Bad Dreams

I didn’t want to tweet this out, as it pushes it into people’s timelines. You’re reading this because you came here voluntarily. Thank you for that. But I just felt the need to tell someone about this and didn’t know who to tell.

I let our dog Jaro sleep in the bed for part of the night. She starts the night in her own bed, but usually midway through the night, she gets into the bed with me and often leans on me while she sleeps. When Erika was here, she would also often lean on me, or put her arm on me at night while we slept. She’d say it helped her to sleep better. So when Jaro leans on me, it feels similar. Also, Jaro snores. Erika snored. We used to joke that some nights I couldn’t tell who was snoring, Jaro or Erika, as they sound very similar.

Early this morning, I was in that “just waking up” phase where I was still really out of it, but not asleep any more and could hear the snoring and feel the weight on me. I had an instant thought of “Oh, I had this awful realistic nightmare that Erika had died, but fortunately it was only a dream.” I had those feelings you get when waking from a nightmare where the fear from it is still there, but subsiding as you are realizing that it was only a dream and not real. However in this case, that realization was the opposite. No, that weight I feel on me is not Erika’s arm, that’s Jaro’s head leaning on me. That snoring is not Erika, that’s Jaro. And that wasn’t a nightmare, it’s real.

It was a reverse feeling. The feeling of waking up to a never-ending nightmare.

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Seven Years

November 11th would have been the seventh year that Erika and I had been together. I was recently going through some of the drawers in our house and found the pile of cards that she had kept. She kept all the birthday, anniversary and Valentine’s Day cards that we’d given each other. One stuck out for me. It was this one, one that she gave me for our second year together, in 2015. There are multiple things going on here:

One of the things that we had together was how I could make her laugh. I really like puns and dad jokes. She thought they were kinda corny and usually, not as funny as I did. Early on, there was one joke that I told her a few times, but didn’t remember that I’d told it to her and she’d seem to get a little exasperated that I’d already told her. So one day I thought it’d be funny to just keep telling it to her over and over again, (“A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, hey buddy, why the long face?”) and I would add on to it “Get it” and make this hand motion miming a horse’s long face and she’d just say over and over again “Yes, I get it!” and for some reason, all of that would make me laugh, really hard. Seeing me laugh this hard was the thing that then made Erika laugh. The joke itself wasn’t funny to her, but the fact that I was laughing at myself was really funny to her. I remember doing this multiple times when both of us would end up in tears from laughter. The laughing just compounded. I’d laugh at her feigned exasperation (and the joke), which made her laugh, and then I’d think it was really funny that she was laughing at me, making me laugh harder. And then it’d continue. So she thought herself to be pretty witty with the pun on the card and then the addition of “get it??”

But then I read the inside of the card and realized that our beginning was as special to her as it was to me. Here’s what she wrote on the second anniversary:

Her writing wasn’t always the most legible, so it says:
I guess we have a job interview in Boston + a Bruins game to thank for us coming together! I love you so much. Thank you for a happy, happy two years and for everything you do to take care of me + make me feel loved and special.
To many more!

Yeah, she called me Boo and she was Squeaks. The reasons this meant so much to me is that when we first got together, neither of us felt like we were doing really well. Both were coming out of relationships that had us down. I tried my best to do anything I could for her, be there for her any time she needed and to always make her feel special. Reading this card reminds me that I was doing just that. I just wish that “many more” wasn’t only five more. I wish it’d been fifty more. Happy anniversary, Squeaks.

As for her mentioning the Bruins game and job interview, here’s a little more background on that:

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About Erika

It’s been a little more than five weeks since Erika passed, so I’ve had time to reflect and really think about my little bit of time with her. As I flip through pictures of her, each has its own memories. One thing that I noticed is that she and I didn’t record very many videos. I think in our seven years, there are fewer than five videos of her, and one of those is 2 seconds long and seemingly an accident where someone meant to take a photo but hit the video button. I wish there were more.

But one thing that I did want to write about is all the things that I really loved about her. The big risk that I take in writing this is how many things I’ll forget to include. These are in no particular order. None of them are any more important to me than the others.

She really was so beautiful. Her bright blue eyes. Dark curly hair. Perfect smile. As I look back through all our photos, I keep having to stop scrolling and just look at her.

