2017 started out with so much hope. After 18 days in the hospital, most of those in the ICU, on January 4th we were on our way to rehab. Two weeks tops. Some exercises. Physical and occupational therapy. Then we were home free. A few months of recovery and it would be back to the old normal. Summer on the boat. Tailgates in the fall. Like the pneumonia never happened.
It only took a few days to ruin those expectations. 2017 turned to shit. And it stayed shit. The old normal would never happen. A few more days in the hospital for biopsies & diagnosis and it was off to chemo. A few months of chemo and it was off to hospice. A few weeks of hospice and it was all over. The old normal was gone forever, never to return.
Let the search for the new normal begin. Weeks of anxiety, PTSD, inability to leave the house. I couldn’t even watch TV or listen to music or go to the grocery store. Thank the Lord for Amazon and Tom Thumb delivery services. Thanks for UberEats, Favor & GrubHub. Thanks for Netflix & Amazon Video.
Slowly (and with much help) I began to create a new normal. Watch Netflix instead of commercial channels. I still don’t watch the news or weather much. I can but I don’t. Create new playlists on Spotify that don’t include favorite tunes. I still don’t listen to much country music. I can but I don’t. In avoiding the triggers, I avoided the despair.
Until New Year’s Eve.
I had specific plans and goals for Thanksgiving and Christmas. A trip to Vegas with friends. A trip to California with the kids. It was all good. I was flying high. Challenge accepted. Challenge met.
Until New Year’s Eve.
Budman planned for NYE. He was in DC with friends. Princess planned for NYE. She went to a couple of parties with her Bobby.
Me? I found myself at home. Alone. With Facebook. Sweet, sweet Facebook. That lovely app that never forgets and never lets you forget. Facebook reminded me that in 2015 we attended the Music City Bowl in Nashville and that we had a large time. It further reminded me that we rang in 2016 in Memphis. On Beale Street. At the Blue Note. With Queen Ann Hines. What a memory. The old normal on full display. Fun, football, music, drinks, friends. The year before that, Liberty Bowl, year before that, Texas Bowl, year before that Chik-Fil-A Bowl. It made me yearn for the old normal once more. The full weight of the loss came crashing back down all at once. Toppling all the walls I had built, seeping through the new tough skin I had been grooming, covering me in a sadness that I hadn’t fully felt in weeks, maybe months.
But the next day was 2018. A year ago was a year ago. I got up early. Showered. Went to the grocery store. Made blackeyed peas. New Year’s lunch for one. Ham, mashed potatoes, blackeyed peas. Couple of Shiners. It was good.
I enter 2018 with my eyes wide open, looking forward. I am hopeful, but realistic. I have no idea what this year will bring. It is already bringing opportunities and potential changes that I would not have considered possible even 3 weeks ago.
A few weeks back I dropped a glass on the kitchen floor. It broke into pieces, some large, some small. I immediately picked up the larger pieces and then got the broom, swept the mess up and put it all in the garbage.
Later, on another visit to the kitchen, I looked down and saw a fairly large piece that I had missed. Picked it up, into the garbage. That night as I was rummaging around for something resembling dinner, I found another piece. How could I have missed it? After picking up, sweeping up, and then finding additional pieces?
I find now that my entire life is that way. I find stray shards. Remnants. Tiny little memories of her from time to time. Some of that is inevitable living in the same house we shared for 17 years, living the life that we shared for 29 years. It’s not like I’ve gone through some sort of purge. Things are still largely like she left them, not quite as neat, but mostly the same.
This Friday I spoke with our daughter. She had found one of her Mom’s hairs on a jacket she got out to greet our first fall cold front. The next day I found one on my fleece pullover. It was March when she made the decision to avoid the clump by clump falling out and asked us to buzz her head. So no hair since March. It’s almost November. Yet we still find those remnants of her presence.
It’s the little things like that. A strand of hair. The smell of her clothes in the closet. A faint whiff of her perfume in the bedroom. The sight of her Aggie ring on the dresser. I suppose that over time those things will stop happening. We lose a little more of her with each passing week.
