Now Being Without You Takes a Lot Of Getting Used To

Farrah came and stayed with us right after we got back to Reno. We sat on the back porch and drank beer and talked until the sun came up. I wish she could’ve stayed forever. I had to go get painkillers and muscle relaxants; I was too short and being hugged by that many normal sized people had messed up my neck and back.

Joyce called me at Christmas. I was still in shock; moving slowly, speaking slowly, not eating, having nightmares. Just sitting, waiting for Bram to come home. Nick and Monica were walking around in shock, too. Nick quit his job to stay home and watch me. If any one of the three of us had suggested to the others that suicide would be the best solution, we all three would have found a way to go together. I could see it in their eyes. They could see it in mine. We watched our words. We were lost without Bram. I was chain smoking. The kids had to remind me to shower and brush my teeth.

Joyce called and when I answered the phone she said, “Oh, are you still sad?” Bram had been gone for two months. I told her that. I said, “We are barely hanging on out here.” Joyce launched into a long monologue about my “sister AJ.”  AJ had started college at UND, in the Aerospace school. AJ wanted to be a jet pilot but they were too short, according to the US military. So they were going to become a commercial airline pilot. AJ had dyslexia and so the university had helped them get some kind of voice to text typing program on their computer.

Joyce said the professors at UND were stupid and unfair, because she, Joyce, had been writing all of AJ’s papers and the papers were all getting C grades instead of As. Joyce, the high school dropout, said she knew how to write and the professors didn’t. Joyce said she’d bought AJ a brand new car so AJ could drive back to Minot to visit without worrying about the car. Joyce said that AJ’s friend R had gone to Grand Forks with them, but she, Joyce, knew R wasn’t AJ’s girlfriend because Joyce knew for a fact that AJ was a virgin. 

Joyce wanted me to come home instead of staying in Nevada. She said I could work at a convenience store. Joyce said Doug wouldn’t bring Abbi to visit her and that Kelsie had to sneak away from Mike to visit. Joyce said Kelsie looked just like Tonia and acted just like her, too: Kelsie was drinking and doing drugs and just generally running wild and I should have adopted her. Joyce said that AJ–

Nick came over and took my phone away; I hadn’t said a single word in about 20 minutes. Nick told Joyce, “Mom isn’t feeling well. I’m putting her to bed.” And he hung up without waiting for a reply. Later that night I called Bram’s friend K and sobbed to her that I couldn’t go on. That was when I finally broke down and wailed for Bram.

Karen wanted her copy of the funeral guest book right now, or if I couldn’t get it copied, I should send it to her and she’d make a copy and send the copy back to me. She emailed me every single day to remind me. I was going to work, teaching classes, and coming home as soon as I could to sit numbly and wait for Bram to come home. More than once I’d ended up crying at school while my students tried to help me by holding my hand or hugging me. They were very very protective of me and were doing everything they could to help me. I was barely functioning. 

Meanwhile Karen wanted the book. I couldn’t face leaving the house, going out into the bright happy Nevada sunshine to make a copy of the stupid thing. I didn’t know how much it was going to cost me and I had no idea if I was going to be able to survive financially in Reno without Bram. Should I be saving money instead of making frivolous purchases? I dreaded opening my email because I knew among all the messages from people checking up on me, there would be one from Karen, bitching and bullying about the goddam guest book.

One day I read Karen’s latest harassing email and burst into tears. Monica came over to me to see if she could help, and all I could do was tell Monica over and over: “Make her stop. Make her stop.” Monica finally got the story out of me; Karen was harassing me about the stupid book. I told Monica to mail the damned book to Karen before I lost my mind.  She put me to bed. 

Monica called Karen’s house; Karen denied doing anything wrong. Monica said she was looking at the emails right now. Karen put Conrad on the phone; she was ‘too upset’ to talk to Monica. Monica told Conrad what was happening. She said Karen was torturing me. Conrad told her that she had to understand that Karen had been through a lot. “Really.” Monica hung up. She blocked Karen’s email. A few weeks later Nick and I finally made a copy of the cursed book and mailed it to Karen.  I haven’t opened the original in over 15 years. I know exactly where it is and every time we move, it comes along. But I’d rather burn it than let Karen have it.

“The Trojan Women” UNR 2007. Costume design: Emily Anderson

I was unable to cope. I wasn’t eating and threw up what I did eat. I couldn’t help Nick or Monica process the loss of the 2nd most important person in their lives. My kids hated that I smoked; Nick bought me cartons of cigarettes so I wouldn’t run out. Monica listened to me cry that I should’ve been the one to die; that I’d expected my kids to leave me, but never Bram. I’d forget to feed the dog; Puppy trained me to feed her whenever she threw her dish across the floor. Kitty peed on Bram’s things. She couldn’t understand why he wasn’t coming home. Neither could we.

