Of Living Room Ambience and a Box of Picutures

The weather has warmed for the while.  It rained pretty much all day, and much of the snow is gone.

Carol is  sleeping noisily on the couch with her mouth open.

A busy day of problem solving punctuated by a visit from the nurse practitioner along with a student doing her practicum to check on the possibility, raised by one of the aides, that Carol has a urinary tract infection.  They did not find any evidence of that.

With a fair degree of reluctance I agreed to get a hospital bed for Carol.  This is a huge step.  I have been resisting for emotional, not practical, reasons, but practicality finally won out.

On the surface, my resistance was aesthetic.  I did not want to change our living space into a medical facility.  To be sure, there are medical devices scattered about, the travel chair near the steps reminding me of when Carol would ride in it, dismount, and climb to our bedroom, the cane in one corner, the two walkers in another corner, the grab bars in doorways and on walls leading to the steps, the shower bench and stool in Carol’s office, all of these obvious indicators of our attempts to deal with the disease’s progressively debilitating effects.

But in spite of them, somehow from my perspective they did not change the ambience of our living space.  They were like the dog’s hair shed onto the floor, annoying but not visually offensive enough to change the character of the rooms in which they are stored.

The bed, though, is a different story.  It will dominate the living room simply by virtue of its size.  We might be using the sofas as our beds now, but they are still sofas.  The hospital bed does not belong in our living room.  The other items can be removed and stored, for they no longer serve their purpose.  But the bed is its own purpose.

Like the sofa, the end table, and the cocktail table that provide the configuration of the living room, the bed is itself a piece of furniture.  It belongs in a bedroom.  Installed in our living room it imposes, it dominates, it demands its presence be recognized as signaling something profound.

Its presence states that we are crossing a line in our long journey away from the then toward a new now, one from which there is no turning back.

The misplaced bed, no doubt, will remain where it is until its occupant no longer needs it.

Another January teaser day, temperatures reaching toward 50, the sun out, and greying snow melting.  My head knows this is a mirage like the oasis in the desert of the winter, but as folks around here say, sure, but enjoy it.

In the library, back from a quick hop to town to buy a half dozen roses, three red, three white, for Carol’s birthday.  I declined the offer of a clip-on card on which to write a note.  Since she can no longer read, I didn’t see the point. 

I placed the flowers on the lid of the wood stove I decided not to use this winter, as one thing too many.  The foot of the hospital bed nudges the stove, so that the flowers will be in Carol’s direct line of vision. 

I directed her attention to them and was rewarded with an appreciative smile.

Last night as I came down the stairs after brushing my teeth, a title for a piece of writing jumped into my head: A Tale of Two Toothbrushes.

So here it is.

One toothbrush in the upstairs bathroom.

The other one in the downstairs bathroom.

Both are inexpensive battery driven models I bought some time ago, one for each of us.  Mine is the one upstairs.  Carol’s the one downstairs, sitting next to her toothpaste on a shelf in that guest bathroom .

However, I have pretty much stopped trying to brush her teeth with her electric toothbrush.  I have, instead, switched to disposable swabs.   But the electric toothbrush remains in the downstairs bathroom, and  sometimes I use it instead of mine upstairs.  Each night when I am ready for sleep, I decide which toothbrush to use.  If I am tired, I will opt for Carol’s.  There is no reason to worry about germs.  Still, it feels a little odd because as in so many other ways using her toothbrush is an acceptance of the now.  First because it is hers and she no longer uses it.  And second because to employ that toothbrush I have to do so in the guest bathroom.

On the other hand, when I haul my weary carcass upstairs into the main bathroom, and take my toothbrush and my toothpaste off my shelf in that bathroom, I am immersing myself into the then.

Today was Carol’s birthday, and I was pleased that her sister Jane came by to wish her a happy one and to give her a card.

In all honesty, I don’t think her birthday registered much in Carol’s mind.  She smiled at the flowers I bought for her, but thereafter did not seem to pay them much attention.  Similarly, she responded only briefly when I showed her the few cards that arrived or relayed the digital best wishes from an old New York friend, a fellow Aquarian.

