Wish You Were Here…

Dear Michael,

I’m sitting in our living room, spooling memories in my head. You know how I am. All those visuals I can access from inside this peculiar brain of mine. My gift and my curse. I’m thinking back to April, 2017, when there was that brief window when we could have truly lucid conversations for short periods of time. Those moments when the relentless cancer working its way through your brain paused after all your hideous treatments, and we were able to discuss what life was going to be like for me once you were gone. Even though neither of us could really believe we were cornered with that miserable reality, of course. Resignation was never our thing. You were so worried about me, when you could stop being so troubled that after all the years, you were going to have to give up on living. Not that you really did. Ironically, a part of me clearly hasn’t given up either, as your essence is clearly in permanent residence inside me. That’s all well and good in many situations. Recently, though, I’ve really needed to purge myself of these big thoughts which are frothing around, burbling in the deepest part of my gut. After watching my mother be so sick with her anxieties that manifested in dreadful ulcerative colitis, I know I have to release these so I don’t follow her path. You remain my refuge, my safe place. Watching the writhing world right now with its massive, overwhelming issues sends me to you. Of course, I’ve been writing you for years, but this one is for those who are either like me, craving the comfort of being truly heard while being isolated, or reminding those still lucky enough to be safe in their cocoons with their go-to confidantes, that they are truly fortunate.

I remember this anti-war protest from almost ten years ago. We talked about getting our grandson, just a scant year old, used to what we believed would be a lifetime of civil disobedience. Just like ours. Kid number one had already joined the resistance. I remember your parents snidely telling us that they hoped our children would give us as much grief as we gave them. Fortunately that never happened. Right now US involvement in Afghanistan finally appears to be coming to an end. After all these years, the Taliban has overrun the country with lightning speed, making the withdrawal of our troops and allies a ghastly and terrifying mess. I can’t yet fathom what this new configuration will mean in the long run. Meanwhile I feel terrible for the families who lost loved ones in that quagmire during the past two decades, who feel the tragic futility of those losses, not to mention the Afghanis now on the Taliban hit list. And the women. Can everyone join this terror-fraught exodus into refugee-ism? What can I do about anything? Maybe donate money? Feeling pretty ineffectual. This stuff doesn’t get easier with age. If anything it’s more disappointing.

Photo by Tom P.
Photo by Tom P.

You were with me back when these photos were shot by our old friend Tom. I recently connected with him after almost 50 years, back from those early days when we were first starting out. I think we’d been together about a year when these were taken. Me with a bullhorn. Seems appropriate, right? We spent a lot of our lives protesting, fighting the good fights, big and little. I can’t say I have as much optimism as I once did. I’m cynical. But I read somewhere that hidden inside every cynic is a closet optimist. I’m trying to hang on to that thought. You were still alive when the Women’s March happened, right after Trump’s inauguration. That was just before your health nosedived.

You’ve missed a few since then. On a miserably cold, wet day there was the March for Our Lives rally advocating gun control as the mass shootings nightmare has continued in your absence. Then last year, in the heart of the pandemic, there was the Black Lives Matter demonstration to protest the relentless targeting of black males by law enforcement in this country. I masked up and went because I just couldn’t stay home. So much injustice. You’d be proud of our family who’ve all spent time pounding the concrete to honor their principles. We did good with them. I wish you could see them as they’ve evolved. Maybe you can.

Along with these pressing issues, the continuing dystopian politics of the conservative right continue to have an impact on everything from voting rights to COVID. The media cycle is rapid-fire with disinformation being peddled at a furious pace. Tonight I saw a statistic that was truly unnerving.

Mississippi officials warn against using ivermectin for COVID-19 amid spike in poisonings. – The Hill.

Fox News has been reporting that a medication used to deworm horses is an effective treatment for COVID. So, in one of the states with the lowest vaccination rates in the country, we have people buying this animal medicine and making themselves sick instead of opting for real drugs like the vaccine which, despite all their clinical trials, are viewed with mistrust. Can you imagine that? Remember how an off-trial drug brought you back from the brink of death and got us the unexpected gift of more time? The cult-like followers of Trump who are entrenched in a cluster of twisted lies and disinformation are enough to make you feel like there’s no such thing as critical thinking skills. Blind followers and sycophants. I’ve never felt much like a mainstream person in most areas of life but now I feel like this is a sci-fi world. What will I wake up to in the morning? Crazy headlines. Every single day. The pace of life feels accelerated, even with the last year’s lockdown. Climate change is here now, not coming soon. Wild weather patterns, fires, floods and heat domes are daily occurrences. Tonight I read that instead of snow, rainfall was recorded for the first time in Greenland. The CNN photo below shows the rainwater running over the ice. Greenland is melting. We’re having the hottest months in the hottest year ever. Aging has done nothing to make me more heat tolerant. Our 30 year old air conditioning is amazingly still working. I am deeply grateful.

I remember when we’d feel something bothering one of us, we’d check in with each other, inquiring about the “disturbance in the force.” That’s how I feel every day now. Unsettled. Uncertain. There are mini-culture wars playing out about mask-wearing. Literally wars where people come to blows about their differences in stores and restaurants and on airplanes. About masks. The mind boggles. Yesterday I watched a newsclip about airline stewards taking self-defense classes to protect themselves from unruly passengers. Flight rage in addition to road rage. Sometimes when I’m out in my COVID-limited routes, I perceive this undercurrent of uneasiness. Strange feels from people, some wandering the streets, others working, but resentful, hostile. I imagine this is what combat fatigue is like, utterly draining. I know that many people are turning away from news, trying to block out what feels scary and overwhelming. Unmanageable. I can’t do that as you know. I feel like it’s part of my responsibility as a member of my community to pay attention, even when it’s awful. Too many people have looked away from too many wrongs as far as I’m concerned. But I admit that all this alone time can feel pretty oppressive with the weight of the problems facing humanity, whether or not they choose to be aware of the weight or mindlessly ignorant.

A while back, during my moments of missing you desperately, I edited a couple of pictures of you with that special warm look in your eyes that is so like an embrace. I spliced the one from the time you were 22 with one when you were in your 60’s. On a small bookshelf in the corner of the living room, those eyes of yours are boring right into me. The picture is angled so no one else really notices it. I can be here but part of me is off with you. I’m looking at it right now as I write this. I don’t care what anyone thinks about these little ways I stay connected to you. I must say that lately, my props are inadequate to the task. I swim and garden in the daytime to distract myself and have occasional lunches and dinners outside with friends. At night, I hole up in the house, writing or reading, watching television. I watched a lot of the Olympics and I watch tennis although that makes me miss Roger. I’m still in my book club and still serving on a city commission but sometimes I just feel as though I’m tethered to the earth by the most gossamer of threads. When I head upstairs to our room, invariably I say your name out loud and still sleep only on my side of the bed. I’d pay a steep price to lie in your arms and talk about everything instead of just writing these letters. By now there are hundreds, some short, others winding along. And I write down all the dreams in which you appear, along with the odd COVID dreams. The other day, I wrote a blog called Magic Realism which is a partial explanation of how I’m getting through all this. Now that I’ve unloaded for the night, I’ll close with a line from Isabel Allende’s “House of the Spirits.” I think of you as I write it: “She was one of those people who was born for the greatness of a single love, for exaggerated hatred, for apocalyptic vengance…” You recognize me, don’t you? Goodnight, my love and thanks for still holding this space.

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