Jul 9

Dear Pawpaw,

I cannot believe we’re coming up on 10 years since your departure.  This year in particular, the pain from that loss is amplified as if it were mere minutes rather than a decade.

Perhaps it’s because everything that has gone on my life and our family’s life in the past year.

There have been changes.  Sad changes.  I’m thousands of miles away from everyone and I still feel it.

Do you know we’re falling apart without you?

Just tonight, after talking on the phone with Kim, I fought back tears all night and finally cried on the couch, missing you, desperately wanting you to come back and fix us.  You wouldn’t recognize who we’ve become.  We’re all adrift in our grief and we have no idea how to make it back to shore-unified as a family.

I hate that when I look around and see a family, I feel oddly detached.  I find that I can’t relate anymore.  I’ve attempted to make a family with my husband and my in-laws.  Thank God for that.

My friend Dusty lost his beloved grandmother just under a year ago.  He had the type of closeness with her that I had with you.  He misses Elaine horribly and when he asks if it ever gets better, I have to tell him….that the days will be easier to get through but the pain of his loss will always be with him.  He will always want to pick up the phone to call her and share things with her and his heart will always ache because he will never be able to do that again.  I want so much to say “yes…you’ll eventually feel better about it..” but I can’t.  And my heart breaks for him.  I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone.

I’m amazed at how raw it all feels.  How a family crisis can make all those feelings flood out of my heart.  I am angry that you’re not here.  I’m not angry at you, I know that given a choice, you would have never left us, but I’m mad that God, somehow needed you more than we did.

I see old couples and I feel bitter.  I wanted that for you and memaw.  Memaw visits your grave every single day, even ten years later.  My heart breaks because she feels the loss more than anyone.  I hate seeing her so sad.  I hate seeing her struggle now that you’re not here to protect her.  I know you would be furious at what she’s being forced to go through.

I also know that certain family members wouldn’t DARE the stunts they’ve pulled if you were here. 

I am sad and disheartened because what you intended for her isn’t coming to pass.

And it’s all because you’re no longer here.

 

Grief has turned some of our family into people we don’t recognize anymore.

I am angry.  I am sad.  I am bitter.  I’m ashamed to admit this because I know it disappoints you.  You would say that I “am better than that.”  In fact, you’d say it about all of us.

And so, I must find a way to put all of that anger, sadness, and bitterness to good use.  Turn it into a passionate cause.  Fight the good fight.

And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

I love you.  I miss you.  I wish you were here.

Love,

Chrissy

 

Jul 5

About 2 weeks ago, I got a Facebook friend request from my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Davis.

“Call me Rita!”  she said in her initial email.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I just can’t bring myself to call you Rita!”  I said in reply.

I was excited to be back in touch with her.  3rd grade was a particularly hard year for me.  My home life was a wreck.  My mom was going through a rough patch.  It was hard for her raising 2 children on her own but unfortunately, we were often the brunt of all of her frustrations.  I forgive her and understand as an adult.

But I still can’t look back at that year and not cringe at the kind of student I was to Mrs. Davis.

Too many times, I remember her having to ask me to get back to work.  I’d be sitting in class in a complete daze.  “Daydreaming” was what she called it.  Rarely did I ever finish my work during the school day.

Homework was a regular task for me.

Mrs. Davis called my mother often for parent-teacher conferences.  Notes were often sent home, my mom disciplined me, Mrs. Davis disciplined me; but it often only yielded temporary results.  I’d do really well for a few weeks then go back to my dark place.

“I don’t understand, Christina, you are so smart….there is no reason you can’t do the work, you’re just not applying yourself.”  Mrs. Davis would gently plead.

And she was right.

I was at the top of my reading group.  When I did my work, I got A’s.  My poor grades were merely a result of incomplete work and my own personal demons that had nothing to do with my intellect.

My mom was often at her wit’s end, which certainly didn’t help matters at home.  One would think it would be incentive to do better, if nothing else, to keep my mother’s temper at bay. 

I don’t remember what I was thinking when I would go into my dazes.  I just remember looking around, watching everything that everyone else was doing and eventually hearing Mrs. Davis tell me to “get back to work!”

