This Pink Anniversary~

Today, Tuesday, is an anniversary of sorts for me.
It isn’t an anniversary connected to Chuck, since it happened after he died.
And yet, it is entirely connected to him.
Because today is the day, 5 years ago, that I picked up my new Ford Escape from the garage, and the man, I’d taken it to after buying it from the dealer.
I took it directly from the dealer to a man named Anthony, who had his own garage.
He and I had spoken a week or so earlier, when I’d called him and told him that I was looking for someone to create a shade of pink for me and paint my car in the created color.
I shared with him the Love story that Chuck and I had for 24 years. I told him what Chuck said about me wearing pink after his death. He knew I’d need color around me. I told him about our Happily Homeless travels for our last 4 years together. I told him that I was staying on the road, alone, and I was terrified and devastated and didn’t know how to do it, but I was doing it.
The price he gave me was just too high for me, but I told him how very much I appreciated that he listened to me and we hung up.
Not half an hour later, Anthony called me up again and quoted me a lower price. He really wanted to create a color for me and paint my silver car.
The first shade of pink that he did was too dark, and I told him to lift the brown out, and add a creamy white, but that I didn’t need to see the second shade. Paint my car in the color you get and it will be the exact right shade.
A couple weeks later I went with my daughter to pick up my car. She cried and I cried when I saw it, and we cried more when Anthony handed the can to me, with the formula for the paint on it…and the name he’d named it.
The name….
It’s to give you courage to return to the road on your own Anthony said.
Chuck’s Watchin’ Over Me was what he’d named the color.
God, did I cry.
And a few months later, I bought my tiny trailer. It’s a T@b Teardrop, and before taking it off the lot, I gave the guy my paint can with the formula on it and said anything that’s yellow, paint it pink! 16114600_1227243173997281_3474194353379356472_n
I was terrified to return to the road on my own. My heart was shattered into pieces and it felt as if a meat slicer was in my chest. Alternatively, it felt as if my heart had been seized from my chest and thrown on the ground and a sharp-edged ax was slicing at it haphazardly.
I’d never camped and I’d never towed anything.
I knew nothing about what I was about to do, and I was fucking riddled with anxiety. Waking up every morning was unbearable. How could I do this when I didn’t even want to live? When I felt numb and breathless with pain at one and the same time? When I couldn’t focus on maps and reservations and routes? When I didn’t know where campgrounds even existed and how to make reservations with them? How far would I drive each day? What if I broke down? What if I was attacked? What if I just couldn’t do it suddenly, and I stranded myself somewhere?
How could I possibly do any of it, when all I wanted was my husband?
Maybe it was fortunate that I didn’t have a home to return to. Maybe it was fortunate that I was too young (55) to live with my kids. Maybe I was fortunate that I didn’t know what else to do. Maybe it was fortunate that I was so filled with fear and anxiety that it opened my eyes to doing the impossible. Maybe it was fortunate that the fierce grief and exhaustion, even as it killed my energy, forced me on.
I learned as I did it. I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing or where I was going. So I learned to make myself vulnerable and ask for help from whoever happened to be standing near me.
I learned as I joined every fb group of campers and military people that I could find, so that I could reach out with my concerns and confusion.
I learned as I began writing my blog and posting daily on my Happily Homeless is MoonStruck page, knowing that all that I held inside my heart and soul was impossible to hold inside for long.
I learned as I began saying why not to any idea that came into my head, no matter how outlandish it might seem.
I learned as I began listening to my heart, trusting it to guide me much more than I trusted my brain.
I learned as I insisted, to myself, that the Love Chuck left behind for me must must must be fucking stronger than the grief, or I’d go over the edge completely.
I learned as I reached out to my widowed community and began visiting them around the country. I got so many hugs and each one took me another mile.
I did whatever I had to, reached out, pushed my boundaries and comfort zones and grew Love bigger.
I miss Chuck unbearably to this day, 5 years later. I always will. Life is less than without him. My heart and soul get so tired. My body gets tired, being out on the road constantly. When it gets to be too much, I find rest with family or friends.
What I learned, most importantly, I think, is that there ain’t nobody going to do this for me. This is it…my life. I had 24 years of Love from a man I adored, who adored me. And my world now, will never be the same. And that isn’t okay in any way. But this is what I have.
And by fucking god, I will, and I AM, living it in color, living it as much over the top as I can manage and I’m doing it in Chuck’s name and in the name of our Love story, and in the name of Love.
That’s it in a nutshell.
All the pink. It’s the color of my courage and determination and the Love Chuck left behind for me, and the Love that meets me on the road daily.
You don’t have to wait to feel better to do whatever it is you think you might want to do. You don’t have to wait til you’re not as sad as you are now. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval.
You just pack every damn bit of that stuff up in a suitcase and take it with you.
It’s in the doing that you learn. It’s in the doing that you gain some measure of confidence. And it’s in the doing that you find that dark bit of humor that lets you announce to the world that you really don’t have a grand flying fuck clue what you’re doing….
But you’re doing it anyways.
So, no, this anniversary isn’t about Chuck. But yes, it’s all about Chuck and the mission that he started me on, as his cancer filled body lay on that hospice bed and I told him that my plan was to continue traveling, as he and I had done, and he asked me to return to our favorite places and scatter his cremains but he only named 4 places because the other places would be up to me, and I’d have to keep my heart open in order to know them. And, in keeping my heart open, I know that he hoped I’d create a new life for myself.
My Odyssey of Love continues, beloved husband.
My knight, my lover, my hero, my light, my life…529438_552029828185289_1995679461_n