But one little memory like that brings forth a flood of others. As Aves and I talked about the hair the conversation turned and we remembered her complete and total lack of ability to keep a secret. We plotted a surprise 21st birthday party for Aves. It was to be a total secret. Kim made it less than 48 hours before telling her. She was afraid that Aves might think we weren’t planning anything or had forgotten. She was the same way with presents. She would buy something early, be unable to keep it secret until the birthday/holiday, then give it early. Only to then worry that she needed to get something else to give “ON” the holiday.
So bring on the shards. Bring on the remnants. It only hurts for a minute and then the door opens on a lifetime of fantastic memories. And in the memory there is comfort. In the memory there is peace. In the memory she is forever smiling, forever well, forever with us.
It’s been over a month since I posted The Long Goodbye. The past 6 weeks have become more variations on that theme. Back to the funeral home to select a headstone. Trips to visit the gravesite, etc. At the time it all happens you think everyone has heard, you have talked to or texted with or instant messaged with hundreds of people. But it’s not until after that you realize that there are hundreds more out there that you haven’t heard from or they haven’t heard the news. So you have to tell it again. And again. And again.
The Long Goodbye turns into the Longer Goodbye with each retelling. Sometimes I worry that I’ll never be able to stop telling Kim’s story. Sometimes I worry that I’ll never get to tell it again. It’s a paradox. Wanting to find that “new normal” but yearning and unable to stop thinking/talking about the old normal.
This weekend was the big Arkansas tailgate at the annual Southwest Classic game at AT&T Stadium. As with so many things in our lives, Kim was the driving force behind our tailgating. She was in her element there. So we tailgate for Kim. And for ourselves. To feel close to her. To continue the family tradition because nobody does tradition like Aggies do.
It was an early game so we found ourselves packed up and ready to roll out at around 4pm. We had all the pups with us so we decided to stop by the cemetery on the way home. The dogs had never been there. So we took them out, turned them loose and the most extraordinary thing happened.
Rollie bolted straight for her grave. Stopped and spent the next several minutes sniffing around then laid down right beside her. Just like he did on the bed during her last weeks. There was an instant connection between Kim and Rollie, from the day we picked him up. He didn’t live with us long, just a week before we took him to College Station to his forever home with the Budman. But every time they came to visit, or we went down to tailgate. It was a glorious reunion between those two. And this summer while they were with us Rollie spent a lot of time laying in my spot in the bed. Just keeping her company.
He felt it. He found her. And it was clear that in his canine mind he is also living through the long goodbye. Kim loved all the dogs, our little Aussie trio. Paisley, the oldest – our daughter’s dog – was taught to eat Cheetos in various unorthodox manners by Kim. Sarge, our little baby came into her life at the very end, just with her for two weeks, but she quickly started calling him “my puppy” and loving on him when he was calm enough. They all miss her to some extent. But it seemed more intense with Rollie. We joked that Rollie was Kim’s spirit animal and I think maybe there is a little something to that.
So the goodbyes continue. Some public. Some private. Some with friends. Some with strangers. And the tears fall. Sometimes at home. Sometimes in the car. Sometimes in front of AT&T Stadium.
My wife hated Alka Seltzer. She could have the worst indegestion ever and would drive to the store to buy Tums instead of drinking Alka Seltzer.
But she bought Alka Seltzer.
We have never run out in 29 years.
She bought it because it is the only thing that helps MY indigestion.
These are the issues of my new reality. I think of a new thing (or 12) every day that I now have to plan for that used to just happen.
Because she took care of it.
The magnitude of this loss grows every day. Perhaps I trivialize it talking about antacids. But it demonstrates the depth, the fine detail, the enormity of her contribution to this life of mine, to the operation of this house, this family.
She was the head of the snake. She made this work. I knew it before. But it slaps me in the face a little bit every day, in tiny little ways.
It started on Friday, December 16, 2016. I didn’t know it at the time, but in hindsight it has become clear. This was the day we started the long process of losing little bits of Kim, saying goodbye, hoping they would return. Things like her voice, her laugh, her wit. All were there till almost the end but eroded. Sometimes in ways that we didn’t even realize at the time. A new normal every day, only to say goodbye to that normal only to embrace the next new normal.
