Time

Dear M,

When I think of you now, so much relates to time. Even from the beginning of our relationship, time was a factor. How many days would pass before we saw each other? How many days until you moved in with me? And then…how many days were you sober, how many days were in the coma, how many days were you in the hospital? As an English teacher, it is ingrained in me to find symbolism. The object that would most symbolize you would be a wrist watch. Very fitting considering how much you loved your Omega.

But time is different now when it comes to you. It is no longer days. After you died, it became weeks and then months and then finally…a year. I was dreading February so much. November always was my least favorite month because of losing my grandparents and getting divorced. February tried to take that title over.

With the date you died looming, my emotions were all over the place. But, strangely, on that day I felt so little. I had grieved so much for so long, it felt anticlimactic. I slept a lot, which indicated I was sad, but I planned to look through my “M box”- a tote of things I had packed up when we broke up and then stuffed new things into after you passed away. I told myself all year long I would look at it on the anniversary of your death (there needs to be a better word than “anniversary” for something sad). I finally did open the box at night and looked at photos and items that belonged to the dog and so, so many cards. It was sweet and I felt nostalgic, but I was not overcome with sadness like I thought I would be. I talked with my therapist about it afterwards and she thinks because I finally got answers about how you died, I had more closure than I thought I had.

A week or so later, my sister and I went out to dinner for your birthday. You would have been 39. I took her to “our” restaurant, which I had not been to since we broke up. It actually felt like a celebration. Again, instead of feeling sad, I was happy to remember you and all the good memories of our life together. It really felt like turning a corner. Being able to think about you and focusing on your life instead of you being sick or drunk or dead. I really celebrated your life on your birthday and it felt…right.

I will ALWAYS be sad about you being gone. It is just a part of who I am now. But, February is almost over and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I finally felt a sense of peace, of being able to move on, of being able to balance grieving your loss and remembering happier times with you.

There is a quote by Robert Frost that I always have up in my classroom: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” This past year, I have missed you, I have been depressed, I have been heartbroken, I have been SO angry, but my life has also gone on. I have been overjoyed, I have been happy, and I have fallen deeper in love with a wonderful man. I would like to think it is what you would have wanted for me.

There is always something to be thankful for

Dear M,

Happy Thanksgiving in heaven, love. I have been thinking about you SO much lately- more than usual. As you know, before you moved in with me, this time of year was always difficult. I had so many bad things happen in November- filing for divorce, my grandparents passing away, my dad having a stroke, my sister getting sick- I dreaded the month and Thanksgiving went from being one of my favorite holidays to just another day. Then, it became “our” holiday. Do you remember the first time we made a turkey? I can’t think about it without laughing. We must have watched 15 youtube videos and called my mom ten times! The best part was when I made the herb butter mix and you figured out how to get it under the skin. I was crying from laughing so hard. By the second year, we had a lot more confidence, but it was still a lot of work. After that, we were pros! And then, of course, there was the annual (and very epic) turkey leg photo. How that became a tradition, I have no idea, but those pictures are some of my favorite of you.

I know I am feeling nostalgic and not remembering everything. We definitely had some pretty bad arguments, my family always added a layer of stress, and I always worried if you were drinking before and during them being here. But I think for today, I just want to remember the good memories of all of our Thanksgivings together. It is still hard to believe that you are no longer here. After you got sick and we broke up, I made my sister start hosting Thanksgiving at her house. It was just too hard to do it without you and I was too sad. But there is a world of difference between us not being together and knowing you are with your family and I am with mine and you being gone.

It breaks my heart to know that you will never have another Thanksgiving. That there will never be another turkey leg photo to add to the collection. We aren’t having a traditional dinner this year, my sister wanted to do just appetizers and desserts (which would have been right up your alley) and I am secretly glad. I feel like I would have seen a turkey leg and cried. It is pretty weird and funny that something like a turkey leg can make me think of you.

