Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Flights of Fancy

I knew it had to be Tommy playing tricks. It happened as I was preparing for a visit to Los Angeles -- the first travel from my new rental apartment. On the day before my trip, I opened my wallet to take out my drivers license. My plan was to clip the license to my boarding pass, which, in my obsessively-organized mind, would ease my passage through security.

Gadzooks, the license was gone!  With my heart racing, I dropped to the couch and retraced my steps. Where was the last place I had used the license? Was there an establishment that required this extra identification in order to make a credit card purchase?

Then I remembered: one day, feeling nostalgic about all of the changes in my life, and pining for my deceased husband, I had switched the driver’s license, which was under the clear plastic slot,  to another spot in my wallet. Now, instead of my government-issued face greeting me, it was a color photo of our wedding portrait.

But the driver’s license edge wasn’t peeking out from any other slot like those of my credit cards. Where had I put it? Then, I jabbed my fingers behind the photo and voila. I was certain I had put it in its own niche where it could be easily noticed and extracted, but somehow, someone -- and I am now pointing fingers -- had hidden it tightly behind the 2-x-3.

In my flight of fancy, prior to the actual airplane I was to board the next day, I decided Tommy was having a bit of fun with me. When he was alive, he often scoffed at my habit of hyper-preparation. As example, two weeks before any takeoff, I’d lay everything out in stacks next to my open suitcase. This way, I could add or delete as departure day neared. 

When he’d walk past the room and spot the gaping luggage, he’d say, “We’re not going for two weeks. What’s the rush?”

“This makes it easier,” I’d say, which made sense to me, but to my casual husband, who refused to pack until the night before, or morning of, my regime deserved ridicule. 

After further daydreaming, though, I decided Tommy was also trying to remind me of the trips we had taken together. He wanted to be certain I wouldn’t allow those memories to fade.

With my departed husband prodding my subconscious, I paused preparations to conjure up those long ago vacations. As if I were assembling a jigsaw puzzle, I positioned images, expressions, and other mementos side-by-side until I could see a fuller picture.

First it was words that came to mind, likely because I was grateful for the years Tommy still had speech. “Mind the gap,” I could hear him saying. We were standing on a London platform awaiting public transit. On that trip, we visited Buckingham Palace, Harrods, and other typical tourist spots. And in my revery, I also remembered,  “punting on the Cam,” held over from a visit with friends in Cambridge that he enjoyed repeating for weeks after we returned home.

We toured Italy -- the Spanish Steps in Rome, the destroyed city of Pompeii, the hillside villages of the Amalfi Coast -- and dined in restaurants the guides promised were frequented by locals. I was able to capture bits and pieces, but so much of those travel memories had been slipping away with each passing year.

“Yes, those were wonderful,” I told Tommy aloud. “I’m so happy we were able to take them together. I noted that my husband, in this celestial cameo, hadn’t brought up our last mutual trip to Boston. I assumed he didn’t want to remind me of the difficulties after he had lost speech and his brain suggested to him a false bravado.

“You can’t go alone,” I remember pleading when he insisted on taking a walk from our bed-and-breakfast to nearby Jamaica Pond. I couldn’t join him for one reason or another, but he just smiled at my warning and pushed past me.

I started to cry. “Please, honey,” I said. “I’ll worry about you crossing that busy street and being late for our date. Please stay here with me.” And gratefully, he did.

Had Tommy held onto some resentment from that episode? Would that explain his current trick? No, I prefer to think my first notion was on target: my dear husband was just sending me a message, “Have a safe trip,” he was saying, “and don’t forget me.” As if...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion

“I know you hate them,” I say to Tommy during one of our frequent celestial conversations. "But when you died, you forfeited your vote on my nails.”

If my husband were still alive, I would never have handed over a bottle of Estée Lauder’s Absinthe to the manicurist. He had made it clear that he found shades other than natural, beige, or a subtle pink garish.

It was easy to go along with his preferences when his wishes were earthbound because my spouse of 14 years was a dear. “He makes me feel as if I walk on water,” I’ve often told people who were curious about the differences in our religion, bank accounts, family relationships, and levels of education. And let me tell you, that’s a sentiment not easy to come by.

There were other habits that Tommy brought with into this second marriage that I tolerated, even when towards the end of his life, were magnified by an illness that included brain degeneration.

At first I tried, “Honey,” I’d say putting a hand on his arm. “Sit, you can clear up the counter after we finish eating.” But, he’d touch my cheek -- a gesture I took as “you’re cute, but not going to happen.”

So, while I started in on the meal I prepared (that was our division of labor, I was the cook, he was the bottle washer), watching a rerun of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Tommy would rise, leaving his food to turn cold, as he put various utensils in the dishwasher, replaced the menu’s ingredients in the refrigerator or cupboard, and wiped down the countertops. By the time he returned to his chair, I was usually on my last mouthful.

Now, you guessed it, in my new life sans spouse, everything -- dishes, ingredients, serving spoons, and more -- remain out until I feel like cleaning up. I imagine Tommy and these waiting kitchen objects engaged in conversation: “Can you believe it,” the tossed dishtowel says to my husband. “The woman you thought walked on water has become a slob.”

“How long do you think she’s going to leave us sit here?” I could swear the frying pan adds. “Doesn’t she realize the grease is going to harden and make my clean up that much tougher?”

