Tag Archives: loss

His wife died

She died yesterday. His wife has been sick for a while, and we all knew it would be soon. Friends offer comfort, using the same phrases we have all used “I’m so sorry” “She’s not suffering now” “You’re in our prayers.”

Everyone means well and what else can they say? I wonder, as he nods and shakes hands, or accepts the endless casserole dishes, if he wishes they would all leave him alone?

I watch the delicate ballet of people moving slowly, the way people do when they get up at night, trying not to wake rest of the household. They are being considerate and kind, and he knows it. It’s all they can do, really, and he knows that, too.

I’m grateful that the usual things are happening for him. Things he can count on, tradition, ritual, expected words and gestures. I know that soon he will be catching himself walking oddly, alone instead of in tandem with her. He’ll throw away countless pots of coffee before he remembers he only needs to make enough for one. How many browning bananas will he throw into the compost pile before he changes the grocery list he’s been using for years?

How long before his friends begin urging him to “get out,” a euphemism for “find someone new.” Will he decide to keep learning the rules of solitaire- living alone?

I, too, am glad she is no longer suffering, but I feel the usual disconnect. This is another experience I won’t have.

My break-ups were devastating. But they were the result of betrayal, abandonment, not the natural progression of life, which is death. After the last, I made a conscious decision to stop trying to do something at which I obviously sucked. I chose to be alone. Now, after several years, I’m poor but man, I could teach a class in Living Alone and Loving It.

I’m not glad that this is something I’ll never know, like childbirth or having health insurance. This is just an observation.

And I’m really looking forward to getting on the Trail.

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Riding The Bus

My best friend was dying. There is no gentle way to say it, and I want to be clear about why my trip was so urgent. As a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), I work with dying people all the time. I know what it looks like and how it sounds. His soft voice over the phone said simply “I’ve got stage 4 lung cancer, Troutman.”

“Ahh, Holbrook, I’m so sorry. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

My car sat at the garage awaiting a fan assembly. I’d spent $1500 in the past few months on oil leak repairs, new tires, new radiator, and this last made me groan. No matter how much was right with your car, if there’s no fan to cool the engine, you can’t drive. I could do nothing but wait. Snow and ice storms in my part of the mountains had made travel hazardous.

Frustrated, feeling trapped, I considered renting a car. The expense quickly brought me back to reality. The bus, I thought, and went online in search of schedules and ticket prices. I could buy a round trip ticket for less than the cost of gas if I drove myself. The idea of spending several hours on the bus actually appealed to me. I could read. Think.  Compose something for my friend.

My bus left Friday night at 9:15 pm. The other options were nine and 9:30 am, neither of which was possible for Richard, my landlord. I quickly realized that while the bus might be less costly it was definitely not convenient, and public transportation meant you had to rely on someone else to take you there and pick you up.

My landlord agreed to take me to the bus station and pick me up when I got back. I appreciated his generosity-the bus was 20 miles away in Asheville. I gave him $20 for gas and his time, acknowledging one of the reasons more people don’t take the bus. You’re dependent on other people’s schedules, not just the bus schedule. Still, even with the extra $20 I gave him, it was less than driving and less than renting. I printed my tickets at home, one tiny bit of convenience, and packed a small carry-on bag so I wouldn’t have to haul around a suitcase or pay a baggage fee.

Richard dropped me at the station early-several hours early- to avoid being caught in bad weather after dark. In the mountains, winding roads with severe curves can be treacherous once the sun, and the temperature, goes down.

I walked into the station at 5 pm. There were many businesses on Tunnel Road and I thought I’d have a leisurely dinner, walk around a bit, and settle in with a book once it got cold and dark. I checked in with the station manager, tucked my canvas bag into a locker (4 quarters), and walked the 2 blocks to an inviting Mexican restaurant where I  enjoyed a quiet meal.

When I got back to the station, a young black girl was stuffing her own bag in a nearby locker. I sat down and pulled my book out.

“You know they close up at 4:30?” she asked me after she closed her locker.

“What?” I asked, looking up form my book, thinking I had misunderstood.

“They close at 4:30 and open back up at 8,” she said, nodding at the man behind the counter, who was beginning to jingle keys.

“We can’t stay in here?” I said, feeling stupid. She shook her head. The manager, a balding, round fellow with kind eyes shook his head before he said, “She’s right, we don’t have any buses between 4 and 8, so they don’t pay us to oepn when there aren’t any buses coming or going.”

