Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

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Note: this entry was originally posted in January. I am reposting parts 1-3 since so much time has passed between those entries and part 4, which I will post tomorrow.

Part 2: Anamchara, My Soul Friend

The first time I met Kathleen was right after we had moved to Alexandria, Virginia. I had asked for and received a transfer within the government services firm that I was working for right after graduate school. I was trying to climb the corporate ladder and didn’t feel that I could go much further in Virginia Beach; I also didn’t feel that Paul  was matching my plans to grow, so rightly or wrongly, I put his back against the wall and told him that I was accepting the transfer—with or without him. He came with me, but it created the first rift in our marriage.

I was given the position of Senior Technical Editor for an Operations System and told that I would be working as a proposal development specialist. The first proposal that I was assigned to was an Army proposal; I don’t remember exactly what the proposal was for, but I was introduced to the person who had been working on it before me, Kathleen Roulet. She had a large smile and a firm handshake, and she seemed to be all business. Quite frankly, I was intimidated by her at first. Actually I was intimidated by most of the women in the operations center: They were a much different breed from the Virginia Beach office. It was the time of dress for success. Business suits, pumps, brief cases. Women were dressing like men in order to be taken as seriously as men. I had a lot to learn.

Within days I realized that I was going to have to overhaul my appearance completely or be eaten alive. Fortunately, Kathleen had been asked to help me on the proposal. Luckily for me, she was actually the least intimidating person around. She had an easy laugh, a quick wit, and she knew everyone. I had my role model.

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Kathleen’s Princess Tiara

As it turns out, between the two of us, Kathleen and I were two of the more powerful women in the Operations System. Unfortunately, a few months after my arrivel her group was moved to the other end of the complex, and we were working in two separate buildings on different projects, so for a few months, we didn’t have that much contact.

I was stuck with Marine Engineers who didn’t believe that women knew math. Kathleen was stuck working for a retired military officer who called her “princess.” He honestly could not understand why she might be offended by being called princess in staff meetings. It was both infuriating and hilarious in an odd sort of way. We commiserated.

In October, I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. It was a surprise. It was also a bit unsettling as I was just establishing my position. I was working 12 hours a day regularly, and often on weekends. I kept up with the frenetic pace as long as I could.

In the spring, there was some reshuffling, and another operations center was formed. They were sent to the other end of the complex where Kathleen’s group had been sent, and I was sent with it. My former boss was promoted to a Division General Manager. He did not keep me with him. I was not happy with the reshuffling, but at least I would be just down the hall from Kathleen. Between my pregnancy and the reshuffling, we became much closer. Kathleen and I spent a lot of time together at work and after work. When she wasn’t dating anyone, she would come by and have dinner with Paul and me.

One Friday in July, I went on a cleaning binge in the office kitchen. That night, I went into labor at home. I was on maternity leave for eight weeks. Kathleen brought me Speedy Little Devils in the hospital (cookies made with chocolate, peanut butter and other wonderful things). I found a wonderful woman just four doors down from my townhouse to watch Alexis while I was at work, and I returned to work full time when my leave was up. It was a time when women were trying to do it all: work full time, be super moms, keep their houses in perfect order, still be wonderful wives and great in bed.

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Trivial Pursuit

A few weeks after going back to work, Paul and I had gotten access to a beach house in Rehobeth for a really incredible price at the last minute, and we asked Kathleen to come along. It wasn’t going to be a romantic weekend. We were taking Alexis; she was about 7 weeks old. We just wanted to get out of town for the weekend. The three of us played Trivial Pursuit. Alexis slept in her travel crib.

Kathleen and I drank lots of wine, and Paul drank beer. The three of us decided that we were going to stay up all night playing the game as an endurance test to see who caved first.  At some point, Paul got up to go to the bathroom. After about half an hour, Kathleen and I realized that he hadn’t come back. We went in the bedroom where we found him asleep on the bed next to Alexis’s crib.

Kathleen and I laughed our asses off. Those were great times.

