Thirty-six Years Later

I visited Venice after a 36-year hiatus and expected to remember my way around that complicated jewel box of a city. It didn’t seem unreasonable to me. Venice is a walking city and the routines of daily life had enabled me to learn about five ways to get home, how to walk in a narrow street in the rain with an umbrella, and how to choose an alternate route when there was someone too slow in your way. Guess what. I’m the slow one now. Continue reading “Thirty-six Years Later”

Chi Tocca Il Bambino Diventa Padrino

Saturday, June 22nd in Civitella was the Feast of Corpus Domine, and our hostess, Marina has a tradition of hanging banners from the windows of the Apti Palazzo, to greet the procession as it passes through the arch on its tour of the town. In previous years, the festive gold and red banners (if I squinted, they looked cardinal and gold to me ala USC) which she’d had made for this occasion were hung with ribbons from four windows on the south side and three on the north, and one in the main entryway of the Palazzo.

Bob and Sally had also traditionally helped with hanging the banners as you need one person on the ground to adjudicate what their level was, as well as the lay of the cloth against the rough stone. This year I was indoctrinated in the hanging of the banners. Here Bob invoked the powers of my stage management training, but the truth of the matter was that Sally’s mathematical orderliness came much more handily into play.

Our meeting time was scheduled for 10:30, so when we arrived, Marina had the main entry gate open, and gave me a complete tour of the Palazzo, which is stunning. Again, the temperature of these interiors is a good twenty degrees cooler than that outside, all managed by the shutters and windows. Generally, when a room isn’t being used, it is dark keeping the rooms cool. The standards of housekeeping in Italy always take me by surprise, from the first night I arrived at the Casalone in Scoppieto and slipped my tired feet between the crisp ironed sheets, to this tour of Marina’s Palazzo, where nary a dust mite appeared, the dark wooden doors gleaming with their polish. Honestly it puts most Americans to shame. Certainly myself.

We quickly determined that Bob and Marina would go below while Sally and I tied the ribbons on the banners and hoisted them out the windows. Stakes were high, but with guidance from below, we placed the banners. The biggest unknown was the strength of the wind, which tends to pick up in the afternoon and early evening.

After completing the task, Marina graciously complimented me on my stewardship of this process. And here again is the other reason you need to come to Civitella. I’m not sure if it’s something in the air, a generosity of spirit that heroicizes the visitor, but I am sure that my twenty minutes of participation has secured a lifelong invitation to Civitella. As we left to go get lunch, Marina taught us the saying with which I’ve entitled this post.

Chi tocca il bambino diventa padrino. Or, he who touches the baby becomes its Godfather.

In other words, this job was mine for life. Done deal. Similarly, on my last day at Scoppieta, I participated in the harvest of the walnuts for making Nocchino, a strong liquor made with forty walnuts quartered and put into a bottle with 180 proof alcohol and left to percolate until it becomes a deep dark headache-inducing beverage. Standing under the walnut tree counting the nuts garnered me an invitation for the olive harvest in October. Believe me I am sorely tempted!

After lunch and a nap, we returned to unfurl the banners just as Marina and Carlo went to Mass. While they were there, we took advantage of taking another walk around Civitella, and ending at the Museo Ova Pinto. Each year they have a town wide competition for who can decorate an egg most creatively. This year the theme was Leonardo’s five hundredth birthday. Here were some of the eggs we saw in the museum. My favorite was the children’s contribution in ho or of Leonardo, which put the whole angry birds thing in perspective. My plane neighbor would have really appreciated it, I think.

After the mass, the procession began, with the small group of local worshippers and us following through the town. There were portable speakers for everyone to hear the prayers and be able to sing.

The town had been decorated with flower petals by some young teens along the processional route. After the procession, all the flowers that hadn’t blown away had been swept up. We didn’t see it because we were busy striking our banners and planning how we would improve the hanging next year. Because, as we now know,

Chi tocca Il bambino diventa padrino.

