Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Book of Tears and Remembering
It's a Saturday, and I'm surprised to find myself doing what I used to do on Saturdays for years back in New York City, before I was a mother, before I had fully accepted my reversion back to the Catholic faith (and even then for a long time after), before I moved to the Bronx, a move about which a friend of mine said, "I thought people went there willingly only to die." I am sitting at the enormous sixties-era oak desk that I got for fifty bucks at the apartment sale of a divorcing Argentine woman in my old neighborhood, editing text while I listen to Jonathan Schwartz's weekly radio program on WNYC, on which I know he will play at least one song that will make me want to take to my bed in a paroxysm of tears -- probably something sung by Audra McDonald or Nancy LaMott -- and sleep until my heart is healed, a moment which, of course, will never really come. In those days, however, most of the text I was editing was my own, and I was often longing for love, love either past or ambiguously present, and working against the feeling of shikata ga nai, the sense that everything I was doing was just to fortify my own very small world against the encroachment of despair, so I had better keep working. And then, as now, I was constantly nagged by the feeling that I had to get up from the desk and go over to my little piano and start practicing already, because I probably had a gig or a university recital requirement right around the corner.
Back then, when I would hit the wall and not be able to read another word, I would push up from my mammoth desk and flee the apartment, letting the steel door slam behind me. I would go out the side entrance of my pre-war apartment building and walk to Fort Tryon Park. Now, I slink out the back door of my house and walk through my silent neighborhood, often meeting no one on the street except a young man with Down syndrome, like me an inveterate walker no matter what the weather. Days like this, I miss everything about New York. I miss the colors and the smells. I miss seeing people on the street, even if I didn't want to talk to them, even if I hoped and prayed, as I did on many a day, that I wouldn't run into anyone I knew.
I know there must be a reason for my coming here, besides accompanying my husband to the place where he got a job. When he got the job offer, he told me that if I wanted to stay in New York, he would turn it down. But even I, with my more-than-occasionally faulty grasp of the theory of mind, knew that I couldn't hold him back from what was a step up. Even I had a shred of humility large and sincere enough to swallow hard and accept that we would be leaving everything we knew and many of the things we loved, but that it would be willful and cruel of me to put my foot down and keep it in the city I love.
That was two years ago. It's been a hard, lonely two years. There have been many struggles, and few bright spots. Sometimes it feels as if things are just getting more and more difficult, and as if none of my prayers are being answered in the way I want, not even what seemed like the inocuous-enough one for a friend. I feel like my life is contracting, getting smaller and narrower, rather than expanding, which is of course what everyone wants to happen in their lives.
It is so hard for my prima-donna self to accept this smallness, this forced humility. My heart aches when I think of what might be happening in my old neighborhood. The plane trees are turning yellow and dropping their leaves to the sidewalks. My friend N., the opera singer who lives on the other side of the building, is writing some software code for a design client. My great friend F., who was my recital accompanist before he moved to England, is swinging his book bag full of bottles of Italian wine from Astor Wines and Spirits as he trudges with his idiosyncratic gait up the hill from the subway to his apartment, which is around the corner from mine, and from which he can see a sliver of the river and the bridge out of one window. My beloved downstairs neighbor, Mrs. M., an Austrian refugee from World War II who died last year a month before her ninety-ninth birthday, is walking back from the hair salon, looking natty in a tweed jacket.
But all of this is long ago. My friends are dispersed, and some are dead. And if I remember hard enough, I will see M. on the street outside, waving to me over his shoulder as I stand in the window of our apartment, on his way downtown to work a night shift in a building that was destroyed in 9/11. And then I will remember the day he stopped waving.
And then where will I be? At my desk in Appalachia, my heart aching, asking God that, if He's going to allow me to remember all of this, to let it be for a reason that will be helpful to someone else, even if I never know it. As Pablo Neruda wrote, "Es tan corto el amor, y tan largo el olvido" -- love is so short, and forgetting is so long. And now I really do have to go and practice.
Here's some music about tears and remembering on this lonely Saturday.