Who We Are When Society Stops.

“Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk. ~ Antonio Machado

Here’s to the book burning party in my soul.

Goodbye to the agenda society smudged into me.

I’m a pink lotus flower. My crown is a cotton candy headdress. My belly a river rolling.

I’m a baby forming in the Universe’s womb.

A free being. I float. I do not know agenda.

How could I write lists when I gave my words to the earth?

Mother nature rocks me. I am new life, a mysterious seedling of divine flowering cells.

I know nothing. Thank God.

I’m not the books my mother wrote or the words she spoke or screamed.

I am love. Loved. Loving. It’s my thing.

I’m not my sister’s grief or her keeper. She’s not my savior.

I don’t owe her. I love her.

I love me, too. And our sweet destiny intertwined by mystery.

I’m not competition. I’m a feather floating.

Rose quartz, Tanzanite, and a coyote.

I cost nothing. Charge nothing.

I am the wind, the dirt, the knife my grandfather created with shiny metal and dappled colored scraps, carving my path the way rivers erode the earth.

I smell of lavender and rose petals and sage.

I don’t count my worthiness from words on pages. They take their own form.

I’m not commander-in-chief. Nor do I want to be.

I’m song and chant and freedom dance.

Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo. I bow to the divine teacher within.

I am Sat Nam. Truth is my identity.

Watch me, a full moon at dawn. Hear me, gratitude laced with laughter.

We are blessed and blessing. We bless as we take breath.

I’m a smooth stone and a child’s handprint in wet cement.

I don’t mind being a misfit.

It was all that fitting in, proving, planning, getting over, waking up, trying, deciding, failing…so damn tiring!

Now, we just are. Nothing. From which everything forms.

A blank canvas of dark night where stars blaze and amaze and awaken imagination.

We are a society stopped, the breath in between the notes of a song not yet written.

We are harmony rising.

How My Parents Taught Me to Walk at Age 47.

In 2012, I spent the summer with my parents in their home in Santa Fe, NM.

Most mornings and evenings, they headed out for walks. They had to get their little coyote-looking dog Ginger out, but the walks saved them from life’s daily stresses.

Most times, I was invited. Often, I joined them on the streets winding around adobe homes, dirt paths, and arroyos. I learned “a little walk,” unless it was dark, typically took an hour. So, sometimes I declined in honor of time and solitude.

Often, I heard my stepmom say, “I’m a little tired. I’m going for a walk” or I could see her emotional edge (we all have one) sharpening. Those moments called for solo walks with Ginger.

They both returned brighter and kinder. The desert air, the smell of dirt and pine, and the expansive skies covering the Land of Enchantment can clear the blues. 

Back in junior high, my stepmom introduced me to running by entering a ten-mile race through the Garden of the Gods in Colorado on the day she married my father.

At 14, my skinny legs and thick willpower carried me through the course.

Mary Jo was a runner. So, I became one. Not a jogger. Certainly, not a walker. In my mind, walking was what old people did in malls.

I ran through my teens, 20s and 30, but by my forties, my body wasn’t as forgiving. Yet, my mind couldn’t imagine the power of walking, except for wimps. I’m not a wimp!

Neither are my parents. Now in their 80s, they’re big time drinkers—of water. They’ve travelled the world, and ridden bicycles across the country on serious trips: across the Great Divide, from New Mexico to my dad’s high school reunion in South Dakota, and one summer they rode 4,000 miles from Virginia to Oregon, covering over 50 miles on most days.

So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when, the summer of 2012, my dad met my offer to join him on a bike ride with, “I need to get a real workout in.” Ouch. Hey, old man!

He was right, though. I couldn’t keep up with him mountain biking on the trails, and though I intended to, I never made it up the vertical-as-a-wall killer hill he took like a 12-year-old.

Between bicycle rides, walking served as my parents’ constant. Like water, it’s the simple, almost unnoticeable key to health and longevity.

As Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron states, “You might walk out with a problem, but as you walk, you come into a solution.” She added walking as a third tool for writers, after morning pages and artist dates.

Between Ms. Cameron and my parents, walking became my secret weapon.

Even if walking doesn’t bring me to a solution or resolution, it transforms me. When I’m angry, I must run, but when agitated, irritated, or tired, walking offers revival. It can be medicine, but it’s best taken daily like vitamins.

After that summer in Santa Fe, I returned home to Minnesota, but not to my husband. Yeah, I’d learned to walk in several ways.