So tonight, after a day uneventful except for Jane’s visit, and otherwise perfectly ordinary including my going to town for groceries. I am in my chair and Carol has fallen asleep.

This past weekend, Laura,our sister-in-law brought a sizable lidded plastic box containing photos that had been among Carol’s family’s material I had given some time ago to both Jane and Laura. In going through all of that stuff, Laura had found a trove of photographs specifically relevant to us.

I took a brief look at the contents of the box, which I had set on the dining room table.  The window in that room faces west, and as I looked up from the box and through that window I noticed how the late afternoon sun emphasized the gray grime on the glass.

I know that grime would have irritated Carol.

One of the few things we disagreed about was the need to keep windows clean.  As far as I can remember the windows in the apartments in Brooklyn I lived in both as a child, and as a young adult, were never washed and as a result always wore a layer of grime.  If you wanted to see clearly, you’d open the window.

I have no idea how often the windows in Carol’s house were cleaned.  I do know that her heating engineer father had the windows of the house he had had built permanently sealed shut to keep out as much cold air as possible.  How clear they were I do not know, so I cannot assume that their relative cleanness had anything to do with Carol’s preference in this regard.

However, what I do know is that Carol was an intensely visual person.  That point was driven home with considerable force by the sheer volume of the photographs in the box that Laura brought to me.

Of course, I always knew Carol loved photography.  We have enlargements of some of her photos on the wall.  And there are about half a dozen substantial photo albums on an otherwise empty bookcase in our basement apartment.

But what is now clear is that the albums represent a screening process that selected those shots worthy of being saved.  What was in the box, however, was the raw material.  I do not know if pictures of the same places and events are in those albums, so that the box material is the rejects.

I don’t think so.

Because what’s in the box, primarily, are the envelopes from that pre-digital age  that came back from whatever developing service we were using, which provided two copies of every picture.  And there were no single prints, suggesting that a picture had been removed and placed in the album, leaving its mate in the envelope.  So I don’t know why none of these pictures, which were shot between 1999 and 2000, as indicated not only by the obvious ages of the people, most easily established by those of our daughter, but also by the dates stamped on the envelopes, were put into an album.

I did not immediately dig into this material.  I was apprehensive.

I would be immersing myself in our past, and I was not sure how ready I was so to do.  But I began, tentatively, and then gained some confidence and moved through the envelopes with some pace.

As I flipped through the pictures, I found myself largely unable to identify locations other than the ones that clearly showed themselves to be our house and grounds on Long Island. The bulk of the others seemed to be from our various vacation trips, but try as I would, I could not remember where we went those two years.  Since there were a lot of beach and water shots, I guessed Cape Cod.  But not all the water pictures suggested ocean front locales as there were ones showing Carol and Danielle in a canoe.  Possibly that was from our trip to Isle Royale, and there were a couple that were taken from what appeared to be the seats in a boat such as the one we took across Lake Superior to that island.

Still others in a different part of the box were very obviously shot on our trip up to the Bread and Puppet summer festival in Glover Vermont.

Or our drive out to South Dakota.

I realize as I tried to locate the where of these pictures, I was distracting myself from what I had feared.

That I would too forcefully be immersed in the then, and at our most relaxed and happiest times.  We both loved to travel, particularly car trips.

Even when our vehicles were of questionable reliability such as the aging Corolla that carried us up to Vermont for which the mountains were something of a challenge.

But then I realized something else.

Carol appeared in very few of the pictures.

Naturally enough.  She was the photographer.  Her subjects were our daughter, occasionally me, and predominantly whatever was interesting in the scenery, whether it was the buffalo herd in South Dakota, or the whale somewhere in the Atlantic, and in fact, water anywhere, she always loved water.  One of the reasons we bought our present house is the distant view we have of the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay.

So for my first excursions into these pictures, I was spared the trauma of seeing more than a handful of images of Carol in the prime years of her young motherhood

Later, as I dug further, I did come into another batch that was largely of her.  I could not pin down the circumstances but there they were.

They hurt.  But not as much as I thought they would.  Even now, as I hear Carol’s labored breathing in her sleep, reminding me of the now, I find myself somewhat better able to deal with the then.

I suppose that is some sort of progress.

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