Realization.

It occurred to me today that if Rob doesn’t make it past May 1st and enacts the most unthinkable of the “or else” plans, his kids might blame me — not in any kind of rational way, and maybe not consciously, or at least not in a way that they can articulate, but still. They seem to have this weird idea that it’s within my power to keep him alive. I have tried to subtly set them straight on that, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

The youngest one has told me more than once to take care of his dad (and has said and done some other strange stuff in that vein). The middle one is a little more direct. For instance, Rob was threatening to burn the house down the other day if the kids didn’t clean their rooms, and he was threatening to stay inside the house as it burned. (This was less weird that it seems out of context; unfortunately, I can’t remember the context.) The middle child said, “We’ll call Signe and she can save you!” Sorry, kiddo, but no. If your dad is that damn determined , there’s nothing I can do about it. Sure, the conversation was pretty outlandish, but the fact that this particular response came very naturally to her is startling.

The oldest one is the only realist in the bunch…or maybe she’s just never said anything alarming in front of me. I hope it’s the former.

I love these kids, and I’m not just saying that the way people say things like “I love ice cream.”  No. I genuinely care about these kids. Obviously, I want for them to have a father. Their father is an amazing human being, and an amazing dad. They need him. If they lose him, it’s going to be devastating for them and I don’t want to be seen as having anything to do with it. That would be really, really shitty icing on an already craptastic cake. Losing him and them? That would be pretty fucking awful.

Watching the Wheels

We listened to this song on the way to and from Montana this summer. At the time, I didn’t really get it when Rob said, “John Lennon gets it.”  All these months later, though, I know he’s right. John Lennon does get it.  I’m beginning to think I might get it, too. 

“Watching the Wheels”

People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I’m OK they look at me kind of strange
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game
.
People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re no longer on the ball?
.
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
.
People asking questions lost in confusion
Well I tell them there’s no problem
Only solutions
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind
I tell them there’s no hurry
I’m just sitting here doing time
.
I‘m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

What It’s Like to Care About Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Exist

When you’re with him, it’s OK. He is there. He is alive. You can breathe, you can relax, you can stop worrying.

When you’re not with him but he’s checking in periodically, it’s mostly OK. You know he was alive very recently, and you have a general sense of what he’s been up to, so your imagination doesn’t get too wild.  But you sometimes worry a little, even though you know it’s just paranoia, because there’s always the possibility that you’re not getting the full story and things are worse than what he’s telling you. After all, that happens from time to time.

And when you hear nothing for six, eight, twelve, twenty-four hours or more, it’s not OK at all. He’s probably alive, but you don’t know that for sure. Silence generally means that something bad has happened — possibly something really bad — and when something bad or really bad happens, that’s when the “I don’t want to exist” kicks in full-force. So when you hear nothing for six, eight, twelve, twenty-four hours or more, you go about your business with a mildly nauseated feeling that’s not “I’m going to throw up” but that’s still strong enough to make you push the food around on your plate. You grade papers or watch trashy television or have boring everyday conversations with your husband, because that’s all you really can do, but successful execution of these simple tasks requires extra effort on account of the nagging distraction. His bad day becomes your bad day, too.  And even though you don’t know what it’s like to feel the way he feels, and even though you know that your bad day is still a million times better than his, you’re learning what it’s like to put forth a facade of functioning when you feel shitty and out of control.  You wonder how he can do it every single day, and while you can’t begin to understand how a person can feel so shitty and out of control that he’s ready to be done with the business of being alive, you’re a few steps closer to getting it. And you wait. Because that’s all you can do. You wait for him to tell you what happened, you wait for his wife to ask if you’ve seen him, you wait for the news you don’t want to hear but know that you might realistically hear, if not today, then someday. You wait.

Good Luck

I spent last week in Hawaii with my husband, reading on the beach, eating tropical fruit, and being lazy.  It was glorious. Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, Rob was having a pretty shitty week — even shittier than usual, from what I’ve pieced together.  As a result (I assume), he emailed me toward the end of the week and asked if I’d bring him back a small good luck charm.

