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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Riding to Work

"Strange, what brings these past things
so vividly back to us, sometimes."
Harriet Beecher Stowe

It is my first commute since Lloyd left me. I have to plan my commutes to work as I often need my car for my job, but there have been numerous opportunities.  I just have not taken advantage of them. I know he would have been disappointed in me, but I also know he would have understood. All things in their time and place.

Despite leaving so early, I had not thought I would need a head light, but the sky is cloudy and the fog is as thick as a blanket so I quickly slap one on.  As I leave, there is nobody to tell me to be careful, and I again felt the immensity of my loss.  Yes, I still have people who love and care for me, but not in the same all encompassing way he did.   Everything changes.  I have always struggled with that.  Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, "To have in this uncertain world some stay which cannot be undermined is of the utmost importance."  You, love, were my stay.  And I flounder in these new waters. But I move forward and still you sustain me.  I realize you will always be with me because you became a part of me.

I am surprised when I notice the  yellow sweet clover is in bloom daintily lining the edge of the road.  It just seems too early.  Time has a way of slipping past us wasted if not noticed and appreciated.  I do not recall seeing sweet clover on last week-ends century ride, but perhaps I was busy talking. How very peculiar it is that I notice so many things on a bicycle that I do not notice when in my car. 

I smile thinking of how I would have told Lloyd about what was in bloom when I got home and how he would have bemoaned the fact that there is so little sweet clover now due to the highway department mowing the roadsides.  Like him,  I see little sense in all that mowing unless it is near an intersection.  But for me it is not merely because of the killing of the bee pasture, but because it pleases my eye.  There is a certain beauty in the unkempt, gypsy roadways of the countryside. Grass does not really take well to taming.  There is inevitably the errant rebel blade that is higher than the rest and will not bow to the will of the mower.

The daisies also are also in bloom, and I remember how when we first started our lives together I would gather them from the horse pasture and put them in a vase to bring their cheery brightness into our small mobile home.  I remember the velvety softness of B.J.'s soft horse lips nuzzling me as I walked the field, the moist warmth of his breath tickling my ear, his earthy, horsy smell a tonic. I laugh out loud remembering the look on Lloyd's face the day he unexpectedly came home and I was cleaning sans clothing because I had so little clothing and did not want to soil what little I did have.  We did not yet have our fifteen dollar sale barn washing machine, and dirty clothes also needed to be hauled the the laundromat.  And I always bathe after cleaning. That look was priceless and is still with me. The feel and smell of him.  Every sense engaged. The mattress on the floor because we could not yet afford a bed to put it on.  Youth and love sustained us, a love we were fortunate enough to grow against all  odds. 

I become thankful for the time we had and regret those times we wasted on petty, silly, little fights or disagreements.  As with child rearing, couples should pick battles carefully and be grateful to have a stay in this world. How few have any real meaning down the road. But even in the disagreements, there are memories to be treasured and growth to be had as we find our paths.  I particularly remember telling him one time that it was rather silly, fighting, when each of us knew the other was going nowhere. We made each other a promise.  The lines from a forgotten movie come to mind, " I made a promise.  You're old enough to remember when that meant something."  And it did. Oddly enough, even with him gone it still does.

Rather than lessening, the fog thickens as I crest the big climb that lies between me and my place of employment.  I am surprised at the relative sparseness of cars.  What a difference an hour makes in morning traffic. For just a few moments, it is as if it is just me and my bicycle in this world: no cars, no lights, no people.  The fog conceals whatever animal is making the rustling sound in the woods that side the climb, and I hope that nothing runs in front of my front wheel.  At this speed, unless I fall over the side of the guard rail, I will likely not get hurt.  But I still don't want to fall.  I cannot tell you how much enjoy being able to sleep on my shoulders much of the night without waking up with them aching. Not enough, perhaps, to quit this nonsense that is riding a bicycle and its potential dangers, but enough that I appreciate what I have. 