It would have been easy for me to buck responsibility and blame the teacher but thankfully, I full acknowledged my behavior.  I miraculously passed 3rd grade in spite of my shortcomings and with each grade thereafter my grades got better and better and Mrs. Davis always kept up on me.  Even through high school.  Her son was in my graduating class.  I’m sure she was relieved when I walked across that podium the year I was actually slated to graduate.

When I went on to college, she was even more relieved.

The years passed and intermittantly, she would get updates from my mom.  They ended up going to church together.  One of her sons actually moved to Alaska as well.

“Mrs. Davis says Hello” my mom often tells me.  And that makes me happy.

I believe that Mrs. Davis saw through what appeared to be an apathetic attitude toward school work.  She saw my situation for what it was and acted on that.  I think that’s why she was also stern but fair with me.  She knew I needed the discipline to stay on task but the compassion so that I didn’t give up on myself.

I always carried that with me.

In fact, I dare say I owe a lot of my later school success to her.  In a lot of ways, I felt like I had to make it up to her.

Now that we’re back in touch, we talk more like friends rather than mentor and student.  She makes fun of grammatical mistakes that she makes (”I’m a retired teacher, I’m so embarassed!”) and I always reassure her that I could care less (”Exactly.  You’re RETIRED! Give yourself a break!”).  Howard often sees me smiling and laughing while bantering with her.

We’ve talked about my childhood and what the real story behind it was.  Nothing of which surprised her.  She speaks as the rational adult and reminds me that my mom really did the best she could but at the same time, she understood why I did what I did during those days.

She also tells me many times how very proud of me both she and my mom are.

I know this deep down and it humbles me.  But it sure doesn’t hurt to hear it too.

Jun 22

Yesterday morning I woke up in pain.

I had cramps that radiated down to my knees.  We went to church and I forced smiles all through the service and the potluck afterwards.

Eventually, I could no longer feign being “just fine.”

In the middle of talking with a friend, a cramp hit me so hard I nearly went to my knees but sucked it up and went to find Howard instead.

“We need to go home…NOW.” I whispered to him as I clutched his arm through another spasm.

By the time we made it to our driveway, I was frantic.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I was scared because these were supposedly menstrual cramps.  Something my fellow female readers can all relate to.  I’ve had cramps and they’re usually just a minor annoyance that make me a little crabby.  These cramps were multiplied by about a million.

Howard helped me into the house and helped me out of my clothes and into pajamas, brought me some pain meds, and put me to bed on the couch.  I zapped out for nearly 5 hours.  When I woke up, I was groggy but the pain was gone.

I even cooked dinner for both of us against his protests.

This morning, the pain was back.  I took 2 more Naproxen and was determined to make it through the work day.  Luckily, I did.

As soon as I got home, Howard covered me with a blanket as I collapsed on the couch again.  He asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I felt bad.  He’d worked a full day too.  But he offered with a smile.

“Anything you want, baby.” 

“Honey, you don’t have to cook anything for me…you’ve worked a long day too.”

“Well, you’re feeling sick…you should really be off your feet.”

I gave him a grateful smile as he made a mental grocery list.  He told me he had one condition:  That I change into my pajamas.

I gave him one condition:  That he kiss me before he left.

He walked through the door with his bounty in hand a short time later.  He handed me a bag of Cracker Jacks…”I figured this was a little healthier than a candy bar.”

I pulled him down into a big hug and whispered a “Thank you” in his ear as I choked back my tears.

Maybe it was the hormones, who knows.  All I know is, there’s no better pain medicine than love.

Jun 21

Howard,

Whenever I ask myself how we’ve managed to make it this long I need only to think of all those little things you do as a husband.

I love how whenever you roll over in the middle of the night, you reach for me and always tell me you love me.  Even when we’ve gone to bed angry.

I love how you reach over and hold my hand whenever we’re taking off in an airplane (and we are A LOT!) because you know that’s the part of flying that I hate the most. Again, even if we’re irritated with each other.

I love how you still love to reach out and touch me whenever we walk by each other.

I love how you get up out of your chair and just randomly walk over to me and lean down to kiss me without provocation.

I love how you take care of me when I’m sick.  Always.  (In fact, I’m a little spoiled now)

I love how we do our little silly dances whenever we’re both excited about something. 

