we’ve reached the end

I think I’m physically almost ready to go.  The bags are packed; the house is clean and organized; I have a ride to the airport. I have no doubt that I’m forgetting something – to do, to pack, to organize – but it’s too late to figure it out now.  I have two checked suitcases, one carry on and one computer bag; everything I’ve managed to stuff in there will have to do.

Mentally? Not so much.  I feel exceptionally unprepared for what I’m getting ready to do. Somehow, it seemed so far away – so unreal, I suppose – that I never really wrapped my head around the fact that I’m leaving the country for 10 months.  It’s exciting and it’s an honor but it’s also terrifying.

Rockford and I said our goodbyes last night.  It wasn’t easy knowing that we’ve come to our end, even if we’ve known it was coming ever since we started this thing.  For all our differences, we somehow worked, and I’m going to miss that.  I’m going to miss him: his solidity, his smile, his sense of humor, his kindness.  I’m going to miss his arm around me at night, that feeling it brought that I don’t have to do this all on my own, that someone had my back, at least in that moment.

I do have to do this all on my own.  That has brought tears to my eyes more than once today.  For the last year, I had somebody who cared about me and enjoyed my company and wanted to talk to me; now, I’m solitary again – and no matter what adventures the future might bring, right now, it hurts to be alone again.

Which seems fitting somehow, since I’ve come to the end of this blog, too.  I started this as a newly single graduate student, trying to figure out her place in the world professionally and personally.  I’m a newly single associate professor now, still trying to figure it out.  I’ve learned a few things along the way, I suppose. I’ve had some amazing highs and some horrific lows.  I’ve had relationships come and go while my friends stayed right beside me.  I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin while wondering how I can manage the life that I have, like it or not.

It’s been quite the virtual adventure here, and I’ve enjoyed “meeting” those of you who were interested enough in my meanderings to pop in and offer a thought or two.  I’ll still have thoughts; I may even write them down somewhere; but it’s time to close the book on this particular experiment.

Thanks, my friends.

about 4 days left 

I had a small measure of success today: the guest room is decluttered; the bathroom closet is organized; the hall closet is half full. I’ve washed the bulk of my clothes; I’ve separated what goes from what stays; I’ve started packing up the clothes that will stay in a friend’s empty closet while I’m gone. 

This would all have been much easier if I wasn’t renting my house while I was gone. I need the income (see: mortgage) but it adds an extra layer of stress. As I’m trying to pack for my adventure, I’m also cleaning and organizing the house, trying to put away as much in the personal department as possible. I can appreciate that I’m getting rid of clutter and giving things a much needed clean but I would have enjoyed this more if I’d started a month ago. 

Yesterday was not pretty. I stayed up until an ungodly hour Monday night (the sun was coming up as I went to bed) so I didn’t have much sleep. I got up for a meeting on campus, only to find I had a flat tire. A friend gave me a ride in; another brought me home; in between, I had a frustrating meeting and finished printing out the materials I need to take with me. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the tire changed and plugggrd – not what I had planned on doing with those hours. 

I knew I was tending toward the manic – no sleep? no food? lots of stress? not pretty – but it was even more evident when I crashed last night. Rockford came over to help me with a few little projects; they took him all of 10 minutes but at least I didn’t have to do them. He mentioned I looked tired when he got here; a few hours later, I was practically comatose. I can remember going to bed but I fell asleep while he was talking to me and slept like a rock most of the night. So, as busy as today was, at least I felt human. 

a week to go

I leave a week from today, as you could likely guess from the chaos that is my house, not to mention the chaos that is my mind.

Yes, I’m stressed.  Excited.  Optimistic.  Nervous.  Happy.  Worried.  Unsure.  There are all sorts of emotions swirling around as I run errands, divide clothes, determine materials, clean my house, pack my valuables, call my doctors, answer my emails, double-check my to-do list, write my will, organize my closets, winnow my towels, order last minute supplies, purge my pantry…

Yes, I’m stressed.  How could I not be? That doesn’t take away from how great it is that I’ll be overseas for the next nine months.  I’m always a little frantic before I leave for any length of time; since my long trips are usually about a month, take this to the ninth power and you get a sense.

