Seaside towns have a melancholy quality in the winter. The tourists are gone, leaving the storm-swept beaches to the locals. The quietness is tempered with the winterís storms: rain, wind, hail, power outages. Shops and restaurants are relatively empty. Everything seems to be holding its breath, waiting for the summer. Itís as if we who live here year-round are in black and white, the steel grey ocean reflecting the silver sky. But when the sun shines again and the air hums with bees and flowers, visitors will return, bringing with them the glorious Technicolor of summer.
The slim disk of platinum slides against my wrist. Unseen, I still know itís there, warming to my pulse and carried with me everywhere I go. ďEve EsquithĒ whispers the engraving on the back of the nearly century-old watch. The name of a glamorous, long-gone flapper, who loved this watch enough to have her name etched on it forever. Or loved enough by someone who wanted to make sure the world didnít forget his beloved. Eve may be gone, but her watch ticks on, counting out the second of my life as it did hers.† †
Jewelry can be powerful. That with which we chose to adorn ourselves has meaning, and perhaps absorbs something of ourselves, our spirit, as we wear it. Perhaps it becomes more powerful as it's handed down, generation to generation. A friend who lives in Amsterdam was moved to email me about a necklace she had seen in a jewelry store. ďThe most poetic piece of jewelry Iíve ever seen,Ē wrote this logical mathematician, halted in her tracks on a narrow, curving street in an ancient city by the sight of dozens of antique wedding rings, joined into a single vow.
The truth is I never liked my wedding ring. It was gold for one thing, and had a high setting for another. It got caught in everything and didn't suit me. I would never confess this to my now former husband, even now. He worked two jobs to pay for it, and I would never have the heart to tell him how I felt. I couldnít help but think that the ring, so symbolic, showed that he didnít really know me at all. I should have taken it as a warning sign, but I didnít. † †
I also ignored my instincts, which told me not to get married. From a young age, I knew I didnít want to get married or have children, and my feelings have never changed. But I allowed myself to be persuaded. It meant so much to him to get married, and it didnít matter to me, so I finally went along with it. We were married for fifteen years. Iím glad that neither of us wanted to be parents, though I doubt I could have been coaxed into that. Still, as they say, we remain good friends. †
I always slid my hand between the diaper and my sisterís skin when changing her. I often pricked my own hand, but kept her safe. I still remember the silkiness of her baby skin, her delighted laugh, her blue eyes, that special smell that only clean babies have. It was a joy to take care of her, and she always seemed like a miracle to me. Now, itís hard to believe she is so much younger than I am and that those days when she was a baby and I was a little girl are so long ago.†
Being an orphan at my age shouldnít be a rarity, but I know very few people, if any,†who have no parents. People who are considerably older than I am have one. Many of the friends who†still have parents complain about them. I always want to tell them to spend more time with them while they can; theyíll regret it when their folks are no longer there to annoy them. But I keep those thoughts to myself for fear of being annoying myself. At least I have no regrets of my own about my parents.
Now that the first rawness of grief has been rubbed softer at the edges, I realize how lucky I was to have had the father I did. We each knew the worst things the other had done, and loved each other anyway. I always felt that he truly understood me, and our visits after he moved back to his nbative London were always, as he said in the letter he left me after his death, the highlight of the year. Yes, I have suffered a great loss,† but†Iím so very lucky to have known such love.
Outside my office window: calla lilies; daffodils; daisies; camellias, pale pink, beginning to bloom; green grass, shaggy and needing to be mown. A white picket fence, where a tailless Siamese cats pads majestically. He pauses and gazes at me with his blue eyes. We hold each otherís gaze for a long moment before he slinks along his way. At the foot of the street, the ocean crashes with white plumes, the whitecaps telling of a storm to come. Cars hiss by on the wet roads. A mother calls her child. The train pulls into the station, clanging its bell.
She was determined to write in the bankís big ledgers. She stayed in every lunch hour and practiced with the help of the understanding bank manager. Eventually, her writing began to improve. And, as her feelings blossomed for the man who taught her so patiently, so did her handwriting. It became not just legible, but beautiful. She was finally allowed to write in the ledgers as she wanted to for so long, but only until she married the bank manager and stopped working. Her mother, she now realized, had done her a favor†all those†years ago. †
Both sets of my grandparents had wonderful marriages. They were married more than half a century, and they were clearly in love. My paternal grandfather used to bring his chair into the kitchen when his wife was cooking, so he could be with her (heaven forbid he should help, though Ė he was a Victorian gentleman through and through). My maternal grandmother was still jealous of her husbandís high school girlfriend Ė sixty years later, which made him laugh and dance her around the room. My maternal grandfather died three months after my grandmother. Official cause: pneumonia. Real cause: broken heart.