 

Advertisements

Missing Him on 40~

I’m on the road again.
I left Arizona, headed to Arkansas, a few days ago. Or maybe it was a week ago, now. I’m kind of tired after driving some long ass days.
Tune up on my car. New tires, brakes on my rig, PinkMagic, fixed.
Our daughter was road tripping to Arkansas with me, to see the opera camp where I work for the summer. It’s my second year back there, as the groundskeeper.
We were planning a fairly easy trip, stopping to visit family in Denver, taking our time.
Well, as they say…
The best laid plans of mice and men…
We were only 200 miles out when we heard a loud pop from the rear of my trailer, followed by smoke billowing out, and brake fluid trailing behind us.
Fortunately, I’d just pulled off the highway, so that we could drive the main drag of Winslow. You know….
Standin’ on the corner and all that.
Again, fortunately, I have roadside assistance and called them and they sent a tow out to us. He quickly diagnosed major problems and I followed his tow truck, very slowly and carefully, to his garage.
Where he removed the drums and discovered that all rubber parts had melted and all metal parts had turned to dust. They dissolved to the ground as soon as the drums came off.
Not good.
But better than what could have been, which was a fire from the massively overheated brakes, which could have easily burned my rig into nothingness, and taken the car too, I suppose, since it’s all so small.
Scary shit.
We ended up camping out at the garage for 3 days and 2 nights while they sent for parts and worked on the brakes.
High Chaparral Garage in Winslow, AZ; the best people EVER. They went above and far beyond what was necessary to keep us safe while there and take us back on the road.
Hooked us up to electricity so we could sleep comfortably. Put a large mat outside so we didn’t track grease inside PinkMagic.
Worked diligently on the brakes. We were right on the famed Rt 66, so people stopped in to say hi and take a tour of the inside of my rig.
Gave us great tips for exploring the area while we were stranded.
We’d go downtown to the corner and drink chai while watching the world go by.
Before leaving, even though it was late at night and we were all tired, the wonderful guys at High Chaparral tightened up the spare, power washed my car and trailer, signed the back of it with loving words, gave us hugs, told us to keep in touch…and away we went.
During our stay at the garage, I met 2 other widows who were 5 years out, as I am now. We spoke of the ravages of cancer and how it changes lives.
Because I was stationary, albeit unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to speak on the phone to a radio host with a program called Bringing Love to Life, about my Odyssey, and my marriage to Chuck.
Because we were stuck, so to speak, for the time we were, timing was set into place that brought us to a rest stop further on where we met a young couple, themselves stranded, trying to get to Montana to see the young man’s dad before his dad died of liver cancer. Remembering that desperate feeling, we were able to buy them a tank of gas, some groceries, and give some cash to help them on their way.
It’s the kind of thing that Chuck would have done, and all I asked in return was for them to remember the name Chuck D.
Our continued travels took us from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas to Oklahoma and then into Arkansas, and every mile along the way was filled with memories of my and Chuck’s travels, what seems so many years ago now.
How is it possible that it is 5 years since his death?
Next month I’ll have been on the road alone, as a widow, longer than he and I were, together.
That thought messes with my mind.
He is everywhere along Rt 40, through the middle of our country. He is at every roadside rest stop, at the picnic tables where we’d stop to eat lunch. He’s at the national monuments and parks, where we’d visit to learn local history. He’s in the wildflowers growing in the median strip and in the flat lands of west Texas with the huge sky overhead.
He is everywhere, in memory and in my heart.
I missed him for the entirety of 40.
I miss him on that road and every other road that I drive.
And I also know, more than ever, after the experience in Winslow, that his legacy is strong and vibrant and that our Love story is as strong as it ever was, and that I am doing just exactly perfectly heart wide open what it is that I am destined to do…
Live this Odyssey of Love. For him. For me. For all my widow brothers and sisters and their ones. Live it for all those I meet along the way, for all those whose path I cross or who cross my path.
Just, quite simply, live the Love that he left behind for me.
Fiercely. Strongly. Powerfully. Confidently.
Always.

