When Words Do Matter 

I am not a prude. Anyone who knows me well knows that swear words and nudity and sex aren’t things I rail against. Frankly, I think we’d be doing a lot better society wise if we loosened up around sex and tightened up around violence.
So, it surprised many of my friends, and, to be honest, even surprised me, when on Friday the hot mic tape of Donald Trump made me feel physically sick. It actually made me cry. And then it made me angry. More angry than any of the other idiotic things he’s said or done over the last year plus (seriously, doesn’t this feel like the longest circus ever?).
Some questioned why I, one who rarely gets offended by anything, was so offended by this. After all, it was just boys being boys. It was just locker room banter – all the guys talk like that when they get together. Right?
So I wrote about it. All of it. And just as I was about to hit “post” the entire thing disappeared. Literally, poof and away into the ether. Gone. I don’t know what I did, or what I hit on my phone, but lesson learned – when writing a really personal post for Facebook, draft it in a program and copy and paste it when you are ready to post. Because losing it all is beyond frustrating. But losing all the words also made me wonder if the universe was telling me to be quiet. To let it be. Just stay silent. No good will come out of telling this story.
So, I had to really think about it. Did I want this story, this slice of my life, to be out there for my friends and family and potentially a lot of other people to see? Once you post on social media, you can’t go back. Is that what I wanted?
Tonight I decided it did need to be out there. For a lot of different reasons. But mainly because I do believe we stay as sick as our secrets. And secrets never help anyone. And secrets make you tired. And they have a way of catching up with you, at the least opportune times, just when you think you don’t have to visit them anymore.
I want my blog and my Facebook page to be as authentic as can be. So, I’m putting it out there. And bracing for the commentary.

 

Below you will find my best re-writing of what I wrote on Saturday, October 8, 2016, for my blog page, https://www.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong/.
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I try my best not to get political on this page. Politics seem to create such divisiveness today, and I really want to promote love here. But I also want this page to be an authentic representation of me and my experiences. So, I decided that this was something I needed to share. Because words do matter. In myriad ways. And that is something that Trump and countless others need to learn.

When I was 19, I was accepted into a writing program at UC Berkeley. At the time it was a program you had to apply to, and when I received my acceptance letter, I was beyond thrilled. All I wanted to do was write. And travel to where the news was happening and write about what I saw from a human perspective. I wanted to cover it all. War, famine, political revolution. I wanted in.
When I made my plans to travel up to Berkeley to meet with the admissions and program counselors, as well as professors and to tour the campus, I didn’t think twice, nor did my parents, about staying with a family friend we had known for years in his condo in the area near Berkeley. He had always been the big brother I never had, had always been so protective of me, and I’d always felt safe in his presence.
After meeting with the heads of the program and touring the campus and learning more about the program and my place in it, I could not have been more excited. I was going to spend the next two years surrounded by some of the most brilliant minds and writers around. It was all perfect. I remember thinking “this is where my life really begins. Where I am going to start to do amazing things and make a difference.”

My friend insisted we celebrate with a nice dinner downtown and since I wasn’t yet of legal age to drink and didn’t have my fake ID (it had been confiscated earlier at a local bar in my hometown), I ordered my standard Arnold Palmer and he ordered a 1/2 a bottle of wine and told me I could steal a few sips as we toasted to my future. After the drinks were ordered I got up to wash my hands and when I came back my drink was on the table and his wine was poured.

And, that is all I remember.

I woke up the next morning, naked, in his bed, with a raging headache and knowing he’d had sex with me. And see that? Even now I can’t call it rape. I could barely type the word right there.
My dress was thrown on the floor and it was ripped. It took me several minutes to get my bearings and to stand up. When I did, this “friend” – this person I looked up to like a brother – looked at me and said “I had such a great time last night. I’m hoping you did too – but you were passed out for most of it.”

And I barely made it to the bathroom before I vomited.
I was supposed to be there another two days, and I could not get out fast enough. I know I was screaming and crying and he was telling me to calm down and lighten up. And when I said “you had sex with me (see, again, couldn’t even say rape then either) while I was passed out – and I don’t even know how or why I was passed out” he looked at me, in the coldest tone ever, and said “Katie, you spent the entire day with me. You came TO STAY with me. You willingly came to my house. Who’s going to believe you?”
I believed him. Who would believe me? That was the first time I knew that terrible things could happen and you could swallow them up and hide them – simply out of fear of being put on trial yourself.
So I left. I called a friend in San Francisco and took a cab to her place. She knew something was totally amiss, but I just kept saying I was fine. Just tired. Needed a change of scenery. Another shower to get the feeling of filth and violation off of me.
Two weeks later I’d find out he infected me with an STD. I dealt with it alone, too embarrassed and ashamed to let anyone know. I cried all the time.
What happened that night (and I still don’t know what fully happened, and that’s the absolute worst part of all), changed everything for me. It stole my dreams and my goals and my hopes. HE stole my dreams and my goals and my hopes. Soon I was making excuses to my parents and friends about why I decided to pursue a degree at UCLA and not enroll in the very program that just a few weeks earlier I could not stop talking about. I studied acting for a bit in high school and college, and that training allowed me to be a mess in private and together in public. People questioned why the sudden change in trajectory. I had an answer for everything. An answer. But not the truth.

