Yesterday was October 4, the first day of the last month before the one-year memorial for Bernie. And last night our big 50” Panasonic TV went on the blink.
It had turned a surreal red on two previous occasions, but last night it stayed that way. Instead of watching our Friday night movie, Tim and I looked at YouTube videos on how to fix a television set. There’s a very good chance it’s not worth repairing, and the big TV set will be gone; if so, I won’t replace it.
Bernie got the monster TV 12 years ago, when it was still expensive. I disliked it because of its size, it took up an entire wall, not to mention the big cabinet we had to get as a stand. I liked to keep things in balance. I didn’t like to spend a lot of money (“You have a mind of impoverishment!” Bernie used to tell me), I didn’t like big things.
But neither did I argue with him about this because Bernie’s needs and tastes were actually quite simple. He focused on work, that was clearly the most important thing to him. He could go out to dinner every night of the week but expensive places were not to his taste, he preferred neighborhood ethnic joints for Italian, Chinese, or Japanese food, and a diner for breakfast.
He liked to watch TV and wanted a big screen. He loved Macs and iPhones. He always bought the same old jeans and jeans shirt or jacket, and he wore black sneakers even on the most formal occasions (I don’t think he owned another pair of shoes). When we had money he liked to drive a Camry because it was heavy and reliable; the last one he got was a hybrid. He also liked traveling on United Airlines because he was a million-miler and they’d often give him a complimentary upgrade to Business Class.
That was it, he had no other interests or needs. Every once in a while he’d be invited to visit a friend or student somewhere interesting and he’d say, “That would be nice to visit,” but he didn’t make a big deal of it. He traveled a lot for work (“I’m not a nester” was his way of explaining why he could be on the road a long time while I couldn’t). He seemed perfectly happy working during the day and watching TV at nights. In that sense he was a very simple man.
So of course, when the 50” Panasonic turned red I thought to myself: The objects he loved are now breaking down as well. Soon I’ll have an empty wall. For years I muttered about the cluttered house we lived in that reflected a cluttered life. I could fill the empty wall with one trip to our basement, but I probably won’t. I will leave it empty for a while, see what comes up.
Nevertheless, when the big Panasonic turned red like blood I was unprepared. So early this morning, when the thermostat showed 31 degrees at 6:00 am (our first frost!), I came downstairs, sat on the sofa by Aussie who had signaled her wish for company by thwacking her tail, stroked her, and thought how much I missed my husband. How much I loved him.
When I think of the coming month I could feel my shoulders sag and the heart turn extra heavy. In November I will bring his ashes to our retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Before that, there is still the month to get through.
But my dreams show something else. Several nights ago I dreamt I was in an old used bookstore. The bookseller, an ancient, wrinkled man, seemed to know me and said: “I have your best book, the one that sold the most copies.”
“Really? Which one?” I asked.
“I can’t remember,” he said, “but you should write more books like that. Look downstairs at the very back and you’ll find it.”
Curious, I went downstairs. Was it my Book of Householder Koans coming out in February? Was it a couple of dharma books I edited of Taizan Maezumi’s teachings (Appreciate Your Life) or Bernie’s (Infinite Circle), or even Bernie’s and Jeff Bridges’ (The Dude and the Zen Master)? Was it Bearing Witness, which I wrote under Bernie’s name?
I looked and looked and didn’t find anything. I stepped back and searched the very low shelves. It was dark and I had to put on my iPhone flashlight; I also coughed because of the dust. There were spider cobwebs everywhere and the room was black and heavy as night, there was no one else there but me.
And then I found it. The photo of a golden retriever against a dramatic blue sky stared at me from the cover: The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt For the Lynx was a book I’d written for young readers, a fantasy about a world of no humans and lots and lots of dogs. My agents couldn’t find a publisher so I published it myself with very low sales.
This is my best book? I wondered. Is this what I’m supposed to do more of?