Looking at the Numbers~

Almost 5 years.
5 years without you.
Don’t ask me how I’ve gone 5 years without you.
I don’t know.
Sheer grit and determination.
And a whole lot of the Love that you left behind for me.
It isn’t enough, you know.
Living on memories of your Love for me.
Mine for you.
But it has to be. Enough, I mean.
24 years with you wasn’t enough.
We thought we’d have at least 35, calculating our ages.
We had 24.
23 of those in marriage.
We had 4 years together, living on the road.
Adventuring and loving and bonding more deeply than we’d ever thought possible.
4 years. Our last 4 years.
I spent 3 weeks after your death, alone in that condo in southern California.
And then returned to the road, alone.
It’s almost 5 years now that I’ve been on the road by myself, on my Odyssey of Love.
I’ve been on the road alone longer than we were on the road together
115,000 miles solo.
North, south, east and west.
8 times around the country.
I will never stop missing you,
No matter how many miles behind me,
No matter how many miles in front of me.
I miss you, D.
I just miss you.  2018-03-21

Our Moonlit Dance Through Time~

We danced under the moonlit, starlit, skies
You and I
Your right arm around my back, your left hand grasping mine.
We turned and swayed and moved our feet not only to the music from the player
but to the hushed beat of our two hearts.
Under the starlit skies in our backyard.
Everywhere and nowhere
For no reason and every reason
Our bodies moving so well together
Even when it looked like we were walking side by side
We were actually dancing
Because we were so in sync
You, on my right side because you had hearing loss in your right ear
I still keep my right hand free when I walk
Just in case
Maybe….maybe someday I’ll feel your hand take mine again
We moved and swayed together for 24 years
In passion, in motion, in love, in sync
That space on my right side?
There is a gaping emptiness there that is as tangible as your physical presence once was
And my physical body reaches towards that emptiness
Only to find air
And I think it just kind of remains suspended there
Not knowing where to go or how to go, differently
I don’t know how to go, differently.
But I move and I sway sometimes
In my memory
Under moonlit skies I raise my hand to your shoulder and place my right hand in yours
Universes and stars and moonlit darkness gleam as our dance floor
And I spirit dance with you~  Collaccge

Memories and Remembering and Love~

Chuck never wanted to be one those people who retire and die the next day or the next week.  He wanted time to enjoy his life without work, time to relish waking up together and lingering abed. Time to travel and be with each other and grow our marriage even more.

In April 2009 he sent an email to me at home.  This is what it said.  And this was my response….IMG_2851.pngWe put the house on the market, sold or gave away most of our belongings, and packed everything else into a U-Haul truck to put into storage for future use.  We’d need some shit to start up again, right, when we settled down?

