I moved that new bed and those new sheets, which I guess at the time I bought them might have been thought of as a real, if unconscious, starting point of my new life. That turned out to be almost all of the furniture I ended up taking with me. When I scheduled this move, gas prices were sky high and moving containers were scarce. After my usual extensive research, I was forced to accept my realtor’s recommendation based on her son’s recent similar experience. I ended up reserving two U-boxes from U-haul. I knew they were smaller, lighter and flimsier than most but I found out they were also sparser than most and did not have a lot of options for anchoring what was moving so it wouldn’t slide around inside.
All of what was lacking in the configuration and structure of the U-box turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. After packing the first one really tightly, I made the snap decision to just not bring what I couldn’t fit in there. Turned out to be a really good thing I didn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to fit most of what I left behind in the 700 square feet in which I now live! This was clearly, in 20/20 hindsight, just another indication that I would now truly be starting over.
The second part of what I moved with me included the more fragile stuff and the more immediately necessary stuff. To make this part of the move easier (or so I expected), I decided to buy myself a new car. This was the first such purchase I’d made completely on my own in 40 or so years. Based on copious research in the Torrance Main Public library reference section which was the only place, way back then, where I could get my hands on the then print only issues of Consumer Reports, I settled on a Mazda GLC. At that time, so very early (at least from my helplessly pre-feminist, virginal and naïve perspective) in my working adult life, I was so proud of myself for making that decision all on my own, and paying all cash for it, too. The easiest part of that purchase was selecting a unique color.
I used a similar process this time, though now I was overwhelmed by the extremely wide range of vehicle sizes, styles and features available. This overload of data was described in excruciating detail on way too many websites, including at some dealers in Medford, OR, where I test drove some with the similar to me vertically challenged sister of my BFF. She is still deciding but I didn’t have time to wait or waste. It was probably fortunate then, given the supply chain crunch caused by COVID, I could limit myself to used vehicles only. My realtor and one of my oldest friends, along with many of the online reviews, extolled the virtues of Subaru SUVs, but even with that advice, I still just HAD to test drive a few more SUVs at the Torrance Carmax. This time, I had to decide between a two-seat or three-seat config. I knew I’d need cargo room and thought maybe someday I might need a third seat until I was convinced that today’s third seats are only comfortable for REALLY VERTICALLY CHALLENGED folks, like (grand)kids. When this selection was made, again in the interest of time, I finally just decided to buy the model that had the most weather and safety-related bells and whistles. That’s how I ended up with a 2019 Subaru Forester Touring Model. The last dealership I went to, just before loading up, had the one with the most unusual color and least amount of miles, so that’s the one I bought!
I’ve been grappling with what to say about that ever since
I haven’t said a lot about Mom and our relationship before my abrupt return to her house or about the things I came to surprisingly appreciate about that, in hindsight, especially since Mom’s passing on January 25 of this year. For the story of how life for both of us had been for the last year, you can refer to the following posts.
I have written this addition about her and me to help me close that relationship and to strengthen me to see it through to the real end. Right now that would include disposing of the last real assets she owned, especially this house where we had lived together and which I thought I had already left behind. I am paraphrasing a lot of my recent thoughts and emotions, some that were included in the funeral service given by the Rabbi who had only known Mom for 4 years, supplemented by others who had known her better than I had for most of the last 17 years (since my dad’s death and my move to TN), and some that I wrote myself, looking back over what I knew of her life.
Family was very important, even if she was no relation other than having met even just one member of nearly any family. She had rediscovered some local blood relatives recently and I had hoped to get more info out of her about some of those she grew up around before marriage and children. On the other hand, I got tired of hearing the same stories over and over about some of them! I did find out that at one time she had wanted to be a shorthand teacher and was immodestly and I thought sometimes too extremely proud of the story she told about one of her first jobs with what she still referred to as the North American Credit Union.
