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Friday, July 21, 2017

(16) "I DIDN'T DREAM I'D NEED AS MUCH HELP AS I DO."

               It’s the 28th of February, the day before the calendar announces that Leap Year has rolled around again.  I go over to Ted’s house to pick up my alimony check, which he says he’s had ready for days.  He knows I like to deposit it immediately, the better to have it start earning interest.  I remember my father trying to teach me about the importance of interest when I was in the 4th grade.  He took me to the bank next to the Mason School and opened an account in my name.  The next month he again went with me to the teller and showed me how the figure in my account book had increased without my adding a penny.  A great lesson.  Then I married a man who thought a bank was something you found at the edge of a river.    
             Ted says, “I know Dad thinks I’m tough, but I have to be.  There’s nothing I’d like better than to write a check for both of us for $100,000.  Inside of two years his share would be gone, and he’d be looking for more.  If anything went wrong, like one of my tenants going bankrupt, the problem would just come back on me and my family.  I’ve worked too hard to provide for the future to jeopardize everything now.”
March 2000
 A change in this week’s routine.  I get to Kathie’s house early enough to follow Frank to a Roslindale auto-repair shop where the mechanic will work on his truck’s stalling problem.  On the way back to Westwood, we converse mainly about books and find we have a fondness for many of the same authors.  He is currently reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I  read twice and can recall well enough to contribute a few impressive observations on natural selection and survival of the fittest.  All the while I’m showing off, I’m hoping I’ve got my facts straight.
I tell Frank about my late sweetheart Jack, a charmer with a delicious sense of humor and not the slightest interest in reading.  Once, when I went to Fort Lauderdale with Ed, I left Jack with a copy of Darwin’s book and told him I expected a report when I got home.  When I queried him with, “Tell me about how the species originated,” his rejoinder was, “Well, it’s a long story.”
I don’t confess to Frank that thoughts of Jack enter my mind at least three times a day for a peculiar reason.  He always maintained that the only logical way to hang a roll of toilet paper was with the outside unfolding from the top.  Trying not to think about this simply doesn’t work.  I faithfully hang the paper his way, but still, there I am again, mentally saying hello, Jack.
He doesn’t hear me because cigarettes killed him several years ago.    Once I said to him, “I think of my darling Jack every time I open this kitchen drawer.”  He looked at the cigarette ash next to a pad and pencil and said, “I’ve got to get you something better.”
After our return to Westwood, I sit with Kathie at the round table and give her some pages to edit.  She has been working with four students on their dissertations, but she still manages to find time for me.  She also, thank goodness, is finding time for herself and Frank to go off on a two-day vacation at the Appalachian Mountain Club center in Pinkham’s Notch, New Hampshire. 
I join Ed in his apartment and read a couple of typed recollections.  Again, he not only stays awake while I’m reading but laughs aloud in the right places.  I love it when he laughs. The first vignette is dated March 9, 1965 . . .
In spite of the threat of bankruptcy hanging over our heads, Ed is still his easy-come-easy-go self.  After telling me how desperate things were and exhorting me not to spend one unnecessary dime, he came home with a tape of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto—despite the fact that we already have all five concertos on records.  Quite pleased with himself he was, too, and quite hurt when I failed to enthuse over his purchase.  If he had to buy a tape, I scolded, he could have at least bought one we didn’t already have.
“But the tape is so much better than the record,” he said.
“What’s so much better about it?  I’ll bet if you went into the other room and I played first one and then the other, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
“Yes, I would,” he said.  “And you would, too.”
All right, so the record was a bit scratched, was that any reason to be such a spend-thrift?  I thought we were supposed to be economizing.  What kind of one-sided budget was this, anyway?
Meanwhile, Beethoven’s glorious music was pouring from the speaker, and I could tell Ed was wishing he could shut me off.
“You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” he said.  That’s what he always says when he’s feeling picked on, and it always reaches me.  Boy, wouldn’t I be sorry!  (I can’t look up at him.) I suppose there are worse things a man can do than collect Emperor Concertos, I decided.  We sat down with our cocktails and listened companionably to the unscratched version.
Ed is wide awake and beaming.  Once when I was writing to the Malleys, I began the letter, “Dear ex-hobby and Aliceann.”  This was a typo I couldn’t bear to correct.   My ex-hubby is my ex-hobby to this day.
