the xanax diary

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

Archive for the tag “Life”

Falling in Love

Ron Stempkowski:

I considered writing something on this very topic. But my friend Matthew has (unshockingly) done a much more effective job at it than I could have.

Originally posted on gaydinosaurtales:

Two men holding hands  Spring finally arrived in New England just midway into April. We’d begun to doubt we would ever feel the sun’s warmth again. It was a brutal winter that took hold in December and simply would not let go. I was beginning to blame the fact that I am in the autumn of my years, which made it so especially nasty. But that was the general consensus even among the young. We have enjoyed some glorious days lately, putting a lilt into our walk and a grin on the sourest of faces. Everyone is in a better mood. Science may try to tell us it is merely the effect of the vernal equinox and some nonsense about the tilt of the planet on its axis. We all know the reality is Proserpina or Persephone, (depending on whether you follow the Roman or Greek religions), has been released from her six months…

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Fast and Slow…at the same time

I wish I'd bought a "Dammit Doll". I could have really used it.

I wish I’d bought a “Dammit Doll”. I could have really used it.

I was minding my own business, singing my lungs out along with Pandora on the way home from dropping off my friend Mindy at O’Hare when I saw the oncoming Nissan SUV swerve into my lane, clipping the back of the Jeep in front of me. “Certainly, she’ll correct her trajectory since she has already hit another car,” I thought rationally as she continued further into my lane, slamming into the front quarter panel of my car, scraping all the way down the driver’s side.

Holy shit. It was my first auto collision. I don’t like to use the word “accident.” It somehow extricates the idiot driver of blame. As I looked at her behind the wheel, milliseconds before she hit me, she was looking down, not forward. I don’t know what she’d been doing moments before, but I’m certain driving wasn’t her only–or main–priority.

We were in city traffic, so as she came toward me, I didn’t think I was going to die, but I was certain I was going to be pissed off. I was correct on both counts. But, like a friend posted on Facebook (thanks for the blog title, Cholley) as the collision occurred, it happened both very quickly and in slow motion at the same time. Seeing her car coming at me and being helpless to stop it was sickening. But in hindsight is something I’m well-practiced at.

After I pulled over, and sat in my car, unable to open the driver’s side door, like everyone else in the same position, I was dazed. In shock. I grabbed whatever papers were lying on top in the glove compartment, and crawled through to get out the passenger’s door. The woman had pulled over on the opposite side of the street and came over to check on me and the driver of the car in front of me. “Were you texting?!” I blurted at her. She denied it, but I didn’t apologize for asking or how I asked. She didn’t deserve my respect or kindness, but after my initial question, I decided to work in concert with her to follow the rules, get everything documented and get the hell out of there.

Shortly after the police took my statement then were putting the report together at their cruiser, I felt like I was watching everything from some other vantage point, not above, but nearby. As I stood by my car, staring blankly as the rush hour traffic crawled past, people driving by looked at the damage on my car, then over at me, thinking the same thing I would have: “Thank God it wasn’t me” and “What a handsome hottie! Woof!”

According to the mechanic, this is $10k in damage which will take a month to repair.

According to the mechanic, this is $10k in damage which will take a month to repair.

There was a moment, standing there when I thought “should I call someone?” But why bother anyone? Particularly since I was okay, and just needed to coordinate logistics in getting my car towed and getting the police report. I’m good at that. And not particularly good at asking for help or relying on other people except in dire circumstances–which I realized very quickly wasn’t this one. I wasn’t the first person this happened to, and most importantly, I was okay.

I wish I could say even for a split second I thought about calling Ken–as has happened so many times in the two years since he’s been gone–but I didn’t. I was painfully aware of the fact I didn’t have “a person.” I couldn’t help but think if I’d been badly hurt, who would be notified and who would go back to my apartment to take care of Kallie. Food for thought for sure, but for another time.

