“I’m treading water.”
“We could both use a break from the ‘unhealthy pace’.”
“I need space to process feelings, desires, choices and goals.”
And, to add, the operative noun:
For never coming back.
The tenacious ones always get hurt.
Being a barnacle. Hanging on, trying harder, being mindful, vowing to practice good listening skills. Harvesting scraps, from dinner.
Denying how much the one so loved wants to leave.
He’d been talking about “incompatibility” for months. Good listening skills notwithstanding, I’d refused to hear it. Compatibility was a small thing; heck, I’d been “matched” for it at eHarmony.com in 2006, spending three weeks with a bona fide, raving psychotic. You laugh?
I thought that really caring, providing nurture, being helpful around his house, thinking of his needs first whenever I entered a store, trying to find solutions to an endless litany of problems, and being willing to drive the twenty three minutes each way to his place three, four times per week were the ways to show love. Oh, and, the big one: forgiving him all his sins. Past, and present. Repeatedly.
I was mistaken.
In the end, everything I said or did, and how I said and did it, drove him away. He couldn’t stand being around me. He only wanted me there when I wasn’t.
And so, he treated me in kind. I often found my words dismissed – grammatically and syntactically correct texts, each one requiring an intolerable twelve seconds to digest – deleted because there were just too many of them; my overall behavior frequently subjected to declarations tinged with sarcasm and outrage; sweeping generalizations about what was “normal” regularly put up as the barometer against my every act. And yet, to sum it all up, this was “just me”, and who was he to try to “change” me?
By now, with the single exceptions of downhill skiing, skydiving, scuba, performing surgery, and giving birth, everything about life had happened to me. There’d hardly been an experience to which there hadn’t been at least some tangential connection. I’d hiked to the top of Mt. Washington, reeled in a mahimahi off the Honolulu coast, and played on stage with YoYo Ma. Taught competitive marching band (not very competitively, being a poet and aesthete), choir, chorus, hundreds of strings, scores of private students, and coached/produced/directed childrens’ drama ten times in ten years. In 1984, traveled alone to Scotland, England, France, Germany and Switzerland. Written and illustrated three childrens’ books. Bought my own house at age 29, my own cello at 28, and my own Steinway at 57.
But, being dumped as a single woman, at age 61. That smelled more like terror. Who wanted an old woman, for a partner? Surely not an old man. Men were largely unteachable, to begin with, unless groomed by a registered Suzuki instructor by age 4; how could they be expected to adapt to anything, by this time?
I suppose that, just like I myself declared in the musings of a prior piece, beginning again at age 61 might entail going more solo than ever before. That multiply published author, as she traveled the college keynote circuit, never made mention of either a husband or even children. But then, the tiny one, in the bookstore. Carefully laying out all the major novels as her world for the remaining winters of her solitary existence.
So, what did I want? And, what would it be? Serving at the soup kitchen, on Christmas day? My own mother had regularly helped do the very thing, every week in the final few years of her life. She died, anyway, at age seventy six, not a day older than she was at seventeen.
Ask, and ye shall receive. But, isn’t it better to give?
I’m tired of giving. Giving up, that is – most of my entire self, for another (but, keeping the house, dammit. The only thing I hadn’t done was build it, for God’s sake.)
Maybe spreading love around is the secret. I’m a sprinter anyway, after all – good in short, intense spurts. For the long haul? The biggest load since the space shuttle crossing country on a flatbed.
No matter that the shuttle altered life on the planet as we all knew it. The shuttle was never intended to win friends or influence people, or get tucked into bed at night between the dogs and the warm, familiar embodiment of romantic idealism.
Even as a child, I was not well liked. My own mother found me irritating. And, she was quick to say so. I bore every, single trait inherited from her husband which she never knew until after he’d married her.
So, time to go.
Tonight, I’ll be at my house. It’s warm, inside. Been mine, for thirty years. Plenty of space, to fill with perpetually collecting reminders of everyone who’d ever been next to me in the room, now to sit alone and think.
But, just don’t ask me to feel.
For that, I would need a really exquisite, carefully selected, and truly exceptional metaphor.
© 11/26/18 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the world’s most rejectable woman, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for stifling your self satisfied derision.
The henna tinted haircut had become oily and matted. Clothes, twice worn, and I’d missed the shower in the a.m. It was nigh on 5:37, and the service was to begin at 6.
I looked a sight. Yet, the temple being a scant four minutes from the house, my heart told me that missing their open invitation would be the greater regret. Dabbing some under eye concealer, a bit of pink powder and a neutral lipstick, I fluffed what remained of the haircut, grabbed the short raincoat, and headed for State Street.
