Dying Young

Mike knew he would die young.

I remember the first time he told me that. We were in my dorm room cuddling. As he nuzzled my hair, he said he would die in his late 30s. The comment had nothing to do with anything that was going on – totally out of the blue.

“You don’t know that,” I said, trying to change the subject. “No one knows when they’re going to die.”

“I’ve always known,” he said. “I think it’ll be around 37.”

I pushed for details, but he didn’t have any – just the thought that he would die before 40.

Through our 20s, we talked about it occasionally. But by the time we were 30, neither of us brought it up again. Maybe it was too close to home. Maybe he forgot he ever told me. Sometimes I would think about it, but I’d always quickly dismiss the thoughts. When he turned 38, I was relieved. He died 2.5 months after his 38th birthday.

I don’t know if he ever told anyone else. I certainly never said anything to anyone. I’m not even sure why I’m writing this, other than I’ve been thinking about it for the last few days.

Did he really know he would die young or was it a coincidence? How much did he know? Did it contribute to his drinking (thinking – knowing – that death was coming anyway)?

Tears in – and over – the Trailblazer: A Car Buying Story

I bought a house by myself. I figured out how to hook up the Wii and the stereo by myself. I managed to hang shelves straight by myself. All things I had never done before by myself because Mike or my dad did them for me. But now, I knew I could do these things because I DID these things. But there was still one hurdle, something I dreaded, something I had to do by myself.

I went to the car dealership on Saturday. I left (the first time) in tears, fast-walking to my car, couldn’t get there soon enough as the tears rolled down my face. I left (the second time) with a car.

Mike and I bought the Trailblazer the week I found out that I was pregnant with Ethan. I had a small car, and thought a nice SUV would be perfect for life with a baby. We bought the car, then took a trip to Memphis where I bought the first piece of baby furniture for the nursery. The Trailblazer was the first car Mike and I bought together. It got us through the birth of two babies. Drove us to too many funerals – and lots of weddings and family trips and “just the two of us” vacations. I didn’t realize until today that I had memories with this car.

When Mike lost his job (and started to slip away), maintenance on the Trailblazer stopped. He didn’t change the oil anymore. The “service engine” light was always on. The brakes were soft, the tires worn. It was pushing 200,000 miles. When I moved to Wisconsin, I had MAJOR work done on the car, but there was so much more that needed done. Every time in the last six months, when I’ve had the “service engine” light fixed, it would come back on, usually in a day or so. It became a never-ending game. And in a state that requires vehicle testing, I was in jeopardy of failing (for the third time) my inspection.

I’m an over-researcher. My Plan Bs have Plan Bs. There are few things I do without spending incredible amounts of time in research mode. I started looking into cars a few months ago. But I couldn’t decide what I wanted. A car? Another SUV? What about a minivan? I looked into best cars for parents. (Sidenote: did you know there are articles on the best cars for SINGLE parents? I still don’t understand that article…)  Best cars for safety ratings. Best features. I would talk myself into something, and by the end of the night, flip flop my thoughts about what I wanted.

This week, I started looking online at what local dealers had available. And I found it. A 2012 model, but it was “used” so the depreciation was accounted for. Had all the features I wanted. I drove to the dealer this morning and saw the car right on the corner. I drove past, turned around, drove past again.

I hate dealing with car dealers. I didn’t want to drive onto the lot.

But I did.

Randy met me as I hiked up the hill to get a closer look at the car. Seemed in decent shape, couldn’t beat the price or the miles or that it was essentially a BRAND NEW car. I took it for a test drive. Then took three more vehicles for test drives. (Sidenote: if you go to a dealer with someone else – a spouse or friend or whatever – you can take the car out on your own, no salesperson. If you arrive alone, like I did, you CAN’T take the car alone and have to spend more time with the dreaded salesperson.)

I turned over my keys to have the Trailblazer inspected for a trade-in offer. I walked around the lot more. Did more Internet research on the spot. Thought about it more and more and more. I knew this was the right choice.

I decided I wanted to make an offer. Of course, the dealership had a “no haggle” policy on the used cars, but I still asked for a few things thrown in (I got everything I asked for). It came time to send the paperwork to finance. All they needed was my signature.

That’s when I freaked out.

I looked at the paperwork and the numbers and the legal jargon on the doc they wanted me to sign. I realized, as I looked at this document, that I’ve never signed anything without my attorney reviewing first. My attorney was Mike.

He loved reviewing contracts, deciding what was legit and what was nonsense. What would be admissible in court and what was stupid. Crossing things out and haggling over words used. It would take hours more time than it needed to because he read.every.word. I hated it then. But now, as I stared at this form, trying to make sense of the words, I panicked. I felt pressure (and Randy was terrific at NOT pressuring me – for a car salesman, he was very accommodating, no pressure, and helpful). Still, I felt uncomfortable.

I sent Randy back to the desk to get clarification on a couple of points. It was a diversion tactic so I could sneak away. I grabbed my purse and looked at the place I usually attach my keys. Nothing. More panic as I realized that the dealership still had my keys. I couldn’t leave.

More panic.