That night changed the entire trajectory of my life.

 

So when I listened to the so called “locker room” hot mic tape, it made me sick. Not because he said tits or pussy. Please. It’s not the words on their own.
It’s because he thinks that because of who he is, he’s entitled to something that doesn’t belong to him. Whenever he wants.

 

Trump: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

“You can do anything.”

How many women did he grab, simply because he thought he could. He wanted to, so he did.

That sick mentality changed my life, forever, in 1994. That night changed everything. It changed me. I went from someone on the verge of realizing her passion and pursuing her dream career to someone totally unsure of herself.  I questioned everyone and everything.  Mostly I questioned myself.  All the damn time.

It’s taken me years to get back to my passion of writing. Where I once believed in people and trusted and was open with my heart, I became cynical and shut down. I was afraid. All the time.
Even sharing this now makes me nauseous. My parents don’t know about this. Most of my friends don’t know.   A handful of girlfriends from UCLA do, simply because I once had a panic attack during a fundraiser for a local rape crisis center. I had to explain why I was such a wreck.

My sons’ godmother, my sister from another mother, texted me after I sent her a draft of this, and she simply said “How, Kate, HOW DID I NOT KNOW?”  Shame.  A semi truck full of shame.  And then some.

 

I met the man who would become my first husband just a few weeks after this happened.  We spent a lot of time working through it and shed a lot of tears because of it.

What Trump said can’t be defended. It’s more than locker room banter. Especially at 59 years old.  This wasn’t some 8th grade hormone case trying to figure out when the envelope actually gets pushed.  It’s more than bragging about the “hot chick” you had consensual, both had a great time, sex with. This isn’t sharing some hot sex story with your friend (and let’s be honest – all men and women have done that a time or two. Had a great time with someone and spilled the beans to a friend the next day).
I’ll even go on record to say that most women would be even be a little bit happy to be referred to as “hot” or “beautiful” or “smokin.'”
That’s not what this is. Trump doesn’t see a woman. A name. A person with intelligence and talents and accomplishments.  He sees the one thing he wants to take. To kiss. To grab. And that’s the problem to me.  Assault.  That’s what it is whether anyone wants to admit it or not.

I was speaking with a dear friend about all of this when it broke. He, like me, questioned how anyone with children could even attempt to defend this. Defend him. I’m raising two sons. I take all of this very seriously.
Imagine, he said, the following conversation and think about how ridiculous it really is:
Dad: ” Don’t treat women with disrespect.”
Son: “But dad, you voted for Trump.”
Dad: ” Yeah, but he’s only the most powerful person in the world. So that’s ok.”

I’ll leave it at that.

Reflections in the Mirror 

I have a mirror in my house that I pass by all the time, every day. I don’t even really recall the last time I used it for its actual purpose – to look at myself.  
But today, for a thousand different reasons, when I walked by, I stopped and actually stared at myself. Really stared. Not in a “look at those dark circles” or “wow my roots need touch up” or “really, a chin hair?!” kind of a way. Not anything like that.  
It was more of a staring in the mirror, who have you become and where is the person I used to know kind of way. Sad. Scary. Needed. Overdue.  

For a solid 5 minutes. Staring. At myself.  

It got me thinking about how this mirror even came to be. In 2006, I was 4 years into widowhood and had met the man who is now my husband. We had moved in together, but had no plans to marry. And this how I wanted it. My life was amazing.  

(As a funny aside, when I made the decision to move in with this man, I knew I had to take my deeply religious father out to breakfast and give him the news that his baby (at 32 years old) would be living in sin with a man she’d only known for 3 months and didn’t really know if she would ever marry. I was SO nervous to tell him this news. I mean, sure I was 32 and adulting pretty well, but he is my FATHER. There were strict boy rules in our house. So over omelettes at our favorite hometown breakfast joint, when he looked at me and said “You’ve been married. You’ve been widowed. You’ve gone to hell and back. Shacking up is the least of my concerns. I’m more worried about you living in Venice,” I knew it was going to be ok.) 

Back to the mirror. We had a long hallway in our apartment, and it lacked the “something” that I felt it needed. My sister had invited me to my niece’s annual Charity League Fashion Show and Silent Auction. As a debutante alum myself, I thought it would be a great way to spend an afternoon in a beautiful location with my sister and nieces.  

When I started touring the auction tables, a mirror, THE mirror, caught my eye. It was the perfect size for our place, and it was a great bamboo design and fit our beachy, seaside decor perfectly. It was valued at $200.  

Since my late husband’s death in 2002, I had been working and hustling and hustling and working to pay off debt he left behind and to get back on my feet. To save for my own place. To be able to pay my student loans. To go out with friends. Take vacations. 

