Mortality Musings

I am a woman of a certain age.  I remember someone at a high school reunion almost twenty years ago saying “We are in the last third of our lives.  We need to make the most of it.”  Mortality looms,  even more so with this condition.  Time is becoming more finite.  It’s not morbid or depressed.  It just is. If you have read me, you know that I have lost old lovers and husbands in the past.  Dead friends are no longer as surprising.

This month I have learned of two people from my youth that have died.  Somehow, these have hit me.

This weekend, I saw that HV had died. I hadn’t really known him in high school.  We mixed in different circles.  He was a year older. He wasn’t quite fat but rather pudgy, the type of guy, I call vanilla pudding, bland features swallowed in his face, outstanding only in his vanilla-ness.

I graduated college and ran into TM, definitely not my set, also a year older.  He was a football player.  I was a nerdy hippy type.  TM asked me out.  Fourth of July 1977 was on the horizon.  There were going to be a group from high school going to Montauk for the weekend.  Montauk at that time was still definitely, the un-Hamptons.  We were Levittown, still gritty and blue-collar middle-class.  HV was a charter boat captain and he had a house there which was to be the base for the weekend.  T and I drove out early in the morning.  People were already there.  It was a crowd from high school that had never been  my friends – football players and cheerleaders.  Since I had left high school and Levittown, I had blossomed.  Well, everyone does, don’t they?  You leave behind high school, teenage hormones and expectations.  I had shed my glasses and emerged from my chrysalis.  They saw me as a new thing.  I grew up in the era in Levittown where everyone drank.  It was a fact of life.  You went over someone’s parent’s house and you were given  a drink.  My mother’s boss, when I was 15, asked me what I wanted to drink and said, “And don’t give me any of this Coca Cola shit.”  Vodka stingers!  Even given that background and mindset, I had no interest in drinking before the early afternoon.  We walked in and were immediately handed beers.  I realized that the weekend was going to be longer than I thought.  At that age, I was very good at holding onto a drink and/or pouring it out.  I was still fascinated and slightly intimidated by the former cheerleaders.  I remember Crosby, Stills and Nash on what appeared to be a continuous loop on the stereo.  In those days, there were record players and probably everyone was too drunk to change the record.  I hated “Dark Star”.

H had also undergone a metamorphosis.  He was tan, lean, bleach blond long hair, deep, startling green eyes, gorgeous and charming.  I was stunned, tongue tied.  His girlfriend was one of the cheerleaders and so friendly to me. At some point during the now evening, H approached  T and suggested that we leave and go to the boat.  People were bleary and passing out.  The air was thick with cigarette smoke.  Levittown and jocks during that era was all alcohol and no weed.  We went to the boat.  Remember the excitement and newness of being “adult” couples?  We drank more and then T and I retired to a berth. Hormones, alcohol, excitement.  What can I say except to the inevitable outcome?  I hadn’t the experience I was to later acquire, starting with T, to understand that sex with football players is a non-starter.  T, especially T drunk, had all the technique of a stray, horny dog.  My outstanding memory of the evening was looking through the portal and seeing the 4th fireworks.  I said something about it and T thought I was seeing fireworks because of him.  I was too amazed to rid him of that notion.  He then declared that he was looking for three  things in a woman – she had to be pretty, good in bed and know how to cook.  H had already checked two of the boxes but didn’t know if I cooked.  We all passed out.  The beer started again at dawn.  I never ran into H again but still see his dark green eyes, deeply tanned legs and remember his kindness.

T and I continued for the summer.  It was the Son of Sam summer.  We were in a NYC  suburb.  T, big jock that he had been, was deathly afraid of spiders.  So, that combined with the fear of sitting in a car, led to me being practically thrown out of the car with the motor running.  Romance was not in the air.  Mercifully, I never cooked for T.

The ramifications for the weekend did not end there.  I had a high school boyfriend who I have always loved and adored.  He was an artist.  He had moved to California.  We stayed in touch in a distant way.  A few years after the Montauk party, B came for a visit from CA.  The first thing he said after we walked out of my parents was “What’s this I hear about you sleeping with H on his boat in Montauk?”  “I slept on his boat but not with him.  I was there with T.” “T, even worse!”  The world is small.  B was working temp at a factory in CA as was one of H’s brothers.  They got to talking…. And I guess it was a better party than I thought.  B and I got straight after some difficult awkward moments.  We are still friendly to this day.

