one is indeed the loneliest number

2 weeks before my life changed

I grew up in a family that stood firm in our beliefs about used cars, shag carpet and the use of duct tape for various purposes.  And with that shortened version of my truth, today I walk back in time to a sampling of the many places my old cars left me stranded over the years.  More than I could ever begin to list in one blog post, but the highlights alone are a story worth telling. 

There was that time that I had to run across 6 lanes of South Buckner Blvd in the dead of night, wearing a leotard, leg warmers and carrying a bag full of cash from my part time job at the Big Town Mall ladies fitness gym.  Yes, I was supposed to be carrying the bag full of cash as I was trying to deposit it, but instead guarded it with my life as I dodged traffic, ran through a ditch and banged on the already closed and locked door of the KMart till the manager felt sorry for me and let me in.  It was probably the crying and the leotard that convinced him.

And there was that time in College Station, Texas, independent college girl though I was, when I got stranded in the left turn lane of one of the busiest intersections in town and gave up on just about everything and again dodged traffic and mean stares as I ran into the McDonalds across the street and collect called my dad. It wasn't a good conversation.

And another one of my biggest and all time etched into my brain memories, though certainly not even near the end of the list, was that time on the dive bar and cheap motel stretch of Samuell Blvd where, thank the good Lord, it was at least daylight.  I don't remember if I was wearing a leotard that time, but chances are good - and I found a pay phone outside a liquor store somewhere between the Lido XXX Theater and the Palm Motel - and again, collect called my dad at work.  And though on that particular day I looked nearly, if not exactly like a prostitute on her lunch break - just hangin at the Swif-T Beer and Wine - it was right then and there that I declared an end to the madness and soon after bought my very first brand new car.

And I felt like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind where she's already picked enough cotton to make her hands bleed, though thankfully not while wearing a leotard, and waves her fist in the air with before - its - time woman power and says something along the lines of... as God as my witness I will never drive a beat up old car again.

But I spoke too soon and found myself stranded in the drive through pharmacy line at the CVS with a dead battery last week.  I also can't turn off the heat, but we can save that one for another day.  And trust that it had already been a day above all days with the Uber driver forgetting to pick up Kid 3 for school and 6 hours at work with low blood sugar and no snack, and I sat in that drive through and cried some very desperate cries of frustration. You can ask anyone inside the CVS who could see me through that big glass pharmacy window, telling the pharmacist about that sad woman out the window who could probably use a sedative, on the double.  Anyway, a nice young mechanic came by and got the car started and led me off to an even nicer Islamic man at the car repair place who taught me all about his culture and his beliefs as we shared Hershey miniatures and I poured out my soul. Maybe I left a better person for the low, low cost of a $200 battery and a nervous breakdown, but really I still just feel the same.  

And it seems that every day of late for the Walters is a new moutain to climb.  And though this week, for the first time in almost 3 months, I actually had 2 days where I held conversations with people other than myself without being hysterical, and foolishly thought myself getting stronger,  I then remembered I wasn't.  

And it turns out to be totally true that one is indeed the loneliest number, in every sense.  I did, however, get a sweet offer from a crazy man to move in with me - since my husband is dead, and his rent just went up $30 a month at his apartment.  Then I remembered that I had been so long inside my safe and secure bubble that I forgot that I live in a world full of insanity and danger.  And for the curious, though I think it would be grand to share the cost of my high water and electric bills with someone, I politely declined his kind offer in such a way that made us both feel better about our time together.  Then I went home and text documented it to everyone and checked my door locks.

And y'all, just when I think I've got myself a little bit together it's like a big ol' explosion of emotion hits me again.  Like today.  And yesterday.  Thank you Travis County Medical Examiner for sending me right back to the starting line.

And the news is that Fireman Dave died of natural causes.  Causes that are making me so angry right about now that should he pop in to pay me an after-worldy visit, he should be sorely afraid.  Causes that may force me to, if given the opportunity right now as I speak, just kill him myself.  So people, listen as I begin this week's sermon:   Take care of your bodies.  Admit when you may not be feeling in tip top shape and then do something about it.  Something that does not involve ignoring the situation and denying the reality of the fact that you hold not only your own life in your hands, but that of everyone who loves you.  Now pass the offering plate and Amen. 

