Posts Tagged 'relationships'

Just a little guilt

I went to my bereavement group this morning. We meet the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at Help of Ojai’s West Campus. It had been months since I had attended a meeting and I thought it was time to renew acquaintances.

I arrived a few minutes early and found a stranger, Vivian, who was relatively new to the group. A nice woman who seemed quiet and a bit distant. We exchanged pleasantries and then fell silent.

Kathy, a strong, determined, yet warm woman of about fifty, leads the group.  She is quite good at it, knowing when to talk and when to be silent. Saying the right things also helps. Kathy has been there and back many times. We spent a few minutes focused on small talk.

Marsha and Joyce arrived. Old-timers whose attendance predated mine. Both women had lost their husbands; each was at a different stage of bereavement. Not everyone takes the same path. The process and elapsed time vary for each person.

The ninety-minute session began with a description of how we each were feeling. Some participants took pains to describe their feelings in detail, while others spoke more generally. Listening, it seemed that I had not missed much in my two or three months of absence from the group. But progress isn’t necessarily why people attend. Being among others in similar circumstances is often enough to warrant continued attendance. It’s good to know that other people have many of the same feelings that I do.

I had a special reason for coming at this time, since it was the one-year anniversary of Ila’s passing. I felt almost bidden to attend, as though it was part of the rite of passage. A pilgrimage to the place where I had spent many hours listening to others while sharing my feelings without restraint. Sharing thoughts with others who had similar reasons for being there and who felt safe enough to be frank, honest and human.

My turn to speak was rapidly approaching. I quickly sorted through the events of the last few months. I tried to organize my thoughts into a cogent verbal expression of my feelings. When I finally began to speak it all seemed to fall into place without significant effort.

I spoke of my continuing dedication to zealously working out at the gym. How it not only strengthened my body but how it also nurtured my psyche by regularly socializing with other people, many of whom I now call friends.

How I had slowly returned to photography. Taking photos for the Music Festival, contributing two dozen of my photos to the walls of the newly reconstructed hospital in Ventura, and a greater willingness to just take pictures regardless of subject.

How I had resumed driving the Help of Ojai bus. For appreciative riders who have no other way of getting to the grocery, the doctor or, bless their hearts…the hair salon.

How I had joined with some talented people in a creative writing group. How I had restarted my blog with full credit to the writing group for giving me a weekly incentive to put my thoughts on the web.

And my family and Jackie, all of whom I treasure beyond words.

Overall, I felt a bit guilty because of my good health and rebounding happiness. Guilty that I was happy even though my loved one was gone. And then I remembered what happened a week ago. And I told this story to those sitting around me.

It was the day before the one-year anniversary of Ila’s passing. It had been a busy day for me with several trips into town, work on several projects and little time to just relax. Around four o’clock I felt tired and decided to sit on the soft couch in the living room and attack a NY Times crossword puzzle. And, of course, I quickly fell asleep.

My nap couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes. Awakening, I looked to my left and saw sweet Ila standing there, her hand resting lightly on my left shoulder. It lasted no more than five seconds. Just enough time to see a broad smile on her lovely face. A smile that seemed to say, “It’s OK.” And I felt refreshed and happy.

It didn’t matter whether it was fact or fiction. All that mattered was that it happened.

Hello, is Ila there?

Hello, is Ila there?

Ever since the Ojai fire in early December and the mass slaughter of old wooden telephone poles, nearly all of my calls come through my cell phone. My landline returned after four months. But by then I had weaned myself from a wired connection. I still do get landline calls and nearly one hundred percent of them are from people who want my money.

So, through necessity, I’ve developed a keen ear for determining whether the incoming call has been placed by some insensitive machine. You’ve probably learned the same trick of identifying robo-calls. It’s that slight hesitation as though no one is there, coupled with a tell-tale bleep, warning you that you are about to be connected to a real person. Like a well-trained gunslinger, I can usually press the end-call button before the connection is completed.

