Tag Archives: Richard

On My Honor, I Will Do My Best

tryI put a lot of effort into living–and living right. I live like somebody’s going to be handing out ribbons at the finish line.

This week, I was pretty convinced that if that did turn out to be the case, I would be handed a “Participant” ribbon.  You know, the one in the weird color that’s definitely not blue. The one that they order in large quantities to give to everyone who didn’t win, place or show.

I wasn’t excelling at anything, just participating. My kids were eating a lot of sandwiches. My running shoes couldn’t be located. Tasks at work kept piling up, no matter how hard I worked. I still hadn’t written a book proposal, much less a book. The wreck of a house was just getting wreckier. The Usual.

But one thing was really eating at me–Light the Night. It’s the big fundraising walk held by the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. I raise money every year in Richard’s memory. It’s a way of fulfilling a promise to him, so I’ve tried to give it my all every year. For TEN YEARS.

The first year I walked, I set myself a goal of raising $1000. My friends and family donated $3000. So the next year, I set a goal of $3000 and raised $7000. The next year, a $7000 goal turned into $11,000 raised. The year after that?  We managed to donate $15,000 in Richard’s memory. People are so generous! So this has been a big deal for me for a long time.

When Richard knew that he was dying, and knew that he had been poisoned by toxins in his workplace, he made me promise that I would sue on his behalf after he was gone. He pointed his finger right at my heart and said, “If you win, you keep a third, give my sister a third, and give a third to the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.” I promised. Scout’s honor.

I tried. No lawyer saw a way to pin it down. There’s no suing pockets that deep. So I let the wrongful death go. I started raising money through Light the Night. I had made a promise.

It takes a lot of work to raise those kinds of dollars. I’ve organized bake sales, silent auctions, coin drives. One year I sold sponsorships on my t-shirt like NASCAR. Twenty five dollars to get on the shirt. Fifty to get on the front. Two hundred and fifty to be in the boob area! One year I did a crunches for money–my sister donated enough to make me do 1000 crunches.

Even with all that work, the momentum slowed. The total came in at $13,000 when it had been $15,000 the year before. The next year, it went to $11,000. Still amazing, but…less than it had been. Last year, I couldn’t do a big auction at work that had been a money-maker for years. My total fundraising came in at about $7000.

Seven thousand dollars and I felt like I had let Richard down.  Crazy Alert.

This year, I was having trouble even getting started. July was so busy, I thought I would begin in August. Then the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept the world of charitable giving. So here it was, September 1st and I hadn’t raised a dime. The walk is on October 10th. Gulp.

I wasn’t even participating!

The negative voices started dogging me. “Don’t even bother. You can’t do much at this point.” The evil demon, Inertia, pulled me down.  “This could be the year that you stop.” I was beating myself up because my best didn’t seem good enough any more. And I had promised Richard that I would give something to LLS.

Well, well, well. It seems that ONCE AGAIN, I have failed to take my own advice. Just last week, when I spoke to the senior class at Wesleyan during Fall Convocation, I gave them some simple advice:  Do Your Best. Don’t worry about anyone else’s best–do your best.

We’ve all heard it a zillion times–do your best. But here’s the kicker that I shared with them.  Do your best, but remember that your best CHANGES. From day to day, year to year, maybe even hour to hour.

When I made that promise to raise money for LLS, my life was very different. It was just me and three weiner dogs who didn’t like to go on walks anyway. I had plenty of time to spend on tracking down sponsors, holding events, collecting donations, building a sense of community for the cause. I spoke on behalf of LLS. I taught newer teams how to raise money. I kept planning bigger and better events.

Now, 10 years into it, I’ve got 3 kids, a full-time job, Wesleyan alumnae stuff, a writing gig, and grown-lady bills to pay. I still love the excitement of making a difference, but I make a difference in a lot of ways these days (even if it’s by helping with spelling homework or crafting juicy and delicious blog posts). I’m not shirking my commitment to LLS, but I am giving myself some grace. My best changes from year to year. My best is spread out over so many beautifully creative adventures. boy_scout_with_oath

I’m doing my best in memory of my Eagle Scout. My goal this year it to raise $5000 in a joyful, easy-hearted manner.