On the brighter side, I’d already dropped my friend off and I wasn’t hurt, and the police arrived in about half an hour and worked quickly. As soon as they concluded and handed me my copy of the police report, AAA was arriving on the scene to tow my car to the dealership. As annoying as it is, I won’t have my car for a month but am in an idiot-funded rental until it’s ready.

It was an odd experience, but I’m happy with how I handled it and myself. It served as a reminder from the universe that shit still happens. Although I whole-heartedly hope the idiot woman who hit me goes straight to insurance premium hell. (She was already driving on a ticket, so I think there’s a pretty good chance her wallet has begun burning already.)

My new favorite cup. I bought it earlier this very same day. It's colored with the train lines of the "L". Is the universe trying to tell me something?

My new favorite cup. I bought it earlier this very same day. It’s colored with the train lines of the “L”. Is the universe trying to tell me something?

The Year of Living Dangerously (in Uptown)

Since getting Kallie in a new day care situation closer to home I’ve been able to return to my normal route of taking Lake Shore Drive to get to work. (It’s fun to say “I took LSD this morning.”) As I was driving toward the lake the other morning I took Wilson Ave. When I passed Malden Street I smiled, adjusting the visor against the rising sun, and thought about the long, miserable year I spent in a studio apartment there back in the 90s.

It was my fifth year living in Chicago. I’d spent the majority of that time living in Lakeview but when my roommate Mark and I decided to get our own places I knew my budget wouldn’t afford me to live there. So I had to elsewhere. Never one to stray too far from knowns and comfort zones I wasn’t too sure what was even around Lakeview. Pricey Lincoln Park was directly south, so I looked north. I found the place on Malden pretty quickly in a neighborhood called Uptown. The building was pretty crappy, but the apartment itself wasn’t bad–a two room studio with an eat-in kitchen, pretty big main room and a big dressing room connecting it to the bathroom. What I liked most is that it was still in walking distance to the bars to familiar surroundings (more bars).

The building manager’s name was Monika with a “k”. Middle aged and German, she was pleasant enough to fool me into not judging the building by its looks but rather implied there was a hidden charm where none truly existed. But at $360 a month I didn’t have the luxury of arguing with the economics of the situation. Time was running out and it would have to do. I could always get out of it if it was too bad, couldn’t I?

My bestie and her kids helped move me in from the lovely vintage apartment to this dreary studio in an iffy neighborhood. In retrospect, I was clearly kidding myself. How would I survive a year in such a desolate place? Kathy kindly assured me the year would speed by before I knew it. I had to fool myself and agree. There was no other choice.

The only furniture I had at the time was a table on two metal saw horses that I bought as a desk my first year in Chicago. I had a futon, but no frame, and all my clothes that weren’t hung on a rickety rack I bought at Woolworth’s were in stackable bins leftover from college.

Coming home from work meant climbing the once beautiful staircase and breathing in the odd scent of aqua net, cigarette smoke and body soil to unlock the one unimpressive lock on my door. The halls of the building were haunted by an older woman wearing a house coat who delivered our mail by sliding it under the door. (What a fool I was to assume there were mailboxes around somewhere.) It was an odd system, and it was when I moved there that I only intermittently received my TV Guide. I think our mail matron helped herself to my subscription. I often considered turning her into the US Post Master General.

There was an elderly couple who lived directly across the hall. They were probably the only people I saw–or heard–on a regular basis in the building, except for mail lady. He seemed to be somewhat of an alcoholic who yelled and worse at all hours of the day and night. She was stone faced and wordless when I saw her, a cigarette always dangling from the corner of her mouth. Always.

The neighborhood itself was completely sketch thanks to a well-known methadone clinic over on Broadway. Jittery derelicts drifted around the neighborhood like plastic shopping bags in the wind. I allowed very few friends to visit me there and when my folks dropped me off after holidays I never let them come up. Seeing it in person would be worse than anything they could have imagined. Plus, it would make it real for them–and for me. Not seeing it meant they could thing, “it can’t be that bad.”

