Monday, September 10, 2018

A fresh ground story, coming right up

In June of this year, I achieved a big goal of mine, which was to speak at a live storytelling event. The event I spoke at was Fresh Ground Stories, a once-monthly get-together that happens at a coffeehouse in Seattle. It's very popular! The place was packed, and the audience very supportive.  The theme for this evening was "Under the illusion." I was thrilled that I got a chance to get up there and tell my story. You all know I love me some spotlight. You can listen to it here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Celebrating my ex mother-in-law on Mother's Day

With my stylish MIL in happier times

My mother-in-law literally used to give me the clothes off her back.

It happened more than once that she’d be wearing a stylish shirt or sweater and I’d say, “M-, I love that sweater.”

“Do you want it?” she’d say. “Take it!” Then she’d hand it to me despite my (feeble) protests, saying something like “I have so many others” or “But it looks better on you than it does on me.”

It would then inevitably become one of my favorite and most-complimented sweaters because she was one of the most stylish people I knew.

Her generosity took other forms too. Like the elaborate meals she used to cook for us, not permitting us to lift a finger in the preparation or the clean-up.

“I’ll do the dishes tomorrow!” she used to say, though she was 78 with MS, and we were fit and mid-40s and very capable of washing dishes (even if we were stuffed with chicken piccata and chocolate cake). I’m embarrassed to say we always obeyed. 

I used to say I won the “mother-in-law lottery.” Instead of a mother-in-law who didn’t think I was good enough for her son, or who was crazy, or just plain annoying, I got a mother-in-law who made me feel special, beautiful, and brilliant.

She had a talent for making people feel good.

Also a talent for looking good. If once I’d thought getting older meant letting myself go or falling out of step fashionwise, she taught me that didn’t have to be the case. Her hair was usually a perfect honey-blonde, her outfit something hip from Nordstrom’s.

And yet, her sister – also a beloved figure in my life – presented a contrasting yet equally vibrant picture of old age. She had a head full of unapologetic white hair, wore track suits so bright they hurt your eyes, and was full of energy in her 80s.

They were fun to be around. They made me feel like getting old was possible, and possibly not so bad. In my own family, everyone died before 70. My dad and my grandparents were all long gone by the time I met my mother-in-law in 2007. So I needed older and wiser people like her in my life.

Especially after my mom died in 2012 at 68. The pampering presence of my mother-in-law became even more of a comfort to me then. So did her own hard-won perspective on life and loss. 

Occasionally I thought of her as a second mom, but in reality, she acted more like a grandmother – never criticizing, always adoring, lavishing love and attention on me.

Then, in late 2016, my husband and I split up.  I had na├»ve hopes that my relationship with her would survive the messy divorce. That once the dust settled, we’d get back to the business of being besties.

So I reached out to her with cards and email. Tried to stay in touch. But the divorce became final a year ago, and more time than that has passed without a response from her. And I’m just starting to accept that our relationship is a thing of the past.

It hurts, of course, but I understand. And when it hurts a lot, I remind myself of something she said to me at the beginning of the divorce process, before I moved away.

“You’ll always be my little girl,” she said. It was quick and whispered. She said it almost in passing, when she was helping my ex move out of our house.

She had never called me her little girl before. But of course I was. I was the daughter she’d never had, plus adoring granddaughter rolled into one.

Which is why, although I might not be in her life anymore, I like to think I’m still in her heart. In my own special room, eating homemade chocolate cake and staying forever warm in a spontaneously gifted sweater from Nordstrom’s. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Am I too old for him?

I recently published an essay in The Globe and Mail - whoohoo! It' s about dating someone much younger than me, and the insecurities (and occasional mean looks) that go along with it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dear Mom, I miss you.

Dear Mom,
I hope you’re doing well where you are. When I saw you, over a year ago now in that dream, you looked great. I carry that image of you smiling at me wherever I go. 

I’m really annoyed that you’re dead. I still need you so much. Although I often wonder what the "flesh-and-blood" you would think of the choices I’m making now.