But sometimes the call is placed directly and so I’m required to listen to someone speak a few words before consigning the call to a far-away place. And that’s what happened around two o’clock Monday, about thirty-six hours after my return from Costa Rica. Maybe it was the jet lag that made me slow on the draw…or maybe it was something else.

Hello, is Ila there?  For what seemed like an eternity, I sat there, phone in hand, and didn’t know how to respond.  A series of possible answers flowed through my brain at warp speed.

Sorry. Ila passed away 

She doesn’t live here any more

No one here by that name

Please don’t call me again, my wife died nearly a year ago

After what seemed like eons of silence, I finally settled on No, she’s not here.  And I hung up before the caller could respond with obligatory condolences.

But that’s a lie. Ila is in fact here. Little bits of her have touched many people and she continues to influence their lives. Her DNA is deposited in her children and her grandchildren. Her honesty, generosity and morality have cascaded to her offspring. And will someday reside in her great-grandchildren.

I was sharply reminded of this by my daughter, Nancy, at dinner in Costa Rica last Friday. On a Friday that marked eleven months since Ila’s death. On a Friday that would normally have found me in the synagogue where I would stand and say the Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer for those who have passed out of our lives.

Instead, we were in a celebratory mood, having spent the last week enjoying all that Costa Rica has to offer including its abundant scenery, local food and wonderful people. It was our last night and ten of us were feeling no pain.

And then Nancy stood and said with great difficulty “Before this all ends, we need to remember those who are not here with us.” As tears filled her eyes, I looked around the table and saw all the people, now silent, who had been touched by Ila.

Her DNA, morals and peculiarities can be easily found in her two children. Her three grandchildren are fortunate offspring sharing in the gifts presented by Ila. In turn, her influence has helped lead her children in their selection of their partners.

And I am the principal beneficiary of her love and largess, freely given to me during nearly sixty years of knowing and loving her. She, who was a partner in all we did. She, who probably engineered the Chicago snowstorm that convinced us to move to California. She, who insisted that I start a business and stick with it despite the all too frequent times that found me questioning my judgment. She, who always stood by me as we weathered the periodic storms that nearly engulfed us.

And it goes on today to affect others. People ask me “Do you think that Ila is happy that you are not alone?” I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do think she would be happy with the new woman in my life. I know that my choice of a loving soul mate has been influenced by the woman who came before her.

So, the next time some caller asks Is Ila there? I’ll say Yes, but she’s busy now.

They must have known me…

Last night as I channel surfed, I stumbled onto the last hour of the movie, Jersey Boys. I’ve seen the movie before and the live play twice. You’d think I had enough.

True to the original story, the movie chronicles the rise of the singing group The Four Seasons, from the hard-bitten streets of New Jersey to million record sellers of songs that made hearts sing. It gives ample coverage to the lives of the four men who rode the whirlwind and became household heroes, adored by young and old alike.

Originally just The Four Seasons, it morphed into Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Then through a series of misadventures, largely attributed to the bad boy of the foursome, Tommy Devito, their ascendancy ended with simply, Frankie Valli. With a fingernail-on-the-blackboard falsetto, Valli dominated the sound that made you want more.

I find it easy to get smiley and teary-eyed when I hear Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, and Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It’s as though each of the songs speaks personally to me of my own feelings. I’m sure they were thinking of me when Bob Gaudio wrote the lyrics.

My favorite, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, reads my mind, takes off my mask, and sums up my feelings for the woman in my life.

You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off of you
You’d be like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you

But how did we get here? The Four Seasons chronicles that path in song. It starts with Oh, What A Night taking me back to the first time I spoke with her at a dinner that she cleverly invited herself to. A temptress who quietly stole a piece of my heart,  and then another until she had it all.

