Croatia: Week Two

Posted in Prose on April 24, 2017 by 1writegirl

It rained most of my time in Zagreb and was much colder than I’d expected (Croatia is the same latitude as Maine, so had I done my homework…) and I had a bad case of jet lag that wouldn’t resolve even with the help of sleeping pills. Thus I ventured out into the city on only two of my four days there. I visited the center square adorned by a large bronze statue of Josip Jelačić von Bužim (a count, general and all-around good guy widely admired for his abolition of serfdom) astride his trusty steed. Under the horse’s tail is a common meeting place it seems. After that I wandered into the Zagreb Cathedral – Croatia’s tallest building – and the Dolac (farmer’s) Market. Another day I visited the botanical gardens, fairly small as those things go but quite lovely nonetheless. I wish I’d had the energy and motivation to explore this city further.

The weekend found me in Velika, in the eastern part of the country on the edge of Papuk Geopark, or “nature park” as the locals call it. The owner of my rental, Anton, is a charming young man who speaks excellent English (learned from watching American movies with English subtitles he tells me) if you discount his habit of beginning every other sentence with “To be honest.” He committed one helpful task after another for me from the moment he picked me up at the train station. I was highly impressed. After showing me my apartment and helping me settle in, he started a fire in the bedroom fireplace for me, then drove me back into town to get groceries. Upon our return he downloaded an app on my phone of hiking trails in the park, and helped me sort out my SIM card situation: down with Vipme – who charged me 80 kuna for voice, SMS and unlimited data, then “suspended” my account after only one day and couldn’t offer an explanation or reinstatement of active status despite Anton’s best efforts – up with Bon Bon! (that’s good good in French, while bombon means candy in Croatian) which incidentally uses the T-Mobile network. That done, I poured us each a glass of wine and asked him about the places he’s traveled (everywhere in Europe except the Baltic states, Greece and Scandinavia.) He gave me lots of good advice about what to see where, both in Croatia and elsewhere.

The apartment is a “flat” in a 3 story century old stone house, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom with deep tub, and separate toilet room. Outside my bedroom is a balcony, and the house is on the edge of the forest, with beautiful views both front and back. It snowed 6 inches the night before I arrived, and after Anton left I moved from room to room, from warm to cold and back again, reminded of my grandparents farmhouse in Kentucky where only the main rooms downstairs were heated while the rest of the house – hallways, stairwells and bedrooms – were so cold in winter you could see your breath at night as you closed the doors to the warmth and light and scurried across the linoleum floors, diving into a bed piled high with down comforters and blankets. Here it’s so cold in the toilet that I’ve taken to placing strips of toilet paper on the seat prior to sitting down on an ice cube.

Last night I stepped out onto the balcony, breathed in the fresh, frigid air and thought about someone I traveled with for some time; he was my daily companion for several months and I feel his absence acutely now as I travel alone. My hands quickly turned cold but my legs stayed warm in the leggings he gave me, “gifted” he called it. I wear them each night like pajamas, and little fool that I am, take comfort in the illusion of proximity to him such a small gesture allows me. I gazed up at the sky riddled with stars and my heart ached beyond the steady grip to which I’ve grown accustomed, with bittersweet pangs of conflicting emotions – an old familiar story, what we have versus what we want; in this case an appreciation of the natural beauty surrounding me and the recollection, so specific and vivid, of wanting to sleep out under the stars with him, if only once. He wanted it too I think. We just never seemed to get around to it. As I prepared to return to the warmth of the flat the nearby church bell tolled but once: a quarter past the hour. Fifteen minutes later three peals rang out. This goes on throughout the day and night and reminds me of the Islamic call to prayer so common in some of the Asian countries we traveled through.

Back inside, as I crawled into bed, the sleeve of my motorcycle jacket peeked out from the wardrobe and caught the light from the fire as it would a headlight, its fabric designed to be seen after dark, to glow in the beam of oncoming traffic and keep its wearer safe as she barrels along into the night. Another memory, another twinge. Where are you tonight? I wondered, my whisper just another night sound, like the sighing of old floorboards or the wind in the trees. It is perhaps both my greatest strength and weakness that I don’t love easily but I do love hard.

