want a genuine, non-ritual answer to the question, "How are you?" Like when old friends meet after a long time or when the person asking knows that you are probably not okay/great/fine/wonderful. Although the words are the same, the body language  and intonation are quite different. When "how are you" is part of a genuine conversation, the questioner makes eye contact with the interlocutor, possibly while stepping closer or leaning in; he pronounces the individual words distinctly and puts extra emphasis on the verb 'are.' How are you?

I've had more genuine 'how are you' conversations than usual in these last few weeks. In fact, after the first week, when I started to re-enter the normal world of grocery shopping and running errands, I had gotten so used to the genuine question that the ritual took me by surprise. It was a bit of an effort to say, "Fine. And you?" those first days back in the world. Lately watching for the genuine question has become a bit of a macabre amusement. I can almost see it coming. Something in the person's face changes, but I can't find the words to describe it to you here.

So, how am I?

I'm complicated and capricious.

Sometimes I really want to be alone, and sometimes I really crave company. And the sometime may only last ten minutes before I want the other.

At times I feel like I'm walking through uncharted territory in the dark, and I'm frightened. Then, I remember that though I have never been here before, other people have. I know quite a few people who have lost spouses too young, but it's easy to forget because they have passed through this darkness into beautiful lives, and that gives me hope.

I feel like I've joined the worst club ever, but the other people here are pretty cool.

The loss of my spouse is a grief more intense than any other in my experience, but a couple of significant losses in recent years have prepared me for this in the sense that I have thought about the cyclical dynamics of grief and am aware of how I grieve.

I am looking ahead. Though I will not be returning to campus as a full-time student and teaching assistant in the coming academic year, I will be finishing my dissertation in absentia at Rambling Farmhouse. And then, I will be looking for a job in academia. Not having to strike a balance between my career and Adam's career makes this job search less complicated than it would have been, though the children and our extended family make it less than simple.

I am coming out of the fog, and this is a mixed blessing. I like having a brain again, but the fog was sort of a protective blanket. Having a brain means noticing the little things that I now have to do for myself because Adam is not here to do them. Over the course of our fifteen years of partnership, we had developed automatic patterns of working together. Each time I notice that I'm doing his part of the pattern, I'm reminded that this loss reaches into every aspect of my life.

So, that's how I am. Thanks for asking.

P. S. We're okay financially, too. The generous gifts we've received from friends and family, the wise choices about investments and life insurance Adam and I had made, Social Security, and the auto insurance settlements (still to come) will take care of the girls and me until I find a job worth having and then be a safety net for the next phase of our lives. Don't worry about this.