Monday, June 30, 2014

Vegetarians Go Wild

This is either vegetarian nirvana, I told my friend Paula, or we've lost our minds.

The recipe for the grilled hearts of romaine came in my CSA box, so we tried it. Drizzled with its homemade lemon dijon dressing and accompanied with grilled lemon slices and sprinkled with shaved parmesan, it was fabulous. Meaty, even.

The evening meal also included Paula's homemade hummus.

the finished product

the process
And beets with goat cheese--which I didn't photograph.

And not only do Paula and I love to eat the same things, today we discovered we were wearing the exact same t-shirt from Target.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Grieve

Hunt for beach glass with a friend and let her give you all that she finds including the first piece of PINK you've ever seen.
Let her coax you into long evening walks.
Sit on the patio with your friend and drink wine.
Pet her dog.

When friends call and ask if you'd like company, say yes. Let them bring you cupcakes, chocolate, vegetables, wine, the fixings for chili or soup, concoctions they've made, and books. Let them talk to you, take you to lunch, or to taste wine. Let them nap while you also nap. Let them cook for you or with you or you cook for them. Let them run errands with you. Watch movies that they recommend. Let them talk about love. Let them talk about grief. Or anything at all. Let them look you in the eyes when you're afraid your eyes might fill with tears and flood everything. Love them for not being afraid. 

Dan's ashes arrived on Friday afternoon. Priority mail. A package that required a signature. A package that bore a label that said "Cremated Remains." The mail carrier held the box against her body while she  handed me the clipboard so I could sign. When she handed me the box, our eyes met. I think she knew what she was handing me. I carried the box upstairs, nearly cancelled my lunch date, but it was too late. The door bell rang and it was time to go. I didn't talk about the ashes. 

My friend Paula had just arrived from Phoenix when I returned home after lunch. I didn't tell her about the ashes. 

That night after we said good-night, I opened the box. Inside was a simple black container nestled into packing paper. The container had heavy white tissue paper rubber-banded around it. Inside the container was a bag, stenciled in bold black letters with Dan's name and a number. The number was also embossed onto a gold tag that was attached to a twist tie that firmly sealed the bag. Inside the bag was what remained of a body I adored. Unfathomable. That the bag was so heavy. Yet fit in a box small enough to hold, say, a bottle of Grand Marnier. Everything unfathomable. 

Saturday, I still didn't tell Paula about the ashes. But I told her today. It's a difficult thing to tell. 
I'm not sure if I can say it aloud again. So I'm saying it here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Final Photo of the DIY Beach Glass Fireplace

Here it is with the grout haze all buffed off.

In case you're wondering, the only way to do the buffing was just a few stones at a time. It really didn't take that long though. I worked on it in little sections and maybe I spent about an hour on it.

And also in case you're wondering, I think the whole project cost maybe 50 bucks. And I have lots of grout and thinset leftover. The sponges can be used again, too. 

And here's some outdoor beauty for you from tonight's walk.

And yeah, I'm still collecting beach glass--just in case you're wondering. What am I going to do with all of it? I have plans.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Not like an Egyptian

If I were an ancient Egyptian, Dan's things would be entombed with him. Instead there have been weeks of family members sorting through his belongings (we knew he was moving out of his place even before he died) and some of those things have come to live at my house. I've chosen a sweater I've never actually seen him wear, but keep it because I like it, draped over the chair at my desk. I have his orange sweatshirt on the back of my reading chair.

I have the delicately-shaped saz that hung on his bedroom wall (though he never really played them for me), the luminaria that sat on his dresser.

Whenever I stayed at his place, he fumbled the cranky lid open and lit a candle for us before we crawled into bed. Dozens of T'ai Chi books now rest atop the small chest of drawers where he kept his things in my room. His bass has taken up residence in another corner. I have iPad videos of him singing, a box of old T'ai Chi videos I've labelled "Tapes Dan may be in." I imagine myself late at night with a bottle of wine, cranking up the VCR, the remote in my hand, as a younger version of this man I loved takes shape on my TV screen. I have a roughly hewn bell and a gong that were stored in his garage, that for some reason delight me even though I'd never seen them in his house. I have the picture of his daughter that hung above his desk. As I sip my morning coffee, my lips can now kiss the car thermoses that held his morning brew. Every room holds something that was his. While some might find this morbid, these worldly possessions provide some version of comfort. I am happy to have these things in the land of the living and not entombed beyond my reach.