It will all get done.  Or it won’t.  Either way, I’m getting on a plane.  As long as I have my passport, my laptop and my credit card, I’ll manage (she says as she ponders how to get a winter coat into her suitcase).  I do realize that I can buy essentials there, of course; it’s not like I’m going to be living on Mars.  I’ve already decided I’ll be fleshing out my winter wardrobe from the local stores; sweaters and boots are just too bulky when every inch of space in the suitcase counts.  I like the idea of having what I need when I get there, though, from clothes to toiletries, and figuring out without the impetus of dire necessity how I need to supplement.

This week isn’t packed full of external stuff, I’m glad to say.  I had brunch with some girlfriends today, then spent the rest of the day here in the house.  For a few hours, I was just running in circles but I finally managed to focus.  I have a meeting or two on campus, which is fine since I need to pick up and print out materials on campus anyway, and I’ll get in a little exercise.  I’ll spend time with my friends as I can; we have our weekly dinner tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll do something celebratory next weekend.

Rockford and I are working our way toward good-byes, too, of course.  In a way, we’ve said what needs to be said – we know how we feel; we know that I’m leaving – but I suppose there are a few conversations still in the wings.  I did dinner and a movie with him and the kids last night…..If you ever need to check your importance to the universe, by the way, hang out with an 11-year-old: he said goodnight, I reminded him that I wouldn’t see him until next summer (if ever, but that’s neither here nor there), and he said, “Oh, okay. Night.” Okay, then….and we had some times to ourselves at the end of the evening. Ahem.  That rarely happens when the kids are there (as in, once in the 11 months we’ve been dating); I’m not sure what made last night different but I’ll take it!

visiting mom

I. Am. So. Tired.  I got home last night around 12:30 after my ~30 hours in Home State; I got a decent night’s sleep but today was busy.  By the time I got home, I was almost too tired to move.  I’ve been working through emails this evening until I hit a legitimate bedtime: it has arrived.

I’m not sure I can call any trips to Home State “good” at this point but I suppose this one went as well as it could.  I flew in, met Cool Friend for a quick lunch, then drove to my mom’s current home.  I spent most of Thurs with her, too, before heading back to the airport.  It’s a nice enough place; everyone is very pleasant; she has a window with a pretty view.  It’s also close enough for visitors, so there’s always someone to drop by every day to say hello.

My dad goes every day.  Every. Day. He gets there a little after Mom gets up in the morning; he leaves when she goes to bed in the evening; then he comes back the next day.  Everyone there is very impressed with his devotion, and they assure him that having him there is very helpful for her recovery, generally.  If I ever doubted that my dad loved my mother – which I didn’t – this more than proves it.  He still teases her and jokes with her; she still laughs at his corny jokes; they still fuss when he’s trying to get her to eat something she doesn’t want.  It hurts your heart in good and bad ways to see them together.

It’s hard seeing Mom as she is: frail and confused. She’s recovering physically from her surgery, so that’s good, but her mind continues the slide. She has sparks: she recognized me in a photo, she told me how pretty I looked one day, she called my sister by name, she loves it when my little brother visits.  And she still knows Dad; she asks for him if he’s out of her sight for very long.

I sat with Mom – just us – for a little bit yesterday, filing her fingernails and talking to her.  I told her I wouldn’t see her for awhile, that I was leaving to go overseas, and she nodded and looked pensive.  When I told her the country, she repeated it and then spelled the name of another country in Europe: “That’s where you’re going?” “Yes, Mama, that’s the place.”  I told her that I was dating a good man and I would miss him once I went overseas; she smiled and nodded. I told her this reminded me of her with her mother; she did Grandma’s nails when she visited her in the nursing home, and I thought how the generations keep repeating.  I cried a little, for many reasons – and then I got on a plane.