Maybe if more people rode the bus, I thought and sighed. I walked out and spent the next 3 hours walking and visiting shops I would never had visited any other time.

First, I stopped in at Anna’s Linens and marveled at what people will pay for a dish to put their soap. I looked at towels, bathroom accessories, curtains, and placemats. I felt no urge at all to buy anything, but there was a couple at the cash register insisting that the husband get a veteran’s discount an a sale item. It put me in mind of all the ‘dealing with the public’ jobs I’d had and wanted to pat the patient salesgirl on the head. The wife was incensed that they couldn’t get a discount on top of the sale price (a 30% mark-down) and the sales girl explained, repeatedly, that sale items did not qualify for any other discounts. I left before the manager showed up to give the woman the extra 10% just to get them out of the store.

My next stop was the Dollar General where I walked down aisles badly in need of attention, but not likely to get it, since I only spotted 2 employees in the store, both working cash registers. Clothes and toys lay on the floor, Christmas ornaments spilled from packaging and boxes of snacks had been torn open. Who had a party back here? I thought, and once again felt sorry for the employees who would have to clean this mess up after closing. For $7 an hour.

I found a pair of  gloves for $1 and a velour lounge set on sale for $10 ( My gloves and a sweater were in my bag in the station locker.) I put them in my basket along with a travel size toothpaste and toothbrush combo for $1.

My next stop was the grocery store. Ingles had a cafe and I thought I could get away with reading and sipping something hot without buying anything else. This Ingles boasted a Starbucks right next to the little cafe-a few tables next to windows near the produce section-where I bought a regular coffee and a slice of pumpkin bread.

I sat down next to a window, sipped my overpriced coffee, and read my paperback. My feet warmed up, my hands warmed up and the coffee eventually made me want to visit the bathroom. Ingles also has a very nice bathroom. I didn’t feel bad about hanging out in Ingles because I shop there every week.

After my refreshing stop at Ingles, I realized I still had over an hour to go. I walked, carefully, carefully, through the parking lot mined with ice patches and brick hard snow clumps, to the street where I waited for the light so I could cross. I assumed cars wouldn’t see me so I took care to cross at the intersection, watching my feet so I didn’t slip, while still keeping an eye on cars. I breathed a lot easier when I made it to the other side of the street without incident.

From there, I walked to the Cracker Barrel. I mingled with many people desperate for a table, obviously hungry people, and I was glad I’d already had dinner. I walked through the store and marveled at the things people will buy. There was a set of wind chimes made of wire and glittery metal butterflies in unlikely colors. The usual table tucked away with Christmas items on sale. Candy in all colors. Pictures of pink-bottomed children to hang in the bathroom. More pictures, some lighted, of Bible verses.

I didn’t buy anything. I stopped at the Dairy Queen next door and got a soda to get the taste of coffee out of my mouth. Jeopardy was on and I eventually got into a conversation with a couple of women, about my age, about some of the questions. We were thrilled when we got one right that the smartly dressed contestants missed.

I got back to the station just after they opened back up, glad to have  place to read my book without feeling guilty.

A Mexican family came in shortly after I started my book. A mother and father (I assumed) were sending off a teenage daughter. Two brothers carried in the luggage, one large black suitcase, and one large leopard print bag. The counter man weighed everything and told them the leopard suitcase was way over, the black bag way underweight and if they switched items from one to the other, they could save $100. I thought that was very kind, he didn’t have to do that. The few people in the station spent the next 30 minutes being entertained by the unexpected amount of underwear that came out of the leopard print bag and was tucked into the black bag. The brothers and father retired to the sitting area and let the women handle all that. A younger sister was charged with the care of the three children with them. All three were under 8 years old, so she had her hands full, especially since she was still learning to walk on the stiletto boots she was wearing. My Lord, I thought, she can’t be more than 13, what on earth is she doing…I stopped myself, suddenly remembering the first pair of heels I’d been allowed to wear-to church-and smiled at the young woman. So they were too tall for her age, I thought. So? She’s taking care of her little brothers and sisters, let  her have too-tall heels.

The bus pulled in at exactly the scheduled time. The seats were in twos, with the aisle between. Each of got our set and during the ride I noticed a lot of people taking advantage of the quiet and the extra seat to grab a nap.

I watched the countryside roll by, the streetlights shining on flat snow, like cake icing.

We had one stop in Spartanburg. Three people got off, including a blind man with his guide dog. No one got on.

