Eleven – Part 2


January 2020 started with quite an unexpected surprise. My son decided that a tactile personification of Roger Federer was the missing piece of my life puzzle. When I came downstairs into my dining room, there he was, slightly larger than his actual size, a giant cut-out that stood on its own, his face determined, his forehand swing looking pretty realistic. What a hoot. The Australian Open would be coming at the end of the month, and here I was, with a new sidekick who wouldn’t be as bleary-eyed as me, after long nights watching an event that was happening in the upside-down time zone. In my old house, there are two staircases, one in the back and one in the front, which both lead to the dining room. I admit that I practically leapt out of my shoes for the first couple of weeks that Rog was the first thing I saw in the morning, unused to a strange, unexpected male in the house.

January was cold with bare trees and wispy clouds. I had classes, tennis and swimming to keep me busy. Two big trips were in place in the near future, one a couple of weeks back in Florida with my generous lifelong friends Betsy and Randy, and a major Alaska trip in May with my sister. That one was just over two weeks long, one week aboard a cruise ship with excursions for whale-watching, visiting the Mendenhall Glacier, and then to Sitka to experience genuine Alaskan native culture. The next week was ground and boat travel through Denali National Park. The trip of a lifetime and a great way to celebrate my 69th birthday. I was continuing to squeeze out every possible highlight the world had to offer me. I thought of Michael constantly, inspired by his will to stay alive and vowing to keep that goal front and center in my high energy future.

Meanwhile, I fooled around with photography, taking pictures of snowflakes and ice shards through my storm doors. I hung out with my elderly dog Violet and spent time with my family. I had my year pretty well mapped out. January and February were going to be home months. March was the Naples, Florida trip for almost two and a half weeks. After that, I had the Alaskan adventure in May which would lead off with a stop in British Columbia, a quick pass through Vancouver and a ferry trip to the famous Butchart Gardens, another bucket list item to scratch off my list. I wasn’t sure if I could afford any more significant travel after May but by then, the outdoor pool I love would be open. I planned on slipping back into the decades of my old daily lunchtime routine of being in the water, a guarantee for an endorphin release that evoked the many hours I spent there with Michael. That’s as close to a conscious fugue state as I can imagine, disappearing from the present and floating with him for an hour in elsewhere.

January, 2020 – photo in the countryside
Me and my daughter
Grandson #1
Grandson #2
My daughter coaching my eldest son’s basketball team.
My son with my younger grandson.

I was thrilled that my traveling biologist son was in and out of the tropics, with frequent times at home. I know that I’ve been lucky in this fast-paced world in which people swap jobs and cities frequently, to have my kids in this great home base. They were both around as I dove into the topsy-turvy world of being awake, often until the early morning, to make sure I didn’t miss a minute of Federer on the court in Melbourne. Keenly aware that life changed in a second, I knew that at almost 39, he wasn’t going to play much longer. And, despite his brilliant comeback win in 2019, every match, including his victories, looked uncomfortable. I’m a decent loser, but I wasn’t happy watching him struggle. The political news, the climate news and the the world news in general were all disturbing. On many days, I longed for a conversation with Michael. I’d started writing him almost immediately following his death. They tell my story from that time.

February 1st, 2020

Hi baby,

Wanna hear about my PTSD? While I sat in line at a stoplight today, I watched a guy in his car touch his mouth, his nose, his eyes and his hair in under 30 seconds. There’s this coronavirus going around that apparently started in China. With people like him, a lot of folks could contract it in no time. Population control. We’re doomed. I haven’t been able to stop watching what people do to spread contagion since you got sick.

February 4th, 2020

Hi baby,

Ugh. What first? I’m really sick. I have almost 101 fever. Deep, painful cough. Too much Australian Open, not enough sleep, exposure to germy kids. It’s been over a year since I’ve been this sick. Me, sick two years in a row? When did that ever happen? You know how I’m made of sturdy peasant stock. Pushing my luck, I guess. Part of me cares. Part of me doesn’t.

February 6th, 2020

Dear Michael,

I am so fucking sick with this flu. I’m just finishing my third day with fever and an incredibly painful cough. It’s been a long time since I felt this terrible. When I looked around the house for medicine to help with symptoms, everything had expired in 2013. E. had to hit the drugstore and drop some off on the porch. All I’ve done is sit on my ass and stare at television. I’ve missed two classes, a historic preservation committee meeting and all my swimming. I did it to myself. Too much Australian Open and no sleep for two weeks. Wore myself down. I guess I could die from this. But I don’t feel as terrible as that. Not yet. I hope you’ll be around somewhere if I do.