Today the sun came out and the temperature rose to damn near 60 degrees so I hiked up a very steep trail to Velicki Grad, the ruins of a fortress town from, at best guess, the 13th century. I was completely alone in the forest except for its countless mostly unseen residents, and it was a relief, as it always is, to be in a wild and unspoiled place sans other human beings. I’d say that any child of a naturalist couldn’t help but feel this way, only I know better; neither of my brothers feels half as drawn to and captivated by the natural world as I do. As I silently wished beyond any realistic measure that as quietly as I treaded I might come upon one of the wolves Anton told me have begun to make this place their home again after decades of absence, it occurred to me for the nth time that of all the myriad ways there are to die in this world, I’d much rather meet my end in the fierce embrace of a hungry carnivore, a grizzly bear or mountain lion for instance, just doing what comes naturally, than at the hands of just about any human for any reason, except perhaps as a personal favor and therein act of kindness. If I could bring myself to believe in the fairy tale of reincarnation, I’d be convinced Jackson would come back as a wolf.

While in Zagreb I did little shopping, so I had no cream on hand for my coffee. Not usually a fan of black coffee as I find it somewhat bitter. Culinary tip, passed on to me by my friend in Toronto: Put a tiny pinch of salt in your coffee to remove the bitterness. It works.

Croatia: an introduction

Posted in Prose on April 17, 2017 by 1writegirl

For the past two and a half years, I’ve found that in addition to writing and reading, traveling to new places and exposing myself to new people, food, cultures and customs provides a measure of solace and relief to the angry grief that gnaws silently and sometimes voraciously upon my heart, and thus my life. The more of the world I see and learn about, the greater my understanding of the universal plight of suffering we as humans all endure to some degree at one time or another.

In the immediate aftermath of my son’s death I went to Spain and walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, a well-known and heavily traversed path of primarily spiritual intent for the bulk of its hikers. In my case, I was seeking merely a long – a very long – walk. Since then, I’ve been to New Zealand, Central Europe, and a few countries in Asia. Along the way I’ve met almost entirely friendly and good-hearted people, and even managed to make a few new friends.

Last night I landed in Croatia, wanting to be some place cheap (I’m living off my one remaining credit card so unfortunately that fact dictates the choices available to me) and warm. So far, cheap it is proving to be, with bus fare from the airport in Zagreb to the city center at ~$4, an Uber ride to my lodging at less than $2, and private accommodation through Airbnb at less than $25 a night (not as cheap as Asia but, alas, where is?) At a nearby neighborhood market today I found a bottle of red wine and one of Chardonnay for 10 kuna (slightly more than $1) each; the white is traditional glass with a cork while the red is in a plastic bottle with screw top. I tried them both this evening and although the white is slightly better, the red has nothing to be ashamed of.

Warm, Zagreb is not, at least not as warm as I was hoping for. It’s raining this week to boot. It is Spring, I remind myself. Warm will come.

I stopped in Toronto on my way here to spend a few days with a friend I met on The Camino. The flight to Toronto, delayed 4 hours due to weather conditions in Canada, took off to the west, just as the sun was going down. It is the first time in all my years of flying that I can say, with neither cliche nor metaphor in mind, I flew off into the sunset. The sky above the clouds quickly grew dark and heavy with mist and I lost all sense of direction, but almost immediately the setting sun outside my little porthole of a window was replaced with the full (or damn near close to full) moon. Nature is more romantic than any man I’ve known for some time.

On the flight from Toronto to Zagreb via Istanbul, Turkish Airlines made every announcement first in Turkish, then in English, then in French. Each and every announcement began: “Ladies and gentlemen and dear children.” More than a few of us smiled at this original greeting.

To those of you looking for something to read, I recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Fiction.

Statement to The Court, SLO County

Posted in Prose on April 1, 2017 by 1writegirl

My last post on this blog was in early June of 2014, shortly after the death of my former fiancé Leigh Binder. I found myself grieving deeply for him both during his swift decline from a brain tumor and in the aftermath of his death from it, crying at work every day, having to leave early on more than one occasion, even taking “mental health” sick days. His death was so sudden, coming at a time when we were both still getting used to thinking of each other as “friend” rather than “partner,” that it felt like he’d never left the home he had shared with me and my son Jackson in California for four years.

As difficult as those weeks were, if I’d known then what was to come, I can only imagine how I might have spent that time instead. Those of you who know me personally already know what I’m going to say next. For those of you who don’t, consider this an update of my life since then, as well as an explanation of my abrupt absence from writing here.

On June 18th, two weeks after Leigh died, my son Jackson was driving home from the YMCA when a car coming the other way driven by a young man, under the influence of heroin and meth, crossed over the center line and hit Jackson’s car head-on. Jackson died at the scene. He was 18 years old, and had just graduated from high school. He was my only child.