Anyhow, in my next chapter, I took up walking with my new neighbor Michael and his German Shepard Jessie. As Michael and I walked among the Victorian homes of Cathedral Hill, St. Paul, we discussed men and women and relationships.

Each step dropped our defenses and forged a friendship I doubt would’ve happened over coffee or meals. Walking made talking easy.

I also walked alone, slowing into the pace of poetry.

Later, when I moved to Worthington, OH with my sister Jayne, our evening walks tamed workday stresses and unraveled the threads of grief, relationships, and childhood memories matched with our adult perspectives.

During winter, my sister and I long for and lean into spring so we can get back to our synchronized steps.

Up until a year ago, my Labrador Phoenix joined us. There’s nothing like a dog to get us out for walks. She’s gone now and it’s more of a chore to drag myself outdoors during the cold days.

Still, every time I go, especially stepping into the woods and letting nature return me to mine, I’m better for it.

On my most recent visit with my parents in their new small Santa Fe apartment, I said, “I need to get out for a walk. Would either of you like to join me?” They both declined the cold. The wind of their aging blew through me.

Of course, we shared many walks that week: down Canyon Road by art galleries, along the downtown arroyo surrounded by glistening yellow Aspen trees, and a drive out close to my folks’ old neighborhood where Ginger could run free as Mary Jo and I plunged up and down hills and through sandy arroyos where she lost her hat and we had to go back.

Walking carries us back and forward, to reflection and perspective of beauty that a drive, or even a bicycle miss.

Ginger is slowing. My parents are growing into what, despite their health, is old age. My companion Phoenix aged out.

I try to pick up the habit of running again, but I’m thankful my parents passed onto me a new constant to carry me through life’s daily joys and challenges.

So, when you’re feeling lost or blue, I encourage you to get out and experience the magnificence, simplicity and magic of walking. 

How to Break up with Perfection.

Dear Perfection,

I’m breaking up with you. I already talked to God about this and he said, “Go for it!”

In fact, he said he never understood why I pursued you in the first place.

Well, I won’t go that far; You’re so attractive! So ideal for me! I desire you. Unfortunately, you’re like a mirage. The closer I get to you, the more walls you put up.

You ghost me. Then, just when I’m at peace in my life, you come courting and seducing me with sweet gifts. You give me books. You know my weakness!

One Minute Organization, You Are a Badass, You Are a Badass at Making Money, Big Magic, Spontaneous Transformation, …

I read the pages and imagine you and me making things work the way you want. It’s what I want, too. But, you make it too hard. You don’t let me enjoy myself.

You’re like the opposite of my bad boyfriend who made all my money disappear. I once told him, “I bet if I had a million bucks, you could turn it into a -$1,000,000!”

With you, Perfection, if I earned $1,000,000 today, you’d say, “How about $2,000,000?”
You’re never satisfied. Plus, you’re kind of a stick in the mud, a dud.

When it’s time to celebrate, or even just sit in the sun, you pull out a to-do list.

Well, let me ask you this: what part are you doing? Because in this relationship of ours, I don’t see you doing a lot of heavy lifting, but I sure do hear you b*tching.

Like when I completed my Intentional Blog course and felt proud—because you know that technical sh*t brings up my childhood hurdle of feeling stupid—but I did it!
You said, “Yeah well, isn’t there another course you need to complete?”

When I balked because I wasn’t being lazy, but just acknowledging one step forward, you said, “My God, Alice, it’s not like you ran a marathon. I really care about you. It’s just that I know you’re going to feel better about yourself when you have 5,000 followers.”

Perfection, here’s what you don’t get: I was already feeling good!

You and I have different values and belief systems. You say you love me, but you don’t even respect me.

You invalidate my feelings, especially when I’m happy. How can you call that love?

You don’t appreciate me for who I am, but some fantasy of who you want me to be.

You’re trying to get to some destination down the road and when you catch me relishing my life, laughing with my sister, reading a novel, enjoying time with friends—you act like I’m doing something wrong.

No, Perfection. You’re wrong!

You’re wrong in your attitude. You hold up your ideals, but make no room for the path to attainment or fulfillment.

What you don’t get, Perfect, Perfect you, memories are made from running all the miles of the marathon. There are aid stations along the way and it’s ok to stop. Not everyone has to be a world champion.

You make everything like there are two choices: either you’re perfect, like you, or you’re a loser. I’ve got news for you. There’s a whole lot of in between.

There are thousands of writers earning a living off words who’ve never been on Oprah or the New York Times Bestseller list.