We used to do some pretty interesting things. Like the time she received a micro-cassette from a guy she had been dating. The only problem was that she did not have a micro-cassette tape. No problem. I proceeded to try to break into filing cabinets at work with a paper clip. It looks so much easier in the movies. We gave up, and she went and bought one at Radio Shack.

We regularly went out to lunch. She was my therapist, and I was hers. There was nothing that we couldn’t say to each other, and many things that we wouldn’t say to anyone else. Our jobs were so stress-intensive that often we felt as if we were carrying around boxes of nitroglycerine (figuratively), and someone was just waiting for us to drop it. It was a very cutthroat industry, and we were very high profile. It didn’t help that I had the ear of the Division General Manager. People did not like that.

At the Christmas party that year the band was the Beach Boys. Our group of ladies took off our shoes and danced on the tables while we drank champagne.  Yes, I started it. By then, I had moved beyond the Marine Engineers. I had a window office next to the boss, and people from corporate knew me on a first name basis. But I was really starting to get tired. My old boss still wanted me on the line as his ears, and I was being pulled in too many directions.

One of the few times I can remember really just relaxing was when Kathleen and I packed a small picnic and rode the metro to Arlington Cemetery, and then walked to the Reflecting Pool. I believe that it was Memorial Day. The symphony was playing, and it was a free concert. I’m almost positive that John Denver was singing that night as well.

When Alexis turned one, Paul and I decided to move back to Norfolk so that she would be able to grow up near her grandparents. I also did not want to be working 12 to 16 hour days any more. I wanted to spend more time with my daughter. My mother came up and drove home with Alexis. Paul drove a U-Haul truck home with our furniture, and I spent the last week at Kathleen’s home finishing up paperwork and my last week of work.

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Angel in Irish Cemetery

I knew that Kathleen and I would see each other again, and we did. I drove up for her birthday in November. She came down for visits, and like I said, she came down for my baby shower for Caitlin.

Through the years, we have stayed in touch by phone and letter, e-mails and cards. We used to meet in Williamsburg once a year for a big shopping trip, but then that kind of faded away. But I have always known that Kathleen is truly what is called in Irish Gaelic anamchara: a soul friend. I have only had to call her, and she has always been there for me, an open heart, a warm shoulder. She has never turned me away. I have never felt her presence lacking in my life, though the years have spread out, and miles have expanded the distance. The circumstances have changed and changed again. The players have entered and left and some are gone for good. Kathleen, since the day she first took residence in my heart, has never left, and I know that she never will.

There are many things in life of which you cannot be certain, many things you pray will abide with you but do not. There are many places in this world that  life may take you, and many places that you wish you had never seen. There are moments you embed in your memory as being irreplaceable, and moments in time that you wish you could draw a curtain over and never look upon in memory ever again for as long as you draw breath. And there are people who have held you like angels even from hundreds of miles away, knowing that if they loosen their wings even a fraction, you will fall. That is what Kathleen is and has been for me, and will be for me ever more.
 
 end of part two.

There will be more to come. Peace.

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“Take Care of All Your Memories For You Cannot Relive Them” ~ Bob Dylan

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Summer 08 Sutcliffe Cousins: Phillip, Eamonn, Brett, Hannah, Alexis, Rebecca, Mallory

“Memory is the primary and fundamental power, without which there could be no other intellectual operation” ~ Samuel Johnson

I cannot write tonight. There is just too much pressing on my mind. I am waiting to hear about my brother-in-law in Germany. He is in the hospital with pneumonia and is on a respirator.

Maybe if I tell you about him that will help. Patrick is my ex’s older brother. He has always been the serious, intellectual one. Patrick was in the R.O.T.C. in college, and then he went into the army after graduation. Patrick was stationed in Germany where he met Helma, the woman he married. After a couple of years, they were transferred back to the states, somewhere in Tennessee.

