Background story: A couple of weeks back, Jillian had a hankering for waffles. Blueberry waffles. I searched and search for our waffle maker, but could not find it. I had a very vague memory of giving it to one of the kids. So, I ran out to Meijer and purchased a vertical waffle iron- didn’t work well at all with the blueberry waffles, but, to be fair and in hindsight: I wouldn’t have expected it to with the lumps of blueberries in the batter. So, I tried it with one of their recipes. The batter leaked past the edges, and the process was generally messy due to their lack of thought with regard to the design of the measure used to fill it. This waffle maker is a great concept, but it’s definitely not ready for prime time. I took it back and got one like our old one.
This afternoon, I went on a rampage, looking for things to put at the curb – some clutter reduction. And, in plain sight in the laundry room, on a shelf I had to walk past to get to the area I searched on that fateful Saturday, was the old waffle maker – sitting on a pristine manilla envelope with a little 1960s-looking dude with a Bing Crosby hairdo saying “Take your pictures home” and “Lets trade pictures!”
Inside this envelope are class pictures of Kim from Kindergarten to second or third grade and a first communion picture. Who knows how long they’ve been there, and who can fathom why they were there rather than in one of the photo repositories in the house? It was almost as if I was tossed as a reminder from Kim: “Hey! I was here!” Why it would have been necessary for me to receive such a reminder at this juncture, I don’t know. She is ever-present on my mind.
So, here it is: a milestone. Half a year. It seems both like yesterday and a million years ago.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see her face after she died; how jaundiced she was, but how relieved her face looked. Geddes Road, the path to St. Joe’s we’d taken so often, holding hands and saying our daily rosary, tugs at my heart. The little side trips to Home Depot, or Meijer, or Kroger – just to get out of the house for a while with her. To Michael’s, Joann Fabrics, and Hobby Lobby in search of the material she wanted for her “car quilt” – to keep her warm for the winter chemo trips that never came to be. Our daily – sometimes twice daily – walks through the neighborhood when the weather warmed up. And the side trip to look at the fall colors on the day, 15 October, she’d decided she had had enough of the doctors and the chemo.
I remember the trip we took to Hines Drive 16 October because she wanted pictures with me at the water. We took them with a selfie stick at Nankin Mill and Wilcox Lake, Jillian tagging along with us. On the way home, we stopped at the Dollar Tree store at Joy and Morton Taylor so she could go through the Halloween stuff and look at some candles, candle holders, and wood pieces for her crafting. She had such a hard time moving through the parking lot and through the store. It was shortly after that that she lost feeling in her hands and gave up on crafting altogether. Those purchases are still in a bag on one of the tables in her craft room.
And I remember events from earlier in our life together, both with joy and with melancholy. We had built such a good life together – neither my constant travel for work nor her alcoholism could destroy it (though the latter came the closest, to my perspective). We built a beautiful family. Much to celebrate.
I find that, for the most part, I am at peace with Kim; with my memories of her. I still have triggers, and I still miss her dearly. But I’m at peace.
Everything in and about our lives leads to something else. Everything we have is built from and upon what we had; from our experiences. I would have been ecstatic if the good Lord had seen fit to give Kim a miracle – to give us a chance to grow old together. But He did not. Kim is with Him now, and I am left to grow from the experience of losing her – just as I grew in our life together. Much of who I am today is Kim’s creation, crafted from our experiences together; from our joining of two lives into one, and living that life until half expired. She continues to influence who I am becoming – her memory, the grief. She will always be a part of me, and that part of me will always inform the rest of me.
I love you Kim. I miss you. Thank you for having chosen me, thank you for our family, and thank you for who you’ve made me into.
I look around at all the young parents, at all the parents with teenagers – all those busy growing their families, and I think “That was us.” Kim and I were a bit of an anomaly to the thinking of our day. Five kids in an era where a “family car” barely fit four people total.
Five glorious kids.
