Sometimes we are unaware of the foundations upon which we build. Both the physical structures – like my mom’s house built on a cement slab which makes the whole downstairs freezing – and the philosophical foundations, like our beliefs and processes. My relationship foundations were rotten. I just didn’t know it at the time. I’ve had more time to think now.
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Hello, good morning. So happy to be here with you guys today. I’m just thrilled that you’re out there listening. I hope to talk to you all about this one day soon. In fact, I am having a live event, The Bard of Hudson, coming to you live on Saturday, December 3 at 3:30, at the Nyack library on Broadway in Nyack, New York. So if you would like to come and hear some stories, live and in person, and meet me and say hi to me, I would love that! That would be amazing. I’m going to be telling some of the stories from the podcast and also some folktales and some travel adventures that I’ve had recently, and I think it should be a really fun mix. It’s about an hour. Come on over.
Okay, so here we are, and it’s November 17. And it’s really starting to feel more like winter now. I went and bought myself some flannel sheets, a space heater and a large rug to try and mitigate this freezing cold room that I’m staying in. My mom’s house was built in the 1950s, slab-on-grade, and it is very cold once the chill sets in. There are tile floors throughout the kitchen and the bathroom in the dining room downstairs, but the bedrooms on the first floor have wood floors. However, I was actually there when those floors were installed by my mom’s partner, Virginia. We all helped with that. They were done by her in order to be done as cheaply as possible. Hence, they are badly insulated, and basically the temperature of the earth that’s underneath them. Whoever buys this house one day in the future should probably tear it down and start over.
The house began its history as a split level Ranch, that iconic construction that was so ubiquitous in the 1950s. It had an enormous driveway in the front with a large square parking area that served as a basketball court primarily and a bicycle arena. Now that large driveway is a garden and the parking area is much farther away from the house closer to the road. It’s not so very practical from an old lady point of view who’s just trying to carry her groceries. But many of the details that were added during a huge renovation were not really designed either for practical use or with any long term point of view.
Mom and Pat undertook an extensive renovation of the house somewhere around 94 or 95. Probably around the same time that Dave and I were renovating our second house on Closter Road. (You know, everything was a competition back in those days.) I think they wanted to revamp the living spaces to accommodate two boys who would soon outgrow the idea of living together in the same room. In any case, the renovation turned a simple structure into this multi-gabled skylight conglomeration of purposes. Mom’s bedroom gained a two story ceiling with transom windows and a balcony that opened out onto the backyard. The other wing of the house went vertical also, adding a second storey guestroom suite and an office space. Unfortunately, no one addressed the problems of the foundation and the freezing floors.
Foundations are so essential and yet often overlooked in favor of the fancy stuff that is more visible. This is true for physical structures as it is for a human being. You can cover yourself in Louis Vuitton, have weekly facials, and monthly haircuts at Vidal Sassoon, but if your soul is mired in mud and frozen in time, you won’t avoid those foundational defects for long. Savannah calls it root chakra work. The Tarot has a card that gives you a heads up when you’re about to be slammed with a correction in that area. It’s called the tower card. People dread it and panic when it shows up. But trust me if it shows up, that’s because it’s way past time for whatever needs fixing to be fixed. The Tower represents some cherished system or belief. And it crumbles because the foundation was rotten. 2020 was a Tower year. Think about it. COVID, Black Lives Matter, the elections, all of the protests… Yeah. It’s not a coincidence and pretty fucking powerful. But those things had to happen because those systems were rotten, and the rebuilding is going to take a lot longer than we think. But I’m holding out faith for millennials and Gen Z to turn some of those problems around. They will. We’ve already seen their effect in a gradually dawning way with this past midterm election. May they continue to uphold justice!
Goodness, I veered off the track of the personal into the widely universal there! So, to return to the personal and incorporate this theme, I will say that my foundation in the realm of relationships was definitely rotten. I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t recognize that my choices came from very flawed perceptions. The examples that I had grown up with of primary relationships were very distorted. My mother was always being swept off into the next relationship by what she called ‘huge passions,’ but her choices were reckless and often arbitrary, serving some immediate purpose but with no broader assessment of what she really wanted, or what would work best for her in a more comprehensive way. My grandmother, for her part, seemed to choose men who served a practical purpose, but she somehow kept her heart in reserve when she chose her second, and then her third husband. Neither of those examples are healthy. But here I was trying on the second. I had tried the safer choice, now I was letting myself be ruled by passion. Somewhere in the future, perhaps I will choose with all my senses and faculties.