I’ll always feel guilty about my family: that we’re not closer, literally and figuratively; that I don’t do as much as I could or should; that I don’t visit enough; that I’ve made our interactions so difficult through the years; that I don’t try hard enough to bridge the distances.  I don’t know how to be anyone other than myself and that self has never managed to fit comfortably into my family. But  I did the best I could with this quick visit, and I’ll hope it’s enough for everyone’s sake in the long run.

making a list and checking it thrice

I’m sure I have some introspective thoughts around here somewhere but, right now, it’s more a matter of getting shit done.

There’s no way I’ll get through everything but I’d like to get as much off my professional plate as possible before I leave: editor duties, manuscript revisions, email responses, grad student advising, service expectations.  The less I have hanging over my head, the better, since I’ll be picking up plenty of new work once I get to my new home.

One of the new projects waiting for me is determining what to do with a completed research study.  I fully intend to roll up my metaphorical sleeves and revisit the data; the analysis that’s come before has been piecemeal and stop-gap and, therefore, useless as a definitive determinate for the project.  I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to really focus on this project; my goal for the next nine months is to finally figure out what I’ve got.  So, I’m working on printing out and organizing all the data – because it’s harder to ignore mounds of paper.

That project is all well and good but I also have to teach, and that means putting together my classes. I have rough outlines but nothing definitive, since I’m not quite sure what I’m walking into over there.  Still, I need to commit a few ideas to paper in syllabus form before I leave so I have somewhere to start in a few weeks.  That means making sure I have the resources I need, too, since I’m taking nothing for granted: the PDFs need to be on my computer before I leave.

I’m still packing up the bits and pieces around the house that need to be safely distanced from potential lodgers.  Most of the living space is done; the kitchen is the next big project (because no one uses my grandmother’s dishes but me).  I did admit limited defeat and have someone come in today to help with cleaning. My windows have never been so sparkly (which says more about my housekeeping than their fantastic cleaning powers).

I needed help, in part, because I’m flying back to Home State this week for a very quick visit with my mom.  All told, I’ll be there about 30 hours, which may seem crazy but I really need to see my mom and dad again before I leave the country. I had planned to drive but rational thought returned this morning when I woke up and realized how much I need to do and how tired I am doing it.  Thankfully, airline miles were made for such purposes.

rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse…

You know what happens when you find old journals?  Besides the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t imagine past events that obviously scarred you for life?  You realize that you keep repeating the same patterns.

You know what happens when you look back at old blog posts?  Besides the surprise of realizing you’ve written as long as you have?  You have even more confirmation that you are a broken record.

I’m like my own angsty version of Groundhog Day.  Every few years: the same issues, the same laments, the same questions, the same musings.  I keep having the same conversations with myself and then doing the same things that lead to the same conversations a few months or years later.  Mostly about relationships, of course – the lack of, the search for, the difficulty of, the certainty of never having – because evidently I am forever a 16-year-old girl.

For someone who educates for a living, I really don’t learn.

And then a picture of me fishing with Rockford a few weeks ago floats by on my TV screen. I can see my smile from here as I stand in ankle-deep water, fishing pole in my hand, sunglasses pushed up, shorts rolled up, no make-up, no styled hair.  So totally not me. But I was happy.  Very.

So maybe I have learned something: to grasp happiness in the moment, wherever it comes from, however different it might be from the usual order of things.

Someone today said I looked sad.  I was genuinely surprised – I didn’t feel particularly sad – and I don’t think I was.  But I wasn’t happy, and that’s what they’ve seen over the last (almost) year. Realizing that doesn’t upset me, actually. Being with Rockford made me happy and it’s nice to think that the happiness from our relationship – even as it wraps up – was so obvious. That, at least, isn’t part of the pattern.

when things come to an end

I’ve never really had a relationship end in a relatively positive way.  The very fact of “an end” obviously precludes rainbows and ponies but my relationships are more inclined to implode than deflate.  They end abruptly; awful things are said; and the person is deleted from my life.  Sam might be the exception there; our implosion was a gradual action but, in the end, it ended in a rush and it left me bereft – for years, apparently, because why not extend the misery.

