Tuesday, January 29, 2019

SOLTuesday: Washing Dishes

The last couple of years of Jack’s life, he washed the dishes. When he first came home from the hospital and rehab after his fall on the ice, he couldn’t do much of anything, and he hated that.
            We had always shared household work: in our early years, our practice was that one of us would cook and the other would wash the dishes. But after many years, when it became clear that Jack usually washed dishes as he cooked, while I used lots of bowls and utensils and pots, and didn’t wash as I went along, he rebelled. We then switched the plan to whoever cooked also washed dishes. And in our later years, Jack always wanted no dishes left in the sink in the evening, so if we had a late dessert, someone would have to wash those dishes.
            After he died, I was left with many conflicting feelings. I now had to cook and wash the dishes all the time, and in the first couple of years I would sometimes feel irrationally angry at Jack for leaving me to do all the work, all of the time. At the same time, I felt relieved that I didn’t have to wash whatever dish I put in the sink late in the evening, and often left one there just because I could. And when I went out in the evening, I often didn’t think about there being dishes in the sink that would have to be washed, sometime.
            Lately, I have started thinking about that. If I come home at 9:30, or 10, or 11, I don’t want to wash dishes then. I now plan to wash any dishes in the afternoon when I know I’ll be out later. Tonight, I went into the kitchen a few minutes before leaving and saw those dishes sitting there in the sink. I stopped and washed them, and it only took three minutes. I felt good. 

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

52Essays2019 #2: The Marriage Story

            You could say I was forced to get married. It didn’t feel like that at the time, but it was part of the experience. When I called my parents to tell them Jack and I were getting married, my father said, “We’re not making you do this, are we?” I replied, “No, of course not.” But I thought, we wouldn’t be if not for you. Here’s what happened.
            It was the fall of 1964. I had returned to Antioch College in the spring after having dropped out two years before. Now I was in New York City for my co-op job (at the New York Times!) and living with Jack, who had fallen in love with the city when we’d visited in the winter from Washington, D.C., where we’d met. A few weeks into my job, my father called to say he was in the city for work and would I like to have dinner. Sure, I said, imagining a mean in a nice restaurant.
            When my father picked me up from work, we went to Penn Station to meet my mother, who was arriving the Philadelphia suburb where they lived. Odd, I thought; Dad hadn’t said anything about her having dinner with us. We went to a nondescript restaurant near the station, and chit-chatted about nothing in particular until our appetizers were served. As I dipped my spoon into my soup, my father asked, “Are you and Jack living together?” The soup never made it to my mouth. “What do you mean?”
            “I came by your address the other day and saw your name and his on the same mailbox.”
            The rest of the conversation may have appeared normal and quiet—my family did not yell or get overtly excited. It was, however, very uncomfortable for me. I had mentioned Jack to my parents as someone I was dating, but they hadn’t met. Jack and I were having a great time, in and out of bed, but I wasn’t thinking about getting married at that moment. I had just returned to college, had about a year and a half left, and wanted to finish. On the other hand, I did expect to get married sometime. But to Jack? Who knew?
            I said, “We’re not planning on getting married.”
            My father said, “My sister lived with her husband before they got married, but they were planning on getting married.” Oh, so it would be okay for Jack and me to be living together if we were going to get married sometime?
            I said, “I’m not going to get pregnant. I’m taking the pill.” This didn’t reassure my parents; “Nothing’s perfect,” my mother said.
            My father asked, “What would Antioch College think about your living with Jack?”
            I said, “Antioch College doesn’t care. They don’t have in loco parentis.” Was my father threatening to tell the college? I was pretty sure he wouldn’t, but I also was pretty sure that the college wouldn’t penalize me.
            My parents were lefties, but they were no bohemians. A few years earlier, while watching a TV program about a college considering co-ed dorms, my father was adamantly opposed. “You know what will happen,” he said ominously. “Why have that temptation?” At dinner, I didn’t know what was bothering them about my living with Jack. Did they have some old-fashioned idea that Jack was taking advantage of me? I knew that wasn’t true.
            I ate hardly a bite all evening, and I was still angry after they drove me to my apartment.
            “My parents are upset because they found out we’re living together,” I burst out to Jack. He was very comforting. But I ranted on about my father threatening to tell Antioch, and why did they care anyway, why were they being so old-fashioned? I didn’t think about it’s being only 1964, and people living together openly without being married was still rare.
            “Why don’t we get married?” Jack said calmly.
            That was totally unexpected. We had never talked about anything long-term or permanent. What did I really want to do? He was asking me to marry him. Maybe no one else ever would. Maybe I should take what was being offered. And if it didn’t work out, we could always get divorced.
            That’s how I came to be calling my parents the next evening and why my father asked his question. Who knows if we would have gotten married without that particular scene at the restaurant. The reality is, through many tempestuous moments and some really hard times, we did indeed remain married until death did us part.
It’s another year for the essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. If you’d like to try it, go on over to the Facebook page for 52EssaysNextWave and sign up. Or just read some of the essays that will be linked to there.