My friend A is slowly recovering. At this point, Iím†delighted that she is no longer in immediate danger. But she is still in the intensive care unit, something I find almost impossible to believe. I canít help thinking that things would have been handled differently if she were here in the US instead of in England. I know I am biased against the UK healthcare system, but I feel frustrated that sheís still in intensive care; that it took so long to find the source of fever and infection; that she still has a tracheotomy.†
I wish I could go over there, or better yet, send my sister, the former paramedic who now works in the emergency room of the local hospital. I imagine that Aís husband, who is Dutch, is having a hard time understanding both the doctors and the language. I know when my mother was in the hospital, I wish I had someone to translate the doctorese and hospitalspeak for me. This has been a marathon for Aís husband. I wish I could be there to help him carry this burden. I remember too well how heavy it can be.
The dead of winter is probably a strange time to buy outdoor seating, but my sister came across a pair of pale yellow Adirondack chairs at a ridiculously low price, and snapped them up for me. Her husband picked them up in his trusty truck, and dropped them off at my house, where I placed them under a tree, waiting for spring and summer. One of my new yearís resolutions was to improve my outdoor space and finally use it this year, so I feel like Iím ahead of the game. Now if the weather would warm up...
The tulips my sister and I planted on New Yearís Day are making their way up through the soil. Itís surprising how much fun itís been to watch for the first sprouts and check their progress. It looks like Iíll have ten all together. They are supposed to be ruffly purple and white ones, and I canít wait to see them bloom. Already, daffodils are nodding their heads along the side of the road, and cherry trees are flowering with foamy pink petals. One great thing about living in California is there's always something blooming.
I love the smell of freshly cut grass, especially in the winter. The magnolias are beginning to bloom outside the library, their heavy white blossoms dramatic against the sky. The stylized, funereal calla lilies are also in bloom, as are the fiery Scotch broom, my sisterís bane. She says itís invasive and bad, but all I can see are the dark, witchy hedges with their blazing yellow blooms. If itís pretty, I donít mind. I've always†liked dandelions, too. Weeds are just flowers with a bad reputation. Or flowers in need of some good PR.
Itís been harder than I thought to balance a part-time job with my regular job, even though the part-time job is only about 20 hours a week. But itís a lot of driving Ė about 45 minutes each way Ė and I have to get up around 6:30 to get to work by 9:00. Part of the time is caffeinating; part of the time is getting pretty; and part of it is fitting in my other job, as well as the usual house and cat duties. I fall asleep while reading in bed after ten minutes.
The new job (or job-ette, as I call it) is pretty good, though. Itís easy, the people are nice, and itís not a thinly disguised full-time job. Most part-time jobs these days are 35 or more hours a week, just enough so you canít get healthcare benefits. But this really is only three days a week and about 20 hours, which is fine with me. It will be great to have a little extra cash after being broke for so long. I might even save up enough money to actually go somewhere Ė imagine! †
My boyfriend got a surprise birthday present: snow! It hasnít snowed here in thirty-five years. I woke up early, put on my boots and coat over my pajamas, and ran outside to take pictures. It was a winter wonderland, and as the sun came slowly up through the trees, the pink and golden light made the snow glitter. The pine trees looked like lace. In the house, the rooms were filled with the strange white light I remembered from my childhood winters†in New York State. The whole experience was a blend of the nostalgic and new.
Naturally, the snow only lasted until noon. Youíd never know it had snowed at all, the green leaves of the rhododendrons and huckleberry bushes looking as if it had just rained. The only sign that the shocking snow had ever been here was the broken rain gauge on the balcony. The rain it had collected had frozen, expanding to shatter the glass. Now I have to decide whether to get another one. Itís been fun tracking the seasonal rainfall, but Iíll have to replace the whole thing and not just the glass part. Is it worth it?
All in all, Iíd say this new year is off to a much better start than last year. Maybe the secret really is to welcome the new year with champagne and kisses, so itís nice to you. I am also trying to be more positive, which is much harder than it sounds, given my native pessimism and the run of bad luck my brother, sister, and I have endured in the decade since Dadís death. But Iím trying to appreciate living in a beautiful place with someone who loves me, my wonderful cats, and my family.