Friday, May 28, 2010

History Lesson

Elliot and I went out for a bit with mom today, and as we were pulling up to the house there was a car parked crooked next to the tree on Osceola. We walked toward the house, and as we did three little old ladies slowly extracted themselves from the car and waved us down. "Can we talk to you for a minute? Are you the owners?"

I wondered if they were going to complain about the miserable state of my sidewalks or perhaps bring me to Jesus, but as it turned out, they just wanted take a little walk down the long road of memory.

The ladies were Sisters of the Sacred Heart; nuns, I guess. They were all three in their 80s, and one had been born in my house. She looked at the front hill, and said "Oh, that hill used to be so big! I remember it was such a big deal, that hill!" She was obviously delighted to just look at the front yard, so I invited them inside to see the house as it stands today.

Her family were the first owners, and she had lived here until she left at 21. When she walked up on the porch, she commented that it, too, was much larger in her memory, but that it was still lovely. I made my usual excuses about the puppy and toddler - that the house was a disaster, but they were welcome to come in if they liked. "Oh, I remember this room..." she sighed, walking in to the front living/dining room. Her friend said "Yes! We used to have dinner right there," pointing to my dining room table. It seems they had been friends in religious school, and have been together most of their lives.

"You have your piano just where ours was. I used to play..." She was beaming as she slowly made her way toward the back of the house. "I was born right there in the back room," she said, "Back when babies were born in houses." The same room, in fact, where Karl died.

She told me her mother was often ill during pregnancy, and the room that is now Elliot's housed the live in nurse. The children slept upstairs, or out on the screen porch when it was very hot.

It makes me even more attached to the house, knowing it has seen not only my son's first steps and words, but also the birth and childhood of this woman.

"I remember those stairs - they led down to the coal chute. And out back we had a cherry tree and a peach tree, as you headed out to the garage." So the back porch and garage were original to the house, or at least very early additions. She wasn't surprised my car wouldn't fit in the garage, it was small even for the time it was built. She pointed out a few more things to her friends, and began to walk back toward the front.

They didn't stay long, and only referred to themselves collectively as "Sisters of the Sacred Heart" both times I introduced myself. Still, I felt very warm towards them, and wish they had given me their names, but I didn't want to push. In a way, not knowing their names made them seem almost ghosts passing through. . . Not the scary creepy kind, but more like benevolent spirits of ancestors past.

I went to let Elliot go outside with Grandma, where she was holding the dog at bay so he didn't knock down any of these frail creatures in his enthusiasm to greet. When I returned, they were studying a family photo on the piano. I explained that it was my husband's family at his parents' 50th wedding anniversary, and that Karl had passed away nearly two years ago. I didn't mention that it happened here, and they didn't ask for details, simply expressed appropriate sympathies, then made their goodbyes.

Passing back through the front door, they promised to pray for me, but cheerfully more than pitifully. I appreciate that as much as anything; that they were clearly joyful people, and we were all delighted to share a little look into the early years of the house that is my home.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bad Dog.

I own one bra I really like. My dog just destroyed it, and didn't have the decency to leave the tag. I don't know who made it or where I bought it. I am now very sad, and going underwear shopping tomorrow. I take back all the good things I said about the darned mutt. Grrr.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What If?

This weekend Karl would have turned 37. I found myself thinking about what we would be doing if he were here. Just before he turned 35, he joked with me that he was already 40, really, because anything over 30 was old. I could tell, tho, that it did bother him a little that now his age would actually round up rather than down.

Of course, as it turned out he didn't make it to 40, so never had to cross that bridge. Alas.

Anyway, thinking about the what ifs always leads me to the same thing, and it's something that continues to eat at me. Tonight I think I realized why.

Most of the "what if" scenarios that come into my mind are so abstract as to be meaningless - if I'd been home, if he'd had to pick Elliot up, if everybody hadn't been out of town, if he'd stayed in Hermann, if he'd not been such a heavy drinker, if his mom had been younger when he was born, if i'd called my mom after we talked... seriously, I've considered a million possibilities that might have changed things, but none are what should have happened, only what might have.

But the one that really gets me is different - a mar in the smooth surface of understanding. Tonight I realized it's because it isn't a "What if?" as much as it is an unknown - a "What happened?"

I don't blame anyone for Karl's death. It happened, and it's crap that it did, but I don't feel like it's somebody's fault.

Except maybe I do. I think there was one person who might have, and possibly should have, prevented it. What I don't know is what, if anything, actually happened between them that day. There are people I could ask, but I risk burning bridges, because I don't know how to ask without sounding accusatory.

