The Black Box

sky with stars illustration

There is a black box on my basement floor.

It is full of pretty things.

As a girl, I kept it in my room

atop my bureau

and filled it with all the lovely tokens I collected

from a lovely life.

*

As I grew older

the box grew too,

and I carried it with me from place to place,

and within it I placed

my heart,

and my love and my children

and all their lovely things

until it swelled.

*

One day, when I was no longer young

and no longer lovely,

I carried it into my basement

and placed it in a corner

on the floor.

And my black box sprouted roots,

cracking the foundation

and reaching down into the earth

and through the earth

to a black and bitter place.

*

When the flood waters came and destroyed all else,

my black box remained anchored.

And, now that the waters have receded, I see

that all but it have been swept away.

*

I regard my box in the corner,

but I shall not open it,

for within is a hole that reaches into an eternity of lovely things

that no longer are

and the torment of memories

of lovely places

that no longer exist.

 

Thoughts on “A Midafternoon Lunch in New England on a Gray December Day”

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I wrote this four years ago, and, since that time, have often thought about the couple in the restaurant. I hope they are still well, but time when you are in your twilight years moves faster. Time in your middle years moves faster; I know because that is where I find myself today-thinking about that restaurant, that couple, my husband and children as we were when I first posted this, and that gray December sky; the same sky I tried to ignore at the restaurant; the same sky that I see now as I look out my window.

Here is the original post (with a few minor edits).

I was intrigued by the elderly couple who sat across from us at the restaurant. It was her, really, who called my attention. She had to be in her late seventies, perhaps early eighties. And she was beautiful in a hearty New England way. I would venture that she might not have been considered beautiful in her youth, but at that moment, as the beauty of others her age faded, she was vibrant. She was robust, not lithe; her face full and happy; her skin porcelain and glowing. Her eyes were blue, but what struck me most was that the lids did not sag with the heaviness of age. Those eyes sparkled large and childlike. She drank a cocktail and breezily chatted with the gentleman who sat across from her and whose back was to me. I gleaned that he, with his nearly bald head resting upon a neck buried deep beneath hunched shoulders, was older, mid-eighties maybe.

It was a dreary, gray December day, and it seemed that the only place to be was a warm New England restaurant. All you had to do was ignore the view from the window and enjoy the soft lamplight of the indoors. As we shared a bowl of mussels, my husband, children and I chatted about our son’s birthday and Christmas and the wonderful things we planned to do over the winter recess. From time to time, however, I couldn’t help but study the elderly couple across from us.

There was a gorgeous bouquet of peach and white roses on our neighbor’s table. Their anniversary I figured. “How wonderful,” I thought. How long must they have been married? Fifty years, give or take? And still, seeming so much in love. They chatted away, her voice somewhat high pitched and girlish. She reached across the table for her companion’s hand. She smiled and giggled and sipped her cocktail, and, at one point, she belly laughed. It was the kind of deep, uncontrollable, sincere laugh that, unfortunately, you seldom hear. She laughed so heartily that, try as she might, she couldn’t stop herself, and you didn’t want her to stop for the sound of her laugh was so cheerful.

Later, a guest from another table approached the couple to congratulate them on their anniversary. Then she asked how long they had been married, and I waited for the response, certain for it to be forty, fifty, perhaps even sixty years. The elderly lady smiled and said, “It’s our one year anniversary.”

And just like that, the entire narrative I had created for our neighbors dissolved; yet, they were still so captivating, so charming, more so perhaps. Now there were so many questions. What had her life been like? Did she spend the first thirty years of her adulthood in a loveless marriage? Was she widowed while raising young children? Did she have any children? Maybe she didn’t have any. That might account for youthfulness.

The elderly couple continued on, laughing and chatting. I heard her say, “Here we are. Having this lovely lunch in this beautiful restaurant, then we will go home and sit and it will be over.” She reached for her partner’s hand again and smiled and looked at her roses and grew silent just for a moment. But when the waitress came to check on the table, she resumed her happy chatter, commenting that the when she returns she would love it if the sangria had whole blueberries in it. She ordered dessert for herself and her partner-they would share a piece of chocolate cake. She might not have wanted the cake, but she didn’t want the moment to end.