My apartment looked down onto what could have been a lovely courtyard, created by closing down the through streets. Sometimes on late nights I’d hear chatter or a commotion and look down to see an African American cross dressing hooker trying to get some “work”. Sometimes she just talked out loud to herself. She was obviously a drug user or a methadone “patient”. On other nights I’d see an older woman–what looked like a grandmother who had her grandson living with her–drunk and stumbling around, also talking to herself. I’d seen them coming and going from my building.

When I witnessed these two would-be hallucinations meeting in said courtyard, I witnessed a battle so severe I swallowed my gum. The grandma was drunk and looking for a fight. And the hooker was tripping on something and wanted no part of it, but when she was pushed too far–literally–the two got into a tussle, skirmishing back and forth–as her grandson watched, by the way, holding Granny’s purse. It was so ludicrous I was riveted. It was like watching dogs attacking, fighting, then moving back into their respective corners to recoup before lunging again. They were both speaking and yelling incoherently. Maybe they’d missed their appointments at the methadone clinic that day. But it was epic, and is ever etched in my memory in the year I served spent living in Uptown.

The year turned out be somewhat of a character builder for me. It was humbling to get off on the piss-ridden L stop and walk down Wilson Avenue, trying to look disinterested and unaffected by the impressive host of crazies that surrounded me. In spite of the skirmishes, missing mail, random noises at all hours of the day and night, as it turned out Kathy was right. That year flew by and before I knew it I was packing up and leaving dangling cigarette lady for a much nicer place back in Lakeview.

I took a walk by the building recently–my first time since August of 1997. The whole area looks and feels the same. It was a gray day when I stopped by, which was appropriate. It was a gray year when I lived there. Aside from some gentrification creeping up around the area, the building, the court yard, much of it, looked the same.

It was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want t live there…again.

PIC: this is where the age-defying, gender-bending beat down of the century occurred.

My Favorite Season


I love autumn. It’s my favorite season–in spite of what it is the harbinger of here in the Midwest. It’s the crisp earthy smell in the air, the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, and the sound of them crunching beneath shoes (or paws). It’s the time when you begin to layer, and pull out the sweaters that have lain unused since you put them away when spring warmed up.

Since returning to work, I’ve struggled with blog topics. Having a schedule and a sense of purpose as my days in the office fill up with work projects and my time at home revolves around a certain furry ninja as we take long walks through the neighborhood and weekend visits to the dog park. I guess the best way to describe what I’ve been feeling is content. I appreciate the mundane in a way I wasn’t capable of before.

As the photos show, it’s truly the beginning of fall and this weekend demonstrated it in stunning visuals and brisk temperatures. As I ran errands I found myself on Bowmanville Road. It’s a road that runs on the south end of Rose Hill Cemetery (home to some pretty famous Chicagoans and second only in that regard to nearby Graceland.) Like so many places in Chicago, I discovered Bowmanville Road with Ken. It was near his apartment when we met. It’s an unremarkable street in most respects. But there is a beautiful community garden that runs along side it. And though there are many community gardens that grace many streets around the city, this is the one we drove down so many times on the way to his place–and it was the first time I’d been on the street in years. I drove slowly and admired the garden and the neighbors who were out working in it. It was nice, but also strange. To be on that favorite road for the first time without Ken and rather than a cinnamon Chow in the back seat, a small black one sat.

Sometimes I see these snapshots of my life and still find them surreal. But they don’t sting me with guilt or overwhelming sadness anymore–or at least not right now.

And with tremendous gratitude, I’ll take it!


What His Birthday Inspires

I knew it was looming ahead, but never took the time to confirm until I returned to work recently and began regularly looking at a calendar again to realize Ken’s birthday was fast approaching. Very fast.

Today is Ken’s birthday. I have to say I really like typing that in the present tense (is–not was, were, did, used to be) because it still is the date on which he was born. A date that feels more appropriate to mark–rather than the day he died. Or at least feels more worthy of celebrating. It would have been his 47th.

