They wheeled Kathy out of her apartment yesterday in a gurney as I was returning from an afternoon walk in a park overlooking the valley. At first I didn’t recognize her. Her neighbor whispers thinks she is dying, something that is part of the routine in this community.
I find myself thinking this morning of Loren Easley’s “The Brown Wasp” and the great eastern terminal building where the dying would go just to sit in the waiting room and be in the midst of the living. Old men, there were no women there, he writes, were like the brown wasps that cling to the nest in winter. Something about the nest and the memory of life, how we cling to the memory of things—all creatures. This is an essay old people would like, a class once told me. You will be there soon, I responded. Soon happens rather quickly.
I watch a man push himself backwards in his wheel chair, slowly making his way down the hall of the commons. He says hello. I am still alive, he seems to be saying to me. I say hello and nod my appreciation. So am I, I want to tell him, though at times it seems barely.
Sharen tells me her children put her here two years before she wanted to come. I thought when I turned eighty, she says, but I am only seventy-eight, and they put me here anyway. They didn’t want me living alone in my house. She has been in the retirement community a couple of weeks. She isn’t happy about it, but she smiles, talks about how she only eats her evening meals in the common dinning room. I would eat too much if I ate here all the time. Melinda once talked to her sisters about someday having to put me in a “home.” I will be a runner if you do, I told her. A runner is a resident who continually escapes the confines of assisted living and strikes out on his own, usually on foot, usually only making it a few blocks. I will make it all the way to Canada, I told her. She laughed.
When you get old, your children can put you in places you don’t necessarily want to go.
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas steal a train in Tough Guys.
Thing is, I don’t want to steal a train. Burt and Kirk steal the train because for them the train was their nest, who they were. I want to sit on the edge of the ocean with someone I love, wake up a three in the morning next to her. I want to ride my bicycle up the strand and sit under LAX. Watch the planes come in while the sun is rising. Maybe that’s too much like the great eastern terminal. I want to smell the coffee brewing. Maybe talk to God, and tell him he shouldn’t make it so hard on some people while making it all too easy on some others, that he seems to punish too many good but slow people and reward too many goons. But God is God, and I do enjoy this so much—this breathing thing.
I will smoke brisket this coming Saturday and read some poetry with a few friends. I have invited hundreds, but maybe a dozen or so will attend. But whatever, we will be a cutting edge or sorts, the living still. Of course that means making it to Saturday. Nothing is guaranteed.