Thursday, May 16, 2013
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
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.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
After my father died in 1959, my mother Min, his 46-year-old widow, and I, moved into a tiny garden apartment. At least that’s what the real estate listing had called it. Basement was more like it.
Mom had a knack for decorating and soon transformed the dark and occasionally damp space into what visitors called "a dollhouse." Needlework that she handcrafted hung on walls in the living room and in the one bedroom.
Despite her beautifying, the apartment was more subterranean than floral. The back door opened into the building's laundry room, and in the living room, when I sat on the plastic-covered couch and looked out the window, I could see the feet of other tenants as they walked past.
I recalled those mother-daughter dollhouse-days after I, a 74-year-old widow, moved into my 613-square-foot apartment April 15 of this year. Although I covered the experience in my roman a clef e-book, “She’s Not The Type,” I thought it worthwhile to to revisit that episode and description.
Here’s how my own downsizing began: Following my husband Tommy’s death in November of 2012, I had at first planned to accede to advice offered the bereaved: Don’t make a major move for at least a year.
But this obligatory timetable weighed on me. “I’m so discouraged,” I said to my daughter Faith. She was in town for Tommy’s memorial and I was using her as a sympathetic ear.
She put her hand on my shoulder. Her face had a worried look. This was not a typical mood for her mother. Throughout my husband’s illness, hospitalization, hospice, and death, I stayed strong and confident.
“It’s only natural,” Faith said. “Look at all you’ve been through.”
“No, it’s not that,” I said. “It’s that I see such a dismal future. I’ll have to rent out half the garage and turn our two spare bedrooms into housing for a boarder. That’s the only way I can see handling my bills.”
I went to bed that evening, leaving my daughter uneasy at my dispirited state. But in the middle of the night, I woke with a thought: I don’t have to listen to widow-advice that doesn’t fit me. I don’t have to stay in the house.
In the morning, Faith headed straight to my home office, prepared to console me once again. Instead, she found me searching the web for downtown, luxury high-rise rental apartments.
“Look,” I shouted to her. “Swimming pool, business center, exercise room!”
At first, my daughter was alarmed at this sudden mood swing. “What happened, Mom?” she said. “Last night, you were...”
“I don’t have to stay,” I said. “I can sell the house and move to a smaller place. One that I can handle. No snow shoveling, lawn mowing, worrying about downspouts, sump pumps, furnaces, water heaters. All the stuff I don’t understand in the first place. And, I won’t have to share the garage or bedrooms.”
And that’s what I did. To both of my daughters’ relief, I put the house on the market and found my version of a dollhouse. But unlike the one I lived in with Mom, I am on the 19th floor, so no feet obstruct my view, which to the north overlooks the river and to the east, downtown.
Although I lack my mother’s craftiness, all of the paintings that I love, now grace the walls of my new home and feel just right. And with the help of a painter friend, I have a petite office for my business that sports a Sapphire Blue desk and bench, both cut down to my size.
Best of all, I can walk through my building’s garage to my exercise club, which for an early-morning person like me, is a special treat. Neither rain, nor snow will prevent workouts.
In daily texts to my daughters, I have written, “Worked out, met my friend for breakfast, had a massage.”
And, “I’m living the life you dreamed of for me.”
Although I can’t see their faces in Boston and Los Angeles, nor hear their voices, I interpret their texted responses of “So happy. You deserve it. Can’t wait to see your new place” to mean they’re as satisfied as I am with my swift choice.
Now I wonder, in their afterlife abodes, how does Mom view my digs? And my dear Tommy, how does he feel about my leaving our house?
“Perfect,” I can hear Mom saying, and I see two thumbs up from Tommy. I believe they are both relieved, and at peace, to find me cocooned in my own dollhouse.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
We have a contract for the sale of my house!
Although the closing doesn’t occur until May 1, I’ve already signed a lease for my new apartment in River North that begins April 15. Then, I’ill use the week of the 15th to slowly move from one residence to another, with my final departure date, April 22.
This early transition -- 16 days before I turn over the keys -- is due to an April 28 sale of all of my belongings that are staying put. The company conducting the sale wants me, and a few furniture pieces, clothing, and personal items that are going with, to scram before a week-long set-up begins. Hence the premature exit.