I have so much to be thankful for this year (M, you should see our niece- she is amazing and you would love the baby!) Rather than being sad today, I am going to try to smile and think about you and the happy moments we shared together on this day.

Rainbow bridge

My sister’s cat passed away early this morning. It is just so sad and so awful to lose a pet. I have never experienced this myself (I have been a part of putting family pets to sleep, but not my own). I have two cats and they are the loves of my life.

My female cat is 15 and is equal parts beautiful and mean. She has never really ever warmed up to anyone else besides me. She is a “one person” cat. I got her shortly after I got married. I was having a hard time with anxiety- it was the beginning of my issues with panic attacks and agoraphobia. I would beg my husband daily to get a cat. He was firm in never wanting a pet (this should have been a red flag). He never had one growing up, but I always had animals in my family. Finally, after going to Vegas on a trip that I was nervous to be left alone during, my husband left me a card saying to get a cat while he was away. I was at the animal shelter within an hour. She picked me, as it often happens. I got rid of the husband after about five years, but the cat is still my baby. Even if she bites me every time I cut her nails.

My boy cat is the sweetest, funniest cat ever. He is so playful and personable. He is basically a dog trapped in a cat’s body. He is able to make people who claim to not like cats convert. I got him after I got divorced. I kept the house and was all alone with just my first cat. I went to a pet store to get her food and there was a sign “spend $25 and get a free cat”. I am against “shopping” for pets, but the manager told me that it was a stray kitten someone found behind the store. It was love at first sight. I spent the $25, collected my free cat and then proceeded to spend close to $1,000 on all his various health issues (still the best money I’ve ever spent!!)

I dread so much the day I have to say goodbye to them. I try not to even think about it. But my sister losing her sweet girl cat was a harsh reminder that we unfortunately usually outlive our fur babies. Needless to say, they are getting so many extra cuddles and treats today.

Lastly

Dear M,

I spend a lot of time thinking not only about all of the things you are going to miss out on in the future, but also about the “lasts” of things you did before you died. Many of them are unimportant, like what was the last thing you ate, what was the last song you heard, what was the last show you watched on TV, etc. Yet, others feel significant, like who was the last person you spoke with, what were the last words you said aloud, who was the last person you hugged…

I know that I was the last person you loved. I know that sounds assuming and kind of obnoxious. When we saw each other in December, I kept hoping you wouldn’t ask me if I was dating someone. I feel a sense of guilt for loving another man now. I think you and I both knew that we were never going to be together again, but I think there was a part of you that hoped for that. If not because of still loving me, at least knowing that being back together with me would have provided you with comfort and care and stability. I didn’t want to tell you that I had moved on because I was afraid it would create a downward spiral, that it might cause you to relapse in the event that you were maintaining sobriety. Even up until the end, I truly never wanted to hurt you.

But you hurt me. Sometimes I feel frustrated that I was never able to express anger towards you. When I found out about you being unfaithful and hiding how much you were drinking, I couldn’t be mad at you because you were in a coma. When we broke up afterwards, I didn’t want to show anger towards you because I wanted to be supportive of you trying to get sober and you were still so sick.

Even now, I don’t feel a lot of anger towards you. I feel angry that you are gone, but not directed at you. But I also feel guilty that I have moved on. It is really hard to mourn you and love someone else. I feel like my heart is split, like I can’t devote it fully either way. I am happy now with him and I hope that you would want that for me. I can hear your voice saying, “fuck that guy” (lol), but I think deep down you knew you could not give me what I needed or deserved.

He was with me when I found out you were gone and has been unwavering in his support ever since. He lets me cry, gives me space when I need it, listens to me talk about you. I can’t imagine how hard it is for him, but he is so patient and kind.

I feel guilty that I was the last person you loved, but I love someone else. I did love you- I truly did and I tried SO hard. I learned the hard way that it is just impossible to love someone who does not love themselves. It makes me sound conceited to say that, but I know it is true and I am grateful that you knew what it felt like to be truly loved, even if you couldn’t always accept it. You told me many times that no one ever really cared for you the way I did. I am glad I was able to give you that gift, that I was able to love you when you felt unworthy and you couldn’t love yourself.