Another thing was just how comfortable she was in being herself. While being feminine, she hated dressing up, never wore makeup, didn’t color her hair, didn’t even own a pair of high heeled shoes and maybe painted her fingernails once. And even then was likely with her niece Violet. I remember early on, she asked if I cared that she didn’t dress up, and I told her definitely not. I wanted her to always be comfortable with herself, and that’s exactly what she did, hoodies, t-shirts, sweatpants, jeans and sneakers ruled the day for her. On days when she might have had to dress up for work, at 5:01 pm she’d say she was going to put on her “comfies”, meaning her comfortable clothes, lie down on the couch and often be under at least one cat.

Erika was extremely driven, while at the same time knowing how to relax. Erika was a woman who literally moved halfway around the world to become the Baltimore Sun’s Bureau Chief in Moscow, Russia. She wrote a story about Josie King that earned her a finalist’s spot with the Pulitzers (I still think she should have won). And when she felt her time in the Baltimore/DC area was done, she moved to Rhode Island to work with the Associated Press. And then when she knew she could do more for the world, she gave up her highly successful career in journalism to attend Tufts University and earn her Masters in Public Policy.

As driven as she was, she also knew how to relax. One of the best examples is a maxim that she lived by: “Why stand when you can sit, why sit when you can lie down.” Part of our daily routine was that she would come into the kitchen while I was making dinner and often, she’d lie on the floor. It didn’t seem the most comfortable, but it made her happy.

Erika was also the best at taking naps. We’d often say that if napping were an Olympic sport, she would be the gold medalist. We frequently planned our weekend schedule around her nap schedule. I didn’t mind because naps made her so happy. I could tell when she was getting close to her nap time. She might be reading on the couch and could see her eyes getting heavy. Even on vacations, she’d nap virtually every day, except one. There wasn’t anything special about that one day, she’d just say that she was “caught up” on her rest, and didn’t need a nap that day. But the next day, back to napping.

We also had a thing where she would often be the second one to get out of bed for the day. Usually after I’d walked the dog and started the coffee, she would come downstairs. After a quick celebration (yes, we celebrated her getting out of bed each day), I’d say “Good job waking up, now go rest.” and she’d go lie down on the couch. All of this is really an illustration of just how driven she was, but that she also knew how to slow down when needed.

Erika was also just so damn smart. She was the person who I could always bounce ideas off of and she would always give great feedback. I’d think my idea was rock solid, nothing could possibly be wrong with it and then she’d just start asking questions, ones that made sense, other things to think about. She also would often say she didn’t know what she was doing at her job. That everyone else was so much smarter than her, but then I’d see her getting invited to be a subject matter expert on conference panels, I’d hear her on her work calls and hear her explaining things. And of course her ability to easily write or edit. Anything I ever wrote would always go through her as an editor. I kinda wish these blog posts could be edited by her too, but then again, if she could edit them, I wouldn’t be writing them.

Erika at Work – Frequently on Phone Calls

She also had such a big heart for others. She was always looking out for the under-appreciated and those who didn’t get noticed. We were fortunate that Erika attended an Undoing Racism workshop which eventually opened our eyes to our own internal racist beliefs and helped us to challenge much of what we know. We worked on that together. We challenged each other many times in many ways and that really helped both of us. I could not have done that without her.

When there was something she was interested in, she just went ahead and did it. She had been riding her bicycle long distances since high school. She learned how to do welding and built herself a bicycle out of some scraps. She re-learned how to skate and then to play hockey.

She learned how to identify frog noises, she learned about Mason bees and how they are good plant pollinators and got a hive for our backyard. She got us a bat house for the yard, as she was really interested in bats. Sometimes our interests overlapped and sometimes they didn’t. And that was ok. We both really enjoyed doing nothing during our vacations. Most times, we’d just go somewhere, usually Prudence Island, and do nothing together. I loved that we could just be together, do nothing and be happy.

And there was the Bruins. Our first date was at a Bruins game on November 11, 2013. The Bruins beat the Lightning. We also went to the Stanley Cup Final Game 7 together. We went to many others, both in Boston and in other cities. We did a whole vacation where we followed the Bruins up and down the west coast. It seems the last game she and I attended together was December 23rd, 2019 vs. the Washington Capitals.

It’s interesting that the Caps were the last team we saw together as they were probably our second favorite team. We even went to a Caps playoff game together in Washington one year.

We had a lot of interesting times at hockey games. From the time she was almost too nervous to meet Liam Fitzgerald, aka Fist Bump Kid.

