Monday, August 9, 2010
In a couple of hours I will be fifty-seven, which is a gigantic relief to me. Fifty-six has been a hard year in general, but it's acquired a particular dark charge because it's the age my mother was when she died, in 1976, of cirrhosis of the liver. At first I thought my aversion to the year was a a kind of magical thinking, but then I learned that if indeed it is I'm not alone with my folly; a number of friends have spoken of their own difficulty in passing through the age of a parent who'd died at her own hand, or perished to some addiction. Perhaps we just don't want to outlive our parents, so to speak -- can we succeed where they did not, is that permitted? Or perhaps it's the fear of a toxic legacy, an inescapable inheritance.
But now I am about to leave fifty-six, alive and breathing, reasonably intact. For the occasion I've been making gestures toward the future. One of them is above: Ned, with whom I am entirely in love, and to my mind quite reasonably so. With good luck we're going to be together now for a a long time to come. And this evening I went over to my neighbor Joanne's and dug up a young catalpa tree, which is going into my garden in the morning. I've always loved them: the big virile leaves, their pungent scent -- does "pungent" really convey anything at all? Think green tomato stems, tannic acid like black tea leaves steeped a little too long. And the word, catalpa, with its Whitmanic echo of Native American speech, something southern in those three vowels, inviting one to extend the a's... In the picture, Ned is resting his head in the hole I'd been digging around the slender trunk, which you can see on the right hand side of the image. After I finished, Joanne and I had some French rose' and listened to the screech owls announcing the twilight. We tried to think why just that moment -- are they waking, is it suddenly dark enough, or cool enough, for the world to begin?
So, a good fifteen years with Ned (knock on the wood of the table where I write), decades of catalpa after I'm gone. Tomorrow Paul's taking me out to celebrate -- presents, lunch, a nursery I like in Montauk? -- and that will be all about the present. But this evening's solitary goodbye to fifty-six has entirely to do with days to come.