Three Years Ago, Part 11 of 13
Date unknown. Zoo unknown (might be Central Park). My mother "feeds" my father animal crackers.
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....
2/14/03 approx 12:30 pm, Starbucks. Things come to a boil. Up until 2AM doing dishes. Tantrum this morning -- tossing things in the hallway, jumping on cardboard -- silently.
Wednesday night and yesterday morning I made literally dozens of trips up and down the stairs to put out trash and recyclables. Went through all 18 boxes under the mattress, which now rests against the floor. Started going through the north room, after moving shelving to the closet-outside-the-closet. Ordered a release form from my doctor so that I could have my medical records sent to the PO Box in Florida. Need to get tax materials ready.
Over a ton of Media Mail has now been sent. Eight more boxes are packed. Twenty more packing days to go.
I need to realize that, ultimately, I am Alone. Alone on the human plane, at least -- there is the Divine, and these days are days for me of blind faith. Particularly vis a vis the state of the world; these moving jitters are small potatoes compared to that.
Last night -- rather, the night before -- I dreamt that I was on a campus that seemed part hotel. There was a large amphitheater. I missed a chamber music concert, but made it in time to listen to a jazz rehearsal. The amphitheater was a bowl, with carpeted blue stairs on either side, and desks where students lunched, read, studied. Not until now do I realize how closely that atmosphere relates to the one here at Starbuck's.
In the dream there was also a used bookstore -- shelves upon shelves of books that I restrained myself from buying, because I would only have to move them to Florida.
2/17/03 10:07 am, studio on Humphreys Street. Took down the last set of shelves yesterday. We have a bit over two weeks before we pick up the van.
Even when I do sleep solidly I have dark circles under my eyes that seem to have taken up permanent residence. I know we are making progress, but the chaos in the apartment becomes more and more demoralizing.
Snow blows outside. A woman in a bright red coat scatters a benediction of salt against fine white powder. This has been a tough winter for move preparations -- negotiating hand truck over ice and snow, watching where I step on slippery ground. The move and the weather are exhausting each in their own right, but this year they present a double-whammy.
This month I started bleeding 4 days early, moderate flow. Cramps. Too much tension. Wind outside makes the branches dance. I hope that D arrives soon, and that we can have a nice, relaxing conversation over tea.
The small TV gets no sound now that I've packed the VCR. I'm ready to leave it behind after its 14 years of service, but Mary says no, thinks the sound can be fixed. Whatever.
The artist in the studio next door has done wonders with the 2 coffee tables we gave her -- mating them top to top and using them to hold the door that serves as her work surface. She does beautiful paintings of fabric arrays.
2/19/03, on the subway to Harvard Sq. D showed up at 11:29, just as I was getting ready to leave. We had tea and biscotti; then he took me to lunch at the Victory Diner on Mass. Ave., before they closed during the blizzard. Yesterday I took pictures of the snow: a reminder of what we are leaving behind.
It used to be that the weather didn't bother me. I was dressed for it and still am. I was a Hardy New Englander. I could Take It. It was the latest incarnation of Tough New Yawka syndrome. It was Macha.
Now, I'm just tired. Literally exhausted, functioning on very little sleep. I can pack our belongings into the bags under my eyes.
I dreamt last night that Mary and I were on a small plane, sitting directly behind the pilot. Mary was arguing with him -- he needed to fly through the snow and keep his flight schedule; she thought conditions were unsafe. We taxied down the streets, more like a cab than a plane. In another scene I was in an airport, trying to schedule a flight. There were key bits of info that I tried to get and couldn't: flight number, flight times.
I remind myself that I just need to get through the new few weeks. Right now my life is on hold -- there are errands to do, but mostly it's pack and wait, and my packing is nearing its end -- though the north room is virtually untouched. I feel completely disorganized and scattered.
(Later) Coffee at Starbucks. Before I left for errands, I hauled the TRS-80 out of the eaves and will put it out tonight. Mary has 2 monitors to contribute as well. I've closed out the safe deposit box here and notified the bank of my address change. Snow melts at a fast clip. Good. We'll still be negotiating mountains of it, barring a miraculous thaw.
I know I'll feel better once I've had a chance to rest up.
For a solid week my pelvis has felt as though it is made of lead. If I had ibuprofen with me I'd take it. For now, I'll settle for coffee and jazz.
I vacillate between feeling as though my life is beginning and feeling as though it is ending, and both are correct. If I can get my act together and not be cluttered to distraction, I can once again let my Voice roam free.
Does this journal, in which I have invested my life's energies (at some times more, or less, than others), hold relevance? Can they be mined for something that proves to be ultimately helpful? Sometimes I worry that it will all be lost; other times it seems not to matter. My ambition is either utterly lacking, or it is modest, or it gives me a To Do list -- like typing out the journal, putting the unexpurgated files onto CDs, to be distributed after I'm gone so that maybe they can do some good. If CDs remain relevant. The fact remains that until and unless I can carve out the space and time to focus, I cannot organize my thoughts coherently enough to do any good. Cannot sift through the Raw Data and organize it.
