It was four months since I'd last gone to see my friend.
I went to Gertrude's place. The door was hanging open a little bit.
The place had been ransacked. Gertrude was lying on the floor in her bedroom and had been dead for at least a few days or more.
I stepped back and I almost fainted. It looked like someone had played a joke with a dummy dressed in her housecoat and slippers. The skin on her ankles was mottled purple. I ran out of air to breathe and my heart went into shock and I stumbled out her front door and called 911 to tell them I'd found the body. They patched me through to the county coroner. They carried her out on a gurney with a sheet over her.
I looked around her place. Stuff was missing. Her metal nest with the colored stones in it, her ruby necklace, the prescription medications on her nightstand. People had come into her house and taken stuff. Why was I noticing this?
Because I wanted to grab something too! I'm ashamed of this and I'm weeping. Am I crying for her, or for myself?
People stepped around her and got her stuff and did nothing. They didn't care. They got into her kitchen cupboards, opened the stale crackers and dumped them out on the kitchen floor. They took some books by the covers and flung pages everywhere. They threw her sheet music all over the player piano. They took the velvet throw from off her couch, and they smoked cigarettes and left them to make burn marks on the top of the coffee table.
The whole place stunk of rotten flesh, cigarettes and rotten food from the fridge, natural gas, mothballs and lily of the valley perfume that got sprayed all over. Did Gertrude let them in?
I took Gertrude's address book. It was on her desk. Most of the names in it, so carefully written, are crossed out. I'm keeping it.
My heart is a vacuum. She deserved to have me or somebody there holding her hand and blessing her, seeing to it that she got a proper farewell, and buying her flowers. I will take the ashes they bring me in a plain, brown box, and I will probably put them in an urn sometime as soon as I find a nice one. Goodbye, my friend. I'll never forget what she showed me. She helped me with my disappointment. She helped prepare me for middle age and beyond. She told me stories. Goodbye, Gertrude.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I can take the bus to Gertrude's place, or I can walk, or drive. Today I've decided to walk to her place, but just right now I need to sit down and write this on my tablet.
I'm in one of those little neighborhood parks where there's a small play area for the kids, a small fountain and a couple of saggy, paint-peeling benches, surrounding a historical monument for someone who achieved...something. I can hear the traffic all around me. Somebody missed the trash can with their crumbled McDonald's bag.
But I'm in a state of near-ecstasy. The sky above is full of clouds, and it reflects from a little puddle in the concrete below my feet. The clouds look as if the wind shredded a cumulus cloud and painted it shades of soot and wool. The sunlight is hidden but what comes through is a side-lit glow. The greenery is also lit from the side, and so there's a lot of dark green but the tops of the bushes are shining with translucent, glassy green. And there are scrub rose bushes with pink blossoms, also lit.
I've got my earphones in, and my music is playing Jethro Tull, and the song is Teacher.
I feel a little cold on my face and hands from the wind gently whipping its way through every crevice, twig, and finger.
I haven't written this blog for a long time because I injured my shoulder. The pain has all but gone completely away. I just have some nerve-sensation in my index finger, but still a lot of weakness. My shoulder still reminds me that it isn't whole or strong anymore. But the good thing is, it's taught me the value of exercising my body. I used to be so strong, I thought I'd stay that way. But I'm going to be fifty years old in just over a year. The strength and energy ebb like the ocean. Injury can bring pain like a tsunami into my carelessly-built life.
I might be able to find what Gertrude found out decades ago: the identity of the human being I am.
I think of her, the way she's kind of perfectly imperfect. The thing is, she knows it. She's so beyond that. Not me--I still think I should be something other.
So, on my way to visit her place, I hope to get a little more of that completeness you find when you visit there.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
The day felt like a sheet of blank paper and I was a broken pen. And it wasn't just one day--there were three of them in a row. I didn't ask Gertrude to come over to sit with me as I lay there alone in my bedroom, because...I don't know why. I'm just not like that.
Pain has a way of drawing out the person you really are. I hate asking for help because in the past when I had ailing people in my life I used to judge them. Why weren't they healthy like me? They must have brought it on themselves. How foolish.
Now I'm the aging, weak woman lying there in bed with my shoulder streaked with pain. It's been coming and going for so long it's changing my personality.
Today I had another attack of shoulder pain. I've been getting therapy for it but sometimes it's not enough. I've learned to get around and get on with important tasks.
So anyway, finally I felt well enough to go over to Gertrude's place again and lay on her couch with a hot water bottle and a cup of tea on the table. I was saying,
"Gertrude, I've been having this condition since January or February. It's starting to wear me down. I will change my life if maybe I can trust that I have a Father that is God. I have rejected any particular thoughts about what God might look like. Instead I just want the honesty, the Truth, the guidance, the teaching. I would let go of my sense of my own ego protection, my innocence, to open up all my wrongs to my Father and let any kind of peace come to me. That way, even if my shoulder never feels fine again, I can have faith."
"You're no good at maintaining any kind of order, or even faith. You're a wanderer."
My heart sank.
"Well, what about you? What's your faith?"
"Well, I guess you could say I do have faith but I've found it unhelpful," she said, scratching her gray curls and taking a sip of her tea. "Instead I have faith that I just can't see all I'd like to. I just carry on the day."
I silently thought about my relationship with God, and with my own dad. My dad is my hero, except for the smoking and the alcohol. He's been there at times that made a big difference for me. The same with my mom. I will never forget being held on her lap and loving her. Now I don't want to be nurtured by my parents. But...
I am in pain. I want my Mama. I guess I want to learn what I need to learn from my Father. But I want Mother, so badly!
"Where is Mother God?" I asked out loud, rhetorically. But Gertrude said,
"Mothers are like extensions of us when we're infants. They sacrifice. They feed. They clean up. They don't dress like teenagers anymore. If you ask me, Mother God is here and we pay no attention, and she works anyway. She gives us consideration and comfort. Warmth. Cleanliness. Release. But you don't ever look at her."
Friday, January 25, 2013
Someday when I'm old, will anybody view me the way I do Gertrude? Or is she the only one of her kind, and am I the only one who knows her?
I know a girl, Androgyne, who looks at me like I'm a fool most of the time. To her I seem irrelevant and outmoded because I question myself and I move slowly, hesitating where she would leap. When I look at Gertrude and how slowly she moves and how little she seems to do, I sometimes feel sorry for her too. I'm middle aged; I can still do so much, almost anything except sit on the floor and hug my knees.
Androgyne doesn't know a lot about love, and I can't tell her anything because I never learned how to love even someone like Petrus until I passed through that period of time in my life when my self absorption and inability to love deliberately came to a head and I felt my ego crashing to the point where all of my emotions had turned into one big psychic bruise. Afterward I saw that love isn't from above. It's not like water, something you can go and get and share. It is the stuff I'm made of that flows from me with warmth or held back with coldness, is clean or polluted, is generous or miserly.
It seems to me like Androgyne feels as if love is a happy accident that might come crashing in one day and the stars will align, rendering a stable and mostly gratifying situation, knitting together most of life's contingencies with the life of the other.
I can only hope she finds a situation that starts out like that, but which can make that difficult transition to the point where it's not easy anymore but it's worthwhile, and you have to lose something of what you started with, to trade for something you never knew existed until you reached your hand out into the fertile darkness of what lay beyond your vision.
Gertrude is on the other side of me from where Androgyne dances. She is maybe more fully human than I am. She enjoys simply being alive. I drink more of the blackberry tea at her table.