A good friend of mine told me a while back that I was “living large.” I guess I’d have to agree with her. After Michael died, I thought very hard about how I wanted to live the rest of my life. I’d always thought that based on the longevity in Michael’s family, that I’d either die before him or that we’d age together. I didn’t know what I’d feel like after the five years of his cancer dominating our lives. In the months before his death, he’d ask me what I was going to do without him. I truthfully responded that I had absolutely no clue. We’d been together for so many decades. I never imagined life absent his presence. He encouraged me to find partnership, saying I was born to be with someone. As it turns out, that was true. But apparently he was the only someone. I haven’t had the slightest interest in these past few years of seeking out a new companion. I’m still with him. But I have chosen to live in ways that I would’ve liked to share with him. Ways that I know would he’d be glad I’d chosen, an active adventurous life, both mentally and physically. The mental part has been easy. I’ve always been intellectually motivated and curious so there’s no end to my interests. I can say that happily, I’m never bored. I’m more likely to be frustrated that there isn’t enough time in a day for me to explore all my ideas.
The more physically demanding life was more of a challenge. After hobbling around with two bone-on-bone knees, I finally got replacements which changed the way I could experience the world. But even before that, I struck out on my own, traveling alone to Sedona and the National Monuments of Arizona. I spent a week in Cincinnati, enjoying my first ever professional tennis tournament and seeing my beloved Roger Federer. I went alone to Glacier National Park and also took a fifteen day road trip with my son which covered twelve states. I planned a 50th high school reunion, attended the Laver Cup in Chicago and have seen a half dozen live concerts which included Paul McCartney. I then drove south with my sister and knocked three more states off my list, hoping to see all fifty of them before I die. I only have a few left.I had a big adventure planned for May, a trip to Vancouver, followed by an Alaska/Denali sea and land journey which would ultimately end in Anchorage. Fifteen days of new experiences which would offset the challenges of May. My wedding anniversary is on the 1st, followed by Mother’s Day, the birthday of my oldest friend who’s been dead now for 32 years, then my birthday, the anniversary of Michael’s death and finally, his birthday. A rugged month. But then along came Covid19.
I was lucky enough to squeeze in a trip to Naples, Florida to visit friends before the pandemic began to pick up steam. By the time my ten day vacation ended, I had a harrowing, paranoid journey home through two airports, one flight and one bus ride, during which I sanitized my hands until they felt like sandpaper and avoided close contact with anyone breathing nearby. From then on, March 11th, it’s been self-isolation until my kids and I got to the point where we felt safe enough to see each other. I’m one of the lucky ones who has family nearby. They are working online and trying to educate their kids for whom school has been cancelled. Needless to say, the Alaska trip is off-all that’s left of it is trying to recover the money that was paid in advance. Certainly not the most wonderful experience. I can’t go swimming any more because the pool is closed, but I am grateful that I can walk without pain. I wish I could get some of those endorphins that always emerge from me in water but that’s not happening. Life has become unpredictable and much smaller. The question is, for how long? I’ve been thinking about what will happen when this need to re-open life in my part of the world becomes real. Will I ever live large again? Or is it time to scale back and live in a limited space.
Doctors are reporting that a mysterious blood-clotting complication is killing their coronavirus patients.
Every day there are new scary headlines. It seems that in rapid jolts, a small, threatening twist to this unpredictable virus is unearthed. If you shut the political noise out and study the science reporting, it seems clear that the predictive algorithms are fluctuating. It’s not only older people who are vulnerable. Anyone can get sick and anyone can be a silent carrier. Significant and widespread therapeutic treatments seem to be pretty distant right now as does a vaccine. And who knows about the efficacy of a vaccine? Flu vaccines help, but in some years they’re hit or miss. What is the overall implication of that formula?
This is my bedroom, my sanctuary where I retreated every night with Michael, where we found comfort and respite with each other. Thankfully, I still feel the same about my room. This is where I think about these uncertain times and how I want to handle myself in the midst of them. I look around and see the choices of my life. My partner and my family photos. The Beatles and Federer.
My favorite artworks and my books are close by. I have my small fish tank with the little swimmers whose bright rhythmic darting is so relaxing at night. There are volumes of photo albums and a hoard of Michael’s movies on dvd. I have beautiful notes he wrote me long ago, in the beginning, which warm me still, after a lifetime.
Rocks and seeds sit on my bookshelf. Shells that I gathered on the Gulf shore beaches are arranged on a wall plaque I made, right next to the Mayan calendar date of our May 1st wedding anniversary, made in Tulum, Mexico where we went for our 25th. This is my small life, inside this space. I’m happy here. I feel like choosing this for now is the wisest thing to do, given the current murky future out there in the bigger world. Going to a movie theater? How about the pool which might remind me of a petri dish? Will I feel comfortable going to get my hair cut soon? That question is funny. I’ve already cut my bangs twice. But I’m not ready to take on all these mystifying layers on my head. Back when I was thinking about Marie Kondo’s minimalist guide, holding an object in your hand to see if it gave you joy and if not, discarding it, I grabbed my bag of hair accessories from my dresser. Back when I had long hair I used them all the time. I did the looking thing and just got annoyed so I put them back where they came from. That must have been a prescient moment – I’m certainly glad I’ve kept them around to help me manage my untamed mane. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have one more crack at a ponytail before I die. So no more big trips for the foreseeable future. And I’m on the fence about whether the benefits will outweigh the risks for what were seemingly normal activities BC – Before Covid19. But I still have my garden which provides ample opportunities for fresh air, exercise and interesting yard visitors. I’ve been having car social hours with my friends, meeting at parks or in other natural areas where we can chat from within our safe spaces and still feel connected. There are plenty of clouds to photograph and paving bricks to decorate with my collections of shells and rocks from travels. I’ve been trying to recover my drawing skills, primitive though they were. There are lots of Netflix shows, of course, and many old movies to watch. I always have books.
If I’m going to be leading this smaller life, though, I felt like I needed something more, a new thing to love. I was thinking I’d just hang around waiting for “it” to come to me. Suddenly I remembered what I’d loved a long time ago, back in the time before computers and cell phones with keyboards. Back in the time when cursive was still a thing. I remembered learning to write cursive in elementary school. First we had to get through printing. All of this learning and practicing was done in pencil first. There had to be a way to erase mistakes and pencil erasers were easier to use than ink ones. We had these little lined workbooks, the lines that delineated the heights of upper and lower case letters. I just loved the whole process. We got penmanship grades. I was good at all of it. When you got really good, making few, if any mistakes, you graduated to pens. I loved pens. For the longest time, my favorites were Parker T-ball jotters. They moved so smoothly across a piece of paper. But better things awaited and I found them. Fountain pens. Beautiful fountain pens with little tubes of ink that you popped into their chassis. For a time, I collected them. They were sleek and romantic, perfect for the aspiring writer or at least, a writer of journals. I went into the office Michael and I shared and rummaged around in my supplies. And there it was, in a beaten up metal case.
It hadn’t been used in ages so I had to order ink. When I loaded it in, voila! A working fountain pen after so many years. Indeed, this is a really small thing, this slender little pen. But vistas have opened to me and it’s going to be a wonderful companion for this time when I’ll be living smaller.