Languorous Days, Illuminated Nights

The mornings shape up with a singular clarity of no mornings since my childhood. First my feet emerge from the heavy Italian cotton sheets, dropping onto the warm terra-cotta tiles of the bedroom, windows agape, and I peer out onto the sun dappled lawn. Two plump gray and white pigeons, (palome) , peck around in the grass, their gossipy calls sounding like “Chi a detto? Chi a detto?”

Breakfast consists of tea with milk, a bowl of granola with fruit and yogurt, or on the occasional morning, a special French toast with maple syrup. We aren’t rushed, but have a healthy itinerary ahead of us.

Friday we visited Todi, a town just northeast of Civitella, guided by charming Marina, the impressively bi-lingual landlord to the farmhouse where my friends have stayed for many years (8).

She took us first to the Church of San Fortunato, a church constructed in the 13th century. There was a music festival in Todi, so at the end of our tour (Giro) we stopped by the Palazzo of Tio Carlo, where in the grand salon, there were two music performances: a couple of guitarists singing autobiographical songs about Ireland, followed by a chorus of two dozen high school students from the local high school, singing a mix of music across the ages from an English fifteenth century song to a Beatles encore number. Dressed in black, they were conducted by a sophomore college student, passion writ large on his face. I sat in a chair along the windows separating us from another concert (Benny Goodman) outside, and marveled at his ability to keep the students focused and in tune.

We wondered why they had scheduled competing concerts so close together and decided that the outdoor concert that was supposed to be in the main piazza had been displaced by the youth soccer field which was installed there.

The competition outside was some line dancers, wearing bilious lime green dresses, hence, “lime dancers.”

Arriving a half hour before the concerts, we had been ushered into the gracious 16th Century Palazzo by our hosts, the sprightly 84-year-old Tio Carlo and his wife Tita, who gave us a tour of the Palazzo, Tio Carlo first rushing ahead to fling open the windows. It called into mind the Dutch paintings of women opening their windows to throw out the slops. Not because of a lack of grace by Tio Carlo, but due to the physicality of the action of opening the windows. What I’d never considered was how architecture informs the body mechanics of daily life until I reached into the dark bathroom the other evening to turn on the light switch and laughed as my hand butted up against the wall about a third of the depth of the wall. The activity of living in an Umbrian Palazzo would be time consuming but would keep you fit. The stairs alone, with their 10-12 rises challenge your stride. The first day I arrived and mounted the steps of the Apti Palazzo in Civitella Del Lago where Marina and her husband Carlo live, I panted like a trout flung on the shore. In the subsequent days, I’m happy to say I gained power in my legs. What would have been an impossible flight of stairs we conquered yesterday easily in Montefiascone to see the Cattedrale de Santa Marguerita by dint of our post prandial chant of “One Carbonara, two, Carbonara….on the way down I silently chanted mascarpone uno, moscarpone due…You get the idea.

In short, every day a destination or three. Hill town, Chiesa, home, pranzo (lunch) under the pergola, nap, then dinner (cena).

Over the past four days, we’ve visited Todi, Perugia, Assisi (more on that in another post), Orvieto, and Montefiascone. The latter was less impressive than any of the former, however, from where we sit at Casalone, if you gaze across the valley on a clear morning, you can see in the far distance the bump which is Santa Marguerita. Yesterday afternoon, as we stood in the courtyard outside the crypt of Santa Lucia, quite gaudily reconstructed with the stations of the cross around the place of worship, Sally took a moment with her GPS to make sure we could spot Civitella.

I’m so glad she did because now, in my mind I can see the three of us panting atop the wall. Our initial enthusiasm about the elevator waned when we realized that we were dropped at the base of the aforementioned carbonara steps.

Each day I feel stronger, physically and my grief subsides more with each Umbrian vista. Last night at 3:00 AM, as I slept in the monastic comfort of my suite in Casalone, I heard a voice sharply call “Els!”