Yesterday had some sucky moments for me, dreading what today might hold. But I’ve learned some lessons during the past year and just rolled with it. And like a dream sequence, I woke up today…feeling happy. It’s the day Ken was born. What could be more worthy? I have to be grateful for this day. It began a life that became intertwined with mine and brought me indescribable happiness–and, in fact, still does. No matter what has happened, his influence changed my life–and still continues to help shape it in more ways than I can possibly realize. Even more, meeting and loving him brought so many wonderful people into my orbit.

I over planned for today. But autumn seems to have settled in Chicago, so today’s weather threw off some of the plans I had. But what I wanted to do most was go visit the nurses and staff at the Creticos Cancer Center where he received both unparalleled TLC and a faithful fan club for whom to perform his antics while receiving treatment. His last visit there was a few weeks before he died, and I’ve been twice to deliver baked goodies since then. The oncology nurses there are heroines. They perform magic every single day, and I was in awe of them from the moment I first encountered them. Every time we were there for treatment, they were lighthearted, positive and loving. Once Ken was resigned to the fact he had to go there for treatment, he embraced it, made the most of it, and always looked forward to seeing the staff–and vice versa. It was one of the many gifts he possessed.

I’d anticipated that today would be tinged with sadness. But it just…wasn’t. I woke up happy, knowing what an important day it was. And during my travels I even tried to be sad–out of some kind of respect–for what has been lost, but I couldn’t. So I let it go. My mood was fortified by seeing all the loving posts on Ken’s Facebook wall; loved ones paying homage to him and sending messages of love, gratitude and humor. It was an incredible affirmation of what he was–and what he continues to be–for those of us who loved him.

I’m a little surprised–but not completely–that today wasn’t a mess for me. It heartens me and convinces me that I am moving in the right direction. And that’s a huge relief. It’s easy to get lost on the journey of loss and grief. Your compass spins like a top. It can be difficult to find the “markers” to tell you you’re on the right path. Today was chock full of them.

On Ken’s last birthday in 2010–his 45th–I worked months ahead to ask friends and loved ones to help me compile the “ken-do dictionary”: words and phrases that described Ken’s indomitable spirit, humor and grace. I–well, anyone, actually–could only hope to be thought of with these sentiments. Click the photo below to see the entire volume.

Today was the kind of day he would have loved: full of expression, love and surprises.


Returning to Work

I’m settling back into my work schedule pretty well. When I returned to the office, last week I was greeted with a lot of smiles, warmth, and a butt load of jealous co-workers. In as much as I enjoyed every single minute of my leave of absence, the minute I pulled into the parking structure on that first morning, it sort of felt like I’d never left. Comforting and dismaying at once.

That first morning was a bit of a scramble, as it was the first time of dropping Kallie of at “school” then heading to work, taking a new (pretty ugly) route on the expressway rather than my old (and preferred) Lake Shore Drive route. But we managed it with very little stress. Unlike me, she is a social creature and craves interaction with others. I hope she can teach me a thing or two in that area.

At the end of the day, I packed up my bag and headed back to the parking structure. As I did, I couldn’t help but think of when I returned to work last year and how well I thought the first day went. But as I headed to the parking structure then, I was overcome with sadness and grief at the thought of returning to a home with no Ken. The memory stood in stark contrast to how I felt as I left at the end of my first day back this time around. I was all smiles and full of excitement and anticipation as I drove to day care to pick up a certain joyful fur ball.

It was satisfying to feel the difference between the two experiences. It’s like climbing a mountain and looking back with some nostalgia at the path you’ve taken, and being so grateful you are where you are and not “back there.” But the fact is, you worked really hard to climb from there to here, and you can feel it in your fatigued muscles.

Returning to work definitely feels like another very important step in realizing my new normal. Of course, Kallie plays a very important part in that, as well.

[Gratuitous puppy pic.]