So, the conclusion of my relationship with Rockford is slightly bewildering.  We don’t hate each other; we aren’t throwing recriminations at each other; we haven’t cut all ties with one another.  We’re simply coming to an end because my time here is coming to an end.  The feelings aren’t quite that simple, of course.

We finally addressed the elephant in the room Sunday – with me pushing it forward. Things have been strained for some time now; even with the great date night last week, the more I thought about Saturday night, the more I realized I simply can’t keep punishing myself.  I can look for all sorts of signs and attempt all sorts of interpretations but, in the end, I’m simply refusing to see what is clearly in front of me: Rockford doesn’t feel about me the same way I feel about him.  He hasn’t led me on; he hasn’t lied to me; he hasn’t tried to distract me.  He’s a pretty simple guy in the end, although one who struggles with the whole feelings side of things.

So, we spoke on the phone Sunday evening and I laid out what I saw and what I felt and what I believed to be true.  And, to his credit, he didn’t try to deflect me.  He agreed: he’s a self-sufficient kind of guy who doesn’t truly need anyone in his life right now.  He has enjoyed our time together but he has increasingly felt like there’s a piece of the puzzle missing between us; he doesn’t know quite what it is but the absence has encouraged him to step back.

It’s never that simple, though, is it.   He also said he loves me, even as he admitted that he isn’t sure what love is supposed to feel like at this point in our lives.  That wasn’t as crushing as you’d think, actually; I think I’m in the same position.  I have no idea what love is, anymore, and I don’t trust myself to recognize it even if I’m standing in it.  I’ve been hurt too many times to believe my feelings and I’m scared to death of making the mistake of trusting something that will crumble under pressure.  I also know you can care deeply about someone and not love them, which may be where we find ourselves, in the end.

Regardless, I told him that night that I didn’t know how to say goodbye.  This wasn’t the way relationships usually ended for me and I was really at a loss.  My one request, if he agreed, was that I wouldn’t simply disappear: I want to say goodbye to his kids before I leave.  He allowed me into their lives, and I am cognizant of the importance of such trust, on his part and theirs.  Plus, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them and it wouldn’t be right to not have a farewell before I go overseas.  He said, of course, that was fine; the kids liked me, especially his youngest son, and his daughter, too, but she’s kind of quiet so you might not know…and then I realized he was as choked up as I was.  And he said, let’s not talk anymore tonight; let’s talk tomorrow after we’ve had some sleep.

Of course, I was sad after we hung up the phone.  I had a good cry and I crawled into bed in a pretty dark space.  At the same time, though, I was relieved.  However much it might hurt in the moment, finishing “us” up as I get ready to leave feels like the right thing to do, for both our sakes.  Rockford asked me, at one point, what I thought would happen with us if I wasn’t leaving.  I can’t answer that; I simply don’t know.  Perhaps things would be clearer without the pressure of my imminent departure; perhaps we would have moved more slowly during our time together; perhaps we would have seen months ago that we weren’t suited for the long run.  Any one of those seems like a perfectly acceptable outcome, because the one thing we’ve never been is simple.

He asked if he could come over yesterday and I said that would be fine.  So he came straight from work – in uniform and in car – which is rare; he gave me a kiss when he walked in and asked if he could get out of uniform and take a quick shower. Then he said he’d found a movie we’ve been dying to see: did I want to watch it?  So, we ended up on the sofa, watching our movie, sipping a splash of the whisky I brought back from Scotland. Then the movie ended; he asked me to stretch out beside him on the sofa and we snuggled into each other as always.  Eventually I told him I really wasn’t good with goodbyes.  He put his arm around me: “I didn’t come over to talk tonight…I just wanted to come here and be with you….I feel for you more than you think I do…and I’m going to miss you.”