Traffic picks up as I near the construction area.  I take the middle of the lane to discourage people carelessly passing and not leaving me room.  At least the fog has lessened in this area so the danger lessens. The smell of exhaust begins to claim the air, taking away the morning freshness.  But I realize that I am singing, that I have been singing for quite a while, memories spilling from my mouth into the air and up to heaven, a kind of prayer.   And if you are up there, if there is indeed a heaven, I know you are listening and smiling. I  miss you, love, but I am happy today.  I know you would not begrudge me that, but will rejoice in my happiness.   I am trying to find the woman you once said was "as tough as a hickory nut." Perhaps my bicycle will  help me find her. And there is something about commuting by bicycle that just makes a work day more bearable, particularly on a warm, muggy morning with summer right around the corner. 

After work I head home and really take the long way home.  The ride back does not haunt me with memories the way the ride in did, but it is pleasant.  When you were alive and waiting, I never did this.  There were thoughts to share. I took a back way, but not the long back way.  But you are not there waiting, and while I regret that with all my heart there is a certain freedom now that I don't know that I have ever possessed before.  It is going to take some getting used to, but it may bring joy, this unexplored path.  The only way I know to find out is to ride it and see what happens. Not that I would not change things back if I could, but I can't.  And I am alive and may have years of being alive ahead of me, years that are a gift so long as I have my health, my memories,  my children, my friends, and my bicycle.  Hopefully I can hold on to that so I don't wake up one day and realize it is gone because you can't get those moments back.  You can only remember them. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"It is good to have friends who understand that there is a time
for crying and a time for laughing, and that sometimes the two
are very close together."
Lois Lowry

Today was the my Story Century, a century to a quaint spot that is kind of in the middle of nowhere with no really good way to get there.  I adore the middle of the century, but the first and last have too much flat farm land for my taste.  I endure the flat fields for the middle of the ride which has some rolling hills,  low traffic, and tree lined roads with new scenery.  

When I scheduled the century, I did not realize I scheduled it on a holiday, and I thoroughly expect Story to be overflowing with horses, riders, motorcycles,  and tourists  when we arrive.   People can deal with it.  I warned people prior to the ride, prior their arriving, as well as warning them of gravel roads and possible detours.  Perhaps this was not the wisest thing, as when I get to the start there are only three others who have come to ride, all of whom are normally faster than me but are really faster than me at the present moment:  Jason Willis, Matt Tinal, and Steve Rice.  I also find that for some weird reason, I scheduled the start time at 7:00 a.m.  I never start rides at 7:00 a.m. unless there is a really good reason to start them that early like extra distance.  But oh well, they are nice about my lateness and it gave Steve Rice time to get there before we start as he had e-mailed to leave a cue sheet as he was running late.  There was a time when making this mistake would have mortified me and I would have been very embarrassed, but today I take it in stride.  I am determined to be kind to myself this year.  I am glad they are following suit.  I still am not up to par, but I am moving forward out of the rut I have existed in for what seems like forever.

My husband, my love, is gone.  There is nothing I can do to change that fact. Perhaps the greatest gift I can give him is to become more compassionate and more understanding, not only of others, but of myself. Perhaps the greatest gift I can give him is to live what is left of my own life well because we never know what life will hand us. There are no do overs.  One friend told me shortly after my love's death that he was glad I  posted Lloyd's picture from when we were younger on Facebook because he had only known him after the constant pain and illness had sucked so much life out of him making him old way before his time.  And there was that, but he was a very private person, difficult to know.  And in the end, looks are transient.  What is important is the inside of a person. I decide to learn from this, or as my mother used to say, "Make hay while the sun shines."  Rain comes, sometimes unexpectedly. 

At the start of the ride, the clouds lightly scatter the sky, but the weather person has said they will clear for a lovely afternoon.  And they do trail away, almost without my noticing, leaving a pale blue sky and brilliant sunshine in their wake.  While we are not burning the roads up, we are doing a decent pace and nobody seems to be miserable.  It is not long before I am cursing my jacket wishing I had been bolder about the morning chill.  I tell all of them to feel free to ride off, that I do not expect them to wait for me.  I have my camera and I know the way.  But we do most of the ride together.  I even make  it through most of the hills in the middle of the ride with them though I feel quite certain they are modifying their pace to accommodate mine.  One thing about riding a bicycle:  you can always slow your pace some, though for many it is difficult and they do not enjoy a ride if they have to do this, but you can only increase your pace so much unless you want to bonk mid-ride.  It is inevitably hardest on the slower person.