I love that we can be goofy together. 

I love that we share the same sense of humor.  We feed off of each other’s laughter.  That harder one of us laughs, the harder the other laughs.  I love how when we’re watching something funny, we’ll ALWAYS look at each other like “OMG!”

I love that we’re not only lovers, we’re friends.

We genuinely enjoy being around each other.  We banter.  We flirt.  We have tickle fights.  We have so much fun.

All those little things add up to bigger things..

When the rough times come, we always get through them.  No matter how hard, we always come back to the place that brought us together in the very beginning.  Even if it means we do some things we regret and aren’t necessarily proud of in the process.

We’re survivors.  We look at life together and say “Bring it On.”

You truly are my precious gift from God and I am humbled by my good fortune in marrying you all those years ago.

Happy Anniversary, Howard.  My love.  My life.  My very best friend.

I would not be the person I am without you.

This song is for you.

Jun 15

When doing a male genital exam on a patient….

If he asks you “How everything looks”

Never EVER say…

“Nothing Remarkable”

It will be the single most awkward moment of your life.  Nevermind that you just had his balls and penis in your hand and you just checked him for a hernia.

Saying “Nothing Remarkable” is far worse.

Oof.

Jun 14

Have I talked about the mosquitoes here yet?

Because I feel the need to tell you about them.

When we first moved to Alaska, it was wintertime, therefore we had no way to measure the truth against the rumor.  It was -50 with the windchill and all we cared about was not freezing to death.

As the winter months turned warmer and spring loomed ahead, people warned us of the “bug problem.”  Working in retail, we received ridiculous amounts of bug dope and every kind of mosquito repelling garment known to man.  Howard and I would just look at each other, while building an end cap display, with a look of skepticism like “Surely, the mosquitoes are not that bad.”

We grew up in the south for God’s sake.  We knew about mosquitos.  It was commonplace to run around bare-legged in the summertime with your knees and ankles speckled with bug bites.  It was also commonplace to smell like bug repellant on a regular basis.  We’d been there, done that.  Clearly, we were not worried about the mosquito problem.  We poo poo’ed the whole notion.

Then came our first Alaskan summer.  And I don’t have to tell you how much we were proven wrong.  In the village we lived in at the time, there were not only mosquitos; there were “White Socks” and “No-See-Ums.”  And they all came at the same time.  We couldn’t step foot outdoors without a halo of bugs hovering over our heads.  God forbid we actually try to hold a conversation outside lest we get a mouthful of protein.

They were every bit as bad as people warned us.  We were very much humbled.

The company we worked for, transferred us before the next bug season.  This time we were overly cautious.  We happily filled a display with every kind of bug repellant known to man.  People in the village would tell us the bug problem really wasn’t as bad as other places.  Again, we poo poo’ed their notions and stocked up.  We’d BEEN THERE and DONE THAT and weren’t about to get caught with our pants down again.

Of course this means that because we lived in a coastal community where the wind is almost constantly blowing, naturally, the bug problem was indeed “not that bad.”  We were relieved to be proven wrong, in fact; but were happy we were proactive anyway.

Two summers later, we were living in another village (the company we worked for often moved managers around…A LOT) on the North Slope.

And let me just get right to the point.  NOTHING could have prepared us for the mosquito problem there.

They were the size of house cats and slow moving and NOTHING could kill them.  I often expected to come home and find one lounging on my couch when I got home with the remote in hand.  I imagined I’d walk in the door and it would wave its tentacle at me and say “How was your day?  You’re out of milk…..Oh and by the way, I ate the dog and the cat.”

Or when I made a mad dash to the car, trying to elude them, it would not have shocked me to find one sitting in the driver’s seat offering to drive me to work.

I am not kidding.  They really were that bad.

So, when we moved to our current village, we were relieved that the bug problem was not as bad as the previous one or the first one but not as tolerable as the coastal community.

We’d found a happy medium.  We could live with that.

Then came the beginning of Summer of 2009.  The summer coming off a record snowfall of over 12 feet which means that most of the ground is still soggy and wet from the big melt.  It doesn’t take a smart person to understand that mosquitos are attracted to water and in fact, make their babies in it.

