A Little More Bloomingdales, A Little Less TJ Maxx, Please

Today I went out for a diner breakfast by myself. If you’d seen me, eating my eggs over easy and dipping the fries into the yolk and drinking coffee, you would not have thought that this was a big deal.

But it was.

I have been realizing lately how frugal I am with myself. Always going to TJ Maxx instead of Bloomingdales, for instance. Pancake is welcome at both places and maybe it was my projection but I swear the first time I took her into the main cosmetics concourse at Bloomingdales, she looked at me as if to say, “Why have we been slumming at TJ Maxx when this marvelous place is two lousy blocks away?”

Why indeed?

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I think my mindset has always been that disaster might be around the corner, that I will need some sort of emergency stash and that I need to be prepared….and these things might be legit, but I also think that there is a strain of rarely (if ever) pampering myself – and that attitude definitely leaks into other parts of my life. I have always thought, for instance, that I have had to take any job that was offered to me. But when I got laid off last year I noticed that I had a very different attitude about it. That I was NOT going to apply for anything that came up just so I could have a paycheck. That I had saved money and I did need a rest and time off to enjoy the passage of time. That I am resourceful enough that I can come up with what I need to, whether it’s money or decisions or new ideas to make it safely through the next passage. And I did.

So it’s about having a feeling of being fuller and safer in my approach to the future. And that it’s perfectly right to take some time and enjoy eggs and coffee; to feel satisfied in my belly – and in my head, too.

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Home Alone

This is the first time in twelve years that the holidays have come but my husband is gone.

He died in April, and was technically my ex-husband at the time. But if I was stopped on the street by a census taker, a tax collector, or a neighbor, I would have still referred to him as my husband, in the same way I still call his sisters my sisters-in-law, to this day.

That’s because even though I divorced him and it was clearly the right thing to do – it always is, when you’re married to an alcoholic – he is the only person to have occupied that space in my life. And when I think of the word “husband” (which I still consider a very sexy and delicious word), it’s the image of Owen that takes shape.

As New Year’s approaches, he’s all around me: in a bearded man I see walking toward me, in an old Benz that hurtles by, in a piece of music by The Band on Pandora. These reminders tell me he’s nearby in the most loving way. But he’s all around me in disturbing friezes, too. I dream of his belongings crammed into my apartment, too heavy for me to remove. I dream of his mailing me a check for money owed without a signature. And I dream of him happily introducing his friends to a woman who isn’t me.  I wake up in the dark with ripples of fright spreading all over my chest and tears in the corners of my eyes. Next to me, my dog Pancake sighs in her curled-up slumber, and turns over.

What am I to do with the memory of a man who arouses so many competing feelings? All the pieces were real: he was selfish, he was handsome, he was a great listener, he loved me, and he loved drinking even more. I suppose that each of these hard and soft moments have a rightful place on the spectrum of a long-term relationship.  I just wish they weren’t all zooming toward me at the same time.

My hope for the New Year is that these conflicting scenes shift and settle into a pattern that’s more like a wallpaper that I can look at, appreciate, and move past, into another room.

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In Defense of the 15-Minute Phone Call

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Please God, keep it short! (the conversation, that is)

 

When I was in high school, I’d talk on the phone at night with my best friend Liz for hours. Literally, hours. We’d see each other all day in school and then we’d call each other after dinner to dissect the day’s events. And these were the days of toll calls (she lived in Westchester and I was in New Jersey) and there was no call waiting. My father would say to me, “What do you two have to talk about when you just spent 8 hours together?” Liz’s father took a different approach. One evening, as we cheerily tripped into our second hour of conversation, he simply came into Liz’s bedroom and ripped the phone out of the wall.

It was effective.

At the time, we thought he was a madman. But I have come to understand and respect Liz’s frustrated dad because if you ask me, people want to talk on the phone TOO long and usually about nothing of importance. At least a lot of people I know. So here are my 3 Rules for Phone Etiquette for Adults:

  1. The phone should be used for no longer than 15 minutes. After that, you might as well make plans to get together so at least you can at least concentrate on what’s being said and are less likely to be cruising your DVR list to see if Modern Family has finished recording so you can watch it.
  2. Exception to rule one: The phone call’s purpose is to say that someone I love is in the hospital, or dead, in which case I can find out where they are so I can go visit or view the body, depending on the scenario. Silver lining if someone’s dead?  THEY won’t be making any long calls.
  3. After 15 minutes, say that your mother or boss is on the other line. Or that your doorbell’s ringing. Lately I have resorted to actually telling people the truth, and saying that I am tired/ I want to eat dinner/I am almost done reading Beautiful Ruins and want to see what happens. This is a surprisingly effective approach.

