Friday, January 25, 2008


I've been finding myself in couple-y situations lately. Situations where just about everyone there is part of a couple, and I am not. Switches switch, old feelings line up with more recent ones, and if I stop talking for just a minute, the self-pity thing kicks in, and kicks in hard. I feel like I did at high school dances, where you worked at not acting like a wallflower, even if that's who you were.

My perspective has shifted since then. I am now old enough to act like exactly who I am. I don't have to try on other roles. If you don't like women who are perversely intellectual or a little too bright and funny--well, you won't like me, and I may not even notice. But I've been married and I remember what it is like to talk in the car on the way home from a social event, or to slide into bed at the end of the day and not huddle there alone.

I miss the comfort. I am conscious now of the awkwardness of being the one who screws up the seating at tables set for eight or ten. I am too aware of being a widow when I talk to other women's husbands, self-conscious about being--not single exactly, but singular.

Everywhere you look the world works two-by-two. At least my world does, where people my age are sensible parents in stable marriages, living in brick houses with fixed-rate mortgages. They're like oxygen molecules; they travel in O2 pairs. They dread surprises, because these come mostly from teenage children and are seldom good.

Even the single people I know are paired up with close friends or somehow belong to groups of folks who look out for each other. People need people--someone to listen, or pretend to, as you prattle on at the end of the day.

Yes, I'm definitely feeling sorry for myself. I'm also feeling a little hypocritical. Back when my husband was alive, I went lots of places on my own. More often than not, he refused to be dragged along. And I have chattered away plenty of time today in the presence of friends, or on the telephone. I'm not alone in the world.

But I am an odd piece of the puzzle. The "plus 1" who turns even numbers to odd.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day 2008

Outside everything is white, covered in snow. It was pretty in the midnight darkness, quiet and lit by street lights. In the early afternoon, the glare coming in the windows aggravates my headache and makes the house seem even colder than it is.

I've read the newspaper--the New York Times online. Read about getting organized, eating better, and exercising more. Read about the need for new priorities in public health aid to Africa and for finance reform in American political campaigns. I've read about political chaos in Pakistan and Kenya. I've read Bob Herbert's piece on 1968 in America, a year I remember well. I was in eighth grade. Shortly before my confirmation day, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Shortly before graduation, Robert Kennedy was killed.

I was thirteen. My mother had told us stories of her childhood during World War II. They'd had a Victory Garden. She and her friends collected aluminum foil for the war. She had heard Franklin Roosevelt on the radio and had told us that yes, he'd had polio, but he'd gotten better and could walk.

I watched the historical events of my childhood on television--the crisp live broadcast of President Kennedy's funeral, the grainy black-and-white film coverage of civil rights marches, exotic images from Viet Nam that seemed more like a movie than reality. Even the riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago--riots in Grant Park, a place I could get to just by riding the el--seemed to belong to another world. There was both evil and high idealism afoot in the world, but these things were distant, not to be tasted by a suburban girl, brought up Lutheran, brought up to be moderate, not passionate, in all things.

What does any one of us moderate, quiet people have to do with the big things that go on around the world? Yet there are things in the news that I connect with intuitively. There's Benazir Bhutto's nineteen-year-old son, thrust into the official leadership of his mother's political party, but telling reporters that the first thing he has to do is "finish my degree" at Oxford. He is reeling with grief, and way over his head in meeting family expectations. What about the frustration of Kenyans, whose votes for the opposition party don't seem to matter. Helplessness can make people angry and stupid. What about those presidential primary candidates--running hard now, facing disappointment in the near future? Does HIlary recognize herself now, or is it the Hilary of fifteen years ago that she wouldn't recognize?

A week or two ago, I received a Christmas card with the message "live in balance" or something like that. I put it on the kitchen windowsill and looked at it for several days, but then I put it away. It seemed too easy, too pat. Like calling all this snow pretty at midnight or one o'clock in the morning. By daylight, It's messy, and it will be pretty ugly by the end of the week. Reality is not a picture postcard. It's tough and unpredictable, and you fall down a lot and your feet get wet and cold, no matter where you live, no matter what you're doing--especially when you try to understand it all.