Or when we saw “The Guy from Chicago”, Conor McGregor, as Erika referred to him. She didn’t really know who he was but had heard that he’d been in Chicago earlier in the day, which happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.

There were just so many things to love about Erika. Another thing is she was an incredible role model for my daughter. While I wouldn’t say they were very close, they did get along really well and I know McKenna looked up to Erika. Erika was a smart, strong woman who took no BS from anyone. Erika was a board member for Girls Rock Rhode Island, and was a huge supporter of the organization. It was through this affiliation that McKenna got to attend the Girls Rock camps and also learn a lot about herself. The three of us had lots of serious family discussions but Erika also never took herself too seriously and could have fun with McKenna too, including this time when we were playing the Exploding Kittens game, and the expansion pack which came with the Cone of Shame.

I also loved the times when the three of us just hung out together, having fun.

One story that I liked to remind Erika of was way back when we were first dating, this might have been in the first month or so. I was asking her about “the holidays” and what she thought of them. She said she wasn’t a fan and always looked forward to them just being over. I remember this as it was one of the first times we’d gone ice skating together and we were at the downtown Providence rink. I just looked at her and said “I’m going to get you to like Christmas.” She actually rolled her eyes at me and said, with a slight sarcastic tone “okay…” After a few together, I think I was successful, and I’d remind her of that conversation. She agreed, she enjoyed the holidays together as we started making our own traditions, like tagging our tree each year:

Like I said at the beginning, I’m sure I’m forgetting many of the things that I loved about her. So many little things. How she’d get in the way in the kitchen when I made dinner. How she’d snore herself awake at night and insist on telling me that she snored herself awake, her love of her cats, especially Yukos and Red Bull, how much she loved seeing Paws, the Paw Sox mascot visit her every Valentine’s Day, her passion for doing so much and her passion for doing nothing.

Before I met her, I really didn’t believe in soul mates. I didn’t think it were possible that there is one perfect person for me. She proved me wrong. She was the perfect one for me, she was my everything.

This is literally the last photo we took together.

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Four Weeks

It’s been four weeks today since Erika passed. I will admit to doing better than two weeks ago. I still have times when I’m in denial, or I feel like she’ll still be coming home. Or today, I had a moment where I thought she was still in the hospital and would be coming home from there. It really is still shocking though. And I am still mad that she still had so much more life to live, so much more to do, so many things that she and I still had to do together. One example is we’d recently talked about looking forward to seeing how Jaro reacted to seeing snow for the first time. Jaro was a street dog from Corpus Christi, Texas. A south Texas beach town, so I’m guessing she has never seen snow. She seems like she didn’t quite know what to think about it

But then after a short walk in the snow today, she seemed to be having a lot of fun, running around the backyard and sliding on the deck a few times.

I do wish Erika could have seen it as I’m sure she would have laughed with me at Jaro’s reaction.

Some people have asked if we have any more information yet about what happened with Erika and that answer is no. We’re still waiting. That in itself is a source of, I’m not sure what the right word is right now, stress, frustration, something else? But even as little as two hours before she passed, I thought she was definitely going to be coming home in a few days. That adds to the shock and disbelief of it all for me.

People are also asking about memorial services. We will have one at some point. I will let the time/day be known far and wide. It’ll be virtual/online so anyone and everyone can attend. But I decided that I want to know what really happened to her, and have time to really absorb and accept that, before having the service. Apologies to anyone worried that they had missed it, you haven’t, and I’ll do my best to ensure that you don’t.

As for my evolution, I still get mad, sad, shocked each day. I still go through her photos and just looking at her is breathtaking to me so many times. She’s just so beautiful, so photogenic, such a beautiful smile. I was so lucky to be able to spend all the time with her that I did. I feel lucky and fortunate that she chose to be with me.

I am meeting with a therapist once a week, which I think is helping. I have so many thoughts throughout the week, I have to keep notes for myself. My head goes in so many different directions. One of the big things right now is feeling the responsibility for being the one to keep her memory alive. I know that she touched so many people and they’ll always remember her, but I really feel like it’s my responsibility to never let anyone forget her. I know that “life goes on” for people, and I’ve spoken with others who have given me good advice. No one has said anything like “You gotta move on.” in fact, it’s been just about the opposite. I’ve been told things like “Your life has changed forever. It will never be the same.” As painful as that is to hear, it really is true. It never will be the same. I was talking today with a new friend today whose own wife passed unexpectedly about twelve years ago and he was telling me his experiences, things he learned from his wife and our stories were so similar. As sad as it all was, it was still good to hear someone else who’d gone through similar things. Even though it’s been twelve years for him, he said he still has moments when it all hits him again. He’ll have periods when he thinks he’s doing ok, but then it comes back. That too is good to hear as I know Erika will be forever with me, she truly was my other half.