There are songwriters whose success is solid, but whose names we wouldn’t know and faces we wouldn’t recognize in public.

Perfection, you’re also a snob. If someone uses the wrong word—your for you’re, a less-than politically correct term, says “honey” or “babe” when they don’t know you, or mispronounces Guadalupe, you act as if they should be banished from earth.

Come on! Give people a break! Like me.

I’m better off without you. See, I want to enjoy my life now, not someday.

I’m not an idiot. I’m no fool. I know I’ve got work to do. It’s not like I’m going to totally screw up my life without your constant supervision.

I need a partner, a lover, a friend, maybe even a coach, but not a parent.

You know me; I’m antiauthoritarian a rebel and. So, what makes you think I’d be drawn closer to you by your control tactics disguised as loving advice and encouragement?

Sometimes, I resist doing things simply because you tell me I must. Perfection, you don’t own me and you sure don’t determine where I find joy in my life.

You want us to do all these things. You plan and plan, but then when we get there, it’s never good enough for you and you head off on the next plan.

Geez! You wear me out! I just need to be away from you for a while.

I’m done chasing you trying to make something work that was never meant to be.

By the way, I’ve been hanging out with God and he said something interesting. It reminded me of my first summer selling books when my sales manager noticed my sales plummeted on the days after I talked to my boyfriend back home.

God said he noticed whenever I’m trying to win you over—and haven’t I tried?—you try to make me feel like less-than. It’s true, although I know you’ll never admit it. It’s always cloaked in “trying to help.”

I’m not mad at you, Perfection. I get it. You don’t know another way to be. I shouldn’t ask you to change. I’m not. I’m just stepping away.

So I can be me. So I can be free. So I can pursue my passions without constantly worrying about how they might play in the marketplace or measure up to your standards.

I don’t want to measure up. You think I can’t make it without you just because you’ve been around for so long?

Wrong again. Sorry, but it’s often when things fall apart (according to your standards) that I find my greatest fulfillment.

My life often comes together in the most imperfect and unplanned ways.

I promise, Perfection. I’ll be fine without you.

I’m walking my own path. You may not like it, might disagree, can even laugh at me.

It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to be manipulated by you anymore, Perfection.

You’re the one who’s missing out. You’re missing the messy party called life, cloud watching, sunshine sipping, ducks landing in the driveway, 30 minutes of a one-hour meditation, budget vacations, and showing up late only to find you’re right on time.

You want life with straight edges, but baby I was born for riding the curves.

Perfection, our paths will cross again, maybe when I sign my book contracts and on Christmas, but don’t plan it. This just isn’t working for me. And in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been giving you what you want either.

Besides, I like hanging out with my other friends: Peace, Solitude, Serenity, Joy, Fun, Music, Poetry, Sister and Yoga. Oh, and Laughter, Hugs, Writing, and Conversations.

You’d hate our parties. We just sit around and bliss out. Not your style, I know. That’s why you are I are done.

Please don’t think it’s easy letting you go or that I won’t sometimes fantasize about you, but I will never chase you again.

So, go be you. I’ll see you in the movies and on TV, in pharmaceutical commercials and political campaigns. Get out there and tell them how it’s going to be, Perfect—tomorrow.

I’ll be here, basking in this magic moment.

 

How Kansas City Johnny Rekindled my Soul. #bloglikecrazy

 

One cool thing about people dying is it invites you to cherish the living.

Johnny said, “Is this really happening? Are we really going to see each other?”

It’s surreal. He was my boyfriend after I left my first husband and fled to Tucson 27 years ago. Then, I left Johnny and broke his heart—because he was a bit broken at the time and patience wasn’t my forte. I was in a hurry to get to success.

So much has happened since then—for both of us.

On a recent road trip from Columbus, OH to Santa Fe, NM, I met Johnny in Kansas City in front of the Hilton Hotel, where I stayed with my Black Lab, Phoenix. The three of us walked around the back of the hotel and sat on a bench. Johnny and I drank beer as Phoenix played greeter to guests entering and exiting the doors.

I stared at Johnny—full beard and long dreadlocks, everything on him heavier with the years. I searched his eyes for the young man who decades ago ravished my body day after day as if we were trying out for the sex Olympics.

Before arriving in Kansas City, I worried I might leap into bed with him as I’d done the night I picked him up in a bar and took him back to my Tucson apartment.

Instead, I now studied the man. I said, “Did you always walk like that?” I missed his youthful bravado. I wanted it to summon mine.