I can still hear him in my mind, and the words are clear: "I talked to the school nurse before I left, and she assured me I wasn't having a heart attack."

But he was, and he did, and he died.

How do I let that go? It's so impossible, because I knew Karl, and it's equally likely that he convinced her that he was fine, as she convinced him. Or that he withheld symptoms. Or that he didn't really talk to her but knew what I would need to hear to feel like he was ok. Or that she suggested he call his doctor, but he heard "call him sometime" when she meant "call him NOW."

Or any number of things that might have passed between them.

But I don't know, because nobody has ever told me anything, and I'm afraid to ask because at the moment, I'm not angry. But what if I did ask? Maybe it's just a thin veneer of calm. Maybe it's chaos underneath, and so I'm afraid to scratch at it, to reveal the real structure of my understanding. Still, here I am picking at it; bothering, stirring...

I still wish I would wake up and he would be here, and it would all be a bad dream. In the past 18 months I've learned so much and grown so much, and I have an amazing life, but it's such awful price to have paid.

I think my life is bigger now, but so too is the hole he left. They grow together - the wonder and beauty in my life magnify his absence, because he should be here to share them.

If only...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good Dog. Good Dog?

Finley Kopitske - June 22, 2009

Today's been really nice. We went and had Lunch with Grandma, and toured the renovation madness in the kitchen. Afterwords, Elliot and I hit Tower Grove and walked for a while. When I got home it was time to get to work, so we cleared the sticks and poop from the back yard and mowed it. I've been building an unintentional compost pile in the back of the yard for almost a year, and I finally cleared that, too.

Fin and El were happy to help out. I'm slowly trusting them both more - Elliot was allowed to come down the alley with me to dump the yard waste, and we left the gate open, giving Fin a "stay" command and seeing how it held.

It worked great for a while, till somebody came by the alley entrance and passed close to us. Then, barking and charging, Our Hero rushed out to save us. As the nice old lady nearly pooped herself, I called Fin back, and he spun on a dime and returned to my side. "Back in the Yard!" I said, and back in the yard he went.

It's so strange because every other dog I've owned has been a runner. Given an open gate and no leash, I may or may not ever have seen them again.

Fin is different. He wants to be my dog, and be wherever I am. It's actually really cool, except sometimes when it isn't.

I left him in the back yard while I mowed the front. I could hear him barking, but shouted a reassurance now and then and figured he was fine. We've done this every time I've mowed, so what could happen?

Well, jumping the fence, it seems. In his determination not to be separated from me, he managed to get out of the yard. I'd just shut off the mower and was giving Elliot a piggy-back ride back to the house when Fin came prancing up, tongue lolling, as close to a big, goofy, proud smile on his face as a dog can get. So all three of us and the mower headed around the side and back into the yard.

Tomorrow I'll be heading to Lowes to check out trellis that I might be able to nail to the fence to extend it a few feet. In the meantime, don't walk down my sidewalk looking threatening while Fin's out back, ok?

Fin - Today @ 4:00

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


For some reason I've always thought of Karls birthday in numbers. I know my own is August 26, my brother's October 20, the few birthdays I know, in fact, I think of as a month and a day... except Karl's. As long as I knew his birthday, I knew it as 5/23.

It's a day that's coming soon, and I thought I should share some thoughts. I'm organizing a little get together (or a big one - who knows? maybe organizing isn't the right word) in honor of Karl. It means some planning and come cleaning, and a little stress, but it's worth anything to get Karl's collection together in one place. If you knew him and spent birthdays with him in the past, I hope you'll be able to come. We'll have brunch at Circle K Sunday, and likely some sort of get together Saturday afternoon/evening. Details to follow.

There is another date that may draw people together, and it's not too far off either. That one, August 22, has an inescapable sorrow, so I plan to let it be more subdued, and more personal. Last year I planned my own day of remembrance, and invited others to participate as they wished. This year will likely be similar.

But his birthday, I hope, will stir happier memories. There's a hundred stories I hope Elliot will know by heart, and be heartily sick of by the time he's a sulky teen, but deeply appreciative of as an adult. He won't know them if you don't come tell them. There's even more that he probably shouldn't ever hear, but still I hope he'll want to.

I want everybody together, remembering Karl the way he was happiest and most alive - in a crowd of family and friends. I think he would prefer to look down on us laughing together. Not, of course, that he would want us crying alone, but I think we share our grief better in small groups, in quiet moments, through our writing, or by any means we each find to hold on and let go at the same time.

So please join me for official or unofficial time together next weekend. Let's remember him laughing so hard at his own joke that nobody else could understand what he was saying, remember him falling asleep in the bamboo, remember the mad Scotsman, the exuberant storyteller, the brilliant teacher, the loving and devoted friend and father...

