I Have Lost My Mind (and my Pants)

When you wake up one morning and your husband is randomly dead, there is a long period of time where you feel as if you may have lost your mind. There is a “fog”, a cloud of vagueness and “what’s happening?” that covers you and protects you from the unbelievable reality that is your life now. This fog keeps you in a constant state of “Huh?”, and you tend to forget things over and over, repeat yourself, not recall entire conversations or even weeks of things you did or said, and just generally behave much like someone with memory loss or no brain cells. This must be how it feels for Kim Kardashian every single day. Empty.

Today is exactly 10 months since my husband died, and I am still in that fog. It has lifted a bit, and on some days, the sun peeks out for a few minutes or an hour, but the fog always returns. It is always there, lurking. This is one of the many huge misconceptions that most people have about grief and losing someone. People who haven’t been through this are starting to say things like “I hope things are easier for you now”, or “I hope you are finding some peace now that some time has passed”, or my favorite one that an older person said to me the other day: “So, are you better yet?” For most people who cannot grasp this life and cannot understand, there is an acceptable amount of time they will allow you to not be normal before they begin judging you or making assumptions based on nothing. What they assume is that because 10 months have gone by, I must be getting better, whatever the hell that means. What they don’t realize or will never understand is that when you lose your soulmate, your life, your love – in an instant – your heart and brain and mind and soul take a few months off. Your soul cannot deal with the shock, so it goes into the cloud for awhile. It hibernates. It usually starts to return and deal with the tremendous, unspeakable loss maybe 6 or 7 months later, just as most people are no longer asking you how you are anymore. Just as most people have stopped calling and texting and checking up on you. Just when you need people the most, the people start to scatter. Just when you finally begin to feel the real, frightening emotions of what this is, the world around you continues spnning. How dare it? There have been plenty of people in my life who have been nothing short of amazing and wonderful and caring over the past 10 months. But this piece isn’t about those people. It is about the other ones. And it is about trying to figure out who is crazier – me, or them?

 The first few months, people are all around you with love, and they offer to do things for you like pick up groceries or do your laundry. You come home and you have 47 private Facebook messages, 24 texts, and multiple voicemails that you can’t possibly comprehend or sit through. Maybe you listen to them, perhaps you glance at one or two of the nice things people have written. Anything you do read goes right out of your head. Nothing sticks. You remember nothing. Your grief fog makes it difficult to accomplish much of anything. You are like a robot, just getting through each day on autopilot. You cry and you scream, but the real, raw, scary emotions don’t happen until much, much later. You keep yourself busy. Your friends keep you busy. People tell you that you are never really alone.

Fast-forward to today. 10 months later. I went through and finally read some of the lovely messages that various people left me days and weeks after Don’s death. People I barely know leaving me their phone numbers and saying “Call me anytime!” People telling stories of someone they lost, in an effort to relate or find common ground. People offering their help and letting me know that they will always be around for me. I haven’t heard from 90% of these people ever again. After that initial “reach-out”, that was it. Most of the phone numbers I’ve been given are people I would never in a million years call up at 4am sobbing uncontrollably. Can you imagine? “You said call anytime!!! I really need you right now, random Facebook friend! Wait – what was your name again?” A harsh reality of losing your husband is that everybody else moves on, but you don’t get to. They get to say “You have my number!”, feel heroic about their good deed, then climb into bed and say goodnight to their husband. They all get to go home to their families and the lives they have built together. I get to come home to our apartment filled with stuff that gives me anxiety, fear, and sorrow. I get to sit here in silence and wonder: What the hell do I do now?

When you lose your marriage and your love and it’s not through divorce, people treat you differently. All of your other relationships change. It’s not fair and it really sucks, but it’s what happens. Some people treat you as if you have a disease; as if you are death itself, and your loss is contagious. They no longer look you in the eye when you talk to them, or they avoid you completely. This has happened to me on several occasions when I went out to different parties or gatherings. If I didn’t mention Don’s name, people would look at me like I’m an alien and I have no heart. If I did mention his name, people start acting like THEY are an alien; moving their heads all around, coughing, clearing their throats. Some people get extremely awkward and uncomfortable when I talk about him. I don’t understand what that is. Am I supposed to act like he never existed? Is that what is expected of me? Sometimes I don’t know how people and their crazy-ass weirdness with death want me to act, so it’s just easier to stay the hell home.