Turning left at the top of Cherry Street, my Pontiac soon joined a steady trough of traffic. Parking at the temple’s Jefferson Society lot was limited, and street options could extend north all the way down the hill if we didn’t get all the greens heading east. I wondered how many from as far away as Fairview had also accepted the invitation?
West of the stadium, cars were already lining the curb. But, two schoolbuses were also present, next to the academy. The stream of drivers was intended for their evening football game. My thymus relaxed, a little.
Reaching the temple, I was relieved to see a spot up from the Jefferson entrance. People were still walking from lot to front, and I joined them, hugging the mustard yellow rainjacket around my jeans to cut the wet chill. Sure enough, ladies were in mid calf skirts, men in dark dress, and then Jack, looking pensive, the news cam man who’d taken my one and only career black and white decades earlier. I resumed my customary cringe. Find a seat in the very back, slide in swiftly, say nothing. Stepping past the security guard and the packing, body armored special agent, I entered the foyer. There was Charles, standing at the door.
We greeted, me offering the self deprecating reference to shabby attire and he quick with the witty retort, something about God not caring and me hoping so. He, with his hearty, reassuring laugh.
My seat awaited, one of four in the far right rear row, two fellow Gentiles on either end. I sat beside Maria, who looked as Bavarian as if she’d just arrived from northern Minnesota.
The room was filling, rapidly. I recognized several, from various stages of my own history in our ageless community. The men, in their yarmulkes. A respected surgeon, in his, plus blue scrubs. An extremely tall gent, in his, ball of the hand curved over a carved walking stick. The current Erie County Executive. A former Mayor of Erie. At least two Mizrachi, with stronger noses in profile than hardly anyone saw anymore, likely never in a fashion rag. And, me, feeling every percentage of the Persian/Turk in my Ancestry.com DNA reveal.
I missed, quietly, Rabbi Len and Faith Lifshen, and their son, Moshe. This had been their temple, prior to the move south and Rabbi’s subsequent death. Turning to Maria I made mention of them, and pointed out the Ark of the Covenant glass encasement in the center of the altar. After my lengthy paragraph, she mentioned the Torah scrolls, me realizing that, yet again, I’d presumed the role of teacher rather than learner.
One of the last to enter was a short young woman, who chose the remaining seat beside me. She was the only female in a yarmulke within my sight line, and I hadn’t remembered ever seeing a woman wear one. Just as she became settled, removing her coat, around the aisle came a slender man who extended his open palm to the Gentile on the left end. He took the hand of each one of us in the back row, introducing himself and asking our names. He was the new Rabbi up from Pittsburgh, where he lived, to conduct the Shabbat Kaddish at Temple Brith Sholom.
This was my second Jewish service. At Yom Kippur, several musical colleagues and I had been invited to the other temple, across town, by another of us who, being a Jew, was slated to play the Kol Nidre on her flute. The rabbi that night was a woman, a guest from New York, and the remaining four vocal musicians and their pianist were all Gentiles but one.
The music at this Shabbat was all vocal. It was produced by the Rabbi, and his seasoned congregation.
After an earnest and warm welcome from, surprise! Doris, a retired teacher with whom I had worked nearly thirty years earlier, the rabbi explained in detail what we as the guests could expect from the service. He encouraged us to select a prayer book from the racks attached to the chairs in front of us. The prayer book pages were turned briskly, from rear to front, as the rabbi chanted in fluent Hebrew and the congregation sang along. I was reminded that, let alone a language strange to my tongue, unless I could see the notation my ability to retain a new melody was woeful. We sat, and stood; remained standing, and sat. Stood. Turned; bowed; sat, again. At each rise and return, a room filled with slightly damp athletic shoes squeaked, in chorus.
The Kaddish, Rabbi explained, was the congregational prayer, uttered in unison aloud. Some Shabbats were mourning Kaddish; this one would have two aspects, the first for private mourners and the second for the victims of the tragedy at Tree Of Life.
Just before the time had come to offer up the Kaddish, the Rabbi spoke in short sermon. He described the innumerable traditions which were the foundation of conservative Judaism. One point in particular spoke to me, as an aspect of mourning.
He said that Jews, by their nature and by their tradition, are open. They encourage emotional expression. Crying during mourning is a given. But, he also insisted, mourning was to be embodied. There would be no preparation of fine adornment; instead, Jews were to begin by eliminating bathing. They were to immerse themselves, entirely, in grief. And, to render this practice intently selfless, they were to cover all the mirrors in the house.
My eyes opened, wide. I looked at the Rabbi.
For that moment, and in the moments later, I stood in solidarity with God’s chosen people against both the recent horror and an entire epoch of vile hatred which had wrenched their global family. Soiled, unkempt; unclean, I was right there.
Out of body, present in spirit, I no longer saw myself.
© 11/2/18 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. littlebarefeetblog.com