Bram’s friend Adam called me every single week and talked to me. If I wouldn’t talk to him, he’d carry on one-sided conversations with me. I felt like he’d decided he wasn’t going to let anything happen to Bram’s wife if he could help it. He kept calling once a week for almost 10 years! He’s now MY friend Adam. When Adam doesn’t call or text, his brother Noah does. My friend Noah. It’s impossible to say how much I love these two guys.

When I got back from Bram’s funeral, I found UNR’s set designer and lighting designer had changed their colors and now Emily’s costumes weren’t blending into the stage and disappearing. The plan had been that the women could disappear into the set. I told the men to change their colors back. They refused; the money was already spent. I told them the costume budget was already spent, too; the costumes were made. They had the costume shop send the costumes up to the set to be painted with set paint. The male lighting and scenic design professors had totally taken advantage of my female student designer’s inexperience while I was gone.

“The Trojan Women” UNR 2007. Costume design: Emily Anderson

Aili was in the final year of her PhD; she emailed me almost every day. One day I wrote something to her that caused her to pack her bags and fly out to us in Reno. It was the middle of April. Besides Farrah and New Sue, no one else had come to see us since we’d returned from the funeral. I’m appalled that no one thought to come help Nick and Monica deal with a mother who was nearly catatonic with grief, or help them through their own grief. 

Deb emailed to tell me that UND’s costumer had just resigned. She said it wasn’t exactly home, but it was damn close. She urged me to apply. At UNR we were in production for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which the director wanted to do just like they did it last time, 17 years ago. The director was the only one on staff who was at UNR 17 years ago. He hired an alum to choreograph and play the Pharaoh, then the director basically checked out.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” UNR 2008 My costume design

The choreographer/director was a nightmare who seemed to feel all problems could be solved with new costumes. Two days before the first dress rehearsal, he decided he needed cheerleader uniforms for all the women in the cast. I went to find my Chair, to explain there was no money left in the budget, we didn’t have 12+ cheerleader uniforms, there was no way in hell I was spending the next two days in the costume shop making costumes for a scene that lasted one song and would create two quick-change nightmares for half the cast, AND were never part of my final approved design, and there was no way this behavior would fly in a professional setting. 

Instead, when I found my Chair, I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. The Chair was the professor of acting who’d thought Bram’s death was a good opportunity for his acting class to learn to act ‘grief.’ The cheerleader uniforms were NOT approved, and I was told to take a vacation until the show closed in two weeks.

While I was at home for those two weeks, Kathleen, the chair at UND, called to interview me. It sounded hopeful; she said she’d call as soon as possible about the position. Nick and I began packing, just in case, trying not to pack too much or seem too eager lest the universe decide to screw us over again. Monica said if we did move to North Dakota, she and her friend Kris wanted to move to San Diego. We packed her things separately. It was decided Monica’s dog would stay with me.

Good Chad sent me books to read. I never realized he knew me well enough to know what I needed or what I read. 

UNR Theatre decided to partner with the Tahoe Shakespeare festival. They’d hire our students as interns and use our facilities to build their sets and costumes. TSF had their own costumer; they weren’t hiring me to design or stitch. My chair ‘graciously’ gave me permission to take the summer off instead of watching from my office while strangers used my supplies and destroyed my shop. I spent the summer waiting for Bram to come back. He was everywhere in the house; I kept expecting to see him amble around the hall corner or hear him singing nonsense at the top of his lungs. 

At the beginning of August I still hadn’t heard from Kathleen so I called her. She said they were still in discussions. I reminded her that whoever they hired would need to pack their belongings and travel across the country to get to UND; they were running out of time. She called me the next day and offered me the job. She said it currently was not a tenure track position, but after I’d been there for a year, she’d apply for a tenure line for the costume position.

Me and my kids went into high gear, renting uhauls, packing, selling things. I called Joyce and told her to go find me and Nick a place to live in Grand Forks. The day we went to pick up our Uhaul, Monica and I watched Nick drive the giant truck out of the lot and I cried. My baby boy shouldn’t have to do this; it was Bram’s job. My students Emily and Sarah came over to help us load the Uhaul, as did Monica’s friend Kris. Nick and I hugged Monica and watched her and Kris drive away. I cried again. Then we loaded Puppy and Kitty into the cab of our truck and we pulled away, too. I cried for everything I was leaving behind.

It was nine days from when Kathleen told me I had the job to us pulling into the driveway of our new place in Grand Forks to find Noah and Kristin waiting to help us unload.


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