Look, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to my friends and family; it’s more that the nourishment, advice, or approval I used to get from other people, I am now getting from myself- inside. It might not look like it, if you saw me in my nightie and fuzzy socks, rearranging the refrigerator drawers, as I was doing last night. But I am working out problems large and small as I jam those shelves into more useful heights.

It took me till the age of 51 to learn that I get re-energized from alone time (this became a bit of a problem in my marriage, but more on that at another time). I just love the quiet of quiet, of silence, of hearing my own inner voice. For me, it’s where the calm and love is.

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Who says you can’t go home? I do, Jon Bon Jovi.

Still a pleasure: hot soup.
Still a pleasure: hot soup.

I got a call from my mother Jeanne yesterday while I was working. Jeanne was calling from the nursing home where she and Bob are now living. Since they moved in, Jeanne’s dementia has intensified (we refer to it in front of her as “memory issues,” but let’s face it, people. It’s dementia.) Or maybe it was getting bad anyway, but we didn’t notice it.

Hang on, I’m having a hot flash. It’s 30 degrees out, but I just yanked the window in my office open a little bit more. Ahhhh.

Jeanne sounded really chipper on the phone. She was cheerful and to the point as she said to me, “I need you to arrange for me to go home for a few days.”

Home? There is no home for her to go to. When they moved into the nursing home, we got rid of everything in their apartment. Her fake furs? To their caregivers. Her piano? To a music school. Her dozens of pillows, vases, urns, and art from Home Goods? Into the dumpster. Much of their good silverware? Wedged into the back pockets of the building superintendent’s jeans.

In short, there is no home to go to. But Jeanne didn’t remember that.

“Mah, you gave up the apartment, remember?”I stuttered. “when Daddy got sick and you ran out of money?”

Silence.

“Who made THAT decision?” she asked.

There was no real answer, really. So I just said, “Oh, Mah.” Maybe I should have told her that we could discuss it the next week, or after Christmas, or some other time in the future. But I was caught by such surprise that I told her a little bit, just a sip, of the truth.

The blessing of Jeanne’s dementia is that she probably forgot about that conversation 20 minutes after it happened. But me? I was flayed by it for the whole day.

I felt terrible for her over her disappointment and confusion. I also felt terrible for the now-familiar wave of the nasty disorientation that comes when adult children become the parental figures.

So Jeanne can’t go home for a few days, in the way she would like. But here’s what she can have:

1. She can enjoy a good movie on TV  (i.e., anything with Meryl Streep or Adam Sandler. Should they ever work together,  Jeanne would wriggle with delight while wearing the purple quilted jacket that she bought from HSN. “It’s one of a kind!” she said to me the day she thought the nursing home’s laundry had lost it).

2. She can chomp down a bagel with whitefish salad on the top and cream cheese on the bottom, accompanied by an iced coffee with Splenda.

3. She can have a fresh manicure.

4. She can indulge in Face Time, which I have introduced her to so she can see the expressions of her children and grandchildren who live in other cities when she speaks to them.

These smaller pleasures will have to suffice, as time unfolds and I lose more and more of my beloved mother.

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I am Returning to the World O’ Blogging.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been blogging. Certainly, a good year and a half. My sister Jamie and I had a humor blog called Starkravingsisters.com, and it was all a lot of fun and games until some of the things we were writing about (our mother’s dementia, my husband, etc) became not so funny. So I thought I’d start blogging again under Starkravingsisters, but it seems that because Jamie and I let our domain name expire, it’s gonna take some time to get it back. In the interim, I have discovered that I have this little baby all souped up and ready to go (who knew?) so here I am. 

The difference between the blog that Jamie and I did and this one is that we had cute names for ourselves and presented most everything in a comic light. Now I am writing under my own name and want to tell more of the truth of my life right now: I am 51, both divorced and widowed, have a job that has made me happier in my work than I dreamed possible, am the owner of a darling dog named Pancake, and gloriously on my own. 

Here’s Pancake:

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You might think that I’d feel scared to be “alone” at this age, and I do have my moments, but mostly, I feel that the world is open to me in a way it has never been before. And that is pretty incredible.

Please come on the journey with me. 

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