Sunday, February 15, 2009

that sentimental journey

Valentine's day I walked the dog early, through the rain and small bursts of snow. Tiny pale yellow crocuses are in bloom near one corner of the graveyard; narcissi are starting, the white, fragile, early ones. My friend Stan brought me a huge bunch of those last week, piled into an old garden boot and left on the bookstore steps. Stan and I have talked gardens for nearly 40 years now; his wife and I talk babies, since she's one of the area"s midwives. And besides, gardens and babies are amongst the best of subjects.

Stan also brought me two pots of growing narcissus, because the last time we spoke we realized we had--now maybe 25 years ago--independently rescued plants from the old gardens where now the biggest and fanciest motel on main street sits. I dug mine with a pen, the one tool I always have to hand, and brought quince and old roses and bits and pieces of lilacs off to my woodland gardens, where most have thrived. Stan managed to rescue some of the old bulbs, and the ones he brought me were from that batch, multiplied over the years. Since the bookshop is just down the street from the vanished gardens, we thought it would be good to return some of the bulbs to near their home.

But I think I'll wait till the snow storms are over.

Valentine's morn, after fetching some dark French coffee from uptown, and scones studded with blueberries, warm from the oven--the baker threw in an extra one, in honor of the day--I put the Saturday morning Metropolitan opera broadcast on, and my partner of all these years joined me over coffee and scones, listening to the soaring and tragic music.

Eugene Onegin was the opera. Now, back in the day, back when I was sending passionate postcards to my love, back when we were so much younger, and confused, and enchanted, I gave him a set of cassette tapes of this opera. The story, should you not know it, is of lost love and bad timing. Looking back, it was sort of a cautionary choice for me, though I'm not sure he got the message: young Tatiana, drenched in poetry and yearning falls in love with Eugene and writes an honest and impassioned heartwrenching letter to him, which he...kindly receives and rejects.

And then (it is an opera, after all, and it was based on a story by Pushkin, and no one is as tortured as the Russians)...ah, they meet, so many years later. There's a duel, there's loss, there's sorrow. Tatiana has married, and stays with her husband.

The music is wonderful. And how nice for Valentine's Day, this love story. Okay, tragic, but..aside from Eugene's best bud, no one dies.

My partner grew very depressed. And I too--ah, I was thinking of some of my lost loves and renouncements, of the vibrancy of youth, of the sorrows. And he read me some of the Pushkin--do we like the Nabokov translation better, or the one in couplets? Predicably we disagreed--I hated the couplets.

Our youngest son, still on a strange schedule, was sleeping. It's been a rough month. Well, in some ways it has been a rough lifetime, a rough love.

We'd found out this week that an old friend had died--another of my gardening friends, whom I treasure--it is good to talk the time of apple blossom with someone to whom it makes sense. I'd found out that the recent terrible death of a young father in the town up north directly involved the husband of a woman I cherish, who has three children. "How are the new medications working?" asked the family doctor of her the other night. "not well", she said, "my husband is in jail for murder". And the little boys are being teased at school. I'm here, I told her, and I told her of my brother, his crime, his time in jail, how it turned out.

And the rain kept falling, and my partner, thinking of some love or another, grew more melancholic yet, and snappish.

Little things get to us sometimes. The car that's not running, the son who is so fragile still, the world that just never quite is as it seems it should be.

The closed shelter. On Valentine's day, in the snow, I gave away a bunch of blankets, coats, warm socks. I listened to some new stories, after the opera, after my fretting partner went to read something about the life of Pushkin.

Love isn't really a pretty sonnet, or an eloquent phrase. My partner's hair has thinned, my waist has thickened, over these decades of work and laughter, of angers and sorrows, of loneliness.
We walked with our son in the rain and sleet, in a row, like ducks. If ducks held umbrellas. The nightstreets were very still, save for the rushing waters. At the market we chose peppers and bread, a treat for Gabe, some food for the cats and dog, all to the tunes of piped in music about love. Oh, baby.

On the way back I was thinking of how all the times of pain in my life, all the times I thought "why me? why this? what have I done?" seem to have at some point come in handy. No one can speak to someone in the depths of despair without knowing the territory; when I talked with the mom whose husband is in jail--well, as she said, no one else seemed to know what it's like. So I'm glad.

And my partner's melancholy was somewhat lifting; we went on to talk of the Greeks, of theories of anarchism, of virtue. I stirred up the fire in our small woodstove.

"Wait, it was Valentine's Day today and I forgot it" said he. I laughed--it's fine, I said, we had coffee and the opera and a romantic walk in the rain. What could be better?