I know how much those words cost him.  This isn’t a man who talks about feelings easily but he managed to get the words out and they were what I needed to hear.  Because, as of yesterday, we’ve been dating 11 months.  And I wanted him to confirm that that meant something to him.  Which he did last night, without any questions or requests or tears. Actions are very important, and his actions have meant a lot to me, but I still need to hear words.

So, when we went to bed last night, it was calm and quiet.  His arm around me wasn’t perfunctory; it was confirmation that he cares about me. Pulling me into his shoulder this morning while he was half asleep wasn’t suggestive; it was assurance that I mean something to him.  Simple things, really, but that fits: we’ve simply come to an end and that’s simply okay.

In these last weeks, I’ll likely spend some time with him; I’ll certainly see the kids next week at some point.  And we’ll have one last hug and kiss before I’m off.  And I’ll be able to say that I had such a good time with this guy who was absolutely nothing I’d ever expected to like. That doesn’t mean the feelings disappear immediately; that doesn’t mean we’ll disappear from each others lives immediately.  But it means I’ll smile when I think of him and hope he does the same.

remember this

I had lunch with friends this Thursday. And I laughed. Big laughs, the kind that roll out of your chest and interrupt the story you’re trying to tell everyone at the table. 

I went to a faculty function last night and met two people who graduated from my alma mater. It was such fun to sit there and reminisce. It’s easy to forget how much I love that place. 

I went out with a friend last night after the faculty thing. And we had numerous drinks. Because we felt like it. And we laughed because it was a nice night and we were having fun and we were simply enjoying ourselves. 

I went to a football game with some girlfriends today. I haven’t done that in years but Rockford was able to get us tickets so we decided to go. It was a gorgeous day, we were able to spread out on the bleachers since it wasn’t a big game, we had our soda and popcorn, we came away in different shades of pink. And it was a really nice afternoon. 

I spent the evening with Rockford and his kids. His youngest was particularly entertaining this evening, wanting to tell me all about school and his latest game and his favorite cartoons. Rockford didn’t have much to do with me tonight; we didn’t really have a chance to talk until after we’d played a game with the kids and watched a movie while sitting on opposite ends of the room and then he could barely stay awake, he was so tired. But I got his kid to laugh when I showed him a clip of Charlie Chaplin and teased him during the game and joked that he should be nice to me since I was leaving soon. And both kids told me good night when they headed to bed. 

Those are the things I want to remember. Not that my friend calling to tell me about her engagement today makes me feel so incredibly lonely. Not that I’m just this side of scared to pieces that I’m moving across the world in 22 days for nine months. Not that the man I’ve dated for 11 months will barely notice I’m gone when I leave. Not that no one really needs me in their life, even though they value my friendship and enjoy my company. Not that somehow I’m 44 and still not sure how to be an adult. 

I don’t want to remember those things. I want to push past those and hold on to the laughter and the silliness and the fun and the smiles. I need more of that, I think. 

life as almost usual

I may not really be enduring the usual start-of-the-semester-adjustment as everyone else, given that I’m not teaching and I’m leaving the country in a few weeks, but I do feel the need to give myself some sense of normality while I’m still here.  This is driven, in part, I’m sure, by an effort to distract myself from the current awfulness (which I can report is slightly lessened by the success of my mother’s surgery yesterday and her relative progress today).

Just going to campus this morning – to check my mailbox, drop off some forms, return a book to the library, buy a parking pass – was a step in the right direction.  My office is still a disaster area, since I didn’t feel like staying to organize it, but I’ll be on campus relatively often from here on out, given the number of meetings on my calendar.

