Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ghosts' Whispers on my Wedding Anniversary

A simple thing, really. I swapped out the wind chime that hangs outside under the pergola. Weather and time had damaged it so it did not chime, kind of a big defect for the WIND CHIME. But as I tossed the old one away, there went another ghost.
            Theologically, I don’t believe in ghosts. Except the Holy Ghost whose promise to never leave remains true. But there are ‘ghosts’…memories and sounds that provoke memories, and smells and sights and even touches that remind me of who is no longer here.
            I am approaching the 3rd anniversary of Mike’s passing and he is present at the lake cottage that we shared for so many years.
            In all sorts of tangible ways, he is here. I’m sitting at a desk that he made for me, the first in so many projects. When we believed that he would have less than a year, he was determined to build me a desk. He did. Then the custom chair, just a little higher for this long-legged lady.
            But then came more time and, for a while, less pain so the furniture building continued. Everywhere I look in my little cottage, I see his handy work and I recall how I stood and sat in witness to construction.
            I’ve added a few touches like that pergola, replaced some furniture, and repainted. The place is different than it was a few years ago but it will always be “our” place.
            Those ghosts pop up regularly while I’m back in Indiana. Just yesterday I had reason to drive north through Leesburg and suddenly, glancing to the right, I spied the brick road that winds through town leading to Patona Bay boat yard on the shore of Lake Tippi. How many times had we driven there? To haul the boat with broken motor to a mechanic; to pick up the boat; to store the boat; sometimes to dream of replacing the boat. I had ridden shotgun in the truck but never really enjoyed the place. It was a necessary drag on our lake time. This day, I looked down the bricks as far as the turn, and yes, I wished I were making that boring trip again.
            We had and I have many friends here. They are all so cordial and welcoming even as they are a part of US rather than ME. Not their fault. Most of our friends live here so my summer invasion is taken in stride. They don’t stop their lives nor should they. I have to push into their gatherings where I’m always welcome.
            Last week I finally took Mike’s name off the utility bills. When I began paying those bills as a solo I found that we had not put my name on our heat/cool/water/electricity history. At the time, various agencies wanted steep payments to alter this so I opted out. Apparently times have changed and now it’s simple. And now I realize none of my bills will bear his name. Another ghost gone.
            From time to time, I reflect on how much my life has changed but I try not to dwell on how it would be different if he were here. Because he’s not. 3 years ago, I was a wife and partner, a teacher with a closet of necessary professional clothes, a homeowner times two.  Plus my name was on several vehicles.  (although NOT on utility bills) That’s all changed. Except for a few dress up things, my wardrobe is all jeans and tops and let’s just say that my makeup routine is simplified.
            This year Mike’s dog Ivy…she was HIS dog, no question…developed old age illness and we had to put her to sleep. Her ashes rest in an oak box on top of a Mike-built cabinet, awaiting a more formal burial at the place this family plants its deceased pets. It was time for Ivy but she represented a tangible tie to my guy.
            I’m surviving but there are times I long for that face, those arms, that laugh, even that grimace. I have no cheerleader for my little victories. I have no marker for my little failures. Then when I realize that I’m missing the touchstone, I chide myself about how pathetic that is. Really Lynne?  Really?
            Yes.
            We had worked together to help me navigate some potential widow challenges but we could not anticipate everything. This last year saw me clicking off 65 years (HE remains forever 61) and that meant signing up for Medicare. I’ve had that piece of information in the back of my head for several decades: I can continue on the school’s health plan until 65 but as that was a simple take-it-from-my-check, I really didn’t give it much mind.
            When Mike died, I had to sign some papers and so forth at the Kokomo social security office. I remember walking in there and after being greeted by name by the security guy, some nice woman took me by the hand and led me to a desk and helped helped helped me. Everybody in the branch was all smiley and nice. I think Mike had done most of their divorces and like so many of his clients, they loved him a lot so helping me was a way to express it.
            Ah, but the move to Texas meant I would navigate it from there, in the big city full of people who don’t know me.
            I knew that date was looming so last summer, a full 6 months before this needed to be done, I started the process. I did that apparently by tossing out a very important piece of paper that had a ‘card’ implanted in it. When I realized that I needed that card, I tried to get another one. “Use the website,” they tell you. I tried. Apparently on that card was a letter and I needed that letter. I tried “A” “B” and “C” before the website tossed me out. And wouldn’t let me back in.
            So then I called, wandering through many menus and not-too-great computer music. When I got a human, she typed in some items and said they (this would be the federal government) had no record of me.
            At the same time, I kept getting all sorts of official-looking mail warning me of the date, the date when this all must be completed.  (These turned out to be advertisements for various supplement insurance but they did not look like ads; they looked like government documents.) And frustrating, when I would seek help, someone would hand me a big booklet. “All your questions are answered in there.”
