Southbound

Ah, the ease and unease of a globally warmed January, lunching outside at Café Borrone.  It’s pushing 70°F, and I’m pushing this meteorological oddity into the back of my mind.  More than a warm spell, almost a warm month.  Pleasant in an apocalyptic sort of way.  Light chitchat about family history with some old friends, with someone mentioning Marlou, someone who never knew her.  But had heard, heard she was quite a person.  I am hearing nothing now, tears rising reflexively.  Sparked by someone who never knew Marlou.  Just as I never know myself.  Never know grief and its workings.  I swallow down the tears.  It is a teachable moment this, and I should be open to learning but damned if I can find the lesson.

Grief hovering just under the surface.  Floating upward with the lightest encouragement.  I had my annual physical examination this week.  My fears mounted.  Prostate.  I am at the prostate age.  Would I clear the hurdle or fall prostrate from prostate?  I cleared, of course.  No heart attack imminent, it seems.  Although as the physician put it, none of the predictable cardiac indications.  The unpredictable ones…well, there is no telling.  And no hiding.  Only days earlier Phyllis, recently widowed by Clint, sat opposite in almost the same café spot, both of us trying to make sense of what happens to a person when someone close to them dies.  It’s like a fever, I maintain.  Grief sets in and simmers like a diseased stew.  Is it our own mortality that awakens from its corner?  And if it is, what are these globally warmed tears about on this particular afternoon?

They are about the poignancy of trying.  An attempt at life, however incomplete, and even that cut down and cut out.  And not with a whack from fate’s cleaver, but a gradual sawing.  For Marlou tried.  I tried.  We found each other trying.  But kept trying.  They would have tried us badly, I admit, these days of the Obama administration.  But we would have kept trying, I am certain of it.  Our political clashes focusing much else.  Trying and attempting until fate says fuck you.  And the saddest part?  That I give myself so little credit for the distances covered in my own life, the effort involved.  Sad, in other words, for both of us.  But better late than never, such awareness.

And it is late.  Heading south on Caltrain, emerging from the last San Francisco tunnel…the postindustrial landscape says it all.  I have covered this ground before.  Covered it for 30 years.  The Schlage Lock Company once sat there, low industrial buildings hard by the tunnel.  The paint chipped, shutters went askew, signs disappeared until after 20 years or so the structures disappeared too.  Tracks and tanks and railway stuff rusted in the half mile to the south.  But after 15 years or so, the tracks went away.  Railway ties rose in piles.  Artificial slopes that once led to a bridge stood stark in the landscape.  It became a landscape, only a few remnants of the vast rail switching yard here and there.  And now, this day, the pampas grass predominates.  Big clumps of it stand watch on the real estate.  You half expect a gaucho or two to come to come riding across the Argentine plain.

Land use?  The future of this brown field site?  I don’t care, that is the point.  Things come and go.  And now I am letting go, that is the even bigger point.  I turn to the New York Times on my lap.  At least I make it this far, the editions often languishing on my entranceway table.  Boeing is having trouble with its 787.  Planes.  I have seen many.  Seen them come and go.  This one is coming as I am going.  Not immediately, but within sight, it seems.  And what is left?  Less than before.  I am done with the Times and return to reading my novel.

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