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Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats - H.L. Mencken

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Nov
19th
Sat
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Kill the Turkey, Pardon Me

This used to be the start of a six week swing of familial festivities. The build up to our gathering to gobble together, murdering then decorating a tree, holiday cookie assembly line, all cheered on and motivated by Lisa.

This is the second pass at winter holidays without her. Last year was an aching march through darkness and pain, the goal simply to make it to the new year. Heavy tears melted cookie icing, and Irish whiskey burned deeply in my belly, the flames dancing within the hollowness of my being.

And so it’s again time to unfreeze a large-breasted meat glacier, combine heavy cream, Madagscar vanilla, and roasted yams and simple carbohydrate our way through this again

Lisa has missed so much since she drowned. Our youngest son graduated from Montessori and learned to ice skate. Our oldest son broke up with his fiancé, moved in with me for awhile, and is now back in his own place and smitten by a damsel who domiciles in Chicago. Middle daughter is working at the mall, paying on her loans, living in a cramped apartment with two cars, anxiety dog, and her two-job having boyfriend.

I’m still dragging one foot before the other, trying to keep moving out of an irrational fear that if I stop, the grief will stick to me like tar, trapping me while my bones are picked clean.

I miss my sister Janine (1964),my sister Kathy (1965), Pap-Pap (1968), Nanny (1972), Mom (1997), my daughter Maddie (1999), Dad (2003), and Lisa (2010). The people in my family have gone away and I miss their presence in my sadness

I wish I could join them, if that was possible, but I have slow, difficult, valuable work to do here, to get our 11 year old to hang in, move on and use that wonderful brain of his to find if not safety, then confidence and equanimity as he walks his own path.

Me ? The Army training kicks in. Yer left, right, left right left. Before you know it, John Candy calls out “hey, we’re walking!”

Oct
10th
Mon
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Of Journeys Past

Tough weekend.

It has been our tradition that once per football season, we make a a weekend trip to Pittsburgh, spend Saturday enjoying the city, then cheer on the Steelers before packing the family up for the three hour drive home.

This past weekend was the second time we’ve taken the trip without her.

Last year was much more difficult, only two months removed from her death. The tickets had been purchased while she was still a living, breathing wife and mother. Attending the game was something we did because of all the cliched reasons - she would have wanted us to, life goes on, she wouldn’t want us to miss something that gave us joy.

It was difficult last year without her as our tour director, tossing suggestions into the air to see what sightseeing glitter caught our fancy. We went to the Strip District, rummaged around the shops, grabbed some iconic sandwiches at Primanti Brothers, then headed to the hotel, where I stayed in to watch my son while his older siblings and friends hit the North Shore bars.

This year felt forced and disjointed. My oldest son decided to pick up a late work shift and didn’t make the drive out with us, choosing to motor out himself after, rolling into the hotel around 3 AM. My daughter’s boyfriend also drove himself after work, but he arrived earlier and was able to participate with us. With the later arrival, we strolled over the Jerome Bettis’ 36 Grille for dinner and drinks, and had an absolutely horrible restaurant experience. I could write 1000 words just on that, but I won’t.

We headed back to the hotel and got some pizza, then my daughter and her boyfriend adjourned to their room, and I tucked in my son and spent another evening in relative solitude, using hotel wifi to catch up on some current events.

We all got together for a quick hotel breakfast, moved the cars to the event parking area, then hit the local spots for some snacks before heading to Heinz Field. It was strange having just the five of us stretched across row G, and everyone was slightly muted even though the home team had a pretty good day.

When time ran out, we followed the masses out of the stadium and eventually made it to our cars, where we split up for the drive home. Since it was just me and my young son in the car, we made small talk for awhile before he tired of that, and we spent the rest of the drive listening to music, interrupted now and then for chit-chat or to make an observation about something or other.

Soon we were home, had unloaded the car, bath and toothbrushing accomplished, and he was in bed at the normal time since he had school the following day. And once again, it was me, in solitude, cleaning up, doing laundry, until I slid between the covers, alone.

The weekend didn’t feel like a family event this year. It felt like a task crossed off of a list. Steelers game? Check.