While those bossy things are jabbering about me, my resurrected husband is smiling. If I place him in the conjured scene while he still had voice, he’d say, “I had a feeling that would happen. She’s a sweetheart, but without me around, I can see how she’d get sloppy.”

Now, if it was later in his life, when his aphasia erased speech, Tommy would just shake his head and turn the thumbs of each hand down. A sign of displeasure that is now bouncing off my sloven shoulders.

I ignore my pretend cast of characters who are casting dispersion and finish my meal. With my viewing partner gone, I have switched television programs. Sheriff Andy has given way to Mr. White, of the current hit, “Breaking Bad.” Also, instead of kitchen-table viewing, in my new apartment, I’ve transitioned to couch with dinner tray on lap.  

I’m not certain if this counts as a genuine act of rebellion because Tommy and I weren’t watchers of the drama back then. But, the violence and drug themes might have put him off. Remember, this is a man who prefers nails in neutral shades rather than tropical colors.

This part though, is definitely treasonous. I stack the dinner dishes in the sink, intending to place them in the dishwasher maybe this night, maybe tomorrow morning, maybe even tomorrow evening.

With an evil smile, likely inspired by the TV show, I turn to the figments of my imagination and say, “I don’t care what you think. The dishes can wait.”

Everybody but Tommy receives this declaration aghast. “Has she fallen this low?” I believe the empty wine glass says to the salad plate. Then, the crabbing crew turn to my husband expecting equal derision and disbelief.

But, he is laughing. A subtle, sweet laugh as if he is in on the joke. “Relax,” he says. “Give her time. She’s like a kid let out of school, testing her independence. Just watch, in a few weeks, her kitchen will look more like ours did when I was in charge.”

Tommy may be right, for unwittingly, I just returned the salad dressing to the fridge pre-tuck in. Oh well, the rebellion was fun while it lasted, but, the green nails definitely stay!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Men In My Life

I’ve unpacked the tin tubes, plastic posts, and curved tops from the skinny box that has arrived from Walmart. The directions for the shoe rack appear fairly simple: attach this to that, then that to this, and finally, remove scrambled shoes from the floor of my bedroom closet and set them neatly on the gizmo.  Alas, my assembly looked like a wacky Lego, rather than the structure promised on the carton’s front.

Ramir to the rescue. In less than five minutes, he unscrewed and repositioned all of the parts until it was a replica of the image. Ramir, along with George, Greg, José, and Roberto, who are members of the maintenance crew in my apartment building, have smoothly taken over the helpmate role once performed by my husband, and several men who lived on my block on Dakin St.

Back then, when Tommy and I were in our three-bedroom house, John topped the team who cared for us. Even before my spouse became ill, when he was able to still mow the grass or shovel the walk, John would beat him to it.

“Honey,” I’d say. “I hear a snow blower outside. Do you think it’s John?” 

We’d both go to the window, open the drapes, and wave as we saw our neighbor steering through through white mounds on our front walk on his way to our driveway.  While John was the über neighbor,  there were other males who came to our aide. 

“What ever you need, any time of day,” was what Casey said as the ambulance drivers were bringing Tommy up the stairs from our ride from Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Then, Casey placed a yellow post-in in my hands with his cell phone number. 

Joél on Dakin St. asked how he could help after I had hip surgery. “My car needs maintenance,” I told him. “Give me the keys,” he said.

During the 12 days my husband was in hospice, upstairs in the bed with railings on both sides, his long-time buddy, Randy, visited several times a week to rake leaves and de-clutter the downspouts. 

After Tommy died and I sold our house and moved to an apartment building, friends who were experienced renters said, “You won’t have to worry about lawns or snow anymore. And if anything needs fixing, you just call maintenance.”

And I did. At first, my requests were basic: replace a dead light bulb, unclog the bathroom sink’s drain, coax a stubborn ice maker. But the new men in my life have far surpassed those everyday appeals. With care and precision, members of the staff have hung all of the two dozen paintings on the walls of my convertible studio. 

And it was Ramir who was at the door after this request, “I have a Hoover Upright vacuum cleaner, and I can’t figure out how to put it together.”  As I stood nearby, feeling like a dazzled intern watching a surgeon, Ramir studied the carton’s image, and quickly performed the operation. “Let’s test it first,” he said. He plugged in the cord to the wall socket and after the first loud hum, showed me how to steer it. Then, he stood by to be certain I could manage the hefty machine on my own.

“Can I give you something?” I asked him then, and again at the latest shoe rack assembly, for I knew these tasks didn’t really fall under the category of Maintenance. But, this new man in my life waved away my question and was quickly out the door.

When Tommy was well, which was the majority of our 16 years together, he was our family handyman. In the basement of our house he erected a wooden table where he placed all of the tools he had accumulated in his adult life. He mounted a pegboard on the wall that stored nails, screws, hooks, and other tidbits essential to his odd-jobs and carpentry ambitions.

As his health deteriorated, and this aspirations evaporated, I bequeathed the table, tools, and pegboard to good neighbor John. But, I held onto one hammer, one screw driver, and a pair of pliers, believing I’d need them in a future life.

I’ve used each gadget occasionally: to pound the cover  of a stubborn jar of pickles, to open a key ring and add a store’s loyalty card, and to twist off the top of a bottle of nail polish. But thanks to the new men in my life -- who have accepted all of the responsibilities once handled by the guys on Dakin St., and by my own beloved handyman -- that’s all this trio of tools will likely be asked to do.