Three Years Ago, Part 8 of 13
Germany, May 29, 1945. My father (age 27), part of the "entertainment corps," is at the piano. The man holding the violin is Jascha Heifetz, whose "Hora Staccato" my father had rearranged for the accordion.
My father did not want to talk about the war, perhaps in part because while he was overseas his own father had died, about four months before this photo was taken.
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....
1/19/03, 2:35 pm. I pray that Mary gets home safely -- only after we arrived here did she realize she'd left her wallet home, with all her money and ID. I'd gotten extra cash from the ATM -- if need be, I can get more down in Florida. The ID I can do nothing about, except to vouch for her if need be.
At first she was going to accompany me here. Then she decided she needed sleep more. I was almost out the door, headed for the subway, when she awoke and changed her mind again. I asked, "Are you sure?" Yes. Then there was the threading through newly-built Big Dig spaghetti streets, at one point ending up back at the bay, before we finally arrived at Logan Airport. I bought us lunch, we wished each other safe trips. "I'll take better care of myself," she said. When I asked if I should have insisted that she stay home, she said she didn't know.
Once I return from Florida the ensuing 6 weeks will be challenging, but I suspect I'll have enough to keep me busy. I feel as though I'm in a holding pattern -- but, Goddess willing, that pattern has an end in sight, and hopefully we'll reach it all in good shape. What follows is anyone's guess.
Last night I read to Mary my "Letters to the Next Millennium" -- she'd been curious. Made me want to write to 2025, what with this new change coming up. Leave my "younger" perspective for the next time I'll be reading these things.
I become blase about flying, though with the undercurrent of fear and fatalism that predates 9/11. Now that I know the drill, I simply go through the motions: get boarding pass at the kiosk, check luggage, take off belt and ring and hair clip, empty pockets, take out laptop, etc. Only the one extended security check, so far -- otherwise, no delays.
"Miriam should take out that recycle bin for you." The woman in the aisle seat, to the one in the center. "You've done it enough. You deserve a rest." The center woman, white-haired, had dragged the bin up from the basement, toward the curb. "That thing is half your weight. It's like carrying a four-year-old child."
I am impressed by the kindness in those words -- the recognition and appreciation of another's effort and hard work.
I also take with me the sympathy card from my coworkers. One of the new staff addressed his brief missive to the wrong person -- who'd been called away due to her own father's illness. But if the weeks-long delay in the collection hadn't occurred, neither would the confusion.
My first priority, other than house-necessary activities, is to rest -- I speak not necessarily of this week, but of the time when we have settled in. Some of the ambitions I'd had in my earlier years -- creatively, socially -- I may be able to realize, more so than now. But I don't want to push myself too hard too soon.
Through all of this, I have experienced breakthrough bleeding for the past 10 days, my finger [broken in 2001] has been sensitive to cold, my left shoulder has become re-gicked from all the carrying (I have carried almost all the give-away material for the studio both down the apartment stairs and up the studio stairs), and I get intermittent pain in my right toe -- which I hope will disappear with a change to newer shoes.
I truly hope we will be happy -- laying in a vegetable garden, planting trees and ground cover, taking hikes along the coast and in the woods, writing, dancing, singing, doing art, making friends. Being not isolated, not living in a mess, not working myself to death. Is that too much to ask?
1/23/03 The bank official offered to create a new safe deposit sign-in card so that I wouldn't see my father's signature, but that does not bother me. It is a presence, like the flannel shirt hanging on "his" chair -- the other shirts have been donated to next month's yard sale that the local women's group is holding to benefit a scholarship fund.
The official had said that her (father? One of her parents) had died 6 years ago, and the sight of a signature or other memorabilia still brings her to tears. But she had been living with her parents when they died. I had been away, and came home to familiar objects from which I'd distanced myself. I explained how my way of dealing with death is to get busy, stay active, do those tasks that need to be done. I don't know if this makes me unusual -- and I don't care, barring idle curiosity.
Sometimes I am fully into the Adventure. Other times I am almost sick with worry, and hope that what I feel physically is due to that stress, hoping that the stress itself is not compromising my health.
Meanwhile, I move furniture around the place to make room for when we arrive with the rental van.
I have been gorging on the Turner Classic Movies channel, which can become addictive, and therefore dangerous. I've been staying up late and sleeping in, though yesterday's/last night's/middle-of-night painting of the studio did wonders. I begin to more fully claim the room -- thankful that I had the foresight to send down my paints, though forgot to take brushes! So, no detail work, yet. But for all intents and purposes, the walls are sufficiently prepared for me to move my things in. Then, if I want to do detail play, I can. I still want to paint the door, but that can wait.
1/25/03 12:30 am. Water heats for coffee. The studio is painted -- as much as I will do this trip. Furniture is moved out of the way in preparation for our moving stuff in. Again I worry when I shouldn't. I know that I can change gears again if I need to, but I need to (a) give myself a chance to succeed here, and (b) give myself a rest. Allow for the void, which is needed in order for me to realign.
Part of me feels as though I am ripped from my moorings, knowing full well that I am the one doing the ripping. I am left to my own devices now, fully. I remain part domesticated, part feral. Feral in that I can be alone, can keep myself company. My family includes the trees and sky, the geckos, the neighborhood cats, the snowy egrets I saw on today's walks, the spiders. Though the roaches and silverfish are not yet "family".
I have struggled alone for long enough that I deal with recent events almost dispassionately. The movie characters with whom I identify are the rugged men who survive through hard work, who are self-sufficient and self-reliant. The women who become melodramatic and clingy are like alien creatures to me.
Then there is the domesticated part of me -- the middle class background that predisposes me to worry. In that way I am like the conventional husband in the old movies -- the one rivaled and often defeated by the more feral, rugged man.
No longer under pressure to be perfect, sometimes I seem all the more terrified of making a mistake. Silly. One learns from mistakes. Mistakes are part of life -- I've already made plenty, and I've survived them.
E and his wife survive, press on. That in itself teaches me. They have lived on next to nothing. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to cut down on my worrying. The main difference between now and then is that I now worry for 2, feel too damned Responsible. Not warranted.
1/25/03 2:32 pm., by the Delta clock at Gate 69. Mary called around 2AM -- I was only half-asleep. She'll meet me at Logan; we'll take the subway home.
I've doused the place, the kitchen especially, with Raid. Then waited outdoors because I couldn't stand the smell. Effective for up to four weeks, so the place should be fine by the time we return with the cats. Turned off the water, shut off electricity to the water heater. Trimmed the hedges, moved paint cans to the garage. Spare car key left for E.
I wear my mother's rust-colored sweater -- had forgotten to take it off when I was picked up. Chilly outside -- and I was waiting outside because of the Raid. Nasty, nasty stuff -- I could feel it in my chest, went uh oh. Hate using the damned chemicals.
I think about the young woman I was 20 years ago. Just beginning to realize her dreams, just beginning the struggle. And, through the struggle, the realization that things could have been worse -- a life enslaved, under siege, possibly forced to bear an unwanted child. Blood pressure skyrocketing, cramps debilitating.
Now, having gone through 20 years of independent life, the past 7 shared, I quake at the new change. Yes, I know how to make a new life, know how to hustle if need be. "You'll be all right," says the woman who drives me to the airport, and I agree. I know how to look after myself -- have done that and looked after others as well. The driver cleans houses, waitresses, and runs a limo service, and raises 3 boys. I have just Mary and the cats.
July 1957. On the back, my father's neat block lettering spells out "CLIFF DWELL." This same trip included the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Mt. Evans.