I have had a handful of very close friends just disappear. Some pulled their disappearing act immediately after Don’s death – others waited until after the funeral and those first initial weeks before never speaking to me again. They have left my life because my husband died. What the hell is that anyway? I didn’t kill him. Why are you running away from me? Do you think that if you hang out with me, your loved one might die too? Believe me, I wish I had that kind of power. If I did, it wouldn’t be my husband who was dead right now.

I am trying like hell to integrate myself back into the world again; to not isolate myself from friends and people and life. But it’s extremely difficult. I no longer fit anywhere. I no longer have anything to add to most discussions. Do you know how many times I have found myself out with friends, in the middle of everyday conversations about habits of their partners or finances or children or dating or buying houses or starting a family or ANYTHING really, and I just have to sit there and shut down? How many times I have gone out with the intention of having a good time or at least escaping for an hour, only to come home early in tears or just numb? I should be in the peak age of my life right now. This is the time when everyone around me is getting engaged, getting married, buying homes, starting families, beginning new jobs, having a second child, starting their own business together … you name it. Everyone’s lives are springing forward while my life, as I knew it, is over. The act of simply existing is so damn hard and exhausting. It’s bad enough dealing with the harshness that my husband is gone. Now I also have to handle everyone else and their “CRAZY!” People are nuts. They are nuts, and they get really strange around the topic of death. Gee, I’m so sorry if my very presence makes you uncomfortable for ten minutes. I will try to conjur up some sympathy for your troubles on my trip back home to WIDOWHOOD!  Bottom line; If you want to know who your real friends are, or who can and cannot handle life at it’s darkest – having your husband die is the best way to find out.  

So who is crazier – me, or everyone else? That is still up for debate. That grief fog that I mentioned was starting to clear? Yeah, well, maybe not. In the first few months, when the fog was still very heavy, I was scatterbrained beyond belief. I would leave the house for work 5 times, forgetting something new each time. I would get out to the parking garage, and realize I didnt have my phone. Then I would realize I didnt have the remote for the garage. The third time I made my way across the street seconds later, it was because I had forgotten my phone AGAIN!!! I walked inside, grabbed my phone, and walked back outside. Realizing I didnt have the remote, I went back inside the apartment to get it. When I picked up the remote off our entertainment center, I put down my phone and walked out of the apartment without it. On a completely different day, my toothbrush somehow ended up in the freezer for an entire afternoon. There was another day where I thought I lost one of the cats, and was looking everywhere for him and sobbing, only to realize he was sitting on my bed in plain sight, looking at me like I had finally lost my mind. He was wrong. Yesterday – I finally lost my mind.

It was 6:45am, and I was just about ready to leave for work. The first class I teach is Stand-Up Comedy at 9am, and the morning commute traffic can be insane, so I leave myself at least 2 hours to drive out to Long Island. Before I left the apartment, I double-checked my hands and my shoulder bags to make sure I had everything. Purse, teacher bag filled with paperwork and worksheets, garage remote, cell phone, keys, water bottle, cats are fed, lights are off, TV/computer off …… okay. I think this time I’ve got everything. Time to go.

Please keep in mind while reading the rest of this story that I am someone who has just been through a sudden and traumatic loss, and I don’t sleep much anymore. I probably get an average of 2-4 hours of sleep per night, and most nights it’s closer to the 2. So, perhaps my brain is not functioning properly most of the time. This is important to remember as I continue …

I walk into the elevator, go down to the lobby, and walk outside. It is a really nice day. A bit cooler than usual, somewhat brisk. There is an older man who walks by me with his dog. He looks at me, then he stares at me strangely. I wait to cross the busy street. He looks back at me again as he walks away. I think nothing of it and mutter to myself: “asshole.”