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

The last couple of weeks I’ve done everything but write. As the time winds quickly down on my leave from work, I’ve been frenzied with organizing and prepping for me to re-enter the work-a-day world, as well as prepping for what it will mean for Kallie.

What has my leave meant for me? Remember how summer’s as a child between grades were long, rolling, and agenda-less? And how it seemed to clean the slate from the prior year? And by the end of summer you looked forward to returning to the rituals of school? That’s what it feels like as my first day back lies only hours away.

[Kallie’s reaction when I told her I was going back to work.]

Reflecting back on my time off brings to mind many things: the quiet, reverential marking of Ken’s passing with friends; lazy mornings, stretching in bed and for the life of me not being able to figure out what day it was; cool nights, sitting in my firefly-filled front yard with a little 10 lb. pup, watching her and feeling something long inanimate start to stir and move and explore its range of motion again.

Though I didn’t explore Chicago as I’d planned to because of parental responsibilities (and separation anxiety–purely on my part), I did other kinds of exploring; reflecting on my life–the past and future–and most importantly, the present. Having this kind of time to consider such weighty topics was truly a gift. Mix that with plenty of free time, my Mac and a puppy, and you have a recipe for something remarkable and truly once-in-a-lifetime. (I’d never want reason to need this kind of time again.)

[My work laptop has rested on the highest shelf in the guest room since May 31.]

Part of me knew I would have no idea what my leave would mean or produce. But turns out, it wasn’t really about writing (though it played a large part), it was about being, and learning to get comfortable in a new life that doesn’t feel nearly as new, itchy and ill-fitting as it once did. But it will take quite some time before it will ever feel “normal”–if ever.

I’ll always look back on my time off with great affection and nostalgia. What stands out the most of these past 95 days is something I relish the most. It’s the same thing that connects me to Ken and brings him and Quantum to my thoughts and my heart many times per day. Like Quantum for Ken, Kallie chooses me. Quatum’s kisses were reserved strictly for Ken–and given freely. Now, I’m the recipient of such gifts.

[Ken and Q in 2002.]

[Kallie and me.]

So, the beginning of the reboot is complete, though as with old timey PC’s, it takes a while for all the peripherals to come online and for the complete system to be ready. And I return to work, and a schedule, and a paycheck with a healthy amount of excitement and anticipation. And each day, take one step further into my future.

The Sweet and Surprising Rewards of Fighting Entropy

Changing things around the apartment is a tricky business for me. Leaving things as they were when Ken was alive offers some kind of security–or maybe a kind of certainty that he was here–especially if it was something he’d placed himself. So, finding myself sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor at 11 pm on Tuesday night, going through all the lower kitchen cabinets was a surprise. But it was one of the several household projects I swore to get done before I return to work after Labor Day. But as I contemplated it–and obviously kept putting off, probably a little afraid at what might result from doing it–I was compelled–like a divining rod to water–to do it. I think of all the rooms in the apartment, the kitchen is the one I most associate with Ken. He was a master improvisational chef. He loved cooking for our friends and family and for me–and even more–with me as he encouraged my own improvisation and boldness in the kitchen. I knew the cabinets were need of a “sifting”, but never felt up to it…until this week.

The flip side to such a productive endeavor has traditionally resulted in a “grief burst” within the ensuing days. Not this time. It felt a bit different than it had before–though there are more shades of grief than there are of gray and there is always the chance the burst is just taking its sweet time to settle upon me. Yet it still feels like a milestone that I’m grateful for. I had to work pretty hard to not touch everything and relive all the memories attached to each and every one. (His coffee grinder that I remember him using the morning after my first overnight, the set of clear juice glasses we got for his 39th birthday–Birthday Improvable–that he colored the bottoms of each with crayon so people could tell their drinks apart.) And I though did hesitate when I decided something should go into the “donate” box (wait…should it?), it was around midnight, and I had miles to go before I slept.