The story doesn’t end there. There was a reunion of 70’s classes from my school in early 2001.  An H brother was there.  He had a few brothers.  Reunion, Levittown, alcohol.  Someone introduces me to the brother.  I go off on him.  “And you, you had the nerve to tell B I slept with H!  How dare you!  It wasn’t true and even if it was how f’ing dare you!”  Uh, wrong brother?  Levittown was like that back when we were growing up, huge families where all the kids looked the same. And we held and hold onto those associations.

The second death preceded the first death and is a different story.  A family moved in diagonally from our backyard.  There were two girls, M and C, M, a year older and C, a year younger.  The elder was fragile, tiny and stooped as she had had polio.  The younger suffered ridiculously bad acne.  High school was almost 2 miles away.  We were just under the bussing line.  I used to walk home sometimes with M.  She was terribly slow.  Children and teenagers are cruel.  As I mentioned, I was in the nerdy, hippie set.  I was bullied which made my later acceptance by T and H odd.  However, much I was bullied,  it was worse for C and M.  I have always felt it important to be kind.  It’s one of the adjectives most used to describe me in recent years.  It’s been part of my life.  Being “other” offers choices.  You can either reject or embrace the world.  I go for the positive.  As with younger siblings of odder elders, C tried to distance herself from M as did my brother.  It didn’t really work.  However, she was stronger and bigger so superficially, at least, she was better able to stand up for herself.

It is said, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. C went on to work for unemployment.  It appeared that all those years of bullying and childish spitefulness had taken a toll on her.  She was now in a position to fight back.  Unemployment is difficult in the best of circumstances.  C certainly got her own back in that position.  Nasty and unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it.  I remember once telling her but I was nice to you!  I moved out of the neighborhood and stayed employed.  They passed from my existence.

Then I saw a notification on my high school FB page from a former childhood neighbor that C had passed away.  Sad.  But.  People who hadn’t known her expressed sympathy and condolences.  Fine.  I don’t understand that but it’s the intent.  The guy who posted was also her age; she lived directly behind him and he was also distinctly odd and bullied.  I have no idea of the depth of their relationship. What did amaze me was the comments of the people who had known her.  One likened her to a “shy kitten” yet despite this I remember him being one of her tormentors. The family had a name that was similar to a brand commercial.  Some people remembered calling this out to harass the sisters.  Most of us grow up.  What disturbed me was that these people expressed no regret only an “I remember doing that to them.”  Now, written  in my yearbook as well as in later years, I would run into people and they would express regret or that they wished they had known me better or they went along with the crowd.  I was horrified that there was none of that for C. So, how much has really changed for some people since high school?  Are we stuck in a high school/childhood loop?  How and why do some of us change?  I like to think that I have but maybe not?  The childhood neighbor wants to friend me on FB but I have no interest. Yet, I am close on line with childhood people that I had issues with in high school.  I remember working on my 10th reunion and a mean girl was on the committee and she told me I was no longer weird.  I told her I was the same as I ever was.  I believe I am except I had contact lenses, a good hair cut and an enviable job.  I always told people after high school that perception changed just as long as you were well-groomed.

Two passings.  Two different lives.  Carpe Diem.  What will be said after I’m gone?  Will I be remembered as the Montauk girl?  High school nerd?  Or the woman who can’t really walk, the disabled? Or the woman I see myself as?

Men, Gypsies and a Funeral

As I said, Joebe passed away last week.   He always called me a Gypsy.  And it wasn’t always positive.    He used to tease me that I could and did move all my belongings in a cargo van.   I had nothing and was free.  Since I married this time, I can no longer move in a cargo van.  I am weighted with both possessions and responsibilities.

Joebe said I was a gypsy and committed to nothing.    He was of an age where he also meant it in the non PC sense of it.  I was amoral, free, uncommitted.  I remember the gypsies of my youth.  I spent the first few years of my life in Coney Island.  The Gypsies would come every spring.  We were always warned that they stole little children and we had better stay close.