I sat bolt upright in the darkness, then settled to listen to the rest of my instructions. The crickets outside continued but the voice was gone. I got up to use the bathroom, and returning to bed, I happened to glance out the casement into the night. I stopped abruptly, seeing the bright stars directly beyond the tree line. I leaned out the window, moved beyond my sudden awareness of the lack of the light pollution I’ve grown to accept, but more importantly that I was called to witness the glory of the Scoppieto night sky by whom? I stood there for a good five minutes, identifying the Big Dipper. I mourned my having missed this nightly show, and vowed to see it in my one remaining night at Casalone.

I the morning, I scattered some of Jimmie’s ashes in the lavendar overlooking Civitella because I figured his instructions were at least clear in that regard.

Old Friends, New Memories

I am in the Umbrian hillside town of Civitella Del Lago, a fifteenth century enmured town, the guest of dear friends and my former drama teacher and his wife. The trip to get here was crowded on the plane, a non-stop twelve hour flight from Los Angeles to Rome. I was wedged between two men, the man on my left declaring in the first five minutes a long terror of flying. The man on my right declared very little beyond his inexperience with flying, when he queried about the blanket and pillow combo, are you supposed to take the plastic off this to use it?

I figured that if you were going to spend twelve hours with someone in such close proximity you should at least know their names, but having set that laudable goal, only came away with knowing Terrified Jim’s name to my left. The gentleman to my right I will call Angry Bird because he spent at least 8 hours of the 12 playing Angry Birds on the games available on the seat screen.

Otherwise the flight was uneventful, occasionally freezing, and Terrified Jim, whom I complemented at the end of the flight, confessed that he thought he was going to have a heart attack, he was so scared. And this, my friends, is why we don’t introduce ourselves on long plane rides. Because what would you say to the self-professing pedophile or the binger/purger who lets you-know-that at the start of the journey?

Hi, I’m the world champion of spelling bees. (Actually, that would have been very helpful because I was having some trouble with the crossword puzzles so they might have been an asset.)

Anyway, I was able to see a few movies I’d missed in the movie theatre, in modified wide screen format, all 4×8 inches of it. And I really think there could have been fewer uses of the word freaking in the lastest remake of The Star is Born.

Aside from that, the flight was as one always wishes, uneventful, and the plane touched down at exactly the appropriate time, 12:15 in Rome. My Fitbit watch, I was upset to find, spent about a day to get acclimated. I needed to tell my phone that I was in Witaly, at which point Siri changed her attitude and at once became Italian, which was very welcome. Instead of receiving the hourly reminders to do my 250 steps, she speaks invece di I piedi riposte.

Everything is disorienting when you arrive at a foreign destination. I always marvel, though, how iconic signage and a big fat green arrow on the floor can get you everywhere you need to go. The Rome airport has a train right there that will take you to the center of Rome. After fumbling momentarily at the ticket machine, I purchased my ticket, first class for 14 euros, then proceeded to the train platform with my luggage. The train was full but I found a seat easily, next to a young couple who were speaking French, but for the young man, this was clearly his second or third or fourth language, in the charming adaptive European way, languages have a fluidity which serves the user. Living on a continent which affords cross country passage within one to two hours fosters this facility.

I tried to be respectful of their privacy while I leered hungrily through the window for a sight of the Roman countryside.

Arriving in Rome, I followed the signage to the train tunnel where I was only an hour or more early for the intercity 592 Trieste Centrale, the train which I’d booked to Orvieto. There at the tunnel, there was a board for departures (Partenze) around which were clustered a group of travelers, varied in origin, but most colorfully featuring a vociferous Italian on the phone who paced up and down bemoaning the cancellation of several eastern bound trains due to an electrical power outrage.