We found out that morning that her mother had passed away. She hadn’t been feeling well but a flu test on Thursday was negative, so we were hoping for a better day on Friday. That didn’t happen. In fact she got worse.
I sat up with her late that Friday night. Unbeknownst to us she was in the early stages of pneumonia. Her blood oxygen levels were probably already low. That night her breathing was labored. I sat up with her until late in the night, that was the beginning of what would become a regular occurrence over the next eight months. We went to the ER the next morning. The rest is history.
Worse became even worse and we set new expectations for “the worst” many times throughout.
The “end” came last Tuesday, August 8th at around 4 in the afternoon. But the end turned into another beginning, another phase in the Long Goodbye. Family viewing, Visitation, Memorial Service, Graveside, Celebration of Life. A long week of goodbyes.
But as Monday morning dawned it became apparent that the goodbyes weren’t over. Indeed I wonder if they will ever be over. We referred to our second date as “The Date That Never Ended.” I’m starting to believe that I have now entered into “The Goodbye That Never Ends.”
She’ll always be with us. But she will also never be with us. So the goodbyes continue each time she pops up in conversation, or a memory jumps into our heads or we find some long lost token of her presence. The house and our lives are full of them. We think of her and then say goodbye all over again.
I know I said I was going to focus on memories past. But through all of this we continue to make memories every single day. Or do things that harken back to a time when things were different. Normal.
The pattern over the past couple of weeks has developed that Esposa will take her nighty night meds around 9 pm and promptly sack. I straighten up the trailer, watch a little TV and what not. Then around 11 or so I start to pack it in. That’s when she wakes up.
So we’ve gotten into a semi-routine of having long chats about random subjects till midnight or after. Those who know me know I’m all about my sleep, but the sweetness of laying in bed with my best friend talking about things; some good, some not so good, some that we could not have even contemplated 8 months ago creates an overwhelming desire for sleep to never come.
Last night she injected a new subject into our nightly chat, mid sentence: ice cream sandwiches. She brought it up and then left it. Ten minutes later she asks me why I let her mention ice cream sandwiches. I reply that if I had know she was about to say “ice cream sandwich” I would have stopped her. We continue. Five minutes later in the middle of a conversation on an unrelated topic she says “We need to talk about something that is completely the opposite of ice cream sandwiches.” Which seemed odd to me because we were talking about the car which is very clearly not an ice cream sandwich.
So I began to get the idea that maybe she wanted an ice cream sandwich. That’s just how perceptive I am. Literally read.her.mind. Call me Kreskin.
And that is how I ended up at 7-11 at midnight buying ice cream sandwiches. We ate them together. Just like so many nights past when we would sneak a bowl of Blue Bell before we went to sleep. We have always been each other’s Midnight Ice Cream Buddy.
In the midst of the storm. A tiny morsel of normalcy is always to be celebrated.
As Esposa and I started spending time together after meeting as described in my last post, we started talking about where we had been and what we had been doing all our lives prior to meeting. We started to notice a strange convergence of coincidentally being in the same place at the same time. Sometimes just in the same city, other times in the same room, without ever meeting.
The conclusion we drew was that God was keeping us apart until we were both ready. I had married while in college, had a couple of kids and was in the process of ending a 10 year marriage. She on the other hand had been living the single life, was a bit wild and unready to settle down. We both were off relationships and had no interest whatsoever in starting a new one. Until we met that is.
The earliest such occurrence was in 1962 during the World’s Fair in Seattle. She was around 3, me around 5 years old. Her family trekked to Seattle to see the sights, go up in the Space Needle and so forth. She recounted riding the ferry across the sound. Well guess where I was in 1962? We lived in Bremerton, just across the sound from Seattle. We rode the ferry frequently and indeed even attended the World’s Fair and went up in the Space Needle. Was it at the same time? Who knows. But it was the first of many odd coincidences that put us potentially in proximity to each other during our lives.
The next such possible crossing of paths was in 1970. As she was discussing her family vacations she described visits to many places that I had been, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc. but not at the same time. The common thread in all of these vacations was a stop in Las Vegas. Now I had only been to Las Vegas one time. In 1970. Guess who else was there that year? It is doubtful that we were there at the same time. And my visit was cut short because I was sick with Mononucleosis and we couldn’t stay long. Probably saved my parents a ton of money that they didn’t have the opportunity to gamble away.