Oh, what a night
Late December, back in ’63
What a very special time for me
As I remember, what a night
Oh, what a night
You know, I didn’t even know her name
But I was never gonna be the same
What a lady, what a night

Some of those nights, when I’m lonely, I tend to pout. I want more. Yes, she has a life to live but I’m selfish. So I feel sorry for myself and I pledge to Walk Like a Man

Oh, how you tried to cut me down to size
Tellin’ dirty lies to my friends
But my own father said “Give her up, don’t bother
The world isn’t comin’ to an end”

Walk like a man, talk like a man
Walk like a man my son
No woman’s worth crawlin’ on the earth
So walk like a man, my son

Easy for him to say.  Because with one smile, one text, or one kiss, I’m over it. Yet I continue to look over my shoulder and wonder where the rain clouds went and when they will return. And so I ask, Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your soul so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
Will you love me tomorrow

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure
Can I believe the magic of your sighs
Will you still love me tomorrow

Tonight with words unspoken
You said that I’m the only one, the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning star

Love is wonderful. Full of delight and unhappiness. Without one, the other would be lonely. Without both, we would never know what it means to really love someone. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are my muses. My confidants. My friends. They must have known me.

Sweet sounds

The iPhone messaging application announces the arrival of a text message with a unique sound. More than a tinkle but less than a bell, it can be best described as the sound produced when an expensive teaspoon, held between your fingertips, contacts a very fine crystal goblet.

I receive iPhone texts throughout the day. From some friends, some vendors, and some who may have stumbled across my phone number and which I delete without reading. I find the sound of an arriving text captivating. Not knowing who the sender is until I look at the phone display tends to heighten my curiosity and draw my attention from whatever else I may be doing. It can be very addicting.

I believe I have developed a knack for identifying the genre of the caller by the sound of the arriving text. Business messages tend to produce a sound full of sharp edges, and are insistent on a response. Friend’s texts produce a milder, friendly, sound that announces the arrival of someone who just wants to talk.

People I love can be identified by a soft, melodious sound that announces the arrival of a text that I may have anxiously awaited. A message that has words that make my heart beat faster and my mind imagine what they are, even before I have opened the text.

Jackie’s messages have a unique sound. Sweet and soft with a hint of the mischief to come. Or with words that will fill my day with big smiles. I find myself anticipating their arrival throughout the day. Much like a child who can’t wait to find out what’s under the wrappings of a gift, I long for their arrival and am severely disappointed when hours go by without getting one. Sometimes her message may not contain the words I had hoped for. Sometimes they don’t lift my spirits. Selfish boy, I tell myself…she must be busy…no time to compose…wait until next time.

There’s something about a text message that changes the dynamic from that of a phone call. I tend to be anxious during phone calls and have little patience for idle chatter. The call itself is also somewhat challenging given the technology of smart phones. Unless I am very patient, I find myself talking at the same time as the recipient. Then I hesitate, much like the simultaneous arrival of two cars at a four-way stop, waiting for someone to say something. Calls tend to betray emotions that may be misunderstood, due to voice volume and the speed of the exchange. Long pauses raise my anxiety level. Too quick responses often lead to “why did I say that?” moments.

Texts, despite their bad press, tend to moderate those problems. There is more time to think, compose responses, type, re-type, delete. I can read what I’m saying and can avoid most “I shouldn’t have said that” moments. No one really notices any pause in the recipient’s response and if they do, it’s usually attributed to the passage of data over thousands of miles of electronic circuitry.

When apart, Jackie and I sometimes call each other in the evening to review our day and say nice things that make the transition to sleep a pleasant one. Last night, knowing she had put in a long day, I waited for her to find the energy to call me…and waited. At 9, I thought she might be asleep after more than two hours of driving from Goleta to her home. Enough waiting. “Are you asleep?” I texted, sent it and waited. No response. Believing she was asleep, I typed “Sleep well pretty one.” But before I could send it, her response arrived. “Grading papers and eating soup.” Not very encouraging. And definitely not sexy. Enough already. I picked up the phone and called her.

Our voice call was complicated by advanced technology, or lack of it. Muddled voices led to a series of adventures in phoning. Cell phone to cell phone did not improve matters. Jackie’s cell phone to my land line was even worse. Land line to land line produced a cacophony of sounds, much like you’d hear during overtime at a Laker game. Running out of options, my cell phone to her land line finally did the trick, but did little to erase the memory of the effort to get there.

