that's not on my bucket list

“So where will you live if you have to live without Buck?” my sister asked in our long phone call last night. “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”

No, no. There’s nothing imminent going on, thank God. But she knows that Buck is 82 and I am 68 (good solid peasant stock and so far remarkably sturdy) and so barring a freak accident or random deadly disease, the brutal calendar suggests I could be a widow for a long time.

Flo is ten years my senior. She turned 79 yesterday and her husband of 56 years turns 81 today. “If I have to live without Charlie,” she said in her voice which has grown breathy and thin, “I think I’ll stay here with my kids. Plus I love Arizona.”

“We’re not in control of the timing of things,” I say, “so it just depends. We know we need to sell the big house while we are still strong enough to do all the necessary things on our own.” Flo has opened the door, and I muse aloud. “When we sell here, when that time comes, we plan to go to Jacksonville and hunker down somewhere close to the Mayo Clinic where we’re assured of great medical care.”

“And they know you there. They have all of Buck’s records.”

“Yes.”

“So you think you would stay there, then?”

“Probably, I don’t know. Somewhere in Florida, for sure. I love old Florida, somewhere on the water, maybe a river, but near the ocean where I could walk the beach everyday. Mother was so strict, I never got a sunburn as a teenager.” Flo and I quietly laugh. Oh, we both knew our mother.

Well. It’s early morning now. I realized that conversation was still on my mind when I called Lou dog by my sister’s name when I got out of bed in the dark to leave Buck and my bedroom, trying as I always do not to disturb his sleep and failing as I always do. He stirs and reaches for me.

feeling the bite

I typed that title, erased it, wrote “nibble,” erased that because it wasn’t true and was too clever by half, typed “feeling the bite” again and am going to let it stand even though it makes me feel like a traitor.

Sexy as hell in a black silk t-shirt, Buck sat on the end of my bed and tried to explain that the day would come when the 14 year difference in our ages would bite. I was 30 then and couldn’t imagine my own mortality, much less his.

Like the two intelligent communications professionals we were, he and I “talked through the Scotch” over many fire-and-bedside chats, and eventually came to the conclusion — in classic cost-benefit analysis style — that if we could get a good 20 years, it would be worth unwinding the dregs of two failed marriages and making a life together.

That was 38 years ago. The investment ripened with years of reinvested dividends and was amortized decades ago. It’s been cream off the top ever since, and more exciting than most Blue Chips.

Buck told me to keep my seatbelt buckled; that it was going to be a wild ride. And I’ve done that. Good thing, too. Especially for this part.

Guess I’ve broken the ice for myself on this delicate subject. It may take a few more food pictures before I broach it again. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, time’s precious, and I’m shutting down the computer for tonight and joining Buck and Lou Lou Belle in our bed we fondly call “the cloud.”

Facing our (Aging) Face

Success in shooting pool is a matter of geometry. The angles for shooting an aging face are even trickier. Especially with a cell phone.
Success in shooting pool is a matter of geometry. The angles for shooting a selfie of an aging face are even trickier. Especially with a cell phone. Taken Sunday, August 17, 2014.

I know a real estate broker who continues to use a photo in her newspaper ads that was taken thirty years ago.  It might work if she never met her prospects. Makes it much harder to establish trust. We wear the years in different ways. I see something in my eyes, a weight, a fatigue,  that wasn’t in earlier photos. It’s subtle, perhaps invisible to the casual observer, but hard for me to look at because I know from whence it came.

May 22, 2014

Tired and nervous as a cat, I am sitting in Room 138 of the Courtyard Marriott adjacent to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Buck is in the shower, preparing for a routine EKG at 11:50, then an appointment with Dr. John Casler at 1:15, then a 3 p.m. with a nurse practitioner to go over labs and clear him for general anesthesia tomorrow morning for Dr. Casler to remove the enlarged lymph nodes from the left side of Buck’s neck.

11:45 now, and we’re in the Davis Building. Buck has gone in for the EKG, which we are well-accustomed to,a s we both get one every year as part of our physicals.

It’s been so many months since I kept a regular journal that the very act of putting ink onto paper feels strange.

I’m so anxious about Buck’s health I can barely focus my eyes. He would say I am hollering before we’ve been hit and of course he is right about that. Nonetheless, I feel half-paralyzed, jerky, spastic. Much too distracted to read a book.

I see I am in no-way prepared for our “real” aging, possible illnesses and eventual death. Not his. Not my own.

Where Meaning Dwells

“One in six men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. Most of them will die of something else before the prostate cancer would have killed them.” The urologist sat on a swivel stool and looked at my husband, who was perched on the edge of the examination table.  “But here is where it gets tricky,” Dr. G. continued. “How long are you going to live?” He glanced over at me, flashed his steel-blue eyes. I felt like he was gauging my reaction to see how open he could be, whether I would get up and run out of the room. He looked back at Buck. “Because that’s a big factor in determining how, or whether, we treat it.”

