Sunday, November 27, 2005

Three Years Ago, Part 6 of 13

Undated. My parents.

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....

12/18/02 5:29 pm. Had a good conversation with a coworker yesterday. He'd slipped on the ice, banged his temple on his car, and suffered a concussion -- out cold. Doctors told him to not sleep for 24 hours. He's ready to leave Boston -- also tired of the cold, the mess, the high cost of living. He was also thrilled about the mention of Mary as my "companion" in my father's obituary: "Wow! In Florida!" Meaning other than Miami and environs.

12/20/02 approx 9:15 am. Seven boxes brought home last night for packing -- I'll bring more home tonight if the weather holds up; we're expecting rain. Temperature is warm and springlike.

E is in the house almost daily, "visiting" with my father. This morning I tested out the answering machine for ways to get messages by remote.

Need to check the PO Box a last time before we head down there.

We are bringing down laundry, to wash and leave (in most part) there. Cheaper and more efficient than the laundromat, and faster than doing a hand wash.

Mary becomes more excited about the move. What with the horror stories I've heard about animals on planes, we've decided to do the drive down with all 4 of us -- poring through Triptiks and tour books while we waited to see the movie The Two Towers.

Tomorrow morning I'll go to the PO to have them hold our mail while we're gone -- then be at the studio to see a client at 9:15 am, then show our sitter the ropes re cat care. Need to do up an instruction sheet and tidy up the apartment as best I can before we go.

12/24/02 4:50 pm. Mary naps. This morning we missed the trash pickup (we've got next Tuesday) but got all the tires replaced on my father's car, then drove into town to get my license replaced. We'll try for Mary's license on Friday, after the courthouse etc. reopens -- it's closed today and Thursday as well as tomorrow. We'd have done it today, but she'd left her Massachusetts license at home.

It felt a little sad giving up my Mass license. This will be the fifth license change for Mary: CA to MI to DC to MA and now to FL. For me, getting my Mass ID and then eventually my license was a watershed event -- being on my own for the first time, learning on the fly. This move is another watershed event -- first time owning a car and home, being on my own in a different sense.

We began the day in mist, graduating to squalls, now full monsoon with thunder and lightning. Not a time for TV. I've begun rearranging furniture in the second bedroom, which will be my studio.

12/28/02 5:15 pm. Mary naps -- she'd spent the day doing a bang-up cleaning job under the kitchen sink and removing roach egg cases from around the house. I've brought the recyclables to the drop-off, checked in at the post office, and gotten boric acid and groceries.

Three layers of my stay here:

1. Going back to childhood: all the furniture and props from Brooklyn. Part of me harkens back to the child-dependent.
2. The guest: In my parents' and then my father's house. The visiting adult, living my own life, an insider-outsider. A stranger, a foreigner.
3. The landed gentry: owner of this home and its contents, owner of the car. A sense of ownership that, in its way, also harkens back to childhood: my space.

12/30/02 8:45 am. There was frost earlier this morning and yesterday morning. Last night I had the master bedroom windows open to air the place out, plus baking soda on the floor. Mary and I slept in the studio. I'll pick up more baking soda today to continue the job.

Mary and I have begun reading Taras Bulba -- one of the old, hardbound collector series books from Brooklyn. One of the books I was not allowed to touch while growing up.

Sometimes I look at the accomplishments and recognition of parents and relatives and feel like a pale reflection, before I do a reality check and take stock of my own accomplishments and survival. I've gotten this far. Changing gears is difficult -- again, I am stepping off a precipice -- and I am thankful for the prospect of continued freelance work. But I also need to get more involved in the community and in the pursuits I've been putting off. Once our stuff is down here -- once the cats are galivanting about -- then we can continue from there. Once again, the superstitious part of me fears getting killed before then and not having the chance to see what lies ahead, but I know that this is part of my pattern -- in a year that began with my cousin's death and aftermath and continued through job cutbacks, then work overload, then Red's illness, and now my father's death.

12/31/02 9:20 am. A gorgeous day -- I have the eastern-facing window open. Trash has been picked up. We've been sleeping in the studio room while the master bedroom airs out the last vestiges of urine.

Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing, because this is frightening to a degree. Then I remind myself of the conditions up north, and my own priorities in life, and I know that moving down here is the right decision.

6:15 pm. Deluge. Thunder and lightning. Mary naps. I spent some time looking through the box of photos, including report cards (I thought I'd had them all...).

Double exposure: As I made to turn off the rheostat, I found myself heading for the spot on the wall where it had been in Brooklyn. Walking to the post office to mail off a birthday card, I could feel the heavy, breezy, not unpleasant air -- what in Brooklyn "smelled like Florida" and what I recognized in Boston as the Gulf Stream. Only down here, the Gulf Stream has only 10 or so miles to travel. "Smells like Florida" because it is.

Big thunder.

My father's lawyer had commented, on seeing me walking, "Doesn't she have a car?"

"She has now," his assistant said.

"Then why is she walking?"

"She's from Boston," his assistant answered. "They walk up there."

Interesting photos of myself and others that I hadn't seen before. Layers of memory entwined with new beginnings. Too much emphasis on the past and I am wary of regressing -- but I have good momentum toward the future: a useful hybrid.

New Year's Eve. Cusp of 2003. I find the old photos of my cousin and her parents, and try to make sense of how that little girl, that older cousin whom I called "sister," ended up as she did. How I never expected to survive and yet here I am, thriving in spite of (because of?) the struggles. Obviously I've just got to keep dreaming, then living the dream -- taking my own advice.

I find myself relying more and more on my magnifier glasses. Such is life.

Surprised to find some college yearbook photo proofs that show more levity, more naturalness -- and therefore less of the scholarly look that I preferred. On my FL license is the image of a woman who has lived, who has gray in her hair, what you see is what you get. Direct gaze of one in transition, fallen back on her own resources.

Mary still has her MA license -- I see it and feel a twinge. Funny how a bureaucratic laminated card can evoke such emotions. Massachusetts has meant so much to me.

But -- however wistfully -- I am ready to leave it.

"You are so easy to work with," the paralegal tells me. Made me feel good -- made me feel better than I care to admit because the old tapes can still play in the background. Fortunately, the new tapes are considerably louder. Since she returned from her vacation -- where she was too keyed up over job issues to relax -- two more people have died. Inheritors and beneficiaries demand money immediately -- or need counseling, or both. Surviving spouses especially will come into the office in a state of extreme grief and anger.

Brooklyn, probably early 1960s. The household where I grew up included my parents and my maternal grandmother (far left). Both my mother and grandmother taught in the New York City public school system; my father taught music privately.

My grandmother wintered with relatives in Miami Beach. My first memories of Florida date back to grade school, when my mother and I flew down to visit her during the holidays. With rare exception my father remained in Brooklyn, refusing to board a plane.


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