So today I feel more lost and lonely than ever, because the time that has passed has made the burden of alone even heavier.  I use the word alone as a noun because I firmly believe it to be not only a thing, but the person that I am right now, and a place not unlike hell on earth.  I thought time was supposed to heal, but obviously someone lied.  And y'all, lonely aches all over and makes me cry anywhere and everywhere including, but not limited to, driving down the road, shopping for groceries and putting gas in the car.  All things that I actually did today all while crying like a baby. There are so many witnesses.  

And to me, lonely feels like doing every single thing by myself, and even thinking and planning to do every single thing by myself.  Maybe for the rest of my life.  Chores, decisions, discipline.  Home management, doctor appointments, errands, household repairs, upkeep and paying for......  like - everything.  Family crises, dramatic teen outbursts, broken down cars.  Driving new places, learning where to park, learning how to shop for or fix or make things I never even thought about before.  Plus my usual load of cooking, cleaning, laundry, working my job and getting up like a farmer each day to find time to do it all.  Maybe if I subtracted out all the hours I spend crying, I might be a better time manager.

And lonely feels like me quietly hating it when someone else refers to their love, their significant other, their person, with fondness, affection, .... with knowledge that they even have a person to love.  And it feels like anger when I get messages from people who are made obviously uncomfortable by my unhappiness and work like heck trying to swing me over to the other side.   

I know more this week than I have in the last few months.  But I feel like I've been knocked down from my ledge of comfortable ignorance, where I had started to develop a sense of routine.  And I mostly just want to feel lost and confused again instead of lost and hopeless.  There is actually a difference, but I never knew that till now. 

a little diary of what it feels like to be me right now, part 1

I started this post on a day, almost 2 months ago, at a time I obviously had a burst of courage or some other sort of adrenaline pumping reaction to our life change that made me feel like writing.  Then it apparently stopped, and I became my regular, borderline, hysterical self, all with grown out hair highlights and a dirty house.  

But it gives me hope to look back now and see that at least I tried - because as time has gone on, I've done very little of that - at least no more than what it has taken to get through the day to to day trudge through paperwork and account changes, and figuring out where the Walters family is in this new life.  

So I hope to get back here more often, as I write a little diary of what it feels like to be me right now.  The Firefighter's Widow.  

November 2018:  

"I had planned for my next blog post to be about one of our stops on our Thanksgiving vacation Tour de Texas by way of Mississippi .... the part about my severe allergic reaction to deep east Texas and how I scratched my own eyeball in the worst of ways as I slept last Monday night and impaired my vision and had to go to an emergency eye doctor appt in Little Town, and sat there with about 100 old people there to check on their cataracts.  I also thought I would share how my poor vision made me misjudge my step into the bathtub that very night and how I broke my toe.

But Fireman Dave showed me up, and told a story all his own last Friday night, November 23, 2018. I decided that a diary may be my best bet at trying to get these days into words.

Today I fixed the mailbox all by myself.  And today, Wednesday, November 28, Fireman Dave's body was escorted back to Dallas by his fire crew, friends, and 2 of our sons.  I guess that's as good a place as any to start this story.

Thursday, November 29, 2018 - today I go to the funeral home to view my husband for the first time after his death last Friday night.

And as I sit here and think back on a week ago today, I never thought or imagined that it would be the last night that I would ever lay down next to Fireman Dave.  I also never imagined that I would spend the next 5 days planning a funeral and worrying what our tomorrows are going to look like and how much money we owe and to whom.  I actually think a week ago tonight - we were out of town with relatives - that I left the family room of our shared rental house and headed to our bedroom because I didn't want to watch Thursday night football.  I still don't want to watch Thursday night football, though I hear it through my wall coming from Kids 1 and 2.

I think that whole concept of being a last time for everything is far too complex to even get started on, but I will say this - it's all true.  There really is a last time for everything and a person can just up and die on a pretty Friday night and I'm already getting really sad compiling my lists of lasts with Fireman Dave - the saddest part being that the list has just begun. 