I waited and waited, perched on a small ledge of marble, watching the passing parade and trying to calculate between my phone and Fitbit, exactly what time of day it was. Suddenly, my daily morning 5:30 alarm went off, notifying me it was time to go to cardio spin with my friends, and it occurred to me that I had been up way more than 24 hours, and I was thirsty, thirstier than if I’d been dropped in the Gobi Desert. After a quick time calculation, I grabbed my suitcase and went up to the main level of the train station to buy some water.

Soon, I was on the train. The European trains are so beautiful and clean, sporting large picture windows, and comfortable seats. I imagined what the passengers around me were doing, heading home on their daily commutes, or off on adventures like mine. At this point, I was in serious danger of falling asleep, but I knew that the train would stop quickly, and I would have only about a minute or two to descend, so after the first stop at Orte, I pulled my heavy bag down and waited, excitement at seeing my friends at the train station mounting.

And then suddenly, after the mellifluous chime and the announcement that we were arriving in Orvieto, I grabbed my bag and lumbered down the aisle, dismounting to find Bob and Sally at the side of the train. Easy as pie. And we were off, in their rental car, who, of course, charmingly spoke Italian, and helpfully directed us forward, though they both knew well where they were going and were desperate to defang her.

Soon we arrived at the beautiful farmhouse where I’d be staying for a week with them. I was flabbergasted by the elegance and beauty of the building but more so by the generosity of their invitation, and recognizing instantly the healing properties of this spot.

Arrivederci, Los Angeles!

It’s hard to believe that today has arrived. I’ve packed my bags over the course of the past four days. Back in the days when I was married and we traveled, I packed for both of us, resentment curling the edges of my feminist robes. But only briefly. Because the person I was packing was such a delight and I would have sewn the clothes for him and then jammed them in the suitcase. God knows he did his own packing earlier in our marriage. Later mobility issues prevented him from standing a long time, so I took over. I had to laugh the other night when in the play, the mother in law advised the wife of her son, ”when you pack him tonight”… I laughed not because it was so grossly inappropriate, but completely in recognition. What’s funny was that after spending half an hour packing Jimmie’s things, I’d frequently rush to pack my own, forgetting critical things like a bathing suit, or a toothbrush, or once, a comb. By shearing my hair so short, that would be less of a problem now. So I had four days to get my proverbial shit together, and I must say (preening a bit), I did a damn fine job packing this time.

So, how does a stage manager travel?

    She arrives at the airport 2-3 hours early (so early, in fact that her flight isn’t on the list yet and she experiences a frisson of panic)
    Types her itinerary with every bit of information she’s acquired
    Brings snacks
    Filled her water bottle
    Has the Merrimack-Webster English/Italian dictionary downloaded to her kindle and has already looked up dozens of words and looks like a crazy person on headset talking with a disgruntled lighting designer.
    She buys the neck pillow and practices using it on herself in the gate area.

We will be boarding now, so I’m going to try to post this. Warning gentle readers. I have acquired a new iPad to use on the trip instead of my computer, so I’ll be learning how to do this. I’ve already failed in loading a picture. Hopefully this will improve in the coming days. But because I don’t have a wifi package on the plane, I’m posting this now.

Places, please! Andiamo!

What is Heaven but the Here and Now?

Yesterday, I reaped the benefits of AI as my photo albums coalesced into one giant photo album celebrating all of our summer trips to Chatham, Mass. The timing made sense, being about a month from the date when we usually headed out there. Our annual pilgrimage to Chatham was a usually routine, non-stop flight to Boston, quick overnight in Somerville with Liam and Elliott and now dearly-departed Rex. Early morning departure after a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for sustenance in the form of chocolate donuts and coffee, wending our way down to the Cape, sandy berms rolling by, avoiding most of the stand-still traffic that would have clogged our way by our early departure. We had several lovely cottage rentals over the years, visiting with Jimmie’s sister Kate and many other family who stopped in to take advantage of our extra bedrooms. We’d spend about two weeks there, and this morning’s photo and video montage provided a refresher course in the rituals in which we partook. Fried clams, sitting outside in the Adirondack chairs to feel the cooling evenings filled with familiar crickets, and winking fireflies as the light became dark and our shoulders lowered by many degrees of relaxation.

