Sudden Tears

The Russians are particularly good at this–an upwelling of tears at the turn of a head or sliding into a car. Today’s snow and high clouds make me think of a Chekhov troika pausing in a stand of thin trees which whisper above their blanket of snow.

Maybe the illness of last evening and this morning has roused them. Last evening, Fran lay white-faced and sweating under heavy winter wraps as we watched another episode of Jeeves and Bertie. I kept saying in a quiet way, “Maybe you shouldn’t go to Phoenix.” Before going up to my own bed, I left an empty plastic waste basket beside his lounger/sleeper. He vomited twice during the night. Mid-morning, the trip canceled, he came upstairs to sleep under the electric blanket. Now, hours later, he still sleeps.

All of a sudden, with groceries in the trunk of the car, I am weeping for Eleanor, as if she had just spoken my name and risen from the lunch table to take me upstairs. Outside it would be a chilly November day, and later I would drive a rental car from the assisted living apartment where she lived, across dormant fields lightly touched with snow. When I turned left toward Bombay Hook, a flock of snow geese would rise white-winged into the air.

But I am stopped at a corner beside Feist Veterinary, proceeding toward the two stop lights on the route home. My cheeks are wet with tears. Can this be her birthday, Feb 12? She would be 98. A woman who laughed and filled a life with good work and friendships. She was helped by a companionable younger sister, and their adorable mother.Yet her husband was killed when his troop ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, and their son, born a few days after I was, did not live more than a week.

After both my parents died, I took to visiting her more often in the Delaware assisted living. I sat opposite her curly white head, bright blue eyes and freckled skin, so unlike the smooth olive of our Italian relatives. Behind her chair, hung a Gauguin print–surely his Pacific Island paradise, yet not with a shore and curving palms, and a woman with languorous hair. This was full of odd shapes in oranges and gray blue, citron and purple–a intensity over something I could not quite make out. It might have been the shape of her life.

And now I weep for her intense love and humor, her wails of frustration and flash of rage. For her armature was fully charged, unlike my mother’s which wounded suddenly, which pretended calm. So much to love when it is fully expressed, when there is warmth to the touch, when the heart is open.

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