Three Years Ago, Part 2 of 13
My father at the Grand Canyon in July 1957, age 39. My parents had been married for eight months. I would arrive in another fifteen.
On November 26, 2002, two days before Thanksgiving, my father committed suicide. This series presents journal excerpts from that time and the aftermath of his death, edited for privacy purposes and omitting numerous "to do" lists....
11/24/02 2:40 pm. Delius's Brigg Fair plays on the CD. I have finished pulping paper, adding some paint touches to Dorchester Bay II, and washing up. I've set more paper to soak. Drinking Red Zinger tea. I have the cell phone with me -- if I don't get home first, Mary will call before she leaves, so that I can resume watching our cat Red as he recovers from his illness.
6:40 pm. At home, headphoned into Respighi, once more with Red Zinger tea. Red has downed some kibble, powdered milk, and asparagus. We've discontinued the steroids -- he had a second throw-up, all liquid, and had been drinking excessively -- a sign of too much burden on his kidneys. We still give him the antibiotics. So long as he's doing some eating on his own, it seems he's making progress. [We believe our cat Red had been stung by a hornet after he had snuck outside and gone missing for four days. At the time of this journal entry, he had been sick for more than a month.]
Once again I feel completely untethered. Worried about my father. Worried about Red. Worried about what's in store for us. Worried about the prospects of war, global warming, and the other Big Picture items -- and all the components of our Little Picture within the BP. I find myself wondering whether I do the right thing -- on many levels.
Today's work at the studio was of the nonthinking type, where I was pulping paper -- more mechanical than artistic. Met more artists moving in: heading toward third floor studios, carrying huge canvases past me -- abstracts -- as I washed up at the slop sink. I wore thermals underneath my clothes, listened first to the music of Vollenweider (and sang along full-throated), then to Howells. Then to Delius. Warmed myself with tea and with warm/hot water at the sink. With all that working in the cold, I did not sneeze as much as I do when I'm at home. I walk into the apartment and can feel my tension increase. I'd been somewhat aware of it before, but after my 8-minute walk from a half-day at the studio, the change is palpable. That, more than anything else, tells me how much I need the studio. I'm perfectly happy with my tea there. At home I sit before the TV and nosh, try to shut out the world.
I know I'm in the chrysalis stage of a difficult birth. Looking for balance and at the same time looking for a way to honor the Muse. These are not incompatible ambitions. I feel as though I've been working for someone other than myself -- and, in a way, I have.
And yet, I know the rewards of that as well. I just need to make sure to take the time to come back to myself.
I think of D talking about his suffering -- how for years it seemed his lot. He is now peeking outside that door -- and I need to do more of the same. I've begun, but am still torn between obligations, at least as I perceive them. I need to remember Blum's quote: "You are reminded that you must draw first from the well to nourish and give to yourself. Then there will be more than enough to nourish others."
My father so wants for me to be officially recognized and compensated. I do, too -- but my main purpose lies in the creative arts. If I did not have to be employed, I would quit in a second. I know I need to take more chances, and I intend to use the studio to expand my degrees of freedom.
I also think of the studio space as a room from which to gather strength for whatever lies ahead. I think of several factors, but of my father in particular. He doesn't want me to see him, doesn't want me to fly down. Doesn't want me to see a diminished person. I believe this has been the first two-week period where I have not received a letter from him between phone calls.
Today I brought to the studio the towel that Helen
had given me one year -- and I'm glad it's there. It reminds me of the way she had lived her life, deriving joy and beauty where she could. As I strive to do in the midst of everything else.
I need to take this music of Respighi to the studio.
(Later) I told Mary I was concerned that she may not have the same outlet as I, and that I was grateful for her emotional support of the studio space. We made a list of things to do, given time and energy.
Red has vomited again. We talk about various ways of handling the situation, keep an eye on him. We'll call the vet on Tuesday, if not before.
Brooklyn, early 70s. My father stands in the living room, holding Daisy I. Her almost-spitting-image, Daisy II, currently lives with Mary, me, and a healthier Red. I grew up with cats, as had my father, whose family had taken in strays. Our back yard in Brooklyn had been a sanctuary for dozens of them -- such that the dog next door barked at "other" neighborhood cats but not at the ones we fed.
My father's lap was the one she sought; they'd had a routine. He sat in his favorite chair (just out of frame, to the right), watching TV. When she leaped up, he looked down at her, eyebrows cocked, and intoned, "Did I send for you?" Her self-assured look back said, Yes.
She had been spayed but had never received any vaccines or check-ups. She died in the late 70s from "a blood disease," probably feline leukemia. I was off at college, though still within the city, and learned of her death during a weekend visit home.
Behind my father is the organ he used in his teaching. My parents brought it down to Florida in 1980. It was still here in 2003; over the decades its electrical wiring had melted. I've removed and kept some of its pieces, including keys, stop switches, and vacuum tubes.
Hanging above it is a portrait of my maternal grandmother, who had won the sitting in a Bingo game. The portrait, given to me after her death, has moved with me from New York to Massachusetts to Florida.