In Alaska, we have a product known commonly as “Purge.”  It’s a powerful bug repellent that can be placed in a battery operated contraption designed to periodically spray every few hours keeping your house mosquito and bug free. 

Trust me when I say that YES, no matter how many screens you have, no matter how much sealant you put around cracks in the doorway and windows,  Alaska mosquitos will ALWAYS find their way into your home.  No, I’m not kidding. 

Last week, Howard was out of town, and I mistakenly believed that the mosquito problem wasn’t “bad enough” to invest in a bottle of Purge (can you say 30 bucks per bottle?).

When I was awakened at 2am by the familiar sound buzzing my ear and was suddenly attacked by an entire swarm of them, I immediately regretted my poor judgment.  I turned on the fan, but it wasn’t powerful enough to keep them away from me.  I tried swatting at them, shutting all the windows, and hiding my entire body under the covers.  After about 20 bites on my arms, my neck, my face, my legs…I was frustrated and not a little irritated.  I ran through the options in my head.

“The store isn’t open, so I can’t run down there and buy a bottle.”

“Everyone is asleep….and though Dusty does a lot for me…a 2am call crying over mosquitos may just be a deal breaker.”

(Howard was out of town on business)

And finally I remembered that there was a big bottle at my office.

Which, thankfully, was right across the street.

I threw the covers off of me, slipped on pj pants and my flip flops and headed out the door.

If you’ve ever seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, you can appreciate the visual on what happened next.

I’d barely stepped out my front door when I was pelted with mosquitos.  I walked swiftly while swatting and swearing at the little bastards who-by the way are attracted to motion.

Oh my God, that was the longest walk of my entire life.  Running was not an option for me.  I was in flip flops and I am the biggest klutz in the universe.  It was either walk swiftly and swat or have road rash on my face.  Tell me, which one would you choose?  On second thought, don’t answer that.

There I was in mismatching pj top and bottoms, flip flops, and a bad case of bed head, swatting and swearing and dodging god damn mosquitos. 

At 2am in the morning.  Have I mentioned that the sun never sets in the summertime?

Yeah.

So, anyway, I made it to the clinic, grabbed the bottle of “Purge” and swatted and swore my way back over to my house.

I sprayed every single room, rubbed alcohol on my bites, and dove under the covers with the cat and the dog.

And laughed myself to sleep on the visual and the lesson that I cannot EVER seem to learn.

May 31

I often play this song when I’m having a bad day…and I belt it out at the top of my lungs…much to Howard’s displeasure (or pleasure…depending on if I’m really trying to sound good. hee!).

Today I want to send the link to the video to another best friend.  I think of you, Heather, more than you know.  I love you and pray for you but I KNOW you’ll come through everything okay.  This song got me through the last few months.  Hang in there.

 

 

May 30

My dearest Dustin,

Where do I begin on this birthday of yours?

It’s been one hell of a year, that’s for sure; and I know I couldn’t have maintained what little sanity I have left without you.

You have held my hand through every bad moment, blow after devastating blow, and exuded a calm and peace I don’t think I’ve seen in any other.

All this while going through the biggest loss of your life.  Elaine would be and is so proud of you.

I love that on Mother’s Day weekend, knowing what a difficult holiday that is for me and the fact that I was spending it alone, you kept me distracted and occupied.

Let’s take the dogs for a walk..”

My parents are having a Barbeque and you’re coming over at 6.

Are you awake? (via phone call) Let’s go to church today.”

And right before church you handed me a Mother’s Day card and during the service, you piped up and made sure I got a candle too because you really do consider me a mother even without live healthy children.  I choked back tears in that moment, did you know that?

You always seem to know when I need a distraction, even if we don’t talk about the issue.

Let’s go kayaking tonight…”

Wanna run to the store with me?”

Everything.  You are a shoulder to cry on but aren’t afraid to get my ass into gear.  I love that.  You call me when I’m out of town to check on me and tell me you “miss me.”

You’ve fought for me, you’ve been my advocate, you’ve been my voice at times, and most importantly, you’ve been my best friend.  You are one of the most selfless people I know.  You are consistently putting others’ needs before your own.