            Ah ha! I called the people who were on that help list Mike had collected. Alas, and this is no criticism of them, I got everything from “I have no idea,” to “sorry I know nothing about this.” At which point, I sunk into a metaphoric puddle on the floor and looked up for someone to help me/do it for me.
            Alas, again, there was no one around so what do you do? Suck it up Buttercup. I shook out my skirts, smoothed my hair and handled it. It wasn’t easy…they keep telling you it’s SO easy…and it caused me more stress than I had experienced in the last few years, but I got it done. And then, where’s my attaboy? Huh. I guess it’s here.
            I have not been asked when the pain of losing someone goes away. I think that until it’s your reality, it doesn’t matter. Friends want you to feel better but it’s not their job to move it along. In my case, I have a hole, a large hole, which has healed around the edges. It’s scarred and not so noticeable but it will never fill in. And that’s my reality.
            I’m guessing that’s a reality for many others who have buried spouses. We belong to a club and we don’t meet very often but we share this sadness, this longing, tucked in to memories.
            Mike and I shared 43 years together from the day we met. If I dug hard through memory banks, I could recall times that were not so great. Such is life. But the great gift of God to me is the gauzing out of anything less than wonderful. I spent much of my marriage cherished by my special friend.
            I am blessed beyond my ability to express it. I have friends and family who love me and I love them. I have plenty to do and interesting places to be. I am now part of a great church family in San Antonio and so have adult friends there. I am still part of two great churches up north who welcome me warmly. I have some time to reflect, volunteer, socialize, read and learn. My life is rich.

            But that hole. Those ghosts. Also a part of this life. Sometime, tears for no reason. Often unbounded joy at the simple wonders of this life. 

And on I go.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Job Seeker

            Recently I was standing in the office at a favorite elementary school when I overheard the principal. Her voice retained that calm, in-charge air as she mentioned that Mrs. Someone had just called in sick; she needed someone to fill in until a sub arrived.
            Helpful School Person is in my bones so I asked if they just needed a warm body. They know that I am a retired teacher. I had dropped by to volunteer in a dynamic 4th grade classroom but could easily stop into a different location.
            “Are you a registered substitute?” she asked.
            “Well, no.”
            “Oh, I wish you were (She’s a former English teacher, I’m sure.) We can only use you if you are on the official list.”
            Hmmmm. Well, that’s too bad. I believe the principal spent part of her very busy morning filling in at that room.
            And then thought I: why not get on the official list? I have one day a week when I come here and help out. I could actually substitute. They say they are always short on subs.
            So I made one of my typical, lightening quick decisions. “I’ll do it!” They sent me to the administration building to pick up an application. And with that goal in sight, had I known all hoops that lay ahead, would I have proceeded? I mean, I AM retired. I really don’t need to fill my day with --- you’ll excuse the expression ---work.
            I was unprepared for today’s job application process, much more complicated than when I applied in 1973 to the job from which I retired 40 years later. I also believe that the state of Texas layers on a few extra steps because, well,  just because.
            Here’s the thing: I have never really had to deal with much in the way of bureaucracy. Things were simpler in the past. I know they were.
            I attended Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school in suburban Chicago. Whatever complications one might face in a larger institution were all handled by a lovely woman named  M. Loving.
            She was the bursar; she was the registrar. It was to her window you came to pay your bill, take money out of your college bank account, complain about your dorm, just about everything.
            I didn’t think much about this as it was all I knew. Years later when I was earning advanced credits at Ball State, I was amazed that there was an entire hallway with many many offices for folks doing what M Loving did at Wheaton.
            When Kokomo Schools hired me, there was little in the way of orientation. You needed to know which color passes were for what drama. You needed to know who to call for a few, a very few, items. Mainly, they handed me some books and pointed me to a room which, by the way, was far removed from the rest of the English department. I dug in, in my little basement cave across the hall from boilers and a science classroom. Occasionally someone would pop in to see how I was doing, as in they asked me.
            Eventually, I began to learn the craft and the art. If any readers were with me in the Miss Hayes days, you were my guinea pigs. Such was education in the early 70’s.
            The first 5 years were a blur for me, with getting married, getting my MA, moving twice and teaching new classes. And then things settled down. I vaguely remember that for several years, I did pretty much the same thing each year. Ah but changes were afoot.
            Not only did legislatures begin tinkering with curriculum. Indiana and the Federal government began passing laws that they thought made school better. Don’t know. But at my school, rather than tasking us with laborious explanations, we would get a little note informing us to now DO something or STOP DOING something.
            For example, like all teachers, I had a personal stash of Tylenol and cough drops in my desk. If a student asked, of course I could hand over a pill or two. I mean, had they been guests in my home and needed some headache medicine, I would give it to them. But no. We were to stop doing this. I remember the note:
            Attention. You are not a trained medical professional. Only a trained medical professional may administer medications.