When we were planning our marriage, Kim was hesitant on the subject of kids. She wasn’t really sure that she wanted any. I wanted a barnfull. In any case, she said she wanted to go five years before we had any children. Jeanette was about 5 months old at our second anniversary…
I remember Jeanette’s and Christopher’s births with almost crystal clarity. With Jeanette, Kim labored for over 24 hours before they finally took Jeanette by caesarian section. Afterward, Kim looked like she had been in a prize fight – blood vessels in the whites of her eyes had burst from her straining, her face was swollen… I have no idea why they let her go so long before finally deciding to go the route they did. After that, I told Kim that maybe we should only have the one – I didn’t want to put her through that again. She simply smiled a serene sort of smile and said no – she wanted more kids.
I bought cigars to pass out at work. They were in a white and pink “It’s A Girl” cigar box, which, afterward, we used to house incoming bills so that I would know where they were when I would pay bills twice a month (my pay frequency at the time). We still have that box to this day, on my old desk (which needs to be emptied, broken up, and discarded…). I recall that those cigars were actually pretty tough to get rid of, even in 1991 – Ford had just disallowed smoking at ones desk the year prior to my being hired, and we would either step outside to smoke, or you could smoke in the lavatory or inside the high-ceilinged pilot plant. A short time later, smoking in the lavatories was also banned, followed shortly by smoking in the pilot plant. In deference to those who wished to continue to smoke, but did not want to go outside, they had created what we lovingly knew as the “gas chamber” – a glassed-off cube – in the cafeteria. I smoked until May 1994. I no longer recall the specific day, but I recall the actual incident of my quitting with crystal clarity. I was in Oakville, launching the 1994.5 Windstar body shop. I stepped outside to have a cigarette in the afternoon, lit it up, inhaled, looked at it, blew the smoke out, and said “I’m not doing this anymore.” I crushed it out, crushed the pack, and quit smoking cigarettes. I tried a pipe briefly after that, but the liquid tar and nicotine that would come rolling into your mouth from the stem turned me off on it pretty quickly. And then I would have a cigar now and again until one day in 1997 while launching the 1998 Ranger body shop in Edison New Jersey, I quit those, too. (With that history and my former penchant for high-risk activities, we were right to structure things as if I would go first, even though it did not work out that way…)
Christopher decided it was time to be born as we were attending Kim’s five-year reunion. We had already dropped the kids at my mom & dad’s to babysit while we were out, so we shot over there and let them know what was going on, and then off to Oakwood Hospital for kid #2.
For Christopher’s birth, her obstetrician was out of town, so we had another. I only met him that one time, but I remember his name – that’s how deeply the incident was burned into my memory. I think he must have been a doctor in a soviet gulag or something – he had a bedside manner similar to that of a drill sergeant. And he was dead set that Kim would deliver naturally. His assistant had to continually get between him and me because he kept triggering my protective instincts, and I wanted to knock him out. In the end, Christopher was born naturally, which we had previously been told wouldn’t be possible once someone has had a caesarian section. Each child afterward was also delivered naturally.
Oddly, I don’t recall a lot around Jessica’s delivery other than Kim laughing as she was in labor because her obstetrician and I were watching late-night reruns (I remember C.H.I.P.S.) on TV in her room while she was doing all the work. She used to chuckle about that often, showing mock offense over it. She used to cite that as an example when she would tell me how, no matter where we went or what we were doing, people seemed to gravitate to me like that, and we’d find some common thread and end up “best buds,” at least for that instance in time. I was at Michigan Truck on the Plant Vehicle Team and studying for my first master’s degree at the time so, except for being buried in books, papers, and homework, I was home the whole time.
When it was Kenneth’s turn to arrive, I was in Norfolk, Virginia launching the 1999 F-Series body shop. This was to be an induced labor because Kim had developed worrisome gestational hypertension during her pregnancy with him, and they didn’t want it to go beyond her due date for her safety. I remember my Vehicle Line Specialist and I racing west on 80, trying to stay ahead of an incoming hurricane as we dashed back to Michigan – I had packed up my apartment as I didn’t expect to be returning there and, sure enough – I never did. I remember the delivery being fairly quick, and that the room Kim had after Kenny’s delivery overlooked Greenfield Village (now: The Henry Ford”…) in one direction and the Ford test track in the other.