Dad was the love of her life and vice versa. She was his biggest supporter, as she tried to be for me as I was growing up, especially in nudging both of us to join in a whole range of social activities. He took on her family, caring for them as they aged. She did that for him too, and for a whole bunch of other people I never knew but heard about, whether I wanted to or not. I don’t know how Mom and Dad managed to work together in the insurance business for 20+ years without killing each other, and we all knew if something bothered Mom, no matter how long ago it had happened, she would bring it up at least once later, often not even related to whatever the subject under discussion was at the time.
After their early retirement, Mom and Dad took a whole lot of trips, and it was during this period that I first lost track of them, and Mom continued to expand her social circle even after she became a widow. Sometimes, when going through Mom’s mail, I might encounter a strange sender’s name and address. She could still usually recall where she had met them and sometimes even more personal information about these people who to her were always and forever her friends. Obviously that sentiment was very much reciprocated. One of the first signs of Mom’s Alzheimer’s, that bothered her the most for a very long time, was that she couldn’t balance her check book. When I took over that duty, I didn’t tell her that I couldn’t always balance it either and as long as I came close that was good enough for me.
Mom did her best to take care of everyone she loved, to whatever degree she loved them at the time, offering her advice whether requested or not. She always thought she knew best and we all learned to try not to argue with her if we didn’t agree because she would never let it go otherwise. She also had no problem telling someone a little white lie if she was afraid of losing face or looking bad in their eyes or sometimes of hurting their feelings. Sometimes I would remind her of what she sometimes told me “Lies walk the streets” and if anyone she knew had one, “J. Edgar Brook” would often discover it.
Dad had started calling her that, a play on the longtime and first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was infamous for digging into the personal lives of people under investigation. Mom did that, too, so we were lucky she didn’t know how to use the internet better. I was touched when the the rabbi told us she called Mom “The Informer”. Her explanation for that nickname was because Mom took it upon herself to let the rabbi know if any temple members, or even just any of her mostly Jewish friends and acquaintances, needed spiritual support. Rabbi Lewis got a special kick from Mom’s closure to these messages and conversations, where she asked the rabbi to make sure the person of interest didn’t know how the rabbi knew they were having a spiritual or personal issue for which they might appreciate her help.
Due to Covid, Mom had little to no opportunity to get much of the regular attention she had received from her friends and their families for all those years she had lived alone. In its place she had settled for what she got from a visiting nurse and especially from the physical therapist, though she didn’t like it when I started referring to him as her boyfriend. I was proud that I’d done what I could to protect both her health and mine, in the face of her hunger to maintain constant in-depth contact with her friends, some of whom were merely acquaintances in my book, and who also might show up unexpectedly on her doorstep, vaccinated or masked or not.
I had missed Mom since she stopped being herself, especially since she and I had finally, I felt, figured out a way to live with each other under her roof. I had Mom so hooked the “political news” programs I regularly watched on CNN and MSNBC that she started watching those networks even when I wasn’t in the room! She even admitted to learning a few things from historical series we watched together on PBS occasionally. She watched Jeopardy for me and I watched Wheel of Fortune for her. We both watched 20/20 (though she forgot that’s what it was called) and 60 Minutes (though she forgot what day and time it came on.) She couldn’t stand the “reality” shows I watched on Bravo and E! I think they offended her old-fashioned sense of morality. We both missed watching live sports, too. Like many who have had or at least tried to maintain a relationship with an Alzheimer’s patient, it was hard for me to get to a level of comfort with Mom as she was after her fall. Over those last months, while Mom was physically still with us, her mind and sense of reality had been gradually fading away. She is now with her mom (even at the end Mom still called her “Bubbie”), my dad, and various other assorted friends and relatives I had never met but she remembered, while still “mentally” preparing and planning to take care of her home and the people she loved.
I started my holiday letter in 2020 the same way with this thought and went on to say “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my life or really life in general will approach any kind of normalcy until 2022.” I guess I was right! I wish I was in a position to have even a really clear idea of “what I might do in ‘22”, but who does?