Sometimes I didn’t mind when he called me Gypsy because it meant that I was still holding onto that part of me that was uniquely me.  Lord knows he tried to change me.   Like I have said, I have been trying so hard to remember the happy times.  I really can’t.  Every memory just twists.

I met him dancing.  And he was a great dancer.  That’s what won me over. But we didn’t dance because of his jealousy.

Also, after I left my first husband, I wanted to go out with a man who took me to dinner with tablecloths.  My first husband’s idea of dinner out was Fuddrucker’s.  Joebe took me to nice dinners but they were unpleasant as he always accused me of flirting with the busboy or the waiter.   It became easier not to go.

I have always worked with men and gotten along very well with them.  It’s part of the all boy college deal.  During that time, I worked with men and I used to go out with them for what we called burgers and a belt.  I used to stay at my parents and tell Joebe I was eating with them.  With anyone else I could have and would have told the truth.

At his daughter’s rehearsal dinner,  I sat next to her, not her mother.  By this time, I had left him.  But he was always telling me “Pretend to be a family.”  He had had issues with his daughter and had not wanted to go to the wedding. I insisted but I was the one who walked out of the dinner.(I did go to the wedding)  She is 10 years younger than me almost to the day.    So, I would say we really didn’t get on.

Sunday,  I walked into the funeral home.  I think it’s the first time I saw her since her wedding.  She had been the one to initially call me and tell me that her father was in intensive care and she wasn’t sure she had the right person. I got her brother when I returned the call.  She broke away from the people she was with and grabbed me and began to sob.  “Susan, when we went into the house, there was a huge picture of you in his bedroom.  My dad always loved you.  He never stopped loving you.”  This was so hard to hear.  First of all, within weeks of our getting together he practically demanded that I tell him I loved him.  Different generations – what’s love got to do with it.  I was the gypsy rolling with the tide, looking for my good time.  I never told my first husband I loved him.  It’s not something I do.  I hold love close to my heart, my hard gypsy heart.

It has made me reflect what impact do we really have on others?  When I left my first husband, he was more upset I thought about losing the curtains (I took them off the windows) than me.  Joebe told me we were supposed to get married and he was going to be short the money I gave him towards rent.  We did things together afterwards. i.e. daughter’s wedding but I wouldn’t say we were friends.  I do love my friends.    I can’t ask him what was going on because he is dead.  It’s sort of like an open window but one that you really can’t see through.

Of course,  there was the rest of the family to see.  I did love his granddaughter and losing her when I left him broke my heart.  I kept distance from my now husband’s children and his nieces because I didn’t want that hurt again.  I am loosening up a bit and admitting that we can love each other.  Seeing Gabby almost made me cry.  She’s just about grown up and of course, doesn’t remember me.

Now, men.  My husband and I have had many problems and we have come out alright.  Our marriage is strong.  He stood next to me and listened to hearing that another man had always loved me.  He walked into a room of strangers to him that had been family to me.  He literally held me up.  No cane and no one said anything about my walking.  He totally supported me in all ways.

Someone who has this condition said something along the lines of how do you forget you have this?  Well, Sunday once my husband helped me in that door, my condition was the last thing on my mind.  I am larger than this.

So, I am beginning to have memories, not bad ones, just memories.   I hear his voice in my head.  And I am beginning to realize that I’ll never see or hear him again.  That’s the way this works. He’s not the first relationship that I have lost but he was the only one I lived with.  You always think you will see them again and you can be like Bellbottom blues or just surviving.  I was always tickled that I survived Joebe.  Now, there’s this unknown area.

And here’s what’s weird. Joebe gave me amber earrings.  I wear them at least once a week.  I went to put them in on Monday and one fell on the floor and shattered.  Gypsies and dreams.

Mortality, Perspective and Balance

Mortality has been on my mind a lot.  It’s a milestone year for me and I am feeling it, particularly since my mobility is impaired and seems to be worsening.  I hope I have many years ahead of me, good years but you just don’t know.  I live fairly locally to where I grew up so I was reading the local obituaries to see whose parents had died.  And then people’s ages were getting too close to mine and I even knew some of them.  It started to drag me down so I stopped.

