For the last decade of my father’s life he was a virtual shut it. He shuffled down the glass hallway between our house and studio in his slippers sloshing coffee as he went. By the end of each week it were as though our tiles were cow patterned with each brown splash on the white ceramic background. Each Thursday they were mopped clean leaving him a fresh palate for the upcoming days.
He wore a stretched grey sweatsuit and his sculpting assistant who camped in the loft above his gymnasium sized studio emerged each morning to do his bidding. Jaimie would take the crappy truck to the fancy store to buy soda and snacks and at the very end of my father’s life the cigarettes that probably played a part in killing him. On Tuesdays Jaimie would wake particularly early and roll our garbage cans down our long driveway so they could sit by the lake next to the tree that my father tried to kill to improve our water view.
My father’s few responsibilities were farmed out. The garbage was one of the last things remaining on his list so it was one of the first on Jaimie’s. Even as the margins of my dad’s physical life were shrinking his interior landscape grew. He got off the treadmill of daily tasks while he got off on art.
As a child I attributed my father’s limited repertoire of foods and experiences to a great satisfaction that he got from his life of creation. He didn’t need outside input to inspire him. When he insisted I open and recycle the mail I celebrated my father’s ability to keep minutiae from distracting him from his calling. As I age I wonder about my interpretation of my father’s choices. My own life is shrinking. And not because of creative pursuits.
Now when Steve travels the mail accumulates in our hall closet. When he retrieves it in a large stack my heart begins to race. Each envelope contains a possible task, a cost both literal and figurative. I imagine the envelopes flying towards us, debris to be dodged. I would rather they stay away.
When it is time to bring the garbage down our short driveway I wait for someone in our house with a Y chromosome to take it on its ride.
I don’t love to drive. I don’t like to drive. I rarely drive. My father had three cars in the last 20 years of his life and he gave two of them away and died owning the third. Together he probably drove them once every two weeks. I still drive more than that, but it is not too much. I have a 2 mile radius in which I choose to spend 98% percent of my time. It includes both boy’s schools a coffee shop, doctor and dentist offices, the JCC, a trader Joe’s, a Target, five restaurants, a strip club, and a pot shop. The last two are technically true but I don’t actually use them. They help me maintain the myth that my life is large enough. I mean, I can go to the chiropractor and see a woman’s bare back from the same parking spot. That is something.
I feel dizzy when I look at large spaces. The same vistas that I hiked towards as a 20 year old I now shy away from. Both then and now they remind me of my place in the world. Then I got off on an existential experience that left me swirling as one set of molecules in an unending sea of life and possibility. Now that same swirling feeling makes me feel sick, a vertigo that leaves me unsteady on my feet. So I want to get off of them and onto the love seat in our living room where I am safe and still.
When I was a kid I raced down our wide staircase jumping the last 2 or 3 or 5 steps for a moment of flight. Walking down the gentle curved staircase this morning I have to trail my hand against the wall. I still feel like I am flying, but off this earth. Ahead of me the dog runs with his curved tail and I am spiraling in the spiral of the stairs on the spiraling orbit of our planet. Sometimes I need to stop halfway down to keep upright. Then the dog twists to look back at me urging me forward so he can pee. He is more practical than me.
Today I feel two kinds of movement. The earth as it rotates and arcs through the galaxy and the responsibilities of life that move forward like a conveyor belt. Right now they both seem too much for me. I wonder about my father. Did he get off the moving walkway to make space for his own pursuits, or was he simply afraid the way I am. Did he stop seeing his place in the world as endlessly possible and instead see it as endlessly impossible?
Maybe he made his circle smaller and smaller until it was the dot of our house so the movement all around him was harder and harder to perceive and finally it was stilled. Perhaps he was looking for a way to get off.
Maybe I am doing the same thing. Fewer tasks, fewer places, less looking out and up and around.
Last night I dreamt that I was driving on an elevated road. My car was moving quickly around bends and up and down slippery tracks covered with moss and bordered with branches. I came to a clearing and the Taj Mahal glistened under the sun. It was a crisp contrast to the dripping green on my path. I had made it there. To the other side of the earth. And I had driven myself. Then I turned around and the road seemed treacherous. How had I possibly ridden this raised highway at full speed. I wanted to get off. I looked back at the Taj Mahal and then forward at the track which now seemed impossibly narrow. Then I was moving again and the earth was moving too. Surprisingly for some moments our motion worked in perfect offset and I felt still. Suddenly Steve was beside me, reaching his hand through my car window for me to grab. So I got moving again to the top of the mossy hill. I looked down at the world below, the arc of the earth and I felt afraid.
So I let go of his hand.
And sped down with my stomach in my throat, the wind in my hair and my house in sight. For just a moment I was not looking to get off.