This is REALLY how my new life started in 2021
The year started as it had ended, and indeed as most of 2020 had progressed, if you could call it that. I got Mom through all her doctor’s appointments, tried to get her to eat what she should when she should vs. her normal preferences and habits, and did what I could to keep her spirits and her body up and moving. We both knew her mind was going and, though she tried as best she could, in the end (though more accurately in early June when she took her final fall), there was little I could do to restore that or to ameliorate the decline in her physical capabilities which had never been a big priority of hers before anyway.
Meanwhile I had to keep plowing through the increasingly difficult and nit-picky details of my divorce. When the ex abruptly filed in June of 2020, he went to a pay-as-you-go type of lawyer with the expectation that I would go easily, as his previous two wives had done. He should have known better after thirty years of marriage to a woman he’d always acknowledged was smarter than him! I took me a while last year (as he pushed me) to get a lawyer (the stupid idiot didn’t expect me to). I got a smart lady lawyer who worked on a flat fee retainer and protected my interests throughout, even beyond things I’d already considered.
The lawyer-to-lawyer contact started last year when mine totally rejected the agreement his lawyer had submitted. He kept harassing me to “get it done” while at the same time continuing to bring up issues that were either nonexistent or in which his proposals were inequitable. By June I had reached the point where I refused to respond to his direct communications to me and forwarded them to my lawyer instead. He’d previously jumped on me when I’d asked Daughter #1 to help him pack my stuff to be moved out here (after I wouldn’t let him put it in the attic) but ironically, in her unwanted status as go-between, Mini-me finally got him to back off his unreasonable stance on at least one issue by telling him what I was going through with Mom and that it was not fair to expect me to have to deal with his shenanigans on top of that.
I guess I could be amazed now that I got through all that stuff that seemed to follow so quickly upon each other in probably no more than 90 days, approximately end of March through end of June. I had to persevere as Mom’s caretaker, which would be an ongoing battle as long as she still had the mental wherewithal to try to carry on being who she always was, while the ex continued to careen out of control at least as far as I was concerned. I really didn’t want him to know how bad off Mom was, and I still don’t. It’s none of his business, especially since his last visit to her home was all the way back in 2014, though he continued to say how much he loved her. That was most likely just another lie he’d been telling all of us, including himself, for many years.
I got through a challenging summer as I came to realize and accept my new (again) status. I guess I knew, deep down, that I would just have to keep stepping a little further down the land-mined road toward embracing, with as little drama as I could, that I would be starting to live again as an independent single woman in the (sub)urban metropolitan Los Angeles jungle. At the same time, I knew that Covid and other lingering responsibilities would limit my options in pursuit of more social outlets. Thank goodness that by fall, when Mom was well-settled and I had figured out how I would deal with the fact that she has lasted this long, many of the things I wanted to try were once again somewhat available.
I was free and fortunate to begin venturing out in the fall. First I took a “baby step” of a trip down south as far as Escondido. Then I took a longer trip to visit my BFF and “extended family” in Oregon. Both of her kids are getting married in the first half of 2022, so I already have two planned trips up there plus a bridal shower/bachelorette party/cleanup for the first wedding trip on the books next week.
The longest and best trip was my triumphant solo return to Michigan where I finally got to meet in person my newest grandcat, Maple. This trip was also a sort of “scouting expedition” of the area so I could see if it had any potential to become my permanent home when, someday down the road, Mom will be physically gone from this earth. In the short week before Thanksgiving that I spent there, I got to familiarize myself with the area and its amenities, on top of looking into my normal pursuits that should be available again post-Covid. Other than the cold, which all my loved ones and their loved ones tried to convince me should not be an impediment, I found a lot to like up there, besides them!
Since Omicron entered the picture, I have been doing even more reading as my “need/want to read” book list keeps growing. Like many others before me, I have lately joined the “binge-watchers club” (such a thing exists, right?) where I at last got to watch some old series that on my mentally compiled to be watched list. Last but not least, after many “false” starts, I think I may have finally begun to develop my long-desired writing habit.