Ken was a loving packrat…er…collector, and would have begrudgingly admitted as much. He saw the potential in almost anything–probably even in me, so it’s not a trail I can balk at. So, I have an apartment full of stuff that needs to be sifted through. There is no rush. But a part of me I haven’t felt for a long time is nudging me toward order and simplicity. There are things that are still “off limits”; that will remain untouched until I feel differently. I’ve learned I can look at something, or touch it, and know that it has to be put back. No questions or judgement.

But a constant reminder of this (sort of?) new chapter is an ancient ice box Ken had discovered years before we met. I thought it was so cool until we had to move it to Los Angeles. (Then I just thought it was heavy as $(%&!) Ken loved it so I did too, and treated it with the familiarity of an old friend. Somewhat of a chameleon, it’s been a food pantry, a liquor cabinet, a linen closet, and a paper storage cabinet. It moved to LA and back with us. When we learned of Ken’s cancer diagnosis in late 2009 and were prepping for his ensuing surgery, I had to move the icebox out of the kitchen to allow for wheelchair access and into what had been Ken’s office–which slowly became more like a storage room. I still kept canned goods in it, but just never remembered what was in there and would usually forget to go look.

After I’d gone through the cabinets, I had a little “why not?” nudge to move it back into the kitchen. And though I said I don’t like changing things from the way they were when Ken was here, the ice box had been in the kitchen for years before I moved it out. Seeing it back where it sat during countless holiday and birthday parties and gatherings with friends (which all ultimately wind up in the kitchen) makes me smile.

(It’s pretty beat up, and I considered painting it to freshen it up. But for now, I like it just the way it is–the way it’s always been. And I love that it’s standing at attention in the spot where it stood for so many happy years.)

After getting the kitchen done, I found my wheels spinning. What could I do next? (As a lazy person by nature, I was surprised, but went with it.) In cleaning out a back closet I found a disassembled table that I loved. It had been present in Craig and Katie’s guest house when Ken and I lived there our first year in LA. Then, later after we moved out I was sad to see it up for sale at their yard sale. But true to form, a few weeks later (maybe for my birthday?) Ken surprised me with this little gem. And it sat on our covered patio at the apartment where we met some life-long friends. It was sort of like a “Melrose Place” building, but no pool.

(Ken and Quantum snuggled up next to “the” table on our patio in Valley Village – Feb. 2005)

For whatever reason we needed to make space for something here in our Chicago apartment. I honestly and frustratingly can’t remember if it was related to preparing for his surgery or before. But I couldn’t bear to part with it–to which he obliged by lovingly taking it apart so we could store it for future use. When I ran across it yesterday, I couldn’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t put it together (another “why not?”) and move it back into the living room. And, in a surprising move, that’s exactly what I did!

It sort of felt like opening a gift Ken left for me that had been locked in a time capsule. All similar pieces were tethered together and the bag of hardware was taped to the underside of the table. I couldn’t help but feel connected to him while I worked on putting it together. It’s hard to explain, but I’m short on patience (I almost shot myself in the face while putting together a “Real Simple”–ironic name, by the way–organizer last week), but this was not a destination-driven exercise. It was all journey as I was lost in memories, counting screws and washers to see if I could figure out which went where. It was almost “zen”, and most certainly very “Ken”. I grabbed the Ryobi electric screw driver thingie like I was a pro! I’d never used any of those power tools before. (Well, I didn’t have to. Ken loved that kind of thing.)

From this:

To this:

Without a single curse word uttered.

I’m still in shock myself.

Beware of the Crabby, Reclusive D*** in Apartment G!

Upon checking the mail early last week, I found a flyer stuffed into my mailbox proclaiming my block’s first ever block party. The moment I saw it a blackness filled my heart and I began a slow burn, fuming slowly the rest of the week. I didn’t want a block party. No one asked me. Why should I contribute to something that was being billed as a kid’s event with a jumpie and water slide? Why would I ever want to participate in something like this? Odd responses, I know.