What might the coming days and months be like?  I'm thinking nightmarish, but trying to put a spin on it - like maybe it will be so nightmarish that some Hollywood movie person will think it awful enough to make into a movie and pay me a bazillion dollars so I can afford college tuition for my kids.  And THAT, dear reader,  is a whole nother subject for a whole nother day.

And I will add that the visit to the funeral home ranked right up there with getting my foot run over by a truck while watching Old Yeller.  I cried in the first few minutes of seeing what I went there to see, but something - or rather, Someone - made me pull it together for Kid 1 who was with me and not handling the sight of his dad very well.  I will go ahead and add here that he and I decided that if we tilt our heads to the left just a bit - maybe 45 degrees, that we could picture the person we were visiting resembling Fireman Dave.  It was a stretch, but so are each of our days right now.  

And while we were there, Kid 1 put his daddy's wedding ring back on the finger of the man I married. Why was it off, you wonder?  Because last Friday  - the incident - Kid 1 picked his daddy clean of all jewels and valuables before the official people rolled him away from us on a stretcher.  The one and only time I will allow pick pocketing and petty theft from my boys."

And picking up with today, almost 2 months after that writing, I will tell you that I pretty much spend every day at this computer - just not the way I would wish.  I wish it were to write and encourage and use what I always thought was my gift.  But instead, I pay people, and I argue with people, and I mail things - a million things, and I unearth passwords and hidden debts, and I count the dollars and cents that it takes to raise a family of 3 teenage boys on my own.  

And for the curious out there - No.  There is still no cause of death.  Though I've heard many of your theories, trust that I was there when it happened, and even I do not know what happened to my husband. Some of you are very creative in your thinking, however, and you know that  I always appreciate a little flair for the dramatic in the routine of normal.  I will also tell you that my husband died in my arms, and in the presence of so many people who love him more than words can say.  And I will say that my boys and their young cousins saw some things that night that young eyes should never have to see.  If you want to pray for anything, pray for them to remember what is good, and for God's grace to allow them to forget the fear of that night.  That is a giant burden for a young person to carry for a lifetime.  

And addressing the other end of all that is curious  - because inquiring minds want to know our every last detail even though you pretend you don't  -   No.  There has not been a life insurance claim as there is no cause of death.  But the boys and I are not starving or freezing or looking for a spot in a shelter anytime soon - and that is a great sign of even greater things to come.  (I'm going with the "Field Of Dreams theory of, If I build it they will come..."  and choosing to look for rainbows in our %$## storm. Tell me if you see one.)  

And y'all, the hard truth is that there is very little help from the City of Dallas - aside from a handful of those that have stuck beside me through it all. Our city health insurance was terminated 7 days after the death of my husband, and I was given the option of continuation at more than double the cost we had paid days before.  And addressing specifically all my active duty fire  and police readers out there - if you think that your city, your employer will stick around to care for your survivors, please talk to me about that.  It is very eye opening what your loved ones will deal with when you are gone.  It may even make you want to return and haunt the city halls until such changes are made that will give some rest to the weary and some assuredness to the scared.  Fireman Dave will be happy to lead the haunt.  

And following that same path of direct anger and frustration, let me address the fire retirees out there who thought it a good thing to make a run on the pension system and take out all that was yours.  All that was yours, took away from all that was everyone else's.  Can I live on the pension payment we were given?  Maybe if I move the boys under a bridge downtown.  So one defunct pension system later, please let me put some faces on the ones paying for your boat, your sports car, your vacation home, and your security: 


I see these faces every day, and hold onto these boys with all I've got to assure them that I will do my best to take care of them.  So far that hasn't proven to be easy.  But with the thoughtful and generous gifts of friends, coworkers, and even some secret angels out there that I've never even met, we're still here and counting our days together as good.    

And honest to gosh truth, so far I'm more tired than I have ever been in my entire life. And giving serious thought to job possibilities and all the things I thought I would never have to think about again.  I guess God heard my secret plans and laughed.  Pretty sure there's a country song out there with that same sentiment.  

And to sum it all up, y'all, I'm sad.  About every last bit of it.  

That may have been a 400 lb, 30 year old man on the field...