To many, my plan -- as carefully thought out as a military maneuver -- might seem risky. In fact, it was my lawyer’s paralegal who warned, “You know there are always possibilities that a closing is held up.” I didn’t fault her caution; after all, it’s her firm’s job to protect me throughout the contract process.
“I understand the risks,” I said. “I’m willing to take them. I have to move ahead.”
I’ve often talked of my philosophy of Leap Before You Look. Now, I’m adding another credo, which I will call, Resist Limbo.
It was Chris, my temporary roommate, who originally urged a leap from on-hold to full-speed ahead. “You’re ready to go,” he had said. “This house is too big for you. If this deal doesn’t go through, it will certainly sell in a month.”
Because Chris had been using his time with me to explore my neighborhood, I felt his words had weight. And, since he has had access to all the house has to offer, I believed he knew what he was talking about. “Essentially you’re a stranger,” I said, “and you have faith in this house. Right?”
“No doubt,” he said. “You should go.”
That was all the incentive I needed.
“I’ll be in tomorrow to sign the lease,” I told the rental building’s agent in an immediate phone call. He had held this particular apartment for me for over a month, and its time limit was growing closer. Because the rent and floor plan were exactly as I wanted, I didn’t want to chance losing the unit.
“The 28th is solid,” was the message in my next phone call. Again, the owner of the estate sale company had been reserving the Sunday date for me, but I knew it was in jeopardy because of the increasing number of her sales coming up in April.
As I was about to make my third call, to my daughters to tell them of my speed-dialing decision, the paralegal called back. “No problems on the inspection,” she said. “All looks good.” She didn’t bring up the closing risks; perhaps she now understood I couldn’t be dissuaded. So, I took the latest news as a sign I was moving in the right direction.
While I can probably count on one hand a few rolls of the dice that didn’t win me the jackpot; on the whole, my risks have turned out successfully. Let me relate stories of quick, and potentially dangerous decisions:
-After my first date with Tommy, we became a duo. He moved in with me just a month after that dinner at El Tapatio restaurant. We married within two years. We would have celebrated 15 years January 13, 2013, but sadly, my spouse was otherwise engaged.
As I’ve written many times, it appeared Tommy and I had little in common. Certainly our marriage could be considered a major gamble. From religion to education to family obligations to bank accounts, we were at different ends of the spectrum. But, my guy and I enjoyed the very same lifestyle: a peaceful home with a pet, evenings on the couch with TV, and respect for each other’s hobbies. In short, I didn’t have to golf, and he didn’t have to love computers.
-My career is one of a series of risky bets. In fact, some of my jobs lasted less than a year; others went a tad beyond that timeframe. Here’s the map: Bernard Ury & Associates, Elaine Soloway Public Relations, Public Communications, Inc., Mayor Jane Byrne, CPS Superintendent Ruth Love, Jasculca/Terman, Elaine Soloway Public Relations, Apple Store, and then, drum roll, please, back to my own business.
Did this dicey route stigmatize Elaine Soloway as someone with a short attention span? I prefer seeing myself as a Selective Seizer of Opportunity.
There’s no predicting my latest wager will pay off. Certainly, glitches could arise before, or at the closing. But, once again, I’ll take my chances. Leap Before You Look, Resist Limbo, and now: Trust.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
This is what you can do: You can ask him to alleviate your melancholy by accompanying you to three events that otherwise would’ve had you attending solo. And since you no longer own a car, request he act as chauffeur in his. Importantly, you can advise him that the furnace filters need changing, show him how to pull down the ladder that leads to the one in the attic, and wait gratefully as he does the rickety climb.
So, on balance, it appears that the two weeks Chris is camping out in one of my guest bedrooms, while awaiting a move-in to his new apartment, is working out well. We made the unusual arrangement based on a barter deal. I provide his temporary housing in exchange for Chris -- a decorative painter -- to jazz up two tables I plan to take to a River North rental. And in a subsequent transaction, he will build me a flat-screen TV stand in exchange for my aged computer.
"What do you know about him?" daughter Jill had asked when I was in the decision phase of the roommate deal. “Did you Google him?” Her tone of voice was familiar: What the hell was her batty mother getting into now?
"Karen vouched for him," I said. Karen is a long-time friend and interior designer who has aided several previous real estate moves. "She's known him for years and has referred his work to many of her clients,” I added. “Very nice, quiet, dependable."