This year, partially due to Covid-uncertainty and partially due to my uncertainty, I have spent most days in the house. A more or less standard day for me starts by browsing the web and email then moves to one or two of a few easy reader spots in different rooms before circling back to my laptop for a couple of hours of writing and always ends in front of a TV screen. On my “wilder” days I may add just an infinitesimal amount of “retail therapy” which these days is almost exclusively limited to grocery stores. Occasionally I’ll add in a stop or two at a discount or big box store.
I also do a few “shoulds” like laundry and cleaning. The “should” that is getting harder for me to do is to go visit Mom. The caregivers keep her clean and clipped and fed. She can’t get out of bed so of course her body has pretty well shriveled up. I’m OK with that part but I just can’t deal with the fact that it is impossible for me to interact with her. I had cut back my visits from twice to once per week but now, since she doesn’t know it’s me who’s there, I can’t see any reason to go any more than monthly to pay her bill and talk to her caregivers. More often wouldn’t do much good for her and would not be good for me!
My New Life (In Old Books) or Is It My Old Life in New Books?
I can hardly believe that I am now nearly three years into my second retirement. Finally, after all that time, close to eight years in total, I feel ready, comfortable secure enough to do what I imagine many other people do at this time of year: look back at where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished and also try to look ahead to what might enhance the value of this time, its quality and purpose, along with, best case, its joy and happiness or, at minimum, its feeling of satisfaction.
One of my more annoying and detrimental personal habits, which I have lately come to recognize in my early senior citizenship, is that I have often been a slow learner, perhaps more correctly, a late bloomer. Maybe that’s a trait that comes from being a true Taurean. As an old fart, looking back now, I might have advised my younger self to set goals, to have dreams and aspirations, or to at least have some type of design or plan for my life. Alas, over most of the prior half century, I have been more often driven by the philosophy of the late, great John Lennon, who advised us all, just before his own untimely death, that “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Here and now though, with the luxury of having a lot of free time on my hands, I can start applying my hard-earned and slow in coming self-knowledge to a new and probably more achievable design for the remainder of my life.
Unpublished Draft Post written in 2017 or 2018
I wrote all of that way back in 2017 or 2018. Back then much of what I was reading and trying to implement for myself, my life and my future had to do with goal-setting and plans and efforts of that ilk. Given the turn of events in my life in general and in the world in particular it’s clear that anybody who thinks they can live their life on that basis is at least pretty delusional and possibly even insane! About (Created May 2021, Updated September 2021)
When I started this new blog, which apparently and coincidentally seems to have really happened at the beginning of the year, I said on the very first post
While that is still true, I guess I could also add that, given the thoughts I started this post with, besides teaching my daughters all about me I may also need to teach me about me through my blogs more than through a memoir alone. I want to belabor both these points at this time and in this post.
First, the bit about the past informing the present for both them and me. Much as I have tried not to rehash my marriage and my divorce and everything that went before each of those events, I can honestly say (and my daughters and my friends will attest to this sad fact) that I have not been able to stop myself from doing that over the past year. It is my hope, though, that whatever I have to say about that here will, best case, be the last time it is a subject of any posts this year or the main subject of my thoughts and feelings at any time going forward.
Again, looking back over the past couple of years and, yes, even farther back than that and indeed even wider than that in the present, I can see that I am not the first or only one to realize that it makes no sense to put the effort into developing goals or planning life around what one may expect or anticipate and continue to try to convince oneself that these goals are (1) achievable or (2) really what one would want to achieve if possible.
To get some perspective on this dreaded looking back exercise, I of course went to the written history of the thing. As a sort of old school old fart correspondent, this consisted mainly of emails and texts written and received. I had already reviewed a lot of what I had received but after finally getting back to doing this catch-up exercise on my sent emails I can see that the marriage probably entered its final death throes in 2019. Reading between the lines of what I wrote, especially to my spouse, I think I see where our mutual resentment started to build as I got more and more involved in more and more activities outside the home that made me happy.