And wouldn’t you know, as soon as I got the fundraising website up last night, the donations started coming in–$1430 in the first 24 hours!

So do your best, but remember that your best changes.

A Tidy Kitchen Will Break Your Heart


A tidy kitchen.

“Just.  Wash. The. Godforsaken. POTS.”

That’s what I was growling under my breath tonight as I clung to the edge of the kitchen sink and tried not to pass out from the bleach fumes.  See, G is a chemist by training and he thinks that there’s NOTHING that bleach can’t fix.  Especially pots and pans.  He–being both a chemist and a MAN–refuses to just pick up the f’ing scrub brush and scrub the pot.  Instead, he leaves this morning’s waffle batter bowl sitting in the sink with equal parts bleach and water until the concoction eats through the stuck on stuff.  And my last nerve.

This makes me NUTS.  Just wash the pots and be done with it!!!!  His bleach fetish is also why most of my tshirts have a little line of bleached out dots right across the belly, where I’ve leaned up against the sink too soon after he’s “done the dishes.”

Is it just me or is your blood pressure up too?  GAH!!!!

So I finished up all the dishes once my eyes could focus from the fumes.  Done and done–ten minutes and NO DAMAGE to anyone’s respiratory system.  But the fumes did remind me of a story and a lesson I learned about 10 years ago this summer.

A few weeks after Richard and I bought this house and moved in together, my sister called me.  “So how’s it going?” she asked.

“It’s great…except there are a couple of things that are hard to adjust to after a few years on my own.”

She thought I was talking about manstink, but I assured her we had separate bathrooms.

“No, it’s the fact that he NEVER shuts the kitchen cabinets!  Or drawers!  He’ll walk into a perfectly clean kitchen to make a cup of coffee and leave the cabinet door hanging open, the spoon drawer sticking out, a sticky spoon NEXT TO the sink, and the creamer on the counter!”

My sister hooted.  Turns out her husband does the same thing and it makes her crazy too.

For months, Richard walked through the kitchen doing his thing and I walked right behind him tidying up.  (Which, if you’ve been in my house since I had kids….is no longer my practice.)

Then he got sick.  And he went to Baltimore for treatments.  I went up there on his heels for the first week but I had to come home eventually.

One morning, I walked into the kitchen to get something for breakfast and there wasn’t a thing out of place.  Except him.  The cabinets were fine, but he wasn’t.  I sank to the floor, right there in front of that clean sink, and sobbed until the dogs got worried and started to lick me.

A tidy kitchen will break your heart.

Sharing a life with someone takes compromise.  Sharing a home with other people is hard.  It’s messy.

Wonderfully, wonderfully messy.

And that’s not just the bleach fumes talking.


The Truth Is

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

The truth is…I didn’t even notice that it was June 30th until lunchtime today, when someone made an offhand comment about it being the last day of June.  The last day of June was the last day of my old life, the last day that had an hour in it when the man I loved wasn’t dying of leukemia.  June 30, 2004 was the last day I woke up next to Richard without having cancer lying between us.

His diagnosis was official at about 4:00 p.m. on June 30, 2004.  The truth is, I used to mark the hours each June 30 anniversary. In the morning, I would remember with chagrin the way I went off to work in my cancer pants (not knowing, of course, that they caused cancer).  At lunch, I regretted the timing of that day, that I wasn’t with Richard every minute.  I took a long break from my Microsoft Access class so that I could run home then deliver him to the eye doctor for an exam.  June 30, 2004 was the day we were so worried that he might lose his vision.  I was so busy working and trying to have a normal day that I couldn’t come back again to get him to the hematologist–he took a cab.  When an eye doctor looks at a CBC and tells you to go straight to a hematologist, it’s bad.  We were still calling Dr. Marrano the hematologist, not the oncologist.  The truth is I feel like a shit because he stood in our driveway and stepped into a cab and he already knew in his heart what the answer was going to be.  All the while I stood in front of a class of people, maintaining the illusion that I was in charge of something, anything.

