ABOUT EIGHTY

On the inside, 80 does not feel like I fear it appears. But there are things I don’t feel like doing. And things I’d love to do. I don’t want to travel. I sense a monitor somewhere on my energy and I make careful choices. I would like to dance somewhere with a quiet, thoughtful person. I’ve learned that I will survive awhile—enough to finish the story Blue Coyote for my grandchildren. I remember great moments in America’s life more than I remember my own. I remember hearing Obama’s first speech. I remember FDR’s voice. I remember the great news reporters. The authority and strength of their words. You trusted this was true. News was not a show. We listened to the solemn reports from the front. And felt grateful for all the bravery it took to join up. I remember when I could see snow on the Arrowhead mountains on a clear morning in our house set high on a hill in Brentwood, about a mile or so from the loft where I live now. I remember the sound of Air Raid Alarms in World War II. And the Atom Bomb Raid practices, huddled under desks. No one believed that would help. I remember the astonishment that America would have three major assassinations. I remember the interludes of safety and the belief for a moment in the Sixties that war was over. And I remember. I do remember. 

I am looking at my father’s student lamp now on the table in my bedroom. The emerald green glass shade. Also on the table, a paperweight my daughter Johanna made for me when she was small. Even as you measured children or took them to buy new shoes, you didn’t really expect them to grow up. To be away. 

I have finally outgrown the longing for romance which made me a terrible mother. Or, at best, an odd mother. 

Do I think of myself first as an alcoholic? I did for many years. You must make the steps you are taking the first priority of every day, if you are to succeed in changing how you think. I think of myself as a writer, a grandmother who makes art for the grandchildren. As a woman, a Jew? Depends—not always any of these, but a jazz band perhaps, each part of myself knowing its own score, and where to come in, and when. 

Soon Mercury will end its retrograde. I might sense momentum again—a feeling of possibility. (Is this possible?) I am a collection, a controversy, an impatient client of many doctors. 

UCLA was modern, very 21st Century; the set was placid and well-ordered. You needed to be slight here (slightly alive). “You do not ask questions,” I was told. “We need to implant a tube in your neck. To receive anaesthetic.” I would have preferred to have been unconscious. I heard an older man’s voice (doctorly assurance), explain the moves to a young trainee. Her hands felt apprehensive as my body. “You won’t feel much,” the doctor said. 

“I’m feeling more than much.” I got my grit together. “I’m a real writer. I teach because I’ve been writing all my life. I’m not a tryout!” 

“This is a teaching hospital,” the doctor said. 

“Then give them a fresh new carcass to work on.” I had seen enough Law and Order SVU to know how this goes. “Get a strong person who does dead victim stunts. I’m too aware to play dead.” 

I was somewhere in the mix of consciousness, terror, and absence—a yearning for absence. For months, nothing in my body had been working right. And drilling a channel into my neck, I wanted to tell them, would not help. But the time for talking was over. All I could see was a perplexing mix of modern Asian architecture, polished steel construction assemblies of needles, the taffeta rustle of crisp medical smocks. An orchestration of needles, tubes, wires, and silence. Maybe this was coming upon death. I’m in, enough already. 

Somehow I am still here, but not in the sense of where I want to be. When will I be able to be home. To attempt drawing and writing, favored activities after swimming, driving, and dancing which have been forbidden. I can listen to great music on my iphone. Insulting to the orchestra. 

I feel like a child. “You can’t go home until...” But there’s no until. There is only this. This step. This now.