“No,” Johnny said. “I’m a man beaten down.” Disappointment found its way to the place where my white woman’s heart witnesses the emotional scars a black man carries by living. Of course, he didn’t say it was about that.

I remembered a day before either of us cracked 30, when Johnny sat on the edge of my bed crying. He said, “You don’t know.”

Back then, he was a clean-shaven, suit-wearing, bright-eyed young man. But, that day a woman crossed to the other side of the street when she saw him coming. Most days, trivialities like that stood undiscussed. That day, Johnny cried.

I held him. I loved his tears as much as his laughter and the jazz he introduced me to. He had deeper reasons for the sadness, but sometimes a stranger could hit his hot button and awaken me to my ignorance.

All these years later, we talked about what happened the time Johnny visited me in Louisville, KY in the early 90s.

I travelled for work and had gone with a co-worker to a bar that was several under one roof: country, rock, jazz, big, winding, crowded and loud.

As I led us through the people, Johnny said he wanted to leave, but I couldn’t hear him. He grabbed my arm, no more forceful than the moment warranted, but in the snap of a finger, five cowboys surrounded us, apparently prepared to fight for my protection.

Johnny turned and left. I followed, trying to grasp what had happened.

In the parking lot, he screamed, “Are you trying to get me killed?”

I said something like, “You can’t love me because I don’t consider race and be mad at me for it, too.”

I was new to the nuances that are a part of a black person’s normal. I was unaware because I walk in the world as a white woman. I didn’t know my privilege; I simply relished it.

On that same trip, I took Johnny on a dinner cruise I’d gone on earlier in the week with my (white) coworker. I wanted to share my cool experiences with Johnny.

Instead, I got a taste of his. We were seated in a corner right next to the kitchen, then ignored. I’d never been so brushed off by a wait staff. We did get food, finally.

Who knows if the less-than-stellar service had anything to do with the color of Johnny’s skin, or the contrast to mine? I only know how it felt.

I remember Johnny telling me I could escape racism just by breaking up with him, but he didn’t have that option.

I did break up with him—not because of his blackness. I was desperate to get somewhere and young enough to believe love like ours lived on every corner.

Now, Kansas City Johnny—the man beat down by life—seemed to revive as we reminisced about old times and how I got him addicted to raspberry coffee.

I heard his deep masculine voice, his undeniable pride for his children, and his refreshing laughter.

We talked late into the night, hugged, and said goodbye like we needed to part to process these precious moments.

I saw him again the next day. I played him a mixed cassette tape he once made me. I don’t know what’s more amazing—that I still have it or that I have a cassette player in my 2007 Nissan Murano.

That mixed tape used to play on my boom box while we got ready to go out on the town. Now, Toni Toni Toni takes us back to Tucson and our 20s, watching Johnny shave and dancing in my undies.

I glance at Johnny sitting in my passenger seat smiling the kind of smile that bubbles up from within and paints a man’s face with light. It was one of those moments where goodness wins.

Nothing else matters and I remember how much I love this man, still.

It wasn’t the sexual ecstasy I imagined before we saw each other or the unrequited feelings he might’ve feared. I didn’t have that power over him anymore.

Listening to the music seemed to remind Johnny that nothing has the power to take him down and encourage him to stand tall again.

I’m standing stronger myself. An enduring friendship, a long-awaited visit, cool conversation, and some old songs made my soul sing. My mind reawakened.

My path rolls out on the road before me. I’m grateful Johnny reconnected with me in the wake of my boyfriend Kevin’s passing in 2016, and all the 2 am phone calls he took where I told him I just didn’t give a f*ck because it hurt too damn much. He acknowledged my pain and said, “I know Alice, but you’re going to be ok.”

Now I am, mostly. As I continue on my trip, another lesson from my deceased boyfriend echoes: “I know good people and I make time for them.”

 

Let’s Restore Peace to the Playground of Life.

“When we turn on light, darkness disappears.” ~ Marianne Williamson

We want black and white, good and bad, light and dark. We want to choose sides, draw lines and know we’re right—in the church we’ve chosen, the political party we’re affiliated with, and the side of the law “our” people are on, as if DNA hasn’t exonerated hundreds of falsely convicted.

It takes courage to examine the gray.

Personally, I like to draw a line and call Donald Trump the devil. Maybe, but maybe he’s the wake-up call our society has served itself. Maybe there’s some good there.

That thought is quite a stretch for me, but I actually like trying to understand, even when I disagree with other sides. I’m curious how people come to their conclusions.