At the same time, it looks like he was getting more and more morose and out of sorts. I base this guess on what was a clear and mainly continuing pattern of his atypical, at least for an adult male who could be considered by some to be in the prime of his life, sleeping and active periods. Like a stubborn baby or an average really old person, he slept during the day and worked on his hobby at night.
Throughout that pre-pandemic year we became more and more like “ships passing in the night” with those passages most often occurring in the late morning or early evening. In the evenings we at least both tried to indulge one of our fewer and fewer common interests by watching TV programs, sports and movies together. But in the mornings when he came up from his mancave to my woman cave in our split-level home, he would usually find me in front of the computer, often just playing games. This latter exercise had been going for some time before and when this part of our macabre marriage death dance started, I would get up, come around my desk, sit in my rocker-recliner and we would try to have a conversation, a check-in about how and what each other was doing. I think we both noticed that I made this effort less and less, until his attempts to do this started declining, too. Maybe the patterns and comforts of our lives had moved so far away from each other that they and we were beyond reconnecting.
Another probable point of resentment, I’m guessing, is that I did not participate as actively as he wanted or expected me to in his (unrealistic) dream of making a business out of his hobby. That was where his time and our money went while a lot of my time and our money went into reading and traveling and socializing. I know I’d expected him to enjoy those last activities with me. Over time, though, his enjoyment of and interest in doing either had ebbed so low that I had begun to know better than to even ask him to join me because I knew what his answer would be.
There were other stressors that year that in retrospect could have brought us closer together but in the end seem to have had the opposite effect. That was the year that Daughter #1 got married and Daughter #2 started medical school. Both of these momentous events turned into wedge issues that drove us farther apart from each other.
Here I can add that another longtime festering wound in our relationship was how differently he treated our children. Again, these differences and disparities became more and more glaring over the years, though I can’t really pinpoint how far back they began and of course I don’t really know the reasons why. My guess is that he took for granted or accepted or expected #1 to be totally like me and therefore “perfect” while he presumed #2 would be totally like him, an imperfect and stubborn addict who would always be “less than” in the eyes of everyone that mattered, including himself and possibly, in his mind, even me. I surely had reached that point by the end of that year. There is no better indicator of this disparity, and how it finally blew our marriage apart for good, than summarizing his participation in the life of Daughter #1 and his withdrawal from participation in the life of Daughter #2 over the last six months of 2019.
And just to be complete and to add to my disappointment, I’ll have to throw in the monkey wrench that entered our relationship at about the same time. That was the necessity for someone to devote more time and effort to taking care of my mom. I’d expected my husband, who’d said and even written over and over, over all the years, how much he loved and appreciated “Mom” to do just that. He’d also warned me, based on the similar trajectory he’d endured with his mom, that I’d have to figure out what to do with her sooner rather than later by this time.
It also just dawned on me that he’d handled most of that without the help of his one remaining brother just as I found myself in the same situation vis-à-vis my one and only sister. Wouldn’t you think that shared experience would have made a better and possibly even average person more sympathetic and helpful to one’s most beloved spouse rather than drive said simpatico away? Oh wait, in fact and reality it seems to reinforce what he finally told me, after I told him I didn’t think I could continue to live this way.
In a nutshell, that was that we should have separated fifteen years earlier, based on his presumption that I would not move two thousand miles away from home (and Mom) when his job relocated. I did it because I didn’t want to break up OUR family. I can see now, as I should have seen before, that he just didn’t care about that. It also clarifies what he first told me and repeated in those six months. “You are number one for me. I am number five for you.” That first part was a lie though possibly the last part had been true for quite a long time. I’d always said he knew me better than I knew myself.
I’m still getting a divorce but the end is now in sight!
I’m still living in the same house where I grew up but now I’m living here alone!
I may be leaving behind someday soon this standard concrete suburb close to a beach and a big city and trading it in for the smallest of the four cities in Michigan that employ a full time Historic Preservation Coordinator!
These are just the placeholder headlines with details to follow. Have I piqued anyone’s interest here?
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