Sometimes when i take Tessla on a walk, we don't get very far. Only two houses down and across the street lives a lonely old man whose wife died of cancer two years ago. I learned this at the end of last year, when he stopped me to talk to him, I explained I didn't live in the house across from him, but only nannied there, and he proceeded to tell me his life story: how he and his wife had come to buy this house, their journey to Texas from Michigan, their children and their kids kids and how his wife died and cancer and life couldn't be more unbearable.
Shortly after the New Year, Tessla and I were out walking (well, I was walking and Tessla was being strolled in her stroller) and I saw Bob at the end of his driveway, I slowed down as we approached (having only just revved up out of Tessla's driveway), and said hello. "How was your Christmas," I asked, knowing the answer. But the tears still burned my eyes when I heard his reply: "Oh it was wonderful," he said with a smile of a memory, "except my wife missed it."
"She died, you know, two years ago."
"Yes, I remember."
"Sixty-two years with someone and then they're gone. I was going through a box the other day and found letters we had written one another. In one she had written to me many years ago she wrote, 'I only pray that I will go first because I couldn't bear to live without you.' But what about me?" He asked, his eyes welling up with tears. "What if I can't live without her? They say women are more attached, that men can take loss better, but she didn't think about how I would feel."
"Yes, well, sir, I'm sorry for your loss. I'll talk to you again soon." Having only broken up with my latest boyfriend a week or so previous to this conversation, I was thankful the sunglasses keeping out Texas' blaring January sun were hiding my brimming eyes.
I choked out a sob when we were out of earshot, and scolded myself for being so sensitive.
Last week I saw him waiting at the end of his driveway again. "You've got something on your nose," I almost blurted out but then realized it was sunblock. January in Texas. "I've got a cancerous spot on my nose, see" he explained. "But I like to sit out in the sun. So I lather it up to protect myself." I saw his lawn chair sitting at the top of his raked driveway. "Since I've started doing that it's gotten better."
"That's good," I said encouragingly. "Tessla's mom's cancer is back. She starts her first round of chemo on Monday," I informed him.
"Oh it's back?" he said, discouraged. "I took her over one of my wife's wigs last year when she was first diagnosed. My wife died of cancer, you know."
"Yes, I know."
And then he told me the whole story of her diagnosis, the treatment, telling the doctor the treatment would wait because she had a new grandbaby in Michigan to go see first, the story of getting free hotel rooms at casinos along the way to Michigan and back because "I've got cancer," she'd say.
Tessla began to whine and we left him to continue our walk. "Thank you for talking to me, young lady. I always look forward to it. You're very beautiful."
"Thank you, sir."
"Come up to the house anytime."
Jim Harrison writes in his poem, Angry Women,
"The women we've mistreated never forgive us
nor should they, thus their ghostly energies
thrive at dawn and twilight in this vast country
where any of the mind's movies can be played
against this rumpled wide-screened landscape."
I wonder if I haunt the minds or dreams of any of my ex-boyfriends: the ones who were good, or the ones who were unkind, uncommunicative, or uncommitted. I wonder if anyone will remember me fondly after sixty-two years of marriage. I wonder if anyone will ever marry me. Or rather, if I'll marry them.
How is it that some people find true love, and seem so inseparable, so wonderfully entangled in their significant other while the rest of the world seems to find love and marriage so difficult, such hard work, that it perhaps is "not even worth it if it weren't for the kids." Yes, someone said that to me the other day.
Why risk getting married if those are my options?
"He always looks like he's keeping score. Who's winning Robert?" one of the married couples surrounding their one single friend in Sondheim's classic musical Company asks.
I got an email this week from an old friend. "My wife and I (of over 20 years) are separating."
The last time I saw them, they hadn't slept apart from one another in seven years and counting. They'd slept next to one another for over seven years. Even if that meant driving most of the night home from whatever city one of them had been working in just to snuggle up next to the one they loved for a few hours of quiet sleep.
Score one for the "don't do it."
Three weeks ago a neighbor sat himself down in my house and confided in me that "these computers now-a-days, well anything will pop up on them, and a man's just gotta take a look once or twice." Two weeks ago, I listened to a man who confessed two divorces, two kids, and a myriad of mistakes and miscalculations. Last week I met with an ex-boyfriend who admitted he wasn't willing to do the hard work of addressing some of the problems that drove us apart, that drives him away from all his significant relationships. "Too expensive, and who wants to find a new therapist?..." he trailed off.
Two. Three. Four.
"Do you know anyone who's healthy?" a girlfriend asked me the other day.
"Yes," I said, disgusted at her insinuations. Either I have bad taste in friends, or we're all so screwed up we ought to settle for "not quite right" in our lives.
Yehoshua Nobember writes in his poem, After Our Wedding,
"When you forgot the address of our hotel
in your suitcase,
the driver had to pull over
in front of the restaurant.
Men and women dining beneath the August sun
looked up from their salads
to clap for you,
a young, slender woman
in a wedding dress and tiara,
retrieving a slip of paper
from the trunk of a cab
in the middle of the street.
And since that day,
many of the guests at our wedding have divorced
or are gone,
and the restaurant has closed
to become a tattoo parlor.
And we have misplaced and found
many more papers,
but no one was clapping.
And the motion of the lives around us
has been like a great bus
slowly turning onto a crowded street.
And some of the passengers
have fallen asleep in their seats,
while others anxiously search
their jacket pockets
for the notes that might wed
their ordinary lives
to something lofty and astonishing."
And I guess that's where I am as Valentine's Day Twenty-Eleven approaches. I hate the day. "Why do you decorate for Valentine's Day if you hate it so much?" my new-to-the-home roomie asked.
"I'm trying to convince myself otherwise."
A holiday designed just to remind us of how alone we really are - of how we won't get flowers or a card or gift from someone special.
A holiday to remind us how no one will crawl into bed with us that night and whisper I love you in our left ear, our bad ear, before settling back into their own pillow and snoring softly while the cat circles over their knees and settles for sleep himself.
A holiday promoting PDA.
I just threw up a little. In my mouth. It burned my nose.
But seriously, I want it. Don't you? Don't you want the very ordinary act of falling in love and know that even if just to the two of you, even if just for a little while, it is lofty, astonishing... sacred?
Yeah, so do I.