How she worked to hold onto that beautiful late afternoon lunch. I understood. I looked at my husband and our two children. He and I somewhat bewildered to find ourselves in our forties, still with the silly hopes and dreams we shared in our twenties, but different now, tired, worried. And our children. One who has so many struggles and the other who seems to navigate through life with ease but who already shoulders the weight of being the one for whom things seem to come easier. The four of us sharing a beautiful few hours. Just us. In that place. Wanting to stop time. To remain just as we were in that moment.

As the sky outside the window grew darker, we realized our moment was over. Afternoon was gone, having slipped away under a cloak of charcoal sky. Our neighbors stood up to leave. She, tall and straight and carrying her vase of flowers, led the way to the exit. He, fragile and stooped, followed slowly behind. I prayed they would return again for another anniversary.

Two Years

Two years have taken away ten

and I wonder if we can get those back again.

 

So much lost in two year’s time

a life, a mind…

All that was

now left behind

stored away in a memory box

left in a dark corner gathering dust

 

And like the rivers that cut canyons,

tears have worn creases into once fresh skin

carving a story of a difficult season

that stole away hope and youth

 

But as winter turns to spring

we are left to wonder

how much, if anything, can be restored?

 

 

 

 

Mists

If memory be a ship at sea

and the sea fog, time eternal

then let us hope

after we become shrouded by her cloak

and have sailed within her embrace

that when her mists are parted

and the sun casts her golden rays

those upon the shore

can see we are still here

that we have not disappeared

like vapor

into the great light.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Left to Say

From the recesses

of your clouded mind

there are things

you always find.

You retrieve these things

that I wish you would let pass

into a history

that will disappear

when the book is burned.

You apologize

for whatever it is

that makes all

“not right between us.”

And I tell you,

“there is nothing to be sorry for.”

This life has punished you enough.

I will bear the burden

of all that was

that we wish wasn’t.

I will set the book ablaze

and let the smoke

like memory

fade.

And us

and all that was

and is today,

that is my burden to bear.

It is something you cannot share.

You are too frail.

Your shoulders

too weak.

If it is comfort that you seek

from me,

I am here.

We are okay.

There is nothing to apologize for.

There is nothing left to say

other than

I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Shoes

Old Shoes

In my twenties I had a strange paradoxical relationship with time and the notion of aging, so I engaged in preemptive measures to avoid something that I was certain would never come.   I was a dancer living in a rat infested apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan.  I was broke, but somehow I managed to have enough money for cigarettes and anti-wrinkle cream.  I thought I would live forever (hence my lack of concern regarding my smoking habit as it related to my health), and, if I were to live forever, I had to stave off the ravages of smoking (as they related to my skin) because, hell, no matter how old I was, I had damn well look good.  Of course, my idea of looking good at a ripe old age had nothing to do with aging gracefully and everything to do with preserving my twenty-two year old body so that it remained exactly as it was for eternity.

During those years, I was greatly inspired by my dance mistress.  No, she had not discovered the secret of immortality, but she certainly knew how to age gracefully.  At the time she was in her eighties and still teaching class and running her well respected contemporary dance company.  At her advanced age, she was still beautiful.  Her hair, dyed the same jet-black color it was in her youth, contrasted sharply with her ivory skin.  She was an elegant bohemian, living across from NYU in a dilapidated building.  She resided on the fifth floor which served as both her home and rehearsal space for her dance company and school. When she taught lessons, she didn’t stand in front of the mirror, cane in hand, and bark commands- she demonstrated.  She danced-carefully, gracefully.  And I would be remiss not to mention that she was as kind as she was beautiful.  She called herself a Catholic Buddhist and introduced me to yoga.  It was in her space that dance became a transcendental experience and I learned what it meant to be in spirit.  It seemed that she would live forever…and she almost did, passing away in 2014 at the age of 97.  Unfortunately, I had walked away from dance long before her passing, and, when the curtain fell on my life as a dancer, so too did my belief in immortality.  But a long life…I still trusted in that.

It wasn’t just my dance mistress that led me to believe that life would be long.  Three of my great-grandmothers also lived well into their nineties, and my grandmothers would make it to their mid-eighties. Even as I entered my forties, I was pretty convinced that I had plenty of time.  I still continued to dream about what I would be when I grew up, making plans to one day go back to choreographing dances or writing the great American novel, or, being monumentally immature, both.  Then the winter of 2014 came and everything changed.