It’s been almost three years now and I’ve only recently begun to write again, if you don’t count my regular journal/diary entries. I am taking tentative steps in the direction of writing about what happened and my life as a result. We’ll see how it goes.

It took over two and a half years from the time of the car crash for the defendant to plead “no contest” to the charge of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter by an Intoxicated Person. The sentencing hearing occurred on Monday, March 20th, 2017. Jackson’s friends and family were invited to speak to the court. Below is the statement I read on this occasion: (for the time being, anything I post here will remain closed to comments.)

I didn’t want to come here today. I’ve dreaded it as long as I’ve known it was going to happen, because I didn’t want to have to see the man who killed my son. I didn’t want to see his parents, to look into the eyes of his mother and see what? Pity, anger, remorse? Relief? How would I feel if I were Alexander’s mother? How would I live with what my son did? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I can tell you without a doubt that however sorry she is for what her son did, she wouldn’t trade places with me for anything in the world. Because even though her son did a terrible thing, he is alive. He will get a second chance to live in the free world, to work, to fall in love, to have children of his own, to find something to be passionate about. And no mother in her right mind would sacrifice that for anything or anyone else.

Jackson would barely recognize me if he could see me now. I haven’t been able to return to work, and am on the verge of tears at all times. I can barely talk about my son to others, nor can I bring myself to go through his personal belongings, except to dig through his dirty laundry periodically to find a new piece of clothing with his scent on it that I can hold close and breathe in. My best friend is my grief counselor. I feel, at the same time, both empty and full: Empty because of what was so violently ripped away from me and I can never replace, and full of something that doesn’t even have a word in the English language to describe it, it is so far beyond sorrow or anguish. I don’t know who I am anymore, because for 18 years, I was Jackson’s mom. I was a daughter, a sister, a friend. A woman and a writer. I’m still those things, but every single relationship in my life has been affected by my son’s death. I’ve lost friends, become estranged from family, and fumbled my way in then out again of potentially loving and life-affirming new relationships. It was Jackson more than anything or anyone who gave my life purpose and meaning, who brought me joy and laughter. Without him, I’m just plain lost.

I live in Los Osos. The cemetery is on one end of town, and on the other is the stretch of S. Bay Blvd where Jackson had the misfortune to be at 5:05 p.m. on June 18, 2014. I can’t go in either direction without passing either the place he died or the place he is buried. As I look out the window of my condo onto what I believed, until June 18th 2014 to be a little paradise, I see boys from the neighborhood riding past on their bicycles and I think, “That should be Jackson.” I see a car drive by with a surfboard on the roof and I think, “That should be Jackson.” I see a young couple stroll past arm in arm, laughing and self-conscious, and I think “That should be Jackson.” When I see a teenage paraplegic in a wheelchair being pushed by his mother, I think, “I’d take that.” When I read about a young man with brain damage learning to walk and talk all over again, I think, “I’d take that.” If I could die so that he would live again, I’d take that too. Gladly I would take that.

I can’t tell you what Jackson would say, but I know what he was. Jackson was intelligent, kind, philosophical and inquisitive. He had a strong sense of responsibility beyond his years, a lively sense of humor, and an abundantly generous heart. He loved animals and nature, and believed passionately in our responsibility as humans to protect and care for our environment and all its creatures. He dreamed of traveling to faraway places, making a difference in the world, and experiencing new people, cultures and ideas. He loved to play chess and board games, to ride his bike, to hang out with his friends and play video games. He enjoyed road trips, especially to Yellowstone National Park where we went every summer from the time he was 3 years old. He was learning to surf. He had just enrolled in Cuesta College, where he planned to study Psychology, and then join the Peace Corps. He loved his family, and was a friend to many without regard to social or economic status, age, sex, mental or physical abilities, skin color, or religion. Jackson treated all people with kindness and respect, the way he wished to be treated, and he always spoke up for the underdog. He was loyal to a fault. He was a gentle soul and a free spirit. He wasn’t a planned child, but he was the greatest gift I could have ever asked of this life.

What would Jackson want for Alexander Gonzales, who chose to take meth and heroin before getting behind the wheel of a car, who knew he was an addict, who knew he was a danger to others and could have prevented that car crash from happening? I’m sure he’d want him to be held accountable for his actions. You can’t go through life expecting other people to clean up your messes. At 18, Jackson knew this. He knew this when he was 6. And if you do a bad thing, if you hurt someone, you say you’re sorry and you do everything you can to make it right, and never do it again. He’d want him to stop using drugs. He’d want our justice system to treat his addiction as everybody’s problem, not just his. He’d want him to contribute something positive and useful to society. He’d want him to do something to help someone else out of a dark and hopeless situation. He’d want him to be sorry for what he has done.