As always, I’ll end with a beautiful photo of Erika, but I also wanted to included this quote from Mitch Albom because it is also in its own way reassuring:
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
My relationship with Erika will never end. Forever.

We would have been wrapping up our Prudence Island vacation week tomorrow, so here’s a photo from one night on the island last year:

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The Guilt

One thing that I’ve learned through these posts is that other people have felt the same things at times. And that helps to hear. I think some people have seen what I’m feeling right now and maybe it helps them too.

So there’s the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief. I read that those were originally created in dealing with one’s own illness and pending death, but then eventually was expanded to additional types of grief. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Plus as others have noted, these are not linear. No rules in how long we spend in each one or how many times. I’ve definitely been in the denial stage many times. I still remember the day, walking out of the hospital and standing right there on the sidewalk staring off into the distance and saying out loud “What just happened?” In some ways, I still don’t know what happened, and many times I still expect to see her again. This just does not happen to someone who was so healthy, so full of life, and certainly not so fast.

I remember thinking about this and wondering if I’d get to anger. I didn’t think so because I can’t be angry at Erika. It’s the opposite actually. I feel so bad for her, so hurt for her, and what I’m feeling right now is a combination of anger and guilt. On the anger, I’m very angry at the unfairness of it all. I’m angry at not knowing what happened or why. I’m angry that this happened to her. It’s completely not fair. Also let me say that I know some things I think are with my heart and emotion and some things I think are with my head. These often lead to very different thoughts. I get mad at “old people” simply for being old, because it’s unfair and Erika deserved to grow old. When I see couples now I wonder if they really appreciate each other and appreciate what they have. I think that is one thing that Erika and I really did have was a great appreciation for each other and our life together. We told each other that a lot in lots of ways. In the middle of a work day, I’d walk over to where she was working, pop my head in and say “I love you. That’s all I have to say to you.” and go back to work. Or there would be times when I’d tell Erika that she had a secret admirer. She’d ask if if was me and I’d just tell her that it’s a secret. Other times I’d just stare at her and tell her that I have a crush on her. She would do lots of similar things. I’d be working my office, she’d walk in and just look at me. I knew it meant she just wanted a hug, and then go back to work. Or every night before we went to sleep, she’d say “I’ll see you in my dreams.” and would not let me go to sleep until I replied “I’ll be there.” Every night. Or if we weren’t together because of a business trip, that would be our last texting conversation of the day. Even now, every night I say it because I do want to see her in my dreams at night. Dreams often can seem and feel so real. Sometimes it’s hard to know if we’re dreaming or awake, so if I can see her in my dreams, then she is back with me.

But back to the stages of grief. After anger comes bargaining. There isn’t much bargaining that I can do right now, nothing will bring her back. But I have felt guilt, and in my researching, I saw that guilt can be a kind of bargaining. It’s the “if only I had…” type of thing. Again, there are things I think with my heart and I think that is where this guilt comes in. I know it’s part survivor’s guilt, which I’m learning is a real thing. I thought that was only when one person survives a situation and could have died with the other. But not necessarily. My guilt is about what I didn’t do more for her. I didn’t stay with her every moment she was in the hospital. I didn’t do more to protect her. And I don’t mean that in a chivalrous way. We protected each other. We both had times that we felt a need to step up for the other. We seriously had each other’s back through anything that came our way. Erika would run through a burning brick wall for me if that’s what was needed. In my head, I know that there wasn’t anything more I could do, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wish I had, or at least that I could have.

This is all where I am now. One minute I’m in denial, walking around the house, shaking my head, in disbelief that she’s not here. The next minute I’m yelling, raging that something took her away, and then feeling like I should have done more for her and feeling so sorry that I didn’t. And then there’s the guilt, knowing she felt terrible from her illness, scared from being in the hospital, scared of not knowing what was happening. I tried to put on a brave face for her and be confident and told her she was going to be ok.

Like I’ve said, there are bad days and there are some less bad days. Yesterday was a bad day with this cycle happening many times.

