Is it strange to know you’re hungry and have zero appetite? To look through the fridge, the pantry, and see nothing you would even consider eating, not even ice cream?
It certainly is for me.
But this has been a strange year for us, so far.
We’ve had our vaccinations against Covid, which allows a loosening of anxiety on that front. Just in time for a starburst of worry on another.
At the moment, I’m sitting in our second re-purposed room. The first was our bedroom, serving parttime as a ZOOM studio.
I’m in our living room, now fitted out with a hospital bed and attendant paraphernalia. Rolling bedside table, bottles of medicine and so on.
LH is in that bed and presently he is commenting on the wall of bookshelves beside me. They’re a patchwork quilt of color in our beige room, and we both find their presence comforting, even on ordinary days.
“If you want to look at one of the books close-up and handle it,” I say, “I’ll bring it to you.”
I am sitting at the extended leaf of a small side table situated at the foot of his bed, typing the words you’re reading.
“That’s all right,” he says. “I’m already touching them.”
And of course he is, with his eyes. A very literary, Leon Hale, thing to say.
Outside the window by the fireplace, our pear tree is flush with white bloom. In recent years, the bloom has been fleeting, over quickly in February, or even January. This time it looks determined to stick around.
When I sat in my mother’s hospital room as she lay dying, I could see a magnolia tree outside, littered with blossoms like a passing helicopter had dropped handkerchiefs on the boughs.
Late April. Every year the magnolia’s decoration is a reminder of her passing.
The fantasy that sustained us through the year of Covid isolation—that two writers could assemble and see published two books, then promote them virtually, did not allow for the present sorrowful situation.
But, in a way, the denial conveyed a blessing to us both. An older couple, devoted for years, were isolating in reasonably good health in their favorite place while positively engaged in a productive, absorbing activity. Will I look back on that awful year of anxiety and stress as one of our finest times?
It is possible.
When my mother lay dying in that hospital, I was in graduate school, working on a thesis. I sat in a corner of the room, scribbling away, while she slept.
For years I castigated myself for fleeing from sorrow in that way into words, into fiction, actually. My guilt accompanied that manuscript into the drawer, or storage box, where it currently resides--not that I could find it, if I tried.
But now I think I was wrong to heap such rebuke upon myself. When a young person makes a mistake, the error looms over them in a monstrous way. Such vivid proof of their human weakness can seem overwhelming.
By the time a few decades have passed, however, the mistakes a person has made accumulate like abrasions on the skin that turn into calluses.
We deal with sorrow as best we can, each in our own way. Writing about this today, while he sleeps nearby, is mine.