Monday, January 14, 2019

52Essays2019: My Ideal Life

This week my women’s group discussed what we thought our ideal life would be when we were young, and what we would want it to be now.
            When I thought about what my life would be like when I grew up, I didn’t think in terms of  “my ideal life.” I expected to be married and have children—two or four, but not three; I was the oldest of three and that was an unstable number for me. As a teenager, I wrote lists and lists of names for these children. I had favorite names: Katherine for a girl (most likely after the protagonist of the historical novel Katherine, by Anya Seton, about Geoffrey Chaucer’s real-life sister-in-law), and with a K, not a C, because K seemed like a stronger letter (all those straight lines?); Michael or David for a boy (these names sounded somehow elegant to me, and maybe they were bireligious, being both Jewish and Christian?).
            I also knew I wanted to live in New York City, because so many 1950s movie romances and adventures were set in New York City. And in the five and a half years we lived in Connecticut and regularly came to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn, we drove down the West Side Highway, and I was entranced by the tall, elegant apartment buildings along Riverside Drive that you could see from the highway. I want to live in one of those buildings, I whispered to myself.
            In a psychology class as a high school senior, we had an assignment to create a budget for a newly married couple. Since I assumed my newly married couple would live in New York City, I did not budget for a car. My teacher did not approve; maybe I’d live there, but chances were I wouldn’t (I was then living in a Philadelphia suburb), so I should budget for a car (payments, insurance, gas, repairs). It’s too late now to tell him that I’ve never owned a car and fully expect never to own one in my life. I do drive, but rent when I need to drive.
            In college, if I thought of my goals, I wanted to do something “creative.” Maybe work for a publisher, discovering the next Great American Novel. However that was done, I had no idea. I had an uncle who wrote and published novels, but he never talked about the process, and he also taught college-level history to make a living. I did not want to teach. I knew I wanted a job, but teacher, nurse, secretary were the options available to women who grew up in the ’50s, and none of those appealed to me.
            A few years later, I felt myself to be grownup—I was 21, after all. I got married (that’s a whole other story, and possibly another essay), but by this point I had decided that the world was too dangerous to bring children into it. It was only a couple of years after the Cuban missile crisis, and nuclear war still seemed a real possibility. My husband and I decided we wouldn’t have children and got on with having fun and living our lives.
            Along came women’s liberation. It’s a whole other story, and another essay, why women’s liberation led me to become a mother, but it did. So while I’d already worked for a paperback publisher and a hardcover publisher, on my maternity leave I started on what became my career, as copy editor.
            Was I living my ideal life yet? I was in New York City, in one of those tall, elegant apartment buildings along Riverside Drive that I’d dreamed of as a child (though without the river view I’d imagined). Soon I was working at the Village Voice, a paper I’d been reading since I came to New York, and my husband was a reporter at the pre-Rupert Murdoch New York Post. But I was in the middle of my life and still feeling unsatisfied. It wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t famous—who knew I had that ambition.
            Time passed. I did many other things—teaching, activism, those are whole other stories, and essays. One day, in my early 60s, I was walking down the street on my lunch hour from the weekly trade magazine I worked at, and it hit me: I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life. It was such a comfortable feeling. I was a round peg in a round hole. I didn’t have to keep striving for something more; I was there.
            Am I still there? I don’t know. In many ways, I am very lucky. I am financially comfortable, which makes much possible and removes much anxiety. On the other hand, my husband of many decades died just three years ago, and I am still navigating my life as a single woman in her mid-70s. I am grateful I am still alive and in pretty good health. My ideal life now is to keep on living and writing and seeing friends and family and being interested in the world. It may sound like a Hallmark card, but like many cliches, it has its own truth.  
It’s another year for the essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. If you’d like to try it, go on over to the Facebook page for 52EssaysNextWave and sign up. Or just read some of the essays that will be linked to there. (And I need a graphic for this writing challenge.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

SOLTuesday: New Year’s Eve

            I went to a New Year’s Eve party last night for the first time in years. I spent most of the time talking to a couple, she’s from Canada and he’s a bartender. But a quirky kind of bartender. At the moment, he and a partner are running a tiny bar (really tiny, like room for only two other people besides the bartender) called the Threesome Tollbooth (perhaps a play on “The Phantom Tollbooth”? I forgot to ask). You have to make a reservation, obviously, but it sounds like fun.
            The party had no TV on, so we didn’t watch the fall drop, which was a relief. Our hostess passed out noisemakers so we could do our own countdown and welcome the year with loud sounds, this apparently a holdover from ancient rituals about chasing away evil spirits in a transitional period as we go into the darkest part of the winter.
           At home, I looked back through my datebooks about New Year’s Eves past. Since 2006, we’ve been to two other parties, gone to the movies (Her, Amour, The Fighter, and Persepolis), or stayed home, eating pate and other celebratory food and switching among the channels to watch the crazy people stuck behind barriers in the freezing cold.
            One year a friend from Croatia was visiting, and she wanted to go to Times Square, despite my strenuous efforts to dissuade her. In the evening we went downtown, had to walk from 59th Street because the nearer subway stops were closed, and never got anywhere near where she could see the ball. Finally, we left. Earlier yesterday I heard someone say she’d been in a Rite Aid at Grand Central in early afternoonn and heard a PA announcement that all the adult diapers were sold out. Ugh. Another reason not to go to Times Square in person for that event.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.