I also have a small silver key to a storage unit where, I'm told, more of his things are stored. I try to imagine it. A whole room of his possessions. I don't think I will go there--and it's only a temporary arrangement anyway. I imagine the inside to be a winding warren of chambers, cobwebs hanging from blocks of massive stone. Now there's a business concept. Storage units made to look like ancient pyramids.
interior detail from the Vista Theater in Hollywood
Wouldn't you love a storage unit presided over by this image?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dreams of the Dead/Dreams of Dreams

yesterday morning at the beach--which has nothing to do with this post


Dan and I were lying in  a car with the seats reclined, kissing and talking. He was dead, but had returned. I understood this 100%, but he seemed to vacillate between acceptance and denial. We were remembering a previous conversation we'd had about what his name might be if he returned to this world in a different body. "Julian," I said. "You'd be called Julian." 

"No," he said. "There was another name, something unusual. You told it to me because you heard it in a dream, but I forgot." 

"You're right," I said. We made sounds trying to get the name to come out of our mouths. "I told you the name not long before you were gone," I said, not wanting to say the word dead. He looked sad then and unsure of himself, as if he didn't want to admit that he was dead. I wanted to explain to him that it didn't matter if he was dead because he was right there, kissing me, but the name began to take shape inside my mouth. "B-B-Br...," I said.

"Right," he said. "Something European." And we made sounds together until the name Bruges tumbled out of our mouths. "My name will be Bruges," he said. Our car was parked, not in a parking lot, but almost in front of the doorway of a supermarket. We were waiting for it to open so we could get groceries, and just at the moment of remembering, a bag boy in an apron came out and talked to us. It spoiled the moment, but while he said whatever he said, Dan and I muttered his new name so we wouldn't forget. 

I moved the car, still not to a proper parking spot, but up against the side of the building so we could kiss and talk some more.

When I woke the name Bruges was on my lips. What kind of a name is that, I wondered. Am I supposed to go to Belgium? Did I just have a dream wherein I remembered a dream--a dream that was just a dream dream and not a dream I actually had? Did I just have a dream about a person who's dead and in the dream was also dead, but was there kissing me and talking to me?

I need coffee.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Beach Report (yeah, I know it's dark now, but this is how it was)

this morning's harvest

The islands a well-kept secret.
Ocean stretching to the edge of nowhere.
The beach its own sea of pebbles.
Sea glass everywhere.

And there was the trip  to the county recorder's office to pick up Dan's death certificate. His daughter and I went together. Most of the people in line seemed to be there for marriage licenses. Not us. Check it over,  the clerk said. Be sure everything is correct. That's how I saw my name. There I was, half-way down, listed as "significant other." My name not spelled exactly right, but oh well. Significant. It seemed like an honor to be listed there.

On and off all day I thought of grief. Is it like an ocean, vast and deep? A mountain one must climb to get to the other side? For now, I've settled on crater. I'm not even sure I'm at the bottom--or still slipping downward. I make runs at the slope out. I do things. Patio clean-up down. Haze buffed from a section of the fireplace. Artwork from Dan's place re-hung here. A cookbook of his shelved with my own. A merging  of households. Significant.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our DIY Beach Glass Fireplace/Day 3

This morning: ready to grout!

Because beach glass is so irregular, the grout can't be put on with a trowel. We bought disposable gloves and massaged it in. C and I each did half. There was no way to keep from mostly covering the glass. But the grout sponged easily from the surface.

C did a little fine tuning with a toothpick.

We still have to buff the haze from the glass tomorrow, but we are pretty darn proud of our work.

My beach glass gathering had no goal in mind when I first started pocketing it two years ago. After finding so many pretty pieces, I thought I might want to make jewelry. Dan gave me some diamond drill bits for my birthday in November. He was already feeling pretty low energy by then, so his promise of a dremel tool or a small drill press to go with the drill bits did not materialize. I like the fireplace better than the jewelry idea. Dan died a week before his birthday. So his present--tickets to a James Taylor concert--didn't happen either.

