This past Monday, just two days ago, was exactly 22 months since Don’s sudden death. For most of this time, I have coped with my all-over-the-place emotions and often dark feelings by writing, writing, writing. Whatever I feel, I write. It’s a release. A grief purge. It helps. It hurts like hell to write sometimes, but it also helps. Except that recently, I havent been able to write. The last time I wrote in here was when I returned from Camp Widow. I felt so hopeful and filled with optimism. I felt so loved and understood, after spending a few glorious days surrounded by others who were exactly like me – where I never had to explain. The problem with Camp Widow, though, is that eventually, you have to come back home.
Lately, something strange has happened inside of me. A shift of sorts. All of the pain and all of the hurt and all of the grief and the loss and the heavy, weighted, intense emotion – has disappeared. Kind of the way that my husband disappeared from my life on that horrible, awful day. Except this is much different. My husband is never coming back. These feelings will be back. The sadness and emptyness and the fear will all be back, and I feel them right around the corner. Lurking. Scaring me. But for now – right now – they wait.
The only way I can think of to explain what is happening is that my heart is overwhelmed from too much hurt. 22 months of hurting is incredibly tiring, and, to put it quite bluntly, I just need a break from feeling all this pain. I’d like a month or two paid vacation from being a widow. Can somebody make that happen? About 6 months ago, one of my other widowed friends that I met in the small support group my grief counselor put together, told me that she tries not to think about her fiance – that she just keeps as busy as possible and doesnt like to talk about him or dwell on him too much or for too long. When I asked her why, she said “because it hurts too much.” At the time, I was shocked that anyone would feel that way. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to talk about my loss or my husband or our amazing, short life together. Not talking about him or honoring him felt like a betrayal, like I was pretending he never existed, like society seems to sometimes want for me to do.
But now – now – I get it. Now, that same favorite wedding picture of us that I keep on my nightstand; the one where he is looking at me with such pride and love; the same picture that used to make me feel a sense of calm whenever I walked by it – now, I find myself ignoring it or flipping it over sometimes so I dont have to look at it. Sometimes I try and pretend that Im someone else, and that I never had a husband that I was so in love with, and that I lost forever. Sometimes it’s easier to act as if what I had never really happened. That maybe I imagined it all, and I can just put it away into a box and close the lid forever. Sometimes I cant look at our life together, because it did happen, and now it’s gone, and it will never happen again – and sometimes I need to shut down from having feelings about my wonderful husband, the love of my life – because it hurts too much to remember.
Mom and me at “The Sharing Network” Organ Donor Reception
So that is where I’m at right now, and when you are a writer by nature, like me, it is very foreign to not want to express everything that is inside of you by typing it out furiously for all to read. It feels so odd and so wrong that I no longer want to marinate inside of the hurt and sit with it. Im sick of sitting with it. I want it to go the fuck away. These past few weeks since returning from Camp, I would sit down to write, and nothing would come out. I never think about what Im going to write ahead of time. It just flows out of me, like water from a stream. But now, my mind and my heart and my brain are packed with too many things, and I have no focus. There is too much that has happened. Should I write about what it feels like to be told by your roommate, just 6 months after I moved in, that “we are not a good match”, and that I need to be out in 3 months? Write about how awkward it is to continue to exist in the same space as the person who basically said “you aren’t wanted here anymore” for 2.5 months? The sheer relief and exhaustion and fear of finding a new place and a new roommate and moving out of there with practically nothing of your own, no savings, no furniture, no security? The feelings of rejection and self-doubt that come from someone treating you like you’re not good enough? Maybe I should write about the “crash” feeling of living my reality after returning home from comfortable, safe camp. Or what it was like to attend a reception where Don was honored along with other organ and tissue donors for his gift of life. How my mom and I cried when we heard his name read or saw it printed along “The Wall of Life.” To know that a piece of him lives on, and his name will be there forever on that wall, yet I will never hold him again. There were too many things to write about, and whenever I get overwhelmed, my response is to do nothing. So I did nothing. I didnt write at all. Until now.
Wall of Life. His name is 4th from bottom.
My new roommate and I took a trip to IKEA last weekend so that we could begin the process of furnishing our new apartment. For me, specifically, I was in desperate need of a small computer desk, because up until now, I had been typing with my keyboard and monitor sitting on top of boxes and things. Now, my only memories of the hell that is IKEA, are from the apartment that my best friend Sarah and I shared together in Forest Hills about 14 years ago. I remember we bought, among other things, a tiny end table called “LACK”, and it lived up to it’s name in every sense of the word. We also purchased a small dresser for Sarah’s bedroom, which she was hoping to use to put her clothing and undergarments into. Well, since IKEA specializies in crushing people’s hopes and dreams, the dresser turned out to be about as large as a Weeble Tree House, and I think Sarah was able to fit her nailfile and one sock into the microscopic, horribly designed drawers.
