Thursday, July 25, 2013

Body Type

I watch as she moves closer to him. When her body meets his, she lifts her arms to wrap them around his neck. She raises her chin to smile. He looks down at her, circles her waist with his arms, then offers a happy grin.

My paper cup of iced decaf is cold in my hand, so I shift from staring at the young couple to finding a seat in the cafe. I lower my tote bag to the empty chair next to me, extract my cellphone, and check email messages. But soon enough, I return my gaze to the couple. They are chatting while still deep in the hug.

This is what I miss, from my marriage, from my husband. The toe-to-toe enveloping, the hug. I wonder, does she get to inhale the scent of a freshly-laundered shirt, as I did when I closed in on Tommy? Does her boyfriend’s shirt smell of Target’s lemon-scented detergent? Tommy’s did.

Although my husband was decades older than the lad in my vision, his frame and strong body were similar. When I met Tommy, on the street where we both lived, my first thought was, "not my body type." He was about 5'9", tall enough for a shrimp like me, but had no fat, no rolls plumping his belly. "Nothing to hang onto," I complained to my friend after a few early dates.

The short, tubby, white-haired, Santa Claus-type, sans the red suit, was what I was going for after a divorce from my first husband, who at 6’ and skinny towered over me. I didn’t need Dr. Freud to diagnose that my predilection for rotund was based on my father, the parent who called me his princess.

Before I met Tommy, I found a boyfriend during that Bermuda Triangle period of my life -- between divorce and remarriage -- that perfectly fit my body-type requirements. He was short and fat, had grey hair, and even smoked round the clock like dear, departed dad. While the cigarettes, fast and careless driving, unhealthy eating, and intense friendships with other women, should’ve sounded alarms, I was too smitten to think clearly.

Fortunately, my father's doppelganger settled on another gal that he fancied more than me. I lamented for a bit, but eventually realized I was fortunate in dodging a lifestyle that likely would’ve had me growing infirm and fat.

When nonsmoker, tip-top shaped Tommy came into my life, I quickly tossed out my previous preferred body type and came to love the one I married. Of course, my husband’s other prized features helped to dump doughy. Tommy was low maintenance, helpful around the house, had interests that matched mine, and most importantly, thought I walked on water.

Not long after my sighting of the hugging couple, I told my daughter, “I’m not ready to date, and I can’t imagine sharing my new life with anyone, but I miss spooning. It’s a bedtime perk I pine for.”

 “Try a pillow,” she said. “Get a king-sized one, place it vertical in Tommy’s spot, and cuddle up.”

In the bedding department of Macy’s, I had my choice: down-feather combinations, foam, polyester fiberfill, memory foam and latex.  Prices varied. When the salesperson was out of sight, I lifted each pillow and hugged it to my body. Like the children’s fable, one was too soft, another too hard, and one -- although not perfect -- would do.

Along with my pillow selection, I bought a set of king-sized pillow cases. I washed the pair in Target’s lemon-scented laundry detergent, then slipped one over my husband’s proxy.

At night, as I clasped the pillow to my body, I knew my arrangement would be a poor second to the real thing. The body type turned out to be flawed, too cushy where it should’ve been muscled, too short where it should’ve been a few heads taller. But the freshly laundered pillow case conjured a fragrance that improved my tableau.

With my imagination urging me on, I whispered to the pillow, “love you, Tommy.” This was my half of a duet we played out each night. In my head, the one now deep into my polyester fiberfill,  I could hear his response: “Love you, too!” 

 The pillow, which soon morphed into my perfect body type, and I, grew drowsy, then we both surrendered to sleep.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Head Trip

"Just put it on my credit card," I say to the American Airlines agent at the gate.

I'm pleased with myself. I have gotten to LaGuardia early enough to get a flight that will get me home several hours sooner than my original ticket.

As I move to the back of the line of passengers on the jetway, I look at my ticket and again pat myself on the back. "Aisle seat, row 11, extra legroom!" I say aloud. I’m not worried my fellow flyers will question my glee because they'd certainly empathize with this great spot.

But my outspoken declaration must've roused my husband who, since his own flight departure, has been residing in my head and engaging me in frequent conversations.

"I don't know why you're feeling so proud of yourself," I imagine him saying. "You just spent $75 to get this earlier flight, and that's on top of the $75 you spent to change airports."

I wasn't surprised to hear Tommy's view because my recent shifts and credit card action were two hotspots in our otherwise mellow marriage. As example of his steadfastness, my husband had lived in the same apartment for several decades. His bride though, counted 13 changes of residences before we met and two more post-Las Vegas nuptials.

In the second area of major spousal differences, Tommy worked at jobs with modest salaries yet managed to enter our marriage with an admirable savings account. Me?  I supplemented my income with a Home Equity Line of Credit, and even when warned by my tax advisor that it was likely I'd outlive my money, I did little to change my practice.

"Is it the extra $150 that's bothering you, Honey?" I ask the curmudgeon accompanying me along the gangplank. "You of all people should understand that life is unpredictable, and hanging at the airport wasting precious time is crazy."

What I didn't point out is this: who could have forcasted that less than a year ago, Tommy was alive, on this earth, not in my head. We should've taken that trip to the Greek Islands we talked about. Or Japan. Oh, there were a number of places that were on our Someday list. And now, he is relegated to being my fanciful traveling partner.