While I’m a thousand miles from sharing certain ideologies, I can sometimes see, stretching into openness, how someone arrived. Sometimes I can imagine maybe if I was born to those parents, with that DNA and raised in those circumstances, with their challenges (or wealth and opportunities), I might conclude things that given my particular path I can’t fathom.

Curiosity is a start. Not just what do you believe, but how did you get there?

Maybe if I understand another’s journey, I can simply honor—for them—the seductiveness of a philosophy that’s foreign to me.

And yet, this consideration scares me, due to the rhetoric and bullsh*t I like believe I’m immune to. How many of us like to think I’m smarter than that?

Well, I’ve seen intelligent women fall for deceiving men (and vice versa), smart businesspeople fail, and good family members and friends vote for a charlatan.

I myself have been manipulated, multiple times. Then, I awoke.

Things I believed in my 20s and 30s no longer serve me. That doesn’t mean I was wrong. I was on my path.

Maybe that’s the best I can do—respect each has a path and invite light on mine. What I can’t do is become so understanding of darkness I go there.

I cannot condone hate. I cannot stand idle to the fall of our democracy, to mistreatment of children, animals or marginalized groups.

But, maybe I can say, “Yes, I see you there” because people want to be seen. I see you in your darkness. I won’t make you defend it.

I hope and pray with everything I’ve got that I may shine light. Not me alone, but together with other women and men walking in the light.

The truth is I’m afraid of the dark: violence, anger, hatred, judgement, self-righteousness. Screaming is enough to shake my soul. I’m a peaceful warrior.

For so long, I’ve been walking the path of peace and believing that was enough. Now, it’s time to awaken the warrior and spread the light.

I’m little in a sea of opposing forces. But, still I swim here. I live here. I love here. Collectively, I’m part of a new path. I’m walking in spite of my fear.

Why show up at all? For one, I have a beautiful little niece named Madeline who’s dancing in the light of childhood and innocence. Life will teach her many hard things. My hope is she doesn’t have to grow up into a world welcoming her with proof that darkness prevails.

Second, my mother fought for women’s rights. I witnessed that fight and naively believed it had been mostly won. No, the baton has been passed. I’m called to continue.

Third, my stepmom marched for civil rights. Doesn’t the name say it all? What happened to civility?

We, as a country, have turned cruel. We’re not embodying the basic principles most parents teach their children—kindness, fairness, decency, respect, showing up, not being bullies.

My God, I saw a group of middle-aged adults engaging in fist fights at their children’s high school graduation, over someone saving seats. Really?!

This is the playground of life. Some swing on the swings happily oblivious.

But, there’s a bully beating others to a pulp while a crowd chants, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Someone runs to tell a teacher/leader, but they don’t want to jeopardize their comfort. So, they hang in the lounge pretending not to hear.

We must walk through the crowd of instigators and pull the bully off our democracy. We must say: Stop. That’s enough.

We don’t care who threw the first punch. We care about stopping the fight and restoring peace to the playground.

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. Or is it?

A New Language

Speak to me, entities
Beyond the clouds and trees,
Those who live in the other
Room and alternate realm.
I yearn to learn
Your language.
Whisper secrets
Into my soul.
Shout truth beyond
The human struggle.
Help me dance my
Days on earth, and
Be of benefit
Where I can.
Show me color
In darkness,
Life in death,
Humor in seriousness.
Overcome me. Overwhelm me.
Rearrange me. Introduce me.
To light. Sway me like
The ocean waves. Take me
Under. Throw me into new
Waters. Tumble my yesterdays
Into something that shimmers.
Let me see anew.
Limitations be gone.
Expectations expire.
Hope renews.
Mind ignites.
Body moves with grace.
Gratitude seeps from
My very being.
I am here. I am there.
I am aware and willing,
Open, steady, rocking my
Way into something more.
No plan. No demand.
Soaring like an eagle.
Unquestioning.
Prevailing.

 

Winter of Grief

In this time of grieving
May our hearts remain open
When we are tempted to close them.
May our vision clear,
When we see only clouds.
May we give in to our tears and
Laugh when things are funny
Without thought to social permissibility.
May we move forward, yet
Sit for some time with our memories
And the flood of feelings,
Knowing we will not drown
In the cold, dark winter of grief because
Spring will come again.
Spring will come again.

 

How I Exercise my Introvert/Extrovert Status

If someone says, “She’s high maintenance” referring to me, I’ve got one thing to say: You’re damn right.

