Indoor Days

I’ve been waiting for the arrival of the indoor days. I have to prepare mentally for them because I’m an outside addict. I’ll always choose outdoor swimming over indoor swimming. The hours I spend in my garden, headphones in my ears, digging in the dirt, consistently override my attending to indoor tasks. There’s no doubt that my garden is better looking than the interior of my house.

I guess I feel most comfortable out there in the living dirt. I’ve been like that since I was a little kid. I can do without the dead inside dirt. Dust on shelves is so much less interesting than the soil that grows life. Besides, I love sky and clouds. Ceilings don’t cut it.

I adore the midwestern fields which, after many years of living near them, are now converted by my imagination into the shorelines of my youth. I loved living near Lake Michigan. That beautiful place, along with my precious ocean and lakeside vacations, restored me when I needed it. Toes in the water, eyes fixed on an unbroken horizon always provided a sense of perspective for me about where I stood in the chaotic world.

For me, perspective is a necessity. The corn and soybeans rippling in a soft wind have replaced that water; they are easily accessible, practical and provide the same balance as a shoreline does. There is no body of endless water where I’ve lived since I was a teenager. I learned to live by the adage, “adapt or die” a long time ago. And so I have. During the outdoor months, I’m busy looking up at the clouds or down at the earth, chasing insects, butterflies and bird calls, driving through the countryside hoping for glimpses of animals, admiring all that grows. The rest of the time, I’m digging in the dirt, hurling new plants into the ground, hoping for the best, and battling my weeds, one handful at a time. But living where I do, where inclement weather is a fact of life, I always know that it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be swimming at the indoor pool, comforting myself with the avian crew who know I’ll be faithfully supplying with seed and suet, and finally, reluctantly, turning to the inside chores I’ve learned to ignore for the most part.

As I’ve gotten older and become a widow, I’ve gotten worried about the accumulation of stuff in my big old house which has been home for over 41 years now. No matter how minimalist I wish to be, the nagging thoughts about preserving history for my family remains strong and is in direct opposition to the downsizing I’m trying to manage. In the years of Michael’s illness we talked a lot about getting rid of things. And we did.

We donated hundreds of books. We sold thousands of vinyl albums, CD’s and posters accumulated over a lifetime of music loving. But now he’s gone and I’m left with this huge task. The biggest fear I have is overloading my kids with all the debris they didn’t accumulate. I remember that each time I moved my mother, I couldn’t believe how her possessions seemed to multiply. My sister and I held a garage sale when we moved my mom from her apartment into my house. A woman showed up and was perusing the merchandise. She asked who we were moving and when we said it was our mother, she told us that it took her three solid months to empty her mother’s house when she died. She was so tired and overwhelmed that she didn’t keep a single item. I never forgot that conversation. Then there are all the articles with names like, ” Your Kids Don’t Want Your Junk.” Hmm.

When my daughter got her own house, I dispatched her stash of memories directly to her. Chore one done. My son is still afloat in the universe so although he thinks he’s traveling light, there are multiple large plastic tubs which contain his important treasures. So I try to turn my attention to what’s left of mine and Michael’s personal items. I’m making slow progress. I’ve done well with clothes and have dug through lots of papers and documents. Found this sweet little note today.

More turn up in the most bizarre places. I’ve recently disposed of years’ worth of medical records. But not before I took some photos of some of the impossible numbers that we dealt with during Michael’s cancer siege. I know they were inflated and felt lucky that our co-pays were capped. But I needed to save a remnant of what we had to contend with, what most people in this country have to deal with, when they’re coping with the tremendous emotional stress of a terminal illness.

Looking at things like that sends me to the windows or my porches to see what’s going on outside. We’d been having a lengthy fall when suddenly, winter arrived with blasts of cold and snow. The trees, flowers and shrubs weren’t ready. For me, a little more “out” provides a nice break. But back to the indoors.

I knit for awhile. I’m a lazy knitter, choosing to pick a pattern and then mindlessly produce row after row, making scarves and afghans, doing something while doing nothing. I try distracting myself from the dark politics of the world by watching old television shows. I read a lot.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have every season of “ER” on my DVR. I was always a John Carter fan, immune to the obvious charms of George Clooney. I watch old Errol Flynn swashbucklers, too. My diversions are not bad things, but they don’t do much for my list of chores. So I decided to tackle one, winnowing out my jewelry. Usually I only wear a few pieces, over and over. I adopted a merciless rather than sentimental attitude and started going through everything, creating a pile that could be given away. But then I found a really cool piece which was part of a great memory.

Michael and I never had a honeymoon. It seemed a bit irrelevant after having lived together for four years before we got married. But on our 15th anniversary, we took a delayed one to Cayman Brac, the mid-sized island of the three Caymans, population slightly over 2500. Michael wanted to scuba dive and I snorkeled. I rented a car while he was below the water, feeling very proud of myself as I drove on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car. There was a jewelry craftsman selling his homemade pendants in the middle of the countryside. I paid $10 for an oval piece and he gave me a chunk of unpolished rock as a souvenir. Making a lot of progress in my household tasks is significantly slowed down by things like this.

I also found this horse’s head tucked into my jewelry box. The only remaining token I have from what was a gorgeous glass carriage drawn by six prancers, it was a gift given to me in 1969 by my first love for some holiday. I was at my parents’ apartment when he presented it to me, wrapped in layers of paper and plastic. I was dazzled by its beauty and its implied intimacy. This talented young man had written a fable about our tempestuous relationship in which my personality was characterized by a wild horse he called Stormy. We went out after he gave it to me. When I came home, my mother was distraught because a crazy cat I’d brought home from college had leapt from a tall shelf straight into the box on the table, shattering the carriage into what looked like a bazillion pieces. I was so sad that I missed the metaphorical implications. I needed two more years and my friendship with Michael before I realized that I was in a toxic situation which the crushed pieces foreshadowed at that time. Anyway, I’ve had this lovely shard with me for fifty years, to remind myself that life could have gone another way for me.

I think the indoor days need to go on for a long time this season. I find myself in deep retrospection frequently. That makes my aversion to the tasks ahead of me even greater than usual. I still feel pressed for time. I want to do everything I can do while I’m still able. I’m keenly aware that barring an unexpected health issue, I’ll soon be finishing my seventh decade on this earth. Michael so often said he wasn’t ready to leave when he was dying, that he still had so much to do. Here I am over two and a half years after his death, still feeling his emotions and replicating them, despite the much better fortune I’ve had. We’ll see what I get done. My kids say I should forget about all this extra work and just enjoy myself. But I’m compelled to take this walk through my life and ponder it all. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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