The Better Half … of the Bargain

Review time, everyone:  Lifelongnewyorker headed south to start her job two weeks ago and is living all by herself in a sterile apartment complex.  Mr. NYer is about six weeks behind, having stayed on Staten Island to wait for the closing on the house and generally wrap things up.  In the meantime, he’s still working, continuing to clear out our stuff, monitoring his father’s progress in rehab, and dealing with household stuff both usual (putting out the trash) and unusual (replacing the dishwasher).  

Lifelongnewyorker knows she got the better part of the deal.

She’s beginning to feel guilty.  Speaking to Mr. NYer each night, she can hear that he’s hovering somewhere between tired and overwhelmed.  His day begins early.  How  early she doesn’t exactly know, because she’s never actually been awake before he’s left the house.  He goes to work, where he is trying, I suppose, to hand off a lot of responsibilities to other people as he prepares to retire in about three weeks.  He’s running back and forth to the nursing home where his dad is slowly going through rehab.  There’s all the household chores — laundry, shopping, cleaning, taking care of the cats.  The dishwasher, which had a breakdown the weekend we came south, was going to cost more to repair than to replace.  So he bought a new one, only to have the installers refuse to put it in until a plumber modified the connection.  That one nearly pushed him over the edge.  And I hear it’s bitterly cold in New York.

And then he’s been getting ready for the Moving Sale, which started today and continues tomorrow.  He and the Abandoned One have set it up, following My Hero’s instructions.  (My Hero is the friend who offered to run the sale) Not being there, I can’t be exactly sure what preparing for the sale has entailed, but I gather there’s been cleaning, emptying, protecting non-sale items from prying eyes, and moving furniture.

Last night my phone beeped with a text from the Abandoned One.  “Behemoth shelves down!”  Over thirty years ago, we had two sets of shelves built to hold our vinyl record collection, our stereo equipment and our TV.  We found a woodwork shop that would build them to our specifications so that they filled a thirteen-foot wall in our living room.  Each stood about the height of a kitchen counter, was sixteen inches deep, and over six feet long.

We gnashed our teeth when they arrived and we realized we’d measured the wall at waist height and not at the floor, where the baseboard moulding made it impossible to put the two shelves end-to-end as we planned.  Cleverly using one as a room divider, we managed.  In our next apartment they did run along a single living room wall.  We knew they’d never both fit into the house when we bought it, so we sold one through a classified ad.  

The remaining shelf held the Abandoned One’s basketball and Little League  trophies, board games, books and various collections of stuff.  His keyboard sat on top near Sarge, a large stuffed tiger who has had a hard life.  I vaguely remember carrying the rigid and bulky shelves up to the attic; they barely fit through the doorway to the narrow stairs.  I’m glad — there, I said it! — that I didn’t have to help carry them down.  Nor the dresser that had been in the attic storage area, the dark dark room.  Or the boxes of books and LPs.

I’m also glad that my last sight of Sarge was sitting atop the shelves.  

Sarge came to us via a fundraiser.  Nearly twenty years ago, my homeroom sold more magazine subscriptions than any other.  Our prize was permanent possession of the magazine drive mascot, a large striped tiger, who had previously been awarded to whichever homeroom was ahead for the day.  He settled on a bookcase in the back of the room, next to a map of the Middle East, and watched with his green glass eyes over my lessons in a kind of drowsy but wise way.  At the end of the school year, while cleaning my classroom, I offered the tiger to the Abandoned One, who was perhaps five or six years old.  He named him Sarge.  It only occurred to me recently that it was because of the stripes.

Sarge endured a great deal of love from the Abandoned One, and supported a large collection of stuffed friends who would pile themselves atop him every night somehow.  Sarge was big enough to climb on and, judging from the state of his back, I suspect he stolidly bore the weight of the  Abandoned One often.

Scarred for life when my mother took it upon herself to discard a large white polar bear I had as a child (it was, in her words, “a dust collector”), I respected the bond between Abandoned and Sarge and let him be.  He sat in the room through four years of college and remained when Abandoned moved to Brooklyn.  Gravity took its toll, shifting much of Sarge’s internal mass down to his belly and nether parts.  He could no longer hold up his head, which hung down nearly to his tiger knees.  The cats gave him wide berth.   

Even during the great clean up, I tried not to press the issue of Sarge.  As Abandoned emptied the shelves, he must have come to the point, finally, where he felt he could let go.  Yesterday morning, before the shelves came downstairs, he sent me an email.  “Sarge went out with today’s trash,” he wrote,  ” … was a bit sad to see his stooped frame peeking out from the top of the garbage can.”

I’ll bet it was, and the words  alone nearly made me weep.  That’s when I realized that I am lucky.  I’m not saying goodbye for such a long time to so many memories.

I’m in a kind of emotional grace space.  I feel like I’m on an extended business trip, one that’s going well.  During the day, my work keeps me busy and interested.  I try to eat a big meal at lunch so I can get by with soup and salad at night, both of which are easy to whip up in about three minutes — just open the can and the bag of greens.  After I eat, I settle down to Facebook or to write a blog post.  Perhaps I watch a little television or read a book.  I drink a glass of wine, go to bed early and sleep well.  Aside from doing laundry and running the dishwasher once a week when I’ve used up all the dishes, I have no real chores.  I stop at  one of many markets to pick up a couple of items on my way home and had to remember to put gas in the car once.  It’s not exactly stressful. 

Hey, Mr. NYer — I appreciate what you’re doing.  Tell you what — I’ll pick out a house.  I’m going out again tomorrow.

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2 Responses

  1. To Mr. NYer:
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,
    “You’re a good man Charlie Brown!”

  2. When Deb and first moved Florida, and developed a circle of friends, we of course met some couples. Over the years, we’ve been dismayed at all the couples that we’ve known over the years that have separated, divorced, whatever. We are certainly glad to be one of the statistics on the other side of the equation.

    The other day, we got to talking about a newer phenomenon. Couples we know, happily married, living in two different states. I don’t know if it’s a cultural shift or purely and economic one, but we got close to a dozen before we had to really stop and think. Some are ‘in transition’ – like you guys. Some are simply doing what they have to do at the moment, not certain when their lives will be pulled back together for more than long weekends or brief visits once-a-month.

    And the final sobering thought was that we’re just a phone call away from becoming one of those couples. I’m close to retirement, but I really need to stick it out for another couple of years. Deb, on the other hand has conceded that she’s not going to make it to her 30 years with the district, so she’ll go when her parents make it clear that she needs to go – to be with them.

    And I’ll be making the soup and the salad (‘cept my salad will be a grilled cheese sandwich) and counting the days till be reconnect again.

    Still, commitment to a long-distance love, either temporary or open-ended, sure beats the alternative. I’ll take that choice any time…

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