Then he would look at me, this boy who always erred on the side of forgiveness. He taught me more about being patient, tolerant and open-minded than I ever taught him. He would want me to find a way to forgive Alexander Gonzales, not so much because it would help Gonzales, who for all I know doesn’t care or need anyone’s forgiveness, but because it would help me. To live with hatred and resentment in your heart is to let the trespass committed against you consume you. It crowds out the love that belongs there, and victimizes you again and again. Jackson wouldn’t want that for me, he wouldn’t want me to suffer any more than I’m already suffering as a result of his death, because he loved me. Because he knew how much I loved him. So I’ve tried, and I’ll continue to try, and maybe one of these days I’ll get there. It’s the second biggest challenge I have ever faced. The first one is living without Jackson. It’s been 1,006 days since he died, and every single one of those days has been hell for me.

We all will live with this for the rest of our lives. Alexander Gonzales will live with whatever punishment the court sees fit. He, his parents and his doctors will live with their consciences. I will live without my son, and the world will live without the intelligent, creative, generous and optimistic young citizen that was Jackson Garland. We will all suffer as a result of what happened, and we are all diminished as human beings by it. There is no victory here for anyone.

My love, my friend, Leigh Binder

Posted in Prose on June 5, 2014 by 1writegirl

IMG_2400January 25, 1959 – June 4, 2014

Leigh died last night, two weeks and 3 days after receiving a diagnosis of Glioblastoma (brain tumor). Until the end, he was funny, gentle, passionate and honest. He accepted his fate with courage and dignity, and while my heart broke to watch him die, it soared to see him fill these last ominous days with a genuine and abandoned embrace of life. He leaves a powerful legacy of love to those who knew him best, and to everyone, the vision, beauty, humor and imagination of his poetry and prose. His astute and often profound understanding of the human condition will live on.


Head Count

Posted in Prose on September 5, 2013 by 1writegirl
If you are familiar with this blog (long neglected now; I apologize to anyone who misses my regular posts), you already know that my first novel was published a couple of years ago by Gypsy Shadow publishing. It seems they are having some difficulties with vendors (like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc) accurately reporting sales to them. I need to find out, if possible, how many copies of my book have been sold since first publication to compare to their figures.
If you purchased Fortunes Told, would you please take a moment to let me know, and if possible, tell me from which website (Amazon, etc), and approximately when (month, year)? I appreciate it!
If you haven’t, but are interested in doing so, it’s not too late!*:) happy Fortunes Told will continue to be on sale through the rest of this year. Please go through the publisher directly, that way the accuracy of the sale will be assured. Their address is: http://www.gypsyshadow. com/JulieStahl.html#top
Once there, click on the small red button below the synopsis that says “Add to Cart” (in very small print). It is only available as an ebook at this time.
Warm wishes,

Train Hopping

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2010 by 1writegirl

Glory days
They’ll pass you by, glory days
In the wink of a young girl’s eye, glory days
–– Bruce Springsteen

When I was a young girl and my life was full of fresh ripe choices every which way I turned, I found myself almost incapable of staying anywhere for long. The year I graduated from college and moved to L.A. to take a job with a major airline, I moved seven times, from one end of the state to the other and back before flinging myself 3,000 miles away to see what other possibilities might await. Such is the glory of youth, the unwavering and compelling faith that each move you make in a new direction will be a better move than the one you made before; the perception that there are no wrong or bad choices, only adventures of one sort or another.

I traveled exclusively by car in those days for my domestic transitions, and got on a bus or an airplane only every now and then to visit my family. Traveling to Europe, though I would have loved to book a passage on the QE2 had my circumstances allowed, was undertaken necessarily by plane. I wonder now that it didn’t occur to me to find a wealthy old dowager who was preparing to cross the Atlantic in need of a companion, or a couple with children in search of a nanny.