We reach the first store stop only to find that like so many small country stores, it has gone out of business.  Luckily, because I am thirsty and have not been drinking,  a few miles up the road is a second store that was a control during the Indiana 300K last year.   We stop briefly, and head on.  While I had thought that perhaps the holiday week-end would bring traffic, thus far the traffic has been light.  It actually remains that way the entire ride other than a short stretch when we near Brownstown.

It is during this middle part of the ride, my favorite part due to the green lushness, that I ask about lunch.  I like to eat in Story, but I don't want to hold everyone up.  The food there has always been superb, but  the service is normally slow.  Matt tells me that Jason does not normally eat lunch on a ride, and Jason tells me that because of this Matt has brought "pocket chicken."  We briefly puzzle about what this is thinking that it almost sounds like something "dirty" when suddenly, Steve suggests that Matt has found, intentionally or unintentionally, his Mad Dog name, and I realize that I am laughing, really laughing, and it feels splendid.  And I laugh even harder when he stops for a bathroom break and says he is going to drain his pocket chicken. "She suddenly found herself laughing without bitterness."  (L.M Montgomery).  I think briefly of how Lloyd made me laugh with those crazy sayings of his and I think that was a big part of why I fell in love with him.  His humor was so similar to my own, a rather odd type of humor per my children.  And I am not bitter at the memory.  Yes, there is still longing, regret that we only had thirty five years together,  but this laughter is good and filling and somehow healing.  And perhaps I am no kinder than I was before, because Matt does not like his new nickname, but still the laughter peals from me making it  hard to breath as I pedal up the hill.  And I realize it has been quite some time since I have laughed like this.  And I am thankful for friends that bring brightness into what had become a dark world.  And I am thankful for friends that do not make me feel that I should not laugh as it has only been five months since my husband passed, but laugh with me.

When we reach Story, the line is short outside, and we actually get our food more quickly than we normally do on rides.  The barbecue looks good and Jason decides to eat.  And it IS good, though a tad sloppy: all my food there has been delicious. Matt does not get a sandwich, and I refrain from asking if has has eaten his pocket chicken;-)  But he patiently sits with us while we eat.  Briefly I think that I would probably ride much faster if I watched my diet as closely as Jason and Matt watch theirs, and not just because I would be skinnier.  Perhaps another day.

And. as rides do, the ride ends and people leave.  I begin to suffer leg cramps about ten miles out from the end, but I am pleased to have made it that far without cramping up as I just have not been riding as I normally do and I have ridden as hard as I could most of the day.  I laugh as I clean up after the ride because both legs cramp in the thighs when I try to get out of the bath tub.  What if I can't get out?  I no longer have Lloyd to save me from the silly things I do to myself. And for a moment, I am on the verge of crying, because laughing and crying are, as Lois notes, close together. And I am worn out.  But I manage.  And each time I manage an obstacle without his help or advice, I become a bit more confident.

I am lonely, something I have only really realized or admitted to myself in the past few weeks, and I wish I could share the days happenings with someone as I did with Lloyd when he was alive, and so I share them with you if you are interested.  If you are not, you quit reading this or never started.  And I hope your day was as pleasant as mine has been, despite the leg cramps and exhaustion. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Grief is like an ocean; it comes on
waves ebbing and flowing.  Sometimes
the water is calm and sometimes it is overwhelming.
All we can do is learn to swim."
Vicki Harrison
It is time to move along and finally I feel that I can do this.  Yes, there will be future times of despair, when I think of giving up my cycling, sitting on the couch, and doing nothing.  But life is too precious and too short:  to remain anchored by grief is almost sacrilegious, a rejection of this most precious gift, almost a slap in the face to the creator.  It is easier said than done, this letting go, but it is a necessity.  And it is not a rejection of what we were and what we had but an affirmation.  Life awaits with all her twists, turns, and surprises, and perhaps there are still some good things in store for me.  And I do have memories. 