At this auction, I was doing pretty well. $200 was doable. So I set my eyes on the mirror. I placed a first bid. $50. Increments of $50 from there.  

Again, just to set the stage, we are at a Charity League event in Newport Beach, California. Held at the Balboa Bay Club. That’s just to say, if we are being REALLY honest, the snoot factor can be palpable. It was present that day. It was very present. And, it didn’t bother me. Until it did.  

As I was standing near the mirror, checking out some other items, I heard another woman say that she was interested in the mirror. Then, her friend asked if anyone else was bidding on it, and she said this: 
“Yes. There’s a young woman bidding on it, but I’m not worried because I don’t really think she can afford it. She’s here as a guest, not a member.”  

I’ll let that sink in for a minute. 

 I don’t know how she came to this conclusion. Maybe because I didn’t wear a wedding ring? I wasn’t carrying a Gucci bag? I don’t really know. What I DO know is that with that statement, the starting gun went off. That lady had no idea who she was dealing with.  
GAME ON. That mirror? It’s MINE. 

I placed a bid. And just to really show her, I upped it by $100, instead of $50.  

She came back. I countered. It went on like this for what seemed like forever.  

Let’s recall the mirror was valued at $200.  

I wasn’t thinking clearly (I rarely do when I am so mad), and we just kept bidding instead of running the clock, which would have kept the price low, especially because we were the only two people bidding on this mirror.  (That tidbit has been filed in my brain for future auctions.)

Suddenly the alarm that signaled only a minute left for bidding was sounded. At this point, a few of my sister’s friends had seen this all go down and they were rooting for me. With 10 seconds left, I nabbed the pen and took my time writing my final, winning bid.  

One thousand, one hundred dollars. $1,100.00. Eleven hundred dollars.   For a mirror valued at $200. But it was mine. And for once in my life, I was able to write a check. I could afford it. I’d been to hell and back to afford it. And, it was for charity. 😂

Since that day there has been a running joke about the $1000 mirror. I couldn’t even tell my then shacking up with boyfriend, now husband, that I paid that much in a pissing contest over my pride. For a solid year he thought I paid $500 and he thought that was crazy. Then I accidentally spilled the beans re-telling the story. I’ll never forget the look on his face.   

The good news? The mirror looked perfect in the hallway. And in the home we moved to when I was pregnant. It looks fantastic in the new home we just moved to a few months ago. But it will always be the “Don’t Mess with Katie, $1100 Mirror.” 

So when I stopped to stare at myself in it today, I was struck by the reflection. I didn’t see that girl who wouldn’t let anyone assume anything about her. I didn’t see the girl who could and would tell anybody exactly what she thought of them or any other subject on this great green Earth.   I didn’t see a woman who was hustling and truly happy. A woman who was excited about what she was creating in her life. I saw a woman who was doing  her very damn best to put a smile on her face for everyone else – especially her kids – but was quietly dying inside and losing her spark. Not an easy thing to write. Not an easy thing to face.  

I’ve joked a lot with friends the last couple weeks about feeling like I am having a midlife crisis. Professionally speaking, I’ve never been so discontent. So out of place. Feeling like the bus left me at the station because our destinations didn’t match. I’m taking steps to change it up, but it’s scary. It’s terrifying, really. Because it’s not just me now, when I get to these places of discontent. I have a husband and two kids to think about. They are the dependable and on time source of joy for me, and my discontent with other aspects of life affects them. Sometimes, way too much.  

What I know is I want that girl back. The one who didn’t back down. The one who made things happen. The one who had the self confidence TO make things happen. I don’t know where she went the last few years. Life has a way of stealing time without you even really realizing it. Five minutes of reflection opened up a Pandora’s Box of I’ve got to get it together. 

What I know is that mirrors don’t lie. Especially the eleven hundred dollar ones.  

 

May the Fourth Be With You 


May the Fourth Be With You. I heard it at least 1000 times today.

I guarantee George Lucas and Disney never realized the Fourth has always been with me. It’s been with me since 1994.

May 4 is my late husband’s birthday. And every year it sort of kicks me in the gut. Especially now that he has been gone more years than we were together. I also find that as I approach the age he was when he died, stuff comes out of the shadows. Stuff I thought I left in my therapist’s office years ago.

The one thing my late husband feared was aging. Part of it was because he was vain (and he totally admitted it) and part of it was because I was almost 15 years younger. I never totally understood it, because like many men, he actually got better looking with age (men so get the better end of the deal on that one), but it was something he was never comfortable with.

People have asked me if I think that was part of what drove his decision to end his life. And I can, without a doubt, say absolutely not. He wanted a family. Children. A life with me. We had plans. Big ones.
What he didn’t want – for himself or us – was a life that he viewed as limited by his physical limitations and his mental health issues. Things were an epic, hard to see a bright side, clusterfuck in the end. There are so many things that were going wrong and so many things I regret.

So, when his birthday rolls around, I make a conscious effort to remember and focus on the good. The fun. What made him, well, him.

