§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

More on Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking

I love Didion's writing and for some reason, though I knew, had not paid much attention to what this one was about. I usually don't care; she's worth reading no matter what she writes about. When I began, I remembered. Since my husband died 3 years ago, I was a little bit afraid to read, though I knew her thoughts would be important ones. I stopped to think--and remember-- just now when, shortly before he died, Didion described how her husband had insisted that they go to Paris as planned, when she thought they didn't have time or money. I stopped to think. He had said it might be the last time to see Paris.

Something like this happened to me, only it was London, not Paris. We had made reservations--one of those Expedia package deals--to spend New Year's 2002 in London--a place both of us loved and visited often. I had paid a bit extra to guarantee refundability if we should cancel the trip. Alex was getting increasingly disabled--he had a rare arterio-venous fistula on his spine which was slowly choking off circulation to his lower body, slowly paralyzing him. We didn't know that then. There was an appointment with a neuro-surgeon on January 8th.

We had been walking in the park daily--or at least a few times a week--for months and I could not help but see it got more and more difficult for Alex. We would park at Rice University just off of Main Street and walk across Main and Fannin to the park and then walk the same route every time. They were building the train tracks and station then--the first of a municipal rail system--and walking over and around the construction became more and more of a problem. Alex had to sit down and rest more often and the last stretch back, out of the park, across two busy streets, with construction, was very difficult. It had become harder and harder to chat as we walked. His total concentration was, I could see, on staying upright and finishing the walk. Any sign that I could help, either physically (he outweighed me by more than 100 lbs so there wouldn't have been much) or emotionally, was rejected. He was proud and determined and couldn't bear that anyone, even me, see his weakness. How could we travel abroad?

I called the airline and reserved front bulkhead seats with a letter I'd got from the neuroologist. We'd chosen a 4 star hotel that was centrally located. I still assumed we'd cancel at the last minute. I was convinced that Alex was determined to go since he thought he was giving me a gift I really wanted. I didn't want to go if it was difficult for him. The last day, I finally said--after numerous hints didn't work--that maybe we should put this off, that I understood it would be difficult for him and we could have a good time at home. His answer told me that HE really wanted to go.

We went. It was difficult. The seat they gave us had more room but it was beside him, not in front where it would help. It was a 10 hour flight. When we landed he went instantly to the bathroom and was gone for so long I got scared something had happened.

One of the first things he wanted to do was find a gym. At the hotel they directed us to one in Covent Garden, on Henrietta Street I think. Alex went and I did some errands. I came back several hours later expecting him to be at the hotel resting and waiting for me. He wasn't there. I went to the gym. They remembered him and said he'd left. I went back to the hotel--maybe 6 or 8 blacks, checked messages and waited a half hour or so and then took off along the route he'd have to take. I met him on King Street--he was on the other side of the street, walking very unevenly, concentrating so on keeping upright that he didn't see me. I crossed over and stopped him--he hated to stop since momentum was very important to him when he had trouble walking. I coaxed him into an Italian coffee bar a bit further on and he relaxed and admitted he was worried about getting back. We had cappuccino and a snack and a rest.

The next day we set out for the new Tate Modern Gallery. The subway Alex managed pretty well as long as I knew where we were going and we didn't waste any steps, but we went to Blackfriars and had to cross the bridge which was icy in spots and then walk further down the riverside than I'd anticipated. We got there and went immediately to the coffee shop. Then Alex decided to take a taxi back to the hotel. He insisted I stay. He wanted to read.

We found a funny little restaurant in an 18th century store front on Jermyn Street for New Year's Eve and came back to the hotel early. Our room had a huge arched window that faced a lane going between Leicester Square and Trafalger Square so we would watch all manner of humanity pass by and saw a couple of police emergencies in the distance--while we watched on the television as they reported about the crowds in Trafalger Square. We felt safe and cosy and at the same time in the middle of things.

On New Year's Day we went to Greenwich since Alex had been reading about John Harrison--he who solved the longitude problems for navigation at sea in the 18th century. Alex had read about him long before the Longitude book came out--since he'd spent some time building clocks in the 80ies. I'd planned the trip carefully, knowing that the transition from the Tube to the Docklands Light Rail would be tricky. But there were few people. Getting off at Greenwich, though, we realized not only that it was several blocks to the Observatory but it was all up hill. When we came to the park around the Observatory there were two routes--one diagonal sidewalk and the other a driveway. The latter, though, had several places to stop and sit on a bench. There was also ice on the sidewalk and nearby kids were yelling and screaming as they slid down a grassy hill barely covered with snow.

The Observatory was crowded since it was free for the holiday. You were expected to follow the tour. At one point Alex sat down on a window sill and said there was no way he could follow the group to the Royal Astronomers' room on top and that all he wanted to see were Harrison's clocks. I told him to sit tight and I'd find the clocks. They were more than worthwhile and we stopped at a Thai restaurant for a late lunch on the way back. A free calendar for the year 2002 which they gave away still hangs on my wall.

On the train back to Gatwick on the way home, I forced Alex to take the only seat in the car and went to sit on the luggage at the rear of the car because I knew he couldn't stand to sit while I stood. He was a big, strong man and didn't look disabled.... (Later I wanted to kill the flight attendants who wanted us to give up a bulkhead seat to a couple with an infant. There was no way it was harder for them to manage in three seats than for Alex to sit with another seat in front of him. But he looked perfectly healthy.) On the train, I watched the familiar route back to Gatwick--one I'd done dozens of times—sort of teary since I was afraid we wouldn't do this trip again. Alex had got advice from the taxi driver on another place to see 18th century clocks and he wrote it down for next time.


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