Kim and I went to Las Vegas that fall. We left the kids with Aunt Cindy and Uncle Mich and their brood for the long week. Kim and I had a great time, but I remember her pining away for her baby the whole time.
And finally. Little Miss Oops: Jillian. I remember when Kim discovered she was pregnant with Jillian. She was petrified that I’d be upset. I remember her look when she told me, and I replied with, simply: “Well. I guess we should pick out some names!” And that was truly how I felt – not upset, happy for another beautiful gift!
I was home for the entire time with Jillian as well. Ford wanted me to go to Japan to pursue some issues with the die supplies for the 2003 Mustang. My passport had expired and it would have to be renewed in order for me to take the poorly-timed trip. I had brought it to work with me to get it an expedited renewal started by the Ford travel agency. I had left it in a fancy folder on my desk, and someone stole it. Since I no longer had the old passport, expedited renewal was out of the question., and to replace it would have put me outside the window for the trip, so someone else went in my place. I honestly did not plan that and worried for years afterward regarding my identity – but I think the sticky-fingered miscreant was after the folder and tossed everything that was inside of it. In any case, it meant I was home for Jillian’s delivery as well. Our last child, and, I think, one of the last children delivered by Kim’s obstetrician as I believe he retired that same year. I remember that they would not release Jillian to us to take her home because her blood oxygen level was lower than they liked, so we went each day to visit her in the NICU until they finally let her come home.
I honestly don’t know why I thought of them, but my mind turned to the collection of digital photographs that comprise a large share of our family photo collection. There is a veritable boat-load of traditional print photos, but there are even more digital photos. I was an early adopter of the technology, and literally brought the first digital camera into a Ford facility, demonstrating it’s utility in documenting and reporting issues. I still have that camera, a Casio QV-10, and the one I replaced it with later – a Kodak DC-120. Years later, I moved up to a Kodak DC210 or 240 (can’t remember which, and it has long since been stolen), a Fuji Finepix 4900Z, followed by a Canon Powershot 100 ELPH, then cameras were integrated into cellphones and standalone digital cameras became almost obsolete overnight – great little cameras became a dime a dozen, and several more were added to my stable – a trio of Polaroid digitals, a Fuji “sport hardened” digital, a couple of “action cameras”, and many lesser cameras that have long-since faded from memory.
But back to the original bit: the first two cameras, the Casio and the Kodak, stored photos in proprietary formats (CAM and KDC, respectively), and many of the stored photos were still in those formats. My mind turned to these with the question: how do I retrieve the photos? I use a lot of graphics programs, almost universally open-source. None of what I had would touch them. A little more research, and I stumbled upon XNView and the suite of XN programs – not of my beloved open-source software, but freeware nonetheless. So I tried them and, with one minor tweak for the Casio shots, soon had them converted to a more universal, lossless TIFF format. (For those having old CAM files from the QV-10, you have to change the height to 240, width to 320, and unlink the aspect ratio to get the original picture back undistorted. Apparently later QVs has a 480×320 aspect ration, and even later QVs saved jpegs with the CAM extension, so all you need do is change the .cam to .jpg – irrelevant to this post, but if it helps someone…). Of course, in converting these, I had to also review them. I’m up to 2005, currently. The first digital picture in the collection, taken 20 August 1996, was of Kim wearing one of my pocket tee-shirts stirring something at the the stove.
As I walked through time reviewing these, I made an observation: the early pictures were generally happy – Kim almost always smiling and bright-eyed. As we move on through the collection, around 2001, we see that gradually change. More morose. A haunted look in her eyes. This was also around the time that I remember beginning to suspect that something had “come loose” – and I recall this was around when the Labatt’s became a constant. I’m up to 2005. I remember a lot of happy times, where I know Kim was happy and smiling – but precious few of those moments were captured. The events were captured, but not her looking happy.