He was a man who loved to fly fish. Have snow ball fights. Play basketball. Play golf. Swim. Play tennis. Cook together. The first year we dated, most of our dates revolved around physical activities. (And as I type that I realize how he would laugh at that. Because he also had a dry, semi dirty sense of humor like me. By physical activity I mean sports. You dirty minded readers, you.)

In the last year of his life, after neck and lumbar fusions and surgery inserting pins to hold his pelvic bones together, walking around the mall became difficult. But we did our best to convince ourselves the next doctor and the next therapies were going to provide the answers and relief we sought.

He loved to help people. In business, in his recovery, with the little old lady trying to push her shopping cart across an icy parking lot. He was the one that would rush to her aid. The last year of his life, when he was so focused on his sobriety, he started, designed and ran a recovery website – so those needing support could find it easily online. He grew an amazing community in such a short period of time – I still have messages from group members who were devastated when he died.

He loved music. All kinds. He loved practical jokes. He loved to see others smile. Like all of us, he had his demons. He fought them to the very end.

He wrote amazing love letters and had amazing penmanship (people commented all the time on his beautiful handwriting). He made me feel like the most important person in the room. Like the most beautiful person he had ever seen.

He drank red eye coffees like water and was never without a bag of Haribo Gold bears on his person.

So, today, I really tried to focus on all of that. I gathered up the force of the fourth and let it sustain me as I went about my mommying and lawyering and adulting day – while remembering that more years than he would like to admit ago, the universe was given an amazing gift in him.

The Ides of May 

I am not writing as much as I should or I want. And it’s not even so much a question of time, because I can find the time to write.I am an insomniac by nature.  I could be writing instead of watching brain eating reality shows on BRAVO. 

It’s a matter of having so many different things going on with work and kids and health and my husband and our family and LIFE that I just haven’t been able to settle my brain enough to come up with a subject.  Or figure out what I am comfortable with the world (or those dozen people who read this) knowing about me. 

Then yesterday I was in tears most of the day. Hiding my tears from my husband and my sons because I didn’t even know where to start or when it would end.  

Every year it comes like clockwork. Right on time. Right in its rightful place on the calendar.  
May 1. The start of what I have come to call the Ides of May. What used to be a month full of joy and birthdays, has just become a month I would rather sleep through.  

My late husband’s birthday is May 4. My birthday is May 9. My husband’s birthday is May 15.  
The last time I spoke to my late husband is May 18. I received the call he was dead on May 20. I spent the remainder of May planning services and moving out of the home we shared and trying to make sense of something that made very little sense at all.  

The next year I spent most of May with my therapist, just trying to make it through the month semi intact.  

The second year, my 30th birthday, I spent a solid two weeks in bed, watching all of our favorite movies on loop and answering my apartment door only for food deliveries.  

When I met my husband, three years into my grief, he had 9 months to try to make me fall in love with May again. He tried to focus on the positive of the month – our birthdays. Since he also lost his brother in May, he knew there was pain. But birthdays are about life, not death, he said. He remembers dates, but he isn’t as date sensitive as I am. I get physically ill sometimes when I think about these days when everything was ripped out from under me.   

After my husband and I married, I really did try to not let the month be taken over by my on going grief. We first found out we were pregnant in April 2010. Then on May 4, my late husband’s birthday, we had an ultrasound appointment. And the second our doctor looked at the screen, I knew our baby was gone. Something was wrong and his face told the story. I remember losing it right then and there. So I then spent my birthday (which always falls on or near Mother’s Day) that year recovering from a D&C and arguing with my husband that May was doomed and would never bring joy. I think my exact words were “Fuck May. It’s a shitty fucking month.”    

When I found myself pregnant again, this time with twins, the due date was May 11. Right in the middle of our birthdays. As I got closer to delivery, and a decision was made to induce, May 4 was the proposed date. My late husband’s birthday. And I adamantly said “no, no, please no that’s not going to work” and even my husband didn’t clue in right away. It just seemed odd that my sons might share a birthday with my late husband. And then I felt guilty. And then I was crying. Again. So we decided on May 5 because what boys wouldn’t at some point enjoy their birthday being on Cinco de Mayo? 

Life had other plans and our boys came into the world on April 30. Just shy of May 1. They would not be tainted by my negative feelings about the month. And I hoped that their arrival would change my feelings about May. And, it did. For a while.  

Then, when the boys were 2, we lost my father in law, suddenly and without warning, on May 7. The morning after we had returned from a weekend away celebrating the boys’ birthday in Monterey. We called him that night we returned. Told him all about our weekend. Made plans to see him that week. And the next morning when I was out on a run my husband called me in a panic to tell me his dad was gone. And suddenly my feelings about May being the shittiest month of the year were front and center again. And there they have stayed.  

This year, we had a great week celebrating our boys 5th birthdays. April 30th came and went.  
Before I knew it, May  1 arrived and the anxiety and the tears out of nowhere arrived with it.  