“I want my keys. I need to go. I’m not comfortable signing anything,” I told Randy, trying to look as apologetic as possible. “I really need to go.”

“Just hang on a second,” he said. “I’ll have John explain this to you. Maybe he can do a better job.”

“It’s not that,” I said. “I need to leave. Now. Please give me my keys back.”

“Please just give me my keys.”

“Sorry, I can’t do this. I need my keys!”

It was another 10 minutes and more conversation with Randy and John until I had my keys. At that point, my eyes were watering and I felt my throat closing up. I put on my sunglasses and rushed out the closest door to the parking lot. Then the tears came. Big, wet, sloppy tears rolling down my cheeks as I walked as fast as I could to the Trailblazer.

I opened the door, got in and let the emotion out. I looked around the car and realized that it meant more to me than I realized. I drove away.

I drove to a fast food place to get something to drink, hoping that something cold and bubbly would calm me down. Then I just started driving. No real destination, just away from the dealer and the emotion and the…everything.

Randy called my cell phone. “Hey,” he said. “We’ll let you take the car for the weekend. Just come back and get it.”

I called my mom and in talking to her, realized that I was okay. I would be alright. That I could get out of the signing the scary document because I don’t have to finance the car – why should I pay interest when I can pay cash, today? That this was a hell of a deal and the Trailblazer was going to require a lot more repairs before it was over.

My head was clearing and I was starting to think rationally.

I turned around and drove home. I needed to clean out the Trailblazer if I was going to trade it in. (Sidenote: oh my, the amount of goldfish crackers I found in the backseat was ridiculous – and gross!)

Feeling better about my decision, I called Randy and told him I was coming back. Ethan decided to join me and back to the dealership we went.

Walking into the dealership for the second time, I felt a little foolish. I had created a bit of a scene at the end as my voice kept getting louder as I asked for my keys. But I was put to ease immediately by a nice guy who asked if I was from southern Illinois. He saw the sticker on the back of the Trailblazer and recognized the dealer. We had a very pleasant conversation about the area before Randy joined us again. I felt comfortable and ready.

I was relieved that Ethan was with me, even if he’ll never know it. If I felt awkward (hello, scene maker) or needed to escape for a minute to clear my thoughts, I looked around for him and engaged him in talk about the game he was playing on my phone. It helped me focus and calm down. Talking to Ethan, touching his hair, laughing with him put things in perspective. 

Another hour at the dealership, and Ethan and I left in a new, but used, car. I love it.

Ready to Move on? A Widow’s Thoughts on Dating

Even though I’ve turned in my notice at work, I’m still putting in a ton of hours. Not as much as before, but a few extra hours at night. Last night was no exception. Laptop fired up, I settled into the couch to draft a meeting recap. The kids and my mom were in bed, and the TV was on as background noise to drowned out the sound of Ethan’s rock tumbler outside. (He’s making me some sort of jewelry for my birthday.)

I was only half listening as the narrator of the TV show introduced the new innovative dating show concept. “Yeah, right,” I thought, “This will be like the scads of other dating shows.” It would be the perfect mindless background to my evening of boring memo writing.

Some blonde chic was introduced. She was a bubbly, 20-something, and all she wanted in life was to be a wife and have babies. A random gal from California was introduced next. No mention of wife and babies, but definitely “looking for love.” I was pretty tuned out at this point.

But the third and final woman made me stop, put down my laptop, and start to tear up. She was in her 30s, had two small kids, and was widowed. She talked about how she was ready to find love again. She also discussed how it was hard to even approach dating as a widowed mom – would people think it was too soon? Would people understand? She wanted to do right by her kids, but she also wanted to find love.

I set my laptop down. I was rooting for this woman to find someone. I could relate. I was having many of those same thoughts and feelings and questions. I wanted her to be happy, screw whatever criticism she would get for wanting to find love.

I’ve thought a lot about what the next chapter of my life might look like. The kind of person I might want to share it with. My situation is different from, but still somewhat similar to, the woman on the dating show – she lost her husband after a three-year battle with cancer; she had time process losing him and at some subconscious level to start thinking about where her life might go.

Mike and I were separated for five months before he died, but our marriage was over long before that. When I think back and really reflect, there were significant problems in our marriage well before I learned he was drinking, which was about a year and a half before I filed for divorce.

A few months after Mike moved in with his parents and I moved to Wisconsin, I started researching online dating services. I had met several people who met their spouses this way, and being new to the area, I thought it might be worthwhile. I filled out the survey for one national service and waited for my computer-selected matches to arrive in my inbox.

It’s probably important to note that I didn’t sign up for the “paid” part of the service. Heck, I wasn’t sure this was even a route I wanted to go, so just “seeing” how it might pan out seemed like a good idea (without the financial commitment, which is kind of steep).

Every week, a group of 10 potential mates was sent to me, and it was a pretty easy choice to hit the decline for all of them. There was the guy just looking JUST to get lucky (wow, was that a descriptive – but very honest – profile!), the guy with the photos of his pick up truck (no photos of him, just his vehicle…um, weird), and the guy with the sketchy, shifty eyes in what looked to be a mug shot (no thanks!).