Last week I received a call that one of my exes had a massive heart attack and was in a medically induced coma and the prognosis was not good.  This was someone I had lived with for a few years.  When I left him, he said “But we were going to get married”  Nice of him to let me know.  He wasn’t the first.  I left someone else who then showed me a polaroid of the engagement ring he was paying off on for me.

Joebe passed away on Thursday night and I got the call Friday.  I really thought he was stubborn and cantankerous enough to come out of this.  He never regained consciousness.  This is who he was, he thought he was having a heart attack so he drove himself to the doctor.  Just what they tell you not to do.  My husband has been upset because all week, of course,  Joebe has been in my thoughts.  I have been reminiscing. He doesn’t mind the reminiscing.  They are not happy memories. He does not like that.   I cannot help it.  I am trying hard to remember some happy times.  He was controlling and emotionally abusive.  It is what it is and he was physically abusive just that one time.  I tried explaining to my husband that remembering the bad times is not bad.  I put on the card for the flowers “You changed my life” and he did.  I learned all kinds of things about myself.  I learned how much stronger I was than I thought.

It’s ironic, it’s March.  I met him in March, 21 or 22 years ago.  I never go out on St. Pat’s but a friend, Joe S asked me to go with him as a favor to some event or other.  Joe T called and asked me to hang out so I said next week.  Next week, I went to hang with Joe T and met Joebe.  My parents couldn’t stand him as he was much older than me.  I was living at home after my first marriage broke up and he would call and say “It’s Joe”  and they would say “Which one?”  Drove him insane.  He was jealous and insecure.  He did make me look at where I was jobwise.  I had fallen on really bad times when my first marriage had broken up and was answering phones.  I applied for another job like that and he told me if I kept on looking at the same jobs I would be in the same place.  I left him when I got the job I have now.  At the time I jumped my salary by 50%.  With bonuses the first year, I made more than he did.  We never really stopped talking and this truly irked him, a man of his age being bested by a little girl. He never thought I was very smart and I am.  I am one of the first women at an all boys school and he always said that I got in because I was a girl.  We went to a 25th anniversary of the admission of women and the former president said that admissions my year were blind.  It was incredibly liberating.  Joebe scoffed and said they lied.

He bought me a house.  One of the reasons he bought this particular house was the day we looked at it, three swans floated up.  It was on water and I am tresswann.

I am preparing to go to his funeral this afternoon with my husband.  My husband always maintains that Joebe was my husband.  I lived with him longer than I did my first husband and had more of a relationship with him.

I have kept on saying all week, this is weird.  This afternoon is going to be weird.  I was at the wedding of both of his children, the christening of two of his three grandchildren.  He was one of 5 brothers.  The family liked me.  I have not seen these people in years.  I am going to have to walk into this with a cane.  My husband says to leave the cane behind and he will hold me.  I am blessed.  Things work out the way they are supposed to work out.  I had a really close friend die when I was with Joebe.  He knew him.  He refused to come with me to the wake or funeral.  Walking in alone was one of the hardest things I had done up to that point  in my life.  See, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.  Today, I will not be alone.  I will be supported by love.

So, perspective too.  On Thursday, I received a call from my agent indicating that he had been told I am not getting a raise for this year.  Can I say livid is too mild a word?  Yes, I worked remotely for most of January and February but I put in mega hours.  I give heart and soul and do excellent work.  I am not just saying this.  And I am hurt by this.  I will address it when I get into the office this week.  But coming in conjunction with Joebe’s death, it’s time to take another look.  If they think I am doing a less than adequate job which is what a non raise indicates to me then I can and will cut back.  If I cut my hours, I cut my income.  What’s money at the end of the day as long as the bills are paid?  Working less hours will let me get home earlier and when I am home earlier and not putting in extra hours, I can do more “me” stuff.  How about the gym? How about art and writing?

I am a Libra and as odd as it sounds, I need to be in balance.  I have been out of balance.  This manifests itself in my health.  Oh, and a side note on stress, I left Joebe and started a new job all in the same month, not too crazy.  I am moving towards this milestone birthday with trepidation.  I am taking these two events as a sign to get back in balance.  Maybe regain my physical sense of balance. We truly do not know when our last day will be.  I don’t want the rest of whatever time I have to be filled with regrets or what ifs.   Carpe Diem.