The March winds are howling, but there’s a definite warming trend in the air.  Aliceann suggests that Ed and I go out for lunch out next week.  “There’s another Uno’s not far away,” she tells me.  “I’ll take you and Edward there after I have my hair done, then I’ll do the shopping and come and pick you up.”
“Aliceann, why don’t the three of us go?  Wouldn’t that be fun?”
She is firm.  Edward and I won’t have much more time to spend together, and this is the way she wants it.  “You’re amazing,” I say.  No I’m not, she says.  But she is.
   
I call Kathie to see if Ed is expecting to go out to lunch with me today or has he forgotten.  She tells me he’s looking forward to it like an excited little kid.  Then she says, “They’re leaving two weeks from Tuesday.”
I say good, being fed up with the whole sorry mess, and she says, managing a little laugh, “I don’t know how good it is.”  Despite the laugh, I detect a low note in her voice.  Something is troubling her, I am sure, something besides the departure of her father and the other nine neighbors. 
When I show up in Aliceann’s kitchen, she has our program efficiently arranged.  She will drive Ed and me to Uno’s, drop us off, then be back for us by 1:30 in order to take Ed for his shot at 2:30. Meanwhile, she will pick up his Luprin medication, which costs $100, and which she has to pay because the pharmacy computer says their Mass Blue Cross policy has been cancelled.   “We didn’t have to pay anything for it in Florida,” she says.
“Ohmigod,” I say, recalling the reels and reels of red tape Kathie and I and Aliceann got tangled up in when we were trying to switch the Malleys’ Medicare and Blue Cross affiliations to Massachusetts.   “Now you’ll have to go through that rigmarole all over again. 
“I know.  I hate the way they put you on hold and then seem to forget your existence. Sometimes you wait for half an hour, and the next thing you hear is a dial tone.”
 I advise her to keep one her novels beside the phone, so she can forget their existence while she waits.
  Aliceann and I help Ed into his windbreaker, easily a two-woman job since his arms have lost the knack of thrusting themselves into the sleeves.  “Stand up, Edward,” she says, when the jacket gets caught on the back of the wheelchair.  He stands on his rocky legs, once as strong as a rock, and is at last bundled up and ready to go.
I watch Aliceann lift his wheelchair into the back of her car and marvel again at how powerful her arms are.  “It is heavy,” she says, with a final gasp and a push, “but I’m used to it.”
At Uno’s, Aliceann asks for a booth, wheels Ed to the one indicated by the hostess and helps him get seated.  “Oh darn,” she says, “I forgot to give you your medication.  Remind me, Barbara, as soon as we get home.”  Then she says, “Now have a good time, you two.”  A kiss for Edward, a kiss for me.  I thank her for all her help and tell her she’s a doll.
Ed says Aliceann has been much kinder to him the last few weeks. “I don’t know what brought on the change, but it makes life a lot pleasanter.”
“It must be because she’s so happy about going back to Florida.  I know how much she’s missed her friends and all her activities. Have you hired a mover yet for all your stuff in the basement?”
A mumbled response.  “What?” I say.
“We’re going to do it ourselves.  I asked Frank’s brother if he’d do it, and then he asked Frank to go with him.”
So this is why Kathie’s spirits were low this morning.  She’ll worry about something going wrong every minute until Frank completes the round trip safely.  I picture him, along with his assistants, lugging everything out of the basement.  .
I should think he’d want to leave the whole works in the middle of the yard and set fire to it.  But he’s like Kathie.  No matter how much he’s hurt, he’s outwardly calm and inwardly non-violent.  Then there will be the unloading in Florida, with Aliceann orchestrating the process, designating what furniture goes into the house and what is to be stored or donated to the Salvation Army. Nah, none of it is going to go to the Salvation Army when it arrives in Florida.  The question is, where precisely will it go when it reaches its new home?  The house?  The single car garage?  Storage?  She’ll have to shut all her pets in a bedroom so they won’t dart through the open door.  Damn all the damn animals for their role in this fiasco.  I could strangle every one of them.  Well, maybe not literally, but I get a certain satisfaction out of my imaginary mayhem.
Ed says something, and I have to ask him to repeat it.  From here on, I will transcribe the mumbled words that issue from his swollen, chapped lips, understandable only after two or three encores.
He says he’ll miss the activities he and Aliceann shared for so many years.  “I don’t know what I’ll do to keep busy without the boat.  We used to go fishing two or three times a week before I had to sell it.”