Daughter Faith was the one who -- in a terse text -- ordered "wear a bra." Like her sister, once convinced I’d be appropriately attired, and he was properly investigated, supported my new roommate.
The offbeat pact was actually my idea. When Chris visited to give me an estimate on the paint job, he also mentioned he'd be moving to a new space. Somehow, the two week housing void came up in the conversation, and the Jewish mother in me, who may have missed out on having a male third child, had asked, "Where will you go?"
"Oh, a friend will rent me a room," he said. "I'll be fine."
"If it doesn't work out," I said, in my Leap Before You Look philosophy, "you can move in here."
The invitation may seem odd because after my husband died in November, 2012, I rebuffed any notion of boarders. When various loved ones suggested that other people could forestall loneliness, keep me safe, and help with the bills, I thought about it for a bit. Then, I countered with the fresh delight of eating meals on the couch while watching TV, and the new freedom of caring only for myself. Thinking back to two marriages, I also relished thermostats now tied to my favored temperature, lights left on or off at my discretion, and the option to leave dishes stacked overnight in the sink.
"No," I said to the concerned crew, “no boarders, no roommates. I don't want anyone invading my space."
So, I’m not sure what flipped the switch to welcome Chris. Was it previously noted Jewish Mother-ism and a longing for a male child? Or perhaps simply monetary: a chance to save writing a check for the refurbished furniture?
This is what I have landed on: my husband Tommy, abiding now in his heavenly abode, has become anxious about his widowed spouse. After all, he has known me for 16 years, witnessed my ineptness with household tools and appliances, and is aware of my jittery reaction to creaks and thumps.
Unable to care for me in his habitual manner, Tommy has sent in a substitute. My husband knows I would have rejected an older paunchy type, as he himself was slender and fit, so he pitched a human I could accept. And, with Chris’ black hair, partial Jewish genes, he could pass for a relative.
“Good job,” I tell Tommy in my nightly report. “My roommate is working out fine.”
Then, I could swear I heard back -- or was it the wind -- “Always looking out for you, sweetheart. Never forget that, or the bra.”
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I need all of the "fanciful" I can get. Once my house is sold, these two pieces of furniture, which will be jazzed up to disguise their scuff marks and worn spots, will accompany me to my eventual apartment. I figure the bright palette will add a bit of fun to smaller rooms.
Like judges in some weird beauty contest, my friend Karen, the interior designer, and Chris, the decorative painter, have joined me at my three-bedroom house to decide which pieces will fit in a very down-sized space.
When I move out, and bring with the Sapphire Blue and Lime Ricky Green tables, the furniture I'm leaving behind will be part of a modest estate sale. Because I will gain some needed income, and buyers seeking bargains will benefit, the ache I’m feeling during the furniture competition is lessened.
As we tour, I wonder, do the pieces not making the cut feel wounded, like the two Room & Board living room couches that face each other? "Humph," I imagine them saying, "the measly coffee table she takes, but us she leaves behind."
To soothe the duo, who I picture with their upholstered arms crossed in defiance, I send a silent message: "Listen, dears, Tommy and I absolutely loved you. But, you're too big, you'd overwhelm the room. Even just one of you -- and you know I could never split you up -- wouldn't fit."
I feel better when the Secretary Desk is among the finalists. Not my style, but brought with by my husband 16 years ago when he moved in with me. "Nice, honey," I recall myself saying. As I ran my hands over the embossed design on the desk's front, I thought, "Where can I put this? It doesn't match anything else in the house."
The quaint desk did win a spot in our guest bedroom, and that is where I once tucked myself away to write. I imitated a Victorian novelist, and lowered the desk's panel to reveal tiny cubby holes and shelves that I filled with lined yellow pads, a variety of pens and pencils, books on “How to Write,” and draft after draft of heartfelt attempts.
"No paint," our trio of judges conclude as we eye the Secretary Desk. "It looks nice as is." It will go in my new bedroom next to a window, and I will use the fold-down desk to hold a MacBook Air.
Alas, the various pieces of country-style furniture Tommy and I bought for our one-year experiment in Geneva, IL., will remain for the house sale. Did we really believe that the lovely home on one acre in picturesque Fox Valley would suit a couple who had lived their entire lives in the city? Perhaps my husband, a gardener who immediately started planting, believed that. As for me, I discovered I could convince myself of anything, for a time.