I don’t understand low-maintenance, high-functioning folks. Sometimes I see people maintaining themselves by sucking on other people’s energy.

I sustain my own energy by tending to the two sides of me.

I envy extroverts who get revved up by hanging with others.

For me, these are my required maintenance procedures:
1. Writing—morning pages, journaling and writing with purpose for publication.
2. Yoga or stretching. My body gets physically knotted up and I’m in pain if I don’t find a way to untie the knots. (Massage works, too.)
3. Walking in nature. It’s the act of movement, and nature kisses my skin and whispers to my soul if I go it alone.
4. Reading—expands my mind and heart.
5. Prayer—to God, angels, guides, Mother Mary, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, and my loved ones on the other side. It can take a while.
6. Meditation—without it I’d come undone.

These are solo pursuits. When I take these steps I’m better able to connect with the world.

Also, I love being alone. I’m not bored. I’m not lonely.

Extroverts, I love you with your eager invitations and how you can’t fathom my time alone is your competition. It is.

Introverts, I’m with you in the magnitude of solitude, silence drawing out peace and presence for ourselves in order to invoke any magnificence we may hope to possess.

Extroverts, you drag me from the dark depths of myself—beyond the blackness. Some days and nights, I stand at death’s door begging for entry into something beyond. You entertain me and keep me awake to others’ laughter, dancing, voices and stories.

You make me come out and live. Thank you.

Introverts, we know our time alone can be where we feel most alive, authentic and valid. They may think we’re hiding, but it’s here where we face life head on. We’re not afraid of darkness. Or light. The sacred ignites our souls. We see stars intimately. We speak poetry as if it’s our first language. We dance with music because it becomes us. Alone, we’re more than we care to explain, show or present to the great pretenders running the world we run away from.

Extroverts, I adore your laughter and our connections. Yet, I can’t comprehend your apprehension toward solitude. How can it not soothe you?

Don’t you dare to dance with your one true soul mate—you?

We introverts don’t quite understand the loneliness you speak of, for others tend to engulf us in emotional claustrophobia.

Me, I dance between the world of people and parties and my full-on presence. Too much out there invites pretense, lest I speak truth most don’t care for.

Truth—I kiss her and let her seep inside my soul alone on quiet nights and precious days. She allows me to return full and ready, capable of conjuring words, not to hurt but ideally to awaken and elevate.

I’m two sides of the personality coin: introvert/extrovert. I must spend them equally. And so I dance—in the world and in my kitchen.

 

One Night in a Bar with Grief & Gratitude

“Resilience does not mean bouncing back to where you were before or pretending that the hard stuff isn’t hard. It’s painful, messy stuff. But, it’s the stuff.” ~ Lucy Kalanithi

When my fellow grievers ask, “How are you?” I want to tell them I’m fine.

I’m farther on the journey, so I want to tell them it gets better—because it has. I want to tell them I miss him now more than ever—because I do.

They’re not grieving the man I am—my beloved who died 15 months ago. Each of these friends carries their own loss—more recent, fresh and raw.

I tell them I’m moving on, even seeing other men, but my heart is still deeply in love with Kevin.

Kevin is dead.

With these two friends, I can say his name loud and proud, although they only know him the way I know Jeff’s brother, Michael and Sharon’s sister, Judy—through afterlife stories.

I don’t tell them about the morning I woke up with the man I went to bed with the night before only to be deeply disappointed—not because of anything I did or didn’t do or who he is—but, because he isn’t Kevin. So, I went into the bathroom and sobbed.

I’m still so sad. Even these two, who completely get it, aren’t privy to the part of me that’s in agony.

I’m not keeping a secret from them; I’m keeping it from myself.

I’m still sad. I don’t think any other man will ever compare. I’m mad that my man is dead—still. Hasn’t he been dead long enough?

I envy the two grievers sitting opposite me in a booth at Matt the Miller’s bar because they have long term marriages with the loves of their lives. I’m jealous.
I wanted a chance at that—even though Kevin and I came together decades after we met, giving us a late start off the bat. But, really? That’s all we got—a start?

I talk to my friends about divine timing—how I believe my brother, mother and beloved lived their full lives—even though for me, they died too soon.

I amaze myself with truths that are also lies.

I’m fine. I’m crumbling. It will be okay. It gets better.

F*ck that. F*ck it all.

As Jeff says, “I’ve got no f*cks to give.”

We seem to cuss a lot. Tonight. Together. In grief.

How am I? I’m sad because we’re all grieving, but comforted because we’re in it together.