Our voice call was memorable for its lack of anything remotely helpful in assuring a pleasant night’s sleep filled with the things that lovers think about. We were both a bit grouchy and we focused on the negative aspects of the day. Running out of tricks, I wished I could reach through the world-wide-web and softly stroke her face and kiss her lips. That technology may be on the horizon but perhaps is best left undeveloped. We ended our less than satisfying call and I slogged my way to a cold bed.

Sleeping went well until 3am. I recounted our call and, in my semi-comatose state decided to try texting my way to sleep with loving words. ”Wish you were here so that I could wrap my arms around you. You have my heart and I long for your touch.” Not bad for fuzzy thinking, I thought. Wonder if she’ll respond.

Then it was 4am. No tell-tale tinkle from the iPhone. Now 5am and no tinkle. Tinkle still not evident at 6am. Had I miscalculated. Had I been too aggressive at 3am? What did I do wrong? Does she still love me?

7am produced the sweetest sound. Like a silver spoon on crystal. Having read the time stamp on my long-ago text, she had responded with “What are you doing up in the middle of the night.” Lovelier words were never spoken.

It’s sometimes the sweet sound of a text, rather than its content, that kindles a flame in my heart.

Time is a fickle thing

Went to the creative writing class last Thursday at Help of Ojai. Lots of nice people and lots of good words jumping from the carefully crafted pages brought to the class by the participants. Some laughs, some sadness, lots of praise. And lunch too.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jeff at the long table set for ten of us by the folks at the Soule Park dining room. An inviolate prerequisite for our selected lunch venue is the restaurant’s willingness to write separate checks. Food is important but separate checks are essential.

Due to the table configuration, conversation typically involves two, maybe three people. This time it was just Jeff and I. Listening to Jeff’s poems for four weeks had impressed with their construct and, most of all, their thoughtful content. A liberal like me and about as ancient, I had found a kindred soul.

We shared a little of our backgrounds and had a brief organ recital. I told Jeff that my loving wife, Ila, had passed away about seven months ago. And then the thought sprang on me as it often does…seven months, why does it seem like seven years?  I reminded myself that I regularly count the months, weeks and days since August 23, the day she left my embrace. And maybe that’s why time defies me and almost stands still. No matter the passage of time, the pain is never going away. It will lessen but thankfully never depart.

I think that just about everything else in my aging soul seems to be moving at the speed of light. Why do some things move at a glacial pace while others dare me to put a hand up in an effort to stop the world from spinning out of control…like those amazing ice skaters who dare you to keep up with them as they seem to be spinning into another universe.

There are some things that are so wonderful that I want them to never end. Yet they will, and they move so quickly that I am scared. Scared that I’m aging and know that one day I will be deprived of the things I love. How soon? Better not to know.

There are times that loved things move like honey from a spoon, slowly, creating anguish as I wait for the sweet taste to arrive. Yet when the joy of its taste is finally available, it moves quickly from me at roller coaster speed while I hold onto it, struggling to keep its sweetness just a little longer.

Jackie went to a seven-day retreat in San Diego last week. I told her I’d be ok in Ojai and that she should enjoy herself. Sunday was ok, Monday too. By Tuesday, I was looking for her in every part of my mind. In every ring of the phone and every sound that announced a text message. Wednesday produced little sleep. Thursday and Friday promised not her imminent return, but a prolonged feeling of deprivation that would never end. Text messages and phone calls produced a bit of relief and even some poetry. “It’s still raining. Very softly. Like your skin under my finger-tips.”

Sunday arrived. I drove the usual fifteen minutes to her home but it felt like thirty. I knocked but didn’t see her through the glass. I went in. Her hair dryer was making the sweetest noise I had heard in a week. I followed the sound to the bathroom. The sight of her drying hair framed in the light surrounding the mirror made my heart leap.

She was home and so was I. Time began its inevitable roller coaster ride. And we were both on it for as long as it would last.

What do you call her?

“What do you call her?”

That’s what Rhonda said to me last Friday evening. We were at the synagogue just before the start of services. People were milling about, wishing everyone Shabbat shalom, deciding which seat they wanted to plant themselves in, and just generally beginning to savor the arrival of the day of rest.

