For reasons, I’ve decided to combine many of my baking fails into this one place. Enjoy!
For reasons, I’ve decided to combine many of my baking fails into this one place. Enjoy!
A couple of weeks ago, the second anniversary of my husband’s death passed by.
And by “passed by,” I mean “tore me to shreds.”
Once again, though, the days leading up to it were much worse than the day itself.
This year I did myself a favor and pretty well cleared my schedule for the month of February. I put my pathological need to volunteer for every damned thing on pause, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow through with any promises anyway. I did volunteer do do one small thing for the kids’ Cub Scout troop, and I failed to come through. It was not a critical issue, though, so while I feel bad about it, it really didn’t matter to anyone else.
I just kept saying, “No, February is bad for me.” I’m ridic proud of myself for doing that. For saying no. I’m so glad I did. Because I was useless.
Last year I was fighting a strange sense of dread, like something else terrible was going to happen. This year it was a classic grieving sadness like you see in the movies. I’d hold it together pretty well during the day, but once the kids were in bed it was all comfort eating and staring at the wall.
I cried at the dishes. I cried at TV commercials. I cried at Twitter. I cried at Critical Role. I cried at How to Train Your Dragon. I cried a lot, is what I’m saying.
Pro tip: don’t attempt to watch the video of your wedding any time during your spouse’s death month.
Like last year, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle day to day life in the days leading up to the suckaversary, so I pulled the kids out of school and we drove across the state line into Astoria, Oregon where we spent a couple of days. I call it the “Annual Wilson Family Running Away From Our Emotions Tour,” and it is the best thing ever.
The first day of our trip was my 42nd birthday. We got on the road earlier than I had expected. I listened to my eighties playlists part of the way, and audiobooks part of the way. (Dune is not a good choice of audiobook for keeping you alert on the road, by the way.) K gave me the best gift in the world when he proclaimed, “The best music is from the eighties!” Yes son, I’m just a small town girl who has been shot through the total eclipse of the heart but just wants to have fun.
After setting ourselves up in our room and relaxing for a bit, we started to change into our swimsuits. I had just wrestled mine on when we got a call from the front desk. The pool had been shut down for the day due to some sort of problem (which is usually poop in the pool, isn’t it?) Ugh. Are you shitting me? Swimming in the hotel pool was going to be the highlight of the trip! The kids didn’t mind, though. More Minecraft time for them. More crochet time for me. As a bonus, there was some sort of Harry Potter marathon on one of the channels the whole time we were there, so most of our vacay was spent with the kids buries in their games while I crocheted and watched HP. Exciting? Nope. Relaxing and pretty much exactly what we needed? Yup.
We did get out of the hotel some. The day after our arrival we visited the Oregon Film Museum, which is more or less a Goonies museum. My kids have not seen the Goonies. I have tried to show them, obviously. I’m not a monster. To them, however, it has always been one of Mom’s boring old movies. Therefore, visiting the actual jail from the movie was not super thrilling for them. H was terrified of accidentally getting locked in, and wanted nothing to do with their standup cutout of Sloth. K had fun pretending to be in jail, though. We also went to the Astoria Column, which was cooler than it sounds.
The next day was the day. The actual death anniversary. (Yes, it’s two days after my birthday.) We drove to the beach, because his ashes are in the Pacific Ocean.
Holy crap the weather was awful! It was comically terrible, especially considering how sunny it had been the day before. It was so cold and cloudy. The wind howled, hurling sideways rain at us. It was so miserable! We drove up on to the beach, and tried to get out of the Jeep. So much trash blew out that by the time we got all the trash retrieved and stowed safely back in my floorboards, we were freezing and soaked. We sat inside the warm car and watched the waves for a while before heading to the aquarium.
The aquarium was a tiny rinky-dink place, but it was fun. They had an octopus in a tank without a lid, and between that and the crabs H wanted to Leave. But then we got to feed the seals and it was all good. Well, I got to feed the seals. Once the kids saw the trays of cut up sardines, they were not on board with touching that nonsense. I cannot believe they are so gross sometimes, and other times you’d think they were princesses. Of course, as always, the gift shop was the best part.
We then went to THE BEST burger place. It reminded me of a restaurant back home called the Hamburger King. Thin beef patties grilled on a flat griddle, the edges crispy, the buns toasted. Mmmmmmm. H, who had wanted pizza, thanked me for making him eat there instead.
Back at the hotel, I had used up all of my “everything is fine” energy and took a nap. And then more nap. And then ordered pizza to the room, and then another nap.
The next day we headed home.
Now we embark on our third year without him.
Last year, I was still expecting to see him come down the stairs sometimes. I would still see something, and start to plan how I was going to tell him about it. I still worried about what he would think about my actions. At some point during this year, that all went away. I no longer glance up the stairs on Saturday, wondering when he will get up before remembering he is gone. I no longer look forward to telling him about my day, only to be saddened by the realization that I will never have a conversation with him again.
In some ways it is good to not have that constant forget-and-remember cycle. In other ways, however, it hurts to know that he is no longer a part of our routine. So much of our lives is different than it was when he was here with us.
I don’t know. It just all sucks so much.
Roller derby saved my soul.
That’s what everyone said. It was the title of every human interest article. It was scrawled on the underneath of skate tracks, graffiti sprayed onto warehouse lockers. It was the mantra of the derby girls. I wanted so much to feel that. To feel right. To feel I’d found something that had been a part of me all along, waiting to be discovered.