I am to the point where I don’t even know if it’s even the days themselves that send me off kilter. I think, maybe, it has more to do with the ghosts that appear. In my memories. In my journals. In my dreams. The other night I dreamt so vividly of my late husband. I could smell him. I could feel him. I could hear him. I woke up and for a split second I thought it was real. Until I realized it wasn’t. And I fought tears all day.  

It’s been almost 14 years since he left this Earth and yet I often feel it was just yesterday. All the things I want to say. All the things I wish I had said. All the things I so desperately want him to know – to really know – they dance around me every day of this cursed month.  

And the Monday morning quarterbacks have their opinions. It’s not fair to my family that this still is something I carry. It’s not fair to my husband. Our kids. And keep in mind it’s not like we have round tables discussing the years I spent with my late husband. We don’t. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think more than once what a weird dynamic it is that if not for my late husband’s death, I would not have my husband or kids in my life. It’s the definition of bittersweet.  

And you know what else? It might not be fair. But it’s my life. I can’t change how I feel. And I’ve already spent a lot of my life putting what I feel aside because of how other people feel.  

I’ve talked about it before. People don’t expect you to stop talking about or thinking about the parent or sibling, or, what I can’t even imagine, the child you have lost. But for some reason, when it’s a partner/spouse, especially when you have sufficiently “moved on,” people expect you to take down the pictures. Remove the name from your vocabulary. Cease the stories. Erase that chapter. 

But I can’t do that.  I won’t.  

And I am not going to pretend that this month doesn’t rock my freaking world every single year since 2002.   

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I have vowed to try to share something each day that resonates with me. This is today. Looking at a calendar with red marks on certain days wondering when it’s ever going to get easier. Wondering if there will ever be a day when I will be at peace that I will never be able to have the last conversation I want to have with my late husband while he was still here on Earth. 

Wondering if I will ever be able to fully forgive myself for what I feel are my failings. 

Wondering if I am alone in my thoughts.  

Wondering. And waiting for this bloody month to end – before it’s barely even started.  

The Chosen Ones 

A few weeks ago I attended the LA chapter of the National Survivors After Suicide Loss Day. I co-facilitated a break out group for those who have lost partners/spouses.   

It took me back to the very first year I attended, just about 6 months after my late husband’s suicide. I remember being so grateful to be in a room with people  who had experienced my specific loss, because even just 6 months in, people were treating the loss of my husband as something that would be easier to move on from. I would find love again. My life wasn’t over. I was still young. It’s funny the things people say. Sad, but also sickly funny.  

I remember thinking that I would never tell a mother that she would move on from losing her child. Never tell a sibling that they could get another brother or sister. Wouldn’t tell someone to adopt a random older person to act as their parent.  

Yet, somehow, that’s exactly what I experienced. It was clear in the months after my late husband’s death – the questions about if I was ready for a set up or a match.com profile. As if a date would help me forget that my husband was dead.  
No, I hadn’t lost a child. I hadn’t lost a parent. Or a sibling. Someone who could never be replaced. 

It appeared that partner/spousal death was somehow treated as “less than” – and this was once again confirmed in the group I recently co-facilitated.  

With a spouse or a partner or a “just” a girlfriend or boyfriend (and really, they almost get the shortest end of the stick. Of course boyfriends and girlfriends are totally replaceable), it is expected that the pain ends when you replace the person you lost. And that is the problem. People actually think that your lost love can be replaced. I can’t tell you how angry this has made me over the years.  

A few weeks after my husband’s death, I was visiting my sister. I spent a ton of time with my sister and her kids in the months after my loss. Something about being with her babies just made life seem worth living. One day I was coming back from a walk with my niece who was asleep in her stroller. My sister’s neighbor across the alley came over and told me how sorry she was. And then this: 

“But Kate, you are 28. You weren’t married that long. You will bounce back. Just get out there again. Plenty of guys would want to take you out.”

Because being with the girl who cried at anything and everything, couldn’t hold down food and whose hair was falling out due to stress was such a hot ticket? Forget about the fact she lost the person she relied on and loved the most? Minor detail, I know.    

It mainly hurt because to me, your partner/spouse is the person that represents the most intimate of relationships. The chosen one. The one you didn’t have to have but wanted more than anything.  

Usually, as a third party reproductive attorney I know there are exceptions, but usually you don’t (and can’t) pick your parents. Or your siblings. Or your children. Family is stuck together. That’s the beauty and the curse. And that’s why nobody would ever expect you to forget about these amazing people in your life.  

When I committed myself to my late husband, and he committed himself to me, long before our actual marriage even, it wasn’t because we had to love each other because of blood line. It was because we made a decision that we wanted to walk this crazy thing called life together – not because we had to. Because we wanted to. The amazing, the heartbreaking, the highs and lows and everything in between. Our love was our bond.  

But, so many people expect widows and widowers to forget. To move on. To stop talking about them. To pretend those chapters of our life didn’t ever exist. The ghost makes so many people uncomfortable. I had men I was dating in the years  after tell me “not to mention” my marriage or my husband’s death to friends or family. Not that I ever used it as an opening line, but when people asked why I left Colorado, I was supposed to just make up a story? 