            Ok. Filed that one away.
            Another: Please remember that you are not to be alone in your classroom with a student unless your door is open all the way. A better choice is to talk to student in the hallway.       
            Hmmmm. As I sometimes WOULD talk to a student alone in my room, I asked for an explanation. I was so blissfully na├»ve. It took some time for me to recover from what they thought they were protecting me from.
            There were others. I would take note and either stop doing something or start doing something.  
            Later in the career educational specialists paraded through, each with his personal book and his personal method for Finally Fixing Education. Some administrator bought those books for each of us and we would spend at least a day listening to the latest fix; then we would incorporate until the next guy showed up. When I retired, by the way, I had 15 such books.
            Being out of the job market for a few years, I found quite a few requirements I had to meet if I wanted to be a sub.
            First, of course, the only way to apply is “on line.” There is no hard copy option. This was a multi-paged document where I got to relive my work life with addresses and phone numbers and such. I needed non-related folks to speak for me so I had to pursue that. I needed their addresses and numbers and such.
            (Couldn’t I just show you my ancient, lifetime license? Nope) (And anyway, it’s from Indiana, not Texas. Don’t mess with Texas!!)
            Sad to say, remembering that I am not all that young, it took a lot to get this finished and sent to the correct person. Let’s just say, THAT wasn’t obvious.
            I was greeted with a cheery email telling me that I must come to an orientation session (date time) and that this was a requirement. Well, that’s great. I would expect it.
            But here’s how things have really changed in 40 years (!!) I sat through 10 sessions of on-line training. Each session lasted at least 30 minutes, had multiple sections and ended with a test. I had to score at least 85% on each test. If I did not, not only did someone see that I was a dolt, I would need to log into the special remedial area to get remediated and then return to the session.
            My. Really? Yes.
So, over the Christmas holidays, I plowed through lessons on
bullying, drug awareness, sexual harassment, privacy of student records, and the handling of pathogens. First session, I was not paying close attention (!) and scored 85% on the test. The old school thing never dies so after that I took notes and aced the rest. Ta Da.
            At my previous position we’d get handouts and notes but nothing this elaborate. Early in the blood born pathogen saga, I remember that teachers were expected to clean up various spills in their rooms. They handed out kits. No longer. We call in the HAZMAT-suited custodians. Got it.
            Before student privacy laws, if I wanted to dig into a student’s records all I had to do was sign a sheet of paper, walk into the vault and have at it. No longer.
            The third requirement is a background check that includes getting fingerprinted. Here’s where the adventure REALLY took off.
            My potential employers, after noting my quasi-stellar performance on the various tests, assigned a 13-digit number to me. Using this, I logged into a special site to schedule my fingerprinting appointment. I also needed the 13-digit number that identified the school system plus another, this one only 10, that identified the job I sought.
            Once the site admitted me, I got to tell them all about myself --- weight, height, mother’s maiden name, current and past addresses. Then I was to schedule an appointment at a state approved fingerprinting site. Check.
            I found one in a city that I thought was nearby and clicked a time.  Ok. Ready. Except I didn’t notice this tiny little box way down past lots of info that asked me if I wanted to reconsider sending in all this hot information to the State of Texas. As I did NOT click Yes or No, the site kicked me to the curb. However, it did not let me know.
            Google Earth helped me locate the address. It was way out in the country at a blank intersection of several fields. No building, not even a trailer. Huh. With faith in Ms. Garman, I drove out there, through fields reminiscent of Indiana after harvest. Blank, flat.  At the exact site, a hand-painted sign direct me to turn right and follow the flags that lined the dirt road., which ended at a shooting range/fingerprint center. Amid exploding clay pigeons, I exited the car and walked into the double wide.
            Upon several discussions, I found that in the State of Texas, fingerprinting and, I guess, background checks, are handled in the same places you buy guns and learn to shoot guns. And most of these places are out in the boonies so your rowdy target practice only startles horses and steers.
             I found that I was NOT in the system and would have to reschedule.  “But not today,” said the official State of Texas Fingerprint Lady.
            Frustrated. Eye rolling for sure. Reminding myself that all I wanted to do was help out. But I had come so far. I was determined to see this through.  On line, I re-entered the registration site and to my slight enjoyment, I saw that those multiple number log-ins were still there. Then I noted that tiny little space that I had missed before. Couldn’t they make it BIGGER? RED? FLASHING?
            Rescheduled a week later, I made it out to the site again, got my fingerprints printed and my checkmarks checked.
            No big surprise, I have passed my background check. Next up is the mandatory orientation for this school and I will be able to substitute.
            I have recorded that 1) I am retired and 2) blissfully unconnected with the hard work that teaching is, so this may be a short career.