When I recognized the skyline of my old hometown, I called my friend to pick me up. Downtown Charlotte after midnight is still active. My friend was concerned that a “weirdo” might spirit me away. I looked around, of course, I’m not naive, but I saw people like me, people traveling from one place to another. We were mostly tired.

The bus terminal in Charlotte was much larger than Asheville, but it was pretty much the same. Heavy wire benches, vending machine, a loud roof mounted TV, bank of telephones near the restroom. The Charlotte facility also offered a coffeeshop/gift shop that was still open. My friend got there before I succumbed to the urge to buy a $2 soda.

My return trip started Monday morning. Cold, but nothing like Asheville, the snow on the hillsides was beginning to melt. My bus went first to Winston-Salem, where I had to change to get on a bus for Ashville. The countryside rolled by in shades of gray. Gray sky, gray pavement, gray trees, gray snow by the road. I closed my eyes and listened to the low thunder of tires.

There was no loud cell-phone conversation, no children shouting or crying. There were more people, but once again, mostly people like me, traveling. Alone.

In Winston, I had about an hour so I walked up the street past several restaurants that were obviously closed until I reached a submarine shop. I had a full size sub and tea. It felt nice, being on my own, watching people, knowing my schedule was the bus schedule. I didn’t feel any of the stress I usually did traveling, needing to leave, wanting to get on the road before rush hour, get home before dark. I was a rider, not a driver. It was wonderfully relaxing.

The bus made a couple of stops in small towns. We didn’t get off, just picked up another rider.

Richard was waiting for me when we pulled into Asheville. We talked about my cats, which I had missed, and the weather predictions. I was glad to be home, and even though I’d been on the road longer than I would have I been driving, I wasn‘t nearly as tired. We laughed about my journey through the shops of Tunnel Road and I said I knew where to buy my next set of shower curtains. Mainly, I was glad to be back, the way I always feel when I get home from a trip and not nearly as tired.

The extra time had given me a chance to think about the reason I was making the trip. I thought through some of the things I wanted to tell my friend, and thought about what I could do for him in the little time we both had left. Riding the bus gave me a quiet, soothing place  to reflect. I”m glad I chose to travel that way, and I’ll definitely do it again.

What I learned from this trip is that:
One: the bus is very safe, reliable means of transportation. You can get mugged anywhere, the bus station is no more likely than anywhere. I didn’t see any weirdos (not unusually weird, anyway). I didn’t see any teenage runaways, though I looked and wondered where they had all gone. Maybe we just don’t have as many during the winter-at least not coming to Asheville.

Two: The bus is cheaper. I spent $64 on a round trip ticket (a little less because I paid for it online) gave Richard $20 so my total travel cost was $84. My van costs $35-40 to fill up in Asheville, a little less somewhere else. It takes a full tank to get to Charlotte, I have to fill it up when I get there, and I have to fill it up when I get home-that last isn’t something you can’t count. I have to fill it up to go anywhere the next day. So I spend a minimum of $100 when I drive to Charlotte. We aren’t even taking into consideration oil and wear and tear. The savings are worth the inconvenience.

Three: The time. Yeah, it takes me longer, but I’m more relaxed, less tired. I’m willing to give up the time, which I can use reading, writing, or simply observing. And relaxing.

Four: Safety. The people riding the bus are just people. They are going somewhere they need to go. Yes, most of them are doing it because they don’t have a car but I hope gradually more and more people will be doing it because it’s smart.

The Greyhound website guides you through most questions:

http://www.greyhound.com/

There are also some interesting online discussions about bus travel and experiences.

http://www.43things.com/things/view/156673/take-a-greyhound-bus-somewhere

Next time, try something different. Take the bus.

FOR HOLBROOK

My friend, David Holbrook, died yesterday of lung cancer. I don’t think he had celebrated his 70th birthday yet.

We’ve been friends since 1992. I met him shortly after I moved into Hamilton House, in Charlotte, NC. One of the residents, Maude, was trying to coax her cat out of the tree next to her garden apartment. She lived right in front of the pool and since I’d started swimming after work every day we’d become friends as well. I offered to climb up after the cat simply because Maude was so upset about him.

“He doesn’t know how to get down, Kathy. He’s done this before. He gets confused and can’t back down.”

I had a cat and I knew it usually made more sense to let them figure things out on their own. Maude stood under the tree, wringing her hands and shifting her feet. She was 78 years old and well known to everyone in the complex, I knew she wasn’t  neurotic. Obviously her cat had a problem.

