Many things I'll never forget, like the excitement I felt driving to his place in Ukrainian Village, a neighborhood which in 1991 I had never heard about or visited. The drive there from my place in East Rogers Park, when we were just beginning to date, was always this wonderful journey on an adventure I couldn't wait to begin. There, right on Damen Ave just south of Division St., he was growing peaches in his yard and tulips in his garden, in a neighborhood where, back then, anything not chained was likely to be stolen. Once, the iron gate to the yard was ripped right off its hinges, and one year, to Ken's deep chagrin, even the peaches were taken.
Most often when I arrived at his place, I could see him through his sliding glass doors, talking on his cell phone, dealing with one crisis or another in his work in residential treatment for children. Maybe a young girl had run away to be with her much older boyfriend. Maybe it was a call to deal with a suicidal teen. The calm with which he handled these frequent calls was impressive. Here was a man who could handle tough situations with ease, and with empathy. His empathic nature was like nothing I had ever encountered in my life. He was an emotional home I had never known.
January holds not only Ken's and my wedding anniversary, but also the anniversary of his death which falls on our daughter's birthday. The power of emotional memory this time of year is like a vast spider web, lightly descending and enveloping me.
He's been gone six years now, a long time. His children are growing up without him. His son hardly remembers him. And me? I am doing my best to accept a different life that feels vastly less secure than it did before that day in February of 2002 when we found out he had cancer and my dreams became inhabited with coffins flying through a black universe or vast holes suddenly appearing in the foundation of our home. Sometimes I wonder if one of the most amazing things about a great marriage is the illusion it can give of a safe, secure world. I don't think I'll ever feel as safe or as secure ever again, the way I did before cancer stripped me of the center of my life.
There's a part of me that likes the way this time of year throws me back into a place of memory and sadness. Conveniently, it corresponds with the holidays, when everything shifts out of the typical work/school schedule and there is added time for rest and reflection. I like knowing that the tears are still there. I want to feel how much Ken meant to me back when he was still here.
Soon, the year will move along. We'll all get busy again and I will need to remind myself that: "I can do this!" "I am not afraid anymore!" "I can handle this solo-parenting life I never expected to be living!" "I am happy!" "I can be a breadwinner for my family!" I will be my own cheerleader, my own motivator, my own engine.
Every Friday night I drive my son into the city where he plays a card game called Magic with a bunch of guys much older than himself at a storefront that caters to such activities. I drive there, I drive back to Evanston, and then I drive back to pick him up. It's a lot of driving; fortunately, one of my pleasures is driving while singing and listening to the radio. This Friday, my top favorite song ever, Stevie Nicks' Landslide, played as I drove.
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Mmm, mmm, mmm
Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older and I'm getting older too
Sometimes I feel bolder. I definitely feel older, as are my kids. I built my life around Ken, and what's left is simply change and how to handle it, as well as I can.