But I refused. Any of it. It’s tricky of course. It makes people uncomfortable sometimes. A lot of the time.  I’m remarried now to a man who never once has asked me to forget about my past. Never once told me that my late husband needs to be excised from my life. It takes a special person to be open to being with someone who has loved and lost at such a deep level. I know that. And I try to be as respectful I can be – but I can’t pretend that my life before did not exist. I can’t pretend that I don’t think about my late husband. A lot. That I still say prayers to him and for him – that I thank him for our time together and wonder if he is proud of the life I have made for myself.  

Because we didn’t have children together, people also just expect me to forget. To sweep it all under the rug. I have no ties to him, so why should I care so much? Because I do have ties to him. I consider his family my family. I still am in contact with his family. And I am grateful for that. I relish the thought of being able to introduce his family to my children in person one day – not just through email and social media. 

The bottom line, I think, is that it all just makes other people uncomfortable. Uneasy.  The hard truth is that it’s not my job to make you comfortable with this.  I would never ask you to hide your past – your chapters of your life that made you, well, you. So please don’t do that to me or any other widows and widowers. If we are lucky enough to find love again, it’s because our hearts are big enough for space to be shared. A new relationship, a remarriage, new love doesn’t change what once was.  

Someday, my children will be old enough to hear my story. Know that I was married before. Know that there was a man, before their father, who I loved with my whole heart. Who died tragically. Whose death left my heart and soul broken and battered. And they will know that their father took those broken pieces and put them back together with his own love and understanding. But they will also know that scars remain. And scars are a reminder of what I lost.   

I guess what I want people to understand is that remembering my late husband, writing about him/us, and still loving him doesn’t mean I am not present in my life. Doesn’t mean I don’t love my husband and kids with my whole heart. Doesn’t mean I don’t respect my husband and our marriage.    

Quite the opposite, actually. It means I have been able to heal. To open myself up to the possibility of great love again. And to a man completely separate and apart from my late husband.  

Not many people can say they have had one great love, let alone two. But I have. And I do my best to honor both of them every single day.  

Landing in the Past

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The last time I flew into Denver was May 2002.  It was to claim my late husband’s body, pack up our home and attend the first of three services he was to have.   Three services to accommodate all his family and friends and the different aspects of his life.

I had been at my parents’ home in California, recovering from a heart condition that had come on strong and fast.  I had been so weak in the last weeks I spent in Colorado, and my husband wasn’t able to take care of me.  Things were falling apart at such a rapid rate, that looking back, it’s as if he was acting the way he was so I would break.  So my parents would insist I come home and meet with their specialists and get answers they thought they needed regarding my health.   It was such a screwed up time, and neither of us were thinking clearly or acting rationally.   So, when I got the call that my husband was dead, and that his sponsor and dear friends, whom I had sent to our home to check on him, had found him, my brain sort of imploded.  I recall bits and pieces of that three days between the call from the Police Department and the flight to Denver.   But I remember everything about that flight.

A dear friend was flying with me, as my parents were taking a later flight.  I was still in the process of making calls and trying to answer questions from family and friends.   Planning memorial services.  Making decisions about our home, his car, his body.  Death is so hard.   Suicide is beyond hard. So hard for the person that dies in such a way and so very hard for those who are left behind.   So many people were angry at me.  So many people pitied me.  So many people didn’t know what to do or say.  And, a few of the very best people dropped everything to hold me up. I am forever indebted to those people.

On that last flight to DIA so many years ago, I remember crying all the way to the airport.  My friend practically glued to my side.  When we checked in, and I handed my ID to the representative at the counter, I also provided the letter from the Neptune Society.  The letter that explained that I was flying to claim my husband’s body and attend his memorial service.  I had been told by the reservation representative when I booked my ticket to do that.  I still remember the way the counter representative looked at me. I still remember her saying “Oh, my dear.  You are so young.  I am so very sorry.”  And I remember breaking down.   We checked our bags, and we received our boarding passes.  We went through security.  It was just a few months after 9/11 and airports were still figuring out all the new screenings and protocol.  When we handed our IDs and boarding passes to the TSA agent, and he asked me what my purpose for travel was, I answered “my husband is dead.   I have to deal with it.” I don’t believe that was the answer he was expecting.

I didn’t even realize that my boarding passes had shown that my friend and I had been upgraded to First Class.   I didn’t realize it until the attendant on board greeting us  knew my name and told my friend and me that she would escort us to our seats.  The first row.  She asked if I needed anything.  I told her my husband.  And I started to cry.   And then I remember laughing.  That nervous, this can’t be real laugh because the only other time I had flown First Class was with my late husband.  He had won a trip from his company.  And he flew me First Class to meet him.  And here I was, flying First Class to go back to where my home had been with my husband who was now dead.  My friend got me a drink.  A stiff drink.  And I cried for the almost two and half hour flight.  When we landed the pilot came out and told me how sorry he was. He wished me strength.

