Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Re-Couching the Potato

I'm on the couch watching an episode of "Castle," when I say aloud, "This is a fun show, Tommy, I wonder why I didn't watch it with you?"

Of course, there is no reply from my spouse as he has been dead for over six months. But, like many widows, I regularly engage in one-sided conversations.

I continue, "I know you're getting a kick out of me being back on a couch. They tried to pull me off, but the routines you and I treasured are winning out."

The "they" I'm referring to includes my daughters and my friends who derided my married couch-potato lifestyle. Neither Tommy nor I were partygoers or night owls and we preferred staying home, watching television on our dual couches.

It's likely they blamed my reluctance to venture out after hours to either my husband's preference and my adherence to his wishes, or later, during his illness, to wanting to be on hand for his care.

While some of this is true, I must now confess: Tommy wouldn't have cared if I left him to join friends for an evening out. On the few occasions I did this, I'd return, flop onto his couch and jokingly say, "Don't make me go out again."

"You belong home with me and the Pooker!" he'd say. Buddy, our Golden Retriever, would be tucked in next to Tommy, so I’d have to squeeze myself in between man and dog to make my silly announcement. Of course, that scenario occurred several years ago, before aphasia robbed my spouse of speech and when Buddy -- who somehow became “The Pooker” -- hadn’t succumbed to his 14-year-old canine ailments.

My life obviously changed when Tommy died. With his presence not overriding decisions, I opted to try to fulfill the wishes of They. So, I booked theater events and dinners out with friends. In long distance calls and on Facebook status updates, I trumpeted, “The potato is becoming un-couched.” At once, I was lauded by those championing an exit from my nightly horizontal TV-watching habit.

And, when I sold our house and moved to a downtown apartment, my support team concluded, “Now that you’re in the city, you’ll find it so much easier to go out in the evenings. Restaurants, theaters, movie houses all nearby.” With my interests at heart, they likely envisioned me dolling up nightly, slipping on high-heeled shoes, enveloping myself in new, not-black t-shirt and not-blue jeans clothing.

Alas, a leopard doesn’t change her spots and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Take your pick of these animal-themed cliches. After a month in my new urban lifestyle, with a vibrant city and night lights summoning from my floor-to-ceiling windows, here I am plopped on my solo couch, and even finding new TV shows to watch. I offer a few reasons:

1) I love T.V. Tommy and I had a roster of shows -- primarily police and medical procedurals, with a few sit-coms thrown in -- that I taped so we could watch them together during our 7-8 p.m. viewing. Recently, I stretched that time to begin at 6 because I added Netflix and Apple TV and am catching up on missed programs.

2) I’m an early-to-bed and early-to-rise kind of a gal. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As proof, there are black-and-white photos of me slumbering atop folded arms on banquet tables at weddings and bar mitzvahs. So, like those metal doors that seal run-down storefronts, my lids fold at 8 p.m.

3) Because I am much more active during the day, I require evenings at home to recharge. I live adjacent to a health club, and I exercise most mornings. There’s a Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Mariano’s, and Target within walking distance. These frequent 2-mile roundtrips, accompanied by age and arthritis, demand relief.

4) I have lunch dates nearly every day. Friends are eager to see my new place,  so we’ve been booking meals at nearby restaurants.  One restaurant meal per day is fun, two is overkill.

So now, in my adorable urban apartment, with a view of the Chicago river and skyscrapers, I’m on my couch with a dinner tray atop my stretched out legs. While my loved ones might be disappointed in this turn of events, I know of someone who’s delighted. “Move over,” I imagine him saying. So, I do, and at the same time, make room for the Pooker.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Coed Majoring in Phys Ed

I never went away to college. When I graduated from Roosevelt High School, my parents couldn’t afford to send me Downstate to the University of Illinois, or to other places my wealthier classmates chose. So every day, I took the CTA to Roosevelt University where I was granted a partial scholarship. And following classes, I again rode the trains to a part-time job.

As I look back, this was hardly an idyllic undergrad campus experience. But, because my best friend, Ruth, also went to Roosevelt, and because I received a great education, I didn’t feel deprived.

Now, in this new chapter of my rookie widow life, a bit of imaginary campus life seems to be emerging. Often, I feel as if I were a freshman, away from home for the first time, majoring in Physical Education.

I was explaining my theory to Ruth, who is still my best friend after all these years. “You’re right on one count,” she said. “We both went straight from our parents’ homes to our marriages. There was no period of time when we were on our own.”

One of my daughters, who was also given the hypothesis, disagreed: “What about the time you and Dad separated?” she said. “You lived alone then.”

“Somehow, this is different,” I said. “You two girls were still in Chicago and stopped in often enough that I felt as if I were living the same life. Just without him.”

I’ve been musing about this sensation of a freshman year and believe some of it may be related to home furnishings, some to the youthful population in my apartment building, and some to my more active life.

Because my apartment is a convertible studio, with a bedroom behind a sliding door, the queen-sized bed that Tommy and I shared  was deemed too large. So, I dropped down a size to a “full,” better to suit my fictitious dorm room.

Also, I took with only a few pieces from our former three-bedroom home and got them painted in bright colors. This update has made it appear that the kitchen table, coffee table, and hall table are not only brand new, but purchased at kicky Ikea. Surely, that’s where true coeds find their furniture.

I revealed the other half of my conjecture -- my chosen major -- to another daughter. “So, Phys Ed,” she said. There was a pause while she likely recalled her mother’s previous attempts to learn how to swim, my start-and-stop gym memberships, as well as my lack of coordination.

