Talking to Myself

My favorite place for walking in my town.

I live in a place that has plenty of green space. Where I spent most of my early years, I lived in a brick and mortar neighborhood, surrounded by three story apartment buildings and narrow gangways, (what we Chicagoans called the slim concrete sidewalks between the apartment houses.) Of all the parks in my town, this arboretum is my favorite spot for walking. Being outside amidst all the lush beauty relaxes me. All I have to do is walk and look around. For a short time in my day, I have no chores and no obligations. Thoughts flow in and out of my mind. Mostly I take no notice of them. Often I’m marveling at the diversity of the plants, the tree bark, the birds, the animals or the insects, all part of the surrounding landscape. But sometimes I pay a bit more attention to what pops up in my head, both the mundane musings and the unusual ones that alternate in no particular order. Little conversations with myself. Today I decided to take note of a few. This particular week encompasses my birthday and the sixth anniversary of Michael’s death. Seems unimaginable. Six years ago I was approaching my birthday in terror, terror that he would die on my birthday, forever shrouding what should be a celebratory time with unending grief. He hung on for four more days after my day. I thought that was so generous of him although in reality, he’d lost track of norms like the calendar. I choose to believe that somewhere inside him he held off dying on my birthday with intention. I know he would have wanted to, although he was struggled. One day in the midst of his blurry decline, he told me that he was trying very hard to focus on me though he was thinking mostly of himself, trying to comprehend the impossible knowledge that he was going to die. I am thinking about our talks from that time as I stroll along. I wonder if I’ll ever forget any of those moments.

I’m wondering about my ability to easily shed people. Way back when I was seventeen and just out of high school, I remember planning how I was going to begin cutting away relationships that felt empty or worse than that. I couldn’t stand the ones that made me feel like I was pouring myself out but never getting anything filling in return. I started practicing “relationship pruning” with gusto when I began college. I was in a sorority in high school. I hated the idea of exclusive clubs but I did it anyway, to survive in my culture. One of the initial activities that happened on my campus that first fall was sorority rush. I think almost everyone I knew from back home was going through it. Even Fern. Not me. I was done with all that, being “clubby.” I was off on my own road with myself. I got better at being alone with practice. I think that’s how I’ve survived Michael’s death so well. Sometimes I went against my better judgment and delayed what my friend Joanne and I called “the elimination.” Usually that was for the wrong reasons, most of which were influences from other people who thought I should stop pushing people away. Not any more. I’ve had a harder time shedding things like books and scraps of paper during my efforts at downsizing than people. I wonder if this trait is my gift or my tragic flaw? Both? That Michael. He was much more tolerant than me.

I wonder how turtles, sunning themselves on a log, are so tuned in to people sneaking up to get a good look at them. Before I can get a decent photo, they’ve slid into the water. Chipmunks are way faster than squirrels. And it’s a lot easier to get a good photo of a robin than a red winged blackbird.

Despite the fact that I didn’t feel adequately parented by mom and dad, I never had any other adult figures who filled their shoes. When I was a kid, I really admired the aunt who lived closest to us in Chicago. She was a teacher and she knew things that I knew my parents did not. About classical music and literature, for example. But she was married to my mom’s youngest brother and when mental illness asserted itself in her life, she eventually disappeared from my practical reality. I did get to see her once more after many years, sadly at the funeral of my cousin. I always thought of her and remembered her with love. But she was never a mother figure to me. And there was no one even close to being a dad figure besides my own. He was someone whose early life left him emotionally stilted. But he taught me a lot. I still here his voice and mom’s too. As I walk down these paths…

My skin literally crawls when I hear people refer to either themselves or their partners as their “better halves.” Is that supposed to be a message about how close they are? The idea of ever being half of myself is repugnant to me. I think I had an amazing partnership with my husband. Neither one of us felt like the other was a missing half that made us one whole. We were wholly our own full persons. How did that concept become popular? Blech.

I’m really glad that the seventh season of Outlander will be starting in a couple of weeks. Years ago when I first started watching the series, I found it too far-fetched and uninteresting. But long nights on my own and a lifelong obsession with period pieces made me give it a second try which finally hooked me. The real draw is the Jamie Fraser character who with his long shaggy red hair and ridiculously heroic character reminds me so much of Michael in our early years. In any case, because of pandemic delays, the season has 16 episodes which I am really looking forward to watching. I’ve often wondered about whether I’d live long enough to finish my favorite shows. A bit maudlin I know, but those thoughts appear more frequently in the head as the finish line of life gets increasingly closer.

I really miss Roger Federer. He still has a significant social media presence because of his far-flung business and charitable interests. But I miss watching him play. I miss having someone to root for. I still watch a lot of tennis. I admire a number of players. But no one has inspired me. Before Roger came along all those years ago, I was a Bjorn Borg fan and a Pete Sampras fan, with a few other players I enjoyed watching. So far there’s no one who inspires me now which is unfortunate. In these times it would be nice to have a nice inspirational distraction. I guess I’ll see if that part of my life is over. The French Open is coming soon.

I’ve been listening obsessively to John Cale’s album, “Fragments of a Rainy Season,” released in 1992. A live album, a compilation of performances actually, it’s always moved me. Him and a piano. Sometimes you forget about what you loved. Finding whatever that was again is always such a treat. I feel the same way about coming upon candy from my childhood. Tasting it again is just so sweet. Last month, Elisabeth stopped at a gas station and saw a package of Chuckles, one of my childhood favorites. She brought it to me. I wished she’d bought all of them. But maybe not.

No one talked to me about having a powerful sex drive in their seventies. Mom always said she’d be happy just holding hands with dad who was dead at 67. Who am I to talk? I’m stuck with all this energy but I don’t want to be with anyone but Michael. Is this a first world problem?

We haven’t had enough rain this spring, just like last year? Will everything around me be desert someday? Who knows? I’m glad I won’t be around to see it or feel it. I thought my body would stop sweating so much when I got older. Alas. I wouldn’t want to live on some boiling anvil. Meanwhile I’m watering every day. But not the grass.

I try to keep thoughts of creeping fascism and book banning and the oppression of women and minorities absent from my head when I’m here walking. Many of my friends say they’ve tuned out to survive the madness. I can’t do that. Except for a while when I’m here. I’m a sucker for a cloud’s reflection on the water. Just hanging out. Talking to myself.

Leave a Reply