The choices were so BAD, that I looked forward to getting the email every week just to see what kind of goofy, horrendously bad choices were “matched” with me. I took advantage of the “free” weekends to see what sort of other men were on the site. But then Mike died, and it felt wrong that I even signed up in the first place. I stopped opening the emails and after a few months, the emails stopped coming.

Then, there was a little flirty thing on Facebook with a guy I know from way back when. I was quite excited with our little flirty messages over the course of a few weeks and wondered where it could lead. It felt REALLY good to flirt and to be flirted with. We were even making plans to see each other (he lives in another state). But just like that, he moved on, apparently interested in a recently separated woman who used a very busty boudoir photo as her Facebook profile pic, lived in the next town, and was able to spend every waking moment at his side. (Sidenote: Why don’t people use FB privacy settings?!)  Turns out, dude was much needier than I could have dealt with, and I’ve even wished him luck with this woman.

I’ve kept all of this private – not telling anyone about joining the site or the flirting on FB. I’ve kept it to myself because I don’t know how people will react. If they will judge because it’s too soon or talk about it behind my back about how I’m moving on (before Mike is even, technically, laid to rest). I’m not usually the kind of person who cares about what others think, but on this issue, it’s holding me back.

I don’t have a master plan. I don’t even KNOW anyone locally I would WANT to date (working 80+ hours a week really limits the social calendar…) or even what the “rules” are for dating when you have kids. Heck, Mike and I started dating in college, so I have zero “real world” dating experience. But, I know that I want to find someone to share my life with. I’m ready to move on and anxious find love again.

I’m going to keep watching this random dating show, and I’ll be cheering for the widowed woman to find love. She deserves it. And I think it will help me realize that I can do it, too (just not on a reality show).

How are the Kids? Ethan Edition

Ethan. My baby boy. My sweet, sweet pumpkin.

He’s struggling. Not necessarily at home, but definitely away from home. Not with us, but with just about everyone else. And by all reports, it’s becoming an issue.

At home, he’s (usually) polite, very helpful, extremely loving. Away from home (by accounts of teachers and others, as well as limited personal observation when he didn’t know I was around), he can be rude and angry, disrespectful and uncompromising. It doesn’t matter if it’s another kid or an adult. It’s not all the time, but he’s just not someone you’d want to be around sometimes.

He’s overly bossy. He gets very angry, occasionally becoming physical. He will argue and yell at anyone, showing no fear or anxiety if he’s sent to the principal or another authority figure. He argues when he perceives someone is cheating – whether it’s a kid taking an “extra” turn or not following the rules.

He doesn’t sit still – that’s something we DO deal with at home. He’s constantly moving, wiggling, unable to remain motionless. Some of that might be “being seven” or it might be more.

Ethan was dealing with issues before Mike died. He was seeing a counselor in St. Louis, before we moved, to deal with the death of my dad (his beloved grandpa) in 2010 and our separation in August.

Ethan saw some very tough things over the last few years. Once I drove home in the middle of the night from a trip because I knew something wasn’t right. I found Ethan sitting up in bed, next to Mike, who was passed out. Ethan told me he was worried his dad would die, so he wanted to be by his side. Ethan was five years old. It was 2 a.m. After slapping him awake, I convinced Mike to go to the ER. He was four times the legal limit.

Stuff like that is hard for a kid (or an adult) to process.

He talks, quite openly, about his dad’s drinking and what happened when Mike drank. He talks about seeing Mike try to hide the liquor in the ceiling tiles or under the couch.He talks about how mean Mike was to me when he drank and how he yelled at me for no reason. Ethan also talks about how he’s the only kid at school without a dad. It all breaks my heart.

School administrators and counselors are worried about him, especially going into second grade. Apparently, second grad is a critical year for kids socially, and Ethan is at risk. His school has been fantastic, really creating an accepting environment and wanting to make sure Ethan is successful, happy, well-developed and well-loved.

Ethan has a really good counselor here. They’ve really bonded. If Ethan is struggling, he’ll tell me that he wants to talk to Mr. Robb.

Ethan’s well-being and happiness definitely played into my recent decision to step away from my career. I can’t be involved, I can’t be a mom, by only spending 15 minutes with the kids each day. I want to be a regular fixture in his classroom. His teacher and I are going to be working closely all year. Ethan is going to get involved in several social and sports activities.

It’s going to take a while. It’ll be a long, hard road (for both of us), but I just KNOW that Ethan will be okay.

The Kiddos

Ethan and Lauren, holidays 2011

I’ve talked a lot about the kids on this blog, but realize that I haven’t included any photos. It’s not that I’m opposed to images of the kids, it’s just when I start writing, my mind is somewhere else. I’m thinking in words, not pictures.

Here’s one of my favorite photos of the kids taken in the last year. We were at the Jewel Box in Forest Park (St. Louis). Ethan was incredibly cooperative that day – he was posing and posing and posing like crazy. Lauren wanted to run, wanted to do anything except have her picture taken. This shot was toward the end of the session, Lauren too tired to run and Ethan finally sitting still also. Both kids would be asleep in the car 20 minutes later.