the xanax diary

love, loss, healing and humor (in no particular order)

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

I Knew You Were Coming, but Don’t Expect a Cake


When I got home from work on Monday I was tired from a busy day and a fun weekend. So I dozed on the couch after dinner while watching TV. It was one of those twilight sleeps where I where I felt sort of awake–but couldn’t stop it if I tried. Ken came and sat down on the couch sort of in front of me, propping himself up on his arm as leaned in toward me, looking at me with a knowing smile. I reached over and rubbed up and down his arm, my hand finally resting upon his enormous hand. It was real. I could see the hair pattern on his arm, the crinkle of his grin, and the lipstick-smudge-of-a-birthmark on his cheek.

Then I woke up. Aching and forlorn. And pissed at myself because I should have known better. I knew this would happen, I thought as I berated myself for falling so hard and so deep into an instantly beautiful, but false and fragile “reality.”

It had occurred to me something like this would happen. Usually periods of great fun (my visit with Denise last weekend) are followed by some emotional trap and a “griefburst” or two. Add in some sadness and emotional cutting as I looked longingly through photos, videos, Facebook posts and cards, effortlessly assisting me lower and lower into my den of grief.

I was mired in sadness for a couple of days, but somehow this time I had some understanding why it was happening and where I was within it–which felt slightly empowering and helped me move through it. Then my friend Mindy published this blog. She emailed me to give me a heads up–because part of it was about Ken. I immediately stopped what I was doing and pulled up her blog “Never as the Crow Flies.” It was about how she felt she was losing her passion for writing, and that perhaps, it was something she should give up. (I would have done everything I could to keep her from making such a disastrous decision.) But as you read her blog (and urge you to), you’ll see I didn’t have to take any action at all. Ken took care of it–or part of it.

He spoke to her a similar fashion that he speaks to me–and with a similar message. As I considered taking a sabbatical from work, I heard him loud and clear: to go for it and take the time to focus on my passion for writing. (More to come on that later.)

As I’ve become more familiar with grief, I liken her to a guest who has full access to come into my house and sit down–whether invited or not. And she won’t even entertain the notion of leaving until you’ve acknowledged her presence–and even then she isn’t always quick to make her exit. I can’t say she’s unwelcome because I know her visits are an important part of my journey, but I can say when I see her coming my way I groan, “I hope to hell she’s going to someone else’s house.”

I’d like to think her visits are less frequent and she doesn’t get as comfortable as she used to. But what I do know for a fact about her is that she’s unpredictable.

Shiny, (Truly) Happy People

(A rare paparazzi shot, catching vintage badasses Denise and Ron (circa 1990) arriving “on the scene.”)

I read a blurb recently about a study conducted on a group of “truly happy” people to find what–if anything–they had in common. The study found that those surveyed only shared one trait: the strength of their social relationships. I’m not exactly sure how “truly happy” is measured and what metrics would actually reveal that, but I found it fascinating nonetheless. And in thinking about it for a while, I took great comfort in the relationships I share with my friends and family–and, of course, the crown jewel of them all–my relationship with Ken.

Stumbling across this article was “interesting” timing. (I’ve said before I’m not sure I believe in coincidence anymore since Ken’s death.) One of my oldest and dearest friends, Denise, was in Chicago for business this week. After coordinating schedules I was excited that she extended her trip by a day so we she could crash at my place and we could spend some time together, drink some wine and catch up. She and our mutual (and supremely lovely) friend Nick traveled to town last year to attend Ken’s soiree. Though they had no expectation of spending time with me, it meant more than I could ever put into words to have these two iconic friends take the time to travel so far to love and support me, and to honor Ken. But in terms of the study I mentioned earlier, it goes a long way in demonstrating the web of social relationships I’m lucky enough to have that form an intricate lattice that has caught me every single time I’ve fallen–not matter how hard.

Though we’re both far too young for this be true, I met Denise twenty-two years ago as I was finishing up at Purdue University. I’d only recently come out then and met her through Nick (our mutual friend who we harassed via text after a couple of glasses of wine last night.)

When I left to Lafayette to move to Chicago, Denise moved to northern California. In subsequent years as I moved to southern California with Ken, she moved to Texas. Like many of my friendships, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked or instant messaged or emailed or iChatted, it’s effortless to pick up where we left off. And it’s always been that way.

Denise was a constant dancing partner of mine during the early 90’s. From Depeche Mode to B-52’s to New Order to REM. We frequented the local club and tore up the dance floor week after week after week, culminating in–wait for it–a choreographed dance to a popular song of the day. The freedom of dancing was almost drug-like in its sweaty, gyrating satisfaction. But the unity I felt as our song would start and we would casually bust out our coordinated moves, impressing the onlookers week after week made me feel a part of something important–and more importantly, a part of…something. And as much as fun as that was, I think back to being at her apartment and working for HOURS to create the dance. That was, for me, the most fun memory of our concerted effort.

So much of what makes Denise and my friendship special is unspoken. It’s just the way it work works for us. Over the years I’ve wondered if she truly understands how impressive she was/is to me and what a powerful impact our friendship has made on my life. I reminded her during our visit together last night of something she once told me: feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just “are.” Those words made a big impression upon me, and served me well through all of my subsequent friendships, in falling in love with Ken, and most certainly in learning of his cancer’s return and in coping with his death.

