April blue sky
filled with smooth-edged
undulating clouds that look
more like porpoises
frolicking in the sea
than clouds sailing
through the air.
April blue sky
Starring Emma Thompson
Every once in a while I come across a movie that really gets to me. The kind that I’m glued to, even when the subject matter is tough. Last night I watched such a movie. It’s called “Wit,” starring Emma Thompson.
It opens with our heroine, Vivian Bearing, a single-minded, John Donne-quoting university professor, unflinchingly receiving the news that she has Stage 4 ovarian cancer. Light-hearted, right? But, I’m telling you, the witty humor takes the edge off what would otherwise be too hard to watch. Trust me, it works. Thompson makes it work.
The camera captures Professor Bearing at various stages of her chemotherapy, and flashes back to her younger years, showing how she became a hard-core academic who ended up valuing intellect more than people. An independent loner with no one to help her through her ordeal. No family. No friends. Except for a former mentor, who makes a brief, heart-wrenching appearance.
We see our heroine, bald as a billiard, dealing with the nastier side effects of her aggressive, experimental chemo at a big, impersonal hospital. She treats it as she’s treated everything else–just another hurdle among life’s many hurdles. “I like hard,” she says to her doctor. And hard she got. Very hard.
The coup de grace of the movie is the relationship our heroine develops with her nurse in the hospital. And it casts a critical eye on the way her doctors view her as a guinea pig–a life to be saved no matter what, death as personal defeat. A blot on their record.
It’s the kind of movie that made me laugh and cry and feel like I’d been to a very special place for a couple hours.
Been going through my memoirs and came across a story about me versus scorpions when I was a kid. I wouldn’t say that physical courage is my forte. But reading about the scorpions made me think that maybe things were different once upon a time.
The year is 1952, I’m five years old and standing in front of the screen door to our back yard–an open, flat field of scrubby, dried-up grass that stretched maybe 30 yards up to a wood fence. I’d just arrived in Texas with my mom, dad and little sister for a few weeks, while dad was getting some Air Force training.
That’s where I learned about scorpions.
My mom, a first class fear-monger, warned me about the big, venomous, tail-in-the-air devils when we got to Texas. They’re fast and deadly. They can kill you and they’re OUT THERE. Just waiting. She probably didn’t use those exact words but that’s what I heard.
So I was standing there at that door, waging a war in my five-year-old head. I didn’t like the idea of running into a scorpion. At all. But I loved doing somersaults. Outside where you had some room. Did I have a chance? I could just imagine the deadly things lurking behind every clump of grass–waiting to strike!
But I was just too full of somersaults — I had to get out there. I bolted out the door when my mom wasn’t looking and tumbled head over heels as fast as I could across that scratchy field, keeping an eye peeled for anything black and nasty-looking, hoping to be faster than they were!
I made it all the way to the fence and back without being attacked, snuck back inside, and kept my little secret to myself. I sometimes wonder if my mom was watching through a window. She never mentioned my scorpion run so I’ll never know, but if she saw me, maybe she remembered what it was like to be five and full of somersaults.
I never did see a scorpion the whole time we were in Texas. Or anywhere else.
So I’m walking down a narrow, treesy little side street a few minutes from my house and here comes an SUV sitting up high, and the guy behind the wheel is a man I had lunch with a year and a half ago when I was in the throes of a dying long-distance relationship. I’d thought maybe getting out and meeting some new faces would help me shake it loose.
When push came to shove, though, it just didn’t feel right to me. Long ago, my therapist said to hang up one phone call before you pick up the next (that was before call-waiting, which I’ve never gotten the hang of). Kind of a weird metaphor but I got it.
So, although Lunch Guy was very nice, and conveniently located, when he asked me out a second time, I made up a polite excuse, and it never went anywhere. I needed to wrap up the unfinished business with the dying relationship. Which I’ve done. In spades. And haven’t bothered to look for anyone else. Might never. My heart’s been feeling fed-up.