Derby didn’t do that for me. I loved it, despite being terrible at it. I made friends, loved skating, nursed bruises and pushed myself harder than I thought possible. I never, however, felt like it was the missing piece of myself. I never felt like I truly belonged in the community. It was fun, and then it was over. I felt like I would never find “my thing,” because derby was the answer for so many people and yet it was not an answer for me.
Dungeons and Dragons, however — that saved my soul.
I’ve always been curious about the game, but have never had the opportunity to play. I never knew anyone who played. Sometimes I’d see it mentioned on a TV show and think, “I wonder what that’s all about. I’d like to try it someday.”
Come to find out my husband used to play! He said he played in High School.
“Wait. We were dating in school. I don’t remember you playing D&D. I don’t remember anyone at our school playing D&D.”
“Well, yeah. We didn’t tell any girls that we played. And once I got a girlfriend, I stopped.”
“Do you think we can try now?”
“Nah, you need a group of people who play and you need to be able to play for like twenty hours at a time. ”
Then he died. I mean, not immediately following that conversation, but at a later time. And I struggled to find myself.
When you are widowed, especially if you spouse possessed a particularly strong personality, you spend quite a bit of time figuring out what it means to be you. You as an individual. You as a just you, not as half of a couple.
After he died, I though my life was over. Jesus, that’s such a cliche. I remember even saying those words out loud, “My life is over.” All of the things we had done together seemed meaningless without anyone to share the memories with. All of the things we would do together felt pointless and lonely without him. I cleared the DVR of his favorite shows, to find there was nothing left. Nothing left of us. Nothing left of me. I needed to find my own things, my own life.
As part of that effort, my counselor said I had to go out from my home, to find people, to make FRIENDS. I told her many counselors had tried to get me to make friends, and that I would become social around the time pigs started to fly. I knew, however, that she was right. I couldn’t let my kids see me alone all the time. I had to show them that a person can have a life, a real life with activities and friends, even if they do not have a significant other. I had to let them see that I am not pitiful or lonely. I am more than a mom and a widow.
I started joining groups to meet friends. Not like Tinder, but like groups where you meet with other women for coffee and chatting. It just depressed me. I had nothing in common with any of these people except that we all had nowhere else to be on a Tuesday morning. At this point my counselor told me I was being a nincompoop. She said I needed to find an ACTIVITY that I liked, and would meet people doing that activity.
One of the groups I’d tried was a board game group, and it met at a local game cafe. People there had been playing D&D, and it got me thinking about it again.
At some point I will tell the story of my first year foray into TTRPG. It is not easy to break into as a new person, but I understand it is easier now than it ever has been. It has been a little over a year. I have participated in a handful of one-shots, and just started my first full campaigns a couple of months ago.
In that time, I have found myself. I have found a part of me that was missing. It turns out that when I am not a part of a couple, when I am not being a mom, when I am not being an architect, I am a huge Nerdy McNerdface.
This is what I had been looking for. Not all of my individual experiences have been positive. Not every person I have met has been a treat. Overall, however, I feel welcomed as part of this community. I want more. I want to be doing this all of the time, even though it means talking to other people.
Oh, I’m talking to other people. Voluntarily. I’m inviting people INTO MY HOME. (I have the big dining table.) On a regular basis, people come into my home and I engage with them for like four hours. Afterwards I fall into an exhausted heap on my sofa. I am an introvert, and this game drains all of my batteries. I’ve learned to plan hot dogs or frozen dinners on game days, because there is no way I’m cooking or washing dishes. But I LOVE it. I spend my free time watching people play D&D on YouTube or Twitch. I study the rules and the lore. I follow TTRPG based social media feeds. I pore over my characters, tweaking backstories, creating mood boards, drawing portraits.
I’m DRAWING again. In fact, I got out my paints and tried painting a miniature.
You don’t realize how much depression strips from you until you find motivation to do the things you had stopped doing.
I can’t explain what it is the game does for me. I feel a part of a community. I have a creative outlet. I can laugh and meet people with similar senses of humor. I get to study and use sticky notes and binders. Seriously. I have a binder with slots for each of my campaigns and places for all of my character sheets. I feel like Dungeons and Dragons was specifically made for me, to pull me out of my dark places and give me a reason to blink away the tears caused by the light.
D – Half Elf Rogue Swashbuckler
I love my characters, and I love my teammate’s characters. I love the stories and I love feeling like it matters if I get out of bed.
More than once I have been simply thinking of Dungeons & Dragons, and how happy I am that I finally have it in my life, and I have cried with gratitude.
It is a cheesy and predictable thing to say, but it is the depths of truth:
Dungeons and Dragons saved my soul.
A while back, I posted on the Twitter dot com. I don’t know how to easily search for my previous tweets, so I will paraphrase.
“DM’s, if you have a new player, especially a female one, consider holding your first session in a public place so you are not asking her to enter a potentially scary situation.”
I expected to receive positive responses ranging from, “Oh, of course we already do that!” to “Oh, I never thought of that!” I did get some of these responses. Surprising me, however, was the amount of push back I got to this comment. The push back fell into three main camps:
I have responses to the above concerns, but first would like to tell you about my most recent experience. (Nothing terrible happened.)
A new player with only a single one-shot under my belt, I was scrambling to find anyone starting a campaign I could join. I went to Zulus Board Game Cafe to see what they had going on. I joined Facebook groups and looked on Twitter. I also searched Meetup. On meetup, I found a group advertising that they were looking for players, new or experienced, to meet every other week at a home in my town. I signed up for it, and was never really expecting to hear back. These groups tend to fizzle out.