It was a fairly casual request, buried in the middle of an email about some much bigger things. I’m not even sure that he really expected me to follow through — but I did. It was a request I took pretty seriously because although I don’t really believe in luck, I do believe that we can create our own. If this object was going to be effective in creating some luck, it seemed like there ought to be some meaning attached, or at least a good story.

With somewhere between 36 and 48 hours  to complete the good luck charm mission, there was a little bit of pressure. A carved sea turtle from the ABC Store just wouldn’t do. After some futile searching, I started to think that bringing something back — although that was the specific request — wasn’t necessarily the best way to approach the task.  I took a mental inventory of the hatbox where I keep all sorts of sentimental memorabilia, knowing there had to be something that I could pass along.

Once I shifted my thinking, it seemed so obvious: a Mount Rushmore replica. My good friend and college roommate (and most recently, usher at my wedding) had given it to me more than ten years ago, after a road trip out west with his family.  The obvious reason for wanting to pass it along to Rob is this:

Image

But that would be too easy.  There’s more to it.  My Mount Rushmore is just a trinket, but it moved across the country with me and sat on my desk in Alaska throughout graduate school. It was my way of keeping one of my best friends close when I embarked on the scariest journey of my life and put Canada between myself and everyone and everything I knew and loved. That Mount Rushmore was there when I wrote my thesis, and also when I planned what to do next. It was a physical reminder of the people back home who, though not physically present, held me up and supported me every step of the way.  That seemed like the kind of meaning that should be attached to a good luck charm. 

So I was pretty disappointed when I returned home tonight and couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t in my hatbox. It wasn’t in any of my desk drawers. It wasn’t in the chest where I keep the various odds and ends that I have no use for but can’t bring myself to discard.  I couldn’t figure out what happened to it — I couldn’t imagine intentionally discarding it when I moved from Alaska back to the Lower 48, and I couldn’t  imagine how it might have been lost in the move when so much superfluous crap made the journey.

I gave up and found something else to offer as lucky instead. The replacement wasn’t as perfect as the Mount Rushmore charm would have been, but I decided it would do. I took a shower, got into bed, discovered I’d been awake long enough that I’m beyond tired, and started writing this blog post. I was so irritated with myself over losing Mount Rushmore that at 1:30 a.m. I looked again. And sure enough, it was right where I’d initially expected to find it:  in my hatbox, along with my dead grandfather’s glasses, the dried corsage from a high school prom, a plaster mold of my friend Jillian’s teeth, and Rob’s bracelet from the psych ward. It was at the bottom of the box, tangled up in a “bride to be” sash from my bachelorette party. Sometimes things feel like they’re gone when, in fact, they’re exactly where they should be. 

I am so relieved to have found Mount Rushmore — not because I can’t bear the thought of living without it (that’ll happen once it’s passed on to Rob, obviously), but because I can’t bear the thought of being so careless with something that means so much. It’s just stuff, true…but it’s also more than stuff. Much more. Take good care of it, Rob.

Or Else

In the short time that Rob and I have been good friends, my life has changed in some small ways and some big ways. My apartment and office are decorated in children’s artwork. There’s a steady stream of email throughout the day that keeps me sane and runs the gamut from funny to concerned to despairing. There’s someone keeping track of me, taking care of me, and looking out for me. There’s someone who actually gets the things that excite me and who can therefore engage in deep conversation about those things. There’s someone who not only listens but who also understands the bullshit I deal with every day…and not just why it’s bullshit, but what it’s doing to me. I even see the world a little differently than I used to — in sharper focus, if that makes any sense at all. It probably doesn’t.

It’s hard to think about losing those things (and many others), although of course that has been a possibility from Day One. I didn’t give it much thought in the beginning because I had no idea how deep everything was about to get. And then all of a sudden I was in up to my elbows and it was too late to take stock of what I might lose if I waded in, because by then it didn’t matter.