You have also overcome so much in your life.   Your chaotic childhood mirrors mine in so many ways, I often wonder why you turned out so strong and so together and I turned out a train wreck.  Especially when you face the same amount of challenges I continue to face every single day and in reality, your challenges far outnumber mine.  We’ll never know the answer but I do this:  You are Amazing.

I often say that God brought you into my life but how coincidental is it that your birthday marks a very significant anniversary of my own?  Honestly?  I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all.  I think he brought you to me knowing that I needed something to celebrate rather than mourn on this day.  And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I celebrate you as a person, as a friend, as the brother I never had.

I’m so thankful you were born, Dustin Trevor.  Let’s get out and enjoy this day!

I love you.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!

-Christina (and lil Howie too)

May 28

It’s no secret that the amount of posts has decreased dramatically over the past few months.  I KNOW I ironically declared that 2009 would be a year of posting more!  Posting more Alaska stories even!

But the truth is, though I’ve PLENTY of fodder, I just haven’t felt like sharing it in this public forum.

That isn’t to say I’m not writing at all but right now, at this point in my life, it feels better to put pen to paper.  Amy sent me a beautiful journal for Christmas and it’s almost full now.  I, in fact, need to buy a new one.

 

I journaled a lot when I was younger.  I have stacks of them in storage.  My first therapist told me it would be a wonderful conduit to mental wellness and it absolutely has been.

I would like to say that “it isn’t that I don’t want to share it with you…” but that’s really not true.  I know that you all understand.

Whatever I choose to share is public information for you to interpret any way you see fit and though it seems I do share a lot, this blog only represents a very small glimpse into my life.

I try very carefully to pick the right ones to share.

And at the moment…I haven’t found any “right ones.”

Don’t fret though because I’m CERTAIN that something will happen that I’ll need to broadcast (come on, I’m a drama queen by nature!). 

I’m not going anywhere but I’m no longer making promises of posts that I simply cannot keep.

But keep checking back, I remain as unpredictable as ever.

 

May 12

I read Amanda’s latest post tonight and I feel terrible for her.

A year ago, Howard and I were going through the same thing.  I remember the phone call he made to me at work.

“C just called and told us that the campus is shutting down and everyone’s contract will expire at the end of May…I’m out of a job.”

My stomach did a somersault in my belly as a I mentally thumbed through every bill we owed.  We maintained two homes, we were losing half of our combined income, not to mention, his health insurance.  I will also admit that I did not handle it well.

 

You would have thought it was ME that got the pink slip.  Selfishly enough.

I know that feeling of dread and seeing your goals that were once in sharp focus, go blurry once again.  The panic of “what the HELL are we going to do?” overwhelmed me.

To add insult to injury, I had to add him to my health insurance which raised my premium from $65 dollars to a whopping $400 per month.  Not only were we losing Howard’s income but we were going to hemorrhage a significant chunk of mine as well.

I will say that I am proud that we followed the “8 month rule.”  We had savings that would carry us for exactly that long.  After sleeping on it, I began to feel a little better about things and tried to focus on being a comfort to Howard.

Living in a small village of 300 that is NOT connected to a road system means finding work is twice as difficult as those who can commute to nearby cities.  Howard’s been working every part time job he can find in the search for any full time job available. 

Two weeks ago, he finally got a break and was offered a full time job with the company I work for.  I am also proud to say he got this job based solely on his merit and not because I had any influence.  He was simply the best suited for the position.

This came in the nick of time.  Come June, we would be 30 days late on our mortgage and our savings would be completely gone.  He was going to move to our Wasilla house (on the road system where he would be more likely to find full time work) until I could join him in December (when I’ve fulfilled my 4000 hour pre-requisite for PA school).  I was NOT looking forward to living separately from my husband.

It took us a year but we were among the lucky.  We had enough income to carry us through and he is going back to work.  It’s hard not to feel guilty when people are losing their jobs and their homes.  Especially when some of those people are your best friends.

But we can say this:  From this experience, you will appreciate what you do have, you will learn resilience and tenacity.  And when you come out of it (and you will!), you’ll be all the more humble and grateful for the experience.

You’ll realize just how lucky you are.  Hang in there.

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