But then he was with me, alive and sweet, apologetic for having died but he kept reassuring me that it hadn’t been my fault, that we could be happy now together. We were opening all the boxes I’d packed away, finding books, finding shirts wrapped around vases—There’s my summer shirt!—laughing in love and disbelief, the nagging undercurrent: how can we manage this, how can we make this work when it’s not real, but it is real, he’s right here, he came back to me; it’s not like last time when I would dream of David coming back, disappointed and upset that I’d sold so much of his furniture (even though he’d told me to do that if I had to, and I had to, I had to get out of that house and start again somewhere), it’s not like that at all, and I’m marveling at our luck, and I’m worrying about Sadie but he says she’s fine, she stays with another couple sometimes, two women who love her and feed her, she’s happy with them; we’re in the back yard and it’s fall, the garden has come in, still so many tomatoes, the kale is tremendous and his truck, his red truck is parked beneath a towering arbor of scuppernong grapes, they’ve fallen and pelted the truck, they’ve stained it, they’ve covered it, I’m laughing and wiping mashed grapes from the hood, What are we going to do with these?, and I swipe the windshield and there, inside, in the passenger seat, is his body, his face turned away, his skin old newspaper, his arms locked around an old duffel, I’m so sorry, I’m moaning, I’m crying on a bed in an old hotel, it’s Puebla, the door is open and someone is across the hall—is it Lois? Is it Wendy?—and I wail facedown into the pillows, half-smothering, and then Sadie is in the room, she’s licking my elbow, shoveling her sweet face under my arm, get up, Daddy, get up.
Though we've had moderate, spotty frost a few times over the past few weeks, tonight the temp is expected to go below freezing--and tomorrow we'll drop into the twenties. It's time to say goodbye to the houseplants.
This is hard for me. I'd normally be lining windowsills with as many plants as possible and taking cuttings from the rest. But that's not possible this year, so I've spent the past couple of months hardening my heart against the inevitable demise of my plants, some of which I've nurtured for years.
Anyone can sprout and grow an avocado. It's not that hard. But stepping outside tonight to say goodbye to the Christmas cactus, the seedling palms, the wandering jew and spider plants and avocado trees (three) and geraniums, the cane begonia that started as a gift from Glynis and Julie when R's mother died, the difficulty became clear: I think of these plants as witnesses. They lived with R and me. They were there. And to let them die, to let them go, makes me feel that much more alone.
So writing is writing, but (I tell myself) so, to some extent, is reading, and thinking about reading, and so (I would argue) is talking to myself in the car, especially when I use a phone app to record said self-talking and transcribe the talking later into my journal, and most especially when the self-talking is about how to write about the questions I'm trying hard to lean into.
For example, tonight I transcribed 1400 words from a 12-minute recording and found at least two ideas worth further thought. For me, this is progress. This is, dare I believe it, writing.
my relationships are with people at work. And they are limited to our interactions
at work and one of the things I’ve noticed about my own behavior is that, now
that I’m in a management position, I have not learned to curb my desire to be
chummy with the other associates. I know that this behavior is a stand-in for
other relationships that I long for--for the friendships I wish I had--and one good example is a recent hire . . . I’m glad when he’s
scheduled to work with me because he’s a pleasure to be around. This is
normal, I know . . . It’s okay, I think, to be that friendly with
some coworkers—even if they’re “subordinates”—but it’s not healthy to use them
as a stand-in for actual relationships. Cue Netflix. Before I fall asleep, I usually watch something on Netflix, streaming it to my phone. For the past few months it's been whatever queer-themed movie Netflix suggests--as long as it rates at no less than two stars, I'll watch it--or, if it's terrible, skip through it--and so I've spent many late nights hugging my pillow instead of whatever fictional boyfriend happens to be emoting on my tiny screen.
And The West Wing. One of my favorite series ever. I started re-watching the whole thing, start to finish, right about the time I moved from Pennsylvania. I love the characters, I love the dialogue. I love the caring about issues and the banter and the camaraderie and yes, that is part of what I try to recreate at work, though I'm only just making that connection as I type this paragraph (I write to learn, yay). I remember watching the original series on television, so there are no big surprises for me, just memories and favorite moments and many other scenes and dialogue I'd forgotten but immerse myself into as if this weren't a TV series but a window into a past alternate reality in which Martin Sheen really was the President (I can't count the number of times I wished it so during Dubya's reign of error). I weep. I clench my pillow and weep. Don't go to the movies with me if you can't bear sitting next to the guy who shudders and emits audible moans.
All my relationships are with characters on Netflix. Through my phone. Except for those via what Mother calls Facepage.
And then there's Mother. And my brother, and my sisters. They're real, of course.
If there was an extra hour last night--and of course there was--I didn't notice. I woke at nine (okay, ten) ("fake nine") and got a quick start on some proofing while trying to print out a half-dozen page sets of an oldie-but-goodie chapbook, Terry Kirts' To the Refrigerator Gods. For some reason, the laptop couldn't find the wireless printer, and I fiddled with trying to reinstall the printer for the better part of an hour until it dawned on me that maybe I should just try restarting the laptop. Which I did. Which promptly set the printer whirring and blurting out every copy I'd sent and re-sent.
Technology eludes me. I manage an uneasy, tenuous grasp on just enough to get me by. My cell phone, for example, has been almost out of memory for a month. Today as I was trying to hang two small cubbies in my room, I really needed a level and thought There must be an app for that, which there was, but my phone didn't have enough memory to download it and so I scrolled through applications, trying to find something to delete. Then I remembered the tiny flash drive I'd bought, and lost, and just yesterday found in my desk, the one with a micro USB port at one end and a standard USB at the other. I plugged it into my phone, hoping for a prompt to pop up. Honestly, I can't even say how I figured out how to click and transfer files from my phone onto the flash drive; whoever created this device must have had the elderly in mind: I just seemed to accidentally intuit the correct series of taps and clicks.
