Three Years Ago, Part 9 of 13
Brooklyn, October 1958. I am 1-1/2 weeks old. My father is 40.
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....
1/30/03 approx 8:30 pm. I've been taken out to lunch (yesterday) and today given a party and lavished with gifts extravagant by my department's standards. Exit interview at Personnel -- my questionnaire will go to my supervisors. I said, "There isn't anything there that they don't already know."
My interviewer took a double-take when, after my missive on "Training and Advancement" and after describing management in 6 words as basically "minimal," I rated Management as "Good." I explained that I've worked with numerous managers, that they let me work independently, that they're basically good people with no harassment or unpleasantness. "Not quantity, but quality." I showed him (and he looked over) my doorstop worth of reviews, writing and editing samples, etc. Was surprised I hadn't gotten a byline at my previous job -- I explained my former boss would attest to my work and added that I've done a lot of ghostwriting. He said he was familiar with that experience. I added that I'm thrilled to have gotten a byline here.
Nice sentiments on the cards and in emails -- I'd sent out my messages of thank yous and here's where I'm at.
2/1/03 approx 2 pm. Visitors have just taken several objects we're giving away -- they'd arrived early at the studio on Humphreys Street and called around 1:25 -- while Mary and I watched coverage of the Columbia disaster. Seventeen years, almost to the day, after Challenger -- only, this time, a breakup on re-entry.
When I awoke I turned on the radio and heard that the crew had just received clearance to land. I breakfasted, took a shower, came back out. When I turned NPR back on, Scott Simon was saying that they had now switched to "special coverage" status, and that Columbia seemed to have broken up over Texas.
During the earlier news, I was worried that NASA gave landing clearance despite foggy conditions at Canaveral, but what happened over Texas would seem to bear no relation to the fog.
My reaction is low-key compared to Challenger. Still sad, and numbed, and with the added layer that I had been witness to the launch of STS-1, Columbia's first flight -- grimacing when Bob Buzell named the first flight crew as Crippen and Engel ("Young and Crippen," I corrected the TV). But, as with 9/11, emotionally-charged events correlate with errors in reporting, as with the confusion made between Columbia and Challenger -- the 2 "C" shuttles, now both gone.
Given today's events, I will stay at the studio until 3 before I head back home, though the folks who said they'd stop by may decide not to show, or may lose track of time. I have this and next month's rent and a letter to drop off for the owner. I'll put up a couple of flyers advertising that I have free stuff to give away.
Yesterday Mary and I were at the office until around 9 pm, emptying out my things. I borrowed a hand truck from outside the mailroom to transport it all. Divided my day between meeting deadlines and schmoozing, and saying goodbyes, and sending thank-you emails. We had a late dinner -- 2 celebratory Irish Coffees for me -- and got home around midnight. I dropped off to sleep shortly after I lay down.
One colleague was caught by surprise (he hadn't been checking his emails). Saw me with the hand truck and asked, "Big report?" Shared tales of moving with Mary and me.
On Wednesday Mary and I went to Dance Freedom (it felt so good to be back!) and schmoozed with folks. I sang, played the piano. We touched base with an acquaintance who was mustering up the courage to dance, and who was able to as part of a group of three.
Life takes strange turns. This morning's events illustrate to me just how tenuous it is. The danger in Texas and Louisiana posed by shuttle debris -- breathing the fumes can lead to death by suffocation within 2 days. Mary and I both considered the move to Florida with respect to a shuttle flight path. Mary wondered if the chemicals in all those bottles of Raid may have affected my father's nervous system and impaired his legs.
At least the weather has warmed up -- my hands are not too cold as I write, waiting by the front door. I have my cell phone here, on and recharged, in case people need to reach me. I suspect at this point that we will have no-shows.
Monday I will stop in at the PO and ask what their protocol is for boxes of Media Mail. I'd like to start getting those sent off. I have the flexibility to bring them in at times of low traffic volume.
2/4/03 9:13 pm. Listening to the music of Panufnik. Yesterday I brought 24 boxes of Media Mail to the Uphams Corner PO. I'd checked in the morning to see if there are any restrictions on number of boxes, time of day, etc.; there aren't. I then went in search of a convertible hand truck.
It cost about $250.56 to mail 674 lbs (.37/lb), and I have almost that much ready to mail off in the next round. Lightening our van load considerably.
I was hoping to do 5 trips (30 boxes) to the PO, but managed 4 -- they were quite ready to see me stop. It takes a long time to process the boxes, and the line was growing. Each trip took about an hour overall: schlep the 6 boxes to the landing, bring the hand truck outside, load the boxes onto it, secure with rope, drag through ice and slush and bricks -- some of it uphill -- the half-mile or so to the PO, wait in line, get the boxes processed, wheel the empty truck home, break for water and a breather before the next load.
At the end of Round 1, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a woman say, "Hey, lady, you're holdin' up the line." I turned and saw my neighbor V, grinning. We're planning to get together before Mary and I take off.
Today I dismantled/emptied another set of bookshelves, emptied and dismantled the kitchen table, and packed more boxes. The task of packing still looks daunting, but I am making progress. Also done today: went to PO box, picked up groceries (notably greenery), picked up cell phone for Mary, which I'll activate later this month.
Sometimes -- like now -- I am comfortable and not overly worried. This all feels natural, a good risk, a good move at this time. Other times I am scared half out of my wits. It is superstition -- that here I have the chance to return to my writing projects, to take that time and space, and something will go terribly wrong. That I see the end of exile, but, like Moses, will be barred from the Promised Land. Now, more than ever, I need to exercise blind faith, to keep on keepin' on. Many folks are in a much worse position than I. And yes, I might screw this up, but I am trying my best, and it wouldn't be my first screw-up, nor would I be the only person to do so. In fact, I've miraculously held together quite well all these years.
Now listening to the music of Lou Harrison, who has died. Good man. I'm thankful that NPR mentioned his gay activism. He'd worked closely with Ives, and with Copland -- also gay composers, though NPR did not mention that.
I need to remember that I feel less afraid when I'm listening to music -- one of those self-evident truths that should be much more obvious to me than it is.
I think of how separated I have been from fiction these past few years -- remember when I was turning out visions in the 1980s. I know I can return to that, once I have my sanctuary back in place. I was going to do it at Humphreys. I am trusting that I can do it in Florida.
I do not know what will become of us. Is moving at this time (a tanking economy, war seeming imminent) one that gets us out of potential danger or moves us into its path? Above all, I need to keep following my instincts. And music helps restore my instincts.
I feel vulnerable. No company to "take care" of me. I felt less vulnerable when I quit my prior job, but then it was just me: something that had both its positives and negatives.
July 1955; my father is 37. I believe the women behind him are his mother (left) and her sister. Less than a year after this picture was taken my paternal grandmother was dead of pancreatic cancer; seven months after that my parents would marry.
The way my parents told it, my father had not dated until he and my mother had been introduced to each other by a mutual friend at a party four months before their wedding. My mother had heard my father play Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue on the piano and fell in love with him on the spot.