I was thrilled to promptly receive an email through the Meetup system from the owner of the group. He was gauging my level of interest/availability, and confirming what days of the week would work for me. He told me once again that it would meet every two weeks at his home. Thrilled at the prospect of getting game play, I told him my schedule. I also asked his address.
I didn’t hear back.
I figured my schedule was not compatible with everyone else’s, so it was not a big deal. I did get to thinking about what I would do about going over to a stranger’s house if the game had materialized. It had occurred to me that I would prefer to not meet a stranger at his home. I had been considering whether I was going to feel comfortable enough to request a public meeting. This is when I tweeted my suggestion about meeting in a public place. Since I didn’t hear back from the meeting organizer, it became a moot point.
Until two weeks ago, when he contacted me again. He said he’d held their first meeting the previous week for character creation. They were in need of a healer. Their second meeting would be in two weeks.
Okay that’s weird. Why wasn’t I invited to the first session? His message didn’t make it clear whether they decided to add an extra player to get a healer, or whether he had been expecting me at the meeting. Meetup should have notified me if anything was scheduled. I’d have to check my settings. Meanwhile, it gave me a perfect “in” to ask about a public meeting.
My reply was uber casual.
“Oh hey I’m sure I’ll be able to make the next one! I’ll need to double check my child care situation, but I’m sure it will be fine. You said four pm at your house, right? And I figure it will last until the nine/ten time frame? What’s your address?
“Should I just roll up a character, or do you want to oversee it? I’d be happy to meet you at Zulus or at a Starbucks or something any time in the next couple of weeks.”
His reply, also casual, was a bit incomplete:
‘Yes. Four pm my house. There’s no need to meet ahead of time to make a character. We’ll take care of that first thing at the meeting.”
Should I go to a stranger’s house? It’s probably fine. I’d feel better with a public meeting, or with a last name or address I could google. I’m sure it’s fine.
We emailed back and forth over the next week. We talked about my race and class choices, and recommendations on where to get the 4e books. All the emails went through the Meetup mail server. After a week, I still had no clue what his address is. Or his last name. Or anything about him. Or the other players. Questions about any of that seemed to not be seen.
I consulted Twitter. Am I walking into a Silence of the Lambs situation? My responses ranged from, “It’s probably okay, but you need to be extra sure to take the usual precautions.,” to, “Get the fuck out of that situation!” One person actually said, “This has red flags all over it! Get out now!” A weight lifted from my mind. I had started to self-apply the dreaded words: hysterical, panicking, overreacting. I’m just a ridiculous woman seeing danger around every corner. I should get over myself. Nobody is trying to attack me. But seeing that other people shared my concerns helped me to realize that I wasn’t being ridiculous. If anything, it was ridiculous of the organizer to invite me over without giving me any information.
I went back to the Meetup page. There were no actual meetings scheduled for this group. There wasn’t a listing for last week’s meeting, nor for the upcoming one. The group had no additional information about the organizer. It also didn’t have many recently active members. The group does have over 200 members altogether, which is confusing. The organizer is looking for six people. Has he been unable to cobble together six people from this group? Why have most of the members not visited over the past year? Where did he get the other players? The Meetup group looks long abandoned, but I am being contacted through it. I didn’t even have his email address, as all of our correspondence went through the Meetup server. And his first name isn’t exactly unique. I tried to google and FB search him, but I couldn’t find anything except links to the Meetup Group. I sent emails to a couple of the most recent visitors to the site to see if they were at character creation, and was unable to find anyone who had met the organizer in person.
I looked at my information. I had a first name and a city, and the number of people who were supposedly going to be there. That’s it. That is all the information I had, and based on that I was planning to show up alone at some guy’s house?
I AM NOT TRYING TO PUT ANY LOTION IN ANY BASKETS, Y’ALL.
I sent out one more email to him, asking his address and if he could tell me anything about the other players. Despite having within-the-hour responses to my questions about character creation, I got nothing but crickets with this inquiry. Meanwhile, I spoke with a friend who gave me some pretty darned wise advice. He said that if I’m already this uncomfortable, I’m not going to have a good time. Even if everything is safe and awesome, I’m going to be on edge.
Oh, yeah — having a good time is supposed to be a major part of it.
At this point my email asking for details had set overnight unanswered. I sent another email simply stating that it looked like I wouldn’t be able to make it. Five minutes later, I received a response saying that was fine and thanks for my interest.
Hmmmm. . . .
Did I avoid being kidnapped and kept in a well until my skin loosened enough to wear as a suit? Probably not. (But as a “big fat person,” you never know. Joke would be on him, though. My body’s metabolism is so screwed up from fad diets he could keep me in that damn well for a year and I’d never lose enough weight to loosen my skin.)
Is he a regular guy trying to put together a game, and is either too busy or too tone deaf to realize how sketchy the whole thing was from my point of view? Probably. Did I want to take that chance? No. That would be dumb. By and large, I try to avoid doing things that would make me yell at a female movie character for doing.
Could I have been explicit that the reason I wanted to meet ahead of time was to meet him before going to his home? I could have. Could I have directly asked for his last name and the names of the other players, being honest that I needed to ensure the situation is safe? I could have.
But I wouldn’t have.
Because some guys get mad.
This is an illustration of the huge problem with the #notallmen camp. When women say that they are afraid in situations with strange men, because of our personal experiences and the experiences of others we know, men often react in defensive anger. This happens even when the man is not being addressed individually. A general statement online (or a razor commercial) stating that men need to be allies with women will be met with outraged anger that we could suggest they personally might be toxic.