This morning’s video was shot in just such a moment, cub reporter interviewing distinguished actor after our first seasonal sampling of fried clams- said distinguished actor hamming it up, (only ever seen in my videos, by the way – he was the epitome of professionalism on others’ cameras) recounting the moments with an almost sexual satiation. You can hear me giggling as I record. Then comes the aha moment.

Cub: How’s your first day at the Cape been?
Actor: I think I’m in heaven.

Cub: It’s pretty nice isn’t it?
(Beat) Actor: I think if I had my choice of what heaven should be like, it would be Chatham. (shaking his head) Just marvelous. I’m at peace.

Cub: Yay.

Aside from suddenly rocking me to attention, rousing my napping grief into a bolt upright position, covers off, the video was a bittersweet reminder of perhaps the most important thing we should all know. Life is meant to be enjoyed, savored, made special and ultimately memorable during those inconspicuous moments of friendship and quietude. What I learned from spending long years with Jimmie is probably obvious to anyone over 60. Age forces you to slow down, settle, take those moments for what they can be. It allows you to take stock of all of your blessings, and to work through the other mental detritus, old resentments, regrets, sadnesses. Hopefully the blessings work outweighs the other, though both are important to process as we live.

From one of our impromptu Chatham reunions.

This year, in the middle of June, our usual departure time for Chatham, I am instead heading for two weeks to my favorite place on earth, Italy. Invited to share a summer farmhouse experience in Umbria by my high school theatre mentor and his wife, I will first fly to Rome, then train to their oasis in Umbria. After my stay with them, which I am anticipating like a puppy in front of a puddle, I’m taking the train to Venice, for four days there. I spent the year after college living in Venice, and have always wanted to return. The brilliance of this return is that two of my friends from 1982-83 are still in the area and I’ll be staying with them while there. I’ve been brushing up on my Venice by reading the wonderful book by Jan Morris.

I’ve been avidly reading the New York Times in recent weeks about the Venice Biennale, which will be taking place while I’m there, staking out the pavillions that I intend to see. I just purchased my “Plus” tickets because if one day at the Biennale is fantastic, wouldn’t three be even better?

I keep receiving pointed instructions from the Universe….

I had dinner with a friend, this week, who, at 94, is slowing down, but whose heart and mind are filled with the loyalties and memories of one who has worked tirelessly in his art, for those who both appreciated and early on, reviled his efforts. Our conversation, stilted as hearing loss mandates, ricocheted from my telling him about my upcoming trip to troublesome memories of his last trip to Italy. But the important thing was that we were there, breaking bread, basking in our mutual respect for my recently departed husband, and of each other. I watched his tender appreciation of his caring assistant, Joyce, who has become his bridge to the world, repeating what I said with patience and affection so that he could hear.

Today the rain sheets down outside my window, a surprising development for Los Angeles. Always welcome to our parched corner of the country, rain makes me want to cuddle up with a blanket on the chaise, but today’s events will beckon me out into the mists instead. Last night I pulled my balcony chairs back to the window so they wouldn’t get wet but can see the rain moving sideways across the dark expanse of the parking garage across the way. The sound of the traffic sluicing through the water eleven stories down cues me to get up and warm my tea at the stove, cozy in my urban aerie and thinking about my new definition of Heaven.

Happy Mother’s Day

Twenty two years after losing my Mom to cancer, she remains a powerful force in my life and in my actions as an adult woman and mother.

From happy times at the opening party for La Bete on Broadway in NYC 1991. L. to R. Me, Mom, my brother Don, and Jimmie, our reason for being there

I was struck this Mother’s Day morning as I texted feverishly with son Chris, he in Las Vegas at a Hockey Player Development event, me surrounded by my newspapers at the dining room table. What makes us mothers is a complicated algorithm of events, choices, mistakes and fortuitous synchronicities that have very little to do with our abilities as parents.

