I’m a woman in my mid-fifties now. When I was younger I lived in Boston by myself in a studio apartment; my best friend lived in the same building. We both worked, we ate out every night, we laughed a lot.We were both financially independent, we paid our own bills and ate a lot of Bailey’s vanilla hot fudge sundaes with whipped cream and extra cherries. We shopped often so we could get the Clinique cosmetic bonus at one of the large retail stores.We waited on the Boston streets, Saturdays, late at night, for The Boston Globe and The New York Times to be delivered. My best friend turned out to be a very sick woman with many psychological issues that I put up with until she started lying to me and that I wouldn’t accept, I couldn’t. We barely spoke after that. It took many years for me to see her as fragile and flawed and emotionally damaged instead of holding on to my anger and her betrayal.
I got married when I was 31 to a man I had known my whole life. We fit together like a pair of tan silk gloves, holding hands. We came from the same background, our parents were friends; our wedding was small, outside in Boston, at the Boston’s Women’s City Club, both sets of parents and siblings were there to take part in the ceremony. It was October and the weather was very warm and sunny and it felt like late June.
We struggled to have children for two and a half years of grueling infertility treatments. I was depressed, running my life on automatic pilot: to the clinic at 6:30 am for shots, blood work, ultra-sounds; I then drove to work, sometimes I had to go back to the clinic at night. My goal in life was always to be a mother and I was heartbroken. Finally, one glorious day, I found out that I was pregnant, I felt it before any blood test could confirm it. That was one of the happiest moments of my life, it was 20 years ago.
I gave birth to our son and a year later I felt the same calmness in the shower when my husband told me of recent break-ins in the neighborhood, I smiled. I felt peaceful and unfazed; I got dressed quickly, grabbed my baby boy and headed to the pharmacy for pregnancy tests. I was thrilled, no fertility treatments needed; my body had fixed itself. In the hottest days at the end of July, I gave birth to a baby girl. Life was complete.
We moved to a tiny house in New York to be closer to family, as soon as we moved, my father became ill, seriously ill. Life plays tricks on us all the time; we had moved so we could have a support system and help yet by the time we got there we were the ones that were helping my parents. It was a lesson to be learned and for others to learn. Don’t move FOR other people, people will always change their minds or their plans or they will move on themselves. Life will make changes for you whether you plan for it or not.
My father was ill for a long time, physically and mentally; he was very, very depressed. The things that had made him so happy in the past left him untouched. His joy of life, for the little things, for food and music and Viennese waltzes were now annoyances. My father died many months before his actual physical death. He died the night we went to dinner together because my mother asked me for help so she could go out with her friends, she needed a break. I went to dinner with my dad, now a stranger to me, we shared a creamy risotto, one of his favorite dishes, and a small, crispy iceberg salad, we drank tap water. There was no light in his pale blue eyes, he was no longer there although he could carry on a conversation very adeptly. I drove him home to his apartment, I convinced him to play “Der Fledermaus” on his turntable, his favorite music that used to blast from the stereo all the way down the hall when I was young. He played it, for me, but he didn’t want to. I even asked him to dance which he did begrudgingly for about ten seconds. He stopped abruptly and said to me: “When you leave here, be happy.” My father died, for me, at that moment. I left after that, he urged me to go, and I leaned against the wall outside, doubled over with pain and grief, my body wracked with sobs. He died six months later, on New Year’s Eve, a day before my parents’ wedding anniversary.
I grieved for years, I still grieve. I was especially close to the father that I grew up with, similar in nature and temperament. I was left with a sister and a mother who were very close and who had no understanding of who I was and how I felt. I was left out, I still feel that way sometimes but it just doesn’t matter anymore. My children were still little when my dad died but they saw their mommy who stayed in bed and cried all the time. My son, years later, said he thought ‘I would always be that way’; his sweet, honest observation made me feel worse. My children are now 17 and 19, my husband and I proudly watched our son graduate from high school last year and we will watch our daughter graduate from high school this year.
When my children were little, in third grade and second, I surprised them with a puppy. A sweet ball of fur from the shelter, only six-weeks old. The most well-behaved dog you can imagine, demure and cuddly who wanted nothing more than to sit in my lap and sigh with contentment. Earlier this month I gave her a big tenth birthday party as I have every year, with my daughter and our friends Margaret and Christina; I even bought hats and paper plates. I took photographs of us.
It’s been only two weeks but now she is dead. I brought her in to the veterinarian because she yelped softly twice but otherwise seemed fine. I felt silly bringing her in to the veterinarian but I did anyway. He examined this perfectly looking dog and said “I feel something.” He kept her there all day for an X-ray and blood tests and I called later that afternoon for the results.
He scheduled her for surgery, the following day, she had a mass on her spleen and he would have to take her spleen out but, as he said, “dogs can live a good life without a spleen….if it wasn’t cancer.” Cancer? We brought her in to surgery and I kissed her a lot and put my arms around her and whispered secrets to her. Later that afternoon, the veterinarian called, the cancer had spread to 75 percent of her perfect tan, black and white body. He advised and we agreed that we did not want our dog to suffer. Our dog died that day. I had to tell my children and our friends, between sobs and my grief. This was my dog. I picked her out from the shelter, she was my girl. I still cry, I still think I hear her in the house, I wait for her when I unlock the door….
As you get older in life you will have experienced great joy: college and dating, relationships, marriage, children, jobs, pets. They say “the best is yet to be” but I can’t believe that. I wish I thought that there were better things ahead for me in this world but I can’t possibly imagine what they would be. I’m sure there will be moments of joy here and there, but so too, there will be more sickness and death and grief and getting older. I had the best of times, now, I just have the memories.