But when I saw Lunch Guy in his jeep, I waved and said hi, and he smiled but didn’t seem to recognize me, with my big floppy hat and shades covering half my face, and kept on driving.
Hm-m-m-m-m…. So, was seeing him like this a sign?
Or was his not recognizing me a sign?
I decided, as I walked on home, that I’d shoot him a friendly email, just to say Hi – that was me who waved at you this morning. How’s life?
The minute I had that thought I heard a bunch of crows croaking out uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh. Were the wise old crows saying nope, not a good idea? Was that a sign? I was getting whiplash!
I finally decided I’m a sign agnostic. My signs always seem to conflict or confuse. But I think if there’s a sign that does mean something, it’s the fact that I’m inching a tiny bit closer to getting back out there again and tossing my hat into the ring. Maybe my heart is starting to thaw… just a little.
Once, while I lay
on the sofa resting,
he put his building blocks
close to my face and
played with them,
his face inches from mine,
his baby breath close
enough to feel.
I just lay there,
The other day I watched a video about grief and the facilitator gave us a topic to think about. “The last time I saw you.”
Why can’t I remember our good-bye the last time I saw you? It was hot and I think our faces squinted into the noon-day summer sun. Was it the time you told me of a worry about your late mom’s estate – was that your parting confidence that day? My car was loaded, take-home food in the coolers. It was hot, I was ready to roll; we had kissed good-bye inside I’m sure. Why can’t I remember?
Was it the time you yelled, “Don’t get kidnapped!” after me as I pulled out, spoofing a Helen Mirren movie we’d watched the night before? Ever the jokester, with that warped sense of humor I loved, except when I didn’t.
That visit wasn’t our best, your house a manly mess, and me not interested in tidying things up (I know you never asked), too hot to enjoy outside work, you plugging away at your computer on some deadline story and listening to your NPR. I should’ve brought a jigsaw puzzle with me, or taken up needlepoint.
I was bored that visit, spent too much time reading outside in the hot shade with Rex by my side, in that country field I loved so well with the old bell sitting on its post for who knows how long – maybe it was a fire bell once. I left there with chigger bites all over my legs; they lasted two whole weeks.
But, still, as I drove the three hours home that day, a comforting afterglow of love enveloped me despite the heat, the mess, the computer, the summer ennui; the memory still fresh of sleeping in your arms in that bedroom overlooking the pasture with its beautiful light and the birds singing us awake. I’m glad I didn’t know it was the last good-bye.
I like to watch you
with your bass guitar–
the way you finger the strings.
They say you’re good,
and I want to hear
what makes you good.
I watch your fingers as
I hear the thumping chords,
wanting to hear your melody–
but there is none.
You’re the undercurrent;
the glue that holds it all together,
Your guitar is not the star,
but you make the music
that the stars shine through.
First night by the shore,
the pounding surf,
raw and terrible
so close to my bed
became a tidal wave in
Day three– no longer
does the fury disturb me;
the power unleashed
outside my window is
a sleeping potion now.
Cold wind, gusting hard
punches trees and
hurls the birds along.
Most hunker down, concealed.
But we birders
search them out –
Was just on Facebook. A friend posted a pic of her 3 year old son sitting pigeon-toed, wearing a pair of bright red sneaks. Cute as a button. It took me back. Thirty years back.
It was Christmas eve afternoon, and I was leaving a children’s shoe store in a little strip mall. Stride-Rite the store was called. All four of my kids’ shoes came from that store. School shoes, party shoes, sneakers, sandals.
I was walking to the car, hand and hand with my youngest, a little blond four-year-old named Matthew. We were swinging our hands back and forth as we walked, and he was wearing a pair of brand new, bright red high-tops. He was over the moon. Santa coming and a cool new pair of bouncy red sneaks.
That evening we went to Christmas Eve Mass. Me, Matthew, and the brand new sneakers. I still have those shoes.