“I have a surefire solution,” he said. “And, if she doesn’t like it, she’ll tell me in my dreams.”
Born in the fall, between September 23 and October 22, he lived a cRaZy quilt kinda life, which his Libra zodiac traits tried – that’s tried – to harmonize like its symbol, a level beam balance scale.
Like, he was raised by his grandparents, whose combined formal education was 12ish years, so he earned graduate degrees in both Business Administration and Philosophy.
And, he hugged and kissed and whispered closer-than-close to a mahogany box with her ashes after his true love, sweet muse and body guard passed away peacefully, 14 days after her 68thbirthday and 42 days before their 40th anniversary. Cuz Libra is the sign of Partnership with a caPital “P,” and Libras feel a-Part of their true loves.
And, so, he crashed cocktail parties on the Upper East Side, fashion shows at Neiman Marcus and fund raising galas at the Museum of Modern Art. Cuz most Libras are cultured, refined and pushy: coveting beautiful things, especially beautiful people.
And, he took Continuing Education classes in SoHo like “The Quintessence of Consciousness,” “The Evolution of God” and “Sex, Drugs and RocknRoll in movies from the 60s.” Cuz the Element associated with Libra is air, which means r-e-a-c-h-i-n-g HIGHER, especially to lower minds.
And, he shopped at Barney’s on Madison Avenue and wrote, “I am a recovering academic in the process of refreshing myself as an experiMENTAL writer and photographer,” boasting that dozens of his photos and stories appeared in prominent journals online and in print. Cuz Libras crave fashion and style and center stage, creating or – if necessary – manufacturing a handsome cosmos.
Also born in the fall, though 22 days later, her zodiac sign was Scorpio, and like her sign she lived a more isolated, solitary, private life.
Like, her personality was more mysterious. After she passed away, for example, their daughter asked him, “What was Mom really like? She rarely talked about herself, her feelings and desires. I know so little about her inner being.”
And, she keep her expectations HIGH and was often demanding about lots of stuff including food. Like, if she were starving, she wouldn’t consider a $7.50 Leonidas Dark 70% Cocoa African Origins Barchocolate, but would wait for exactly what, when and how she wanted to eat: “Well-done egg whites in Pam with green pepper and mushrooms, dry rye toast and tomatoes on the side instead of potatoes. Oh, and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Thank you.” And, it goes without saying, she’d never ever whatever on an _____ stomach.
And, she cared deeply about her friends and family and often felt hurt if she were not being listened to or taken seriously: “My Father taught me Algebra. He was so gentle and loving and sweet. Are you listening to me, or watching that stupid ball game?”
And, in money matters, she was self-motivated, independent and proud. A Chicago public school teacher-survivor, she taught several grades in gang-BANG neighborhoods before her two girls were born, took ten years off to raise them, then returned to teaching until retiring with a FULL pension. Maintaining her own bank account, she also never asked him for money, and transferred funds every month from her checking to savings.
And, health was critical to her, although she sub/consciously overlooked telling signs her mind-body gave her. Diet-this and sugar-free-that and no-cal-whatever were her mantras, along with NO nicotine, caffeine or alcohol. Well, perhaps, maybe, one glass of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand on special occasions like a wedding, bar mitzvah or 5:30 p.m. Big Band show on Fridays at the Birdland Jazz Club on West 44th Street in Manhattan.
And, then, then, one afternoon a telling sign suddenly and surprisingly and sadly popped its top like a merry magnum of Don Perignon at a funeral. He was in his cave, writing a memoir at his hp ENVY15 laptop, when she returned from visiting their daughter in Brooklyn. Standing in the doorway, she cried, “I have no purpose in life and feel totally useless.”
“What do you mean, baby? Are you ok? You’re a precious daughter, Mom, Grandmother and dear friend to so many. And, you’re my one and only true love, sweet muse and body guard,” he said.
“I don’t know. I just don’t feel right.”
“Ok, let’s visit your Primary, Dr. what’s her name?”
“No, no, no I don’t want to see her.”
“Come on, baby. Please? I guarantee you’ll feel better after you see her. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Will you go with me?”
“Of course, true love. I’ll always be with you.”
And, then, their world did a 180, standing on its head and frowning like a sunken Halloween pumpkin months after greeting cheery trick-or-treaters. Over the next several weeks, countless blood and urine tests, consultations, scans, injections and assessments for some -atis or -etis or -itis resulted in a best-guess diagnosis of Lewy Body Disorder. “It’s a condition somewhere between Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” one, then another, and another neurologist said. “We can’t be sure, pre-autopsy.”
At first, trying to care for her alone misfired with two trips to the ER for stress and fatigue, prompting him to reload with 24/7, in-home care: a three-part nightmare with care agencies, care providers and long term care insurance.
