Dear friends and readers,
It’s near mid-August. I’ve kept busy this sad week — sad because last year my beloved, my friend, my companion was still alive and now he’s dead, sad because last year we were not able to go to Glimmerglass just at this time: the Admiral had bought tickets for an opera, a musical, two concerts, we were to stay at a lodging house off the water (if only I had listened to him when he first was diagnosed and agreed to do nothing so he would not have had that criminal operation), sad remembering his agony. For quite a number of years these were the weeks we went away: to England several times, to Italy for 5 weeks once, to Paris for 1 week, often to Glimmerglass, or Vermont (a Landmark house).
It is quiet here now, Yvette asleep, the cats on their grey pillows, I’ve just been reading an excellent book on Breaking Bad (Wanna Cook?, the complete unofficial companion, only it’s not got season 6), and re-watched the extraordinary first pilot episode. What did I do this week? Well, I read my New Yorker, turning all the pages, reading some of it (since I can’t get to these plays, or concerts, or events any more I can join in by reading about it), looking at pictures: whence the Madeline picture; there’s an exhibit at the NY Historical Society for the 75th anniversary of the birth of Madeline (in New York City). I loved reading the books as a girl, and Caroline loved listening to me read them when she was a girl. A number of other books too, essays in periodicals, and this poem which I liked as it put me in mind of how I feel about my hairdresser who has been a sort of friend to me since Jim died. She is not young but the rest sort of applies:
My hairdresser is young
and she tells me things
no one else can:
about the different kinds of straightening tongs;
about the war in Afghanistan.
I sit with my hands in my lap,
in the ridiculous cape that she fastens for me
at the back. She stands at the nape of my neck
and I concentrate.
She tells me about her nan’s hair —
which is coarse (“like yours”) —
she tells me about colour, and tone;
she tells me about her boyfriend, the soldier,
who covered his ears at the party,
and begged her to take him home.
I watch her in the mirror,
as she cheerfully takes hold of my hair,
and pulls it high up into the air;
I sit completely still in the swivel-chair,
and listen with great care
to all the things she has to tell me.
— Tara Bergin
and watched movies, swam twice, went to Dance Fusion once, an evening’s brief walk and sitting by a bunch of ducks in the Potomac in Old Towne. They kept turning upside down to fish. Some more remarkable summer poetry: I recommend Ellen Bass, Barbara Cook, Christina Pacosz.
No piano lesson though. The piano teacher cancelled again, said she had a meeting and then a week’s vacation time away: I’m thinking she lacks enthusiasm and may not want to do this with a 67 year old woman. I’ve been told that the JCCNV offers piano lessons at a much cheaper rate, so if she cancels again I may have to do that. I stopped practising because I felt silly. But Yvette carries on playing and singing on Saturday and Sunday morning. So the piano is used.
As I wrote on facebook, over Thursday and Friday I was feeling quite the grown up. Thursday morning around 8:00 am on the way to the JCCNV my car started to make frightening racket-like & sluice noises. Five minutes further down 236, I gave up going to Dance Fusion for a 2nd time, drove back home again (listening to the dreadful noise as I went), phoned Toyota; at first panicked and got myself lost but then retrieved myself by realizing I was going in a wrong direction; when I finally got there, the kind head mechanic (he had the work done on the car after it sat for 4 months) took me right away. What happened was I hit a pot hole. Rim of tire came away, slight bend in fender which they knocked back (like Dickens’s Mrs Joe) by hand. Friday morning got to JCCNV to swim class just fine.
