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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Surviving the day and being okay

I wasn’t sure what to expect about Nigel’s Birthday yesterday. I knew when it was, of course, so I had lots time to anticipate it. I didn’t know if it would be trying, bad, horrible, or okay. In some ways, it was a mix of all that and more, but, mainly, it was okay. That was a welcome surprise, but there was a bigger one to come.

In the couple months leading up to his birthday, I was beginning to feel that I might be okay on the day—and yet, I couldn’t be sure. It’s difficult to prepare oneself for an event when we have no idea what to expect.

The day began okay, though I was a bit subdued. After my shower, I ironed some shirts because the one I wanted to wear in my photo yesterday needed it. I did a bunch more while I was at it.

The selfie was a bit of a challenge. I wanted to hold Nigel’s photo in two hands, so I couldn’t take the phone in the usual way. Instead, I got my tripod out, mounted my phone on it, and took some photos (with my phone set to timer). I couldn’t get what I wanted, so I ended up turning on the flash, and it made the difference. Unfortunately, staring at my phone to avoid missing the shot meant that in all the photos I had a kind of weird expression, a bit grumpy, maybe, a bit sad, probably. Mostly, I was actually just trying to concentrate on what I was doing. If I’d been able to, I would’ve chosen a more neutral expression. Maybe it’s the expression I needed that day.

Afterwards, I sat down in my chair to post the photo and caption to Instagram, and it was downhill from there.

The Instagram App on my phone is probably the single most annoying App I have, for a lot of reasons, and I got frustrated when I got a message that my caption was too long because Instagram wouldn’t let me copy what I’d written so I could better edit it outside the App (editing text has been THE single most frustrating thing about the App.

It all got too much for me. I threw my phone across the room, yelling, and took off my classes and started wailing with gut-clenching sobs. I threw my reading glasses across the room, too. I kept crying and crying, and shouted out how I couldn’t take this anymore. Then, I calmed down.

The first order of business was to apologise to the dogs were were completely freaked out. I don’t think they understood anything, including my apology, but they got the gist of that when I told each one he was “a good boy”.

The thing is, I felt so much better after my meltdown: Calm and, well, okay. I guess I must’ve been under more stress than I’d realised, and more emotional pressure, too. That outburst relieved the pressure—kind of like a giant emotional fart. It made all the difference.

I managed to cut, cut, cut, rearrange and edit, and then cut some more, until I could get my caption short enough to post. Then, I posted it (and it cross-posted to my personal facebook automatically). As far as I was concerned, that was that.

I had no plans for the day, so—for no particular reason whatsoever, other than that I needed to get to my own prescriptions—I put the last of Nigel’s expired prescriptions into a bag to take to the chemist for destruction when our Covid Alert Levels drop enough. That meant cleaning out the plastic click container they’d been kept in for years and years. I can’t remember if I first put his or mine into what ended up being two identical containers, but I do know that Nigel wanted his container stacked on top of mine because he didn’t want to have to move anything when he wanted to grab his prescriptions. After he died, I finally put my container on top.

I have no idea why I’d kept those expired prescriptions so long. I know that right after Nigel died, I gathered up some and put them (and some of my own old ones) in a bag for the chemist to destroy, but I remember that for reasons I don’t really understand, I just couldn’t bring myself to destroy the last ones. At the time, one of them was the same drug I was on, and I told myself I could use it if I ran out of mine, but it was already old by then, so I now know that I was just making excuses. Since then, I suppose lethargy became the dominant force: I just never thought about them.

However the situation came to be, or why it endured, I chose yesterday to empty the container, and then I washed it so I can use if for something else (they’re really, really good storage containers, and I use the brand all the time). After that, I considered emptying out a couple of Nigel’s drawers I’ve left alone all this time, but I thought that might be pushing my luck.

I planned that in the evening I’d open a particular bottle of wine to toast him, and there’s a story behind that.

Nigel wasn’t a drinker, having decided well before we met that he just didn’t like it anymore. However, one evening after we moved back to Auckland from Paeroa—probably 2006 or 2007—they had a wine tasting evening at Nigel’s work (probably a social club event). He had a wonderful time, and for some years afterward he laughed about how one of the descriptions used for a wine’s bouquet was “cat pee”.

A non-drinker going to and enjoying a wine tasting might sound a little odd, except that he wasn’t a teatotaller or anything. It turned out that he enjoyed really, really sweet wines, he liked one they had and bought a case of 12 375ml bottles of a NZ late harvest semillon.

When we had family parties, sometimes he’d open a bottle and sip a small glass of the wine, but never actually had that much. He was the only one who liked it, though, so eventually, several weeks later, he’d tip the bottle down the drain.

There was a party at our house one summer and he opened a bottle. I distinctly remember he and I were standing in the lounge of our house on Auckland’s North Shore, right in front of our TV, and he said to me with a big grin on his face, “I’m a bit tipsy!” I probably said, ”really?!”, with raised eyebrows and a big smile, because I was excited by the prospect of seeing him tipsy after more than a decade together at that point. It didn’t happen. In fact, he stopped having any more of the wine that night, and I never did see him tipsy.

The 12 bottles slowly dwindled over the years, until finally we were moving around just one, and that ended up in my pantry here. It was a 2004 vintage, and quite possibly vinegar by now, but I decided I’d open it and have a glass for him (photo up top).

I got out one of the small wine glasses I obtained for free as part of a promotion from the supermarket I went to then. My idea was to get some nice glasses, and maybe get rid of the less-nice ones. Nigel thought I was a bit nuts, but it was free, so he overlooked my weird obsession. I don’t recall every using those glasses, though maybe we did a time or two.

The orphaned wine glasses I chose with the orphaned wine Nigel chose seemed to me to be the perfect match. So, I poured a glass and staged the photo above. After that, I raised the glass toward Nigel’s photo, and said “Happy Birthday, sweetheart!” before having a sip.

It’s safe to say that very, very sweet wines aren’t even remotely my thing, and I didn’t have more than a sip from that glass. Instead, I poured it into a larger glass and diluted it with sugar free Sprite (it was then tolerable, tasting vaguely like a 7 and 7). It took me the rest of the evening and this evening to finish that little bottle. Nigel would be amused on so many levels that I insisted on finishing the bottle rather than just tipping it out as he would've done at some point. Being so diluted, and only being a small bottle consumed over two days, I didn’t get tipsy from it, either.

And that, was pretty much my day observing and celebrating Nigel’s birthday. There were parts of it that were trying, bad, horrible, and okay, but there was one more thing, beyond it being okay on balance: A good and welcome surprise.

The reality is that, as I expected, I missed Nigel like crazy, thought of him constantly, and shed some tears. However, the one thing that I didn't expect at all was that my overriding emotion that day would be gratitude. Obviously, I didn't get to share life with him for even nearly as many decades as I should've had, but I'm grateful for every second I did have with him. I think that's a pretty good space to be in.

Really, really sweet wine is optional, though.

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