February 8th, 2020

Dear Michael,

I’m feeling a teeny bit better. I still am a gelatinous mass going between our bed and my chair, but still, a little better. Today I remembered that time we were in line at the Auditorium, waiting to see the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and my ticket blew out of my hand. I wish I was shivering with you in the cold right now.

February 10th, 2020

Dear Michael,

I was able to go to class today. I’m still out of it, but better. I wish you were here. Tomorrow I have to see a brand new doctor. I’m anxious. My patience is basically gone. Everything is getting to me. Did I tell you that in the midst of everything, I’m having the house sided and the roofs done? The contractors drive me nuts with their loud noises, messes and path of destruction. I’m going to have so much to do when they’re done. And a fight about money with the owner of the company.

And even though our kid’s style and slowness sometimes drive me crazy (just like yours did) our time together is coming to an end. I’m going to Florida, he’s going to Panama, I’m going to Alaska and who knows what else? It’s going fast. He has no idea what he’ll be doing for work. Car payments and health insurance. I can’t do anything for him. Hopefully, he’ll get a teaching position.

I feel aimless and annoyed all the time. It’s because nothing is right without you. Yeah, I can do it all. So the fuck what? Without you things just seem pointless. Yup.

Tonight I watched Trump feeding red meat to his base. Did I tell you he was impeached? Still in power but furious. He told the crowd that Obama should have been impeached and still should be. The crowd applauded loudly and chanted “lock her up” about Nancy Pelosi, who tore up his lying state of the union speech. The political world is mad and dystopian.

My senses of taste and smell are virtually gone right now. I hope they come back.

Please come to my dreams. I love you. Being without you is impossible. I wonder how you’d be doing without me.

February 12th, 2020

Hi baby,

I feel like a veg. Even though I’m better, I feel a heaviness in my bronchial tubes and I’m still coughing. For some reason, that makes me feel remarkably vulnerable. I haven’t been swimming in over a week. I only went to one class this week, skipping the other two. A lost semester since I’m going to Florida soon. Even that seems overwhelming.

I don’t know if it’s missing you, or politics or too much gray sky, or having been sick or the siding job or all of it that’s made me so blech. I’ve spent too much time sitting on my ass and I’m overeating. Watching too much tv. Not being decisive. I’ve run out of energy. Maybe life or age or both have caught up with me. I don’t know. I just feel fucked.

I’m still trying to fight back.

I had an issue with the contractors about the gutter replacement on the north side of the house. I remember and can see the bricks you put down for the concrete downspout. Now that downspout is about 5’ west of the end of the house. I can’t understand how that could be right. Why is everything a fight? A hassle? I’m tired of being all there is, baby.

I miss you. Restoring myself is getting harder. I wish I could see you reflecting me back at myself. If you know what I mean…

February 24th, 2020

Dear Michael,

The weather looked shitty and I’ve been so tired. I just couldn’t face the idea of getting on a bus and going to Midway, potentially getting stuck with cancellations. So I pushed my Florida trip off until March 1st when hopefully the precipitation events will have passed through. I have no idea what’s going on with me. I haven’t felt great since I got the flu a few weeks ago. It feels like all the fatigue of the past eight years has caught up with me. Is it just age? Is it my emotional frame of mind? Am I getting a chronic disease? Who knows?

I’m sick of your absence. A part of me is vacant. No direction. I’m tired of everything. Politics. Trump. Their side. My side. Maybe I’m just depressed and this is how the rest of my life will play out. I want the siding people to go away. I wish I could send you a photo of the house so you could tell me what you think of it. I wish we could text each other.

I got the garage door fixed. It was under $300 which I guess is a victory.

I went to my book club and to my favorite class. Neither was particularly fulfilling. The teacher was talking about socially responsible and climate-change-conscious ways of getting fossil fuels out of the ground. Is he crazy? Evidently. I heard him but part of me just wanted to scream. That’s why he’ll get more accomplished than me. I have no tolerance for this bullshit. Clean coal. Right. Oh my boy. I think you’d hate to be in my shoes. I sure do. Love you. I read this book called Fates and Furies. It was about a marriage. The husband died when he and his wife were both 46. She was desolate. She starts having random sex. Nothing is satisfying. She says her husband ruined her forever. Yeah. I don’t have to prove anything to myself.

