My landlord is out of town. This is a significant fact: it accounts for why I can sit out on the front porch and smoke cigarettes at 3:30 in the morning.
These things are going to kill me someday.
I wonder if they precipitated my father's condition?
Some months after becoming a Polish citizen in 2009, my old man gave me a call one afternoon to tell me about his introduction to Poland's healthcare system. One moment he's talking about doctors and waiting lists, and then with the nonchalance of a by the way he's telling me he has congestive heart failure.
"WHAT?" was all I could say.
"Oh, relax," he told me. "It's not as bad as it sounds."
The last time I spoke to him he told me the good news he received during his most recent visit to the clinic. "My heart has deteriorated by six percent!"
"WHAT?" I said. (This is pretty much all I ever say when my father describes his ongoing experience with the aging process.)
"Calm down," he said. "It's great news! Six percent in about as many years! That's only one percent a year! It's really good!"
I guess it's not like the rest of him isn't deteriorating either.
The day before my father called I paid my maternal grandfather a visit in the inpatient rehabilitation clinic. He recently suffered a stroke. The stroke came on the heels of a surgical procedure in which a malignant tumor was pulled out of his brain.
My grandfather has been old for as long as I can remember—if not always old, then never young. But I never imagined seeing him infirm. I literally didn't recognize him: I actually glanced into his room, looked him over, and then asked the nurse in the hall if Mr. R. White had been moved elsewhere.
I brought him a copy of the Washington Post. He read the sports page and mumbled about the Redskins. I sat in a chair beside his bed and stared at, tried to understand the gauntness of his limbs. It's so easy to forget our bodies are just bones and meat, and so unsettling to be reminded.
My grandfather was a participant in Operation Overlord in 1944. That first scene from Saving Private Ryan? My grandfather was there. He fought in and survived D-Day. He must have been nineteen, twenty years old.
When I saw him he wore a hospital gown stained with pasta sauce and bits of spaghetti because his arms are too weak and he has too little control over them to bring a fork from a tray on his lap to his mouth without faltering.
My grandfather quit smoking in his sixties, if I recall. My father musty be sixty...one? Two? He stopped smoking this year, but he's planning to pick it up again next summer. He's always scoffed at talk about addiction.
"I am not addicted cigarettes. I just love smoking."
You get one life. Might as well do what you like, right?
She and I moved to a suburb of DC together seven months ago. She'd been living in Maryland since leaving Pennsylvania this time last year. I don't suppose someone prone to seasonal affective disorder can be expected to have an easy time moving to a strange new home in an unfamiliar place and trying to find new friends and a new job in February. It wasn't an easy time. It was only around May or June that I finally began to feel at home here.
She left two weeks ago and she isn't coming back. Now I have to decide if I want to follow her and start the whole thing over again fifteen hundred miles away—only to pack up and move two thousand miles away in June and start the whole thing over again, again.
I feel like an alien here. On this planet, I mean. It doesn't really matter where I am or what people I'm associating with. I'm frequently possessed of a sense of incongruity. This isn't new.
Feeling comfortable somewhere, having a place where I feel more or less at home is a very valuable thing to me. I can't give it up but stubbornly.
I'm not sure I can follow her. I never wanted to live in the tropics. Coming from a place like New Jersey, you can't come to terms with your surroundings without becoming unable to accept paradise, at least without distrust or disdain.
There are things I like about the DC area. There's a lot that I dislike.
I can't see the stars here. That's that worst part. When I can't see the stars, my whole vision is circumscribed. In such circumstances one becomes susceptible to fallacies of misplaced importance. Our good decisions are made only by accident when our apprehension of the facts and their values is muddled.
In that book of his that I read, Albert Whitehead argues that certain intellectual seeds of the scientific flourish came from the commingling of Christian theology and the Greek legacy in the Western European consciousness. There had to be confidence in the existence of an intelligent architect, or at least an assumption that there was a rational order to the universe that could be found if searched for.
Whitehead wrote that the thinkers and artists of that age were striving after a kind of superhuman perfection that most of us today are unable to even conceive. . .
Seeing the stars is one of those things, one of those reminders. If I can't look out at the universe and find intimations of human features or the moldings of some divine anthropism, I can at least look out at the universe and remember what it is I belong to. But when I can't do that—
She tells me the stars are beautiful where she is. I hate when she tells me.
There aren't many katydids in this part of town. But there are crickets.
At the Quaker center in Pennsylvania and in Jersey, there was this hour at dusk—the last of the birds, the catbirds, were settling but not down, and the twilight rang with the sustained stridulations of hundreds, thousands of tree crickets, all singing the same long, sonorant note. As soon as it got dark the katydids started in, and then their restless noise was all you heard until the robins took over at dawn.
But there are no katydids down here. The gardens and bowers ring on and on from twilight till twilight. There's something in this, too. Something I'd call holy if I had the conviction.
The crickets. How many of us, how often do we take them for granted?
Sometimes you don't notice the music until the silence reasserts itself.
These things will kill me someday.