My exboyfriend smells…

I emptied my bathroom garbage today and I found my boyfriend’s empty deodorant stick. I plucked it out of the can, uncapped it and took a sniff (this sounds really disturbing, just stay with me…). It really didn’t have a strong scent. It was just clean and fresh and simple and subtle.

My exboyfriend was full of smells. When we lived together and he would shower, my entire house smelled strongly like his body wash. I have 100 scented shower products in the shower and yet, that never happens. He would purchase and wear expensive colognes and reapply them during the day. Sitting next to him, I could always smell him and most of the time, his scent was heady and a combination of cool, musky and very masculine notes.

The scent that dominated his body was always his deodorant. I LOVED it. I can’t even describe it…it just smelled like him. I would cuddle up on his lap and just inhale. He knew how much I was attracted to it and although he would try out new colognes and beard oils and soaps, he always bought the same deodorant.

When he was hospitalized for a month in a coma, I slept every night with a stick of his deodorant uncapped on his pillow next to me. During the night, half-asleep, I would scoot over just so my face was closer to it. It brought such an overwhelming burst of feelings- comfort and love and familiarity, but also loneliness and fear and loss.

I must have known back then and I certainly do now, that much like a stealthy smoker, he used all of those strong scents to cover up the smell of alcohol. Because even though the cologne and soap and deodorant were applied, inevitably I could smell the faint, sharp, bitter scent of vodka that would permeate from his pores when he walked by me.

My new boyfriend is very low maintenance. He does very well financially, yet is content to buy whatever body wash is on sale at the store. The first time I showered at his house, I jokingly made fun of him for his single bottle of V05 Strawberries and Cream shampoo. He rarely wears cologne. He doesn’t have a scent that I can put my finger on or describe. He obviously doesn’t smell bad in any way- he just doesn’t smell like anything really.

But I held that empty deodorant just now and it seemed like a metaphor for my life. The guy who wore all the strong, sexy, artificially created scents…he was not true to me. He was always covering things up and lying. He pretended to be something he was not for a very long time.

But my new boyfriend…what you see is what you get. He doesn’t feel the need to be anything other than who he is. He is authentic, honest, and true. There is nothing he needs to cover up or to hide. He also just smells like himself…and occasionally like strawberry shampoo 🍓♥️

Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful 😉

Unanswered Prayers

I used to be a huge Garth Brooks fan and I just heard a song that I haven’t listened to in many, many years. It is called “Unanswered Prayers” and the lyrics include the following lines:

“Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’
To the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
‘Cause some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers”

I am not religious at all, but I can appreciate the meaning of this song. Sometimes the thing we want the most is not what is best for us. I don’t really believe that “everything happens for a reason”, but I do think that there is a reason for everything.

When my exboyfriend was sick and his alcoholism was at its worst, I hoped and wished for him to get better so that we could have a future together. I do not really pray to god, but I do talk to my Mama (my deceased grandmother with whom I was very, very close). I remember pleading with her to save his life, to help him survive the coma, to help him get better.

The most important thing at the time was his health and our relationship- and my feelings- took a backseat for a long time. But that was going on long before he got so sick. His problems, his addiction, his depression was always at the forefront. I would ask my Mama to help him, to help us as a couple. But that never happened. He never got help and the consequences were devastating.

I know now that my Mama was not ignoring my requests. She was simply giving me what I needed, which was to NOT give me what I wanted. If I had stayed with my ex, I would have been stuck in his sober/relapse cycle for my whole life. And even if he did get sober, I would have just been waiting with baited breath for him to drink. I would have been suspicious every time he stumbled over a word. That is no way to live- for me or for him. My Mama gave me the opposite of what I thought I wanted and I ended up with failure, but freedom. I realize now that is what I needed more than saving my relationship.