I went to the local cafe after that, as was my usual practice months ago on the days I wanted to get out of the house to work.  One of my friends was there, so we had lunch and caught up before she left, then I sat and worked by a sunny window for the rest of the afternoon. One of the benefits of the cafe is its proximity to the gym, which I have joined again for the little time I’m here.  I may not enjoy exercising, still, but I know I’m better for it, so I managed half an hour on the treadmill before taking a very quick shower and joining the group for our regular Monday meal.

My evening was quiet.  I sat on the sofa with my computer, working through various tasks (while eating a bag of M&Ms). I did some reading on my soon-to-be home country after that (while my facial mask dried).  I do that sort of beautifying very, very rarely – who has time? – but I found the bottle in my efforts to clean out the random unguents, lotions and potions  in my bathroom.  Why not?  Then, wonder of wonders, I did a half hour of yoga in my living room.  I can’t remember the last time I bothered but it seemed like a good idea this evening.

Now, I’m going to bed.  I’m taking a book with me, of course, but I don’t intend to stay up much longer.  I’m tired.  It’s been a full day.  And I have lots of full days in front of me as the clock ticks down to my departure.  I won’t claim I’ve established any sort of routine today but I do think I’m starting to work out how to gain a semblance of peace with my own company.  I’m going to be spending a lot of time with me in the coming year.

because: life

I had a moment yesterday, driving back to PRU City from my evening/morning with Rockford, when I thought maybe my life was righting itself.  The sun was shining.  I’d been pleasantly surprised by a guy I like.  I felt like I was actually coming home rather than driving “home” from my time in Home State. I’d absorbed the despair of Favorite Aunt’s situation, even if the sadness was still well in evidence.  I could concentrate now on leaving the country and begin to anticipate the start of the adventure.

Because: life.

When my mother fell this morning, she broke her hip, which meant a partial hip replacement.  Such a generic happening for older people, isn’t it.  She had very good care from the EMTs and the ER and the surgeon, though. Once my dad agreed to tell the extended family (sigh), her sisters made their way to the hospital; my sister was there all day and plans to spend the night.  She says Mom is doing very well now and seems much more like “herself” now that she’s through surgery and not in any pain.

I didn’t even try to be stoic today.  I told Cool Friend right away; she called; I cried – and then she went to the hospital and spent a few hours with my family before Mom’s surgery (she even took my sister a birthday card).  I went over to a girlfriend’s once I calmed down, cried on her sofa and got a great deal of understanding and sympathy.  When I let Rockford know, he was very concerned, then asked what he could do; I said distraction, so I had dinner and a movie at his place this evening with him and the kids.

My breaking point is when people touch me.  So, I don’t let them.  When bad things happen – truly bad things – I can handle people’s sympathy but not their comfort. I feel like I’m going to shatter if they take my hand or give me a hug.  I can remember telling people not to touch me when they reach out to comfort me – when I told them about my divorce, when I told them about my cancer, when my sister told me about Favorite Aunt – and it seems so cruel in that moment but I simply cannot maintain any semblance of sanity if they do.

Once I break, however, I can handle it.  After sobbing in my house for a few hours, and then sobbing at my friend’s, I didn’t flinch when she came over and hugged me.  She’s not an excessively demonstrative person but she held on and let me cry. By the time I got to Rockford’s, I was too worn out for tears.  After the kids were in bed, though, I said I just needed his arm around me, so we curled up on the sofa and he held me while we talked. No tears, no despair, just some solace in hearing his heart beat in my ear with his arm wrapped around my waist. He’s not someone who can sit still very long but he managed it until I needed to leave.

Tomorrow will be a normal day.  My sister will keep me updated as they get Mom’s therapy started and figure out next steps.  I have to go to campus – finally – and take care of a few things, then I’ll spend some quality time on the computer.  I need to go to the gym.  I’ll likely have dinner with my girlfriends, as we resume our standing Monday meal. And then I’ll come home and distract myself somehow until it’s time for bed.

Because: life.