“Should I expect to see you in a league?” she asked. “Uniform with logo on the back?”

I smiled and accepted the skepticism, which I knew was trimmed in pride. Both daughters are my biggest supporters in my recent sad-to-swift journey from married-to-widow, from home owner-to-apartment dweller.

“No leagues,” I said. “But, I work out every day. I take Yoga three days a week, have a personal trainer one day, do the workout on my own two more days, take swim lessons and paddle by myself whenever I can fit it in.”

“Good for you, Momma,” she said. I’d like to think that a vision of an active parent striving to keep fit, who has elected to live in a tower of mostly thirty-somethings rather than with peers in in assisted living, delights my kid. 

In my imaginative college life, I’ve also decided that I live on a campus. You see, the health club where I work out is attached to my apartment building, so I have the sense that I’m trekking the quadrangle. 

Here’s another aspect of university life that supports my theme: class assignments and homework. In the real world, I’m still operating my public relations business and my sidelines of coaching writing and using Apple mobile devices.

While my Phys. Ed workouts are a priority, there’s a danger of neglecting revenue-producing work, sort of like flunking out. And, this time around, without an empathetic university to grant me funds, hitting the books is essential. But, without frat parties, sorority mixers, or other late night revelries, I should be able to pass my freshman year.

Of course, if I wanted  to bring my make-believe world closer to a true collegiate experience, there should be a roommate sharing my space. While a corporeal buddy would be ideal, this coed will settle for framed photographs of a beloved husband. Like me, my Tommy missed the campus experience. Let’s try this together, sweetheart:

We're loyal to you, Illinois,
We're "Orange and Blue," Illinois,
 We'll back you to stand 'gainst the best in the land,
 For we know you have sand, Illinois,  Rah! Rah!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Psyche and Its Five Stages

In the past few weeks, my psyche has been on a roller coaster. I’ve counted five stages that lifted, dropped, and finally steadied me. 

The Euphoric phase began when I prepared to move into my new apartment.  I breezed through my To-Do list: Hire a mover, arrange for a house sale,  unpack boxes with the help of a best friend, submit maintenance request for paintings to be hung,  renew membership at adjacent health club. 

Jubilant text messages and photos flew from my iPhone to friends and family. I gushed of exercise classes, breakfasts with friends, walks downtown. My daughters especially, returned words of happiness for me.
As prepared as I was Euphoria, I failed to brace myself for the next stage, and wound up capsized by Grief. This is what happened: The estate sale of left-behinds was over. I thought it wise to return and check out the house before the buyer’s walkthrough that was to occur on the morning of the real estate closing. 
 “Why are you going back?” a daughter asked. 

“I just have to be sure all is okay for the walkthrough,” I said. 

“Do you think you can handle it?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

I took the Blue LIne from my apartment, then walked the short blocks to my house. I got only halfway there when I could feel myself crumbling.

“Will you go with me?” I said to a neighbor as she was getting into her car. “I’m going to check out the house, and I don’t think I can do it alone.”

“I’m on my way to pick up the kids,” she said, “but I’ll get my husband.”

I stood on the sidewalk, sinking lower each minute, as she raced into the house and returned with her husband. He grabbed my hand.

“I thought I could handle it,” I said, already weeping. 

“No problem,” he said.

When we arrived at my front door, my neighbor handed me off to the owner of the estate sale company who was awaiting a pick-up of my upright piano.

“I’ll take it from here,” she said, and opened her arms for my collapse. 

As I hung on to her, I viewed the empty house, now devoid of furniture, artwork, clothing, pantry or refrigerator goods, and I sobbed.

The emptiness and finality summoned the same anguish as I experienced with my husband’s death

“Get it all out,” she said. 

By the time I left our house for the last time, I recovered. I reversed my route and returned to my apartment.

Two days later a text arrived from my real estate broker, “The walkthrough went fine, no problems.” 

“Thank God!,” I sent back. “I was on pins and needles.” Because I had rolled the dice and moved out before the closing, I was especially grateful to enter this stage, Relief.

A few hours later, a phone call from the same person, “Congratulations,” he led off. “I wanted to be the first to tell you. The closing is over, all went well. You’re no longer a home owner.”

I sent texts to my daughters and friends who were awaiting the outcome of the closing, “‘Tis done!” 

Their responses came immediately: “Congratulations!” “You must be so relieved!” “Yay!” 

But instead of joining the glee chorus, I had an odd feeling of, how shall I say it, anticlimax. Where was the Euphoria I had felt when I moved, pre-closing, to my new apartment? Where was the Relief from the first text of a successful walkthrough? 

I realized then that those positive emotions had been first put into play with Tommy’s death. His absence, the void, the empty house, the finality, would forever tinge these pleasurable feelings.

“You can pick up your check,” came the next electronic message. This, from the paralegal who had worked on the deal. 

As I walked from the lawyer’s office to my financial manager, with the check from the house sale proceeds tucked inside my tote, I felt myself entering yet another stage, Pride. I had done it. I made the decision to put the house on the market. I had successfully, with my broker’s aid, negotiated a price that brought a bounce to my retirement account. I had moved, unpacked, and was already settled in my new home.

My roller coaster ride is easing into the finish line. I’m calling this stage, Tranquillity. Not as heady as Euphoria, much better than Grief, a companion to Relief and Pride, and an emotion that, prayerfully, will keep me company as I move through even more stages of this new life.