When I cross the street to where the parking garage is, there are about 8 or 9 people standing and waiting at the bus stop there. Most are busy on their phones or not paying attention, but a couple of them start laughing. One woman points at me. I click the remote, walk into the garage, open my car door, and sit down in my car. It is at this point and only at this point that I finally realize why people are looking at me.

I’m not wearing any pants.

Let me repeat that, just in case you thought it was a misprint or some bizarre error. I’m not wearing any pants. No pants. Somehow, impossibly, I had left my apartment, went outside, crossed the damn street, and gotten into my car WITH NO PANTS ON! I had on a bra, a brown shirt, and some lovely cotton underwear that approximately 12 or so people just got a good look at. How exactly does one leave their place of residence without realizing they are not fully dressed, you ask?  How does one not FEEL that their legs are, in fact, naked, and that they are, indeed, sans pants? THAT, my friends, is the grief fog. Here I was, under the impression that I was improving. I thought the fog was starting to lift. And then I looked down and saw no pants. The worst part of this story (or the best part, depending on how sick your sense of humor is), is that I now had to take the same exact journey across that same street, back up that elevator, and into my apartment so that I could GET said pants and then put them on. I had to embarass myself a second time, this time with full knowledge of what was about to take place, before this nightmare would be over. I don’t think I have ever been so humiliated in my entire life. Actually, I know I haven’t. And as I take that shame walk back across the street, I take my chance at perhaps being run over by cars and buses. Suddenly I’m a marathon runner, a sprinter with no pants. I have never run so fast in my life. This is what they should do to help fat people like me lose weight. Make us stand outside almost naked and the only way we can get to clothing is to RUN and receive the attire. There’s my idea, NBC. Go with it.

After finally putting on my pants, and double and triple-checking myself to make sure nothing else was missing, I left the apartment once again, my head hanging down and defeated. When I got inside my car, I started leafing through the big shoulder bag that I had put a banana in for my breakfast. Most days, I try to put either a piece of fruit or a protein bar of some kind inside a large ziploc bag so I can eat it while driving or when I get to campus before class. So I reached inside the large shoulder bag, pulled out my ziploc, and opened it up. Inside the ziploc was not a banana, but my toothbrush. Later that afternoon, when I got home, I went into the bathroom, and sitting there on top of the bathroom sink … was one lonely, confused banana. Ladies and gentlemen, it is official. Like my husband used to always say to me: “Boo, I think you’ve finally lost it.”

OFFICIAL DEATH EFFECT SCOREBOARD:

Everyone Else: Crazy

Me: Certifiable

 

My New Husband

It’s been just over 9 months since Don died, and I can now say with conflicted emotion, that I’ve been seeing someone new. He doesn’t do very much in the way of taking me out, giving me compliments, or making my soul feel alive again. In fact, he doesn’t do very much at all. He just sits there. But when I look at him, I feel everything from escape to laughter to noise to another opportunity for zoning out of my new life.

 If I’m being truthful, I have been seeing this guy my whole life, even when Don and I were married. Actually; Don was seeing him too. We watched and enjoyed him together. We had a wonderful little threesome thing going on. It was very kinky. Now I watch him alone, and it feels like I’m seeing someone new, because my relationship with him has changed immensely since my husband’s death. If you want to know his name, I’ll tell you: Tommy Vera. I call him T.V. for short. (he was named for people on television: Tommy for my favorite host Tom Bergeron, and Vera for the waitress on the sitcom Alice.)

