Chapter 18 — The Year of Unlimited Chocolate

Drug manufacturers  put a lot of chemicals into antidepressant medications, stuff that can make you nauseous,  give you headaches or insomnia, or  render you unable to drive or operate heavy machinery.  Not trying to be cute about it, because depression is no joke either for sufferers or their families, but what harm could there be in supplementing the pills with some dark chocolate?

After my husband died, I decided that for one year I would allow myself as much chocolate as I needed.  Yes, I knew  chocolate cannot  turn the calendar back to happier times.   If it had the power to make everything all right again, cacao beans would be going for $500,000 a pound  and demand would still outstrip the supply.  At the time, I wasn’t  interested in how dark chocolate works to boost endorphins, the “feel good”  peptides produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.  And I really didn’t want to think about chocolate being higher in fat than a pill would be.   All I knew was,  if dark chocolate could make things a little better, I wanted some.

Greta was sharing my life that year, giving me the impetus I needed to get out of bed each morning, take care of her and the cat,  and slog through the day.  But she couldn’t share the chocolate.  I had read that chocolate can be fatal to dogs, and I wasn’t taking any chances. I believe Greta  was aware  that Ron wasn’t in the house any longer, but she had not formed a close dog-person relationship with him, and I saw no evidence that she missed him.  She didn’t seem mopey or depressed, and if she had, I would have offered one of her rawhide chews for comfort.

What can I say about that year?  That I ate chocolate on nights and weekends, because those are the times that singles are most alone.   That I became convinced I was not a normal woman.  That I went to church more often.

I looked like your basic average woman, but a genetic analysis would have shown a truncated, inadequate shopping gene that caused boredom with cute purses, scarves and flowery fabrics.   Ditto anything pink.  The basket bingo and yard sale genes were missing.  Those genetic defects made it hard to find fun in shopping expeditions, basket giveaway gatherings,  Christmas shoppe or yard sale browsing, which is apparently what women of my age do when they’re not going out to lunch.

I was fine with going to lunch, but where were the women who would rather be out hiking or riding their bicycles?  I tried Sierra Club outings, It was an okay thing for a woman alone  to do.  And the hikes were fun, even if I often just reached a rest stop as everyone else was standing up to start off again.

On one hike,  a group of us stood in the parking lot of a state park,  tightening  our hiking boots and waiting for the leader to  give instructions before we set out.  This was to be a hike of about seven miles over what the Department of Natural Resources described in a brochure as, “steep to moderate changes in elevation.”  DNR wasn’t kidding.

One young woman had come for the hike in shoes with chunky 2-inch heels.  Two things I learned as we all chugged our way up the trail, up being  the only direction it  seemed to go.  One: this was the woman’s first group hike, possibly her first hike ever.  Two:  she had given some thought to her choice of footwear, and decided on the heels because she thought the trail would be wet from recent rains, and the leather shoes would protect her feet from dampness better than her sneakers.

I’ve never run into that woman on any other Sierra Club hikes.  But if I do, I want to thank her.  It was dusk when the last of the hikers slogged to the end point.  Some of the earlier arrivals had already started a shuttle back to the parking lot where we had left our cars.  Shuttle cars were returning  with headlights on, and we were in danger of not being out of the park  before it closed for the day.  Thank you, young woman who limped in far behind me and saved me from  being last off the trail.   I don’t recall that anyone said anything about the delay, and we did make it out of the park, about two minutes before it closed.  But it was not comfortable to be last that day.

That year, I went to church more often.  You can do that if your Sundays aren’t filled and you’re trying to figure out: (a) why you’re still around, (b) whether God had something in mind for the rest of your life, and (c)  whether he would be willing to clue you in on the plan.

Church  seemed to be a place where my brain could be made to stop playing its endless 15-seconds-per-thought video  and hold a single idea for a few minutes.    If I got a seat near the window on the wooded side of the property, I could let my mind drift out into the timelessness of the trees. If there was meaning, it should come to me in that way.  It didn’t.  Or maybe it did, in a roundabout way.  In due course, I figured out that I was in the right religious faith,  but  wrong pew, wrong congregation.

Square pegs have to get  out of their round holes if they want to find where they fit.  I could do that.  I could go church-shopping.  It had taken more than 12 months to conclude that I needed a different congregation, but sometimes a year  doesn’t fit the standard calendar.  In time, I found a congregation where I could stop shopping and just be.

So then all the problems were solved and Greta and I lived happily ever after?  Um, not quite.

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