Buck doesn’t have prostate cancer, or at least if he does we don’t know about it. Yet. But his Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) numbers have turned erratic. A chart he and I made last night from 2008 to December of 2013 looks like a nascent Bull stock market beginning to make a run. And the doctor’s question goes to Buck’s age. “You’re an unusually healthy guy for 76,” he said. “Extremely fit. No meds. Most likely good for what? Ten to twelve years? Maybe more?”

My ears began to buzz, and I had to concentrate on breathing to keep my hands from clenching the chair arms, to keep my face impassive when I wanted to scream. I felt like an atomic clock was in the room with us, counting down seconds.

Buck laughed easily. “Oh, more, I think. Maybe a lot more.”

We talk about death sometimes, and he makes me swear to stay healthy and safe. I swear. I make him swear to live forever. He promises to try.

The urologist explains to us that Buck’s PSA numbers aren’t alarming in isolation, but have begun to show a certain velocity that can be a danger sign. He wants to be sure if there are any cancer cells present, he knows which type they are. Apparently some are quite aggressive and some are not. The doc recommends an ultrasound examination and biopsy. Buck agrees and a time is set for next Wednesday.

We’re back home now. It’s raining and dark, with deep, nearly continuous rumbles of thunder. Buck is downstairs in a room we call “The Lodge,” writing away on the revision of a book he has just completed. I’m upstairs in an open area we dubbed “The Treehouse,” drinking spiced Chai and writing too many words in a bright circle of light. The curtain of rain outside the windows when it hits the concrete patio below makes a sound like tin foil crinkling.

A woman acquaintance warned me once that I was unwise to be so close to my husband; that in time it would bring me grief. Can you believe that? Foolish woman.

Besides, grief has been my close companion since I was 13, and I am unafraid of it. It is like that inner part of a ripe tomato skin, the part I call the velvet, the part where meaning dwells. You can only get to it by dropping the ripe tomato into boiling water for thirty seconds and then lifting it out with a slotted spoon. The peel slips off, revealing the gem-like velvet. Grief is always in the room with us. Grief, I think, is also the kernel of love.

A happy postscript: Dr. G’s nurse, Patty, called Friday morning, to advise us there were no aggressive cancer cells, no passive cancer cells, not even any passive-aggressive cancer cells, none at all. When I looked at Buck, he suddenly seemed years younger. When I caught my own eye in a mirror later in the day, so did I.

Morning Scribble

scribble . . . to write hastily or carelessly without regard to legibility, correctness, or considered thought

– Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged)

That’s what I’ll be doing in this space every morning. And lucky for you, it will be posted privately within the blog, so you won’t have to read my messy ruminations. Other posts about writing, reading, photos, nature walks, all the random “Beth’s world” stuff, including vignettes and little stories, will be shared in the clear.  But not the scribbles.

Buck and I talked night into morning. We read in bed for hours, then turned out the lights, held hands (and toes, I hope that’s not too much information) in the way of content long-marrieds, and as our talk turned serious we finally got hungry and padded to the kitchen for milk and a fig newton.

We talked about aging, how it is no longer an abstraction. We talked about the weight and heft of memories in a long life. Buck reflected that memory is not a series of events, but a constant process of feeling, of sensation. You don’t just think of something that happened long ago, you feel it. It can be joy, but there’s an accumulation of loss and regret, too. Every one of his 76 years was in that handsome face at one this morning as we talked about the gifts and burdens of longevity.

I wrote yesterday of a portion of my “program of work” this year for writing.  Buck and I are developing our own personal agenda to craft a living space and lifestyle that will carry us through the next decades in the independent style so crucial to our well-being and productivity. Not for the faint of heart, but then, denial is not our style.

I see the ink beginning to fade on this scribble . . . by tomorrow it will have faded, and any future writings in the “scribble sector” of this blog will be invisible.

 

 

Tough Old Bird

She reminds me of an old four star general, marching reflexively to distant cannon fire and preparing for battle with a ferocity no mere civilian can grasp. Thanksgiving is coming, and there is an eighteen-pound Butterball to be bought, defrosted for three days and reconstituted as a living symbol of perseverance.

I’m only 62, a youngster compared to our venerable guest. She has buried more relatives than I even know, including her husband and several sisters. She has been to the brink, too, peered over the edge and decided she would rather gamble in Biloxi on Saturday, place a different sort of wager in church on Sunday, and hop a cruise ship every chance she gets.

“Take it easy,” is not in her lexicon of acceptable phrases. The first word out of her mouth is “No,” quickly followed by “This is what we’re going to do.” She made a major concession to be our guest Thursday along with seven other family members, but only because I was implacable on this point, and she is busier even than usual, shuttling between visiting another sister in and out of the hospital, applying hot and cold compresses to her own eye following a procedure last week, and planning her next trip.

Come Thursday afternoon, Madam General will load her Lincoln Town Car with the glorious bird, pans of cornbread dressing, pole beans fresh from the farmer’s market, and homemade chocolate layer cake and fudge pie. She’ll drive her 85-year-old self to the woods. She’s one tough old bird and I salute her.