These are the thoughts that run through my brain during a solitary after work ride that I forced myself out on.  No, I still don't have the eagerness back, that longing for work to end so I can explore and dream, but I am better able to make myself go out.  I am walking during work breaks again and even at times during my lunch hour. Inevitably, I sleep better and feel better even if my bike sometimes still must hold me as I cry.  But while I still cry  I also am learning to grin again, as shaky as the first steps of a child. Like a child, I will fall on my rear, but I will learn and that is what our journey here is about. 

The petals of tulip poplars confetti the earth on Eden Road, telling the story of the big winds that swept through the area recently.  Spring flowers still show in places, shyly announcing that winter has relinquished her cold reign.  And while it will not happen this year,  my strokes are still tentative and floundering at times, laced with regret, guilt, and longing, they are becoming stronger and more sure. There are other years and other brevets and new people to meet and ride with.  Yes, I have some regrets of missing PBP this year, but I am weaker on the bike and internally than I have been in years and so, for me, I believe it was the best decision.  But there are other years and other rides and I am not so very old.  I will learn to swim.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ana: The Little Cat Nobody Wanted: An open letter

"Until one has loved an animal,
a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
Anatole France

 My Dear Little Ana,

I remember when someone dropped you off next door the day the trash is picked up, you and the black kitten/cat.  I say kitten/cat because you were half grown.  Your brother ran from me.  You were in a tree and would not come down.  "Not my problem" I thought, knowing I already had a houseful of cats.  

The next day you were both gone, and frankly,  I was glad.  I hoped  you found shelter and food and someone to love you, but again, it was not my problem.  Then a couple of days later, as I went into the shed, there you were looking up at me from Rocky's old winter bed.  You would not allow me near you, and as I went to get food, you disappeared, that magnificent tail waving behind you .  But  I left the food as I can't stand for anyone to go hungry.  

It was gone.  This dance went on for a few days before you allowed me to touch you.  You began to listen for me, to peek out from under the shed, your hiding place, and finally you let me touch you.  Once we became friends, you could not get enough of me, wanting to come in the house, wanting to be petted, and always talking to me.  I contacted the cat shelter hoping that that they would take you if for no other reason than Lloyd's memorial donations went there.  But no, they would not guarantee acceptance.  So I began the search for a home for you.

I decided that perhaps if I had you spayed, someone would adopt you to avoid the adoption fee and vaccination fees.  By now it was becoming a chore to keep you out of the house, but I could not bring you in and risk infecting the other cats that are my responsibility.  Perhaps I should have taken that chance, perhaps you would still be here if I had been a little less protective or a little more giving, but I did not. 

Because I was concerned about not being able to regulate what you ate outside, I made arrangements for you to go to the vet's the night before your surgery.  When I took you in, the woman at the desk tried to convince me that I wanted to keep you.  I explained that I already had three cats, that when you have one cat, nobody thinks anything of it.  Two cats, well she likes cats.  Three cats, well she REALLY likes cats.  Four cats and you become the crazy cat lady.  And cats are expensive, particularly as they age.  So, my sweet, I denied you, but please believe that in my heart unless I had found you a good inside home, you would have lived here.  And you were loved regardless. 

You were scared when I took you to the vet, but not like my other cats.  You hopped out of the carrier talking to me all the while.  I heard a slight meow when they drew blood to check for feline leukemia, and I rejoiced when I heard that it was negative.  Assuring you it would be okay, I left.  Oh, Ana, I did not know I was lying.  

When I picked you up the next day, I knew the surgery had been harder on you that the other cats I have had spayed.  The vet pulled me in rather than just sending her home and said you were bleeding some from the incision and that she had re-glued the incision.  She then put you in a body bandage telling me to leave it on a few hours and asked to see her the next day.  She also told me of their emergency service is  there would be problems, but failed to tell me it closed at 11 or midnight.  

