For the most part, today has been an indoor day for me. Although it’s almost mid-December, I’ve spent most of my pandemic time outside in my yard and garden. Temperature-wise I run warm. When I’d complain to Michael that I was really hot, he’d always reply, “ you’re telling me.” That’s one of the lifetime gifts he left me. But aside from chasing rotund squirrels away from my bird feeders and admiring my unexpectedly vibrant snapdragons which refuse to die, I caved into the cold temperatures and stayed inside.
I’m actually ducking what is my most pressing personal assignment that I started last night, writing the final chapters of my story of Michael’s disease. I’ve reached the last few months of his life. I need to finish. I wanted to write it for two primary reasons. One is to honor the remarkable effort he made to stay alive in the face of an incurable cancer. A friend of mine recently reminded me that he’d had a dermatology appointment during Michael’s treatment. The doctor told him that he never knew of any patient who’d survived more than six months after being diagnosed with Merkel Cell carcinoma. Michael got five years. My second reason for writing is to inform other patients of what is possible that seems impossible, as well as to tell the truth about what life is like during the most challenging time a family can face. I pore over my journals, not that I don’t remember everything with utter clarity. Yet, the progress is painfully slow and halting. Last night I eked out two paragraphs. This morning my mind was again unready. Partly that’s because I’m doing what I said I wouldn’t do when I started this blog – self-censorship. I think that’s because of feeling like times are so oppressive due to the pandemic that I don’t wish to add extra pain to an already difficult psychological moment. Then there’s just the weight of the loss which is my daily companion. I’m promising myself to complete this writing before the year ends. In the meantime, I let my mind roam this day, from one random thought to another.
I surprised myself this morning with a random memory while in the bathroom getting ready for my day. While standing at my sink washing, I suddenly remembered a scene from the film Atlantic City, a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, made in 1980 and directed by Louis Malle. I think I saw it twice. A particularly unforgettable moment was observing Susan Sarandon bathing in her sink next to her window while Burt Lancaster watched from across the way. I have no idea why that image popped up in my head. Just a flash of visual memory. I’ll never understand how that works. Random phrases from movies and books that get stored for no reason that I can recall.
Last night as I scrolled through the guide on my television I saw that Back to the Future was listed. I immediately was mumbling “flux capacitor” to myself. I wonder how much space in my head is occupied by phrases and visuals that are now part of me, although totally irrelevant to my daily life. Ah well. Another thing I’ll never understand. A byproduct of my preparation for the day’s musings made me laugh as I stood in front of my mirror, not looking remotely like the erotic Susan Sarandon. Years ago when we remodeled our bathroom, Michael placed the medicine cabinet at a height suitable for his 6’4” frame. I told him that was great for him but that one day I’d need a ladder to see myself. That day is approaching fast. Maybe staying away from mirrors is a good plan for the future. There’s something to be said for shrinkage.
Today when I came downstairs, my son was in the kitchen. I started a conversation quickly because soon he will be off to another exotic location for his biology field work . I guess I want to stuff as much verbal exchange as I can into these moments before I go back into silent quarantine mode. He turned to look at me, noting that my morning energy level seemed to be eleven on a scale of one to ten. I think that’s a fair assessment. Ever since I was little, when my eyes snap open, I’m going at full speed in my head. I’ve never been a person who needs a slow transition from sleep to wakefulness and I don’t ever drink coffee which might make even me too much for myself. The fact is that when my energy level wanes too much, I’m not sure I want to be around any more. Full speed is what suits me although I understand I can be an unnerving companion. When my longtime friend Joanne and I attended twice-yearly classes for our job, she had to sit away from me when we took exams. She said my intensity made it hard for her to focus. Oops.
I had a lovely and very random experience yesterday. Last year after my knee surgery, I was waiting to see my orthopedist when I recognized a woman I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. She’d dated a very good friend of mine with whom I’m still quite close. We had a nice conversation, exchanged contact information and became friends on social media. We are like-minded and have had a virtual dialogue going on since then. She sent me a message yesterday saying she was going to drop off a 2021 calendar for me that was made by her friend who enjoyed nature photography. I never heard her arrive – the calendar showed up in my mailbox with a warm message packed with well wishes for the winter ahead, and an invitation to hike the farm country where she lives near a beautiful nature preserve. So kind and neighborly. The serendipitous moments in life can be really special.
So tonight was a holiday celebration with my kids, grandchildren and sister. I’ve been so lucky to get through these months of social distancing, able to see my family, with no one getting the virus despite some exposure and subsequent testing. I’ve been able to assist with the kids and provide emotional support to everyone. But I’m one of those moms who was happy to relinquish cooking to my more gastronomically engaged husband except for my few specials and holiday treats. After he was gone, I ate more like a kitchen novice than an experienced cook and was delighted to mooch meals from my foodie son-in-law when I could. In the past year or so, and especially during lockdown when my son was unexpectedly here a lot, my submerged food mothering skills have made somewhat of a comeback. I have so many memories of my mother and grandmother’s signature dishes. I still want to give my kids those homey comforts in addition to making some memories for the littles. So I hit the kitchen today to make a mouthwatering, tender brisket surrounded by soft sweet apricots and onions which just melted in your mouth. And cookies. My son-in-law made butternut squash soup, homemade bread and potato pancakes with fresh applesauce.
Sometimes I’m shocked that I can still make stuff that tastes good. My mom gave up cooking when my dad died and for years, we all pined for our favorites from her. When she decided to try again, her cooking mojo had disappeared and we were all sad though we didn’t tell her. Tonight’s meal was fun and delicious. I need to remind myself that it’s more about family fabric than the food and to stop being so lazy.
In other news of the minutiae of today, I’d been really excited that Roger Federer had regained control over his signature design from Nike and was releasing a new group of hats through his current clothing outlet Uniqlo. I went online the day of the release to find the website crashed and a note which later explained that the entire worldwide stock had sold out in ten minutes. I guess I’ll have to wait for the next batch.
Lastly, on this most meandering of days, I added another rock and shell-decorated paving brick to my collection. I’m intending to surround all my garden beds with these when I feel like digging trenches in the spring. I hope they’ll be here long after I’m gone. So that’s it, people. Just a gray Sunday ramble. I forgive myself for not being profound every day. Breaks are important for your mental health.