I miss the joy and life she brought to the things we did.

Oct
1st
Sat
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Nothing Compares 2 U

My psychiatrist tells me that it’s time for me to get out there and find ways to have a good time.

I went to the doctor guess what he told me

guess what he told me

he said girl boy you better try to have fun

no matter what you do

but he’s a fool

It’s my own damn fault. I’m so introverted that finding new avenues of enjoyment is both foreign and daunting. It’s work for me to be out there, real flopsweat activity.

Realization: My life has been a series of parasitic friendships. I attach myself to the back of (hopefully) unsuspecting pals and simply go along for the ride. It’s symbiotic, albeit odd, but workable since barnacles stay mostly out of the way, eat very little, and seldom knock over the punch bowl.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my lovely wife Lisa was the perfect companion for a shy man like me. We had such mutuality. She was fearless in social situations, the first to work a new room and make friends, laughing, glowing, energized. After learning to surf her wake, I became entranced by the whole show, punctuated often by my special guest appearances when brilliance, a playful grin, witty remark, or well-placed snark was needed, like a hot spotlight to illuminate a portion of the set.

And it worked. We were a good team when I kept my petty jealousy and sharing issues in check. We were a great couple for entertaining, either as hosts or guests.Things never stalled. Fun was around somewhere if you were willing to poke and prod a bit, and Lisa was. No one was going to have a lousy time on her watch.

So I developed friends as a benefit of this dynamic, many of which led to solo lunch invites, offers to meet out for drinks, inclusion in events big and small, mostly the result of doing fancy jumps and pivots behind Lisa as she piloted the cigarette boat of extroversion.

Nearly fourteen months after Lisa’s death the wake has ceased, and most rippled waves  have become smooth as glass, interrupted only by my solo forays into society which, by comparison, mimic the thrashing, choking, and shrieks that our young son demonstrated at 5 while learning to swim, which helps explain my deviated septum and fear of elbows, come to think of it.

I’m adrift.

There have been several dates, normal enough, dinner, movies, a rockin’ Joe Bonamasso show, maybe seven women in total over a few months. All fine, some good conversations, a fair amount of first date awkwardness as we take turns playing Relation Operation, reaching for Adam’s Rib or Water on the Knee with our psychic tweezers, trying to exhume some relatively harmless piece about the other person without giving each other a sudden jolt that causes our nose to light up like Rudolph.

But nothing sticks, or stays. Several have seem excited to branch out and spend more time together, but that tends to drop and waste away when I fail to water it to help it grow. I’m accountable to make everything else in my world happen, because I’m a single dad with a big job and loads of commitments, and I just can’t muster the energy to do it with relationships, introversion notwithstanding.

One of the first dates, a very smart private practice therapist, caught my attention quickly, and we spent some good time together for awhile, trying restaurants, sipping coffee, discussing events large and small. I earned my geek wings by helping her navigate the Verizon store to dump her old mobile phone that I’m pretty sure had only three buttons on its face and was powered by a mixture of nickles and dreams.

It was an area of weakness and panic for her, but the opposite for me. I went through that strip mall out-parcel like Sherman through the south, and my date emerged with the latest Droid with a physical keyboard (deal-breaker for her), more accessories than she could carry, training materials out the wazoo, and more important, the direct number for the asst. manager and manager in case something popped up, as always happens.

On what turned out to be our last date - the blues concert - I held her hand a little in the venue, smiled and chatted, and stroked her arm as we walked thought the streets to my car. I drove her home, thanked her, kissed her softly, then again, and started back to my car when she asked my why I didn’t touch her more.

I was surprised that she asked, but even more so when I thought back over our many dates. It has been hit or miss at best, with no consistency. She explained that she was a very touchy person and had been holding back because she sensed my discomfort, which was odd because I’m also usually very physical. But she was right. I had erected physical and emotional fences.

The best I could do was croak out a line about being broken before driving off, saddened and filled with self-loathing.

Everyone wants me to meet new people, saying I’m too young to spend the next 30 years alone. Maybe it will come to me, this way of moving among women that brings a sparkle to their eyes and plants the idea inside their head that I might possibly be someone worth knowing, I’m not hopeful, but it could happen.