Like most Americans of my generation, I’d seen movies about trains, read books about trains, and learned about the importance of rail travel during American westward expansion in History class at school. Trains, in my mind, were associated with romance, the wild west, old money, mystique, and of course, a criminal element. But rail travel, at least while I was growing up, was either too spotty or too expensive or both to make it a viable form of transportation for trips of any length. So it was while I was in Europe, tenderly and enthusiastically just turned eighteen, that I rode my first train; where it was and still is the preferred method of transportation because it is efficient, cost-effective and highly accessible. I remember zooming southward out of Paris on the TGV, the first of many train trips I would make over the next two months within and between countries, and wondering what lurid and mysterious situations I might encounter. You can’t read Murder on the Orient Express or watch Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” under the age of twenty and expect your first excursion on a train to be anything less than a potentially sinister affair. Mine, as it turns out, was more sordid than sinister. I was cornered in an otherwise empty car while traveling at 180 mph or so through a tunnel by a probably-drunk Frenchman in a business suit who simultaneously clapped a hand over my mouth and attempted to force his way under my skirt. I managed to free myself with a good bit of elbow thrusting and one or two well-aimed or just lucky kicks, and hurtled myself out of the compartment, down the passageway and into the dining car where I remained, skittish and hyper-alert, for the duration of the journey.

Undeterred, I continued to think of train travel as a desirous form of transportation, and still do. I have, since then, ridden on several trains both outside of and within the United States, and while nothing that I’d consider romantic has ever happened to me on one, I don’t discount the possibility that it might. Being both a writer and a nomad, my thoughts of trains tend to gravitate toward a previous era when the haves with lavish jewels and expensive champagne were onboard, in ordained and oblivious comfort, the well-lit and posh trains with sleeper cars and first class; while the have-nots were onboard without sound, without fanfare, under cover of darkness and without permission, the dirty half-empty freight, cattle cars, and cargo trains. I wish that I could say, as an old woman telling stories of her glory days to her grandchildren, that I had been both passengers, on both kinds of trains; that I’d been on both sides of the coin, the head and the tail, the heiress and the tramp, depending on the year, the circumstances, the companion.

These days I live in a town with regular train service daily, both passenger and freight, to points north and south, the Amtrak station sitting several blocks from my house on the southern edge of old downtown. When the whistle blows at night, I’ll sometimes hear Arlo Guthrie in the breezy aftermath, or picture the look on Gary Cooper’s face in “High Noon” as he anticipated the arrival of death. The high school which my son attends, the only one in town, is just across the tracks.

Last Saturday was the first football game of the season, and his first ever. He’s a wide receiver — though there is nothing remotely wide about his reedy, sinewy frame. I say this with a wry grin and the chosen ignorance of someone who knows as little about the game as it’s possible to know. I envisioned him snapping like a twig under the weight of a full-on tackle and forced my thoughts elsewhere as my beloved and I ambled over to the stadium on foot, confronted when we got to the tracks and our usual shortcut by a passing train, with old rusted near-empty cars that had ladders running from top to bottom of each. It slowed as we stood there, and for a few moments we watched it silently, each of us lost in our own thoughts. We looked up and down the tracks but it was a long train and we couldn’t see the end of it in either direction, and as it grinded to a halt, he turned to me. “Want to hop the train?” he said, grinning. I looked up and pictured myself scrambling up the ladder of the closest car, scooting across the top, lying low and out of sight to the other side, then shimmying down the opposite ladder. Or would we stay on top of the car, our bodies pressed hard and flat into the warm metal surface until the train passed out of this town and into another, then jump off before it came to a halt? “Yeah,” I said, smiling back at him. “I do,” wondering as I said it what I would do if it was the latter idea he had in mind. After all, he is a nomad, too. But it was neither. He jumped up on the iron bars between the two closest cars, treading carefully along the metal yoke toward the inside till he got to the halfway point, and turned to face me. He braced himself, then held out a hand in my direction. I took it, he pulled me up, and I followed him across to the other side. He jumped down and turned around, putting his broad hands around my waist. As he lifted me gently to the ground I closed my eyes and saw the coin again, saw myself in cashmere coat and black hat, black silk gloves to the elbow and cuban stockings with a seam down the back, cigarette holder in one hand, a  martini in the other; flipped it over and saw the furtive chase, the raggedy, tattered clothes and duffel bag, the hands-out climb aboard, the musty darkness, the squeaky breaks a wake-up call, the need for imminent, albeit stealthy departure.

As we walked away from the tracks and toward the football field, I glanced back at the train, now moving again, slowly but gaining momentum. My glory days are behind me, I thought to myself. And yet if circumstances were different, I might have truly and literally hopped that train.

Someday, I still might.