But as always, I want to end this with a wonderful picture of her, as that always makes me smile. I just now found this one in her photos. I’ve never seen this one before. It is from our trip to Iceland and it seems she sneaked it in as I was video recording a waterfall.

P.S. Yes, I’m meeting with a therapist once a week to talk through all of this. It helps.

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Just This…

This was Erika’s favorite movie. We became huge Lady Gaga fans after seeing it. We watched it so, so many times.

Wish I could, I could’ve said goodbye
I would’ve said what I wanted to
Maybe even cried for you
If I knew it would be the last time
I would’ve broke my heart in two
Tryna save a part of you
Don’t wanna feel another touch
Don’t wanna start another fire
Don’t wanna know another kiss
No other name fallin’ off my lips
Don’t wanna give my heart away
To another stranger
Or let another day begin
Won’t even let the sunlight in
No, I’ll never love again
I’ll never love again, oh, oh, oh, oh
When we first met
I never thought that I would fall
I never thought that I’d find myself
Lying in your arms, mm, mm
And I wanna pretend that it’s not true
Oh, baby, that you’re gone
‘Cause my world keeps turnin’, and turnin’, and turnin’
And I’m not movin’ on
Don’t wanna feel another touch
Don’t wanna start another fire
Don’t wanna know another kiss
No other name fallin’ off my lips
Don’t wanna give my heart away
To another stranger
Or let another day begin
Won’t even let the sunlight in
No, I’ll never love
I don’t wanna know this feelin’
Unless it’s you and me
I don’t wanna waste a moment, ooh
And I don’t wanna give somebody else the better part of me
I would rather wait for you, ooh
Don’t wanna feel another touch
Don’t wanna start another fire
Don’t wanna know another kiss
Baby, unless they are your lips
Don’t wanna give my heart away
To another stranger
Don’t let another day begin
Won’t let the sunlight in
Oh, I’ll never love again
Never love again
Never love again
Oh, I’ll never love again

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Vacation Week

This is one we were really looking forward to. Starting today, Erika and I were to be on vacation in our favorite spot, Prudence Island. Not many people are really familiar with it, which is kinda how we like it, but it’s here:

You can only get there by ferry and there are no hotels or restaurants on the island. There’s only one small convenience store and a post office. Other than that, just houses. When we go, we have to bring everything we need for the week, so usually the car is pretty well-stocked. Here we are in 2015, our first time on the ferry, heading to the island for the first time:

Our rental agent warned us that some people do get “island fever” and just can’t handle how low-key it is on the island. You really have to find your own things to do. We both were pretty excited about that idea. And we sure did love it.

Here was the view from our deck in 2015, looking across the bay at Portsmouth:

So what would we do all day? One of the things we looked forward to and would actually plan for all year, was to build a few jigsaw puzzles. We usually completed about three in a week:

We’d also go for daily walks along the water, or sometimes in the water:

Erika was also a historian. She graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in history. She was always reading books about famous people and events like Frederick Douglass, Abigail Adams, George Custer, Eleanor Roosevelt and many more. But one of her favorite historical figures was Roger Williams. Erika lived in an apartment on North Main Street in Providence and we’d sometimes joke that Roger Williams himself lived there. Sometimes, we’d hear a weird noise in the apartment, one that you’d usually explain as being a ghost and we’d just look at each other and call out “Roger?” So it was really a high point for her to be able to stand up on Pulpit Rock, an exact spot where Roger Williams once stood, to preach to the indigenous people in the 1600s.

We went back two more times, always in late summer so we could do some swimming in the bay, knowing it’d be warm enough by late-July and August. But this year, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to visit the island in the off-season. When it wasn’t brimming with “tourists”, driving their cars all around the island at an excessive 20 miles per hour. We wanted to have a quieter, simpler time.

Just a few weeks ago, on September 1st, I booked us a house for this week on the island. I forwarded the confirmation email to Erika and here’s her reaction:

We were both really excited for this one as from time to time we talked about one day possibly buying a house on Prudence and maybe moving there full time. That was a discussion for another day, one that we’d talk about “later.”

I think I’ll go back some day. I thought about going this week anyway, just Jaro (our dog) and me, but I eventually realized it’s too much, too soon and I canceled the reservation. It’s partly because I’m not ready to be there without her. It was our special place, it was what we looked forward to each year. It’s where we spent entire days together sitting, reading, figuring out what to have for the next meal, watching the water, going for walks, working on the puzzles, me waiting for Erika to wake up from her daily naps (she was a champion napper), and then watching the sunset each night with a bottle of wine or sangria. We violated the “wine night” rule while on vacation. It was just great to be with her, sitting, talking, relaxing.