What would it look like if one of these men were met directly with a woman saying, “I need this from you in order for me to feel safe?” I can tell you what happens. They get pissed. Usually when it is an in-person encounter, you will not be met with threats or violence, but you will be met with surly anger. I don’t want to start a D&D game with that vibe, so, no, I wouldn’t be this direct with a stranger about my need for safety.
And this is why the #notallmen attitude is so dangerous to women. It creates a situation where we are uncomfortable advocating for our own safety.
In any event, let me address the three Twitter pushbacks above:
Please consider that Dungeons and Dragons is becoming increasingly more inclusive. Don’t make people ask you for information. If you are asking them to come to your home, recognize that giving your name and address, even a Facebook page or Twitter handle, is not much to ask. Prepare to be Googled.
Schedule a pre-game meeting a week or two beforehand so everyone can meet each other. That is probably good for the game anyway, as it can help coordinate schedules and priorities of the game play.
If someone suggests meeting in a public place, that is a huge hint. Take it.
Also, more specific to my situation: if you met the person on Meetup, but the details of the event on the Meetup group. Publicly proclaiming that you are inviting people over makes it seem less likely that you will be wearing that person later.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
There are some drawbacks to starting your first ever Dungeons and Dragons campaign start pretty much the same weekend as your second ever campaign and the same week as your third ever campaign.
One drawback — Awesomeness Overload. It’s a thing, people.
Another drawback is making the same mistake across all three campaigns.
Case in point: Shopping.
Apparently in the beginning of a campaign it is super common for the party to go shopping. In all of my campaigns, I sat and watched/listened as my fellow characters made beelines for items befitting their characters. Some characters sought out books. Others perused the herbs. Some sought out incense or gems.
Me? I checked my inventory. Short and long range weapons. Appropriate armor. Food. Rope. It looks like I’m good.
I think I would know a lot more about my characters if I knew what they would shop for. I may have to visit that question when I’m building a character.
Let me consider my current ladies:
Dreeta, the Tiefling fighter. She was noble born and is unlikely to be impressed by anything at the local bazaars. She has armor and weaponry. Maybe she is always on the lookout for higher quality armor? Leaning towards understated quality, she is not hunting for flashy jewelry. I feel like she would enjoy alcohol. Perhaps some high quality spirits. Perhaps something that will help make her accommodations more comfortable or clean, since adventuring means sleeping in some unsavory conditions.
What else? I’m at a loss.
Ukryty, the Dimir Rogue Half-Elf. She left her home voluntarily after legal troubles and learned how to survive by wits and a loose moral code. Eventually she was hired by the Dimir as a courier. What does she want from the shops in town? She is not a scholar. Perhaps disguises, items such as thieves, forgery and lockpicking kits? Are there items that could increase stealth? What about non-functional items, just as part of her personality? She has high charisma. Maybe she carries an assortment of games. Maybe she collects fake/cheap jewels that she can try to pass as real ones when bargaining.
I also have a hill dwarf druid. She is probably one that would appreciate books. She prides herself on her intelligence. She is older. What would the books be about? She has spent much of her life studying, so what topics are left for her to want to learn more about?
I’m kidding. I’m starting to feel like there’s no such thing as too much Dungeons and Dragons. I am involved in quite a lot right now, though. That’s okay. Who needs to spend time on things like work or parenting when there are quests to be embarked upon?
Just over a year ago, I decided to pursue an activity that has always sparked my curiosity: DnD. I’d never played, never watched a campaign, never talked to anyone about playing. I think I’ve written posts before about the difficulties involved with being an adult with responsibilities and no D&D experience trying to find a group.
Over the past year, I have played three one-shots. Three. One. Shot. Games. I threw out feelers everywhere — meetup, twitter, Roll20, the local game shops. I trudged through an RPG desert, in which the only oases were campaigns that met too often or on the wrong days, or were not prepared to cater to a noob.
One day, I found a game on Roll20. The DM was looking for a group to play a long term campaign on a day that fit with my schedule and welcomed new players. First, he held some one shot games to help him select a group of players that he felt would mesh into a good company. I signed up for the one-shot. It would be over the phone. The DM lives in England (I’m in America.) Nervous and feeling out of my element, I pulled up Roll20 and called into the Discord audio channel.
Oooof! I had loaded up my dragonborn sorcerer with mind control and charisma spells. The campaign involved fighting mechs exclusively. My magic was useless, and I somehow did not have a long range weapon. The battles were painful. I used my electric breath inside of a closed room, injuring two of my own party. “I am not being invited back for the full campaign,” was all I could think. I did strike the final blow that killed one of the larger monsters, at which time the DM requested I describe the death. I was way too excited about that.
“As I shoot him with electricity, you don’t even see anything come out, just electric bolts shooting between his skin and armor as you hear the crackling and then he EXPLODES FROM THE INSIDE OUT!”
“Oh, God. Too far, Racheal. Reign it in,” was all I could think. It was, however, too late. I had already gone pretty far overboard with that description. Oh, well. I was never getting invited back anyway.
I got invited back!
For the first time I would embark on a long term campaign. It would have a goal of meeting once per week with a probable reality of meeting every other week. The game is played online and over the phone. Two of us are Americans, two are Scottish, and one is British. I am a Tiefling noble-born fighter.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH . . .
My kids’ Cub Scout troop has a few kids who play/would like to play. One of the den leaders volunteered to DM. I volunteered to host at my huge dining room table, and we began a campaign at the exact same time as my online game. Two players plus the DM are adults. We are mainly there to steer the game back on course. The other players are 9-11 years old. I am a dwarven druid.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE . . . OTHER RANCH . . .
I played a one-shot at the local game shop. It was the most fun I had had in ages. After the game, I promptly looked up the other players on Facebook and embraced my inner creep as I friended them all in hopes of getting a lead on a future game. It worked! One of the players was looking to start up a game. She had a DM and another player. The exact same weekend my other two campaigns started, I embarked on an adventure with these folks. Again we used my house, because my dining room table is ridiculous with the leaves in. I am a half-elf rogue.
All three games run pretty much parallel. They seem to get cancelled on the same weeks. We have made it to level two in all three games. Usually I have one campaign Sunday morning, the other Sunday afternoon, and my online game on Monday.
I have no clue what I am doing, but I am having fun doing it.
I can’t believe I waited until the age of 42 to try this. It is amazing. When the DM showed up at my house, unpacked his gear, and said, “I have several colors of sticky notes if you need them,” I knew I’d found my people.
Here’s a fun fact about widowhood:
If you have young children when your spouse dies, about a year after his/her death those children will probably go into full on rage mode.
I’d heard of this from a widow friend who was farther down the road, and now I am at that signpost.
One of my kids has slammed into “anger” with full force. He’s always been a bit quick to fly off the handle. We’ve always had to learn to manage his fits and his expectations. Lately, however, his anger has become exhausting, impossible, draining, defeating. He is quick to trigger and his rage fits will last over an hour sometimes. We will then have a few minutes of peace before he triggers again. He screams. He kicks walls. He screams. He slams doors. He screams. And screams. And screams.
Through it he hurls insults. I am a terrible mom. I obviously hate him because I don’t want him to be happy. He hates me because I don’t want him to be happy. He’s going to run away. He’s going to grow up to be a criminal due to my poor raising of him. He hates me, he hates me, he hates me.
This isn’t supposed to happen until they are teenagers, right?
I am not without recourse. We all see counselors, and we are working very hard with him to determine how to help him. We are enlisting grief and anger specialists. We are not letting this situation escalate without taking any action. I am getting him the care he needs, but grief is a process. We are getting through this, but in some ways it might just come down to being a storm that we will weather together.
I feel terrible for him. It must be so miserable to be entirely contained within a fog of anger. He can’t enjoy his life. We are working on it. I know we will get him through this.
Meanwhile, am I permitted to also feel terrible for me? I am doing what the counselors suggested. I remain calm. I. REMAIN. CALM. I REMAIN CALM, DAMMIT! Seriously, I try my best to keep a calm tone of voice. He can scream as much as he wants, but not in my face. And not if it is making everyone else miserable. He is allowed to have and express his feelings, but he is not allowed to make others feel bad. He can scream in his room. When he gets insulting, he gets a count. Three count = time out.
One epic incident lasted over two hours. I cannot remember what it was about. I wouldn’t let him have juice, or it was time to turn of the TV. Something like that. He screamed and bellowed and slobbered and flung insults at me. I calmly counted whenever he crossed the line, and wound up sending him to his room three or four times. It was a nightmare, and I didn’t think I would be able to continue.
After that night, it has been better. It was almost an instant cure. For a couple of days he had no fits at all. It’s building up again though. I can feel it. That kid has some sort of tectonic pressure inside of him and he is going to have another collapse.
The other night, he finally said it. He said what I knew was coming, and was dreading to hear.
“Mom, I wish Dad were still here and that it was you that died.”
Holy shit, y’all. Ouch. Ouch.
I know it’s normal and okay. I gave him a count for saying something hurtful. I reminded him that if he wants to talk about his feelings, about my rules, anything that we can do that in a calm way but that he is not to say hurtful things when he is upset.
He was really close to his dad. I am sure there are lots of times that he would rather have his dad around instead of me. I know it doesn’t mean he would trade me, or that he wants me to die. He doesn’t want either of us dead. I know, however, that he sometimes feels his life would be better or more fair if he was with his dad instead of with me. I am told this is natural. A child will idolize their non-present parent and will believe their life would be better with the other person.
I also know that to a certain extent he was trying to engage me in an argument, by escalating his words to get a reaction from me.
It’s okay. I understand.
Except that Jesus Christ it is so not okay. I’m not okay.
And now I am mad at my husband for leaving me to deal with the grief of our children.
A local game store was holding a “one shot” DnD event. One day for newcomers and old salts to bring level one characters, meet other players, divide into groups, play a short campaign, and go home.
This was PERFECT! I could get some experience at the game, and perhaps meet some people with whom I could get a casual ongoing gaming experience. Or not. The point was for me to get out there and play.
The icing on this cheesecake was that the week before the one-shot, the store was to hold a character generation class. To ensure the new players felt welcome, this store went above and beyond to hold a clinic for character building.
I went, and was the only student! Not to be deterred, the young man working at the store gave me a one-on-one tutorial. I built a lovely Dragonborn Sorceress.
During my lesson, a couple of scruffy older gentlemen showed up and chatted with us a while. They gave me a good-natured hard time about my Dragonborn, and told war stories about playing in the eighties. I gave them a hard time about being stuck in yesteryear. I felt completely at home. I belonged here. I was at ease (as at ease as it is possible for me to be in public) talking to these guys. I hoped I’d see these men at the one-shot day.