As Saturday approached, I’d mention the block party to friends, trying to make it sound casual, trying to talk myself out of hating it so much, trying to talk to myself into going. But I knew better. And as the week progressed, my anger grew. I figured it out a few days before the event: it was something social and neighborly and so Ken. He would have loved it. And because he wasn’t here to participate in it, I hated it. And would have no part of it.

My mom has often recounted the story of when she took me to the public library as a little boy for story hour. As all the other children gathered around the librarian to be enchanted by whatever book she was reading, I would have none of it, preferring to stand far away in a corner by a potted plant. Since then, things haven’t changed much. “Joining” has never been easy for me. I’d learned to selectively overcome it when necessary, but I didn’t really have to work at it once I met Ken. Socially, he was my polar opposite. Outgoing and adventurous, he could persuade me to join and tell me why it would be good for me. Watching him dance around a crowd, effortlessly dazzling them with his charm, smile and fearlessness was a constant source of awe for me. I admired it. Envied it, even.

The morning of the block party, I took Kallie out before I left for a brunch date. The street was already closed off and neighbors were gathered in the street in their morning gear, sipping paper cups of coffee from Starbucks. My blood ran cold, and I was never happier to leave my apartment and forget about this block–if even for a little while.

When I returned two hours later, my jaw hit the floor and my temper hit the ceiling when I saw the bouncie house/water slide mega complex placed directly in front of my building. I dreaded the thought of taking Kallie out into the yard to do her business, imagining crazy-eyed, screaming kids running at us. (It’s not Kallie’s fault she’s so adorable, but still I considered shaving her and putting a wide-brimmed hat on her.) I took her out briefly, and thanks to that giant air-filled funhouse and the magnetic distraction it offered its wee block partiers, we weren’t spotted.

(I texted this photo to my friend Sofia, and she replied, “It looks like you’re in jail.” “I AM,” I replied.)

Once inside, Kallie collapsed for a long afternoon nap. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was safely isolated…for now.

While she napped I contemplated finding some way to puncture the bouncie house/water slide. I don’t own a BB gun, but perhaps I could have fashioned a sling shot out of a slotted spoon and a bungee cord. Just as I was considering what it would take the blow up the transformer that would leave the block powerless and the bouncie house deflated, Kallie stirred and was soon doing the potty dance. I pleaded with her to hold out until 10 pm when the party officially ended and the street was opened up again. But in spite of my well-detailed plea, outlining all the treats she’d get if she could abide my one simple request, she would not be denied.

I knew I’d have to prepare myself for a eventual trip outside into the milieu. Enter martins. They helped a bit as we slipped outside without attracting much attention. A neighbor whose daughter is crazy about Kallie came over to chat with me and to invite me to take part in the food that sat on the table under the hot sun in the middle of the street. I had, in fact, already eaten, but public food with unknown origins will never be a “yes” for me. But I didn’t even feel like faking it. We talked for a while, but he got that I wasn’t interested in participating.

Make no mistake. The entire day I realized how ridiculous I was being. Even if I didn’t want to participate, the fact that I was so angry didn’t offer me my proudest moments. But still that wasn’t enough to propel me to break through it and join. Sometimes a little, embittered voice echoes inside me: “If I can’t do it with Ken, I’m not doing it at all”–particularly things I wouldn’t have done on my own without his dynamic facilitation. Scary things were far last scary with him around. He accepted my personality oddities. He didn’t understand them, but he accepted them.

This day was no triumph of any kind. It was a fail. Epically. The first of this kind, really. I fell asleep on the couch, the brine from the martini olives still on my tongue. Kallie was camped at the base of the couch where my arm dropped over. By far nothing to brag about or be proud of, I was nonetheless thrilled to have the day behind me. It’s not a cry for help or an indictment of block parties. It’s like all my other blogs: a confession of my feelings–good, bad, pretty or ugly–and a little self-reflection.