The truth is that I used to mark those hours as they went by, but today I forgot.

There were times today when I thought back over the ten years that have passed since that day.  Tonight when I stepped out on the deck, I thought of that evening.  I stepped out on the deck that night to talk to Richard’s doctor friend Erik.  I read him the numbers from the CBC.  He sucked his breath at the hemoglobin and hematocrit.  He whispered “Shit” as I read the numbers.  He told me not to let Richard brush his teeth before his transfusion the next morning.  My eye fell on the corner of the maple table in the den and I remembered how we sat there at as he told his parents over the phone.  

The truth is, this is the same bed.  The same window.  The same frog chorus outside.  The wobbly ceiling fan.  The river brown paint on the walls that I thought he would like.  The same floor where his feet stepped.  The room where he died.  The room where I continue to live.  The room where my babies and I passed all those hours in the nights that have spun out since June 30, 2004.  

The truth is…I may have forgotten because it’s been 10 years.  Or maybe I had happier things to occupy my mind today.  I took my daughter to the river park to learn how to pedal her bike with confidence on the long flat stretches of sidewalk.  I took my son to the pool so that he could hold tight to my thumbs as he grows more comfortable with the feeling of floating.  At the hour when 10 years ago we were getting The News, I took a nap.

The truth is, today is a day in a different life.  I feel guilty sometimes that I’ve lived on.  I’ve become a mother.  I’ve found another love.  I’ve planted marigolds on the deck.  I’ve bought a new refrigerator.  I’ve got a different car, a different job, a different path around the grocery store.  I cheer for Brasil in the World Cup now because my kids have green passports in addition to their blue ones.  It’s a new world.  This world.  Not that one anymore.

The real truth is, June 30th was a shitty day that year.  A few of them since then were darkened by that habit of looking back, of retracing steps I never wanted to take in the first go round.  Maybe it’s been long enough that I can honor the love I shared with Richard by remembering the happy days, not the horrible ones.  I don’t have to go back through it every year to pay some penance for all the lovely June 30ths since then.


Thank you, Alice Bradley, for this advice:  “When you are feeling stuck, start writing with ‘The truth is…'”  I needed to get this off my mind and into words.  

Letting the Air Out

swimming pool fartsMy late husband, Richard, taught me how to float in the summer of 2002.  Even though I have been able to swim since childhood, I had somehow lost the ability to float.  I couldn’t relax the right way in the water so my long legs sank like marble pillars as soon as I tried to float.  I had lost that limber trust in the water.  I didn’t want to rely on it to hold me up.

One afternoon at his parents’ place, we went down to the pool.  They live in a very nice condominium complex, not exactly a starter home kind of joint, so we were the youngest people at the pool by a good 30 years.  We waded out into the shallow end for my lesson.

“Just relax your body,” he said.  Oh, OK.  Gosh, I didn’t know it was that simple.  I stretched out my legs and stuck out my arms but as soon as I dipped my head back towards the surface of the water, my legs dropped like a lever.

Richard was a born teacher–he taught skiing to tourists, he taught canoeing to campers, he taught finance to business majors.  He tried to break it down into pieces.  I held the side of the pool and let my legs float.  No problem.  Then he held my legs–not in a racy fashion since we were being observed by about 30 Nanas, Bubbies, and Pop Pops.  I tried to tip my head into the water but began to thrash as soon as the water touched my head.

Clearly, my head was the problem (this is where my therapist would probably raise her eyebrow and say, “AS USUAL!”).  So he promised that he wouldn’t let my head sink.  He held me under the shoulders and I stretched out into the cool blue water.

“Now take a breath in.  See how you float up?”  It worked!

“Now let that breath out and feel your body sink.”  I exhaled and felt the water climb higher around me.  I started to wiggle in panic.  Quickly, Richard said, “Breathe in!”