On May 29 we closed on our house, and Chuck immediately got in the truck, I got in our SUV, and we headed west, the first of many times we headed west from Jersey.  And we never looked back.

May 29, 2009.  The day we began our Happily Homeless adventures.  We tossed what was left of our belongings in storage and continued further west, state shopping, so to speak. Where did we want to settle down?

Until, 3 months in, we looked at each other and said why on earth do we want to stop doing this? and continued on.  And on and on, for our last 4 years together. We drove over mountains and through desert valleys and crossed miles long bridges over breathtaking rivers and we climbed to the highest points of various states and laughed when they were barely above sea level, and danced among the waves of the Pacific Ocean and visited family and friends and made new friends along the road, and stopped to have lunch and wander among out of the way cemeteries and paid our respects at National Cemeteries and had wild and crazy sex in towns and cities around America and fell more deeply in love and managed our way through Chuck’s first cancer with its’ 5 surgeries and went back out on the road to fucking live by god and visited National Monuments and Parks and learned American history from a local standpoint and we danced to Clint Black in hotel rooms and in military lodgings and we sat 1 foot across from one another in our SUV and discussed marriage and relationships and men and women and roles and our kids and family gossip and our hopes and dreams and we lived and we lived and we fucking lived until we danced our last dance in Death Valley and this man who lit up my world died in a hospice in southern CA, eaten up by cancer but strong in spirit and with love until his last fucking moment.

On May 15, 2013 I began my Odyssey of Love.  I walked down the 15 steps from a condo we’d rented for our stay in Cathedral City, CA, carrying Chuck’s cremains in my arms.  I returned to Jersey to give him well-deserved military honors. I bought PinkMagic.  I’d never towed and I’d never camped and my world was incinerated around me and beneath me and my heart was shattered into glass and my chest felt as if a meat grinder was continually slicing away inside of me. I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t know how to do what I was doing.  I didn’t have a plan, or a destination or a goal.  I was like Sgt Schulz on Hogan’s Heroes, but not in a funny way.hogans-heroes-cbs-198-b

All I knew then, all I know now, all I will ever be able to tell you, all I really care about telling anyone, is this…

Love must be stronger than this grief. It must both be bigger than the emptiness of life without Chuck and fill that emptiness.  It has to be, or I will cease to exist.  I push every day, every every day, to make his left behind Love bigger than anything else.

I don’t know how else to do any of this.  Without that Love I couldn’t have driven over 100,000 miles on my own, tracking down highways and side roads Chuck and I traveled together, stopping to eat lunch at roadside stands where he and I lingered over lunch, seeing the mountains and deserts and bridges and lakes and rivers and prairie grasses and beauty of this country through eyes wet with tears and my heart shattering again and again.

The thing is, for anyone who doesn’t know this already…yes, I have incredible memories. Everywhere I go there are memories. I have memories to look at and memories to hold in my heart…but those memories don’t make this better. Indeed, those memories serve as a stark reminder of 24 years gone, never to happen again. Those memories, though I cherish each and every one of them, are a double-edged sword, reminding me of my alone-ness in the world now, without him. And I struggle with that.

Each day is a decision on my part to get up and make Love bigger than anything else. I don’t ignore my grief; I hold it within the Love Chuck left behind for me, I hold it within the Love I had for him, still have for him.  And it fucking hurts, no matter how I do any of this, and it’s spiritually exhausting, so I feed the Love every day by reaching out to people, giving and receiving hugs, and being of service where and how I can.

Chuck was Love.  I was his Love. He was my Love. He was my beloved, as I was his.  We were in Love for 24 years.  He died loving me and I kissed him for the last time with my heart overflowing with Love for him and the Love he’d brought into my life.  His left behind Love pushed me into my pink car and has fueled me for 4 years and I have to I must always always always carry that  knowledge in my heart and plant it in my mind every damn day so that I don’t lose my mind. 

Love Love and Love harder and more, no matter anything else.

