WRITING SHORT: 22/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I met my second husband on the right-hand side of East Hampton Main Beach, facing the ocean, early in July 1963. This was before summer rentals soared to $20,000 a month and up. A girlfriend and I found a one-bedroom cottage  that cost $1200 for the whole season.

The left-hand side was attached to the Maidstone Club, allegedly only for white Christians. You could buy a drink at the Maidstone bar, and even walk across the Maidstone part of the beach, but no one I knew had ever put down a towel or blanket  on it. Who would you talk to? All the marriageable Jews were on the other side.

I was there in my pink modified bikini, on the right-hand side, because I was nearly 32 and my Hungarian therapist kept saying, “I don’t mean to insult you, honeybunch, but you’re not getting any younger.” He meant I’d been divorced long enough and if I wanted a baby, I’d best get off my ass and start working on it. The first husband had been a white Christian who would have fitted right in on the left-hand side. I thought I’d do things differently this time.

Future second husband was there, on the right-hand side, to get out of the city. (He said.) He stayed at a bed and breakfast. The sun went down, the right-hand side was emptying, but I sat on, conveniently alone. (My house-mate was in New York with a cold.) Future second husband, on a towel not too far away and still a stranger, needed a match.

Yes I did have a match. He moved his towel closer. We smoked and chatted together. Then came a drink at the nearby Maidstone bar. He asked what brought me to East Hampton.

I said I was looking for a father for my unborn children.

He said that sounded like a good idea and how would it be if we saw each other till I found him.

Is the point of this story that it always pays to tell the truth? Or that the part of themselves men think with isn’t always the head?

East Hampton Main Beach: July 1963

July 1963. (Not wearing modified pink bikini)

WRITING SHORT: 21/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

“If” has only two letters, but it’s a big word.

If I hadn’t been such a neatnik that I arose from my hospital bed in September 1969, three days after giving birth by Caesarean section, to tug at the heavy footboard because the bed wasn’t perfectly parallel to the wall — the inner stitches wouldn’t have opened, I wouldn’t have sustained undetected internal bleeding for the next four days, they wouldn’t have given me two units of blood after cleaning out the hemorrhage, blood contaminated with Hepatitis C, which no one had yet identified or been able to screen for, and I wouldn’t have ever after tired more easily and earlier in the day than most other people. Since 2004, when an alert nurse practitioner picked up on slightly elevated liver function numbers and tested me for Hep C, I wouldn’t also have had to abstain from drinking, take not even a sip, or use vanilla extract without alcohol in it – for the rest of my life.

Could I wish one of those outcomes away, it would be the fatigue. I was never a big drinker, which may be why I’m still here at 84, with a liver that goes on doing an okay job even though it’s compromised. So I don’t miss the occasional glass of wine very much. I do wish I’d had the energy to use more of my life, the part not given over to raising children and earning a living, in productive and interesting ways.

Two “specialty” drugs just out are said to clear the virus in 90% of people with my Hep C genotype. One costs $84,000 for a twelve-week treatment and must be used with other drugs. The other works alone but costs $94,500 – about the cost of the first one plus the additional drugs it requires. Both have side effects difficult for the old to tolerate. I understand many insurance companies and Medicaid are restricting these drugs to the very sickest patients because of the cost. If I were younger, sicker, richer (three more “if”s), a doctor might write a prescription. I’m not any of those things.

All I did was straighten a bed. Who can predict what little thing we do will lead to what result? Life is unknowable, and we’re lucky to be here at all.

WRITING SHORT: 20/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

The September 1985 Yale Convocation was the first I attended as a Yale parent and the last at which Bart Giamatti, then President of the University, spoke.

He told the incoming freshmen he hoped the four years ahead would inspire commitment to a lifetime of learning.

He observed there was a difference between being involved in learning and committed to it.

He said, “In ham and eggs, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.”

I don’t know about my son, the new freshman. Myself, I’ve never forgotten what Giamatti said.  Whenever someone asks me to commit to something, I think about the pig and the ham.

It helps clarify what’s important.

[Re-blogged from January 6, 2014]

WRITING SHORT: 19/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Now that our traveling days seem over, summer months mean nothing is planned. They also mean visits at short notice from family who live elsewhere. The cars line up tightly behind each other on our side of the double driveway we share with next-door neighbors. The sounds of laughing children echo loudly in our two-story family room where the adults sit. (The children are running up the stairs to pet our two frightened pussycats, who flee to hide under the bed.) We visit hot playgrounds and parks with the guests, set out impromptu meals on paper plates for as many as can squeeze round our smallish table. There’s much talk coming from all directions, hard for aging ears to follow. And then, all the cleaning up afterwards. Whew! At last we can rest!

Who said? Two sinks are clogged and the plumber is coming. The cats’ nails are too long and the youth we pay to catch and clip them is coming. Honda has sent me a recall notice to replace a defective passenger-side airbag. (Only now, after eleven years?) Bill’s having a root canal, a procedure so dreaded he needs a tranquilizer first, which means I have to drive him there and back (before the new airbag arrives for installation).