I floated right back up to the top of the water with a triumphant grin.  And a little knot in my neck dissolved.  I had learned that I could loosen up a little and the water would catch me.  “Now let it out…”  He held me while I practiced letting go of my breath and slowly taking it back in.  My head still lay on the valley of his forearms, high and dry.  

“You’re going to have to let the water get in your ears if you want to float.  It will be OK.”  He let his hands drop slowly from beneath my shoulders.  I felt the cold water tingle up the back of my scalp and pour into my ears.  I took a deep breath to bob back to the surface.  It wasn’t so bad.  I let the breath go and just like that…I was floating.  On my own.  

Straight above me stretched the clear blue sky.  To my right, the open stretch of the Potomac River, with a jet following the path of the water on its descent to National.  I floated in a perfectly round and perfectly blue and perfectly cool pool next to a man who loved to show me all I could do.  If I just let my brain get out of the way.  

I stood up to see the world from vertical again.  I gave him a chaste little kiss and said, “Thank you.  I’m proud of myself.”  

He grinned and said, “Next I’ll show you how to do THIS!”  He curled up into a tight ball, squeezing his knees to his chest, and with a long slow exhale of bubbles, he sank to the bottom of the pool.  It was one of his favorite tricks.   

As I stood there waiting for him to bob back up when he got tired of holding his breath, one of the residents joined us in the pool.  Well, she came as far as the third step.  In her black maillot and swim cap, she stood in the water up to her thighs, splashing a little water up onto her arms.  

And she farted.

I don’t mean “toot toot” like you think a Nana might fart.  I mean “BRAAAAAAAAPPPPPHHH!”  Like someone stepped on a duck.  

Since I had been raised right, I pretended not to notice.  We all suffer a little slip now and then and pools can make for confusing acoustics.  Who am I to judge?  

Richard erupted from the water with a splash and a gasp.  “I’m losing my form.  I used to be able to stay down a lot longer.”  

At that very moment, the woman beside us let fly again.  “BUH-WONK!”  Richard’s eyebrows shot up and he–having also been raised right–looked ever so casually around to see who had stepped on a duck.  It was just us and her in the water.  Everyone else chatted on lounge chairs in the shade of the pergola.  He turned back to me and gave the straight face double eyebrow raise.  

We tried to be nonchalant about it, but we started making our way to the deep end as she continued to toot her own horn.  Once we were a safe distance away, I said, “Do you think she thinks she under water and no one can hear?”

Richard said, “No, I think she’s lived long enough that she just doesn’t give a shit.”  

Kids In the Hall

After we got the kids to bed tonight, I came into the den to discover that the carpet was covered in a colorful blanket of tiny paper slivers that Carlos had cut from a junk mail circular.  No big deal–I had given him the safety scissors and the flyer before I walked out to take a call from my friend, Rachel.  It’s just that in the 30 minutes I was occupied….yeah, those of you with kids are laughing right now, right?  What could go wrong??  

He hadn’t cut his hair or the sofa or the dog’s tail.  But he had sliced up the program from Vivi’s theater camp performance, a stack of yellow Post It notes, a bag that had held some leftover chips from Willy’s, a few other pieces of mail, and one very special list that he unearthed from the back of my desk drawer.  

When G came in and found me standing there in the middle of the paper flurry, transfixed by the piece of white paper that I held in my hand, he asked, “Did he cut up something important?”  I considered his question.  “Not important.  Just…old.”  

