Week 2 and 3

Week 2 March 23-29

I don’t know what happened this week. I tried to recapture it by looking at photos and the health app on my phone. It seems I went for a walk along the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The image may reflect my state of mind, desolate.

delaware and Raritan Canal

Week 3 March 30- April 5

April 2, the anniversary of my first marriage decades ago. Below a fictionalized version of that earlier marriage, an earlier time.

Beaufort, South Carolina. Everything is yellow-green and wet.  The air a hot compress against her skin.  If the air were cool as compresses ought to be maybe Salina’s head would stop aching.  A headache on its second month. Three specialists at the Parris Island Naval Hospital had tried their luck at a diagnosis.  Ultimately, they recommended psychiatric treatment.  She wasn’t quite ready for that.  The only time the pain went unnoticed was when she played tennis.  It didn’t seem to matter with whom or how badly she played.  The steady slamming of the ball distracted her from the pounding inside her skull. She could forget where she was, even if the court was at the Officer’s Club.  

 She drove down Main Street. Salina pushed the window vent towards her face.  The rush of air didn’t cool her; it was more like a hot furnace.  The clock on Wachovia National Bank said 2:00.  She had a half-hour before Gladys, the cleaning lady, had to go home.  A half-hour of freedom.  It surprised her that she could love her son so intensely and, at the same time, long to escape the responsibilities of motherhood.  She turned the radio up and headed across the bridge to Lady’s Island where she could be alone and, for a little while, be herself.  Her body jerked in rhythm to Jimi Hendrix’s wailing, anxious guitar riffs.  She wished she was friends with an enlisted man and could get some dope.  That might help her head.  Once over the bridge, she pressed her foot hard against the gas pedal.  The l967 Volkswagen bug was going as fast as it could, and Salina was gone: far out, far fucking out as her teen-age brother would say.  She didn’t hear the sirens or see the flashing lights of the MP’s car until they were in front of her, signaling to pull over.

I’ve led a long life. But where is the wisdom? Perhaps, I should be kind to myself. I went on a long walk this morning, stripped my bed, made breakfast, read the paper.  Yet, I spent the next three hours playing computer games and listening to the radio.  Is this okay?   Now it’s close to have a drink time. So no writing.  I don’t think I can attribute this to virus time.  I think it’s dysfunctional Judy time.

I did have some social interaction. My friend Wendy, her husband Max, and their adult daughter Mira walked by: we had a nice over the fence, fully masked chat. Afterwards, I managed to get outside of myself and search for Easter gifts for my granddaughter and beach plum plants for my son and his wife, now living in Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island. My son once told me that doing three activities a day should suffice. I met that criteria.

Took Beckett’s bio to bed. Freudian analysts would have a field day. According to Deirdre Bair, he had a troubled relationship with his mother who worked hard to mold him without much success. Yet her disappointment in him tied Beckett to her through much of his adult life. And like her son, she was a tortured soul with mood swings, insomnia and “thundering rages” when she would isolate herself from her family just as, later, Beckett sought his own form of “social distancing.” He also seemed to inherit her willfulness, so both nature and nuture.

Samuel Beckett Paris apartment

His suffering makes me feel better, that is, his difficulty producing work allows me to temporarily forgive my own lack of discipline.  Once after a month or more, he wrote just four lines of poetry.  And like me, he blamed himself relentlessly.  Previously I had dismissed him based on Deirdre Bair’s depiction of their working relationship in her memoir, Parisian Lives. He agreed to work with her, yet threw arbitrary obstacles in her way.  Her interactions with him portrayed him as a self-centered prig. However, her biography reveals his tormented relationship with family, friends, himself and his work creating empathy for him and, maybe, for me.

Day 4 and 5

Monday March 16

I woke up this morning remembering recent conversations with friends.  Sometimes, I say that I’ve been in training for the lockdown, having lived as a widow for the last 9 years.  Sometimes, I lament a life alone, not having that loved one in the next room.  Is it as hard to be alone as I claim, am I pleased that I answer to no one, or do I want people to feel sorry for me?  Why?  Perhaps, my desire for empathy is a desire to be seen, heard, understood.  Much of the time. I have kept my grief to myself, not wanting to put people off.  Who wants to hear about sorrow?  Maybe as the pandemic takes hold, we’ll all be immersed in it and won’t be able to look away.

To avoid these concerns, I went to the Delaware and Raritan Canal for a long walk, a breather, some peace.  But peace was difficult to muster.  People crowded the walkway and seemed surprised when I asked them to give me room.  Often I had to stand with my back to them which felt like I was shaming them.  Maybe I was.

img_7871-1Delaware and Raritan Canal

As three young men approached me on bicycles, I requested they give me space to pass.  They mocked me.  Got my ire up.  I threw back at them that I was trying  to protect them as well.   As I walked away, they laughed, shouting, “Talk, talk, talk” to my back.  Discouraged, I cut my walk short and retreated home.

But I had a plan: do taxes, clean sun room, correspond.

By the late afternoon, I had taken care of Milo the cat petting him for an hour or so to relax him, filled out an application for a census job, read the newspaper, faced time with family, called the garden center to check the availability of Brussel sprouts, and contacted the landscaper about putting in a garden.  Then, I relaxed into my new addiction, computer solitaire in all it’s variations: Vegas, Forty Thieves, Spider, Gaps, Mrs. Mop.

Tuesday March 17

Newly established morning routine.  First order of business is Milo: lift him on to the ottoman facing the couch, provide treats, apply blood pressure medication to his inner ears, more treats, brush him, pet him for a half hour or so, feed him, clean out litter box, more treats and petting, and finally, put him in his bed.  Next is a walk down the driveway to retrieve the paper, followed by a leisurely breakfast working my way through the Times.

IMG_8124Milo Bliss

Late morning, the landscapers arrived, reviewed my plan, a 10 by 20 foot raised cedar bed in the front lawn using organic mulch and soil.  I’m cheered by this return to vegetable gardening.

Although I haven’t done any writing, I did correspond with the writer’s I met in February while staying at the Irish Cultural Center in Paris.  Does that count?

Went to bed reading Samuel Beckett’s bio.  The description of cafes he frequented, the same as my haunts when I was 21 are bittersweet.   Nostalgia for hours of nursing a drink while reading, writing, staring.  But nostalgia has an edge, loss.

unknown-1Le Select Montparnasse