As a reward for our morning of labor, C and I kayaked to lunch--but we kept well away from yesterday's gigantic sea lions.

Tomorrow C returns home to her regular life. I've got a few smaller projects in mind. I plan to keep busy. A little painting. A lot of house cleaning and patio clean-up that went undone for a long while. Maybe even some mending. Oh--and some book publicity. I have a book coming out. Yeah, I'm a writer. So don't try to hire me to make you a fabulous beach glass fireplace. I will be back at my desk before too long. (I'm repeating that last line like a mantra.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday Beach Report

C and I decided to let the thinset on our fabulous beach glass fireplace cure another day before grouting and had an extra long walk on the beach instead. We picked up a little trash (it's a pretty clean beach, really) marveled at all the beauty, picked up more sea glass, and saw a dead jellyfish-- while I told her what I know about snowy plovers and California least terns.

In keeping with the theme of the day we ate sushi for lunch, visited the maritime museum, and did some sea lion watching.

The large male snoozing behind the post may be the largest California sea lion I've seen. The group also included a very geriatric seeming sea lion who kept nodding off near the edge of the dock, jerking awake every time her nose hit the water. That's kind of the way I've been falling asleep at night. Refusing to give in as I scroll though pictures and old emails on my phone or on Dan's iPad until I drop them onto my face. Sleeping on a boat dock is not without hazards, and I'll bet plenty of people have given themselves black eyes by dropping their electronic devices onto their faces.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Beach Glass Fireplace Progress Report

There was a bit more planning and discussing and youtube video watching re the beach glass project today, but mostly C and I just got to it. We set up our work area and very gingerly carried our layout from the kitchen island over to the hearth.

C mixed the thinset. And after we let it rest as per the instructions, I remixed it.

There was definitely a learning curve in the spreading of the thinset. While we bought the smallest trowel available, it would have been better to have a child's toy tile setting kit. We employed a plastic fork and a toothpick along with the trowel and discarded the large orange work gloves immediately. Our hands are no worse for the wear, and I think we look a bit like we've had a French manicure. All the morsels of beach glass are now set, but I'm not going to provide a final photo until after the grout is in and the tape is removed. 

The day that I found the most beach glass ever in my brief beach glass hunting career, Dan was with me. We took an especially long walk that day, and our walk happened to coincide with low tide. I came home with at least two cups of the stuff, many of the pieces prime specimens. While some walking companions might not enjoy walking with someone stopping and starting as well as being somewhat preoccupied, Dan didn't seem to mind. I often interrupted our walking conversations on the beach to point out birds, too. 

There are so many traces of a person after they die. Their slippers under the bed. The bathrobe on the hook. When my father died some 40-some years ago, it was his empty recliner that took my breath away. Today our electronic devices leave even more tangible traces. Voicemails, recording of rehearsals, videos of his t'ai chi classes. I can click on the Kindle app on his iPad and see what books he had in his library. I can read his emails and check on his Facebook page. I want to mortar all of it into my heart.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Orange is the New Black

My builder grade fireplace. Nice enough. Boring though.

It always surprises me that heartache feels so much like....heartache. 

 But as one friend goes, another arrives. Even before my friend P left this morning, my daughter C was here. In fact both daughters are here now. 

I went to yoga for the first time in 2 or 3 weeks. I went to the supermarket for groceries. Look, I'm doing what the living do. Except things like remembering the sentence I just read or wrote.

Today, with C here, I decided I needed projects. Let's put leather conditioner on the cat-scratched sofa. Let's paint the hearth orange. Let's take all the beach glass I've gathered over the last two years and tile the fireplace with it. This is the sort of project that could go horribly wrong if left to my own devices, but C is meticulous. First there were a couple hours of research, then beach glass washing and sorting.

Then portioning out the colors so they'll be somewhat evenly distributed.

And now we've begun a sort of practice layout so we won't be just winging it when we put the morsels of glass into the thinset.

Remember the Rolling Stones song "Paint It Black"?