Making Peace with the Unpredictable Triggers of Grief.

Life surprises us—in love and grief.

Early on, the best we can do is breathe, fall to our knees and howl animalistic cries for our oozing wounds. But, we can’t live there.

Eventually, we stand and walk on in our grief.

When grief is fresh and raw, we’re vulnerable to being toppled by every song, word, passing thought, article of clothing, shared food, a coffee cup that once held his hand,  a random email, a favored restaurant, … any memory of involving our loved ones who had to leave us.

Why did they have to go?

 

Repeatedly, we believe the worst has passed, as if we’re over it simply because for one day, week, month, or even a year, we function unengulfed by the gigantic hole in our hearts.

We act as if we overcame a bout with the flu or a nightmare vacation. Now, we’re home safe and feeling better—better able to navigate.

Now, I’m back in control.

The triggers move to the back and we believe we’re in the driver’s seat.

Maybe, but just as there’s mystery and magic in love, what ignites our grief can surprise.

If someone told me shopping would be my sucker punch after my beloved’s death…well, I wouldn’t have believed them any more than I believed I’d fall in love with a salesman I’d known for decades who lived in St. Louis and had a KISS painting on his living room wall. I went to visit and to see a Hall & Oates concert. Kevin’s kiss was not on my list.

Life surprises us—in love and grief.

I’ve watched my sister plan for the days that might wreck her—anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays shared over 33 years with her now-deceased husband.

Often, the dates and places we imagine will break us don’t. Then again, sometimes they do. There are no rules or formulas.

We can navigate better through love and grief, but to imagine that we’re in complete control is laughable.

My now-deceased boyfriend Kevin was a shopper, not like a shopaholic, but like a man in love who enjoyed seeing my face light up with the gifts he gave. Most often, it was clothing.

It wasn’t just that he bought me gifts.

Plenty of men have done that and there’s nothing that punches the way guilt does when you don’t like a gift you’re given—because it offers only two options, neither good.

First, lie and say you love it, like it, appreciate it, or even just “thank you” can feel like a lie when you’re thinking why the hell did you get me this?

Then, there’s option two. Tell the truth, which rarely makes the giver feel good, since most gifts are given with love and an invitation for happiness.

My ex-husband lavished me with gifts, which at first felt fabulous. Over time, I tried to tell him when the style didn’t suit me.

He’d say, “What don’t you like about it?” “Try it on.” “It looks good. You should keep it.”

Or, in response to my saying, “I just don’t like it,” he’d say, “Yes, you do.”

That’s just one man, and maybe I sound like a bitch complaining about my history of men giving me gifts, but my fortune often came wrapped in contorted feelings.

That’s why when I opened the first box from Kevin, I did so with trepidation.

We were headed to the St. Louis Big Muddy Blues Festival. He gave me a brass (not gold) necklace and bracelet handcrafted by his friend.

He said, “Icey, everybody needs a peace bracelet to wear to the Blues Fest.”

I needed the peace that perfect present offered. Not too over the top and ideal for the occasion. He didn’t invest big money, but put in the thought.

As much as we like to say it’s the thought that counts, getting it right feels nice. It was one more way Kevin helped erase my painful history.

He went on to give me gifts—mostly clothes—right up until he died.

His packed bag ready for a visit contained a final gift: a light sweater, blue, pink, and gold, a festive Reba McEntire design purchased from Kohl’s, one of Kevin’s favorite shopping spots.

Every time I wear the sweater, I get compliments. The first I wore it, I only had it on about an hour when I stood in the bathroom at Kroger. One of the employees came out of a stall. Her eyes lit up.

She said, “That’s a beautiful sweater.”

I said, “Thanks. My boyfriend just gave it to me” (kind of).

She looked into my eyes, then at the sweater, then back in my eyes.

She said, “Wow, he really knows your style.”

Yes, he did. I have a closet full of clothes given to me by Kevin, clothes that make me feel more like myself. He knew my style before I really did.

My sister and I enjoy shopping together. At least, we did before Kevin died.

After, I needed a dress for his memorial service. Jayne told me when she needed one for her husband’s funeral, she said, “Okay Tom, you’ve got to help me with this.” The first dress she tried on was the one.

I said, “Maybe Kevin will help me.” Same thing. First dress. Perfect. Slim fitting, but not tight. Black, with one white and one lavender stripe—the color of the Tanzanite bracelet Kevin gave me and the color of the sky since he died.

I sent my little sister a picture of the dress and told her, “I still want to look pretty for him.”

