The Other End of Sunset

Friday, September 12, 2008

Trapped, squid-like, in a dryer

And I will try to connect
all the pieces you left.
I will carry it on,
and let you forget.
--Dixie Chicks

Have you ever watched yourself be really sick? I mean, really, watched yourself be ill. I have.

You might see yourself in a seedy, dirty-covered mirror in a bathroom in the middle of somewhere you never thought you'd be. Or you might see yourself in the words of a song, or a book, or a story.

Or you might see yourself, being very ill, in the eyes of a loved one, a friend, a fan.

Regardless, in that moment of stark clarity, you see it all. You see how you got here, you see where you are going.

And sometimes the journey isn't what you imagined.

And I'll remember the years...
when laughter and life
filled up this silent house
--Dixie Chicks

Today is the last day I will ever likely spend in this bright house in the East Bay.

The house where I met her, marking branches on the pine trees in the backyard with little red pieces of yarn. And how happy she was that I talked to her about it, with only a small amount of humor.

The house I came home to when she called me to tell me she had cancer.

The house where we sat on the back patio and argued about Elton John lyrics.

The house where she told me she loved me.

The house where she died.

And it's been a while
since I first saw you.

I've come back here to say goodbye, again, but for real this time. I am sitting in the house, alone and silent, trying to feel her presence in the walls.

The house has no noise, no movement, nothing but ghosts now. The only sound is the scrabbling of my fingernails against the keyboard. And the sound of my tears.

Why must I feel this way?
Just make this go away
Just one more peaceful day

I couldn't figure out how to say goodbye, so SL made a great suggestion -- go to each room, and sit and think about that room and the memories in that room.

So, let's walk, shall we? Do watch your step, that's fresh blood.

Let's start in the heart of a house -- the kitchen. In the kitchen, where she used her little Mac to play games and to email with me. When I bought her a new mac with a camera, she figured out how to use the camera to take a picture of herself and emailed it to me.

She was so proud of herself, in that little grey and pink button up sweater she wore, and her face so yellow with jaundice. But the smile was real, and was for me. For something she could share with me. Perhaps the last thing, she feared.

SL and I went through the kitchen stuff a few months ago -- dishes, pots, pans, and the random stuff that accumulates in your kitchen over time. I appreciated the help getting that task done. Kitchens are a part of family -- you spend your life in a kitchen with your family, either birth family or chosen one.

Moving out of the kitchen, let's move into the front hall. One time when Jeanne was in New York on business, I was out one night doing something, can't remember what. We kept our dogs in an "ex-pen" in the front hall while we were out, so that our Dalmatian wouldn't chew. Somehow, the Dal managed to turn the water on in the prep sink there in the hall, and had flooded the entire ground floor of the house. The dogs had worked together to slide the ex-pen over to the stairs, and they were huddled on the bottom stair to keep from getting wet. Tyrone was crying his little brown eyes out... in fact, as I walked up the path to the door, I heard him yelping and thought that he'd gotten hurt, they'd had a fight, something. So I came rushing in the door... to step in 3 inches of water.


OK, get dogs, send them upstairs to dry off, warm up, and generally be less annoying. Mop floor, call insurance agent... and then call Jeanne. Luckily she didn't mind me waking her up at 1 in the morning or so.

The next weekend, we noticed that all the tiles were loose in the hall, so we spent a fun day popping them off the concrete in preparation for the faux wood floor that lives there now.

Into the living room, where the parties always are.

There's a TV on the wall of this room. An old friend installed it for me -- when he bid the project for me, I told him he had to work only at certain hours, and the like, because Jeanne was ill and needed her rest. By the time he came to install it, she was dead. So I told him he could work whenever he wanted to.

He stumbled over his tongue trying to tell me he was sorry. I walked away in the middle of his sentence, and it never came up again between us.

The same living room where I told her I didn't believe in marriage anymore. The look in her eyes as she thought through it, and decided that I was worth it, even if she didn't get to marry me.

Such big mistakes made in such a small, nondescript room.

Now let's go up the stairs, perhaps starting in the master bedroom. She had a game -- the question game -- that she loved to play at night. She'd ask me random questions, to get me to talk. I never asked her any back. And, I got really annoyed at her for the game, and snapped at her, one night after months of this. I felt like I was getting the third degree, like she was looking for some failure in my past. She teared up, and never played again.

It wasn't until months later that she told me that the game was just so she could get to know every bit of me, and that she wasn't judging, at all. She just wanted to be nestled inside my skin.

That was her goal, and I yelled at her.

Down the upstairs hallway to what is now the dogs' room. Lots of great memories of SL and I putting the dogs away and playing with them there. It's also where my elliptical trainer lives... which isn't such a good memory, I guess.

When Jeanne was alive, that room was our office. It was piled high with random papers and computers and compact discs in the wrong cases. It was anarchy. She thrived on chaos, and couldn't be bothered to be organized. She was an artist who decided to be an executive, because being an artist wasn't a "real job" and she always had to be in a real job.. not for herself, but for someone else. Until she internalized that rule, and decided not to follow her artistic dreams.

There's something sad when an old gambler gives up the dice.