I’ll share more pictures from our trips to the island as this week goes on, and maybe someday I’ll go back and be with her in my memories.

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How’re You?

This is a question that I get a lot. How are you doing? Are you doing ok? And let me start off by saying that I am thankful and appreciative for each time that someone asks. The support has been amazing. Thank you. This post is not an indication that I want people to stop asking, because I don’t.

Each time I get asked, I don’t really know how to answer this question. I think in part because I don’t know how I’m doing. Do I say “Good thanks.” when I’m not doing good at all? Do I say I’m “ok”, when even that is a stretch? I think I’ve resorted to variations of “I have good days and I have bad days.” and “Getting by, day by day.” Because when you lose someone who is as important to you as Erika was to me, that is about all you can do. Plus, I understand that quite often, the person asking me the question is also struggling with Erika being gone, so I try to be aware of that too. I’m not the only person who has suffered a loss. She touched so many people, there are many who are shocked and hurt by this. But yes, I do understand that very few were as close to her as I was lucky to be.

But back to the original question, I’m not sure how to answer it. It is true that I have bad days, and less bad days, as right now there really isn’t anything I’d consider to be a “good” day. I do think that I am going through the stages of grief, and they can be cyclical. Denial is the first, and I’ve definitely been there. It’s also shock and disbelief. I’m also still there at times. I still cannot believe that she’s gone. I still have moments when I expect her to come home. To see her in the house, or think she’s just away on a business trip and maybe tomorrow night, she’ll be back home again, only to quickly realize that is not the case. I am just having such a hard time understanding how she is gone. For those wondering, I don’t have an answer yet. The doctors never got an answer, we still don’t know what happened or why. They are working on that and we hope to have answers soon. The not knowing is also a huge issue for me. She was so healthy, so full of life. None of it makes sense. All I can do is think back to very recent times when we were home, together, having fun, making each other laugh, waking up to each other every day.

So how am I doing? I really don’t know. The answer isn’t good, but I’m not sure what to say when people ask. I’m getting by. I’m dealing with it. I constantly think of Erika. I constantly miss her. I constantly cannot believe she isn’t coming home. I know everyone says that it will get better with time, and that’s probably true, but just so hard to believe right now.

I like to end these posts with a picture. Here is one of the the last pictures that she and I ever took together. August 10th, at home, on our backyard deck, just having fun together.

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Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks now. I miss her more every day. I think the initial shock and fog might have lifted, but I am still cycling through the various stages. There are times of the day when I cry, hard. There are times when I’m really angry, but not at Erika. I’m angry at the unfairness of it all. She was only 46 years old. She was robbed. The world was robbed of the things that she brought. She had so much more to do. We had so much more that we wanted to do, together. I recently read one of her tweets to an old friend where she wrote, and I’m paraphrasing here “I will go back one day” to Lake Baikal in Russia. She spoke of that being the most beautiful place she had ever seen, and she was very well-traveled. She saw a lot of the world. Lake Baikal in Russia was her favorite. She often told me about it, often talked about us going there, taking the train up and showing it to me, and she getting to see it again. I looked forward to that.

We’d also talked about going to see the bears in Alaska. She and friends would often watch the “bear cam” in Brooks Falls at Katmai State Park. We even looked into scheduling for that type of vacation, what it’d take to get there. It was on the list of things to do.

But the other thing that hits me every day is when I wake up. Waking up in our house. Our house. I feel like:

That’s just half of the yin-yang. The other half isn’t there, so it seems very odd, or out of place, like something obvious is missing. Half of me is missing.

We were together for almost seven years (November 11), but we’d lived together for about the last five. We shared an apartment in Providence, eventually grew to not like that place anymore and when we began to think of where to go, Erika suggested “What about buying a house?” I’d never considered that before, but I immediately loved the idea. We started looking in April of 2017 and we cautioned ourselves to go slow and not want the first house we saw.