For any of you who have not had the honor of shopping or buying from IKEA – you should know that almost everything you buy there has a sign that reads “some assembly required.” Anotherwords; what you are sent home with is a large cardboard box filled with endless screws, european pieces with names that you’ve never heard uttered or printed anywhere ever in your lifetime (it’s a Swedish company), instructions that have NO WORDS IN THEM but only pictures that involve lots of circles and big X marks drawn through things, stick figures of people with question marks above their heads, and endless arrows that lead to absolutely nowhere. It is a cardboard box filled with confusion and mind-games, that leaves you a baffled, frustrated, manic-depressive mess on your floor, screaming at the universe to please let lightning strike you now, so that you dont have to put this goddamn desk together. It taunts you and it laughs at you and it mocks you with it’s Swedish pieces with names like “divet”, that are supposed to somehow fit into other pieces that they never actually fit into at all.
An actual page from the IKEA “instructions”
So there I was – in my new bedroom – my new roommate away at work for the day – the pieces of my new, tiny corner desk and all it’s assembly parts scattered across my bed – trying to decifer and make sense of these directions. I think it was somewhere around the time that I saw the big square with the X through it, next to the other big circle with the square with an arrow through it, next to the smiling stick figure guy with a cartoonish-looking hammer in his puffy hand – that it really started to hit me. My husband, who was soooooo good at this kind of stuff, will never again be able to do this for me. He will never again take care of the stupid instructions that don’t make sense, or change the oil in my car, or check to see what that noise is in the other room, or find the mouse and get rid of it, or kill the cockroach without pause, or take out the smelly trash, or open the door for me, or hold his umbrella over me or give me his coat to wear when its cold, or make sure Im safe and lock all the doors at night, or send me a text to let me know he arrived at work safely, or hold my hair when Im puking and sick from a reaction to percacet. He would never do any of those things, and so many other things, ever again.
My IKEA desk, in pieces, waiting to be created. Cat not included. (although if he were, youd have to assemble him yourself.)
Of course, I already knew this. I already knew that he wasnt ever coming back. But somehow – sitting there attempting to put together this stupid desk in this stupid new life that was forced upon me because of his stupid death – I really felt it. And suddenly, without warning, the emotional breakdown came. It wasnt the organ donation reception or the moving or the rejection from my ex-roommate or the sheer stress from the past few months of my life that brought me down. No. It was IKEA. It was those damn Swedes and their “do it yourself” furniture that finally did me in.
7 hours later, and with the help of a fellow widowed friend who very sweetly walked me through each step of the idiotic instructions on the phone, my task was complete. I now had a desk. And if anyone reads this and says some shit about how I should feel empowered because I did that all by myself and “Wow! Look at what you can accomplish all alone!” or any of that type of bullshit, please stop yourself right now. Because you just don’t get it. I was 28 when I met Don. I was 35 when I married him, and I was 39 when he died. For all of those years before meeting him, I did everything by myself. I moved out of my parents house when I was 18 years old, and came to NYC to become an actor/performer. So, I have had decades worth of “empowerment”, and by the time Don and I moved in together, I was so grateful and so ready to have this partner, this teammate in life, and to no longer have to do every goddamn thing by myself. Now I had help. Now there were two of us struggling through this mess called life instead of just one. Two of us to pay bills, get groceries, figure out the logistics. And then it was ripped away – just like that – and suddenly, I was back to doing every goddamn thing alone again. Im sorry, but when you have the right person, two is sooooo much better than one. It just is. There are just so many things in life that are so much harder to do alone, and so much easier to do with two of you.
The piece of crap desk that took 7 hours to put together and caused me to have a mental breakdown. Empowered my ass.
Parallel parking. Changing the litter in the litter box. Carrying a large box or other large items up the stairs. Having someone to shut the light off. Sit in the car when you have to double park it in a city or busy neighborhood. Brush the kitties teeth like the vet instructed. Clip their nails. Locate a foreign “thing” that appears on your body in a place where you cant see it. Scratch an itch on your back. Say your vows. Then repeat. It takes two people to look into each other’s eyes and feel love. Two people to make love. Two to dance a foxtrot at your wedding.
And it takes two people to figure out how the fuck to put together a crappy computer desk from IKEA. One to hold up the piece of wood, and one to screw in the weird-plastic-looking-screwy thing. One to decifer the picture instructions, and one to put them into action. One to light the match to set the whole damn thing ablaze when you finally lose your mind, and one to call the police and make it look like arson.
Congratulations IKEA. Because of your unbelievable incompetence and inability to create items or directions that humans with brains can follow, you have forced me to start feeling my feelings again. You have shoved the grief back into my life, much like you shove those divets into the holes that are way too small to fit them. Are you happy now, IKEA? Have you had your little fun with the widow? Good. Glad to hear it. You should know that your desk sucks and it’s a bit wobbly and thats not my fault. It’s your fault, cuz your furniture is questionable and shady on it’s best day. Fuck you.
At least I finally have something to write about.