I talk to my invisible boyfriend a lot. Just now, I was asking him, “Hmm… I’m pretty sure I put too many carrots in the pasta sauce. It will be too sweet. How would you counter it?”
Of course there’s no response back. So, I look at the multitude of carrot slices. They stare back. I make no decision. I return to Facebook to see what my friends are doing this day and a night before Christmas. I listen to the pasta water simmering a little too hot, boiling over a little, seeping out from under the lid every couple of minutes and landing in the flame below, steaming up and making my kitchen warmer.
The heat is going. I know we live in California and that it’s not really cold here, but hey… several hours ago when the sun was still shining, it was 47. It must be less than that now, and that’s cold to me. The heat is chugging along. Two burners are going. Steam fills the air.
Soon, my son will materialize and turn off the heat. For now, we will enjoy it. My daughter is sick with flu, Day 2. It’s a funny flu — not too bad. She’s not nauseous, thankfully. An odd, persistent yet dry cough, a fluctuating fever, general achy-ness, fatigue.
But, back to my invisible boyfriend.
I talk to him a lot. I ask him things. I wonder what he would think. I seek his advice. Not just about pasta sauce. Tonight, and many times this week actually, I had whole, drawn-out conversations with him. I could have used a little support this week, is the truth. But, hey.
My life looks the way it does because of specific decisions I have made along the way. If I don’t like the looks of it, I have no one to thank but myself.
This morning on my hike with Jen, she said, “You’re incredible. You’re the only person I know who can summon up a job or a boyfriend when one is needed just like that, on the spot, consistently.”
It was a compliment, of course. And it made me feel better.
But the fact is, that dubious talent of mine won’t last forever. I’m 48 and not kidding myself about what this culture values.
A video of Madonna accepting some woman of the year award from I know not whom was circulating on Facebook recently. In it, she’s very emotional. She look spankingly beautiful by the way. I can’t believe she’s older than I am. (She is, right?) Her skin was flawless. Her eyes looked green and sparkly, bewitching. Her wavy blonde hair was fetching.
Her acceptance speech was emotional and unusually urgent and impassioned. She spoke directly to the women in the audience. One of the things she said was, Beware. Understand that aging is not allowed in this culture. When you age, you’ve betrayed the code. You become offensive. You’ve broken the rules. It’s not allowed.
There’s a very cute (young) boy-man on the perimeter of my life. I don’t know why he’s there, or why he keeps popping up. But, he is. And he does. I am grateful. I actually like him a lot. I felt a startling connection to him the first time I met him. But, he’s much younger than I am, and I don’t let myself go there. Why not? I don’t want to be parodied, pitied, or made fun of. I don’t want to act like a blatant fool (a subtle fool, okay…).
I was sort of wondering just now why I wrote that… what I meant to do with this post in the first place, and then it came to me.
I was just at my dad’s — I mean at the place where he is housed now — the skilled nursing facility at Piedmont Gardens, on the second floor. I had fielded a call earlier today from a social worker there who said I had to come in ASAP to sign a form because Medicare would not longer pay for my dad because he’s not “progressing.”
Until today, I had not bought a single Christmas present for anyone. But yesterday, I got paid by my new job, and responsible or not I have no intention of having zero gifts under the tree this year. So, I was out buying gifts — used books, used clothes, used everything — and all beautiful because, hey, I have a good eye.
A long way of saying I got this call, and I wanted to see my dad. I went there. I parked, making sure to avoid meters. I walked down the hill and then up the little slope and into the facility. I signed in. I made my way to the elevator. Many Ethiopians work here. I greeted the Ethiopian wheeling the garbage can into the elevator and the other two standing in the elevator, hands clasped at their crotches. They are always young and handsome.
I wonder what they think about the way we treat our elders.
I got out at the second floor, learned the social workers had left for the day, and found my dad. He was seated at the table by the window where he seems to take most meals. He’s in a wheelchair because he broke his hip in two places a couple of weeks ago. He was listing to one side (the left). A cup of soup was before him, but he was very far away from it because his wheelchair can’t get close enough.
I began feeding him. I brought the cup of soup a full foot (12 inches) closer to him. I kissed him. He looked up and said, “Nice party, isn’t it?”