There’s nothing more uplifting for a mother than hearing/reading the excitement in her child’s words about something that is going well. Chris’ hockey went well this weekend as he attended with many of his players, the USA Hockey Pacific District Player Development event in Las Vegas. His hard work in skills development and player development over the last four years as an assistant coach shone in his players and their ability to be recruited to the next levels of the game. As one of his moms, I can claim responsibility for starting him on the path to hockey. But it was he who first expressed interest, his five-year-old face pressed up to the base of the glass at Iceland in Van Nuys, a tiny rink run by Russian players, his breath steaming the plastic, as he watched, his mouth agape, as the five-year-old Mini-Mites skated as fast as they could, flinging themselves down onto their bellies before pulling themselves up to continue skating.

I wanna do that!

Without rehashing the hockey history, suffice it to say that as a parent, we need to listen for our cues. I had a long chat with some of my colleagues recently about the difficulties of doing just that.

In light of the recent college admission scandals, which I managed to avoid as a parent by A) not having the funds or moral ineptitude to invest in such chicanery, and B) by listening to the cues about where Chris should be or not be at that time in his life, I’m feeling quite pleased with how he’s evolved. His path was not explicitly academic, though I suspect he will never give up the love of teaching that he brings to his hockey endeavors.

The hardest thing about parenting well is that our children are their own, unique individuals, and often quite different from us. It’s so tempting to try to mold them into little mini-mes, but that can be like trying to shove a round peg into a square hole and serves nothing but friction in the doing. I can attest to that.

My parents succeeded with my two brothers and me by:

  1. Instilling a strong work ethic – our Dad after working long hours during the week, on the weekends had us plant the entire back yard per a horticultural ground plan that would have made Frederick Law Olmstead proud.
  2. Grounding in us an appreciation of family and family bonds through Sunday dinners with our grandparents who were local, and long trips to Wilkes-Barre to spend time with the non-local grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.
  3. Developing a love and appreciation of the Arts. Believe me when I tell you that I didn’t ever want to go to a museum, nor would I have done so willingly, but because we were tromped off to various arts institutions by Mom, I became so imbued in them that I eventually became an art history major in college, and a theatre practitioner for the rest of my life.
  4. Training us in the prudent use of our resources and generosity to one’s children and others. As a young adult, I watched mom pay her bills each month, knowing that she was being stretched by expenses on her journalist’s salary. Still she managed to send me $100 every month for years, beginning with the year I spent in Italy, and continuing even after I was married and we were financially secure.
  5. Providing us the models of physical exercise and mental stimulation. I remember as a child at the public tennis courts watching our parents play tennis, and later, learning the game ourselves. We swam, ran and generally exercised. Of course, we were fortunate not to be digital natives, so had to keep our minds and bodies active.
  6. Telling us that we could do anything we set our minds to doing. This was an extremely powerful message for a young girl in the 1960s. Not only did they say it, but they backed it up by supporting my education at top notch schools that fortified that message.
  7. Finally, they reveled in our successes, and listened, but didn’t coddle us when we failed. This last one I may have taken too far with Chris but when I see him parenting his three-year-old, I think he’s on the right track. She’s a tough little girl, and fearless, as comfortable on the ice in her hockey gear as she is in her tutu, while coloring at the table.

Those are just a few of the things that Moms and Dads do for their children. So thank you! Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!

The Grieving – Aqua Alta, the 14 Coast Starlight Express and Mixed Metaphors

The days are jumbled together, with continual kindness the watchword. During the first week back at work I started slowly, spending the bulk of the first day entering petty cash receipts and doing equally unmindful tasks, trying to remain mindful. 

It’s a treacherous thing to wade back into the world after such a major loss.