Dating someone half my age from a different culture. Travelling all the time. Living in Mexico, where someone else prepares my meals and cleans my apartment, and my only responsibility is working a few hours a week at my easy Internet job.

Not exactly what you pictured for me at this age, was it?  

First, of course, before you could attempt to come to terms with my age-inappropriate lifestyle, you would have to get over the shock of my divorce.

You loved my ex so much, I know. So did I.

But I also know you would have supported me in getting a divorce, given the circumstances. You might even have encouraged me to do it sooner than I did.

Still, it sucks, I know. I was supposed to be the parent of an adopted kid by now, living a life of domesticity in my big house with its garden and the fancy food processor and the two pugs. Finally “settled down.”

But nothing ever really works out as planned, does it? Thanks anyway, for paying for the wedding. It was beautiful. I’m so sorry you couldn’t make it. We read one of your poems and talked about you.  
I do think that the "flesh-and-blood" you would approve of some of the other things I’m trying to do. Like becoming an ESL teacher and an interpreter.

(And of course publishing another book. Sorry I couldn’t make that happen before you left. At least you got to see me publish one. Thanks for coming all the way to Seattle for my book launch party. That was great, wasn’t it?).

And I know the "flesh-and-blood" you would have already been down here to Mexico visit me at least once or twice because that’s how we Agiewiches roll. Travel is in our DNA, at least ever since Dad got sick and decided life was too short to sit at home watching TV.

In real life you were awesome, don’t get me wrong. You were the best mom anyone could ask for. You helped make me the person I am, who is mostly strong, confident, and unafraid (Well I’m afraid all the time but I’m good at hiding it).

I soldier on no matter what, just like you always did, even though I often just wish I could melt down completely.

With dad getting sick and then dying so young, your life didn’t turn out exactly as planned either. But that didn’t stop you. You cared for him, you cared for us, and meanwhile you got on with things – making new friends, writing, helping people, traveling.

I hope I’m a little bit like you, mom.

Anyway, now that you’re ethereal and all-knowing, I know that you’re totally down with all the stuff I’m doing. Young boyfriend, vagabond lifestyle, and all. You’re not burdened by earthly expectations or judgements anymore.

“It’s all good,” you’re saying, which is something you would never say in real life.

At least, when I saw you in that dream a year and a half ago, when you couldn’t stop smiling at me, that’s what you seemed to be saying. And even now, thinking of that smile, so much more vivid than anything I can remember from when you were alive, I feel your warmth and your unconditional love.

I love you and I miss you more than you could ever know, mom. Come visit again soon.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Happy anniversary to me

All photos by Sara Tro
So, last night in honor of my upcoming five-year wedding anniversary I watched a bunch of old videos of me and my ex, drank some tequila, and cried myself to sleep.

Because not only would August 25th be my five-year anniversary, it is also the one-year anniversary of the day I asked for a divorce.

Somehow, without planning it, I ended up asking for a divorce on our anniversary- a moment that's burned into my brain for the relative lack of drama with which it occurred and all the drama it unleashed soon thereafter.

Weddings small and big

We actually had two weddings. The first was on August 25th, at my mom's house in California. That was our legal wedding. On September 1st, we had a wedding and reception in Seattle.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. There was only supposed to be one wedding - in Seattle - and my mom was supposed to be there. When we'd announced our engagement 7 months earlier, in February 2012, my mom had been thrilled.

She loved my ex. She had lung cancer. She liked the idea of me finally tying the knot.

So she offered to pay, and we immediately set about planning the wedding together. We picked the venue, the caterer, quibbled over the invitations. Then her health took a dramatic turn for the worse and she couldn't help me anymore. But the wedding planning kept me afloat as I watched her go downhill, the cancer creeping into her brain.

I wondered, many times, selfishly, if I would have to cancel the wedding. Couldn't she live long enough for me to have my big day? It turns out she did.

But by late August of 2012, she wasn't well enough to travel. She wasn't going to get to enjoy the beautiful venue that I'd found (with her help), a rowing club on Lake Union.