I spent the next week preparing. I read all about Dragonborn and Sorcerers in the player’s handbook. I printed out spell cards for the spells I selected. I wrote a list of my equipment for easy access. I raided my sons’ Legos, carefully selecting a perfect mini figure. I collected two sets of dice, and a handful of additional six-sided dice. I assembled these items into a kit, ready to go. I sent pictures of the kit to everyone I knew. I was so proud of it.
And I got nervous. Butterflies in my stomach, goosebumps nervous. I got a huge pimple on my nose. I felt like I was going on a blind date. But it wasn’t with a boy — it was a date with me, to see if this is the me I’m going to become.
The next Saturday arrived. I dropped the kids off at my folks. I showed up at Zulu’s Board Game Cafe a full hour early. I sat in the parking lot texting my brother in law about how excited I was.
Should I go in and get something to eat, or wait here until closer to starting time? Wait-
Why hasn’t my phone beeped the reminder of this event?
I checked my calendar. The one shot was on SUNDAY.
How did I make that mistake? I was so thrilled, so excited, so looking forward to it. How could I get the day wrong? I couldn’t go the next day. I had made plans with the kids. I didn’t want to bring them along. So I missed it. I just missed it. I would actually use the word ‘crestfallen’ to describe my emotions.
I went and saw a movie. A Quiet Place.
I have contacted Zulu’s since then, and they are planning another one-shot soon.
Meanwhile, I have learned, through Meetup.com, of a pair of friends who are looking for 3 more players to join a DnD campaign every other Friday. That is perfect scheduling for me, but of course I have no idea if we will ‘click’ or if I will hate them. I messaged the guy and he said that a total noob is completely welcome. It is a bit dice though – since it’s at his house. I am thinking if this comes together I will ask if we can have the first game at a shop so we can all meet each other. Is that being too paranoid? I am a girl, and it seems that meeting someone online and showing up at their house is a good way to wind up dismembered in dumpsters. Would he/they be offended? I suppose I will feel it out if it happens. Last I saw, he wasn’t having luck.
So a swing and a miss, but I’m still on the hunt for a DnD group.
I arrive at the game store. Sporting a shiny new Player’s Handbook in my arms and a set of dice from the Starter Kit in my pocket, I ignore my humming nerves, enter, and observe.
This establishment had advertised something called “D&D Encounters” on Wednesday nights. I had done my research, and learned that “Encounters” is something promoted by the creators of DnD in order to make it more accessible to new players and to those without time to dedicate to a full campaign. It is, as I understand it, a one-shot game every week, for level one characters. This sounded perfect for me. I had no desire to commit to a campaign I would not be able to maintain, and I especially did not want to saddle a Dungeon Master with a brand new player against his/her expectations. Just to be sure, I had emailed the establishment to confirm this meetup was for newbies and people with limited availability. I was told that there were Wednesday night games that had open slots available, and that people pop in and out all of the time. It wasn’t exactly what I was asking, but it was close. I was told to arrive early so I could meet the DM and roll up a character if need be. I was terrified, but I need external interaction so badly right now. I have always ALWAYS wanted to try tabletop RPGs. I had to jump in somewhere, and this sounded promising. So I had decided to go, had my mom watch the kids, and wound up here.
Several tables are occupied by people playing games, but unfortunately none feature a sign stating, “Dungeons and Dragons Noobs over Here!” I take an eternity in front of the cold case, taking deep breaths and selecting a fruity soda. As I pay, I ask the bartender about the “Encounters” group for newcomers. She sees this listed on their chart, but doesn’t know which group it is. She asks a man I figure is the owner. He points toward the back room and says he’s pretty sure those tables have room for new players. Neither DM has arrived. He tells me to pick a table and see how it goes.
Ummm, okay. That’s not my worst nightmare or anything. I have flashbacks to finding a seat in the school cafeteria. I almost run away.
The current clues do not bode well. My fear had been that I would show up and find myself in the middle of someone’s campaign, that a DM would have to try to teach me how to play while running an ongoing game. It now seems like this was exactly what I am about to do.
I peek into the back room. Seated at one table are a couple of kids who tell me that they will be playing an original game one of them has made up. They say the other table will be playing DnD. They don’t exactly invite me to play with them, but hint that new players are always welcome. I, however, know that I won’t be able to attend regular Wednesday game sessions, so I don’t want to impose on their game for just one evening. Plus I am still hoping the DnD table will be single shot games I can play once a month. Besides, these kids are all a good two decades younger than me and sport multicolored hair. Obviously that iss the cool kids’ table. I have never belonged at the cool kids’ table.
I sit at the other table, the one that will be playing DnD and is occupied by a guy closer to my own age. At first I hope his is the GM and I introduce myself. He tells me the GM hasn’t arrived yet and we chat about general nonsense. A couple of other guys show up, all of us as awkward as one would expect, and finally the GM gets there as well. He welcomes me as a new player and seems nice enough.
He asks if I have a character. I do!. I built one on an online generator, and admittedly don’t know what a bunch of the attributes mean. He looks over my character. Apparently it is all wrong. My stats don’t match up with my personality traits, etc.
Also, my character is a level one.
I need to be a level three.
Because they are in the middle of an ongoing campaign.
At this point I know I probably won’t be able to play with these guys regularly – unless we can make my character hibernate at regular intervals. Like Brigadoon. I am otherwise engaged three Wednesdays a month. My dreams of joining a one-shot game once a month to learn the ropes are pretty much dashed all to hell at this point. I have made it this far, however, so I may as well finish out the evening.
