Doing Better Plus Dewey

I’m getting tired of all this grieving. I’m bored with my emotional exhaustion. This morning , in that moment of half-dream, half wakefulness where political correctness goes out the window, I had a clear vision of David’s profile, a Mount Rushmore of David’s face with his aquiline Jewish/Roman nose and slightly recessed chin.  I put my ear next to David’s mouth so I could catch what he was saying but I could not hear him. What was he trying to say?

I think I may be getting “better” whatever “better” means. I have not blogged for a week. Nor have I felt that compulsion to ease my inner turmoil by blogging.  Instead, I spent the week engaged in a world in which grief was a theme but did not always predominate. I hosted guests from out-of-town, and did what two weeks ago would have felt impossible: I opened myself up to Yippie Girl.  For the first time since David’s passing I could adopt a Yippie Girl frame of mind, and feel at ease with my enthusiastic, energetic former self who I remembered from before the deaths.

Last August, before David and I went to New York and returned to the finality of aggressive cancer, I’d made a summary of comments I’d received on Yippie Girl from my work group.  After David’s illness and death I had erased all memory of doing that. Finding the comments allowed me to meet for two hours with Roxanne from my book group who, to my delight, agreed to summarize and critique them. It was a first step to open up a process. My Yippie Girl persona still feels foreign and distant, but I’m closer now to going back to her since I know doing so means I can go forward. Last night I went out with Hannah to see the Berkeley premiere of  “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” about the women’s movement I’d been part of. Earlier that day I helped put our Common House back together after a water leak left our living room with ceiling beams exposed and covered by a sheet of plastic. Each public act brings me outside of Griefworld. Even Karen, my therapist, says I’m doing better.  If this keeps up, my blogging may become less frequent.

But “doing better” has within it a huge contradiction, inherent in a concept I learned as an undergraduate that the sociologist Erving Goffman calls the “presentation of self in everyday life.” Sociology 101- people respond to their perception of how others act toward them. On the surface I’ve begun to act as people knew me:  engaged, social, perhaps more shakey and not as competent as I once was but on my way.  In consequence, people treat me as if I’m back to business as usual. At the same time, my internal self feels out of sync.  I respond extremely to acts or statements that don’t warrant an extreme response. I take offense where none is intended. I have trouble making decisions. I accept ambiguity, my Macy’s escalator of emotions continues inexorably up and down. Being treated like a normal person reinforces my capacity to feel better, but at the same time I want everyone to see inside my soul, to take into account my fragility and sense of loss. Does accepting this contradiction mark a maturation of my grieving process?

I also have a new man in my life. What? You ask in horror. So soon? Rest easy: my new man’s name is Dewey. D stands for David and ewey for Stewie. Dewey is, to be perfectly clear, imaginary. He’s about 5 ft 9 inches tall, has a high forehead, blond to reddish hair that falls in waves both on his head and barrel chest. His arms are long enough to embrace me, he stands on skinny ballerina legs. His butt is unclear in my mind since I remember Stew’s as small and tight while David’s, a legacy of his mother Rose Handler, was large and an ongoing source of dissatisfaction for him.

I am just beginning to invent Dewey as a character from whom I can learn. Dewey is Jewishly smart, tactically strategic and compassionate,  with occasional flashes of a Brooklyn/Bronx temper. He combines extremist thinking with moderate action, he is a theatrical and political activist, a trusted non-sexual advisor to hordes of women. Dewey possesses David’s right brain ( or so the left brain/right brain myth goes) engineering skills that help him start projects, log statistics, and pay such close attention to detail that he’ll hoard quarters in one change purse and nickles and dimes in another. The David part of Dewey makes his presence felt through quietness and slowing down. Dewey’s left brain is visionary, containing Stew’s poetic fearlessness, his love of the big picture, hatred of the passive aggressive and ability – which sadly is beyond me – to hoard not objects but factoids. The Stewie part of Dewey is a speech and myth maker. Dewey emerged as a character when I realized that, in the process of mourning David I was also mourning Stew more profoundly and more deeply than I had allowed myself to do after Stew died and I set out on my “fight or flight” escape from Portland. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with Dewey, but I’m open to any and all ideas.


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