I think that my curiosity about the unpredictability of life is what gets me out of bed every morning. After a really challenging week, I chose to watch “The Gray Man,” a film on Netflix. A violent action film is not exactly my go-to genre. But I think Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans are attractive, and I particularly like Evans’ political statements, which I sometimes see on T-shirts he’s wearing in photos, or when I occasionally glance at Twitter. Frankly I have no clue why I have a Twitter account as I have no followers and am interested in very little of its content, but that is another story. I found the film distracting and easy to watch, and mostly forgettable, which means it did a good job as entertainment – I didn’t spend even a second thinking about climate change, perpetual misogyny and the continued assault on women’s rights, the midterms, war or any other horrifying news from the dystopian universe while I was watching it. Surprisingly, though, I was struck by one line which I know I won’t forget, as long as my brain still works. Spoken by Ryan Gosling, to calm and comfort a frightened, but streetwise young girl entrusted to his care, he tamps down her terror with that line, “remember, it’s just another Thursday.” Why did that resonate with me? Because I think it’s absolutely true, whether it’s a Thursday, a Monday or whatever day of the week. For me, it fits right in with a line I say to myself every time I narrowly escape some dire event, like swerving away from what surely would be a tragic car accident, or almost breaking my neck after doing some ill-advised activity that I knew I shouldn’t do or having a benign result from a scary biopsy. After running through all the worst scenarios that could’ve resulted in disaster, I always say to myself, “but that really didn’t happen,” a way of releasing the pent-up anxiety or instantaneous fear and putting it all behind me. I think it’s an intellectual normalizing coping skill I’ve needed to develop in order to get myself through this daunting daily life when it’s seemed to me, that for a very long time, there’s always something looming that feels threatening. And that’s partly just in my microcosm – out there in the big world where every second presents a problem to someone, it’s just another Thursday or an escape from what might have happened or did not.
You never know what a day will bring. I’m always talking about how life can change in a second, turn on a dime, end in a flash. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been wary, prepared for the worst, pleased with whatever’s better than that. I’ve pondered long and hard about what set me on that mental course. I have my theories and continue to plug away at the reasons for spending a lifetime so defended. In any case last week was just packed with unexpected moments. One certain thing was that my son and his wife, who’d moved in with me last fall, moved into their own place in the winter, and then moved back in with me between leases, were moving into their new place for at least the next year. Two globe-trotting biologists from different countries, they’re settling in, my son with a full-time university job and my daughter-in-law working part-time as they prepare to welcome their first child in early November. Pretty head-spinning but fortunately, my son’s oldest friend and a person I view as essentially my biological child, happened to be in town visiting his beloved grandmother who’s been in failing health. He loaned his muscles to the moving effort which went a bit later in the evening than is customary for my dinner. I’ve graduated to old lady meal times, more suitable for my increasingly diminishing metabolism.
In any case, well after seven p.m., my son called and started to ask if I’d like to join the moving crew, but quickly re-phrased his question to asking me if I wanted to see this beloved friend. Oh he knows me well. Even though I was tired and in lazy evening mode, there was no way I could resist having an opportunity to hug this guy who lives a good distance away. So I climbed out of my chair and headed to our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant. I usually eat there once a week, with a good friend with whom I swim regularly. I parked in front of the main entrance and was making my way inside when the door opened and a customer with carry-out was exiting. I took a step backwards and aside, completely forgetting the uneven little concrete ramp I was perched on. I fell so fast I don’t actually remember the motion, but I landed hard on my left knee and my head bounced into the glass door. I was flattened. My first instinct was to cry, but I suppressed that quickly, wondering if my titanium knee replacement would hold and if I might have sustained a concussion, brain bleed or other horrible stuff. The customer was reaching his hand toward me, repeating “ are you ok, are you ok?” Then the owner who sees me weekly appeared and did the same things. Meanwhile I was slowly collecting myself and trying to assess the damage. I carefully pulled myself into a seated position on the little curb and just breathed. I shut everything out but my internal voice. After a few minutes, I managed to get myself upright without help. I was incredibly sore and unnerved. I walked into the restaurant and didn’t see my family. The owner said people were sitting outside in the back. As I made my to the rear I realized that this incident was completely unnecessary. Everyone greeted me and when I informed them of what happened, my pretend son, who is a police sergeant, went running for ice bags. And there I sat, with my Diet Coke, watching everyone eat, an ice bag on my head and my knee, thinking, “but the worst didn’t happen.” At least I hoped not, pondering potential blood clots in my brain.