When I got ready for bed, I took your bandage off.  I was surprised you were not walking around as the other cats had done, but you did eat a bit.  There was some blood. As you know, I checked on your hourly throughout the night, but saw no improvement.  When I saw blood I called the emergency service that was closed.  I then called the emergency service in Louisville.  The vet was kind and said I could bring you, but he warned that it would be very expensive, estimating at least five hundred dollars.  He said you would probably be fine until morning.   You laid in the cat bed until I found you in the litter box following  a bowel movement.  Litter had dried in the blood that was oozing.  I thought I might do more harm than good cleaning it off due to infection risks and it was only an hour or two until the  office opened, so I waited.

When I took you in, they said they would have to open you back up and try to find where you were bleeding.  Again, I deserted you there.  Please believe me that it was only because I had to.  At the time, they said they were not sure you would make it.  "Please, God," I prayed, "Don't let me lose my little Ana or have to make another decision as I just did with my husband."  But God did not listen or did not care.  He had other plans for you I suppose.

 They called after your surgery saying you came through but were still not doing well.  The vet said either you had a clotting disorder or you had eaten rat poison or caught a mouse that had eaten rat poison.  Again, had I brought you in, if it was rat poison, I could have saved you.  But I did not.  So while I will never know which it was, I ask your forgiveness if I played my part in killing you before your time.   My daughter says that animals don't hold grudges, that this is one of the lessons that they teach us, and perhaps she is right, but still Ana, I ask your forgiveness.

The vet assistant called later than evening saying you were not doing so well and saying that they could continue to give you fluids, or we could take you to Louisville and try a blood transfusion.  Louisville has full time awake staff, and they do not. When she called to check the cost, it was going to run about $1,500.00.  I should have sent you, but I didn't.  One lesson I have yet to learn that my husband knew so well is that money is only paper. Things are only things.  Spirits are special and more valuable than either.   Every time we pick paper or things over a spirit, we damage our own spirit. The assistant said she would make a special trip back in to check on you at 11:00 and call me.  

My daughter came up as I felt I knew what the decision would be.  My son and his wife offered to pay for your transfusion.  All knew how this was taking me backwards to the loss of Lloyd.  It was also going to mean another surgery, however, and there was still the possibility that you would not make it. So, Ana, rightly or wrongly I declined.  And honestly, I could have paid for it.  I did not need their money.  I just have an abhorrence at the thought of being dependent so am careful with money.  Again, I scar my soul.  My daughter also offers to pay, and I know she does not have the money.  It  shames me.  But it also warms me knowing what kind and giving children I was blessed with.

 When the vet assistant called later that evening, Tiff and I went in.  I was amazed at how you already knew my voice, my smell, and that little meow, my little vocal sweetie.  It broke my heart to see you laying there, unable to move.  Still I can't help but think you were comforted.  Odd, that the betrayer should seem to bring you some solace.  When the assistant pointed out your breathing had quickened, you were panting, you were anemic, and your body temperature was dropping she recommended putting you to sleep and I agreed.  

Today I buried you wrapped in the green blanket that was my son's when he was a baby, your little body as light as a kitten.  I had grabbed the blanket out of the cedar chest that holds memories thinking it would be warmer than a towel when I took you back the day following your spaying.  And today I  hope it keeps you warm on your trip to heaven.  I have asked Lloyd and the other pets that I have lost to guide you and keep you safe, safer than I was able to.

Ana, I hope I did the right thing and made the right decision.  If not, I apologize.  I apologize for not keeping you safe and warm and fed and loved.  I apologize for telling you it would be alright when it was not alright.   But Ana, I am only human and not as wise as you and your kind.  

Good night, sweet little Ana.  I am amazed at the depth of my feelings for you in such a short time period.  You played a role, however painful, in keeping my soul awakened.  I don't regret meeting you and your gentle spirit, but I do regret the shortness of our time together.  Sleep well.