I see my red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
I see a line of cars and they're all painted black
With flowers and my love both never to come back

I'm taking the opposite approach. If I painted anything black it would be the end of me. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you

Thank you for every kind word, every hope, every whispered prayer, every encouragement, every personal story that let me know that you, too, experienced loss this profound. Thank you for the poems, the cards, the emails, the blog comments, voicemails, letters, photos, the remembrances of Dan from times long before I met him. Thank you for the flowers, the sandwiches, the beautiful fruit, the coffee, the cakes, pastries, cookies, candies. Thank you for the pizza. The visits. For bringing your darling dogs. For playing music and more music. Thank you for traveling long distances and short ones. Thank you for keeping things tidy in my kitchen. For shopping. For errands. For folding laundry. For the changing of linens. For staying overnight to keep the vigil. For making phone calls.  For making chili, for making soup, and chopping vegetables. Thank you for the bringing of chocolate and wine. Thank you for the love, for talking, for sitting up late, for sleeping on the floor in my room so I wouldn't be alone. Thank you for the things I'm forgetting to thank you for.

I would be utterly lost without you.

I've tried to respond to all the emails and thanked many of you on Facebook. There are many blog comments I have not yet responded to. And there are many more of you. I hope you see this post. Spread the word to those who might not.

Again, thank you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reading, Grief, Authors I Love, and Shebooks' Equal Writes Campaign

I confess. I'm lying in bed. I slept for 9 hours last night, but after washing and putting away all of the linens that were used for guest beds during Dan's final days, I'm horizontal again.

Lying in bed is a good place to keep up with the condolence notes. (Thank your from the bottom of my heart for each and every word.) Email. Facebook. I read and write back. Or just read, making a mental note to write back later.

Reading anything longer than these note from my friends and Dan's friends has been pretty much impossible. My eyes seem to be unable to focus right or something. Today, however, my friend Elizabeth Aquino's book has come out on Shebooks.  I've had the privilege of watching this book take shape while we wrote together at UCLA and in Elizabeth's living room, as well as in the homes of others in our small writers' group. I am positive I can read this book because I love what I know of it so much, and it will be positively thrilling to see it whole. I hope you will read this courageous and beautiful story too.

And while you are traveling around on the Interwebs, check out The Equal Writes Campaign

Oh, and yeah, I have a contract with Shebooks too. More about that when my book is released.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

48 hours

After T'ai Chi Chih/March 3, 2014

I would post something  today at 4:04 p.m., I thought. Some commemoration of Dan's passing at the 48-hour milestone Some update on how things are.

Instead, I slept.

Initially, it was a fake sleep to avoid talking on the phone. While I appreciate the condolence phone calls more than words can express, I simply cannot answer and speak. Chinese medicine would say that the lungs are the seat of grief, but I'm pretty sure that the larynx must be involved as well. My voice is lost except for brief casual conversation. Dinner is ready. Here's how I made the shrimp. Would you like some more bok choy?

I also find that I cannot go out of the house. Not even to my back patio to water the plants. I want to walk on the beach tomorrow, but I would like to do so in some sort of cloak of invisibility. I fear looking into the eyes of a person who does not know what has happened.

But what I want to write about is this:

The night that Dan died, I dreamed of whales swimming in the marina right outside our windows. And there was a giant shell that rose out of the water, its insides shimmering with color as it raced away.

The next day a neighbor I do not know came to the door to express her sympathy at the death of my husband. I did not correct her.

 I like to stand in the spot where the hospital bed was--where last I held him. Holy space.

And because I have shared so much of this experience, I think this final piece belongs here too.

When they come to collect Dan's body, Dusty sits by him and sings. Will stands at his other side and does a last Tuvan throat-singing chant. The men who've come for him lift him from the bed to the gurney. He is under the soft white blanket that he liked when he slept in a single bed we put next to my full-size bed for recuperation after the surgery. Under the blanket, Dan is  dressed in jeans and a favorite t-shirt. He is thin. Emaciated. But the  men struggle to lift him. Dusty and Will help them. Dan is laid on a white cloth on top of the gurney, and they bundle him into it as if they are wrapping an infant, only they cover his face too. Beautiful face. Pain and stress free. They wrap one side then overlap it with the other. After the wrapping in white, they cover him with a black fitted cover and wheel the gurney toward the front door. All of us follow them out. An unplanned procession, single-file, evenly spaced as though we've rehearsed it. We follow the curve of my front pathway to the driveway where the vehicle waits. We  line up in front of my garage in the gloomy colorless evening as they load him, standing there as they drive away, staying until they are out of sight.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

June 6/Afternoon

Blood pressure dropping. Blood pressure drops some more. The nurse delivers her tidings every hour. We murmur. We watch. We wait. Lunch. Snacks. Coffee. Conversation. Silent sitting. Phone calls.