I’ve commented how I thought that Kim, having more difficulty shedding the baby weight after each child, was getting depressed by her body image. That rings a little hollow reviewing these as well: she looked great after Kenneth. It wasn’t until about two years later that the weight started to come on, and it was a year after that when I believe it all came crashing down for her in terms of her mental state and the depression that I believe led to her alcoholism. I do know that her body image was very important to her, and she often told me she believed that I wouldn’t love her if she wasn’t the slim little girl I married. At least I proved her wrong on that one.
I know there were a lot of factors influencing her depression. I know that my “on the road” job, and her preference for midnights both drove a feeling of isolation. My involvement with various community organizations also pulled me away a few times a month when I was home, and that likely furthered that feeling of isolation. And, perhaps, she felt unimportant to me? I don’t know, and cannot ask her now – but it has become hard to continue through the photos as I’m left feeling like I deflated her dreams or ruined her life. When we met and got married, we had such dreams! Unrealistic, perhaps, as they were, they did fuel us as we forayed on into our life together. Those dreams changed as our reality, as our circumstances, changed – but did she hold on to the old dreams harder and longer than I did?
That’s what I find myself saying as I encounter things in the house, or some memory or other pops up. “Ah, Kim…”
I wish I could share these recollections with her – she was usually good at filling in the blanks of what I could drag out of the archives – this odd memory! There was a period of “intensity” during my undergrad studies – right about when Kim and I met – where this memory would suddenly become voracious with its appetite for information, and photographic with its recall. I remember it getting me in trouble on an exam as I had written, verbatim, several paragraphs from the text book in reply to a question. I had an F for cheating going into the discussion with the Prof, where I recited several of the remaining paragraphs to him. I left with an offer to become his research assistant…
As its normal MO, though, my memory will latch on to the most useless information, and make it ready for instant recall. If information is important or requiring more detail? Not so much, anymore. Kim was the one to redirect the memory to complete the details from her own recolleciton. We complemented each other.
But, “Ah, Kim…” It’s like a little prayer. It’s now an expression that contains the sadness, the loss I feel. And it is a constant utterance. Anyone passing by would think I was on the phone admonishing Kim due to its frequency.
Every once in a while, some memory from way back will crystallize and hit me like a gut punch. I’ve remembered things like driving out to the musician’s house – a long, confusing drive – to contract him for the wedding; driving to the caterer’s house (which was in the neighborhood behind the Chi-Chi’s where we had the blind date that brought us together) and sitting in her kitchen while we discussed the menu, serving style, and then went over the contract – I even remember her name: it was Carol. And I remember that I really didn’t like her very much.
Those are melancholy memories for me, but they are frequent enough in my recollections that they don’t catch me off guard. Oddly, a memory of being in the kitchen and appliance area of a mall-based store – something to do with a wedding registry- just gave me a mule kick. The memory hasn’t quite come to be clear yet, but I remember enough to know what was going on; parts of it with the absolute clarity of a recorded movie, others still under the haze of the deepest regions of recollection. I specifically remember that this store had two levels, but the second level had two separate sections that were not connected on the second level. I seem to think it was a Hudson’s and suspect it was at Livonia Mall, but that’s just a guess. Could have been Westland or Twelve Oaks, as we frequented those. Might even have been Fairlane.
The last time I recall being in a mall with Kim was late 2014 when we went to the Microsoft Store to buy my Surface, and the time we were at a mall together just prior to that was 2011 after Kim broker her ankle – I took her to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory at Briarwood Mall after she had some appointment or other in Ann Arbor. We used to frequent Westland Mall before 2000 or so. Otherwise, malls were a bit of a rarity – for me, at least.
I’m sure that memory will congeal soon enough, as did the memory of the caterer visit – all the way down to the location of her house and her name. Until then, I’ll have to weather the blows of the individual pieces coming to the surface of my mind, like bits of shipwreck floating up after the vessel has sunk.