There is no time to roll up a new character for me, as the GM was a bit late to begin with. He doctors my character up to a level 3 and corrects some of the things that were wrong with her. He asks some questions, and gives the deep sigh when I don’t know the answers. The other players are extremely patient, counting out their dice and looking up things in their books. I apologize for taking up the time, but they all respond with a general, “Hey, we were all new at some point” thing which is super nice.
Finally my character is less atrocious and the game starts. Immediately the GM turns to me and says, “I can’t keep poofing players in and out of the game whenever someone new shows up, so you’ll have to wait while I figure out a way to work you in to the story.” Okay, fine. I completely understand. I didn’t mean to intrude on an ongoing game, but here I am and I am aware that makes things more difficult for the GM. I am certainly not trying to trash him here, because I do know I put him in a bad spot.
It does feel a bit less welcome-y though. Especially when two of the guys next to me point out that they are in a forest and I’m a rogue thief, so it would make sense for me to kind of appear out of the woods.
“I’m not doing that.” the GM replies.
The group is in a forest, having just rested. They are immediately attacked by some sort of fire monster whose name I didn’t catch. It takes me a bit to realize that the little cardboard circles on the table represent the fire monsters. It doesn’t matter, however, because I’m not in play. I watch the game play, and the guy next to me whispers, “I’m sure he’ll get you in the game soon.” I reply, “It’s okay. It’s helpful just to watch what’s happening.” I can tell he’s annoyed on my behalf, though, which helps to diminish my own annoyance.
During the battle, a couple of other guys show up — first timers who are friends of one of the other guys. Now the GM has to deal with three of us. They borrow characters from their friend, so they don’t need to develop anything.
The GM winds up more or less “poofing” us all into the game. “You are drawn to the sounds of the battle.”
During the battles I learn the difference between “open to new/beginning players,” and “geared towards beginning players.” While everyone is friendly and patient with me, the game moves so quickly I can’t keep track. We are still under attack by a swarm of . . . those fire related monsters. I can’t tell who is rolling to attack and who is rolling some sort of reaction. When it is my turn, the GM hands me additional dice and tells me what to roll and adds up the numbers, and I spend the next couple of turns scouring my character sheet to find out where all of those numbers came from. (After my second turn at battle, I find that I have been doing a ‘sneak attack,’ which is why I’ve been needing to roll a second d6. I still have no idea, however, why I had the sneak attack, or when it applied.)
What I had hoped for – what I still hope to find – is a DM who will narrate the game the way I do for the kids. “The monster is attacking that player and the roll comes up with this number which is a hit, so I will roll this and the damage done is that.” Yes, I am saying I need to be treated like a child.
That is not what is happening here. It feels like dice are rolling and damage is happening and I have no idea what is going on or whose turn it is. I roll when I am told to roll, and attack when my name comes up. I don’t feel like I’m learning how to play. I am just perpetually confused. And stressed. Every turn I get, I try to figure out quickly what I’m to do, but the GM just keeps pressing dice into my hand like they don’t have time to sit and wait for me to catch up. (It is only later at home that I realize the other players all had to take a few minutes to check their sheets or their spell cards or whatever during their turns. It is only me who is being rushed. Even the other two new guys are given time.)
The battle ends, one of the characters heals us all, we are dealt experience points. Our group decides to press on instead of resting, and we are attacked by . . . some sort of water creature. We are still in the forest.
During these battles, I do realize quickly that having your numbers leveled up is not the same as actually playing a character until she levels up organically. Everyone else has developed spells and armor and abilities, while my character is pretty basically equipped. I have a dagger and a shortsword, and some light armor. I deliberately have no magic, because I knew I’d be struggling to keep up and didn’t want to complicate things further.
This is how every round of battle goes:
Other Player – throws up a wall of fire or some such. Damages all of the monsters on the north end.
Another Player – blows a gale force wind knocking back all of the monsters 20 feet.
Me – walks up to the closest monster and pokes it with my dagger.
It gets a bit embarrassing and futile feeling before too long.
I think the DM may be skipping me, but I can’t tell for sure and I don’t really care.
By the end of the game, I know that this particular group is not mine. I have learned quite a bit, however, and would say I had a good time. I believe I will find my group eventually, I just don’t click with the dynamics of this one.
I learned that there are SO MANY kinds of dice. Some people come to the table with boxes full of of a kaleidoscope of dice. Others bring out only one or two sets of fancy and obviously expensive dice.
I learned that you need more than one set of dice to play.
I learned that a d8 and a d10 look remarkably similar to each other.
I learned that I should use pregenerated characters until I know what I’m doing.
I learned that it takes about 20 seconds, in a room of the right people, for a heated discussion about Firefly to begin.
I learned that if you (I) roll a one during an attack, you miss the target and wind up shooting your own paladin with your arrow. I also learned the Paladin will not get mad about it.
I learned that a new player (or at least me) should either find a group of friends who play and join them, or find an event that is geared specifically to new players so the GM can plan on teaching while playing.
I learned that maybe next time I should give the cool kids’ table a try.
We survived our first holiday season without Trey.
As Halloween approached, we elected to not make the costumes we had all been talking about as a family. Then we elected to not make costumes at all, but to buy. Mr.K finally decided to just wear last year’s costume, which was the moment I realized that he was not as excited about the holiday as he wanted to be. We had several parties plus trick-or-treating. Each Halloween event began jovially, but ended with K feeling sad, removing his costume, and secluding himself. He says he may not dress up next year.