Ever since I was a little kid, I have always loved T.V. Always. It was entertainment, and it was a comfort. And even when I was a kid, I always wanted to be ON television. I was fascinated by the whole thing. A box inside my living room that was filled with hundreds of different people. Everyday I’d come home from school just before 3pm, and mom would sit me down with my afternoon snack, and General Hospital would be on in the background. I started to slowly pay attention to it, and became engrossed in Luke and Laura and the Ice Princess and the stupid Weather Machine. I found the show silly and fascinating and ridiculous and funny. Today, over 30 years later, I still have it on my DVR and watch it to wind myself down at night. There were so many shows I loved as a kid: The Muppet Show and The Carol Burnett Show both gave me that same feeling of warm laughter, and that everything would be okay. Brady Bunch reruns made me feel cozy and protected, and Family Ties had me giggling like hell, and gave me one of my first real crushes in Michael J. Fox.

Don and I used to watch a lot of T.V. together. Some people might look down on that or on us or say that it’s “bad” to have the TV on so much in a home or marriage. Those people suck and I dont really care what they think. My husband and I did plenty of things with our lives, and spent loads of time outside discoving the world together. But, after work, most evenings, we would sit in our tiny apartment together in our bedroom, the only room with air-conditioning and computer and a BED, and watch TV.

Like every married couple, we had our rhythms and our patterns and our ways of doing things. Lots of times, I would make popcorn and we would both sit in bed and cuddle up for a great episode of House. Don got me into that show, and then I was hooked by the sarcasm, hilariousness, utter pain, and therefore sexiness of Hugh Laurie’s character. We would always have to pause the show or DVR so he could explain to me in english what the fuck the patient actually had. He used to drive me crazy because he had a short-attention span, and sometimes when we were watching a show together, he would randomly get up and leave the room. He would come back five minutes later, and then ask me “So what happened? What was the diagnosis?” “Where the hell did you go?”, I’d say. “I dont know what the hell the patient has! You always explain that to me. I have no idea what they are talking about!” Or we would watch Cash Cab and I couldn’t even answer the first two questions. “Who the hell knows this shit?”, I’d say. The answer was Don. Don knew that shit. He knew all kinds of random trivia, facts, and things that would just surprise the hell out of me all the time. He loved documentaries. Anything on The History or Discovery or Learning Channel was a show that he wanted to watch. I used to walk into the living room sometimes and there would be some boring thing on the TV that he would be engrossed in. I would mock him: “What is this – a 12 part documentary on the Making of Plywood?” He never missed a beat. “Actually, it’s a 15 parter, and it’s about sheet-rock. Smart Ass.”

We had a lot of shows that we watched together though. South Park was one of his absolute favorites. I miss listening to his laugh while watching that show. Listening to him laugh was sometimes more fun than watching the show for me. His laugh was deep and inviting, and his shoulders and whole body would move. Sometimes he wouldn’t make any actual noise until a few seconds into the laugh; but you’d just see his head drop down his neck and start to shake. We both loved Modern Family, and he had a gigantic crush on Sofia Vergada. We also loved Rescue Me, Men of a Certain Age, Mad Men, Louie, and Intervention. We both had a different approach to that last one. We would take bets on whether or not the addict would survive or fail at the end of the episode. I liked it when they got off the drugs or alcohol, while Don loved a great epic trainwreck. “Oh, this asshole’s gonna fail!”, he would say in the first 5 minutes of the show. Then, when the inevitable text at the end with the sad music would say: “Two weeks later, Joe was kicked out of rehab and now drinks 2 bottles of vodka a day”, Don would scream, “Yes! I knew it!” and be oddly ecstatic at this total stranger’s misery. He was the same way with shows like COPS, Hoarders, Parking Wars, and even The Biggest Loser. He always found it hilarious when the people who had whatever dysfunction, walked away a bigger mess than when they started.

Since I’ve been writing TV Reviews for Poptimal.com for a few years now, Don and I would always watch the shows I’d cover together: American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, America’s Got Talent. I would pause the shows and take notes for what to type into my review later on, and he would make hilarious comments that I would usually end up using in the review. “That’s funny as hell. I’m stealing that!”, I’d say. He loved when I would use his jokes, and he loved reading my reviews. He would sit at the computer, reading it, and quoting me back to me. Then he would say sweetly: “Boo is funny.” He had a major crush on pro dancer Cheryl Burke from DWTS, and we both thought Ryan Seacrest was a major douchebag. We always disliked and mocked the same people, so watching TV together was a blast. So many times, Don’s comments at a show or a commercial would make me laugh harder than what we were watching.