That was the second day of house-fixing — with a decent handyman type — he did all I wanted, fasciaboard scraped, screwed in, painted; gutters cleaned; more small paint jobs (including of a birds nest on the side of the house). He and his helper rebuilt an old porch (that should have been done in 1987 when we bought the house), and beyond that put in handle on screen door, calked several leaks in the walls and by the kitchen; rebuilt the top part of the chimney. I did not overpay at all. He showed me where a part of my kitchen floor has a continual wet floor from leaks so my plan to fix the kitchen by replacing vinyl and painting the walls and ceiling, and buying new dark-colored and far fewer cabinets that are easy to clean will be more expensive than I thought. Still he was honest and if I pay for the slight flood to be dried up and the earth on the other side of the wall built up so that the water can run off the house will be sounder. The Admiral took the long view: our lives were short and frail; until the August before he died, we had not much money and the house would outlast us as is. I understood it, and were he here would be doing whatever he wanted or not, but as I now live here alone and cannot see that I will be spending the money to travel as he was hoping (now I think he thought to begin at 70 when he had been told we needed to spend some of the money from the Thrifty Account each year), I might as well make it a good place for Yvette to have after me. I know were I to sell it no matter what I did it would be a tear-down: as that would break my heart, I won’t sell. (I should say I’ve had several letters, phone calls, post cards by now, offering to come and talk about buying the place — widows are targets for predators — I hang up after saying “this is my home,” and citing “5 million please.”)
I also saw my financial advisor and talked with the financial consultant on Tuesday for about 2 and 1/2 hours. They said my life expectancy was 84. 17 years. My advisor tried to help me learn to read the monthly reports and use the website to understand what’s happening and what’s being done. I bought myself Investing for Dummies (used copy so am waiting for it to arrive). I renewed my old Sylvia blog: How I wish he were here; August.
I had trouble sleeping for a few nights — too much excitement. When Jim and I were in our thirties, our joke was we didn’t know as yet what we wanted to be when we grew up. Now I think alone we none of us know what we will end up with. A sad story of a friend, now still just 68. Her husband died this past Thursday. She and her husband and Jim and I were friends, a foursome when we were in our twenties in NYC. She is my oldest friend, though now become a distant memory-acquaintance. We met at age 16 when we both graduated high school and were hired as secretaries at the FAA; we both left after two years to go to college, and we both went on for Ph.Ds, she in Economics (and made a lot of money, justifying pay increases for the phone company) and me in English. Her husband was a gregarious man, a state gov’t bank examiner (when there were regulations that mattered); they were another couple who bought a dream house for their retirement. That was 10 years ago; she was 58 and he retired then. Two years later he came down with Parkinson’s Disease and my understanding was it was a bad case. So that was his last 8 years. Sometimes she traveled with her sister-in-law (a divorced woman), once to India I was told, to Istanbul too; she could afford round-the-clock nurses towards the end. Both of us widows now.
Again there was a weekend treat. Two weeks ago Yvette and I went to Hamlet on Friday, Antigone Saturday, and me to my film club alone on Sunday; last week we enjoyed the splendor of Wolf Trap, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the NSO; last night with a group of friends I went on a boat ride up and down the Potomac alongside D.C. — about an hour’s worth of touring. Very pleasant as the weather was breezy, balmy, and the blues and wide sky so refreshing. We had dinner in an Asian restaurant in Georgetown, some 16 people. Good talk too some of it. Someone told me of a movie I might enjoy: 84 Charing Cross Road with Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and Judi Dench. Bus, Metro and car home.
Yvette tells me that when I am gone for several hours (as I was last night), the cats curl up on my chair or on my part of the bed and wait for me to return. Right now Clarycat is on my lap; a little while ago Ian had his paws around my neck, was rubbing my face with his face; now he half-sleeps nearby on a pillow. In the car together Yvette read to me a funny wikipedia article on Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (which we are listening to right now) — about this dude who takes 800 pages to discover he’s Jewish. She and I are agreed we like the Daniel part of the novel best. I told her about the book of Spanish Jewish poetry (Hebrew translated) I have in the house as a result of reading this book.
What am I to do without him? So empty. All grown up now. I move through time trying to get through, pleasantly when I can by distraction, company, absorption. 17 years they said.
I understand how widows and widowers feel as they try to assuage the bereftness, to find some warmth in imagining the beloved person’s spirit is there with them conscious somewhere.