Dan's friend Will drives down from Berkeley for the second visit in 4 (or is it 3?) days. Dan's friend Russ arrives, and Will and Russ begin to make music, sitting next to Dan's bed.

Do you want to climb in with him? the nurse asks, nodding toward the bed. Of course, I do, I say, but I can't figure out how I'm going to fit myself in with the five pillows propping him up. And there's the oxygen line, the tube from the catheter. It looks impossible. Instead, I help the nurse with the cool washcloths we are placing on Dan to relieve his fever. Let me know when you think I should crawl in with him, I say. How about now? she asks. I'm still doubtful. I'll help you, she says, lowering the bedrail and then pulling it back up again to support my back.

The songs Russ and Will are playing are Dan's favorites. Wow, I tell them, I never thought I'd find myself in bed with my boyfriend with live music in the room. Best girlfriend ever, Dusty says.

I begin whispering my "litany of bests" in Dan's ear. I've told him some of these things already, but I begin again, telling him everything I can think of. Best first date, best kisser, best friend, best guy in the kitchen, best massager.... Dan's breaths are shallow, as they have been for days. I watch the rise and fall of his chest. And then there is no rise. I call out for Dusty who is just a few feet away on the couch, and she sets her fingers against his neck where there is still a pulse. The rest of the family is at  the bedside now and everyone lays their hands on him. The pulse stops too. He sighs a final sigh, and he's gone.

The nurse pronounces him dead. It's 4:04 p.m.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Today/1:38 p.m.

June gloom. Slight breeze. We sit, but not for long. It's slow motion musical chairs--without the music for right now. We have cake. We have bagels. Lox. Chips of every variety. We have sandwich stuff and leftover chili. We are running out of pillows because we have Dan propped up every which way to make him comfortable. The phone calls, the Facebook messages and the emails keep coming. People keep arriving. I had this idea that it would be just the immediate family and me when Dan breathes his last--whenever that may be. But I've given way to the tide of love washing over the man who loves me. I think he would like it. So the friends, and old girlfriends, and roommates, the t'ai chi students, and the band mates come. They tell us things we don't know. We listen.

And here is a story for them. A blog post from about 3 years ago called I Could Drink A Case of You:

Saturday night after the super moon refused to show its face, there was more darkness. I pulled the mail out of my mailbox to find a "letter" from my attorney which wasn't a letter at all. What is was was a photocopy of the judge's ruling on my motion to recover attorney fees. Denied, it said.

 I'd been waiting since our day in court on March 2nd for the news. I'd emailed my attorneys asking for an update a week after the court appearance. The judge was out of town, they said. So I waited some more thinking I would email the attorneys again after the weekend. Maybe the beginning of Spring would bring good news.

Or not. But it wasn't the bad news about the money that was the worst thing. Instead of days of waiting, I could have used a prompt email last Tuesday when the ruling came down. Or a phone call. I could have used a tiny slice of personal communication--something like, "Dear Denise, We're sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but don't be discouraged, and here's what we'll do next..." I could have used a scrawled post-it note stuck to the corner of the blurry photocopy with some kind missive like "hang in there"--or even a crude little drawing of a frowny face. Nope.

I admit to dark thoughts. I have them. I'd been having them less. But Saturday night the dark thoughts had a party. They wore black and carried knives. They looped ropes over beams. They made tea and reminded me that the deranged husband in Tim O'Brien's excellent novel  In the Lake of the Woods killed his wife with boiling water while she slept. I didn't sleep Saturday night. I sat in my bed frozen with dread. I emailed Mr. Ex. I texted him. Then the sun sort of rose--or did what the moon did the night before--lurked somewhere behind the clouds while doing its job in a less than satisfactory way. And that's what I did Sunday. I skipped a good friend's fabulous First Day of Spring party and drank mimosas in my pajamas with M. while we watched basketball. Then I crawled to bed and slept the day away.