Here’s what remains:



I wrote this list in 2004, when Richard and I bought this house together.  I lived here by myself for a couple of months before he moved back to Georgia, so while I was getting the place habitable, I jotted down ideas for every room.  I found the notepad a few years ago and stuck it in the back of the desk drawer.  There are still some good ideas on there but they don’t exactly fit my current living situation.  I like the note about getting pictures from Helen–I wanted to surprise Richard with some family snapshots from his childhood in our first home.  But a gray and white paint scheme with window pane checks and black and white picture frame collage?  These were the ramblings of a woman who had:

A.  HGTV Poisoning

B.  An irrational belief in the power of painter’s tape

C.  No children

D.  No idea what a Magic Eraser was, much less why a homeowner might need one

Here’s how that hallway turned out.  It’s still yellow, still dark, still got the scratches on the doors.  There’s one door covered in butterfly stickers.  One door with a warning sign Vivi drew of all the things that aren’t allowed in a baby nursery (sharp things, chokies, balloons, gum, etc).  There’s the bathroom door with a big hook lock on the outside that G installed after Carlos plugged up the toilet so bad that we had to replace the whole thing (it was a kid’s vitamin bottle).  There’s the door to the room with the big bed where we all piled up together on Sunday morning.  Where Carlos bounces then puts his hands on his hips and declares, “Dis not a trampoline.  Dis a BED!”  There’s the traveling trunk that belonged to my great-grandparents. That’s what Carlos leaned against when he was first learning to stand.  Above the trunk hangs a Matisse poster that I bought in London on my first big adventure.  Vivi used it to learn her colors.  

So I never got to the ideas on that list.  Maybe the hall didn’t need that much work; maybe it will get some real attention one day.  We have made one “improvement.”  I called in a muralist who expressed his own vision on the wall beside the bathroom door.  I think he really captured the cacophony of modern life rendered against the clean lines of the mid-century modern aesthetic.  He’s a real up and comer.  



Even Magic Eraser couldn’t clean it off, so I guess it will be there for a while.

With This Ring

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art


I hit one of those grief loops today–the portals through time that sweep me back into another moment from another life.

As I was washing my hands in the kitchen at work, a memory came back to me from the day Richard and I moved into our house back in the fall of 2003.  We were unloading a truck filled with my stuff (mostly boxes of books).  Our paths crossed in the garage as he was walking into the house and I was walking out.  I saw his left hand gripping the corner of a gigantic cardboard box and for a fleeting second, I imagined that I saw a shiny gold ring there.  A simple wedding band.  The image seemed so real, in that instant, that I stood there kind of dumbstruck.  He paused as he walked past me and gave me a funny look.

“What?” he asked.  I laughed and shook my head to clear it.  “Nothing.  Just daydreaming.”  He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.  Then he said, “I love you…and you didn’t have to say it first this time.” And he went on his way.

I was usually the “I love you” and he was the “I love you, too.”  That moment–sweaty and stinky and tired in the garage– made me so completely happy.  We were starting our life together, blending our stuff.

I guess that moment was prescient–seventeen months later he did wear a simple gold ring on that finger.  We picked out our wedding rings while sitting on the side of the bathtub in our house, the night before the ceremony.  Big Gay had brought a black velvet tray of them from our jeweler friend, Tony.  Richard wasn’t much for jewelry.  He didn’t even think he would wear a ring.  But it was important to me to give him a token, so he chose a simple gold band.  There was no time for engraving.

The next morning, under a white tent in our backyard, I put that ring on his finger.  The minister bound our hands in his silk stole for the blessing then whispered to us, “You’ve tied the knot!”

Richard agreed to wear the ring for the rest of the day because I enjoyed the sight of it so much.  He kept it on into the night.  In between IV meds, he joined the rest of us out on the deck where we sat telling stories in the dark.  He kept it on when we went to sleep, past midnight when his drugs were finished running their course.

The ring was still there the next day, on his finger.  It stayed there for the eleven days that we got to call each other husband and wife.  He never took it off.  After he died, I took it off his finger and put it on mine.

That’s the memory that came back to me today–the imaginary vision of a gold band when he was so strong and happy, and the memory of the gold band when he was dying…and happy.  It’s hard to believe that we found a way to be any kind of happy in the middle of the end of his life.  We did.

So I dried my hands on a paper towel and went back to work.  If you passed me in the hall and wondered why I had that strange look on my face, this is why.


