It is all, all of it, in the old things. Even the small ones. Such as the moment, this very morning, when I perched one leg high on the back of the living room sofa, allowed myself to drift into a slight stupor, and got in touch with – as we say in California – my inner cruciform vegetables. That is to say, the broccoli and the cauliflower, both purchased eight days ago at the Menlo Park farmer’s market, and residing, not to mention hidden, in the bottom of my fridge. They are good for you, these veggies, renowned for their knack of preventing their very state in the human being. Eat your broccoli and experience no vegging out, that is the bargain. And they had been lost, lost to memory, lost to life, and now they are returned. A small step, but one is grateful.
Much like Marlou’s address book. Where did I think it was going? Doubtless to one of the people listed within its pages. For it seems almost alive, this thing, a small canvas covered book, a good modern pattern, well-worn and thumbed. And one can almost see the lines of connection, the web of vitality of which it is a node. Marlou’s book of persons and places has been sitting on the table by the front door where I stage items for action. Mail going out. Checks to deposit. The registration to stash in my van. And this very personal little book of names…sitting there for practical reasons I truly can’t recall and allowed to remain there for at least a year and a half due to sentiments never more than half conscious.
This is the summary of Marlou’s human connections. Her guide to her people. As personal an item as a human being can have. And now I have it, unwanted. And surely some force will pull it from me toward where it belongs. Although the truth is clear as daylight. The address book has been entrusted to me, or me to it. Interestingly, I can pick it up, thumb through a couple of pages, and feel more wonder than sadness. These were her people, and she theirs. The only question is what to ‘do’ with it, and the answer seems surprisingly clear. Keep it, store it, and don’t forget it in the middle-aged way of things. It may provide information someday. Who knows who Marlou knew? Who are these people? Someday, of necessity, I may find out.
Even if everyone has forgotten the ritual, and we go through our days in a great blankness, I know a ritual object when I see one. So the address book? Stashed, let the record state, right next to my passport case. My mother gave me the latter when I first headed to Britain. It must have taken a chunk of her nurse’s salary, and it is a thoughtful, personal leather item that time has somehow made impractical. With compartments for landing cards, smallpox vaccination certificates, visas and other items that have disappeared or become electronic…well, it is a relic that points in the general direction of the Orient Express. And now it serves as the repository for my passport, when not traveling, and shall be closely bound with Marlou’s address book…when it isn’t traveling. For one must not rule this out. In moments, the address book may depart to visit its friends, who are hardly any secret, in places that range from Pasadena, California to Laboe, Germany. And who am I to stop it?
Marlou’s handbag is another matter. It is sitting under my desk. And like everything else, it needs attention. Which it will get when the handbag comes to mind. Actually when it comes to mind and someone utterly impartial happens to be around. And what shall be done shall be done. Only yesterday I disposed of a bin of personal letters dating back to the 1970s, not to mention writing efforts from my student days in the same era. A trove of early literature, some might say. I tried on the notion of letting go of these things…and found it to be right and to be easy. They are decomposing now, or so I believe, in the Palo Alto landfill. Or they have been combusted to provide some source of alternative energy. Another fantasy, but I am sticking to it. As for the steel deck chair that has somehow followed me from my desert childhood all the way to the Menlo Park present, well this hangs in the balance. I can’t quite let go of it. Perhaps I shouldn’t. I seem to be rather good at letting go of things at this moment, so there may be a message here. For the moment, it stays.
And when I stay in the car these days, waiting for Jane, as I did for two wives before, it no longer seems that this is my duty as the disabled man. I don’t like it, that is the simple fact. Being stuck without my source of battery-powered mobility, obliged to be stationary while others bustle. Yes, it is a sort of contribution, a way of not making oneself an obstacle. But I do not have to submit, do not have to like it, and I need to grouse and bridle. It has taken several decades to get here.
Right here, parked outside Jane’s condominium in the hour before midnight, a quick stop on the way home from a rather trying opera. Jane has picked up some jeans and two dogs. In fact, they are headed my way right now, bouncing at the end of her leashes. And it is their sprightly energy at this hour that says the most about Jane and about my life. The two now being quite conjoined. This very evening Jane got me through a trying audience rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, oddly part of the opera experience. The anthem concluded, she turned to me and observed ‘that was jolly, wasn’t it?’ An observation uniquely and enliveningly British, wry, arch and lost to most American ears…a reminder that mine are open. As open as the car door, through which one high-strung mixed boxer is now scrambling, albeit somewhat arthritically, soon to be followed by…no. Bixby, the mixed border collie, should be next but isn’t. Instead, Jane is dropping her keys, while scrambling to do God knows what.
In moments, all is revealed. Bixby, all four legs as straight and stiff as those on a stuffed animal, is transported to the front seat. Jane deposits him there, and he arrives looking only mildly surprised. He is a traumatized little doggie, after all, having been domiciled with 25 other dogs in the house of some nut case. Not to worry, for though he is now something of a nut case himself, he is also Jane’s. With love, patience and a seemingly natural belief in the healing power of both, she has helped this dog transition from what looks like canine autism to…well, never mind the current stiff-legged Bixby now being shoved into the back seat. Jane explains that he has occasional moments of panic, something seeming out of place which drives him to freeze. Literally. Standing stock still just outside the car. Until Jane intervened. And here we are, me no longer waiting alone in a car, feeling old and frustrated and paralyzed. But part of a cross-species family. And one that, so unlike my own, is continuously healing. All of us. Against all odds. Seemingly at the last moment. Which, like the last laugh, is never gratifying, being unknown and unknowable.