When I woke I felt stupid and lazy and realized I had a house full of people whom I love. I cobbled together dinner, took a shower while the chicken was in the oven, then lit the candles and sat at the dining room table like a human being. And somewhere in there I'd talked on the phone with the man who loves me. He was wrestling with his own First Day of Spring demons. "You'll know what to do," he said. "You always do." Or somethin' like that.  Maybe not, I thought. And maybe this thing between us could be going a little better.

I was putting the last of the dishes into the dishwasher when the brass door knocker that nobody ever  uses announced that someone was at the door. Yup. "Someone's at the door," the daughters said without moving as if they knew it was for me. There he was, the man who loves me standing in the rain with a little cluster of daffodils in one hand and a case of wine hoisted onto one shoulder. You read that right. Not a bottle. A case.

I'm still on my feet.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This Evening (again)

one of my favorites of the many photos of Dan that his friends have been posting on his Facebook page

Rise and fall. Rise and fall. We sit in the living room watching the rise and fall of Dan's chest. We look up from our books or magazines, our laptops or our phones. We all have something we are doing as we wait, yet we all see the changes and ask one another, is the breath more shallow? Is he breathing faster now? Was that a pause?

Hum of the fan. Hiss and sigh of the oxygen machine.

A little later we set up a bed in the front hallway for Dan's oldest sister. Ready another bed in the garage for a dear friend from the Bay Area who has decided to come back down. I pull out blankets for the other sister and her husband who will camp out on the couch. My mother, thank god, has gone to bed. Every time she tells me I have to be strong or hold it together, I say, no I don't. That I'm just going to go ahead and be sad. 

Hum. Hiss and sigh. Breathe in. Breathe out. Dan's breath now seems more what?

At least we are well fed. When my friend E called and asked if she could come, I told her yes. Yes, please, tell me what we should eat, I said, and help me with my mother. She brought the fixings for chili, and sat in my mom's room with her for quite a while. She sat with her at dinner, and stood over the iPad with her afterwards reading and taking about something.

Now the rest of us sit, transfixed--and then not as we go back to reading or scrolling or typing. We sit breathing, waiting for Dan's last breath. So many "lasts" have already occurred. They stole by us, unannounced. No fingers on the strings of his bass. No more walking. No "Hi baby." No singing. No kisses. Better not to know, perhaps, when the last of these things occurs in anyone's life. How would we bear it?

This Morning (again)

Calm and gray. The mirror of water outside the window just beginning to ripple. We sit on the couch (Dan's daughter, his sister and I) asking ourselves why he is hanging on. There has been no change in Dan's condition in the last 24 hours. The nurse asks us if we have had "the talk" with him. We have. Go, we've said. Separately, we've said it. And together. His daughter and I stood on either side of him  yesterday afternoon and told him we love loved each other. I will take care of Dusty, I said. I will take care of Denise, she said.We've delivered messages from others. Held the phone to his ear for a number of one-sided conversations. Read him the emails that keep filtering in from long-ago school friends. Filled the room with music from his own iPod.

In my experience, the nurse says, it's the women who hang on. Men, when they can't use power tools, are done, she says. The women want those grand babies.

We don't know what Dan wants. To say something, Dusty says. He would say the most perfect wonderful thing, we are certain, if he could talk.

I am done with questioning. Instead, I sit at the foot of his bed. I'm watching. I'm waiting. With every email, phone call, Facebook message, every old photo, every family story, the heart of this man I love grows larger even as the shell of his body grows smaller. My house hums with the fan that blows across his fevered body, the sound of his oxygen machine merging with the sound of my mother's oxygen machine, the rustle of newspaper pages being turned, the click of laptop keys. My house hums with life.

The trick is in knowing when to let it all go
hanging on til you're sick to your soul
saying yes and forever and never and no 
They're just spots on the dice as they roll

---lyrics from the chorus of a song Dan wrote long before I knew him.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

This Evening

We've eaten the candy. (Okay, I've eaten the candy), half of the cookies, most of the berries. It's three nurses later. There's been a sandwich run. Wine has been poured. Hugs have been exchanged and stories told. Tears wept and wiped and wept again. Hands have been held. Hands have been massaged. Hands have been placed on Dan's forehead, slipped into his hands, and hands have stroked his arms and his improbably hollow cheeks.

