On my daily walk, I pass the end of the line, where trains are idling more than they should be. We live 45 minutes from The City, my hometown.
I hallucinate about getting on the train, masked, at social distance, passing familiar sights I have not seen in 13 months – the high overpass between Manhasset and Great Neck, the tidal inlet between Douglaston and Bayside, the crowds in Flushing Chinatown, the skyline up ahead, the new high rises in Long Island City, the tunnel under the river, and then we arrive in the insulting dump known as Penn Station.
In my daydream, I get off at the front, rush up the stairs to Moynihan Train Hall, which opened this January, the instant landmark that has risen in the poisonous air of fear.
* * *
With one shot in my arm, and another on the way, I dare to dream again.
In the name of sanity, I have repressed memories of things we used to do, back when.
Our widespread family is mostly okay. My wife and I are blessed in many ways, including family and friends and the means to pursue projects and interests at home during this pandemic. This is hardly a lament. She got wise to the pandemic right away and we agreed: Don’t take chances.
But now the urges and the memories come flooding back.
I’ll admit it, I am stir-crazy. My daydreams multiply.
--- My wife and I have been hard-liners, repressing the urges to hug our kids, our grandkids, in a year of elbow bumps, quickie chats in driveways, emails and phone calls, a few furtive visits across a deck or a large living room, the door cracked open for ventilation, even in mid-winter.
We have been united mostly by a chain of eight text-message addresses, known as Family Bigs – snarky politics, music links, family gossip, sports updates. But in my daydream, there is the chance to settle in, tell stories, laugh behind a mask –at long last, hug.
-- I am a realist. I know these daydreams could be destroyed by another surge, brought about by simpleton governors like the guy in Texas who does not seem to comprehend what the scientists are saying. These politicians and their followers want to “open up” the businesses, even at the risk of lives. I understand the urge for normalcy, after the vicious ineptitude of the previous president. Now we are close to being able to imagine the past. We can dare to dream. But don’t screw it up.
-- In this daydream, we are upstate, visiting one daughter’s home in the woods, and I take a walk up the hill, and look out over a long Adirondack ridge. I cannot hear a human sound. Hawks glide below. Way over on the other side, a car pulls up to a house in the woods, but at this distance I cannot tell if it is a modest cabin or a luxury hideaway. I have missed open space; all is mystery, all is serene.
--- In another daydream, we slip into a booth at one of our local favorites, let’s say Gino’s, and order pasta for my wife, Gaby’s salad (fresh farm vegetables) for me, those great chewy rolls, and then one slice of Cheesecake a la Nonna with coffee. Or maybe we are in Diwan down by the bay (Bobby C's amazing roasted cauliflower!) or DiMaggio’s on Port Blvd, or Little Dumpling in Little Neck. My wife has cooked so well over the past 13 months; for reasons of safety, we cannot see ourselves going out for a meal anytime soon.
--- Waiting for the second dose of vaccine (I hear tales of chills and aches), in my mind I start making overdue appointments -- a recall on our car, the dentist, the dermatologist, the optician, maybe even the barber. Then there's the furnace/AC spring tuneup plus a capable carpenter who can fix everything that is falling apart. And what about the telephone company that is threatening to install an “upgrade” on our service. (Or is it really time to ditch our landline?)
--- In this daydream, I am walking around The City, any neighborhood will do. I bet I am pulled to the Met Museum, for a pilgrimage to the Goyas. I also miss my friends from high school, from college, from work. Zoom and e-mail and phone calls have served their purpose but maybe soon, in early spring, I meet one good friend or another on an outside bench, for a coffee, just to encounter a familiar voice, familiar eyes, over a mask.
--- We drive to visit our other daughter in Deepest Pennsylvania -- the ridge of Blue Mountain, on our right, accompanying us for more than an hour. Barns and hexes and old farmhouses alongside I-78. Then a meal on the patio, laughter, gossip, work updates, maybe the grown grandson and granddaughter materializing. Real life.
--- Sometime in the near future, we sit in a den with our son and his wife, rooting for deGrom and McNeil, enjoying the banter of Gary and Keith and Ron, in their cloisters up in the booth. Real life.
----These are just the starters. I daydream about new National Theatre presentations in the revived Kew Gardens Cinema; I daydream about a run up to our late-in-life discovery -- Maine; I daydream about seeing my siblings. Real life.
What do you miss?
How do you imagine it coming back, in some form, maybe soon?
Please feel free to share, in the Comments section, the things you imagine when you close your eyes.
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023