Mr.H made a Thanksgiving project at school – a poster on which we all were to write what makes us feel thankful. We all wrote something about family, but I felt dishonest because our family is missing a piece.
Tension built in the days leading up to Christmas, as Mr.K grew more and more insistent that Santa could bring his dad back. He would not be disabused of it. The whole thing terrorized me that he would wake on Christmas morning and fall to pieces because his wish had not come true. Thankfully, on Christmas morning he accepted what I am sure he already knew — that this was not possible. We had a lovely day, but partway through it Mr.H got really upset about a gift he though his dad would have gotten him. I hurt for him so much. After a snowball fight in the yard, Mr.K laid this one on me: “It’s sad that dad couldn’t be here for this. That’s what’s so bad about when people die. They miss out on all these things. I mean, Dad is never going to have another Christmas. I don’t even have to get very old — just 41 — and I will have more Christmases than he did.”
New Year’s Eve arrived, with nobody to kiss.
Close on the heels of New Year’s was Trey’s 42nd birthday. It also would have been our 19th wedding anniversary. Even though I was certain gravity had doubled due to the heaviness of my entire body, I managed to bulldoze us through that final day of the Wilson Family Holiday Season. We enjoyed breakfast at the pancake place he used to take us. We honored his memory by once again visiting the root beer store. Mr.H and I cooked a birthday cake for Trey. Mr.K, who originally suggested the cake, found himself unable to move forward with it. We didn’t sing “Happy Birthday.” We baked the cake, iced it and ate it. K joined us for the eating part, and we didn’t talk about why we had cake.
Everybody is extremely sympathetic toward me right now. I appreciate this. I am fortunate to have so many people in my life who care about me and who are thoughtful enough to realize how difficult the holidays are.
The first holidays, in particular.
For every first holiday, however, there are countless smaller firsts. Innumerable times my heart protests that the last time we did this, he was with us. At the beginning of widowhood, these firsts are a daily assault:
The first time I put the kids to bed and came downstairs to nobody.
The first time I made dinner for just the three of us, knowing he would not return.
The first time I went grocery shopping without buying his favorite staples.
I watched a TV show we always watched together.
I picked up listening to the rest of the audoibook we were sharing.
I went to bed.
I woke up.
I rented movies.
I cleaned the kitchen.
I hung up clothes in the closet.
Everything in my life was something I was doing for the first time since he died.
After a while, the basics of living had run through a couple of cycles. No longer was each day a constant chorus of “this is the first time . . . ” The firsts continued to batter me, however.
The first time I took them to a movie just the three of us, I couldn’t figure out what to do when I had to use the bathroom — make them both come with me, or leave them in the theater while I went?
The first time I took them to get the Slushies Trey always got them, I managed to get Slushie all over the place. I could not get the hang of filling the cups the right amount before causing major overflows. In some cases, the stuff keeps expanding after you stop pouring, turning your cup into a volcano science experiment smelling of blue raspberry. I’d had no clue it was that complicated.
The first time we went to one of their school parties without Trey was the Neon Glow Party. It was just a week after he died, but we’d been talking about it for weeks. The neon party is always eighties themed, and I’d said we needed to all dress up like the eighties. Trey had responded, “So you’ll just be wearing your regular clothes, then?” He had a point. Looking back, I can’t believe we made it to the party. I was still in such a fog, and didn’t want to disappoint the kids who still wanted to go. They were dancing their butts off, and I was glad to have brought them. I just kept thinking it would be okay as long as we avoided the photo booth. Of course then K really wanted to do the photo booth. So we did it. And we got the pictures. The same pictures we get every year, but with Trey conspicuously missing. K deflated and wanted to go home. We went home.
The first time we played our favorite four-player video game with just the three of us, we realized one of us would have to log in as Trey in order to keep our game progress. As uncomfortable as it was, I logged in as him. It’s commonplace for me to do that now.
The first time the three of us went on a road trip together, I wondered if it was safe. How can a woman and kids drive over the state border and get a hotel room and be safe? I’d never traveled without a man.
We went to our first soccer game, and to our first hockey game. Without their dad.
These small activities that we find ourselves in, that remind us that Trey was here last time, they are growing more and more infrequent. Maybe there will come a point when there are no more.
The final kind of first I will address is the worst, as the frequency of it will keep growing at least for a few years. Instead of protesting that we did this last time, my heart screams that Trey never had a chance to do this with us, to witness this event. These milestones and first experiences will always be accompanied by my ghost of him, seeing his reactions inside my mind.
I joined the kids on their first airplane ride. They had never heard the safety speech before, and K paid careful, solemn attention to the flight attendant. They delightedly opened the tray tables, exclaiming, “Hey, look at this! A little table!” Trey never got to experience this with him. I could almost feel his laughter.
Harry hit his first baseball. Then stood at the plate, not knowing what came next. At the urging of his coaches he ran toward first base. Still carrying his bat. The coaches yelled at him to drop the bat, so he ran back to home plate to put the bat down, and then back to third. Trey would have told me that only my kid would be doing this sort of classic move.
Korben played goalie for the first time. Trey never got a chance to see his son so enthusiastically cheering on his team mates even when they were not near his goal. He never got to see Korben save a goal.
He won’t be there for their first girlfriends, their first school dances, their first day of every grade, their first kids, first auditions/tryouts for various activities, first play or first academic bowl or first recital or whatever we have in the future — these firsts will keep coming.