My old house, my old days

Snapshot of yard and studio slot of old house, flat and shot on hearth tiles in new house.

I found this snapshot in a pile a little while after Gavin died, doing that endless sorting of condolence cards and photos and to-do lists that widows do. I called the picture "halcyon days," using a mental tone of irony and fondness. Some griefy evenings I couldn't stop looking at it while the microwave hummed. See the view from our back porch, golden light one tolerable summer evening after hours of tilling for a new vegetable bed, and a shed whose 1000 pieces and predrilled misfit holes nearly drove us batty. Look at that past! It was pretty, and ordinary, and all that land was mine.

I'm selling the old house, the one we bought together, where I experienced boatloads of disappointment. More than that, it's hard for me to admit that I scuttled off so many dreams BEFORE Gavin died. Those are the ones I'm grieving now.

I'm some combination of steeped in sadness and serious avoidance mode, using the driving-backwards-fast, corner-cutting, curb-jumping skillz that I gained after loss, merely to survive.

Approaching the five year mark, I'm finding all kinds of others in the same year are having similar experiences: like any anniversary, all the tension is in the approach. At least, so far. Thinking about earlier losses and this house a bunch — the house we failed to build into our dream house, the one we could barely afford that is worth a bloody fortune now, where we built Kevin his perfect studio, where I went to grad school.

Going over our home with an agent yesterday reminds me of all the dreams I dropped long ago. Losing a spouse young is the death of so many futures, so many opportunities, but I hadn't taken those seriously. Now I can't forget the ideas I had of being a business genius, a gardener of the too lush (we had a huge lot), of being parents easily, of accepting so much together without the rest of the world butting in.

Infertility chopped away at us, then cancer butted in really hard, feet first, so it would hurt the most.

Nostalgia IS a disease. Look at the light… I thought I could conquer all those weeds (I did push back a huge bed of English ivy, hundreds of square feet). I remember, now, what life was like before I was a parent: a long garden day, working till the last glimmer of the sun fell, then taking a shower without interruption, going to bed whenever I felt like it. We used to make real dinners. Gavin did all the cooking, I hope you understand how this affected the bargains I made…

I'm reminded of our inertias and disappointments as a couple. I thought he was handy. He thought I had no ambitions. Maybe I thought that, too. Either way, we barely painted the walls, never fixed the catastrophic kitchen, and the weeds coexisted with the plants I liked and the ones he liked, happily or not, but sharing soil for years. A year after I've moved out, the weeds have taken over everything again, and that annoying shed is the perfect studio we built for him, and for me, that we opened just before his diagnosis and so, has lain mostly fallow too.

I made a lot of compromises those 15 years, but holding my breath the whole time: it's taken me this long to find out how much that hurt and how my true grain runs.

Avoidance and bitterness are crappy tools to use in the new future. I'm hoping I got some kind of discount on the midlife crisis when I got the grief and single parenting package. I can't afford to be macho and insist that losing futures is no big deal. I should still have a few futures left!

Here's to what's next, and being brave enough to see the golden light of tomorrow.


Kim said...

Thank you for your nuanced sharing of these important moments. How deeply we assign meaning to the place where we lay our heads and launch our coupled life. Perhaps this golden light you seek will also lighten your burdens and result in new dancing.

Star said...

I think for me losing the future was a hard loss as well. Yes, I'm young as I am reminded of after people hear my tale. Yes, I can remarry & have kids, etc. But its not the future I had planned. And being a control freak, that is one more thing that sucks.

annie said...

I am sorry you're having a hard time right now.

It will be five years that my late has been physically dead in a couple of weeks, the 23rd, I think - I can never remember the actual date. It was Monday that year and it was cold but barely any snow.

Anyway, I try not to think about the things that didn't work out as we'd planned and I never bother with the hopes and dreams. Put them away long before he actually died in fact, so it's hard for me to empathize with those who find this hard to put to rest. I can say this, everyone lives a life that hasn't measured up at some point or multiple points or for long periods of time. It's not a unique thing. Who wrote the line "quiet lives of desperation"? To me, that sums it up. You can never tell what's going on inside others' lives and I think I lot of our personal killer nostaglia comes from the idea that somehow, things not working out has only happened to us. Even thought intellectually we know that's not true, it doesn't change that school yard feeling of unfairness.

Life moves in many directions but not reverse. That house is meant to be someone else's dream now and that's an awesome thing to contemplate and be a small part of, and the money will seed new dreams for you.

Sunny said...

"I'm some combination of steeped in sadness and serious avoidance mode, using the driving-backwards-fast, corner-cutting, curb-jumping skillz that I gained after loss, merely to survive." I can completely relate to that statement. Well put, and very well stated post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

carolyn said...

Hoo boy, this was a tough one to read. But so welcome. We widows don't often speak of the inevitable bitter disappointments and misunderstandings and regrets that come with being married and having too much to do. But not speaking of them does not mean that they are not still there, even if he is not. Your old life sounds a LOT like mine, without even mentioning cancer: too many plans and not enough one-foot-in-front-of-the-other action, too much land and a fantasy about how it could be but never was. With an undercurrent of maybe not always getting along so well. I am doing a lot of projects around the house and far-too-large yard these days, and it is tough sledding sometimes, thinking about how things could have been, how they never were, and how they are now. Also, it has been pretty insightful to see that a lot of the things I blamed on him are still happening (or not, as the case may be).

Anonymous said...

This was just beautiful...I don't even know an intelligent comment to make as I cried during reading it. You write beautifully. When we first moved here in 1996 we have 5 acres, and Mike was out digging a garden. We fenced it, had a couple good years of it...now it is tumbleweeds and has not been tended for years....this spring it will be, if it is the ONLY thing I do.

Sue G

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Thanks, all of you. My comment notifier was broken, so I didn't even know I'd struck a cord (except for Sue contacting me on FB... thank you!). So I'm sorry I didn't respond to you each when the thoughts were still warm.

Thanks for setting me off for this hard weekend on a sweet note.

Carolyn, we really are kindreds of a sort. Portland huh? We get up there once in a while...



The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

I have just come across this blog, and read through a little, I was widowed in 2006, I live in the uk, and have not been able to find anything like this.
Nothing at all has worked out the way I thought it would, I am still numb on many levels too scared to let go.
Just to say thank you for the writings here from so many spirited women.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Hello Cranky and welcome,
Oh my, I can set you up with many, many peers. The writings here are nearly all mine: but I connect to hundreds of other bloggers, as well as sisters and brothers on Facebook and so on.
Happy to connect with you!


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