It was the kind of dress my man would’ve found for me, but now, he’d never buy me another piece of clothing.

That was the thought that hit me the first time Jayne and I ventured on a typical girl’s shopping afternoon after his death. We went to Kohl’s, where Kevin took me shopping for my birthday.

Kohl’s in Columbus mirrors the Kohl’s in St. Louis. The dressing room is set up the same as the one Kevin sat outside as I tried on clothes he picked out.

He participated in the process—the perfect balance between the guy trying to ply his gal to win her favor by shopping for her and the bored man in the corner.

Kevin enjoyed shopping with me. He enjoyed being with me and seeing me happy.

There, in the dressing room entrance, I reminisced and forced myself to swallow the fact that none of it will never happen again.

My tears took me into a hot, wet flood of emotion. I missed him so bad I wanted to throw up. I dropped the clothes I’d been considering. I got my sister and we left of the store.

She said, “I’m sorry.” She was sorry I had to endure this pain she knew too well.

We weren’t too far down the road before I realized, “My bracelet!” The Tanzanite one Kevin gave me. I called the store as we drove back. The gal assured me she looked in the dressing room and found nothing.

The bracelet wasn’t expensive; it was irreplaceable.

We raced back—Jayne wanting to fight for her little sister and me desperate for the damned bracelet, as the memory of the moment he gave it to me hit me like a slap.

I tried to tell myself the loss was nothing; the bracelet didn’t matter.

Not too long before (hours? at lunch that day?) I told Jayne something I never got around to telling Kevin, although he would’ve been jazzed about it.

People get diamonds when they get married because it’s the hardest substance known to man. Many people think diamonds are unbreakable, but they can break, like marriages. Hit hard enough in the right spot, they can shatter.

I sold diamonds and jewelry for years and took full advantage of my discount. Tanzanite was one of the only stones I love, but never acquired.

Without that knowledge, Kevin gave me a Tanzanite bracelet I love more than my 3-carat diamond tennis bracelet.

Tanzanite is rare—much rarer than diamonds. It’s only recently discovered. Its color—which can range from light lavender to deep purple—is unique in nature. However, Tanzanite is fragile.

I told my sister that was exactly why if Kevin and I had married, I wanted my ring to be Tanzanite. It represented him, us and our crazy, sexy, cool love, recently found, unique and special enough to be worth caring for.

Now, I’d lost the only piece of Tanzanite jewelry I owned.

It was with me one minute, then gone—like Kevin.

It was too much to bear.

As we made our way back to Kohl’s, I prayed no one played Finders Keepers. My sister insisted I not give up hope, but she was scared for me.

She drove like a woman determined to stop disappointment.

We parked and split up. Jayne headed to customer service. I went to check the dressing rooms. I couldn’t remember which one I’d been in.

The bracelet must’ve fallen off when I tried on clothes. I checked the floors in every dressing room. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Then, in the last dressing room, the little corner shelf held my bracelet—and more, a sort of restoration of my heart.

I was elated. It was worth the trip back. It was worth the hope.

When I told Jayne, she saw the Band-Aid on my battered soul.

Shopping would never be the same easy high it once was for us. I’d decline for months.

When I did go, many times I felt the heat of tears and we’d leave.

I love the wardrobe Kevin blessed me with. Somehow, all the clothes he gave me suit me perfectly. They fit me, not just in size. They become me.

Surprising colors, like blues and pinks I long ago decided weren’t mine. Like Kevin, the blouses, jeans and shoes were an upgrade I never imagined.

I joke that I’ll be wearing the wardrobe from Kevin for decades.

However, Jayne and I recently returned to shopping. She needed shorts for her trip to Florida with her boyfriend.

That, too, was bittersweet. Kevin was from Florida and for our first trip he took me to Indian Rocks beach, back when he was convincing me to call him my boyfriend.

Deep breath. My sister was excited for her trip. I was thrilled for her.

We went to Clothes Mentor, a second-hand designer store Kevin likely never went to. Still, I wasn’t in a shopping mood.

Until I was. Jayne and I spent hours trying on clothes. I didn’t even cry.

We scored. We walked away with two big bags of clothing (over 20 pieces, but only one pair of shorts) for under $200. Nice!

Plus, as elephant journal founder Waylon Lewis says, “The most eco thing is second hand.”

On that Saturday, I allowed myself to be happy. It’s part of the path to loving life again.

I do, mostly. And, I have a new favorite outfit. Kevin would love it.