In 1971 I was in Austin, TX for an ROTC drill competition. I was downtown about two blocks from where her Dad & Grandfather worked. And we toured the Capitol where her mother worked. Years later my mother-in-law pointed to where her office was located. I had walked right past her in 1971. If she had looked up from her desk she might have seen her future son-in-law.
The first time we can actually verify that we were in the same place at the same time took place in October 1978. We both attended the Texas A&M vs. Rice game at Kyle Field. There are no attendance figures that I can find for that game, but this was pre-third deck with a capacity of 48,000. I remember sitting in the upper deck. She doesn’t remember this game specifically but she would likely have been on the first deck in proximity to the Corps of Cadets. A long shot that we would have seen each other or actually met, but we both walked up/down the same set of ramps. Anything is possible. But this is where the “not ready to meet” comes in. At the time, I was a married college drop out with a young son. She was an active college sophomore and an admitted “boot chaser”. At that point in time we were both on a journey in opposite directions. She would never have considered going out with me at that time, even without the inconvenient fact that I was not available.
For the next 10 years I lived in and around the Dallas area. My feet firmly planted on the ground looking up at an endless corporate ladder. She finished her degree at Texas A&M, moved to Houston, then Indiana, then Austin and finally Dallas. The Indiana story is particularly interesting. She was doing a much better job than I at the corporate ladder thing. She was a branch manager for the world’s largest temp service in downtown Houston. In order to move to the next level she had to transfer. She was given the choice of Terre Haut, IN or New London, CT. Given her boot chasing proclivities choosing Connecticut would have put her right in the middle of the US Coast Guard Academy, New London Submarine base and all manner of military types. But for some reason she chose Indiana, a place that she disliked and ended up leaving to come back to Texas. Dodged a bullet there.
Fast forward to 1988. I was a newly single almost divorced guy hitting the bar scene for the first time in over a decade. She was new to town and had gone through a series of go nowhere relationships, hitting the bar scene with her friends. We could have bumped into each other at any number of bars, but one in particular stands out. Near my townhouse was a big country disco/live music bar called Borrowed Money.
“Borrowed Money on a Thursday night almost resembles a country and Western nightclub. It’s a modern-day honky-tonk, the kind where Coors Light easily outsells Lone Star and white hats are replaced by black ones from Labor Day to Easter.
As Straight Tequila Night fades out, the club starts vibrating with enough bass and drums to move a shot glass across a table. I like big butts and I can’t deny, Sir Mix-A-Lot raps on Baby Got Back, and the club’s excitement level shoots up like a bull rider’s adrenaline during those fabled eight seconds. The sonic transition is as loud and jagged as a rock crashing through a plate glass window, but everyone seems at ease with the new groove. Some of the dancers who were just two-stepping are now embroiled in lurid weight shifts and it almost looks like Fire Island, circa, 1976, with all these muscular guys with mustaches and cowboy hats snapping their necks in time to the monster beat.”
Borrowed Money inhabited the entire upstairs of the east wing of Caruth Plaza. As you came out of the stairwell you were on a level with the dance floor to your left and an elevated platform to your right. Up on the platform there were pool tables, a large horseshoe bar and the restrooms. On the dance floor level there was another bar, a stage for live music and tables as far as you could see into the darkness.
I was a denizen of the former. We would come in for the drink specials, play a few games of pool and have a few beers, or shots, or both. The men’s room had an attendant as most “high dime” country disco clubs did back then. For a buck you could slather on as much Drakkar Noir as you could stand. Esposa was a denizen of the latter. She and her friends would grab a table, have as many drinks as they could get the cowboys to buy them and dance.
There must have been dozens of occasions when we were in the club at the same time. But I didn’t want to date someone I met in a bar. Neither did she. That hadn’t worked out well for her and she was still dealing with “Medallion Man” who had bought her a few drinks and showed up at odd times to mow her yard.
But Borrowed Money is where we went on our first real date. To see Eddie Raven play live. It was the date that never ended.