And after the pain and suffering and excruciating loss came something unexpected…a new relationship. One that is light and healthy and equal and secure. I never thought I would be with someone who took care of me. I have never been in a relationship that didn’t include drama and arguing and codependency.

If my “prayers” had been answered by me asking for the wrong things, I know that I would not be happy right now. I believe that it was a gift to NOT get what I thought I wanted, because I know, without a doubt, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and with who I am meant to be with.

Lucky 21

Tomorrow begins my 21st year of teaching. I honestly do not know where the time went. This job is truly one of the loves of my life. I often say that it was more of a “calling” for me, because I never considered doing anything else. There have been A LOT of ups and downs throughout the years, but I love teaching as much as ever.

This is going to be a really difficult and unpredictable year. I pride myself on developing relationships with my students and it is going to be challenging to do so from behind a computer screen. I feel a lot of sadness…for the students who are missing out on a “normal” high school experience. For the kids who can’t play the sport they love or participate in the school musical. Several of my close teacher friends needed to work remotely from home, so it is depressing to think about going through a school day without seeing them, or really socializing with any of my colleagues. No more Friday night football games or happy hours or eating lunch in the teachers’ cafe or stopping in the office to chat with the secretaries. I feel like this is going to be a very isolating year. We are supposed to enter school, go directly to our classrooms, teach our classes and then go home.

On top of that, my niece is starting preschool and it is still kind of a shock every time I see a mask on her little face. It is so exciting that she is starting school, but I wish she was entering during a normal school year, so she could have recess and play and eat lunch with other kids her age.

No matter what, the show must go on and as a teacher one of the most important lessons I will teach this year is how to make the best of things. And I have a feeling I will be leaning a lot this year myself. Even on days where I might have to put in extra effort, I am going to try my hardest to be a positive influence on my new group of students. At the very minimum, they deserve that 🙂

Nice.

As an English teacher, I often stress to my students the importance of using creative words. Instead of the word “bad”, use “terrible”. Instead of the word “pretty”, use “gorgeous”. One of the biggest offenders when it comes to nondescript words is “nice”. The dictionary defines it as fine and satisfactory…not exactly the most flattering or sophisticated adjective.

I remember when I was in my 20s, I met a guy through a mutual friend. Afterwards, she asked him what he thought of me and his response was that he thought I was “nice”. I remember being offended by this and over analyzing it- “What does that MEAN…nice?!??” I thought it indicated that he wasn’t really interested in me. It felt like an insult.

I didn’t realize the significance of this simplistic, four letter word until I was 30. To put it bluntly, my ex husband was mean. After getting divorced, I remember saying to my sister that all I cared about when it came to meeting someone new was that they were nice. After experiencing my dad not being nice and my husband not being nice, that word took on a new, deeper meaning. I am very happy to say that my new boyfriend is truly nice. It took being with some unkind men for me to appreciate someone who is genuinely a good, kindhearted person.

I can honestly say that I am a nice person. I strive to be. I try to do things to make other people happy. I am thoughtful. It is kind of weird to write this because I feel like I am bragging (and trust me that I have many flaws). During the time my coworkers were teaching from home during quarantine, I mailed out 70 cards, just to say hi and keep in touch. I also sent congratulatory letters to the 120 graduating seniors who were my students from last year. This is one of the ways I know how to show love and appreciation.

Today, I gave my mailman a card and a $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card because tomorrow is National Postal Workers Day and clearly I love mail (who knew?!?!) My boyfriend was saw me do this and said, “you are SO nice. You’re the nicest person I have ever known.” I just smiled and accepted it for the lovely compliment it was. There are far more creative and glamorous synonyms that can be used, but I now understand the simple beauty of being nice.

Oh Deer

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This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.  I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.  It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.  I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.  I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.  Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.  Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.  When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.  It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.  My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.  A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.  He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.  A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.  My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.  He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.  I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.  By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.  He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.  This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.  I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.  My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.  Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.  Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?  I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.  And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.  My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.  I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.  Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.