Side note/Metaphor alert- I lived in Venice, Italy for a year after college, and in the winter during Aqua Alta (high water)  we denizens of Venice would put on our hip wader boots, and go to market, walking the boardwalks through the public squares (campi)  throughout Venice. Like the dance of the umbrellas through the narrow streets (calle) of Venice, one learned how to navigate so that you could pass people on the boards without plunging up to your waist in the water on one side or the other of the boardwalks. It was how you made your way to the necessary daily events amidst the extraordinary and haunting hassle of this flood of a magical city.

The first week back to work, donuts aside, felt a little like I was navigating the Venetian boards. I’m aware, and not in a critical way, because I get it, that some people are only able to walk by and salute you for being “on the boards”, while others will stop and fully acknowledge the depth of the waters all around you. My students, for the most part, were in the first camp. I knew they were glad to see me, but were unable to speak of what for them was the unspeakable. There were, of course, exceptions.

Perhaps they were being kind and not wanting to see me lose it, or perhaps they didn’t want to/couldn’t think about the lapping waters of death around their feet and the flimsy supports that keep us all out of the depths of despair and loss.  Okay, I’ll curb the metaphor before we all have to don our waders. It was just interesting to observe it happening. And yes, I did lose it several times during the week when someone acknowledged the depth of the waters around us.

But remember the words of my wise widow friends – you are either in the boat, or under the boat. Either way, you are where you are and you can’t resist or the flood of grief will last longer.

I remember coming away from years of sessions with my psychologist after losing my mom, knowing that words are words, feelings are really just feelings and they ultimately won’t kill you unless you overreact to their emotional impact. (Forgive my privilege as I recognize I’m likely shortchanging serious sufferers of the power of those emotions). 

What’s been lovely were the social events that happened this week, my dinner with Lynn and Christina, where we laughed and ate healthy food, then walked to the roof of Lynn’s building to survey the sights (see top image) and make silly faces. I only wish I’d captured Christina’s response to the stairwell…. 

Trust me, the silly faces were cute but I don’t want to risk being killed by my friends for sharing them here.

I made it through the week, facing with dread Jimmie’s birthday, which fell mercifully, on a Saturday. I knew I’d be a basket case anyway, so chose that day to clear the closets. 

There are those of you who probably think I must be cold or unemotional to remove his clothing so quickly, but actually I find myself gasping for space, for breath, for liberty from stuff. Stuff is stuff, it’s not Jimmie. This was his special birthday horoscope yesterday. I made chocolate cake in a cup to celebrate. I knew better than to make a full sized chocolate cake and have that lying around but it felt important to honor his favorite dessert.

Spooky, right?

My widow pal Jennifer, thoughtfully invited me to dinner at her house on Jimmie’s birthday, which she knew would be a tough day. It was so lovely to be in safe hands where our shared experiences sustained us both. 

When you go from caring for someone 24/7 the trap is to fill the 24/7 hours with activities. I did a bang up job last week doing that. I can see from my calendar that I’ve done the same for the coming weeks. I’m showing up. I call myself, affectionately, “Spectral Els” because I have a short attention span, a goofy good humor which is filo dough thin and can erupt into sobs at the least provocation. Consider yourself warned.

At the advice of my friend Tina, I’ve booked a train ticket to Seattle to join Chris and Whitney at Christmas.  A sleeper car and 33 hours to contemplate life as a soloist. Occasional people are starting to ask about what I’m thinking about the future.  I’m still treading the boards over the Aqua Alta, and that answer is way ahead when things start drying up. But I sincerely thank you for caring and for not being afraid to ask.

I Remember

I remember the feel of your cool hand in mine

My palm outstretched, belly up, submissive to your eager fingers entwining.

Our fingers have aged, yours, papery, spotted vellum, fitting in the padded comfort of my now-pruning palm.

Your reprobate trigger index, for whom we drove to Woodland Hills to try to coax back into submission

Ingrate!