But in 2003, I was not in possession of reason. My journal entries speak to the raw immediacy of what I was experiencing. This is the 40-something-year-old me at a vital turning point in her life. Don’t judge her too harshly. She was about to jump across a dangerous threshold, in order to arrive at a new stage of her journey. It had to be. That tower had to come down. So here are some entries from my journal, from February of 2003, nearly 20 years ago. That’s crazy.
We haven’t been together sitting, talking, kissing, dancing in a very long time, and I’m being eaten away from the inside. My ability to concentrate on anything else when I’m alone is practically gone. I feel myself almost grinding to a halt. It’s like the biggest and most essential part of the machinery is missing. It’s interesting how, when it was really missing, the machine worked much more smoothly. Now, doubt is crippling. I don’t know how to disable this effect that the whole situation has over me without extracting myself from the situation entirely. But I am not yet so much in pain that I want to do that. I’m still in the spell of the pleasure, anticipating those priceless wonderful moments when we get to be together. But at what point does the pain make it all not worth it? Or will it even out before that happens? The only remedy would be if we can be assured of being together a bit more often and more regularly. If it wasn’t such a roller coaster of promise and disappointment, perhaps I would settle into a rhythm of contentment. At least if I could even talk to him more on the phone. But I can’t call him and I can’t email him real emails with all of these questions and desires because he’s afraid they might be read by wife or child. What’s to be done to ease his frustration?
The pain arose just now again, because yesterday, he postponed our lunch to today because he was too busy at work. And today we woke up with a snow day. The kids are home. That’s all much more complicated. To get together today we’d have to make some elaborate plan. I’m sinking into despair that it won’t happen. The snow day did not dawn with the usual joy. If not today, then perhaps tomorrow, but I already feel like it was all I could do to make it through one more night to reach today. I’m going to go for a walk in the snow and clear my head.
That entry is followed by a quote from Willa Cather: “Innumerable shades of sweetness and anguish that make up the patterns of our lives.” And then I say, on February 15: And just like that, it’s over. The anguish presides. I don’t know how to survive this day. I wish for amnesia. I wish for time to reverse. I wish I had taken another road. “Will you forgive me if I leave tonight?” he asked.
“I thought so.”
Can we be friends? Can we look into the face of possibility again and again and deny it? What words, what music can heal this? I miss my friend. I have no one to talk to. No one to talk me through this. She’s on vacation. Everyone’s gone. It’s going to snow again, and I’m just sick of it. And depressed by this winter. And deafened by the silence and sick from this roller coaster ride I’ve been on. Love sick.
And then on February 22, I wrote: And now we’re back. How does that happen? Can the heart sustain such stress? He came over shortly after I wrote that last entry, he called and asked if that would be kind, or what could we do to make this feel better? I tried to listen to my heart and it said, yes, come over. It seems it prefers the pain to nothing. So he came, and we talked and talked and kissed and held each other fiercely, sweetly, wrapped together, fitting so beautifully. He stayed for such a long time, and it felt like time was suspended. I said all that I was thinking, and so did he. And we came to the conclusion to continue as kissing friends for the time being. I said I guessed I could do that if I wasn’t always waiting for it to be something else. To continue as if all options are unknown. Just live in the present, and take what comes. Wow, that’s hard.
Now we joke about it: “Do friends kiss like this? Kisses that go down to your toes? I can still feel him pull away when it’s completely overwhelming. But it’s not so much out of fear now, mostly just to catch his breath. That’s probably a good thing. Hopefully, I’ll look back on this and be grateful for his wisdom and clear thinking. I told him that this is the most grown up I’ve ever felt, to be able to say what I think, and not what I think the other person needs to hear. To ask for what I want and to be able to accept not getting it. And since then, we have grown ever closer.
We had a wonderful dinner together, which I played hooky from my acting class for. I got to get my house ready for him as for a real date: cooking, starting a fire, lighting the candles and being so ready that I sat on the couch reading a magazine waiting for his step on the porch. He was delighted. He brought me flowers, purple tulips, and delicious red wine. We danced, we ate, we talked, we touched. I wanted time to stop. But all too soon it was time for me to drive to the Berkshires. He said it was the fastest passing three hours of his life. But it was so rich. Such a luxury. I drove in a dream of him. His voice, his smile, his eyes. I called him after an hour or so to tell him good night. What a luxury that was also. So there it is. In the throes of passion. There’s more to come on that. But I’ll share more with you next time. Thanks for being here and sharing my torment and my joys. See you next time.