In the meantime, Paul’s younger sister Ann was engaged to be married in the spring. Patrick and Helma were going to drive to Virginia on President’s Day weekend for a visit and for a fitting of brides maids dresses as Helma and I were both going to be in the wedding. Then the unthinkable happened. Helma fell asleep at the wheel, and Patrick, who had been asleep in the back seat was wedged in the seat when the car stopped. Helma had a broken nose and lost some teeth. Patrick had been deprived of oxygen and had spinal cord damage.

After all of the operations, Patrick was left a paraplegic, but he still retained his mind, his long-term memory, his wit. The army retired Patrick as a full Captain. He was unable to speak, but they worked out a communication system using arm movements and eye blinks and mouth openings and closings. Patrick was quick-tempered and impatient before the accident, and he was just the same after the accident, but never with me.

Whenever I tried to spell with him (which is what we call talking), I would tell him quite plainly that if he started to get all mean with me, I would stop and walk away, which would usually make him laugh, and then he would be patient with me as I tried my best to get things right the first time.

Just to show you how smart he remained, while they still lived here, we used to play games, like Trivial Pursuit, usually men against the women, and it would usually come down to Patrick against me. He loved to kick my ass with history questions, but I could usually get him on literature.

Eventually, he and Helma were able to have two children of their own: Phillip and Hannah. Helma’s sister Kerstin lived here in the states for a while, and she was married, and members of her family would visit, but Helma was always lonely for home, and it was very hard for her. Patrick had a physical therapist who came to the home, and Helma took really good care of him. But finally, they made the decision to move to Germany so that Helma could be closer to her family.

It was hard on everyone, especially on Paul’s mom, but Helma promised to come over every year for a visit, and for a while it was every year, but then the dollar dropped, and then after 9/11, everyone was afraid to fly for a while. They had just started coming back over a few years ago. Patrick had a big 50th birthday party in Germany, and several of his best friends with whom he has stayed in contact flew to Germany to celebrate with him, as did his mother, who hadn’t been to Germany since right after Patrick and Helma were first married.

That he has stayed so healthy for so long is directly tied to Helma’s dedication to keeping him that way. He has had two major health scares. And we have spent our time making visits to VA hospitals, which are incredibly depressing places. But overall, he has been incredibly lucky. They have made trips all over Europe, and when they have been here, Helma has taken Patrick to just about every Revolutionary battleground in the area.

With Helma’s assistance, Patrick has kept up his massive stamp collection, his alphabetized CD and LP collection, including anything ever put out by the Beatles. He reads constantly (books on tape have been a wonderful development for him because before that, it was books by whoever was designated reader). In other words, Because of Helma, Patrick’s hobbies have all been attended to, and his life, although far from normal, has been turned into the closest semblance of normal that it could be.

He has a computer that he can control to write letters to his friends. His children may have had times that they were embarassed by their father, but I think not any more than any teenager is embarassed by a parent. Just ask my sons.

The last time they were here, I noticed how tired Helma looked, and I was actually surprised, because she really takes care of herself. She is a championship swimmer. She coaches swimming. That is her time for herself. She is in very good physical shape, but she really looked thin this time. Not thin as in skinny, but thin as in worn thin. I wrote her an e-mail about it, but she never really responded, which I did not expect that she would. She is just not that way.

She had told me before coming that this time she was not running around to see everyone the way that they usually do. She was just going to take it easy. Normally when they visit, they are on the go from the moment they arrive until the moment that they leave. But this time, she really didn’t go very many places. Even when she went to Busch Gardens, she didn’t close the place the way that she usually did.

I’m waiting until it’s 2 a.m. here so that it will be 8 a.m. there so that I can call. I always forget about the six hour time difference. I’m hoping that the news is good, that they have turned down the ventilator and that the pneumonia is clearing. That’s the news that I am hoping for. After all, Patrick’s grandmother just died last week. I’m not sure how he took the news I don’t know the last time that he saw her. But he does get very emotional.

His mother, my other mother-in-law, is noticeably worsening with her own health problem. Parkinson’s does not respond well to stress. So I’m just hoping that she holds up well for the next few days.

I suppose for someone who said that she didn’t have anything to say tonight, I managed to run on in my usual way.

That’s all for now. More later. Peace.