(Even as I’m writing this, another memory is fighting its way up – a company picnic for St. Claire Inc. the summer after we married. Cass lake. I remember leaving the apartment to go there. I recall a volleyball game and trying to find a church afterward as we had to go to Saturday Mass due to something happening on Sunday. I remember the church was of the same architecture and construction as St. Mel, my childhood parish…)
They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. I can attest that the same happens at a slower rate when it’s only half of you that died – when your spouse dies…
As I was driving to a dental cleaning appointment this morning, I looked over to see a pretty young lady driving in her car alongside mine. This brought back memories of how, shortly after we were married, Kim would tell me how guys would “still check her out” as she drove by as if simply being married changed what others saw. She would also delight in the surprise she’d see on faces on the occasions she would be driving my Bronco- she’d comment on how they’d look up at the big ol’ beast to see a little girl driving it. A pretty little girl, if you asked me.
Last night, I was remembering how, when we were dating, we’d take her family’s dog, Ginger, for walks – the dog would carry her own leash in her mouth – insisted on it – and she wouldn’t stop to poop, no. It would just come rolling out as she walked, so you had to watch out for it! In the summer, we’d take her along the periphery of the neighborhood park, stopping so she could visit with each of her “friends” in the adjoining yards. I had forgotten about those walks through the park with Ginger, and cannot conceive of why they suddenly came to the fore of my memory.
We certainly enjoyed our walks. We’d go up the street holding hands, and then, once we’d turned the corner, it as time for a hug and a kiss, and then we’d continue on our way. We used to go for lots of walks before I started launching. Not so much afterward. I was usually “too busy,” but we did go for regular walks, off and on.
Kim loved to walk in the nearby nature trails along the Rouge River. I went with her a few times before Wayne County had developed them and made them “official.” One time as we were walking to go through the trails, I got hit with a bizarre dizzy spell, and we had to turn home -YEARS before this vestibular thing (maybe it’s always been there, and it just got exacerbated by something in October, last?). She an Jillian walked them a lot, and I have lots of pictures of Kim< Jillian, and the dogs out there.
I find it a bit funny how the majority of my memories of Kim lately are from our early days together. She was so beautiful – but not just then – she was beautiful her whole life. I don’t think she realized that whenever I looked at her, I saw the woman I loved. Looking back at pictures, I can see how she changed over the years, but I honestly didn’t see anyone other than that beautiful girl I fell in love with when I’d look at her. I guess that’s what love does. But she had her demons. Some I knew about, some she only hinted at, some I’m sure were totally private. I know when I first started launching, she was worried that I would find someone else. I’d assure her time and again, but I know this bothered her. I don’t think she realized that I’m truly not wired that way until that Christmas absence when she and her alcoholic brother were on a bender and she didn’t come home for several days. Her dad was afraid that I was going to divorce her, but, as I said: I’m just not wired that way. I guess I’m loyal to only one woman. This was true even when I was dating – I’d not go out with more than one girl at a time. One. Maybe it’s a fault; a flaw. Don’t know – I think it’s a virtue. Some I dated didn’t deserve that loyalty. Kim did.
My thoughts have been dwelling on Kim a lot lately. Remembering trips to her parents’ lake lot in my EXP during the summer. A time we hit a pop-up snow squall and spun out on Newburgh near Cherry Hill returning from a date with some of her friends at a comedy club in Ann Arbor. “Fatal Attraction,” the first movie we saw together (she picked it), and how she was worried that it would give the wrong impression (it didn’t). How we would spend hours just driving and talking. Leaving her house at night, and driving down Hines Drive to get back to my parents’ house after a visit.
I miss driving with Kim, holding her hand across the console, listening to the radio and looking at the scenery. Even after the kids started coming, we held hand in the car.
What I think I miss the most is having her sitting next to me at mass, and unless we were holding a child: holding hands. I don’t think I’ve been through a mass yet that I don’t feel my eyes steaming up, remembering her there beside me. Funny: when we were at St. Dunstan’s, I became an usher shortly after the birth of Jeanette, and generally wasn’t able to sit with Kim. I performed my usher duties more than once with one of the kids in my arms. When Maida and the Archdiocese of Detroit pulled their petty little vindictive shit-show on the pastor, destroying the parish in the process, we moved to St. Thomas a’Becket. I wasn’t aware of the gift that they had actually given me: never again would we invest ourselves in a parish the way we had at St. Dunstan so, instead of being an usher, I sat with Kim. And I held her hand and gave her a kiss at the offering of a sign of peace, shared my phone for the after-communion prayers we said. Now, I just imagine her worshipping with the choirs of angels when the veil between heaven and earth is opened at the Eucharist.