Rhonda looked around for Jackie and then looked at me somewhat quizzically. “Where’s Jackie. Is she OK?” I told her that she was fine but that it had been a long day and she needed some rest. And that’s when Rhonda lowered her voice and barely whispered “What do you call her when you introduce her to other people?”

Rhonda and Don were an item. A cute couple who have been totally immersed in each other for nearly a year. So it seemed a bit odd that she was interested in what I called Jackie when introducing her to my friends. Maybe Rhonda was still looking for that special word or phrase that best described her relationship with Don.

I would have thought that the two of them had figured that out some time ago. The uncertainty was more understandable for Jackie and me since our relationship is in a more formative stage, full of mysteries, revelations and history yet to be written.

In various social settings I had used various nouns and adjectives intended to catch the essence of our relationship. And, like many works in progress, I would often find myself hopelessly stumbling, unable to settle on something that would convey the depth of my feelings for her, and at the same time be easily understood by others. “Girlfriend, significant other, sweetheart, partner, and my love” were just some of the descriptive terms that I had used interchangeably as I wandered through a disordered minefield of words and feelings.

“Girlfriend” seemed a bit too juvenile. Like something drawn from my junior year at Chicago’s Von Steuben High School where entertaining a young lady at the second-floor water fountain could be grounds for calling her my girlfriend. Obviously not very meaningful, plus there was nothing that prevented me from immersing myself in multiple girlfriends at the same time. Nothing that is except the wrath of whoever thought she was my one true girlfriend.

“Significant other” seemed a reasonable alternative that has been adopted by those avoiding a more legally binding relationship. Then again, “significant” did not in itself grammatically convey any degree of “exclusivity” and furthermore seemed a rather bland description of a loving relationship. Certainly it was nowhere as definitive as “the only” or “none other.” But these alternatives also seemed to fail at adequately describing one’s status. “Hi, this is Jackie, my significant other.” Significant other what? Were there other women in my life that resided several hierarchies beyond “significant” and was Jackie still on the waiting list for an improvement in status?

“Partner” was certainly worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, due to contemporary usage, it raises the question of the sexual preference of my “partner”. Was Jackie another male, a female or something in between? The gender question answered itself in those instances when Jackie was present during introductions. Even so, “partner” seemed much too business-like. I pictured the two of us sitting behind a traditional partners’ desk, toting up the day’s receipts and then adjourning to separate bedrooms. Unattractive at best, lacking in the beauty of sexual relations and wholly unacceptable.

“My love” has a mystical aura, filled with opportunity, yet leaving the question of the exact nature of that love somewhat up in the air. Or is that intentional?

“Sweetheart” has a nice ring to it but has the same shortcomings as “my love.”

“Fiancee” is a possibility that leaves an expectation of things to come. However, it normally requires a somewhat formal announcement, complete with a ring that tends to remove all doubt about status.

“Wife” is very definitive…but if that were our present relationship there would be no need for this essay.

No, what we need is something that leaves little to the imagination, slides gently over the speaker’s tongue, and provides the listener with a warm, loving image of two people in a very special alliance.

But maybe the true nature of that relationship is best left to the imagination. The imagination of listener as well as speaker. Perhaps that is what love is about. Ever evolving, ever-growing, ever being defined. A relationship that leaves the participants in a state of uncertainty, taking nothing for granted. Striving to make it as satisfying as possible for both parties.

However, if I must find a phrase that best defines our current relationship, so be it. One that expresses feeling rather than description. One that is warm. That is heartfelt. That rolls off the tongue as though it were covered with honey.

“My beloved” sounds like a winner. Wait, far too formal and Elizabethan. “My love” is better. “Hello Max, this is my love”…nope that just won’t cut it. Oh, I’ve got it. “My special lady” says it all. Crap, that sounds like I’ve got another more deluxe model in the back room.

So I guess I’m destined to tirelessly wander through a thicket of descriptive terms, never finding the perfect one. Meanwhile I’ll just look into Jackie’s eyes for that bright light that tells me “it’s ok what you call me as long as you love me.”


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