“I’ll climb up and get him, Maude, it’s OK.” I smiled and grabbed onto the lower branches of the Maple. The branches were sturdy enough to hold me, and I was wearing overalls and tennis shoes, perfect climbing gear. Tomas, her cat, mewed mournfully as I came closer. He was crouched on a branch further out than I could comfortably reach.

“Come on, Tomas, don’t you want to come down and get some nice supper?” I crooned and inched my way out onto the branch, which sagged under my 93 pounds.

“Hell, I’ll get him down,” a laughing voice boomed underneath me. I looked down and there was a mature man holding a plastic glass filled with ice and amber liquid.

“Kathy, David’s trying to piss me off. Don’t listen to him,” Maude snapped, her hands clenched in front of her.

Holbrook reached down and picked up some pebbles.

“Here, just let me toss some of these…” he pulled his hand back, grinning.

“You better knock that shit off!” I barked, outraged that someone would throw rocks at a cat already in distress.

I reached out, slid my hand around Tomas, and gently tugged him away from the branch. Once he was close enough, I lay on the branch for balance and gathered him into my arms. I stroked him for moment, crooning to help him calm down. I managed to back down the branches, one arm curled around Tomas, the other hand holding on as I made my way down. I handed Tomas off to Maude and dropped the last couple of feet. Maude took him and kissed him, then snapped, “Tomas, you’re not worth this much trouble!”

“Never met a cat that was, “Holbrook said gaily, taking a sip of his drink.

“Nobody asked you, did they?” I said nastily. He looked at me steadily then and said quietly, “I’m David Holbrook, and you sure are a cute little thing. Is rescuing cats your specialty?” He held out the hand not holding the drink and I shook it, “Kathy Troutman. I just moved in. Would you really have thrown rocks at that cat?”

“Hell no, Maude would cut my balls off!” We all laughed and I immediately liked him. We spent the evening sitting out at the pool, eventually being joined by a dozen or so other residents. David and Maude entertained everyone with hilarious stories of Hamilton House over the 20 or so years they bad lived there. Maude and David were both retired, but there was nothing retiring in the way they laughed and told stories.

After that, anytime I was down at the pool, David, or Holbrook as I learned to call him, would keep me company. He knew everyone, as did Maude, and before long I did too. I felt comfortable for the first time in a long time and Holbrook became my friend. He complimented me all the time, but never in a way that made me uncomfortable. He was honest, honest in a way that I could never find fault with, and I think that’s why his compliments were something I valued. When Holbrook said, “Troutman, you are the cutest thing!” I felt pretty, simple as that. He never made advances, never said anything inappropriate, never said, or did, anything to make me distrust him. I felt competely at ease with him.

Once, a friend and I came back from shopping one Saturday afternoon. She lived by the pool, on the other side from Maude. We were walking with shopping bags-most of which were hers-when Holbrook, along with several other guys called out loudly, holding up plastic cups and beer cans.

“Hey, Troutman, where you been? Come keep us company!”
My friend and I walked into the pool area and chatted for a minute before one of the men with Holbrook, a golfing buddy who usually showed up on Saturday, asked ,”So what’s in the bag?”

My friend said coolly, “New underwear. We spent the morning at Victoria’s Secret.” They all gasped and elbowed each other, one asking,”So, do we get to see?” She opened the bag and pulled out a scrap of red silk before dropping it quickly back in the bag, grinning. Most of the guys were groaning, grabbing their chests, pretending to have heart attacks. I brushed her arm and said, “Let’s go, I’m ready to change and hit the pool. See you guys in a bit.” I smiled and turned away. Holbrook called, “Hey, Troutman, you got new underwear in your bag?”

I turned and said quietly, “I don’t wear any.”

We walked away to complete silence. Just as we walked in her door, I heard a soft “Goddamn.”

My friend shut the door and burst out laughing. After that, they watched me a lot, but none of them ever brought that up again- except Holbrook, who liked to say, “Troutman has got a way of shutting down guys who get too nosy.”

Over the years, we talked about everything. Holbrook told me stories about his inglorious past-his words-and more than once I said: You’re kidding! Weren’t you scared of being caught?” I’m not going to give out details, just know that Holbrook lived his life the way he wanted and never apologized. He also never intentionally hurt anyone; never lied, never manipulated…he told me he was the best boyfriend a girl could have, and the worst husband. He married, had two beautiful children. When his marriage ended-and he took complete blame for it-he swore he’d never marry again. He didn’t. His children, on the other hand, he never tired of talking about.