I suppose a little backstory is in order.  Both of my parents were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  My father was diagnosed ten years ago, shortly after the birth of my son.  My mother received her diagnoses three years later when I was pregnant with my daughter.  Some of us were never fully convinced that what my mother suffered from was in fact Parkinson’s.  Her lifelong battle with the world to be the sickest, most suffering, most ill-treated person in existence, had us skeptics, thinking, hoping, that, perhaps, her illness might be a bit psychosomatic.  Anyway, over the past few years, my mother also began showing signs of dementia, and this past winter she took a sudden and shockingly severe turn for the worse and fell into a downward spiral, rendering her incompetent and landing her in a nursing home at the age of sixty-nine.  Of course, the extreme stress of situation exacerbated my father’s Parkinson’s symptoms.  And, suddenly, I realized that life might not be as long as I thought it would.  Suddenly I  began looking at myself differently.  I was not a kid.  I was a woman in my forties.  I began to see the signs of age on my face, feel it’s gnarly crooked hand tugging on my body, making all the movements I did with ease in my youth, not so easy anymore.  I began to feel crushed by the heavy burden of stress and sadness over the loss of my mother as I knew her, over the loss of life as we knew it, over the loss my children suffered, for, until last January, they saw my parents, who lived five minutes down the road, on an almost daily basis.   Our already small family had become even smaller, and life became dark.

Over the past year, I have found myself making mathematical calculations and thinking thoughts like,  “Let’s see.  Mom is twenty-seven years older than me.  That means that when she was my age now I was fifteen years old.  But it doesn’t feel like I was fifteen so very long ago. Shit.  That went by really quickly.  What if I only have twenty-seven more years?  That would bring me to 69.  Twenty-seven years isn’t enough.”  How lovely, these persistent thoughts are.

Fixated on the relentless, merciless tick of the clock, not wanting anything to pass too quickly, I also found myself clinging.  Clinging to moments. Clinging to things that I thought would somehow keep time from slipping away-paper with my children’s scribbles, clothes my children had outgrown, toys my children were no longer interested in playing with.  Anything really that related to my children-the great loves of my life-because, as we know, they grow up; they leave. All good things must come to an end, and ends arrive far too soon.  Save everything.  Make things last.  Make things stay.  That was my subconscious philosophy.

So the new year arrived and I found myself, after all this saving, faced with the daunting task of cleaning out our shoe closet-a task I had been avoiding for what are now very obvious reasons, but, given that the door would no longer close, I had no choice other than to begin.  I had to purge it of all old, worn out and outgrown items. So I opened the door fully and took a long look. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  Anyone familiar with panic attacks knows the sensation of a rapid heart beat and shallow breathe.  And then the lump in the throat, the heat rising to the face, the ears.  Fuck. No.  This is getting done.  I chocked it all in.  Forced all that surge of emotion back down into the pit of my gut and set to work.  I told myself I felt nothing.  I grabbed old, dirty sneakers, and tossed them in the trash.  I beat back images of my kids playing in those shoes.  I dismissed very specific memories that would lurch into my mind of my little ones dressed in those very items I now discarded.  I refused to acknowledge any feeling of loss.  I coldly carried out my mission…until I picked up those Minnie Mouse shoes. My daughter’s Minnie Mouse shoes.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  For a million reasons and for no particular reason. Those I put away for safe keeping.  I have my limits.

And so here we are.  2016.  Clean closet.  Only new shoes-except for the Minnie Mouse shoes.  Those I will keep.  Someday, when I am very, very  old (hopefully), I will take those shoes out of the box they are now in and feel joy-joy over happy times, for a life well lived.  There should be no sadness in happy memories.

So here’s to you.  Here’s to life.  May it be long.  May it be happy.  Let us walk in light, not in the shadows cast by others, by the past. Let’s preserve our memories in our minds and store a  very precious few in our basements. Let’s throw on a pair of new shoes and dance on and on and ……………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does the tree…?

Does the tree mourn the loss of her leaves?

As each begins to dry and shrivel, does she ache with the anticipation of what is to come?

Does the tree shed a tear for each leaf that drops from her limbs?

Does the tree weep as she stands naked and cold, towering over the remains

of all that once was,

all that will no longer be,

all that will dissolve to dust?

Does the tree, stripped bare, feel the cold shock of fear, knowing she is no longer who she was?

Does the tree tremble with the thought that, perhaps, this time, she will not survive the winter?

Does the tree mourn the loss of herself?