And so we had a very small ceremony at her house, with a rabbi. It was beautiful in its own way. I'm not even sure my mom fully understood what was going on by that point. But I think she knew it was a momentous and happy occasion. She seemed happy, anyway.

We were too. Nervous but happy. Hopeful. And so were my sister and brother in law, the only other ones there.

The wedding in September was beautiful too. Everything I ever dreamed a wedding should be. A handsome husband, a gorgeous locale, many smiling friends. Champagne. Karaoke.

A dream.

The only thing missing was my mom.

A month and a half after the wedding, she died.

The divorce years

And things went downhill after that, as they have a way of doing. Two years later, my sister and her husband of 12 years had split up. Two years after that, it was us.

I'd like to say that I'm glad that  my mom doesn't know.

But I think she actually does. Because she came to me once in a dream, six months before my ex and I split up, to reassure me that everything was going to be OK.

She didn't say anything. She just smiled. A lot.

That's how I knew something big and scary was coming. And that I was going to survive it.

How well I'm surviving depends on the day. Last night, as I watched old videos of us from seven or eight  years ago, I felt like a jealous interloper spying on my old life. (Because of course all old videos are happy. Who ever videos the screaming fights? The throwing of the Xbox controller ? The tears?)

Look how happy we were sitting on the couch with our old pug, Snuffy. Playing guitar, singing songs together, not doing much of anything.

Look at how he looks at me. So lovingly.

Look how pretty and happy I look.

Look how you can see the lights of Seattle in my old condo.

I miss that condo.

I miss Snuffy.

I miss my mom.

I miss...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

This could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don't know...

Lately I've been thinking about last times.

More specifically I've been thinking about last times that I knew were last times, which made them even more sad.

Like the last time my mom kissed me.

In the summer of 2012, she was dying of lung cancer, which had spread to her brain. There are so many things to say about that time, of course, including how she was dying as I was on the verge of getting married, and how bittersweet that was, and how hard it was to see her lose the ability to speak, read, and write (My mother!!! To whom, like me, speaking, reading, and writing were everything).

But if I go into all that right now, I will never get to the point.

Maybe a week or so before she died in October  2012, I was getting ready to go out and meet a friend for dinner. I'd been at her apartment all day, during which time she'd hardly been conscious at all. As it turned out, she chose the exact moment I was leaving to wake up.

She wasn't talking much by that point (if at all). Mostly she slept. By this time, she was in bed for the last time and hadn't moved in a while. At least she didn't seem to be in pain.

I went to say goodbye to her this night - I remember it was a pleasant, balmy night (as it often is in Palo Alto, California) -- thinking I would kiss her on the cheek and leave her to her ever-deepening sleep.

Instead, she opened her eyes when I said goodbye. And I immediately felt guilty for leaving. And for wanting to leave, even now that she was awake, because watching over someone's deathbed all day is nothing if not draining.

I said something like "Mom, I'm going to go over to Katie's for dinner now, OK?" Then I went to kiss her on the cheek.

To my surprise, she bolted semi-upright and kissed ME on the cheek. A full, hearty kiss. Just like she had done every night when I was little kid, and every night when I was an adult too, if I happened to be visiting with her. My mom never failed with the goodnight kiss.

But of course, she hadn't done that in quite a while. Like I said, she couldn't really move anymore. It must have taken every last ounce of energy she had to sit up and kiss me that night.

She fell back down on her pillow after that, exhausted. She might have croaked out the word "goodbye." Probably not.

Startled, sad and yet uplifted, I left the house to go have dinner with my friend. I knew deep down, somewhere, that it was the last time she would kiss me. But I didn't let myself feel the enormity of it at that moment. I still had the whole business of her actual death to get through (Which is something I thought I was prepared for after her semi-prolonged illness, but I was totally not.)

But now, four years later, I think often about that moment. How she must have known she was dying because she made that last effort to let me know just how much she loved me.

Four years later the thought of that kiss both sustains me and also makes me weep uncontrollably.

I also often feel an intense anger at myself for not writing down every word of this exchange in my journal right after it happened. For example, I don't know the exact date that last kiss happened.  What kind of writer am I? What kind of daughter am I?