Oh, if our furniture could tattle! The dining room table, with its one leaf extension, would tell of the evening my daughters Faith and Jill and their families, my ex-husband, and various friends and relatives, joined us for a Passover dinner.
Tragically, three of those at the table have since died. Surprisingly, two partners have been exchanged for new ones. And shockingly, one member has undergone a complete transformation. We knew none of that back then as we sat at the stretched-out table, laughing as the youngest guests performed in a Passover play. Would the table remember this rare, beautiful moment when my entire family was all in one place? Will it forgive me for not bringing it along?
One box spring and mattress, of three sets, will make the cut. Likely not the one Tommy and I slept in as it is deepened on his side, and indented on mine. Our Crate & Barrel dresser and one smaller bureau -- both in their original wood finish -- will move to the apartment.
The chest of drawers on my husband's side, which still holds his exercise clothing, practice golf balls, broken alarm clock, and other items with his imprint, will be sold. First, though, I will remove all, and pack into a special box that will go with me. Perhaps Chris will paint it. Sherwin-Williams, Number 6911, also known as Confident Yellow, sounds about right.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
At my feet are two baskets. As I draw clothing from the laundry chute, where it has landed after being tossed down from the second floor, I alert my blue jeans they are being dropped into "colors" and Tommy's undershirts -- that I have taken as my own -- are learning they are joining "whites."
Four month's after my husband's death, I find myself talking out loud. Not only in the privacy of my house where there's no one around to declare me loony, but also on the street. Listen to this recent conversation: "Good girl! That was clever to keep the drugstore receipt so you could exchange the blue nail polish that was crap."
Fortunately, passersby assumed I had a Bluetooth stuck in my ear, and there was someone else on the other side of the wireless. Naw, it was just me, enjoying the sound of my voice.
There are several reasons I've become a chatterbox in my rookie widow state: First, because I work out of my home, and there is no longer a dog or husband to benefit from my cooing, instructions, or revelations, I could possibly go an entire day without speaking. I doubt that’s good for my vocal cords or mental health.
When Tommy was alive, I was a big talker. He suffered from Primary Progressive Aphasia, and over the course of three years, went from having trouble finding words to being unable to speak at all. We communicated through post-it notes he wrote for me, thumbs up -- his gesture for everything's okay, thumbs down -- for the opposite, or simulations of the parlor game Charade.
If I couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me, I'd do my shtick: "Are you asking me a question? Are you telling me something? Does it have to do with a television show? A woman? A man?" and so on. Sometimes, our back-and-forth would take quite a bit of time. But, I refused to give up until I'd get the correct answer. And when I did, I'd give my spouse a happy kiss. Perhaps it should've been Tommy bussing me, but I always believed he deserved the reward because of his spirited efforts.
Even though my husband couldn't hold a conversation, that didn't stop me from talking to him. He could understand everything I said, and had no problem with memory, so I made sure to keep him in the loop of my daily trivialities.
"You'd never believe what happened today," I might say. And then, I'd relate some stupid story that was likely boring, but he was game to behave as if it was absorbing. If the tale made me a winner, Tommy would smile and give me a thumbs up. But, if it was my folly I was confessing, he’d shake his head and return to the T.V. Either reaction satisfied me.
After he died, there was no need to keep up the chatter since he wasn't around to hear it. So, I kept quiet. And eventually, the absence of voice overwhelmed the house. It sunk into the curtains, was absorbed in the carpet, leeched onto the walls.
That's when I started talking. Not only to myself, but to inanimate objects. "Good morning, Herman," I'll say to the stone hippo Tommy bought at a crafts show. It's a heavy and odd piece of art, but my husband liked it. It sits on a bathroom sill and gets a stroke on its smooth surface along with my words.
Not only objects de art are privy to my babble, but the early-mentioned laundry, a teapot, my iMac, various stuffed animals, bouquets of flowers, and I have been known to thank a jug of milk for not spoiling on its sell-date. There’s also the well-known questions you may share, but may not utter aloud: “Why did I walk into the kitchen? What did I intend to do here?”
Of course, I talk to Tommy often. I figure he's still interested in my minutia, so his framed photo on my bedside table gets an earful. "You'll never believe what I did today, honey," I’ll say. Behind the glass, he is permanently smiling. Two thumbs up, I imagine. Good enough for me.