You Can Feel Safe Holding Hands

amsterdam-79417_640The first big overseas trip that my late husband Richard and I took together began in Amsterdam.  It’s a city that’s just as fun as you’ve heard–and that’s all I will say about THAT in this forum.  The second afternoon we were there, we were meandering around in the Red Light District.  Richard stepped into an exchange bureau to exchange some American money so we could buy more…souvenirs.  I waited for him outside on the narrow sidewalk by the canal.

When he stepped out of the tiny storefront, Richard took my hand and we continued on our walk.  Before we had gone 20 feet, a very stoned and twitchy man who looked alarmingly like Osama bin Laden approached Richard.  He stuck his hand out and muttered something about money.  Richard waved him off and said, “I don’t have any change.”  We kept walking with purpose, eyes forward.

Well.  That dude thought he had found an easy mark.  A short, slight American who had just stepped out of a currency exchange office and now had a lump in the pocket of his jacket?  The guy snarled, “I’m not interested in CHANGE!” and snatched as hard as he could at Richard’s pocket.  He was disappointed when only a pack of cigarettes fell to the cobblestones.  And when Richard gave him a sharp side elbow to the face.

It was on.  I expected the man to run away, but he was ready to fight.  The two of them circled each other.  The pickpocket kept waggling his hands at Richard in a “come at me bro” way and saying “Fucker mother!  Fucker mother!”  Richard kept his hands up and all his weight on the balls of his feet.  The thief took another dive at his pocket.  Richard feinted to the right and popped the guy in the head.  

Dude KEPT ON yelling “Fucker mother!  Fucker mother!” and swatting at Richard.  By that time, even in the sparse afternoon crowds, a few people had come over to see what was going on.  The pickpocket decided it was time to move on.

bicycle-2761_640I ran to Richard.  He was breathing heavy and shivered from adrenaline.  He knelt down and retrieved his Marlboros.  “Don’t mess with my cigarettes, right?”  We laughed in relief.  I turned and shouted at the pickpocket’s retreating back:  “It’s ‘MOTHER FUCKER!'”  

Richard took my hand and we ducked into the nearest bar.  I always felt safe after that when I was holding his hand, because he may have been small but I had proof he was fierce and wily.  Richard was 5’4″ of badassery if ever the need arose.

This story came back to me last night when Facebook displayed an ad in the sidebar for a trip to Amsterdam.  The trip is offered by Olivia Travel–the premiere lesbian travel company.  Sorry, Facebook ad algorithm. You misinterpreted all those Wesleyan posts where I talked about how much I love my sisters.  Still, I was intrigued by the concept of a lesbian travel company, so I clicked the ad to see what makes it different.  This line jumped out at me in the description of Amsterdam as a host city:  “You can feel very secure holding hands and being yourself while walking the streets of Amsterdam.”

homomo05052000lesbDang.  Going on vacation to a place where you can feel secure holding hands and being yourself.  That wasn’t in my Top 50 reasons to visit Amsterdam.  True, The Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marriage.  It’s also the site of the Homomonument in Amsterdam–a series of pink granite triangles built in memory of those killed by the Nazis for being homosexual.  Jews wore the yellow star; homosexuals wore the pink triangle.  We went there on our way to the Anne Frank House.  But it never even crossed my mind.

The tagline on the Olivia ad was “feel free.”  They charter the entire ship, or rent out an entire resort, so that their clients can relax and be themselves.

My eyes were opened a little wider because of that ad and I’m glad for it.  I’ve never had to go somewhere other than my home just so I could be myself.  To do something as simple as holding hands as I walk down the street beside the person I love.  My experience of feeling safe holding hands in Amsterdam is very different from some of my sisters’.  I only had to worry about being robbed–not being judged and robbed.

I feel free to squeeze my partner’s hand, or give him a peck on the lips, or say goodbye with a hug wherever we are–PTO meeting, Kroger parking lot, cafeteria at work, airport curb.  Hell, I feel free to have a snarling fight with him in those places, too, because we’re just free.

Holding hands for a stroll down the beach, or for comfort after a robbery attempt, or during the prayer at church–that’s a simple thing so many of us take for granted.  And so many of us can’t.