“I don’t know how I did it, Troutman,” he told me more than once, “I have two of the best children a man could ask for. They love me. I don’t know why, I can’t have been the best father, but they do and I think my life has been changed. I am a better man than I would have been without them.”

Then we’d go off on his conviction that marriage was not something he could ever do again.I’d shake my head and laugh “Holbrook, you’ve lived with several women. That’s the same thing, just without paperwork!”
“ You can say that if you want. I know it was different for me. I didn’t cheat on them because I loved them, not because I had a piece of paper that said I couldn’t.”

I realized then that was the big thing for Holbrook; his freedom. He did the things he did because he wanted to, not because he felt he had no choice. If he loved someone, and Holbrook had loved many women, then he wasn’t interested in anyone else. He knew when the relationship had run its course, and he thought to himself every time, “Thank goodness we’re not married.”

You can argue the marriage question all day long and it doesn’t matter whom, if anyone, is right. Holbrook felt as strongly about never getting married again as some people feel about marriage being the only moral lifestyle. To me, it didn’t matter. I did not intend to ever remarry, but I didn’t realize that I still had the ability to love the wrong person.

And I did. Love the wrong person, anyway. Holbrook stayed my friend through a 7-year relationship that ended in me being completely  insane. He listened to my late night calls, crying over what I thought I’d had, what I knew would never be. He listened and he said the man in question was an idiot. It was the balm I needed. It only helped a little, but it helped. We even tried to be couple for a while, but I realized that I was still too damaged. I told him our friendship meant more to me than anything. We went back to being best friends. He is the only man I have ever been able to remain friends with after we stepped over the intimacy line. And that’s because Holbrook was Holbrook. He was honest, as I’ve said. His honesty made it possible for both of us to talk about everything and anything, without fear of reprisal. He didn’t hold grudges, he didn’t add up slights, expecting to be repaid later. He took life day to day and expected what I could give, no more. The only real regret I have is that I couldn’t have been sane, couldn’t have appreciated what he offered. I did appreciate the friendship, which I had little enough of in my life. And I knew even if he pissed me off about something, he’d be OK the next time I called.

We spoke every week. Sometimes, he fussed when I hadn’t called him. He worried that living in the mountains had resulted in me becoming bear food. I loved to hike in the woods and he always told me to take care, carry a gun, when I went into the woods. He enjoyed my stories about my art, my hikes, but he always reminded that I was alone and should take extra care. I didn’t, of course, and he’d shake his head, expecting nothing less from me. He worried about me, and accepted that I, like he, would do what I wanted. We accepted that about each other.

When he told me about the cancer, I knew there was little time. I rode the bus from Asheville because my car was still in the shop. It made for an interesting trip, actually, and gave me lots of time to think. He cried when he saw me, the only time I’ve ever seen my friend Holbrook cry. He didn’t want me to see him that way, he said. I’ve heard that from patients who realize their time is near. They are afraid their family and friends will remember them as helpless and sick. I assured Holbrook that I would always remember him as a pistol, sitting by the pool with a drink in his hand and a smile on his face. He told me I was his best friend. I told him he was mine. He said he was afraid he’d never see me again.

I held him and thought of the very, very few people who could have said that to me. In the years I’ve known him, we’ve shared every thought, evey fear, every frustration and every hope. My only regret is that I couldn’t love him the way he deserved. And he told me that, in fact, I had. My friendship had been important to him and it had been something he could always count on.

The last time I visited him, I bathed his feet, cut his toenails, and massaged warm baby oil into his skin. He laughed with his son about how good it felt. I massaged his feet until he asked for his medication and was dropping off to sleep. I didn’t want him to be awake when I left, and I wanted his last memory of me to be something filled with pleasure. He died two days later.

I loved him in a way I find difficult to describe. His girlfriend had nothing to fear; I wasn’t interested in taking him from her. I realized our friendship meant more to me than having the security of a boyfriend, someone to take me places and buy me dinner. Holbrook reminded me that I was a woman, that I had been special once, that I was smart, and that he valued everything about me. He gave me something none of the men in my life ever had. Honesty and acceptance. He accepted me the way I was and thought more of me for insisting on remaining who I was. I accepted him the same way. I don’t know any other way to put it. I loved him, and he loved me. I will miss him terribly.