When the anger passes, though, I realize I wasn't such a bad daughter. Oh sure, I was completely self-involved and constantly caught up in my own dramas. But despite our occasional squabbles and screaming fights (remind me to tell you about the time I threw a spoon at her at Thanksgiving), my mom and I were the best of friends. And that made both our lives so much better.

I like to think that it made her death a little better too.

And even if I didn't write down the stupid date or exactly what we said (which is what my mom would have done if she'd been able to write in her journal), I will never forget that kiss.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Summer of my Discontent

Must. Have. Fun.
Summer has always been a challenging time for me. As an adult, anyway. So much pressure to have fun.

No one (at least in Seattle) ever says "Have a great winter!" or "How's your fall going?" Oh no. Summer is THE moment! That glorious time when Seattleites crawl out of their caves and blind you with their pasty white skin.

As my  erstwhile alter ego Breakup Babe the Younger put it, summer is the "moment when everyone else is living out a sun-drenched Coke ad, and you're a broken-hearted, miserable wretch."

(She was good at whining, that BBTY).

Breakups always seem to happen for me right on the precipice of summer, too. So that instead of looking forward to the endless days and balmy nights, I'm cowering in dread.

HOWEVER. We are in a slightly different situation now.

Seen in upstate NY

The edge of The Abyss

My breakup happened 10 months ago.

And then, well, I figured once that happened there would be The Abyss. That I would fill with anti-depressants, crying jags, cocktails, dating apps, and  men equally crippled by emotional baggage. Kinda like my younger self did (but without the apps or the fixation on marriage [gag!]).

That did not happen.

Instead someone decidedly not crippled showed up. At a time when the last thing I expected was to fall in love. At a time when I probably shouldn't have fallen in love because I hadn't yet escaped the towering inferno that was my marriage.

But, there he was,  like a sexy fireman, pulling me out of the wreckage in his strong, tanned arms. And. I. Could. Not. Resist.

Girlfriends on the more sensible end of the spectrum (that is, my complete opposites) counseled me not to rush into anything new. If you get your heart broken now, it will only make things that much worse.

I know, I know! Don't you think I know??

But because I'm not sensible, I fell hard into his waiting arms. (a story I'm still figuring out how to tell).

 For now, I'll just say that this relationship  has sustained and grounded me through a period that would have otherwise been complete SH*T. (Remember when I said the last six months were the most bittersweet of my life? Now you know where the "sweet" comes from.)
Now suddenly, however,  I'm alone, because he's working all summer in a camp upstate New York and I have so much baggage around effing summer camps, but let's not even go there right now. Because it's IRRELEVANT, ok?

Comes a time when you're drifting, comes a time when you settle down...

Leaving Seattle
Anyway, without him, I feel very...displaced. Not at home anywhere. Except airports, airplanes (kind of) and other liminal spaces that have to do with travel. I feel comfortable traveling between places, but once I'm there I pretty quickly feel out of place.

That's because he was my home for the last six months. Not Mexico. He was in Mexico, which made it a warm safe place for me to be. A place where, for a while, I just relaxed and forgot about my identity crisis.

Who am I now if not a wife, a home owner, a soon-to-be adoptive parent?

Bring it on, summer. I can take you.  

Now the identity crisis is back, thanks very much. Which isn't a bad thing. It is what it is. In fact, I'm sure it's HEALTHY for me to be ALONE for the SUMMER figuring out who the f*ck I am and where I belong.

Meanwhile, I at least temporarily have the freedom (thank you, flexible job!) to jet around feeling uncomfortable in various places. So I don't have to be stuck in just one! So far this summer, I've been in two different countries, 3 different states and five difference cities, seeing friends and dogs and spending insane amounts of money on AirBBs.

Also, drinking way too much coffee, not exercising, crying less than I thought I would (but still enough), and looking out the windows of various modes of transportation at the ever-surprising, usually-beautiful U.S. countryside.

Speaking of which...I'm just about to get on another bus (aah, my comfort zone) to drift a little more.

*OK it's totally not undisclosed. All you have to do is look at my Instagram feed to know where I am.