That was the last time I flew to Denver.   Up until that flight, the Denver flight was second nature to me.  For so many years before I moved to Denver, I had flown to Denver at least once a month.  At least.  For almost 7 years. Denver had always meant I would soon be with Greg.   Denver, in a way, had always been like coming home.   After he died, Denver just became a place of pain.  Of anger.  Of questions I couldn’t answer.  Of arguments I couldn’t take back.   Of broken dreams.  Of unfulfilled promises.  So I avoided Denver like the plague.

When I went to Aspen to visit a dear friend and scatter Greg’s ashes, I flew directly into Aspen.   Aspen was the only part of the state I could visit.  And I did.  A few times after his death.  It was the place where we went for long weekends.  Where I learned to fly fish.  Where we were engaged.   Aspen was a place of joy for me.  So that is where I went when I needed to be close to Greg.   Even though I still had amazing friends and Greg’s family in Denver, I just couldn’t go there.  There were just too many ghosts.

For over 13 years I avoided flying into Denver.  I have wanted to visit friends and family and decided against it as I was about to book tickets.  I have made sure that if I am flying anywhere else with a layover, that I don’t have a layover in Denver.   Like I said, I avoided it like the plague.  Until I couldn’t.

This past August, my family was headed to Michigan for a wedding and then Pittsburgh to see family.  Coming home from Pittsburgh the only flight that worked for our budget and schedule was one that went through Denver.  Believe me, I spent hours trying to figure out something else.  That flight was the only one that worked.  So I booked it.  And the anxiety started almost immediately.

My husband asked if I wanted to book a few days in Denver, either with or without him and our boys, so I could see family and friends.   And,  a part of me really wanted to.  But a part of me knew that just this flight, as silly as it seems, was going to be all I could handle that day.   It would end up being just a very short layover.

The morning we left Pittsburgh, I started saying little prayers (or pleas) for strength and calm.   Please don’t let me lose it on the flight.  Please don’t let me lose it and make my husband worry about me.  Please don’t make me have to explain to my sons who don’t yet know their mommy was married before why mommy is so upset.  Please don’t let me throw up on the plane.

I was actually very calm until the pilot came on to let us know we were about an hour out of Denver.  Clear skies and a smooth landing were anticipated.  And, I couldn’t stop thinking about Greg.  About the life we tried to make there.  About all the years I spent flying in and out of that airport.  About the fall foliage and snowball fights and springs and summers spent on the rivers fishing.  Of football and hockey and basketball and baseball and how we loved all of it being RIGHT THERE downtown.  And before I knew it, I realized that all the things I was remembering about Denver were the awesome times we had enjoyed there.  For the first time, in a very long time, the joy was first and foremost.  The pain was just peripheral.

We landed, and I took a deep long breath.  And I asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind taking the boys ahead.   We had a very short layover, and we would be boarding our flight home almost immediately.  But I just wanted a  moment in that place.   In that terminal.  In that city.   Just a moment.  To reflect.  To honor.  To just be.

One of the first things I saw coming out of the gate was a Tornado Shelter sign.  They are all over the terminal – in alcoves and the restrooms.  Greg used to joke that if anyone was ever going to get stuck in DIA during a tornado it would be me.  I am just the kind of person that has all kinds of crazy stuff happen to her.  So the signs were always sort of a joke.

So, I stood by that sign and stared at it for a few minutes.   And I took a huge breath of Colorado (albeit terminal) air.  And I smiled when I realized I didn’t need shelter from that tornado anymore.  The storm had passed.  And I was still standing.

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Swimming Through Shame 

   
 
This has been the hardest piece I have ever written. I have written and deleted. Put it away, come back, written and deleted. It’s been weeks of this. I’ve written about suicide, death, grief, infertility and yet this has been the hardest piece to write.  

Perhaps because it’s so deeply personal. Perhaps because it opens up all my insecurities for the reading audience to see. Perhaps because in writing it all down, I know the excuses will have to stop and changes will have to be, and should be, made.  

You see, this piece is about admitting that I feel like I failed myself. This piece is about admitting I failed my children this past summer. I didn’t give them the summer they deserved or should have had. And, I didn’t because of my own issues. My own insecurities. I wasted precious time with them worrying about things that in the scheme of life, simply shouldn’t be so damn important.  

I’ve always struggled with my weight and body image. I was a chubby child – the tops of my thighs touched at birth and they still do. Even when I was running 50 plus miles a week they touched. I have a bubble butt/junk in the trunk/a big backside. I’ve always been bigger than all of my friends. And it’s always been a source of insecurity for me. Sharing clothes with my besties wasn’t something I could do.  

In high school I thinned out a bit, running track and playing tennis, but I was still a bigger girl and still longed to be thin like so many of my friends able to wear short shorts and skirts. And it didn’t matter how much I ran or how much tennis I played, I was always a solid size 12 when my friends were 0-4’s.   

