In the suburban neighborhood I grew up in, each house had two parents, a handful or more of children, a cleaning gal who lived-in a few days a week, and an assortment of pets. Every household ran on the same schedule, with Dads out working, kids in school, while moms did everything they did until we returned to sit around the dinner table in our respective seats. Two houses down our lane was a family just like ours, until it wasn’t, and they moved across to the other hill in town, where properties were larger, houses grander, and then the husband left to make his bed with a younger woman in her city apartment. This mother, the one left with 5 teenagers still living in the grander home, she’s been on my mind, a lot, her image rolling around all this week. I picture her at her dressing table, drawing cat eyes with a black liner, a smoldering cigarette in a crystal tray, and a half-filled martini at her elbow. She was alone gazing into her mirror on those nights when we middle-schoolers were experimenting with beer and kisses downstairs in the oak-paneled den. I have no recollection about why I went upstairs to speak to her or what she even said to me, but I always did go. She’d flit about in a gold patterned caftan like Cleopatra, mesmerizing my imagination as she moved mythically from dresser to mirror, completing her toilet with care, as if her styling mattered, as if she was expected somewhere regal. Once properly primed she’d descend the wide staircase with care, imparting a question or a word, not a caution or warning, just a thought for our evening. Although I couldn’t capture her bleached-blond up-do or recreate that Valley of the Dolls barbiturate disposition, she has filled my imagination endlessly of late. I know nothing certain about her isolation or despair, but right now, those emotions lay torn open in me.
There is everything about isolation that Mrs. G must have felt when her husband walked out. Something about her loneliness speaks to me here and now even though I have an abundance of love and life in my home, something this #coronacoaster has brought to the forefront. On Saturday mid-morning, once I fully woke up, after many times rolling back to sleep, I decided I’d never get out of bed again. I thought, why not just be done with all this struggle and fear and worry, and nestle into this nest for the duration? My spouse ventured up the stairs and down the short hallway to find me, twice. The first time just to see, want tea, anything? I was mute. The second time, an hour later, she wasn’t happy when I voiced my intended resolve. Words got heated as I tried to voice my despair, explain the absolute logic in my decision. There was no reason to get up on this Saturday, and maybe, I ventured, any day in the string of dark days that lay ahead. Why couldn’t I give up? Why couldn’t I say no more to the crazy? Why must I move forward when the world took away my footing and all around this shit show bounces around in uncertainty? If black men can still get gunned down by white guys who open carry their military weapons or police just murder them and children huddle under lockdowns living in poverty and debilitating fear, while whole communities horde toilet paper and watch their life savings vanish, while we teachers spend countless hours speaking into our computers to reach children who lost their relationships of every kind, and as we seek guidance or direction we Americans only get tweets that only make sense to imbeciles. Why would a person get out of bed for this, I argued one last time before she left the bedroom disappointed. People, plenty greater than me, have given up for far less, I told myself. And there she was again, Mrs. G floating about her echoing mansion grasping for something solid to hold. As I dug into this memory I knew for sure I wasn’t even close to understanding what despair and desperation must have felt like when all roads closed ahead. So I sat up and stood once more and took myself into my day.
Mrs. G was not the mother I had. Nor the grandmothers either. Those women were not left behind. They were lucky in that regard. But they faced plenty of Saturday’s not worth getting out of bed. I never want to disappoint those ladies who lived through world wars and depressions, buried too many, fought for every dignity that I now possess, and rose like mighty oaks to stand tall despite the odds. Mrs. G stood in her own fashion, and as I was never privy to her inner life, I can only ponder it now. While one might judge her behavior by her substance abuse, I choose to remember her descending the wide stairs, face painted to perfection, stopping under the chandelier to admire her house filled with young people she encouraged, and in her presence we all imagined a life of ease. We certainly did, and still do, I guess. Hardships are never planned for, never sought after, yet here we are, facing the terror and uncertainty; emotions hit like a rollercoaster ride. Her haunting is my reminder, shit shows happen, regardless of why.
On Sunday I donned my mask and gloves, drove out and home again with a trunk of flowers to pot for porch and deck and yard, and thought about life with a bit more resolve. There is no question that I will keep my chin up, but there are certainly going to be mornings when I’d rather not, and for now, this is my new normal. A day to day that demands we shift through our own interiors to find what is at the root of our own drive. My Mrs. G is a complex icon, perhaps fallen a bit, but this week, for me, she ascended back to the stars where I hope she stays, shimmery and golden, smelling like a fancy French perfume.