I tell him I’m sorry his older years are ending up this way, with so many losses, both physically and financially.
“I can stand the physical infirmities—it’s being poor that is killing me.”
The waiter takes our order.  Ed is having grilled sirloin tips and mashed potatoes, I go for the Caesar salad and cream of broccoli soup.  When our beer arrives in freezer-frosted mugs, I pour Ed’s for him, then mine.  We clink glasses and say cheers.
“Any new gossip about Cohasset?” he asks.
No new gossip that I can think of, so we resort to old gossip.  One of the juiciest scandals was that memorable party when the hostess corralled all the male guests in her kitchen, one-by-one as neatly as a cowgirl singling out steers, and issued to each the same invitation.  Anyone who at any time felt like stopping by for a visit on his way home from work would be welcomed with a drink, hors d’oeuvres, and a relaxing tête-à-tête.  A blanket invitation, you might say.
The wives were the last to know, of course.  It wasn’t until this femme fatale had broken up a couple of marriages and estranged two aspirants who were brothers that the truth seeped out.  Then she divorced her husband and married a much richer man.  She married again and then again, each new catch wealthier than the last one. Her ex-husband married Ed’s secretary who had the hateful name of Hope Darling.  Oh, how I resented that name.  I used to think, how could he help but have a thing for a Hope Darling he saw daily?  But now he tells me I had it backwards: darling Hope had a thing for him. 
“I knew there was something going on,” I say.  It’s kind of fun discussing secrets like this years later when you no longer give a hoot.  Not even enough of a hoot to ask probing questions of a man who would once have clammed up but now seems willing to confess all. 
I’m really not interested but listen politely while he describes again the Cohasset party he went to after our divorce, where he was the last to leave and ended up with the hostess in his lap, weeping over her breakup with a boyfriend.  “When I wanted to pursue the relationship,” Ed continues, “she said no way would she go out with me, it was common knowledge I was still in love with you.  I lost a lot of potential dates because of you.”
I figure I should say I’m sorry about that, so I do, though I’m not.
His lips are moving rapidly.  I know he’s talking, but I can’t hear him. 
“Slow down, dear, I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”
He says more slowly, “There was a time when I thought I might capture you back again.  That was fifteen years ago when you agreed you’d be willing to spend six months in Fort Lauderdale with me.”
“No, Ed, I remember the conversation.  I said four months was all I could take of Florida.”
“Okay, four months.  I figured if you spent that much time down there, you might find yourself liking to be with me.”
“I always liked being with you, Ed,” I say.   “But I learned after we separated that I liked being my own person, too, a person who seemed to have been lost in the shuffle during the years we were married.”
The waiter serves us, warning that the platters are hot.  I reach over and cut Ed’s sirloin tips into smaller, more manageable pieces.
“I used to get terribly lonesome,” Ed says.  “Didn’t you ever get lonesome?”
“Sure I did, once in awhile. But I’d say to myself, this will soon pass and life will feel good again.”
“I couldn’t stand being alone, especially at night.  I had to have someone to keep me company or I’d go nuts.”
I say I think that’s true of most men, or at least it was in those days.  They started out with their mothers taking care of them, and then married women who took over the nurturing role—feeding them, doing their laundry, cleaning their house, keeping their bed warm.
“Wasn’t that in the back of your mind when you married Aliceann?  That when you got old you’d have this energetic younger woman to care for you?”
“Not at the time,” he says.  “I knew I’d get old, but I didn’t dream I’d need as much help as I do.”
I bring up the possibility of a support group.  Aliceann had mentioned it to me this morning when Ed was in the bathroom.  He responds with his usual refrain that he doesn’t want to be involved with sick, old people he has nothing in common with.
My poor, deluded ex-hubby.  If ever there was a case of Utter Denial, this was it.
“Ed, Aliceann needs the support of people who are having experiences similar to hers.  Why don’t you go with her for her sake?  She does so much for you, here’s a chance for you to do something for her.”  He mumbles that he doesn’t think she cares that much.
“But she does.  She told me she did.  And Ed, you might have ideas that would help other disabled people, and they might be able to help you.”
Ed doesn’t have many expressions left on his face, but his skepticism is clear.  He is mumbling that he’ll think about it when Aliceann says breezily, “Hi, kids, have you had a nice time?  Come on, Edward, we’ve got to get you home so you can take your medication and brush your teeth.”

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