Hot wax treatments and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing that rubber ball

Those four weeks were like a road trip

We chatted with the ease of good old friends and sat in cozy silence when the bumpers greeted us fore and aft

The scratched white gold twinkling with a tiny diamond at it’s apex

The ring that replaced your original band after twenty-five years of marriage

Not the original, though-

That you’d lost while floating in the shallows of the Dead Sea during a trip to Israel we’d dubbed our honeymoon

Had we been able to see that day through the salty abyss, we’d not have been able to plunge into her depths, so resistant were her Dead waters

How the salt stung against our skin

We’d laughed at the irony of losing one’s brand new wedding band in the Dead Sea

And here, now thirty-three years later, I remember the feel of your hot hand in mine when we dashed up the beach to the showers

I remember, because it was only last night when our hands cradled each other’s.

I remember the feel of your cool hand in mine

As we drift to sleep each night in our bed

And then, pulling our hands apart and rolling to our sides, our backs turn to kiss each other as we slip away to sleep

These are the memories that visit my brain

These are the memories I take care to preserve lest there be a day when your cool hand no longer rests in mine

Ninja Grief

Chris, Jimmie and Els at CPK 10/4/18

At the risk of sounding like a wannabe social media influencer, I wanna talk about my new juicer. I’ve thrown out the box, an uncharacteristic sloughing off where I’m usually way more conservative, so all I can tell you is that the juicer base, emblazoned with Ninja sits on my counter, poised to pulverize the fresh fruits and vegetables which now clutter my kitchen counter and fridge.

This morning, home from the gym, I mashed a blackening banana, one kiwi, a spear of pineapple and some orange juice into a thick, sweet,  pap of a drink.

An apt metaphor for the treacly aftermath of my husband’s passing. One part blackening remorse, one huge hairy globule of gratitude ripe for the peeling, three parts fear of forgetting and a dash of anxiety about the future all swirled together by a jolt of the crushing blades of fate. Not as sweetas my morning shake, but tasty nevertheless.

In the days following his death, time has been flaccid, activities random. Chris and I spent the weekend on outings with his dog, Cupid. We walked blocks and blocks together  repeating to each other “this is so weird.” Our favorite new conversation was “Do you wanna do it? Do it.” There are currently no obligations to attend to, other than the logistics of contacting people, closing accounts, shifting furniture, shifting expectations. 

We rented metro bikes and rode to Little Tokyo to have sushi at Oomasa. Then we walked home, me cursing the fact that I’d left my fitbit at home charging. 

We stopped at a boutique on Broadway that’s art drew us from across the street, flaunting traffic. Gentle Monster sells high end arty sunglasses. I found myself imagining if I would buy a pair and shake things up. Chris danced in the window with one of the art installations.

I returned to the gym on Sunday and Monday, grateful for the inclusion in the workout routine of friends, who embraced me and in whose sweaty breathless company I was able to remember how to move my body, to feel the life force again in my own skin. The third day, I rose again from the bed… having worn Jimmie’s pajamas to bed the night before, and the pain of muscles reawakening in my mind echoed the pain Jimmie had been feeling before we went back to the hospital for the last time.

The outpouring of love and support has been unexpectedly moving, the threads cast from friends and associates of all three of us weaving together in a hammock of gentle surrender. 

 

Chris and Els having some Sushi Therapy

Having time to putter and reposition is a bonus. I remember when my Mom passed away, I undertook a complete repainting of the downstairs at my house. I was crazed with grief and it felt like I was cleaning away the sorrow. I think that is, to a certain extent, to be expected. With the help of the maintenance staff here at my condo, I’ve restored the guest bedroom from hospice suite to hospitality suite again and it feels good to put things in order.

One day at a time.

One foot in front of the other.

Open mind, open heart.

This too shall pass.

I think I’ll throw all the cliches in the blender and see what happens next.