Wishes have been whispered. Blessing proffered. Permissions given. Predictions made. Love given, received, multiplied and returned.

Meanwhile, my mother is standing in the kitchen in her purple plaid pajamas finishing her millionth  martini.

And I'm just wondering. Anybody else out there have two Do Not Resuscitate forms posted inside their door? Just asking. Just asking. Just asking.

This Morning

It's morning. I come downstairs and do what I always do. Coffee. Pull up the window shades. And this particular morning I talk with my friend L who is flying back to Hawaii. How long have you two known each other, the nurse asks. L and I laugh. Three days, she says. But she's known Dan for 50 years, I say.

I tell Dan I'm taking L down the street to catch a shuttle that will take her to LAX. Tell him I'll be right back. Kiss his head. There's activity under his eyelids, and he tries to say something.

When I return I sweep the floor, stopping by his bed, which is in my living room, to kiss him or lay my hand on his head. I tell him I'm back. That his daughter is upstairs. That his family will be here soon. Friends too, maybe, I say.  I unload the dishwasher as quietly as I can. Drink coffee. Take out the trash. Throw in a load of laundry. These are the things that need doing even when there's someone you love lying in your living room actively dying. A hospice phrase. Actively dying. Right now, it seems like Dan and I are dividing that phrase in two.

I talk to him. Read him some of Jack Gilbert's poems. Then I turn my attention to the piles of things on my kitchen island. I take cookies out of their bags and arrange them onto plates. The candy that L brought from Hawaii into bowls. The strawberries that K brought into a bigger bowl. Bright red into green. Beautiful opposites. I peel all the stickers off the bananas so they look prettier. Are these the things a person should do when someone you love is actively dying just across the room? The nurse suggests a basket so all of the morphines and other medicines can be tucked inside instead of strewn across the counter. I pull one out. Perfect, she says. Thank you, I tell her.

Then I settle onto the couch. Open my laptop. I am actively living.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How I Met Dan