Why is it always something? What ever happened to “nothing is planned?”

WRITING SHORT: 18/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Bill often dreams about his second wife. Let’s call her Norma. He says they’re nightmares. In all our time together, he’s never dreamed about Marie Claire, his Swiss first wife. Bill and Norma were married for eighteen years. It’s been twenty-four years since they divorced. For the last fourteen of those twenty-four years he’s been with me. But it’s always Norma I hear about in the morning.

“What terrible thing did she do in the dream?” I ask for the umpteenth time. He never remembers. He does remember plenty about what she “did” in the marriage, beginning six weeks into it when she smashed a valuable objet d’art on the floor that had been a wedding present from his sister.  I’ve heard it all, always knowing Norma’s account of their eighteen years would differ, and sometimes imagining her version, despite not knowing Norma herself.

I used to think the Norma of Bill’s dreams might be a metaphor for me. We do have our squabbles. (Although I don’t resolve them by smashing valuable gifts on the floor. Not that it’s relevant, but his sister never gave us a gift to smash, probably because we never married. It wasn’t because she didn’t like me, although she didn’t. She didn’t like Norma either.)

Bill assures me dream-Norma isn’t me. He’s a psychiatrist; he should know. But I take nothing on trust. “So will you get Norma out of our bed!”  It’s supposed to be funny, although not entirely. I really am sick and tired of Norma.

This morning when we woke up, he had a new announcement: “I dreamed about you last night,”

“Really me? Not Norma?”

“Oh, yes. You, Nina.”

“Bad dream?”

“Not awful.”

“What was I doing?”

“We were squabbling.”

“What about?”

“Nothing much. What’s for breakfast?”

A dream like real life! Could this be at last the end of Norma?

WRITING SHORT: 17/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I attended a special city high school for smart girls in Manhattan. To get there, I took the E or F subway train from the Union Turnpike station in Queens. I was just twelve and a half but went by myself; parents didn’t helicopter back then. Those weekday trips were my earliest exposure to lives quite different than mine.

Only two other students took the E or F train home. Marjorie, who lived at the end of the line, was about my age. She was the youngest of five or six, some still living at home but working at jobs (as were her parents), so she had three hours to herself after school in an empty house. She said that every afternoon she baked a cake and ate it all before beginning her own job, which was making dinner for the rest of the family. I didn’t know how to bake. My mother was always there when I got home. I longed to eat a whole cake like Marjorie did. I never thought she might be lonely.

Jacqueline was a grade ahead of me. We connected only in my third year, which was her last. She was a serious student of French; her parents had even paid for extra tutoring from a French lady who lived nearby. As we clung to the central pole of the lurching train car, she told me of her summer love affair with the Mexican ward of her tutor. It was 1946. She was just sixteen. He was already twenty — tall, handsome and smart, but very poor — and had a full scholarship to Harvard. They made love under a tree in the park after dark, and sometimes in the tutor’s car. They made love! As I listened, my eyes consumed her curly dark hair, blue eyes, white skin lightly dusted with freckles. She had small breasts — which he had fondled? — modestly concealed beneath white blouses tucked into dark pleated skirts. Why couldn’t I be more like Jacqueline? Why couldn’t I meet someone tall, handsome, smart, foreign and poor? After she got out at the Jackson Heights stop, I would think of her and her lover all the way home. I still remember his name.

WRITING SHORT: 16/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

The opposite of never not thinking is to not think at all, to be entirely sensate. It would be wrong to say that both are equally hard. You can try to never not think, even if you keep failing. You can’t make yourself entirely sensate by trying. (Experienced meditators may claim otherwise.) Either it happens, or not. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that apart from orgasm, for most people both are equally rare. You’re entirely sensate when you’re coming. Once the floodgates of pleasure open, you are only that pleasure.  It’s involuntary. But otherwise? Whatever else you feel, there’s almost always a low rumbling in the head about something else.

The only time I can remember being entirely sensate was on Prince Edward’s Island. I’d  been given an unexpected four weeks of paid summer leave from my job while they found an office for me in a different department. (They were planning to fire someone I would replace but had to give her notice.) It was too late to make overseas travel plans. I got in my car and drove north towards Canada. I intended to tour New Brunswick, PEI, and Nova Scotia, returning home to Boston via Campobello. It wasn’t bad, but not great. I was alone and sometimes lonely, especially in the evenings.

On Prince Edward’s Island, I went to a beach. There were almost no people. When packing, I hadn’t thought to bring a suit. So I lay face down on my arms between two low outcrops of reddish rock which shielded me from the occasional stroller along the shore. The sand was silky, the sun gentle on arms and legs and upturned cheek. Fear and worry melted away. I had no thoughts at all. I was one with the ground beneath me. Cradled in warmth, I drifted slowly into sleep.

When I woke, it was over. And it was only the once. I doubt I could ever again find that beach, with its protective rocks. But  I’ve never forgotten how I felt there.

Animals know how to just feel, just be.  Sometimes I envy them.

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