Tonight, though, I’m taking stock at 3:00 a.m. despite the futility of it. When I think about “or else,” I always think about what the Rob Children would lose. Obviously, they’d lose a lot more than I would. But I’m realizing now that loss is a realistic possibility for me, too; somehow, that fact never seemed real until today, or maybe I just hadn’t accepted it. Even sitting in Rob’s basement that night four months ago, propping him up and trying to keep him conscious as we waited for the paramedics, I truly believed that he was going to be OK– physically, at least — and so I wasn’t worried then about losing him.

His kids didn’t know that he’d make it, though; for them, the possibility of loss was real and acute in that moment. Now, much later, I’m consciously thinking through (and feeling) my own potential loss for the first time.  It’s giving me a small sense of what the kids must have felt when they sat in a silent row on the living room couch, their eyes big as flashing ambulance lights turned the walls pink.  The oldest one sat in the middle with her arms around her younger siblings, holding them close, trying unsuccessfully to shield them from what was happening. I understand now why she ran after me when I was leaving– why even though she barely knew me then, she gave me a long hug and said, “Thank you.” It seemed odd at the time, but not anymore. I’d do the same thing if I was sitting on the couch watching everything unfold. I’d run down the sidewalk after any almost-stranger who I thought had prevented that enormous loss. I get it now.

It’s amazing how tangled up in each other’s lives two people can become in the span of just two seasons, but that’s what has happened. Now, contemplating an abrupt untangling, I feel like I might throw up.  That’s not something I’m saying for dramatic effect, either; I really do feel like I might throw up.

I  hope that “or else” means “new beginnings” rather than “the end.”  My fingers — selfishly, but only somewhat — are crossed.

The Rules.

Getting to know someone on a road trip is baptism by fire, and either it really works or it really doesn’t. For Rob and I, it really worked.

For ten days, we were almost never more than a few feet apart. We slept in close quarters in a tent and we slept in close quarters in hotel rooms. We tried not to listen to each other pee through paper-thin walls, we couldn’t help but listen to one another talk in our sleep, we overheard each other’s phone calls to our spouses back home.

It was all a bit awkward, but at the same time, not.  Or maybe what I mean is that it wasn’t nearly as awkward as it should have been.

In the last few months, I have slept in the same room with Rob more than I have with any other person (except my husband) in the last several years. It’s kind of a weird thing when I think about it objectively, but it doesn’t feel weird at all. It’s just the way things are, and it’s kind of nice (and unexpected) that this is the way things are. 

The last time that Rob and I were in a hotel room together, in that sometimes surreal interval between when the lights go out and the conversation dies, this happened:

He was navigating the darkness, both literally and otherwise, in search of a hug. “I can’t find where you are,” he said.

“I’m right here,” I said, and I was.

Even as this exchange unfolded, it felt like a metaphorAnd it’s true. We’re home now, going about out daily business and sleeping in our beds in houses that are blocks apart, but I’m still right here; I’m always right here.  I’m not going anywhere.

Road trips, by their nature, necessitate an extreme set of rules for “how things are” — that’s not unusual.  What’s unusual is that, in this particular instance, the rules haven’t changed even though the trip is long over. That’s weird…but in the best possible way.

The Saddest Sound

I listened to Lucy Wainwright Roche on the drive to work this morning. It had been a while since I’d done that — a really long while — and these lines from “The Saddest Sound” resonated today in a way that they hadn’t before: You are the time that I choose. Anything I have is yours now to borrow. It’s something I’m willing to lose.  

There aren’t many people I could say that to and mean it, but there are a few. They know who they are, I think.

Unfortunately, the stuff that can be loaned isn’t, generally speaking, the stuff that makes any kind of real difference. I wish there was a way to loan things that aren’t tangible. Things like confidence. Time. Kind in-laws. Support. Appreciation. Love. A string of good days. If I could, I would.