I’d like to think Kallie and I will be attention whores at next year’s block party. But, it’s probably a better bet that we’ll just be out of town.

A Bundle of Joy

(Me and the Peanut on Tuesday)

This week I made a date to head to the <insert gasp here> suburbs to visit my friend Anna and her husband for a very special reason: to meet their one-month old daughter Amelia Violet. It was special for me for a couple of reasons. First, Anna was a close friend of Ken’s. They meet several years ago when they worked together. Anna left shortly after but they remained in close contact. Once we knew Ken’s prognosis in the hospital in March of 2011, Anna was a frequent visitor at both the hospital and at home during hospice. Secondly, Ken had been a big cheerleader for Anna in her quest to be a mommy. So, sitting with her and holding her beautiful daughter felt important and as weighty as it did light and easy.

Ken always looked forward to seeing Anna. Laughter brimmed from the front room when they were visiting, always bright, shiny and bursting with love for him. She was one of those of people who I felt completely comfortable leaving him with, knowing she would tend to any of his needs, or come get me if he needed me.

She spoke at his soiree, and has been available to me for comfort and love in the wake of his death. Completely hung over from a long night, I met her for breakfast one morning in January after I guessed she was pregnant during a text conversation. And I sat across from her, watching her beam at the life growing inside her, knowing a long held dream was in the process of being accomplished.

It was on her last visit with Ken–May 15, 2011–that ties this story together, tugs at my heartstrings and reminds me of the specialness that defined Ken. I know it was May 15 because it was the last date we had a photo taken together (below). It was a cold, blustery, miserable day. And little did Anna–or I–know that when she arrived to spend time with him, it wasn’t going to be in the warmth and comfort of our apartment. Ken had an adventure planned for them…that surprised both of us.

(Me (l) and Ken (r) on May 15, 2011. He was delighted to get out that day, and took great pleasure in surprising me with a gift.)

He wanted to go up to a little gift shop in Lincoln Square to buy a candle for our friend and hospice grief counselor Claire before she moved to California later that same month. (He surprised me with one as well which explains the bow in my hair.) I remember hearing him outlining his plans for Anna: pushing him in is wheelchair the mile or so to and from the gift shop on bumpy, crack-laden sidewalks that caused him to wince in pain thanks to the tumor on his glute. I stepped in and offered to go, as I had the most experience in maneuvering the wheelchair, but I wasn’t invited. It was his loving way of giving me “alone time,” something we always afforded each other in the decade we were together. It was a sweet gesture, but I remember wincing, myself–for Anna.

But she was up for it and approached it with a “bring it on!” attitude. I’m sure she didn’t really want to brave such horrible weather, worrying about his comfort with every crag in the sidewalk, but it’s what he wanted and she would do anything for him. I was concerned, but at the time, I learned to just “let go.” I had too much on my plate to worry about potential “what if’s.” It’s what he wanted, and that’s what would happen. I trusted Anna implicitly to do it, and if by any chance she couldn’t, I also trusted her to call me so I could come to them and assist. A few hours later, they returned from their trip, which was a success on all fronts.

The next time I saw Anna was a few days after Ken died. She came over and we went to lunch. We both recalled that last visit she had with Ken. It was then that she revealed to me the pep talk Ken had given her that blustery day regarding her pursuit of motherhood. And on that trip as she pushed him up Lincoln Avenue, they talked as friends do, and she recounted to me the encouragement he gave her, facing everything he was facing. I don’t remember him telling me about it, but as she did, I just thought, “that is so Ken.” He took such great pleasure in supporting his friends. What was important to them was important to him, and he would do whatever he could to help them reach their goals. I know this first hand.

So, last Tuesday when I sat there holding Amelia, I was holding her, loving her, and in awe of her for me–and for Ken. It was pure joy. It was actually impossible to feel anything else. It certainly had the potential for the bittersweet flavor I’m so used to–and somewhat tired of–but there was none to be had.

No bitter. Just sweet.

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