But it's also terrifying to move files I've saved on my phone for three years, to remove them from the phone and onto a device half the size of my pinky. Not just pictures, but all the audio recordings I've made over the past year. Notes for poems. Pep talks I've given myself in my car. Lists, reminders. And fears I couldn't speak aloud to anyone: the night I borrowed the neighbor's car and went looking for R because he'd gone to the grocery and hadn't come back (I found him in my car in the parking lot; he said he'd been talking with a friend and had lost all track of time); the awful, rainy night last December when I drove home late from work in the rain and sat in my car talking to myself, recording my mounting dread because R hadn't answered my texts all day. I don't know what was recorded after I went into the house because I don't remember turning off the app and I haven't had the nerve to play that file. And now, today, I've removed it from my phone and stored it, with about ninety others, on a ridiculously miniature flash drive. I'm not even sure how to play the files, except maybe to reconnect the drive to my phone and open them through the original application. That should work, right?
In the same way that I'm not listening to those notes, I'm not writing--even as I sit here writing on this blog for the first time since--what, June? Today, in a closed group on FB, I posted a status update that was basically a call for help: how do others do this? "This" referred to my having set down everything but work when I relocated to Ohio with the vague notion that I'd somehow figure out how to pick back up the other pieces of my identity and gradually master the juggling that others seem to manage--specifically, carving out time to write, but also, most baffling to me, figuring out how to be social in a city/community in which I feel completely invisible.
Do I want to date someone new? Would I rather just fuck? Where are the men in this town who like to talk about books? Is fifty-five too old to even try? How do people do this?
I posted these questions and stepped away from the laptop. Folded Terry's page sets. Made a sandwich. Edged back to my desk to see if maybe someone had responded (it's a small, closed group of less than fifty). And found the sweetest, most generous encouragement posted by a writer and publisher whose work(s) I adore. It's a Sondheim moment, sweeties: No one is alone.
I am responding to Oliver de la Paz's 2015 Summer Reading Challenge by compiling my own list of 15 books to read from June through August. You can click on Oliver's link to read the guidelines; basically one selects fifteen books, including three that are recommended by others' lists (I like this), and posts commentary as the books are read.
I already started Maggie Nelson's Bluets before packing for my move to Ohio, so I'm not counting it here (I'll finish it as soon as I can find the box it's in!). So my partial, for-now list is below, in no particular order, and I'll add to it over the next couple of weeks with three recommended titles:
Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude [poetry]
Porochista Khakpour, Sons & Other Flammable Objects [novel]
Oliver Sacks, On the Move [memoir]
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life [novel]
Ada Limon, Lucky Wreck [poetry]
Sandra Beasley, I Was the Jukebox [poetry]
Kyle Dargan, Honest Engine [poetry]
Scott Douglas, Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian [nonfiction]
Jericho Brown, The New Testament [poetry]
Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World[memoir]
Josh Weil, The Great Glass Sea [novel]
Roger Reeves, King Me [poetry]
6/3 update: I'm poaching a title from Liz Ahl's list: Mimi's Trapeze by Jill Allyn Rosser. (Of course I want to read everything else on her list, too.)
A terrible workday today, capping off a week of difficult workdays, yet distinguished not so much by my inability to complete all my tasks (I never get everything done) or even my realization that I would have to leave some things unfinished that I've always managed to complete somehow in the past--
But wait. Stop. It's that "somehow" creeping in, when I know precisely how. In the past, week after week, I've sacrificed time and banked it against these Friday deadlines. Not today. Today I needed to leave at 4:30, my scheduled time, and when I saw that it was assumed I would stay late, and when I felt pressured and was subsequently derided for not staying over, something in me finally snapped. Why do I do this? For whose benefit? At little more than ten dollars per hour, the difference in pay is negligible. How did it become so important to me to be the one (the only one) who always arrives on time, who can always be counted on to do more, to constantly interrupt my own work in order to assist others but get negligible help in return? How did I miss the line between hard work and exploitation?
Yet I knew this, too. The corporation that employs me doesn't care about my happiness or well-being; it has no interest in providing me or my coworkers with a living wage.
I'm good at my job. I'm very good at it, I think, and I think my coworkers would agree: I'm dependable, knowledgeable, capable. I take time to help and explain. But here's the thing I keep forgetting: I have been good at every job I've held in my adult life (the sullen teen years should not be counted against anyone). And the only reason I hang onto my current job is that the prospect of searching for, and securing, a new one completely terrifies me.
Okay. Not completely. Not now. When David died, I threw myself into my writing and gardening, choosing not to look for a job and living instead on some insurance money. When Randy died, I threw myself back into work after a week of immobilizing grief and shock. I had no one to go home to now, I remember thinking. But what an awful lie. I have me. When did I let my needs become so minimized? Why did it take me so long to cross the line and say, stop. Stop. This isn't working for me. This isn't who I am or what I want. And even though I'm still frightened by the open-endedness that follows saying No, the sudden yawning space of what-next and how to navigate that (emotionally, financially, logistically), I'd rather set out in fear than grind myself down in service to a soulless corporation.
I'm not quitting my job. I can't afford to, not today. But whatever happens, I am better than this. I deserve better than this.
Shredding medical records. Setting aside documents that prompt memories--I'd forgotten that--then sweeping them all into two piles, shred and recycle. To be unburdened of memory and its frequent consort, guilt.