We haven’t lived in the same city with daily access to each for twenty-some years, but when we’re together, it’s impossible to forget the power and excitement the future held for me then, and what it can still hold for me now. Denise and Ken met in 2007 when she traveled to Chicago for a couple of days before she and I returned to Lafayette to visit with Nick and our old friends there. I remember being excited for them to meet and how effortless it was to conjoin these seemingly disparate parts of my life.

I’ve never been overtly social. I don’t know how or why it works, but for the most part I’ve always been attracted to people who prove to be long-term friends. I think friendship is something that is organic and comes easily. As I still struggle to find equilibrium and continue to figure out what my new “normal” is, I take great comfort in the friendships I’ve made and how they offer me a sometimes greatly needed center-of-gravity.

Some things never change.


Welcome Home, Gypsy

I returned from my week-long trip to California late on Friday night, exhausted but satisfied that I’d done my best on my visit to support my family, and managed to also make time to spend with friends. Being there stirred up a lot of memories of Ken, of living there with him, and of our last visit there together in 2009. But I did my best to remain in the moment and to try to look forward–for myself and for a family mourning the loss of another family member.

I slept late on Saturday and after a quick instant message conversation with my sister Shelli (who gave me the idea), I decided to head to my folks in Indiana later that day to spend some time with them before the rest of the family descended for Easter. I planned to head out after running some errands, but a monkey wrench was thrown into the works when I hopped gleefully into my car from returning something at Best Buy, turned the key, and was greeted by an until-then-unseen flashing red icon:


After turning off the car and flipping furiously through the owner’s manual, I found it meant “Hybrid System Warning Light.” My only option was to contact the dealer, who couldn’t offer any input without looking at it–including whether I could drive it or not without damaging it further. I made it safely home, but it was late afternoon on Saturday and waiting for a tow truck would have eaten up the rest of the day and prevented me from renting a car and heading down to my folks–which is what I did after talking with them on the phone.

Even before having it towed in on Monday morning I couldn’t stop thinking about the Prius which Ken named Gypsy from the GPS system voice. I had to consider what the maximum amount I could pay to have it repaired–if it was repairable at all. And as I considered it, the number kept going up. Though I wasn’t sure what I’d do if the car were irreparable. I’d lived in Chicago before meeting Ken without a car for ten years. It used to be one of the best examples of what I loved best about living in this incredible city. But somehow, I felt differently now.

When they called me to let me know what the problem was (the hybrid battery was bad and would need to be replaced) I didn’t have to think about it too hard to authorize it, mistake or not for a ten-year-old car. When they called me to let me know it was done, I couldn’t get there fast enough. The sense of relief I felt when I walked in to pay, and saw it sitting outside the door was akin to coming home from a nervous night out, leaving my baby with a first-time babysitter.

After readjusting the mirrors and seat and pulling out of the dealership, my eyes welled up and I ended up blubbering half way home. It was during the deluge of tears that it all came flooding to me, and should have been obvious to me all the while. This is far more than a car to me. It’s an extension of Ken and a life I loved with him. Only a month after we moved to Los Angeles, it was our first major purchase together. It’s a car that Ken was so proud of having. In 2002, hybrids were new. I know I’d never heard of it before, but he’d done lots of research. (After telling my father-in-law about it, he got a skeptical “good luck with that”, but years later a Prius is what my in laws decide to purchase. Coincidence?)

It carried two hand-holding lovers and briny, tired Chow Chow home from a day at the beach. It contained the laughter created by two uncles and two nephews on a trip to Disney Land. It took us to camping adventures, dinners with friends, family holidays, and a cross-country move. Living in LA, we spent a lot of time in this car. And now that Ken is gone and my life is different, I love spending time in it as well. Not having it today was an odd feeling, even though the “L” is only a block away. I felt trapped. And a little gypped being gypsyless.

“No more change,” I told my mom on the phone as I explained my rationale for having my decade old car repaired. But I realize it wasn’t all of it. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want change, I didn’t want anything else to be taken away from me–especially something with such deep emotional value. It was connected to Ken, and if I’d said “no” to the battery replacement, the car would have been done. Finished. I was able to make a decision that “saved” the car–something I couldn’t do for Ken. And I know it’s not the same thing, but it did feel empowering regardless of how ridiculous it sounds.

Since he stopped driving it on a daily basis more than a year ago I have yet to change anything it. The body spray he kept in the console is still in there, and I a reminded of his scent every time I open it. When I opened the glove box to get the owner’s manual out the other day I saw his ancient iPod in there.

The teary-eyed drive home from the dealership was a trip down memory lane. The Sponge Bob floor matts our friend Mindy gave Ken on his 40th birthday were a favorite adornment for him. They still smile up at me:


Ever the “do-er”, he created an extender for the driver’s blind with a file folder and some tape. It would never occur to me to remove it because it comes in handy almost daily:


Even the leash we used to take Quantum into the vet’s office is still tucked into the pouch behind the front seat:

Knowing my obsession with “Knots Landing”, he named our home location on the navigation system:


Welcome home, Gypsy. I hope to keep safe and working as long as I possibly can.

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