Now; since his death; TV watching has become a whole new experience, and my relationship with television is so much different than it used to be. It used to be entertainment – now it’s a lifeline. The second I walk into this lonely apartment where there is no more noise of a husband, I put on the TV. I need to feel and hear noise. It is necessary for survival. If I can’t talk to anyone while I’m at home, then I need to hear fake characters talking to other fake characters on my TV. More than half the time I have the TV on, Im not watching it or paying attention to it at all. But it’s very important that it’s on. Some people use music in this same way; as soon as they are home, they turn on background music. I cannot do this, because Don was music. Every song on earth reminds me of him in a painful, hurtful, sad way; and since I can no longer hear HIS music when he would strum his guitars for hours; listening to CD’s would only make me extremely sad right now.

Sometimes I feel like I’m nuts when I watch TV alone now. I pretend he is sitting on the bed with me, or at the computer desk, and I will talk to him during a show. Sometimes this helps; most times I just feel incredibly silly and start to cry. Watching the season premiere of Mad Men last week made me sad. He would have loved it when Roger said: “Is it just me, or are there a bunch of negros in our lobby?” I can just hear him busting a gut over that line. I have 4 episodes of South Park and 5 of House all sitting on my DVR, unwatched. I haven’t been able to bring myself to sit through them without Don’s commentary. I got through the first few minutes of the season premiere of South Park, and then burst into tears. I also haven’t sat through very many Yankee games without my husband. He died right in the middle of baseball season, and so I went from watching every single day, to not watching at all. That was one of our favorite things to follow together … baseball. Now I just sort of “keep an eye on the game” while doing other things. If I find myself totally paying attention, I will be sobbing within seconds. I still can’t believe Don doesn’t get to know that Andy Pettite is back, or that Posada retired, or that Chamberlain is out for the season because he injured himself JUMPING ON A TRAMPOLINE! I don’t know how long it will be before I can go to Yankee Stadium again. I just don’t know.

TV has become something new in my life since losing my husband. It has, in a sense, become another relationship. There are times when I am watching something, anything really, and I will just start crying. Sometimes it is due to what’s happening on the show or even the commercial, because I have become extra sensitive and now cry at the drop of a hat, or at Kodak camera and Oreo ads. But other times. the tears have nothing to do with what is being said on the screen. Sometimes, I am just using the TV to zone out. I am watching something mindless so that I don’t have to pay attention to it, so that I don’t have to be a widow for an hour or two. Sometimes it’s a form of escape, and sometimes it’s another reminder.

I feel like an old lady, sitting at home with my afghan, waiting for my “stories” to come on the TV. Are Jason and Franco brothers? Who will be the next Bachelor couple to get engaged and then break up 3 months later? Is Lisa Lampanelli gonna punch a bitch on The Apprentice? Does anyone else but me realize that Wendy Williams is actually a man? How many more years will The Office continue to pretend it’s relevant without the genius of Steve Carell? Why are there 200 violent shows about cupcake making? How many cities will get their very own CSI? Wouldnt it be ironic if Chris Hanson turned out to be an internet pedophile? I wonder if he likes cookies and juice. Do the people at 20/20 really think we dont notice they are using some sort of weird technology to fade out the wrinkles and creepiness of Barbara Walters hands, skin, and face? How will House end? Why do they keep giving Rachel Ray more shows, even though her voice sounds like she swallowed a cheese-grater?

All of these things are distractions, and reminders, that my life is completely different now. Some people use drugs, alcohol, and other destructive things to dull the pain that life can bring. I’m not cool enough for anything like that, and in my attempt to NOT use food as my addiction of choice like I have in the past, I have turned to good ‘ole Tommy Vera. My new love. My new husband. He is a lazy, no good, piece of shit who needs to get off his flat ass and get a job … but at least he makes enough noise to trick me into thinking I’m not always alone.