I repeat this to myself now, at this moment, as my heart takes me back to May 29, 2009, watching Chuck climb into the U-Haul, as I remember turning the key to follow behind the truck, headed west, as we began our Happily Homeless adventures…

Love.  Only Love.  C8D2FCE2-F53C-43D6-9CF4-C9D600907140

 

 

 

Our Death Valley Dance~

The Death Valley dance.

I know-it sounds so theatrical, doesn’t it?  To call it such, I mean.  I only named it that in hindsight. All I knew on that February day in 2013 was that this was a moment to remember, as Chuck and I remembered so many of our times together. We knew what was important in life. We grasped that life was impermanent and it needed to be grabbed and appreciated and loved and marked in that spot in our hearts that remembered such moments.

Nothing but wide-open road in front of us, there in Death Valley. We’d had this place on our go-to list, and this was our last evening here.  Our day had been spent mostly driving through the various canyons because Chuck wasn’t feeling well-his strength was minimal and he was in pain. We thought it was the die-off from a fungal infection. We thought it was a pinched nerve.  So we moved more slowly that day, and I took the wheel.

But, as I steered the car over the road, looking at the changing colors of the rocks around me, I knew that here was a moment that we needed to imprint upon our hearts. Something in my heart told me to mark this memory deep into my bones, so I maneuvered the car to the dirt on the side of the road and said let’s dance.  We loved to slow dance, and Chuck was a master at it.  Today, he wasn’t as sure of his footing on the rutted dirt of the roadside, but I said let’s try.  And he gamely smiled at me and stepped out of the car.

It was that most beautiful part of the evening that the Scots call the gloaming, when the day is done but right before night sets in and it was quiet, with no traffic from any direction.  We were the only humans on the planet at that moment, and the rocks glowed golden from the dying sun’s last breath. Silence surrounded us as I met him in front of our red Ford Escape and the strains of You’re My Inspiration by Chicago, wafted from the IPOD I’d plugged into the radio.   Chuck put his right arm around me and clasped my right hand in his left, wrapping his fingers lightly around mine.  In spite of everything, his body was strong against me and that strength flowed from him to me and back again, and all the Love in the world between us simmered and shone.

I knew something was wrong with him.  He did too.  Maybe we both wondered if his cancer had returned, but were afraid to voice the thought aloud.  I don’t know.  I just know, at that moment in time, with that particular tune playing, my heart called for me to remember this moment.

So there, on the side of the road, in the setting sun… there in Death Valley, we danced our last dance.

It was nothin’ but love~

 

What Has Changed. Besides Everything…

It hit me this morning as I drove the back roads of south Jersey and passed a tree whose leaves were changing colors in preparation for the Fall.

Each time the seasons have changed since Chuck’s death, it takes my breath away.  Not for the beauty of them, which I always used to appreciate, but because…the season is changing again.  As they’ve changed 14 times in these 3 1/2 years since his death.

Each season takes me further away from his life, from our lives together.  And, yes, it hitches my breath each time I acknowledge this.  And it hurts my heart.

Many years ago, for his birthday, I surprised him with a trip to the Poconos.  And yes, we stayed in one of the cheesy hotels with a heart-shaped tub.  We loved it.  Fall colors popped all around us, because Chuck’s birthday is in October.

On our way back home again, we stopped at a roadside park for lunch.  There was a river there, with trees draping their leaves over the water.

It was beautiful.  Now, I can barely bear to see the leaves turn.

Everything changes when your person dies.  The meaning of everything changes when your person dies.   What once had color is now bland.  The flavor and flow of daily life, of days becoming weeks and months and years, changes.  There is an absence of color.

I realize, of course, that I don’t write for every widow and widower.  I can only speak of my own experience.

My heart sang with Chuck’s for our 24 years, and my world was filled with color and beauty.  If there were a switch I could find to turn everything back on, I would, and I’d look at the trees outside and see what color feels like again and I’d listen to the fallen leaves rustle under my feet, and I’d feel everything down to the soles of my soul.

I just don’t fucking know how to change this everything’s changed world of mine~