The man who lives upstairs, my tenant if I think about it, is a fortysomething professional with three very cute little girls…who visit frequently but live elsewhere, divorce apparently under way. I am curious. What is happening to this couple? How can a family get in such a state? I long for a happy outcome here, hoping to hear that the man is moving out, moving back to what is really his home. But there are no such developments. Instead, we simply say hello. I wave to him from my rowing machine in the mornings. Sometimes, if he is getting the little girls off to school, I wave to them as well. I know their names. The whole thing seems heartbreaking beyond words. In particular, I wonder how the man felt just moments ago when he and the girls pounded downstairs, car doors opening and closing, goodbye and off to school, and thanks to someone for picking them up. Presumably the wife.
The man walked back upstairs, his footsteps slower this time. But not funereal. There was no hurry now. And perhaps not even that much sadness…. For this is me, echoes of family disintegration a permanent part of my emotional landscape. And when I think about it, a much bleaker and brutal situation that anything happening upstairs. The parents are cooperating, after all. The kids come and go without apparent strife. Politeness prevails. And there is some lesson here, the difference between losses then and losses now. Because they certainly keep coming, the things taken from us. What goes away. Must be relinquished. Gone.
My painful awareness of loss could be said to grow out of experience, but I have had more than one experience, after all. Very strange to be at a very rich and satisfying stage of life and so easily sucked into a fixation on what has been taken. For the scales of justice, if there are any, have balanced out quite nicely, one could say. A strong, loving relationship at the center of my life. Good work, done for my own enjoyment. Enough money to live on. ‘Tis a gift to be simple. Even free.
Not free of anxiety, though. That drives much of my psychic action these days, any days. Jane comes by for a relaxing, low-key Sunday afternoon. Then goes home…and although she will return in the morning…and plans call for another pleasant day together…. Well, never mind. Never has the mind functioned so poorly, it seems…in view of the panicky emptiness that opens inside me. Get a grip, one would say. No, better, get into it. Let the self get sucked into the scary void. Which, of course, is not what happens. So many distractions around the apartment. This to do. That to read. Bit of news. Time for bed…with the ceiling alive with night energy. Things buzzing, sleep elusive.
Over lunch the next day I find myself seated next to Jane, finally enjoying some time together at a restaurant, and oddly silent. It takes time to reconnect, at least for me. Time to get over whatever sense of being left by my parents at a motorway stop somewhere south of Fresno…whatever fantasy one can muster in less than 18 hours…. Never mind. This has nothing to do with external reality. It has to do, of course, with history. And speaking of history, Jane is talking about Northumberland. How when we go to Britain in June to scatter her father’s ashes in the far north of the country, not far from the Scottish border, she wants to collect his remains herself, not have them shipped. He enjoyed the journey, she says, from southwest to northeast. She wants to do this herself. It almost makes me cry, this degree of personal concern, hands on even with life off.
It is not a dream, for I do not really fall asleep during our afternoon nap. But I fantasize my mother knocking on my door after some long estrangement. She wants to make up. She wants my attention. I am busy and established and have no need of her. She does not, cannot, pull out my affections. Nothing like this ever occurred in reality. I don’t know who either of these people really is, the fantasized me or the imagined mother. We are products of anger, both of us, in this daydream. Immune, closed to each other. And hurt.
The poignancy of Jane’s concern for her father, a man of broken dreams, I gather, the relationship not always easy…the particular mixture of love and loss, my secretly churning emotions in a restaurant…this seems excessive. One should have it more together. And what is the ‘it?’ Reality, I think. Not the muted version. Certainly not what I grew up with. Sometimes sad and sometimes joyous and sometimes angry, but far from dead. More to come. More to fear. And more to eat. Jane is cooking away. She has tried to open one of those classic glass canisters with a stopper that seem to line good kitchen shelves. The thing won’t move. Jane is convinced that the grain inside is barley. I am convinced that she is right, but not in this century. The barley, I believe, hails from the last. I have a lot of old stuff around. It is time for new barley. And with that I set off to do what a man must. Shop.