My spouse was quiet as I found my aisle seat, and when I enlisted a sturdy male to hoist my carry-on to the overhead bin. This, of course, was my muscular husband's task on the trips we did take together. In his absence, I pull my little old lady act and stand helpless until someone conjures his granny and comes to my aide.

Once I'm seated, with seatbelt securely fastened, Tommy starts up again. "So why Kennedy instead of LaGuardia?" he asks. "If you would've chosen this airport in the first place, you could've saved $150 in change fees, plus the $20 difference in cab fares."

I was wondering when he was going to get around to that major gaffe. I had my answer at the ready; I'd blame someone else.

"Well, I put the query on my Facebook page and..."

Did I see my spouse shaking his head? I realized I had walked into a third breach in our harmonious life. While I own every Apple device Steve Jobs dreamed up, I couldn't get my husband to desire an email address. His only interest in technology came when he'd  haul a kitchen chair to my home office and glare over my shoulder as I opened website after website trying to find his perfect golf club.

"Okay, Honey," I said. "I know you don't like Facebook or understand my obsession with it, but normally my friends have submitted very good advice to my questions. For example.."

I stopped before I could list the successful recommendations that clearly outnumbered this last erroneous answer of Kennedy over LaGuardia. "Okay, maybe I should've done more research," I said. "It was a learning experience. Next trip in, I'll have the right answer.”

Tommy was silent. Had I wounded him? I shouldn't have mentioned visits to New York. I jumped in before his voice returned to my head. "This trip was great," I said, "but nothing like our jaunt to the Big Apple. I didn't do any of the memorable things we did together. No Central Park, no Ellis Island, no Tenement Museum."

As the airplane lifted from the runway, I closed my eyes to recall that wonderful weekend we shared. Did I slumber? It's possible because Tommy quieted down, too, likely satisfied I hadn't forgotten.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Empty Nest Syndrome, Part 2

I had narrowed my search to synagogues whose online descriptions contained code words that met my criteria: inclusion, equality of women, welcoming to gays and lesbians. As I scrutinized their monthly bulletins, I imagined myself sitting in a Torah class debating the text's contemporary relevance. Would that satisfy a current tug?

Maybe a Sabbath service at another house of worship? Could that  reignite a lapsed  faith?  Or, would a film or book group provide stimulation and challenge? A social justice program focused on immigration? How about that one?

The quest began to feel familiar, so I closed the cover of my laptop and moved to the couch for further investigation. It was there, sinking into the furniture’s comforting cushions, with my eyes shut, that my mind was free to flip the pages of the calendar backwards. Days, weeks, months, years reversed until I reached 1988. That's where my tour ended. I was likely, once again, suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome, albeit with very different losses.

I pin my first experience with the malady to the gloom I felt after my two daughters moved from living at home to their own apartments. But, that wasn't the excuse I used to cajole my husband. My addiction to my girls, and his feelings of being lower down my list of beloveds, were already causing frays in our 28-year marriage. So, I opted for a project I thought could bring us closer together, and perhaps fill the void left by my absent offspring.

“I want to join a synagogue,” I told my husband. We were living in our posh condominium off of Michigan Ave. and seated at the breakfast table with a view of the lake and other high rise buildings.

“Why now?” he asked as he divided the morning paper -- sports for him, local news for me.

“The High Holidays are coming up and I don’t want to feel left out,” I said. “I don’t want to feel dumb anymore.” This was believable, and it remained the excuse I gave to others who questioned my synagogue search and my timing.

“I’ll do the investigating and If I find one that feels comfortable, you can check it out,” I said.

We landed at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston. With its charismatic rabbi’s encouragement, I joined the Board of Directors, and embarked on a year-long study to have an adult Bat Mitzvah.

My plan worked. My husband joined the synagogue’s choir, accompanied me to Saturday morning services, and lifted his tenor voice in ritual song during the celebration of my late-to-the-game, coming-of-age ceremony.

Then, he left me for another woman.

Feeling like a third wheel, and possibly the object of pity by those who knew my story, I dropped my JRC membership. Occasionally, I’d return, and when I married Tommy, I brought him to a special service. But, my second husband had his own Lutheran lapses and while he encouraged my bond to my roots, had no interest to join me. So, I slowly let Judaism seep away until this current search.

While my first attack of Empty Nest Syndrome was brought on by my daughters’ departure, I realize now this second episode is due to a combination of losses. Consider: within a period of six months, Tommy and I had soothed our golden retriever as the dog took his last breath. Three months later, it was my husband who died after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

Then, I added to these losses by -- in what  seemed like a flash -- selling our house and moving from a neighborhood where both the dog and spouse and I lived happily for 13 years with model neighbors.

While my swift action was intended to lift depression and establish myself in a new, urban lifestyle -- and in many ways the relocation has accomplished this -- that blue feeling that accompanied my daughters’ leave-taking has begun to creep in.

How to fill the void? Will a particular synagogue help me find new faith and relieve the sadness? But, then I remember those old “third wheel” feelings that arose as a solo amid families and couples. Would I be at ease in pews of long-time members up-to-speed with one another and liturgy?

Perhaps I should instead postpone the search, slow down, and sit with the inevitable sorrow that has been my recent visitor.  Staying put; a new challenge for me.