When you think of him, on 5/23 or any other time, please indulge me in remembering him at his best and brightest, lighting up every heart in the room, and let that glow illuminate the darkness of his absence.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Finding Myself

It wasn't that long ago that I was a completely different person. I wasn't somebody's mother, and I'd never been anybody's wife. I had lots of ideas about different directions I might want to take my life - extended travels, artistic endeavors, goals, dreams - all that stuff.

When people talk about the formative years of life, often they are referring to youth; in the teenage and young adult years we become the people we will be for the rest of our lives. That's the theory, anyway...

For me, looking back as long as I can remember I knew who I was. I didn't always know the details about what I would do next, big picture or little picture, but I felt solid in myself. Despite rarely being in relationships and often being out of touch with friends, I never felt like there was a hole in my life.

Then, just before I turned 30, I met Karl. In 3 short, incredibly formative years, I became a completely different person. I still had the same confidence, the same foundation, but I was more than who I had been. I had a husband and a child - I had become part of somebody else, and also put a little part of myself out into the world.

Then, of course, everything changed.

Now, for the first time, I find myself not just missing Karl, but missing being in a relationship. I'm also struggling to find ways to be more social - I didn't just lose Karl, but also his constant social events. Where once a weekend wouldn't go by without us seeing some of "The Gang," now weeks will pass with only phone calls now and then.

I'm not lonely, exactly. I have the best company in the world in Elliot, who's more and more charming with every new phrase. I'm just not quite who I want to be right now. I'm alone too much, and the ways I'm trying to change that (joining the Y, training for the 5K, spending more time at the studio) aren't really filling the gap.

I used to think when people weren't happy outside of a relationship it was because they didn't like themselves enough. Now I know that's crap. While it might be true for some people, I like myself plenty, and right now my single status is starting to grate.


I don't know what there is to gain by putting it out there, but there it is. There's this darkness inside me, the inky fear that I'll never find anybody to share this amazing life with. The fear that nobody will understand me, that nobody will want me.

Perhaps it is better to have loved and lost (certainly if it results in somebody as amazing as my son!) but it's not just love that is lost, but also, I don't know how to put it... faith? hope? Neither is right, because I have both, but there's another thing - something related to those two, and it's tarnished inside me. It used to glow so bright I didn't even know it was there... now it's pale, dim, flickering..

Here I am tonight, looking for me. Looking specifically for the part of me that was the whole me, back before I was blended and torn, woven and frayed... loved, and lost.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Taking Pause

Tonight Elliot went to bed early, and I found myself with a few free hours. Instead of cleaning or being productive, I decided to catch up on some television.

I love Hulu. The short breaks are great, because I don't like waiting to see what happens next. When I read, I tend to go cover to cover, no matter if I like the book or not, I can't stop. It's just not how my brain works. It's a kind of tunnel vision...

Tonight, tho, Hulu wasn't satisfying my need for instant gratification. The connection wasn't good, and I kept having to pause and let the buffer catch up. It reminded me a lot of watching movies with Karl, and I wondered if maybe he was somewhere tampering with the signals, just to watch me cringe.

We'd put in a movie, and ten or fifteen minutes in, he'd hit the pause. Not because he needed anything - not to make another drink or go to the bathroom. Not to ask about what just happened. Not for any reason I could understand other than that it drove me up the wall. He'd go on about how nice it was to just pause sometimes - like commercial breaks on the old movie of the week growing up. "But it's a DVD," I'd protest, "The director and editors spent all this time working on the pace of the movie, fine tuning just how long each scene should be.... can't we just watch it?" And he'd hit play, and let it go another few minutes, and then maybe he would need another drink...

They say when you lose somebody you love, you miss everything about them - even the things that once drove you nuts. I think they are full of crap. Those things that annoyed me - the ones he still seems able to manifest somehow, they do make me nostalgic. They do make me think of him, and remember how much I loved him despite the pauses.

But seriously, Karl, cut it out. Stick with making the flowers bloom - that reminds me of you too, in a much better way.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Building a Better Monster

This afternoon Elliot went into the front closet and came out with Karl's blue box of legos. This wasn't the regular ones, but the gears and wheels set, and so we made cars. "Make another one," he kept telling me, holding out another gear or wheel for me to use. We had a very low block to gear ratio, so the cars are pretty minimalist, but here's what we made:

He's not to the point yet where he's going to be designing and building on his own, but I think he grasped well the awesomeness of Lego, and for that I'm proud, and I know Karl is smiling. We'll no doubt be searching out the other hidden Lego stashes for further building over the next few weeks.