The year she got sick, we moved the office downstairs and made that into a guest room. I can't remember why, now, but it seemed smart at the time. We made the now ex-office into a guest room, very neat and tidy, with a clock and a bedside lamp, and grandmother's handmade quilts on the bed.

That was where her mother slept... only during the day, so she could sit at Jeanne's side all night long, every night, holding her hand, helping her do whatever needed to be done in the dark of the night.

I wonder what became of those quilts.

And, finally, we get to the end room. It's the guest room now, and the closet is filled with SL's overflow clothes. But, to me, it smells of antiseptic and liquid ativan and fear and doubt. I don't even like going in there. Every time I do, I see her lying there, on the bed, dead.

Or even worse, I see her lying there, dying, but super excited to see me and smiling as big as she could, her teeth white against her skin.

I couldn't help her. I didn't know what to do. And I still don't, so let's leave this room, quickly.

Back down to the living room, with the painting on the wall that she bought from the friend of that evil weirdo she knew in HR. The same painting that SL fell into one afternoon as we were laughing and dancing around.

The painting that reminds me of a prison cell, with some sunshine flowing through the window, and clipped out pictures of hope in the form of flowers, with a count of years scratched into the wall. The unknown criminal who scrawled the years woke up every day in that cell and realized that another day had passed in prison, and that another was to come.

I call the painting "I'm still here", because there is still hope, sunshine, and flowers, even in the darkest places.

Sooner or later it's over
I just don't want to miss you tonight.
--Goo Goo Dolls


  • It feels like a sad journey into your house.
    I haven't been an "otherender" for long (less that a month), so I didn't quite figure out the story behind it.
    But, it is certainly a moving post that I appreciate.

    By Blogger Anemone, at 9:02 AM  

  • I'm not sure how you'll feel once you've moved out entirely but I hope you are able to release some painful memories and hang on to the joy that the happy ones bring.

    I watched my grandmother die of cancer and have often thought of how she moved through her house. She unlocked the door of the house I live in now and it was here that she died. I couldn't do much about it either.

    By Blogger Jessie, at 10:36 AM  

  • Douglas I avidly read your posts, I also feel your emotions as I have lost too many people I love, especially my parents.
    Packing away my Mom's clothes was the hardest thing I ever did.

    It's the memories that need focus and not the pain or the guilt. In life we love with intesity and that intensity sometimes causes us to yell or fight or cause tears.
    Nothing unatural about that and nothing to hold on to.

    Your respect for memory has always impressed me and your dedication to the word love does as well.

    I would bet your loved one wants you to move on filled with happiness and joy, as my Mom and Dad did and from that thought I draw my most strength.

    I think your move marks a close to one chapter and the opening of another in your book of life.

    Anything you feel sad about has been rectified by the enormous love, devotion and respect you carry forward.

    Go live....for both of you.
    It's your duty.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 AM  

  • In a prison cell or in room in your home that has become a prison, one thing is for sure, death. Years spent in a prison cell were much happier then years spent in a room that I call home. Things are not always as they seem. For years I waited to be at home with my mother. I had all of these wonderful plans. We were going to travel, spend time at the beach, go shopping, go to the movies and just hang out at the park. She was going to teach me to cook and share all of her fantastic recipes with me. Well the day finally came and I was home only to realize she was dying. I took care of her and watched her life fade away, I held her as she took her last breath. All of the dreams I once had were all of the sudden gone. I don't have all of the memories my brothers and sisters have Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Birthdays to remember. It was kind of like a bad dream that you wish you could wake up from. I had a dream not too long ago. My mom and I were laughing and having such a wonderful time. All of the sudden death took her from me again. I cried and screamed, "Why did you take her from me again?” It hurt so bad it was like I had lived through the same tragic experience a second time. I woke up to the reality our loved ones who have gone too soon will always be in our thoughts and heart. It's up to us not to let the memory of them consume our lives. I know my mom would want me to be happy and live my life to its fullest and I make an honest effort to do just that every day. Grief is a process and once all of the steps are taken we can say good bye and let go of all of why didn't I do or why did I do this or that and still hold on the good memories. I know it hurts because it still hurts me and it's been 9 years. Cry when you feel like crying, be angry when you feel like being angry, there's a saying it's okay to go there just don't stay there. All of our emotions are valid and we don't have to hide or be ashamed of how or what we are feeling. Be strong and hold your head high because life is a gift and tomorrow isn't promised to us.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:15 PM  

  • Douglas.
    I’ve never really loved anyone.
    I’ve never looked death in the eyes.
    I’m not a religious person, I don’t know if you are.
    But I felt that such an honest post deserved recognition.

    I wish I had something clever to say that made you feel a just a little better, but right now all I can think of is changing a couple of words in another Dixie Chicks song, they seem to, somehow, get it better than I could ever do.

    “As you wander through this troubled world
    In search of all things beautiful
    You can close your eyes when you're miles away
    And hear her voice like a serenade

    How long do you want to be loved?
    Is forever enough?, is forever enough?
    How long do you want to be loved?
    Is forever enough?
    Cause she’s never, never giving you up.”

    I’m certain she’s never, never giving you up, she’s always right there by your side.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:39 PM  

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