My date first messaged me on a couple of weeks earlier while I was visiting friends in Portland. My friend Robin and I sat on the couch, our heads together over my laptop and scrolled through the pictures and profiles of the men who were interested in me. “Date the bass player,” she said. “They don’t have to be the center of attention.” After decades with a man who remained at the dinner table or a party only when he commanded the room, I liked the idea of someone who didn’t need to be wailing the melody center stage. The bass player had a solid day job, too and was fit from years of practicing and teaching Tai Chi. He didn’t profess to have any “unusual needs” like the guy in the loafers and the sport coat who explained during our online correspondence that he insisted on being “included” when his girlfriends used the toilet. The bass player didn’t post dozens of pictures of himself poolside in a skimpy pair of Speedos or shots of his pet lizards posed on toy furniture. So I took Robin’s advice and answered his message. 
We agreed on a hike for our first date and climbed one of the trails near the Griffith Park Observatory on a December Southern California day when you could actually see into the distance. The ocean was shimmering in the sunlight; storm clouds piled up like a stack of pillows over the San Gabriel Mountains, and from our particular angle the Hollywood sign appeared to read, "Hollywoo." There wasn't really any serious wooing going on though. Both of us were cautious. But conversation was easy, sweet and deep. After two hours of talking and walking we hugged and agreed we’d get together again. Then we got into our separate cars and drove down the hill. At the bottom, as we sat side by side at a stop sign, he blew me a kiss before we turned in opposite directions.  
            But I wondered if I really would see him again. My experience with Internet dating did not include much forthrightness when it came time for the on-the-spot analysis of the first meeting. “It would be fun to get together again,” I told the stocky curly-haired guy I’d met for coffee after a couple of weeks of emailing back and forth about our favorite New Yorker stories. He had teeth the color of topaz and t-shirt so sweaty that I shook his hand with a fully extended arm and had no intention of seeing him again. 
            “You’re beautiful and sexy and you have a great sense of humor,” the screenwriter on the verge of his big break told me at the culmination of our expensive dinner. I tried to envision my silver hair glistening in the candlelight like some ad in an AARP magazine, but I saw the way his gaze shifted every time a pretty woman young enough to be my daughter walked by our table. “I’ll call you next week,” he said as he kissed my cheek. I knew he wouldn’t.
            Dating at the age of fifty-plus includes the inherent knowledge that we’ve all been broken, and there seems to be an ethic that says, “Do no further harm.” It makes it hard to be honest about the prospects of beginning a relationship. But with a little bit of luck a pleasant hour or two has been spent, and one returns home with a clearer idea of what characteristics might be included in that perfect match.  If you are someone that dates with your head and not your heart, that is.
            I have no idea what the bass player sees in me, is what my head says as I ride next to him. I ponder his profile while he watches the six lanes of traffic in front of us. We’re so different from one another, I think. Different ethnicities. An age gap of ten years. I’m taller. I know very little about music or eastern religion. But then he glances my direction and our eyes meet. There’s nothing I’d like better than to skate my palms over his shaved head and bring his mouth to mine. How exactly did an online dating site figure this out?  Or am I just swept away in the moment the way I was last summer before I got tired of the playwright who wanted to read me a play of his every evening before we turned out the lights?
            I’m striving for more candor this time around, and while I don’t think Internet dating requires a brutally accurate assessment of why people don’t especially want to go on that second date, I aspire to some degree of honesty. “I don’t ever plan on getting married again and if we continue to see each other, I’m going to take things very slowly,” I told my date before our good-bye hug in Griffith Park. “It might be months before I’m alone with you in the dark,” was my response after he invited me over to his place to watch a movie. “I’m really glad you came to the airport,” I tell him now, electing to keep my hands to myself in an effort to avoid a fifty-car pile up.
            When we get to my place, I invite him in for a glass of wine. I’ve already told him I’m not ready to sleep with him yet, but as we sit in my living room with the lights low, visions of the future stand quietly in the shadows. Through the French doors, I can see the ivy and jasmine vining around my patio, and it’s easy to imagine my roses in full bloom when summer comes. Something is unfurling inside my heart.
            In this era of Internet dating, love happens the way it always has. It’s not a laundry list of attributes or an inventory of likes and dislikes that propel us toward one another. It’s an earlobe, the taste of a kiss, or the way someone nods when they understand what is being said. Dating sites no doubt increase the traffic on the freeway to our hearts. The intersection of the data on our screens and the input of our senses is a good place to stop and smell the roses. But love, as it’s always been, is still a happy accident where the palpable world collides with the mysteriously intangible. 

            My date pats the sofa as I set two glasses of wine on the coffee table. I curl up next to him, pondering the wonders of Internet dating and the small miracle of how, in a city of almost four million people, I’ve been guided to someone I never would have found on my own.

Monday, June 2, 2014

And then this happened.

About twenty minutes into the wait for morphine early this morning, I called hospice. Absolutely not acceptable, the on-call nurse told me when she called me back. I told her I wanted to take D home. That the facility, while okay, was not stellar. The twenty-five minute wait for morphine on the heels of the dream was what I needed to full-out advocate for a change. Besides, I had told D I would get him to my place, and  I wanted to keep my promise to him. The on-call nurse from hospice was encouraging. When the regular hospice nurse came to evaluate and ask him if he felt up to being moved, he nodded and smiled, and a look of relief settled over him.

It was a topsy-turvy day filled with effort (Thank you, hospice nurses), but D made it to my house around 3:30. His bed and equipment were there waiting. After dinner, his daughter settled in on the couch, while his long-time friend L and I chatted with the nurse and each other.

This house is pretty big, but it's so full of love that the walls are bulging.

Escape to the Sea

I had a dream last night as I slept in two chairs pushed together in the room at the care center where the man who loves me now resides. I dreamed I sewed a special backpack out of sturdy leaf-green canvas. I put him in it and carried him to the ocean.

He was wide awake this morning after it took 25 minutes to get him his morphine, so I told him the dream. Haha, he said. Later as the morphine trickled down his throat, he said the word dream as if he wanted me to tell him the dream again. I did, and he said let's go. He flung his legs over the side of the bed, but couldn't get up. What is going on with my legs, he asked.

I didn't tell him the 2nd half of the dream where I hung him in his back pack on a tall iron fence and went to see a my friend J in her cottage next door. When I came back, he was gone.