My primary goal is to get my son from year 11 to year 18, and to have him cross the stage to snag his diploma from the principal while pumping the pasty flesh of very important school administrators. His life can start, and I will have finished more than 35 years of acting parenting.

That sounds like a nice point to stop and smell the roses. If my smeller still works then. Parts begin to fall off, I hear.

** Updated the next morning to fix typos, run-on sentences, and incoherent ramblings. Composing a blog post while waiting for the Ambien to kick in is like a chemical race with the devil.

Sep
24th
Sat
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Solitude

Being alone.

As an introvert, withdrawing inside myself requires little effort. Quite the opposite. It took several years of therapy and a healthy dose of exposure to the principles of Buddhism for me to gain comfort with being present.

Be here now.

And now I’m at the other end of the spectrum - coming to peace with solitude.

Nightly, after my young son has been tucked in and I’ve puttered through the cleanup process, it’s just me and the silence. Alone with my thoughts, themes develop. Things I miss. A life anticipated that will never be. Uncertainty. Self-pity.

Ugh.

The most frequent piece of advice given by family, friends, and mental health professionals in the weeks and months after Lisa died was to take it one day at a time. They imply value in waking up each morning having the stretch goal be making it to bedtime without succumbing to your grief and pain.

Maybe that’s the easiest way for them to say, “Don’t do anything stupid because you’re crushingly sad” without actually putting voice to the concept. If I’m still alive to turn off the bedside lamp each night, they reckon, that sounds like a win.

The second most likely nugget of wisdom was that it gets easier and/or better over time. I’m calling bullshit on that one. Taking it day by day is merely enabling the passage of time until it gets better, someday. When?

Well, no one with credentials (or without them, it turns out) is willing to commit. But they are very clear and surprisingly forceful  as they announce that I have a lot of life left to live, and that joy and happiness will be part of it, even if they aren’t able to supply key milestone dates or supporting data.

The cynic in me thinks they are hoping I believe in the well-worn practice of repeating a lie over and over until most people believe it’s true. I did detective work for fifteen years, so I know better.

My son is headed to a friend’s house for a Saturday night sleepover soon. So I’ll finish the laundry, maybe eat a little hummus, take an Ambien, and switch off the bedside lamp at the customary time.

Win.

Aug
20th
Sat
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Acceptance?

It’s been a year since she drowned. Thirteen years of marriage wasn’t nearly enough. Forty-five years of life should have been the midway point.

Her absence is acute, even now. The desire to drape my arm over her as we fall asleep has yet to subside. 

Searching for something or other last week, I found her perfume bottle. I don’t know why I removed the cap. In an instant, olfactory agony commenced. How visceral. How powerful. How sad.

Our son starts middle school next week. When I met with the guidance counselor a few months ago, he shared that his mother died when he was in eighth grade. He understands.

During a spring visit to my grief therapist, I bristled at her suggestion that there was much to be gained by looking to the future, anticipatory happiness. How, I wondered, could I reconcile taking it step-by-step, day-by-day while simultaneously gazing into the distance?

Someone once told me that they discounted the philosophy of living for today, for there may not be a tomorrow. Their reasoning was that they needed to live for tomorrow, because for them there was no today.

I didn’t understand the concept then. But things change.

A year is a long time to ponder.

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Sideways

Sideways

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Sexy

Sexy

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Soaring

Soaring

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Symmetry

Symmetry

Mar
8th
Tue
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Oh, The Humanity

Given our ancestors hand their hands full with tuberculosis, polio, gum disease, and the common cold, I doubt they had the time or inclination to fret over gender inequality and class warfare to the extent we do today.

Yet here I am, furious at the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots, sinking slowly into the quicksand of a system engineered not only to protect those at the top of the house but to unabashedly squeeze the less fortunate like the fourth pressing of an olive pit. Sure, the remaining oil isn’t extra virgin in quality, but that’s not the point. There’s a bit more to extract, and they do it because they can.

It almost makes me wish for a nice round of bubonic plague to serve as the best equalizer since Edward Woodward.