It is during these times of physical and mental exhaustion and physical pain that I at once fear death and resign myself to it, regardless of how close I actually am to my time. But this is also how I deal with uncertainty. Just in case -- now that I have all these new details to consider -- I have begun a list of names and numbers and info that Mary will need to know if something happens to me. I think here of my mother's early debilitation and death. We watched The Bridges of Madison County last weekend and I was a faucet at the end. People have been in much worse situations than I, and as a child I couldn't fathom lasting as long as I have -- so in one way I am already way ahead of the game.
D tells me the woman who commissioned my artwork had mentioned to him that she'll miss my going, how much I've contributed to the community. I've met her once. I've hardly had any kind of social or other life outside work and home and executorship these past few years. I never could gauge the impact I have on people.
What is the state of transmigration prior to the next incarnation? Birth-Life-Decline-Death-Decay-Germination-Rebirth. Maybe this is the stage of Seediness: preparing for rebirth, not quite out of the old life, half-dead. I certainly feel seedy enough. My joints hurt, my pelvis hurts, I don't sleep well, I feel completely spent.
2/21/03 11:54, coffee at McDonald's before I meet my friend M for lunch, singing, talk. Last night I vegged out on devolved TV: Are You Hot? -- a mix of beauty pageant and smackdown -- and one where small-time celebrities survive in the jungle for charity. At least the latter is self-promotion for a good cause. The former makes dignity completely irrelevant, combining "talent" search and meat market.
Our landlady came onto the landing as I took the trash out -- said Mary seemed happier. Was amazed that I could still laugh with this move -- I said, "What's the alternative?" She seems not to have been aware of my tantrum last week; Mary had been worried about that.
I learn to let things go. It was hard parting with the TRS-80 and the old 8-inch floppies of my writing -- I have, at the least, paper copies, but still. Most of my published stories were written on that machine. It represents my Woburn days (and some of those in Cambridge), when creative endeavors and explorations seemed to take up so much more of my energies than I can give them now. I hope dearly that Florida will change that.
In my dream last night I was traveling through a large building -- a combination of office space and hotel. Much carpeting, dull-colored. Elevators. I was getting lost in its maze-like structure; when I thought I was headed in one direction, I ended up being somewhere else.
I was telling our landlady how I am learning to let things go, schedule-wise -- i.e., leaving it up to Mary to deal with her own stuff when she's back here, and whatever happens, happens -- when I lost my train of thought. Blanked on it completely. I did get some solid sleep last night, but not enough to catch up on the deficit, plus I'm still feeling the effects of stress. One day at a time. Keep on keepin' on. Et cetera.
12:30 pm. I'm early, so will sit on the stoop in this gorgeous weather and write for a while. Snow continues to melt; all around me are sounds of dripping and the occasional cheep of a bird.
On my way here I gave a dime to a teenaged girl who asked for spare change. I normally don't do that unless I perceive real need -- this one wore silver hoop earrings and a nice coat and a sporty haircut. Who knows what she spends the money on? Perhaps she asked as a lark -- see who gives. Had I the energy and the presence of mind I'd have questioned her -- if she's so brazen to just ask for change for no apparent reason, then I can be brazen as well. But not this time -- I was caught unprepared and fascinated, but still knew to give little. Said, "I just have a dime." She said, "That's okay."
Conversely, the cashier at Staples asked me what I was getting my 36 rolls of tape for. "For a move to Florida," I said -- wondering if she was always this intrusive or whether she thought I was preparing for a terrorist attack and should she do the same? There doesn't seem to have been a run on the stock.
Date unknown -- probably a New Year's Eve celebration in the late 60s. My maternal grandmother (right) was my only living grandparent when I was born. When she died in March 1979 the news reached me during midterms week at college. I immediately arranged to finish my exams early in order to get home, filling essay books in otherwise empty classrooms.
At home I was in charge of sorting my grandmother's belongings, which had been piled up in our basement. My mother was collapsed upstairs on the living room couch, devastated. I took solace in the work, much the same way I had done after my father's death.
My grandmother had hidden packets of Sweet'N'Low everywhere: in her shoes; in all the pockets of her handbags and clothing; beneath her eyeglasses resting in their case; in other, small, cosmetics cases.
My father had complained bitterly on numerous occasions that she was "eating us out of house and home." When I was around five, he had given me a quarter for ice cream at Coney Island and flew into a rage when I accidentally dropped it and it fell between the boardwalk cracks. He shook me by my shoulders, yelling that I didn't know the value of money.
At other times he had been extraordinarily generous and expansive. My mother and I joked secretly during my father's tirades that he was "having his period." A light left on accidentally could spark a terrifying fury that died down into a sulk and silent treatment lasting several days. After it passed, my father behaved as though nothing had happened at all, and the rest of us breathed more easily until his next "period".
Alcohol consumption in the house was mostly limited to holidays: Passover, Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve. We had a small bar that is in the house where Mary and I now live. When I came down here after my father's death I found still-unemptied bottles decades old. By the end of my shuttling between Florida and Boston a couple of them were finally spent.