I sat through my 4th rainy high school football game of the season, watching Kid 1 play one of the last games of his Senior year.  It was Homecoming for our inner city Dallas high school, already the underdog right out of the gate in Friday night's game against a suburban football power house.  And as people slipped and slid down the steps of the bleachers on that miserable night at Forester Field in Dallas, I watched my son get plowed down on the field, time and again, by what looked to be a 400 lb, 30 year old man - and made a note to myself to inquire about birth certificates for the opposing team's players.  

The other team brought with them - obvious speed, talent, precision, and what looked like a full bus load of well practiced aggression - trash talking our boys all night long on the field.  They also brought the world's loudest band - and when they played through the entire half time show time allotment for both schools - with no regard for our Homecoming festivities and special performances - another mental note was made to check the UIL rules of behavior for band programs, especially in the category of rudeness and inconsideration.  But our adorably awesome band? ... Though they rarely got the opportunity to toot their own horns that night because of you know who..... stood at the ready to share their spirit if ever given the chance.  Go BAnd!

The suburbs ended the night by playing for half of eternity even after the game was over - loudly overtaking the coaches' post game huddle with the players, and most noticeably, over our school's game night tradition of player, staff and cheerleaders joining hands to sing their Alma Mater.  

But our school did what they do best, though the best for our boys on this Friday night
got them only as far as a 78 to 0 score in favor of the other team.  
But I'm calling a win for us on this one.... as it takes more strength and power to share
what you have plenty of with someone who has less, than it does to beat someone
who’s already down.  

In the parable of The Good Samaritan in the Bible, Jesus tells of a traveler, a Jew, who was beaten, robbed and left on the side of the road.  Pretty much everyone who passes him by takes notice, but keeps walking.... until a Samaritan - a people who didn't much get along with Jews (um, football rival teams on a Friday night?) - is the one who stops and helps the injured man.  The Samaritan takes him to a safe place, pays for his care, and even promises to come along a bit later to take care of any extra expenses that come up.  And y'all, I get all the warm feels just thinking about the degree of nice showing up there.  

And I think this is where the mom in me stops trying to talk football and starts to talk about what really matters - beyond the game and beyond the score, and about raising kids into good adults.  

I guess Friday night's score will forever be a sore spot for my Senior Varsity player, but as I try to remind him, eye rolls expected, ... Sweetheart, it's only a game.  

Because when my son comes home after school and tells me that he spent part of practice changing a flat tire for a parent at the school, or that the team has to be there late one day because they're helping a neighbor with a yard project, I know that his teachers and coaches are looking far beyond Friday night's game and right into the hearts of these young people.  When practice is paused until all players are on board with the required grades to play, the real lesson of team work is taught and learned.  When the coaches organize a team breakfast with their biggest rival team, in an effort to build healthy competition via friendship and common ground, I know that life lessons are being served up larger than Friday night's score.  Go Coaches!  

And when my son's coaches and teachers are invested not only in his contribution to the football program, or his future playing prospects, but his prospects as a contributing member of society, I know that he's in the hands of adults that have some of life's biggest questions figured out. .... Possible recipe being, take what you have to offer, use the heck out of it, and then share it with someone else.  Bring someone along with you and lift someone up behind you, and may the road to wherever be smoothly paved and well lit for your travels.  

I hope that happens for our giant beast of an opponent as well. Because one day all these kids will walk off that field and need to know how to live life without the Friday Night Lights deciding their priorities.  I think my own kid has had enough of a mixed curriculum in that area to stand a good chance.  

Friday's game was hard to watch.  It's always hard to see your kid get knocked around on the field or off.  But as a parent, I'm in the business of raising good people, and way too much of the time, y'all, it involves a few hard knocks.  And knowing that growing up involves strength training in humility, tolerance and grace, I'm proud to share that job with the amazing teachers at Bryan Adams High in Dallas ISD.    

And yes, those wonderful kids, coaches, cheerleaders and staff still joined hands on the sideline after the game - despite the noise of the other team, and stood together as the family that they have become over their years together.    

The giant may have won last Friday, but I think our kids are winning the game that really matters.  
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