Yes. He said that. I was once more filled with relief that his active dementia seems to protect him, that he thinks he’s at a great party when he’s on a floor with extreme walking wounded, actually most not walking, all very wounded. If aging is wounded. If aging alone and being stored in a facility away from family when you’re most vulnerable and time is short is wounded.
And then I sort of double-winced because I wonder (like a meta-meta-analysis) if some part of his subconscious or even his conscious (?) is at work here, and he’s once again protecting ME. When he is at his most vulnerable.
I’ve described before in my stories how he never complains. I mean, never. It’s weird. His dad was a weird guy as far as I can tell, but he’s never said a bad or even neutral word about the man. He says he reveres his father. His word: Reveres. That’s pretty incredible. He reveres the man who tossed him off a dock to learn to swim, pulled his teeth too early by tying them to a string, attaching the other end of the string to a doorknob, and pulling the door closed. Yep.
He’s the man who forbid my dad to marry the Japanese girl he’d fallen in love with, the woman he’d lived with for two years under a bridge in a Japanese village. That guy. That same guy, and his wife, my dad’s mother, refused to attend my father’s wedding to my mother when he came back and obediently married a “white” woman. But, well, she was Catholic. That was bad also. So. No approval.
I think my dad had a very difficult childhood. But, I don’t know that from him. So, I might be wrong. He reveres his parents and maintains that position. And always has.
He also stood by my mom when she was endangering his four children regularly, if not on a daily basis.
But, I digress.
I was feeding my dad tonight. Across from us was a man with a full head of wavy hair not yet all grey. A woman sat beside him. We introduced ourselves, the woman and me. The man was wheezing something awful. His cough was thick and turbulent. He was having trouble getting enough oxygen. I could see that.
The woman said she was his wife. I said something about cold/flu. She said, “Oh, no, it’s not that.”
She told me she’d been living in Piedmont Gardens for fourteen years and Martin, her husband, had been there for sixteen years. They’d both moved in with their spouses. Both their spouses had died. Four years ago, they got married. They had a big wedding, she said. She smiled. She was radiant. She said, “Yes, I was 88, and Martin was 92.” Which means now they’re 92 and 96.
My heart skipped a beat.
I said, “Wow. I guess there’s hope for me then. I’m 48.”
She looked at me significantly and said, “You’re just beginning, my dear. You have all the time in the world.”
Her husband made shocking burbling noises. My dad looked up in alarm more than once.
Lovely party, right Dad?
Back to my point — was/is my dad actually just saying these things to help me handle the situation? Helping himself handle the situation?
How do we persist when we know this is the end we face, all of us, if we live long enough, that is?
Martin had a pile of Christmas cards next to him. His wife, who’s name I’ve unfortunately forgotten, kept saying, “Martin, open the next card. What does it say?”
For most of the cards, Martin would say — after expending considerable effort — “Nothing. They say nothing.”
His wife would pipe breathlessly, “No, read it, read it, Martin.”
And Martin would drone as best he could with his modicum of breath, “Happy Holidays…” and some canned holiday phrases. It took a lot of effort to open the envelope, fish the card out, open it, and find… nothing. Nothing beyond the printed “greetings” inside.
His wife said, “Well, who’s it from? What does the envelope say?” He’d look. He’d say the name. She’d say, “Oh, yes. Her husband died this year. Jay. You remember.”
I got my hair cut today. Daniel, my wonderful hairdresser, to0k care of me. We chatted as always. He’s in a long-term committed relationship with his HUSBAND. They’re married. They keep house. They have their nephew stay with them every year. They vacation frequently. They are solid, and have been for years. Daniel owns the salon. His husband has a great job in tech. They are happy.
I told Daniel today that I would meet my husband today. That I was tired of dicking around. That it was time. I was ready. Ready for a real partner. He made me as pretty as he could. He got a big brush out and brushed my face so little hairs weren’t all over it. He said I was cute.
“At least you’re still hot,” he said. “At least you’re still cute.”
Yes. Still hot. Still cute.
“Bring him in next time. I want to meet him,” he said.
I promised I would.
But I didn’t meet my husband today. At least not as far as I know. Maybe tomorrow.