On the first day, we saw the house we ended up buying, but were both cautious. After seeing a handful of other houses on other days, we both brought up this one again. It was the first one we saw and we both loved it. Both thought it was perfect for us. It checked all the boxes for Erika and her requirements (garage for her car, central air conditioning and hardwood floors). We bought it, and we couldn’t be happier. We were building our life together. We merged all of our possessions. Figured out whose furniture we liked better and sold off the duplicates. For some things, we went out and bought new, or “adulting” as we called it. It was fun to do things like buy a new bedroom set, or to try out mattresses in a show room, or to see the happiness on her face as she tested out various recliners at Cardi’s. I’d also learned that Erika liked to play ping-pong when she was growing up. I too consider myself a ping-pong expert, having won the Arlington Boys Club 11 year old championship in 1981 (only one other person showed up, but hey, I got the trophy). So one day I bought a ping pong table and somehow got it all the way into the house, into the basement and assembled it without her being aware. Then I had her come down to the basement to see it all set up. We had fun with some competitive games there.

We also have artwork that we both like hanging. Some that one of us bought for the other, like this one I got for her, a sampling of cheeses that hangs in our kitchen:

There is also this one, hanging in our kitchen that she got for me, an artist’s rendition of Prudence Island, our favorite vacation spot:

But maybe the best of all is these, that hang in our bedroom:

Both of those are Iceland’s Kirkjufell mountain. What makes those the best is for Christmas one year, we got those for each other and we had no idea we were both doing it. I unwrapped mine first and just started laughing. She didn’t know why, so I immediately had her open hers. It was one of those “Great Minds Think Alike” type of moments, but also showed how much we knew what we liked, and also just how alike we both were. The perfect gift for each other that year was essentially the same gift. This is why they hang side by side in our bedroom. To me, it just shows how were were one mind, often one person, together. Made for each other, perfect for each other.

Two weeks. I miss you.

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The Under(dog)

As many people also are, Erika was always a fan of the underdog, the little guy, or in our Bruins hockey world, the backup goalie. A few years ago, Anton Khudobin was the Bruins backup goalie and Erika was a big fan of his. Even though Khudobin’s play style could be a bit erratic, to the point of Erika shouting during the game with things like “What is he doing?!?” and “Get back in the net!” Smooth or efficient are not a words anyone might use to describe his style of play.

But Khudobin moved on and then the Bruins signed Jaroslav Halak to be the Bruins new backup goalie behind Tuukka Rask. Erika also became a big fan of his. I’d joke (or maybe I’m not wrong) that she is the biggest Halak fan outside of his own family. I even got her a Halak jersey to wear to Bruins games.

Erika getting ready for the Bruins first playoff game on August 15th, 2020, wearing her Jaroslav Halak jersey

Her love of Halak also goes back into 2018 when she and I attended a Bruins game together. At each game, Bruins staff always hand out a small poster before the game with one of the players on the front and stats on the back. For that game, the poster was of Jaroslav Halak. I think she got 3 or 4 of them. We got them home and they sat around for weeks, maybe months when one day I was just doing a little house cleanup and threw them away as clutter. Well, she noticed and wasn’t happy.

Fast forward to a Bruins game this year that I attended with my buddy Deane. Once getting in to the Garden, I noticed it was a special poster that night. Not the typical black and gold, but a purple one, for Hockey Fights Cancer, and whose face was on the front, none other than Jaroslav Halak. I made sure that I got multiple copies as insurance that I could get at least one home in good quality. But I didn’t tell her right away. Instead, I did this with it:

That is proudly hanging in our kitchen to this day. Also, if the name sounds familiar, it’s because Jaro Halak is also the origin of our dog’s name. In spite of Jaro being a man’s name and our dog being a female, Erika was pretty excited to give our dog her new moniker.

I guess this is a really roundabout way of starting to tell people more about Erika and how she always loved the underdog, the overlooked, and the underappreciated. For those who knew her in journalism, they know that these were her favorite stories. She loved telling the stories of students in the Baltimore schools. Or her story about Josie King, the one that earned her a Pulitzer finalist spot. Or more recently when she chose to change careers and earn a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Tufts University so she could focus on fighting climate change and working in the renewable energy field, pushing for more solar electricity. And in the last couple years, she also began to focus on racial and equity injustices. She and I both worked from home and her work day included many phone meetings. Many times I could hear her very professionally trying to explain these issues to others who just weren’t “getting it” yet. She was trying, trying so hard to fight for those who need a voice from someone like her. She understood the powers that she had, the abilities that she had and yes, the privileges that she had and she was using them. Using them for those who she wanted to help. In time, this work she started will continue. It will not stop now, there will be more from Erika Niedowski. Stay tuned.

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