Those Were the Days

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by 1writegirl

Those were the days, though I didn’t know it then of course, the happiest days of my life; the kind that fall in our memories between hard and harder like a single mismatched white lace curtain hanging in a row of heavy black drapes; the kind that signal endings and beginnings, that serve as a reprieve from the shit and fortify us for more. They began that summer when her son was out of town, visiting his father in Atlanta, and for the first time we were completely alone together for an extended period of time. We talked about taking a road trip but we were broke, we were so fucking broke we were on food stamps and I took every extra shift I could get driving cab so that for days on end my biological clock was frozen in a.m. when it should have been in p.m., and vice versa. So broke that we continued to live in the tiny one-bedroom cottage she’d rented before we got together, not daring to move into something bigger for fear we wouldn’t be able to come up with the rent each month. So we hung out in our cramped pad when I wasn’t working and watched movies on the cramped little loveseat and took walks and engaged in philosophical debates. We made up crazy, funny stories about strangers we saw on the streets and smoked weed out in the open, rather than in the bathroom like we had to do when her son was there. I pranced around the place naked after my shower, reveling in our aloneness, in the familiar freedoms that come from so many years of aloneness where you can do what you want when you want and how you want because you have no one else to think about – sacrificed to be with her and now fleetingly re-acquired with her and even more blissful in the intimacy of her company.

One night I couldn’t sleep for thinking how it would soon be over, how her son would return and we’d all be on top of each other again and how, even though he was a good kid overall, he was a kid nonetheless, and I had for my entire adult life avoided kids. I had nothing against them, I just had nothing for them either. Yet all of a sudden I had one, by proxy anyway, and it was hard, Jesus it was hard, to adjust.

I remember that night because it was so hot and we were awake later than usual, tossing and turning. Then quietly, almost stealthily, she sat up next to me, then straddled me with her legs and laced her fingers into mine. She leaned down and kissed me, tenderly and slowly, and I could hear her breath even before I felt it as if she were taking in as much of me as her senses would allow. She glided down my chest, barely grazing my bare skin with her lips, then sat up and tossed back her head. Her hair was long in those days, almost to her waist, and in the pale moonlight it glowed like scattered cornsilk as her head fell forward onto my belly. I closed my eyes and felt it, just felt it, that soft, sensuous pile of tresses traveling from side to side with the movement of her dance. She wrapped it around and around me, then as it slipped away I felt her mouth in its place and my pulse quickened in anticipation. I knew what was coming next and yet I remember feeling as if I were about to experience something brand new, something exotic and unforeseen. I remember thinking, right after I exploded and we were both completely still, that even though I didn’t believe in love, that I knew it to be a lie, I was living it, for the first and only time in my life.

She lay beside me on the pillow and I kissed her, then she wrapped her arms around me and pulled my head into the hollow of her neck. “Sometimes you feel exceedingly precious to me,” she whispered. “That’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you should be exceedingly precious to me all the time,” she said. “Not just sometimes.” She sounded so sincere and contrite, and so very, very young.

I laughed softly. “That’s the way life is,” I said. “We get busy, and distracted. Other things compete for our energy.”

“There are so many things I want to do with you,” she whispered. As I tipped my head back, a drop of warm liquid slid down my forehead into my eyes. I put my hand to her face and her cheeks were wet with tears. “Why are you crying?” I asked, unfurling myself from her embrace and propping up on one elbow to look at her.

Her gaze, glowing and intense, dropped. “I’m afraid we won’t get to do them.”

I wished then, as I do now, that I had met her when I was in my thirties, my twenties even, that we’d have had that many more years together. Then I wonder if we really would have had more joy in that extra time, or if it would simply have been more time. I would have died for her then and I would die for her now, but it’s the difference between desperation and resignation, and I’m not altogether sure I could have borne it if the transition had come any earlier than it did. The former lasted a long time as it were, far longer than I would have predicted, in and out of houses and jobs and the comings and goings of her son. Out of fears and into memories. Would more time, hence more memories, have made the accumulation of Age’s vestments easier to bear? When she looks at me now she doesn’t know me, except for the rare “good days,” and her doctors don’t expect that to change for the better. In her mind she’s young again, she’s a carefree girl with nothing more serious on her plate than what to wear to school today and who she’ll sit with at lunchtime. Some days I’m her brother, some days I’m a neighbor or a boy in her class. I play along for the most part. Last week I was the king of a small principality in the Middle East. But I cherish the “good days” when they come along, knowing the end of them will mean the end of me as I know myself to be, so inextricably am I tied into her, and not being quite ready for that. I treasure the moments when she remembers as I do; when the white lace curtain flutters behind her eyes; when those days are these days too, and we are lucky enough to know it.