In my twenties I focused on being healthy and fit. I worried less about numbers on the scale and the size of my jeans and more about how I felt. I was running, fly fishing, hiking, swimming and active. And I was with a man who told me I was beautiful every single day. I embraced my body for the first time in my entire life.  

The thinnest I have ever been, and will ever be again, was after my first husband’s suicide. I had lost a bit of weight before his death, as I had been extremely ill with a flu that turned into a pericarditis. It was a scary time for all of us, although we couldn’t imagine that in a few short weeks our lives would be forever altered by Greg’s death.  

I readily admit I am an emotional eater. However, after Greg’s death I couldn’t even keep crackers down. Nothing stayed in, and that is if I attempted to eat at all. My mother force fed me and it usually just landed me in the bathroom – a mess at both ends. My body was wrecked. But man, was I skinny. I wore a size 6 for the first time ever in my adult life. And in a sick way, it felt good.  

I still remember running into the stereotypical Newport Beach “OC” Housewife a month or so after Greg died. I was at a Starbucks getting a tea, having just walked miles trying to clear my head and I heard from the other side of the store: 

“Oh my GAWD, Katie! Look at you! You are SO thin! I mean, I’ve never SEEN you THIS SKINNY! My GAWD! I mean, it’s certainly sad about your husband, but WOW! Death looks good on you! I really can’t believe it!” 

Um, thanks? 
So, you see, me and my body image have always been a little skewed.   

As I processed my grief and tried to realize some sense of normalcy in my life and then, in the years that followed, started dating again, my love of cooking and food and entertaining came back. The pounds crept back. But I was running and doing boot camp and happy with the way I looked. And, again, when I started dating the man who became my husband and the father of our children, I was again lucky to be with a man who told me I was beautiful every single day.  

So how did it all come apart again? Infertility treatments meant I started my twin pregnancy about 6 pounds over where I wanted to be, but I had a very healthy pregnancy and actually was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans a month after delivery. I started running again as soon as I was cleared (although let’s be honest, after pushing two full term kids through my lady cavity 20 minutes apart I came up against a problem I never had before – peeing a little when I ran or jumped or even coughed or sneezed. These are the things no one talks about. Post delivery only invest in black running pants. You can thank me later).  

Then, when the boys were about two, the bottom fell out. Two very sudden and tragic deaths – my husband’s best friend and my husband’s father occurred within seven weeks of each other. Two more family friends died after lengthy battles with cancer. My immediate family was rocked by significant health issues. My best friend who doesn’t live near close enough was losing her father. Managing all of this while grieving and trying to be a supportive wife and mom and lawyer and friend and writer, well, it all took its toll. Fifty pounds of toll.  

Fifty pounds. Tipping the scale at over 200 pounds. Out of shape, clothes bursting at the seams and cellulite in places I didn’t even know you could get cellulite. I’m embarrassed it came to this. And, ashamed. Ashamed because of what it has done to me and mostly to my kids.  

It hit me one day at a kid friendly beach near where we live, called the Lagoon. I had my bathing suit on, but I also had a sundress over it. I didn’t plan on taking that sundress off. It would allow me to wade in the water with our boys, but I wouldn’t have to expose my body and my insecurities to everyone else there.  

“Mama, didn’t you bring your suit with you?” 

“I have it on, love. I just don’t want to swim. I’ll pull you on your boogie board or we can make a castle. We will still have fun.” 

“But it’s so hot Mama. Just take your dress off and play in the water.” 

But I didn’t. Not that day. Not the 10 times after when I took them. I sent regrets to beach barbecues and beach days that friends were hosting, simply because the thought of being in a swim suit made me so anxious. Birthday invites to swim parties made me queasy. I have beautiful girlfriends with beautiful bodies. And I guarantee none of them would ever shame me. I do that just fine on my own. But I just couldn’t do it – I couldn’t expose myself like that. 
Because of my own shame, my own rut, my own anxiety over MY body issues, my kids missed out. And I know that is not the mom I want to be. Not now, not ever.  

So, when we went to Lake Michigan for a family wedding and beach vacation, I swore to myself and for our kids, I would not cover up. I would swim and play and walk and do it all in my suit. And I did. I felt exposed. And, yes, I did feel embarrassed. I have a beautiful sister who still rocks a bikini after having 3 kids. Her three daughters, my nieces, are the epitome of California beach beauties.  However, I took off my cover up and I jumped in the water and laughed and splashed and swam and played. I had the time of my life with my family.  
I did it. Because I had two little boys who asked me on the plane if I was going to spend our trip swimming with them or just sitting on the sand in my dress. And it ripped my heart out. I will not ruin memories for my children because of my own insecurities.  

I will get healthy again for them. So we all can enjoy summer days with abandon. The way they were meant to be enjoyed. And in the meantime, I will work to embrace myself, all of it, and make time for myself, and show up, even in a bathing suit if that is asked of me.  

I’ll even pose for pictures. Something I would never have done before.