Marie (not her real name) leaves without saying goodbye.
She rented a room here and lived in this house for 6 months, and told me she was leaving in early September when I returned from Israel. This morning she packed her bags into her car with her boyfriend’s help. I am in my office doing early-morning tasks, and when I go upstairs she’s gone. There’s the bed, the lounge chair, the side table, the dresser, my furniture, and nothing else.
I look around, shocked. She didn’t say goodbye, I thought to myself. I was looking forward to wishing her well, to congratulating her on the next steps she was taking in her life, moving to live in a different state. Life is so exciting when you’re in your early 20s. How could she not pause to say goodbye?
My mind hurries to cover up the rawness: Abstraction 1: She’s young, what can you expect? Abstraction 2: You were good neighbors but you weren’t close, what’s the big deal?
But I was here, I remonstrate with my mind. Where is the interaction, the human acknowledgment?
I think back to times I didn’t say goodbye, too. Skipped town, went on my way, and didn’t acknowledge the people I’d met at that specific event, on that specific evening, didn’t acknowledge that for just a few hours or even minutes we’d talked, exchanged looks and feelings, shared a ripe moment together.
Bernie was a little like that. We’d be having dinner and I would tell him about events of the day or difficulties I was having. He’d listen, say nothing or else change the subject, and I’d expostulate: “Wait a minute. I was just sharing something with you. Why don’t you say something back?”
After he died, for a long time all I could think of were the missed opportunities to listen to him, have a good back-and-forth. I was happy for the many days over the three years of his stroke when he’d sit up in bed at 10 in the morning and I’d join him, ask him about his night (they were not easy) and what the plans were for the day. We’d talk about the weather, whether he’d try to walk outdoors or not, what virtual meetings he had. Not that he had much to say. He almost never talked about pain or discomfort, I had to wheedle those details out of him like coaxing honey out of a bottle.
“Why don’t you tell me?” I’d say.
He’d shrug with his one unstroked shoulder. “What for?”
“I want to know!” You’re my husband, I care about you, I want to know. Don’t go into your shell just yet!
When do people start becoming abstractions to us? We nod hello without even seeing them, say good morning or goodbye with no eye contact. We may have lived in their home, exchanged pleasantries in the morning, asked about using the milk or butter, but when it’s time to leave we go without saying a word, as though their time with us was inconsequential, didn’t affect or change us in any way.
On Sunday I hosted a potluck gathering for members of Green River Zen Center. I baked some chicken (I don’t have a grill) and made a potato salad, and they did everything else. It was in the back yard, which is big enough to give everyone plenty of room for distance. We laid out the dishes on 2 tables and put out clusters of chairs and tables with plenty of distance in between.
Not everybody would come, but I had to see folks from the chin down. I had to see their shapes, how we changed, who grew taller, who grew more horizontal (moi!), who grew leaner. Who slumps when he walks, who is freer with her arms, what does their body look like, WHAT COLORS ARE THEY WEARING! What music are their arms playing, their legs, their necks and shoulders? How do they occupy the space they’re in?
Sensei and musician extraordinaire John Sprague played music right next to our Kwan-Yin, Aussie played with her friend, Joe, and the sun slowly set behind the trees.
That adventure worked out so well I decided to be really brazen and went to the movies last night. I purposely decided on a movie that wouldn’t bring in the throngs, like Tenet, that had just opened, and saw David Copperfield instead. It was well done, there were a couple of scenes where I laughed out loud. Dickens, you son of a gun, I thought to myself.
And remembered several days in London with Bernie for a big meeting, and one of those days we spent sightseeing with Peter Matthiessen, who was in London for his own purposes. We visited Westminster Abbey where Dickens was interred.
“A genius,” Peter says in his gravelly, lowest-I-ever-heard voice.
“Hmm!” I snort. “And where is George Eliot? Dickens left his family for an 18 year-old actress and they never hesitated to bury him here. They wouldn’t bury George Eliot in Westminster because she lived her entire life with George Lewes, whose wife wouldn’t divorce him because she was Catholic.”
“But he was Dickens,” mutters Peter.
“But she was George Eliot,” say I.
He snorts back.
Last night I loved Dickens all over again. But here’s the thing. I’d gone to the movies to be with people. I was the first to arrive and found a seat next to the wall, to be as safe as possible. And I ended up as safe as could be because no one else came. I watched the movie completely alone, the only one in the theater.