That was just the beginning of the week. I’m involved with several friends and an acquaintance or two, both younger ones and my peers, who are in the midst of various cancer situations with their partners or their parents. One is someone I don’t know well, but she knows about my story with Michael’s cancer and his death. She is under tremendous pressure with little support. When she sees me, she unloads her painful angst, knowing I’ve been there and that I’ll understand. And I do but it’s very hard. She says her social circle has fallen away and that her “people” are alienated from her affect. I remember feeling that way when my dad had a rapid decline from bladder cancer in 1989, only 4 months from start to finish. I often felt like a pariah, someone to be avoided and I vowed that I’d never walk away from someone who hurt that badly. So I don’t. Another of these people is one of the wonderful nurses who was with Michael and me during our 32 day stint on the cancer floor of our local hospital where I stayed every night. He wasn’t completely mentally competent to deal with the hugeness of his diagnosis and its complications. I’d never have left him alone. We bonded with this young woman and a few more of her friends who came to talk with us after their shifts. The connections we made were lasting. Now over five years later, she is consulting me about her dad, whose recent diagnosis and subsequent evaluations have put him into hospice care pretty quickly. How do I account for this role reversal? I don’t really know. But on with the rest of the week.
My daughter went on a work trip for five days which was extended because of all the airline messes, and she wound up coming down with Covid. That meant more quarantining and testing and not seeing her or her family for a week, even though they live across the street from me. In this drought-ridden blazing summer, I’ve been enjoying my little house wrens who’ve had two sets of nestlings. A big rain finally blew through my neck of the woods early one evening. The next morning, my yard was oddly silent. The parents and babies vanished. I have no idea what happened to them. I miss their busy chatter.
Then my air conditioner died. I expected it. At thirty-one years old, it had given great service. I got a/c for the first time at age 40, done with my summer life of constant profuse sweating. As soon as temperatures went above 70 degrees, Michael would always say, “ see you in October” because I always felt so disgusting in the summer, that I couldn’t stand contact. Well, at least not all the time. When I heard the grinding sounds I was quite nervous. August 1st was the day of my last payment on a three year home improvement loan. I made it to August 3rd when the old unit gave up. I did get a three day fix, but in the end I need a new one, along with a compatible furnace. I won’t have even one month without a loan payment – the first one on the a/c is due on August 29th. Let’s see, what else. My doctor prescribed medication for an infection I really didn’t have but the correct diagnosis took 10 days to be reported. So a lot of drugs for nothing and now I start the real ones. Sometimes things seem just a bit too much. Without my partner of 45 years, that buck always stops with me. If I could pass it along occasionally, I would.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading this book, “All About Love,” by Bell Hooks, who is a marvelous writer. I’m constantly digging around in myself, trying to understand who I am, who I was, how I got to here from there. This book is providing insights and new angles into myself and my process of development. The other day I was with my good friend Debbie, swimming side by side and talking about a friend of hers who’s undergoing cancer treatment and is altering her behavior, perhaps as a personal necessity for getting through this truly challenging time. I was reminded of 2015 during which my brother died in April, and I was fairly certain Michael would die that June, until Keytruda was prescribed by his oncologist. He was pulled back from that brink of death, circling the drain, but it took awhile. Then in July, my mother fell and broke her hip at age ninety-one. She was dead within two weeks. I still have Michael’s sweet message on my phone, weakly asking if he could help as I sat at her bedside, away from him in his struggle to stay alive. She died on Saturday. The next Thursday, I had to put my beautiful dog Flash down, just over 14 years old, the dog of my heart, as some people say. I called him Flashetti Ferlinghetti, after one of my favorite poets.
As I recounted my story, Debbie was looking at me with intensity. She asked me how I got through so many compressed awful events without dissolving into a mess. I thought hard about my answer, now more informed by the newly acquired wisdom from the Bell Hooks book. I realized that I was afraid from almost the beginning of my life, worried about my mother’s health and feeling abandoned by her frequent hospitalizations, confused by my dad’s childish ways of expressing love, always mixed in with teasing and insults. When I was scared and asking them questions, they lied to me, not maliciously, but in an effort to protect me from scary truths. And I figured all that out when I was pretty young. Instinctively, I found my way to be protected and less afraid was by developing a strong executive function to override my less controllable emotions. I practiced that all the time, throughout my life, and except on a few rare occasions, that’s how I still function, brain first. Even when I’m smashing my head into glass doors. I’m going to read some more to see what else I dig out of myself. I feel I’m always changing, modifying, even in small ways. Yet still, when I saw “The Gray Man,” I knew which line would stick with me. The one I’ve been honing forever, to survive. It’s just another Thursday. Or any day you’d like. The worst things you can imagine are reducible to that one-liner. At least for me, at least so far. I wonder what will finally shred that trick for me. Wondering and wondering.