Care agencies, he learned in a NY-minute, would say whatever it took to get his business. “We’re a full-service, fully-licensed, 24/7 agency,” one agency rep said, but cited small print exceptions in its contract, when he SOSd it in an emergency. And another didn’t know the difference between an invoice and voice mail. And another couldn’t add or spell, and I could go on, but…
Many agency and independent care providers were also Mr. Jekylls-and Dr. Hydes. All claimed they were totally qualified and experienced to care for his true love. But, he photographed one sleeping on the floor next to her bed, and another begged him to go home at 2 a.m. one morning, claiming she was dizzy and felt nauseous and was about to faint and pleading, “I have a heart condition and shouldn’t stay awake for an extended period.” So, oxy/moronically, he wound up caring for that “care provider.”
And, the long term care insurance agency would also do whatever it took to delay or deny payment. Like, it advised him he completed and returned the wrong forms, then apologized for sending him the wrong reply. And, it denied payment, cuz he failed to dot all of his “i’s” and cross all of his “t’s” on an invoice. And, it would say whatever it took to get him off the phone.
Over three l-o-n-g years, his sweet muse’s condition declined from her inability to use her cell phone, iPad and Kindle to dress, bathe and feed herself to screaming “NO, NO, NO,” which he could hear from his office with the door closed on the East side of their 2100 square foot apartment, as a care provider struggled to change her Depends in her bathroom on the far West side.
Two months before she passed, their Ph.D./Social Work daughter placed her in a world class Manhattan hospice, where professionals and volunteers truly cared for her every 30 minutes, until she passed away peacefully among those who truly respected and loved and cherished her.
Ph. D. tried and tried and tried to convince him that care givers need care, too. So, he finally agreed to, as he put it, “fill temporal-spatial, psycho-social holes,” by writing about his dearly departed family and close friends.
He wrote about his strange relationship with his Mother in “Rules for the Contest” and his absentee Father in “Somewhere Special” and his vOliTaLe Grandmother in “A Sweet and Sour Sauce.” And, a dear friend, who was killed in Vietnam, in “Like a Nutcracker” and another, who impersonated a priest to trick his Grandmother into entering the Villa Scaramucci, in “There’s a Ford in Your Future” and his Grandfather in “Wittgenstein’s Conceit” and his sweet muse in “The Measure of Love.”
And, to his amazement, all his stories were published.
He told only a few trusted friends about his true love’s declining condition, and one, just one, showed genuine empathy, kindness and concern. A gifted artist, gourmet chef and succe$$ful real estate agent in her early 70s, Simone offered to shop for food and wash dishes and organize piles of his stuff and lots more. But, he repeatedly declined her offers, respectfully.
And, when he told Simone that he had been diagnosed with inoperable, incurable metastatic prostate cancer that spread as HIGH as his neck and across his pelvis and UP his spine, she asked again and again and again, until he agreed to her limited help. And, in time, her limited help e-x-p-a-n-d-e-d, and they went to movies, plays, lunch and dinner.
Then, one day, Simone asked him if she could sleep over to cook meals and clean the apartment, and he said, “NO, NO, NO,” but finally agreed that she could stay one night, no more than two, if she would sleep in his bedroom, and he would sleep on the couch in the living room.
The next morning, his hound-dog eyes conveyed the couch’s contempt. “No worries,” he said, “I have a surefire solution.” The second night, he would sleep in his body guard’s bedroom, and if she didn’t like it, she’d tell him in his dreams.
“Your eyes tell me you had a hard day’s night,” Simone said.
“I’ve been working like a dog,” he replied.
“You should be sleeping like a log.”
“Ok, did your surefire solution work?”
“I did have a dream.”
“And, in my dream, my sweet muse and I were at our wedding reception.”
“It gets weirder.”
“Like the reception was held at her parent’s private club at 54th Street and Fifth.
“University Club. Figures.”
“And, everyone was dressed in sad-black like they were at a funeral.”
“And, my Mother and Father and Gram and Gramp were there.”
“Are they still alive?”
“So, my new bride and I got into a HUGE argument.”
“I can’t recall, specifically, but remember it was kinda silly like how long little lamb chops should be served as appetizers.”
“And, then, she went bOnKeRs, and told me she was having a fiery affair with my best man, a Taurus.”
“Yes-way, so I interrogated her as if Inspector Clouseau for specifics about quand, où, et combine de fois, et…”
“And, then, Wendy the wedding planner interrupted us and asked when she should stop serving the little lamb chops. So, I walked away with her to answer the question and chill out.”
“And, when I returned, my soon-to-be ex-wife screamed, ‘I want a divorce.’”
“On your wedding night?”
“At our reception. And, then, I remembered reading somewhere like People, Wired or The Farmers’ Almanac that a Scorpio is least compatible with a Libra and most with a Taurus. Which I didn’t believe, but knew was true.”
“So, what does your dream tell you about your surefire solution?”
“Well, as Wittgenstein wrote in his Tractatus, ‘There are, indeed, some things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.’”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, Wittgenstein also wrote, ‘Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it. Its purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who understood it.’”
“Hey, you didn’t write a book. You had a dream.”
“Where’s your imagination?”
“Ok, book-dream, whatever. Are you that someone, that one person, who already had the thoughts that are expressed in your dream?”
“Well, I understand the dream, but it doesn’t give me pleasure.”
J. Ray Paradiso
You can read J. Ray Paradiso’s previously published short stories below:
Photo by Steve Norris
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