Well. I knocked the beginning off my trip but got myself airborne. By this time, the “novel” coronavirus was all over the news. My sickness had rattled me more than any other physical event of my life, including childbirth and knee surgeries. I had a bad feeling about how altered I’d become, but things were still vague out there in data world. My plane was packed and I worried about every breath I took. I was so relieved to get on the ground and into my lovely space with my friends, although the first day, I stayed in my nightgown all day to make sure I didn’t overdo. Florida was quickly making news as a bad place to be for this virus.

While we three enjoyed our time together, we grew increasingly alarmed about the news regarding Covid19, so named by the World Health Organization a few weeks earlier. By that time I was convinced I’d somehow caught that bug although at the time, there was uncertainty about when the first case appeared in this country. I completed my 10 day trip. My friends were packing up early and heading back to their primary residence in Wisconsin and their family. I was terrified in the airport. All I had was a small container of Purell. But my flight, so packed on the way down, was half-empty on my return. I went through two airports and a bus ride to get home, cowering with my head tucked down in my shirt. My sister picked me up at the bus station. We didn’t touch. I went home, got in my car, drove to the grocery store for supplies and went home to quarantine for two weeks. The next day, the country began to shut down. Because I never wanted Michael to die from an opportunistic disease instead of his cancer, my house was stocked with masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, Lysol, medical gloves and plenty of toilet paper. We canceled our trip to Alaska the day after I returned. A major disappointment but on the relativity scale, a minor disappointment. One day when Michael’s life was rapidly diminishing, I asked him if he felt he had any quality of life. He smiled and said, “I woke up today. We’re together. Of course I have a quality life.” Words to live by. I hunkered down. I called my doctor to see if I could get tested for Covid but was told that only people with active disease would be tested. My sense of taste and smell were still impaired but whatever. There was nothing to be done but to make sure I wasn’t infected or contagious before seeing my family. When that was over, we took to primarily outdoor contact until we made our safe bubble.

Cleaning up garbage on the neighborhood streets

Restored to my eleven-ish style but living in a state of essential confinement, I turned my attention to my mental and physical homestead. I tried to help my grandchildren cope with Zoom school. I used my car as a school for my eldest grandson, for weekly drive-through treats and education about the world around us. I worked in my garden and met friends in parking lots to chat through the windows so we’d feel less isolated. After an anxiety-ridden few days, my son got out of Panama the day before the border closed. He made it home and after a quarantine period, moved in with me.

Spring came. Gardening time. I masked up to go to the outdoor garden centers and was grateful for time outside. The most interesting byproduct of this time was that although I was busy, my blood pressure dropped dramatically. I was able to cut my medication by 75%. Apparently enforced distancing was good for my health.

My hair grew longer. When the weather got warm and I was missing the pool, I ordered a big kiddie pool, found an old beach umbrella in the garage and made my own recreation space. I’d always liked birds and butterflies but I began more serious observations, thinking about the effects of climate change in my backyard.

I listened to hours of music daily which wound up energizing me more. I baked and cooked. I went to a demonstration in honor of George Floyd. I hung out with my kids. My son and I even took a one day getaway to Michigan where the water was cold and the beach was empty. A victory.

Chocolate cake
Comfort food

The limits of confined spaces and the oddity of wearing a mask out in the world were as challenging for me as everyone else. Being in the latter part of my life, disrupted from my goal of living in the richest, fullest way I could, was hardly what I expected would be the way I would be forced to finally slow down.

I found that relinquishing my personal agency to external circumstances was a hurdle I needed to overcome, so I could get on with, as the saying goes, “leading my best life.” As with ordinary times, some days were better than others. But at my age, waiting around for things to get better, never my style, was certainly not how I intended to use energy. My mind was still full of ideas. If I couldn’t implement some of the travel ones, I could find ways around the edges of these limits so I could still feel alive. I immersed myself in the beauty of nature. I found ways to be socially safe with my family and sone trusted friends. I read a lot of books, and during 2020, wrote 79 blogs.

Pumpkin, the backyard resident female cardinal.
Carmine, Pumpkin’s mate

I think it was Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote that “time and tide wait for no man,” or woman as the case may be. Not even this oddest period could squelch my energy level. I knew that eventually, my gears would switch from whirs to grinds. But I hauled myself out of those slower times because evidently I’m still wired to go fast. Michael used to say that if or when I ever started losing my memory, I’d just be like a normal person. Looking back, I never thought that 2020 would effectively still be hanging around two years later. I still live amped up. I could either fall flat on my face one of these days or keep on chugging for a while longer. Nobody knows what might happen. My intent is stay at an “eleven” until the numbers organically drop. Seems like a reasonable plan to me.

My last image of 2020, marveling at the moon on New Year’s Eve. Wondering what’s next, as usual.

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