Fridays are “Family Fridays” – a tradition started after Kim’s diagnosis where the kids make an effort to come to the house and one of them is the “chef du jour,” creating the meal for the entire family on that day. Kim loved it. She saw it as bringing the family closer together. As mentioned before, we’ve kept the tradition. The kids still come by every Friday, and someone is “chef du jour” – sometimes more than one person! – and some delightful meal and gathering results.
This week was to be Jeanette’s time in the galley, but she was scheduled to work. No worries! I had purchased some “emergency provisions” just the week before – there were some Gorton’s fish fillets (curious where they find such uniform fish…) and some breaded shrimp. Jessica was charged with bringing a bag of Tater Tots to round out the offerings. A veritable “sea of beige” came out of the oven. I also threw together a coleslaw (which the kids invariably fight over who gets to take the leftovers home…) and a tartar sauce for the fish. It was all actually quite delicious!
But that’s not the purpose of this post.
Following dinner, the girls, Jessica, Jillian, and Tiffany decided to play some Uno at the kitchen table. It was a loud, ribald gathering, and I constantly found myself looking over at them and smiling. I could literally hear Kim joining in on the fun – she loved games, and we would play Uno literally for hours with our granddaughter, Vanessa. Kim would have been right there in the thick of it, just as loud and boisterous as the girls were. Sigh.
She loved games. Clue was her favorite. We have no less than five copies of the game in the house of various “flavors.” There’s a 1960s or 70s copy on the shelf in our bedroom (along with my copy of Risk). There’s a “Harry Potter” version. There’s one with an “alternate crime scene” on the flip side of the board. (Well, one less: Jessie took one home with her Friday night.) Board games saw a lot of use when the kids were small, but not so much once they hit their teens as they started developing interests outside of the home. And, unfortunately, due to a penchant for playing them and then leaving them out, there are many that are missing their pieces.
Little bits of memories. Little reminders of how this house bulged and bustled with the lives therein. Memories that make this house my home.
Kim’s Dad is back from his sojourn in Florida and Georgia, so, after Mass, Vanessa and I (Jillian is at a pageant in Tennessee) made our way to his house to accompany him to Holy Sepulchre to visit Kim’s grave and her Mom’s grave as has been the practice since Kim’s mom passed in 2019.
Afterward, in his house, it seemed I was viewing it through AR lenses: everywhere I looked, I could see the house as it was today and as it was when Kim and I were dating and first married, so many years ago. I could see where the couch was that we would plop ourselves on after I picked her up from work on each weekend day. I could see the bedroom that was hers as it was when we were first dating, and then the one she later moved to in the front of the house. I could see her sitting in front of the fireplace to distribute Christmas gifts as was the tradition in those early days. I could see her sitting there as our children, nieces, and nephews took over the role as they grew. I could see Kim working in the kitchen with her Mom and sister at each holiday family gathering. So many memories. So much captured in the vaults of my mind.
It can be maddening at times.
A few years back, we were having a conversation regarding retirement, and how we would get along during it. During the conversation, as we were discussing the things we’d like to do when we no longer had to worry about going to work, she stopped and smiled and said that she believed we would get along just fine…
As the song says: some loves are meant to last forever. Despite the issues we had in our life together, I believe we had that. It definitely had its downs, but we weathered them. Sometimes weathering the storms was easy; other times weathering them was exhausting – but we made it through each one with our marriage intact. The ship of our marriage, a shiny, white, and sleek craft when we launched it, was battered by time and became dented, worn, and rusty – but it remained afloat, and definitely remained seaworthy. We would have been just fine through retirement if only she was allowed to experience it.