Where do I post this?

Dear Jay,

I miss you. I pick up the phone to text you at least once a week. There are so many things I want to tell you. Of course I want to tell you that I’m sad you died. But we covered that when you were alive. We were both sorry, and we had absolutely no say in the matter. So we both moved on, toward love and life and enjoying the time you had. I’ve mentioned I feel terrifically guilty for continuing on, right? No, of course I didn’t. Because when the cancer got bad and you learned the pain of how many people avoid death by avoiding their dying friend, you told me that you wanted us all to live and tell you about it and just act as though you were still the same. Because right up to the end, you were the same.

So let’s pretend, just for a while, okay?

We’re writing new software for the office. Can you believe it? What is that dreadful program…twenty years old? I’m hoping we get it done during the summer so the transition is easy. But speaking of uneasy transitions, we were having trouble with part of the old version last week and it dawned on me I didn’t have to struggle. “I’ll just call Jay,” I said out loud. And then I cracked wide open and I just sobbed. In front of everyone, with no way to make it polite or pretty or decent. I just lost my shit. I can’t call you. That is a stupid and horrible fact. And still true, no matter how much I hate it. But I do hate it.

I saw your kids a couple of weeks ago. So sweet. You know they’re sweet, but I want to remind you. I love hanging out with them. Your oldest is retreating into herself, which we predicted. She’s so unsure of herself right now, which is about her age not about missing you, it seems; but she’s strong and fierce and she’ll start to own her power soon enough. I worked with her on math and kept pointing out how well she does when she settles down and believes in herself. And she does. That’s you, right there: she believes in herself. Your life is looking pretty successful, right? Minus the whole death thing, you win at life.

You know, I should apologize for being seethingly angry at your funeral. It wasn’t really my fault, though: not one of those people at your memorial was you. And I came to celebrate you and talk with you and be with you. But there were hundreds of people, and nobody knew what you know or talked the way you talk or thought the way you might think. Jerks. It was lovely, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ll take our backyard talks over a lovely memorial any day of the week, but I don’t get to choose.

Let’s see, what else…Spouse and I finally settled down into a quiet space where we could talk, and we both agreed we need to try being apart. It’s been much better since we agreed to separate. He’s kinder and funnier. I’m more calm and accommodating. The stuff you and I talked about with the kids has gotten better. I just wish to god I could have told you all this before you died. You knew. I knew. We both said out loud we knew. But we all thought it would be another five years, at least, so he and I could see if we could make it better.  Nope. Maybe your death got me to that calm, quiet place where I could see the forest despite the trees, but I don’t think so. Either way, we decided a couple of days after you died. Either my timing sucks or yours does. Since you’re not here to defend yourself, I’m saying it’s you.

So I’m rearranging my life now. It’s nice, and it’s scary. It’s sad. I’ll bet you know what I changed first. I’ll bet you know both of the things I changed first. Who cares about closets or couches, right? I rearranged the kitchen and the books.

I completely redesigned the fridge and cabinets, and tossed all the spices I hated. And it still doesn’t feel like enough. I might get new spatulas. Will that make things feel better? They work just fine, but they just seem sad and old and past their prime to me. Spatulas as metaphors. What a dork. You know those mugs we loved? I kept only those four, and donated all the others. More room in life when you get rid of what you don’t want, right? Right. I packed away all the wedding photos but left the family photos so the boys know that everybody in our family is welcome. He is welcome. He just doesn’t live here. Was that weird after your divorce? You aren’t  married, but you see your co-parent all the time? I am wildly uncomfortable, but I kind of like it. I like not being cut off from a part of my old life and I like seeing them happy with him. I don’t like the in between of having him over so much. I’d like a couple of weeks genuinely solo. But that’s silly because it’s not good for anybody else.

Parts of this process are nice. It’s nice to feel happy. Really. I had forgotten. And I know most people are expecting me to be troubled and sad and overwhelmed. But it feels quite good to breathe. I’m eating better, I’m sleeping better, and I’m more relaxed. Because that giant weight lifted off my family. Not just off me. Off the whole family. It feels as though a secret is out and everything is better. Did you feel that way when you came out? Or when you split up?

Even the books are now more honest. They’re not all grouped by literary period, because I’ve pulled those that I still haven’t finished (or even started) and put them on their own shelves. The unread, the Next, the “as soon as I have time” sit on their own shelves, begging to be noticed. Not posturing as part of a cluster as they would in a bookstore, hoping some day I’ll remember my intense need to read them. This is my house and these are my books, and I want the unread to remind me of what’s left to come, in a big ol’ honest FUTURE shelf. Two, really. I know you left a lot of unread books. I’m glad that was only sad to you for a little while, until you moved into that “between two worlds and unconcerned with earthly nonsense” phase.

