“Harry, why do you always whine in the back seat when I drive?”
“I’m not whining, I’m eager.”
“Eager, nervous, anxious, whatever it is, it sounds like a whine. Every time I take you for a drive you whine right into my ear and it makes me crazy. Nnnnn! Nnnnn!”
“It’s more like whynnnwhynnn. The first whynnn goes up and the second whynnn goes down.”
“Shut up, Aussie. You’re not much better, with your back paws on the back seat and the front paws up on the armrest between the passenger seat and me.”
“How else am I supposed to see up front?”
“Whynnn Whynnn! Whynnn Whynnn!”
“I thought that after a year you’d stop it already, Harry, but you just keep on. It’s hard to drive this way.”
“Whynnn whynnn! Whynnn whynnn!”
“It better change when you get older, Harry.”
“Don’t bet on it.”
Aussie’s right, you can’t bet on people or dogs changing. Change they will, but we have no say about when and how. I’ve made that mistake way too often.
I wake up at 3:30 this morning because my dry winter skin is itching. The humidifier in the bedroom doesn’t help much, nor does body cream or lotion. Half asleep, my fingers scratch my elbows, work their way down the arms to the wrists, go back up to the shoulders, and before I know it, I’m wide awake and wondering how I could reach my back.
Instantly I think of Bernie. “I don’t think you’ll ever divorce me,” he said. “You need me to scratch your back.”
Whenever we laughed at something while lying in bed, my back would itch and I’d ask him to scratch it. Even after his stroke, he would raise his unstruck left hand and stroke my back; by then he didn’t have the strength to really scratch it.
For years it was Bernie who suffered from dry skin in the winter, not me. I would buy the lotion and he put some on his skin if he awoke in the middle of the night. After his stroke I put CBD salve on his body every evening. What did my hands convey? Love? Sorrow? Tenderness? It was a sweet way to say good night.
Change comes in so many different ways, but practically never in the way you think it would or should.
I finally give up sleeping, go downstairs and open the front door. There’s a single-digit freeze, but a small moon hovers tall over the bare apple tree. Next to it lies what remains of the trunk of the magnificent oak that lorded it over our front garden, giving little light to the remaining plants. We finally had it cut down, the two of us sitting by the side gate watching the men wrap it in ropes as they coaxed it down away from the front of the house.
I think of that enormous oak tree and the apple tree that bloomed so fast in the ensuing light. In winter it looks scraggly, but come summer it will grow tall with leaves and fruit, and hover beneficently over the garden.
You think the other person will change. He’ll stop whining in your ear from the back seat. He’ll love you more, remember flowers and chocolate on Valentine’s Day. You think you will never stop putting CBD salve on his body in the evenings. Instead you’re the one now with dry skin in winter, as if he willed you his skin, his needs both filled and unfulfilled. You’re not two and yet not one, alone and intertwined all at the same time.
I look and look at the moon, the apple tree, and the shorn oak on the frigid, icy night. Virginia Woolf wrote: “Heaven knows why, just as we have lost faith in human intercourse, some random collocation of barns and trees or a haystack and a wagon presents us with so perfect a symbol of what is unattainable that we begin the search again.”
“Harry and Aussie, Monkfish emailed yesterday to say that The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up in the Land of Attachments is rated No. 1 New Release in Zen Spirituality by Amazon.”
“Does that make it a New York Times Bestseller?”
“I don’t think so, Auss. What do you say, Harry?”
“Whynnn Whynnn! Whynnn Whynnn!”