But a few threads of silver lining the cloud don’t make the whole process of unraveling my marriage any easier. I’m overwhelmed by all the “what comes next”s and the “what have we done”s and the “what if we’re wrong”s . I wish I could ask you about how it went for you when you split up. I keep remembering what you said, though. The divorce is not even going to be a speck on the fabric of what forms your kids. Your death will be the defining event, bar none. I feel so dwarfed by the magnitude of that statement. I’m so sorry for you and A and the kids. I’m so grateful for my family. A family spread across two households doesn’t matter. Nobody’s dying. We win!

Ha.

Your manuscript is still in my desk. Your number is still on my phone. I actually closed my facebook account because they posted a message to me last week. “Jay misses you. Write on his wall!” I said a few really bad words at the computer, closed it, and went to rearrange the DVDs. There aren’t very many, but it made me smile to shift them around. They used to sit in simple his/hers piles. Now they’re John-Hughes/not-John-Hughes piles.

Jay misses me, eh algorithm? Well, he might, but I doubt it. Jay’s dead. Jay doesn’t miss me one-millionth as much as I miss him. Jay has moved on to something completely different. I’m here struggling to remember that change is good and a given in life. Most changes are good, if you find the right way to look at them. And my life now is better. And it’s going to keep heading in that direction, except when it doesn’t. Life: messy, and rarely easy.

Messy and rarely easy. Like your life, and like your death. I know those last weeks were horrible, and I’m glad you died, if only because it stopped the hurt and the sadness and the waiting. I hope your afterlife is going well. Maybe write me back, if you have a chance. It would be nice to hear from you. The past few months have been harder because I can’t talk to you. So bust out all your other-worldly tricks and give me a shout. Even if you think getting new spatulas is a bad idea.

Love,
C

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New Year’s Resolutions

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. Must now, quickly and with no time to waste, contemplate the meaning of life, the new year, the holy grail of balance, and life goals.

Ready, set, go.

I’m a driven person. I always have several long term and dozens of short term goals brewing. Life with small children means that many, if not all, of those aspirations are on hold. Panic waxes and wanes, with the sensations that life is passing by and that life is exactly what it needs to be as other things wait.

And I was pretty sure I was unhappy in this limbo until I read a series of articles on happiness in Southwest Airline’s in-flight magazine. I should have been reading one of the dozens of books on my nightstand, or writing something compelling, but the bags were overflowing with boring wooden, BPA-free, phthalate-free, battery-free toys, and there was no way I was packing another bag just so I could have something to do. My whole life is about filling every nook and cranny of time with something productive, and, dammit, this holiday vacation I was going to stare aimlessly out windows.

Of course I can say that but can’t really do it, so while Butter was sleeping in my arms (after four hours in the airport waiting for a delayed flight) I was reading article after article on being happy. And during the course of 30 minutes, was interrupted 17 times (I counted) by my delightful children. So I figured, what with the inability to have two freaking minutes to myself, the deferred goals, the lack of comfort in my own older-and-not-springing-back-from-pregnancy skin, and the predictable winter mid-life crisis that makes me want to move, get a job, quit a job, go back to school, sell my soul, and run away from home all in the same day, that I’d score more than a few ticks below happy.

Shows what I know.

Apparently, since I find joy in something every day, since I’m still compelled to make progress toward those goals and dreams, since I’m frustrated as hell but interested and engaged in what I’m doing, I’m actually quite happy. Above the 50th percentile, anyway, which shocks me.

[Aside: how Eeyore does that make me that Fair-to-Middling seems impressively upbeat?]

The nature of the questions asked in the Authentic Happiness Inventory point out what I’ve known for 5 years: though it’s important to me to raise my children myself and defer fulfilling my needs and desires while they’re small, I would probably be happier working in a situation in which I am skilled, respected, and see direct results of my efforts. It’s the way I’m built—this steep learning curve, 30-year deferred feedback game is not my strong suit. I’d be more engaged and interested in and proud of my work if it were not the trying-hard-to-be-patient and doing-my-best-to-be-gentle direction of small children.

Yet refusing my near-constant need to follow my avocation is actually reminding me almost constantly of my current purpose in life.

Frustrating as hell though it may be to do what I believe in rather than what I crave, I know why I’m happier than I perceive myself to be outside the smattering of joyful moments in each day.

Because as stupifying and frustrating and scatalogical as my job is, I genuinely believe it’s important. And research suggests a sense of purpose and usefulness is one of the most important factors in feeling satisfied about your life.

So, sure I’ll eat more vegetables in 2011. And write more. And eliminate the stuff that isn’t necessary so I can do more of what I, personally, thrive on (housework and corn syrup). But I’ll also spend a fair amount of the time I was budgeting for blinking on recognizing that I’m a happy frustrated, agitated, unfulfilled person.

See how I’m already looking on the bright side? Way to go, 2011.