I do something thoughtless, unintentionally hurtful to my friend and she calls me out on it gently but firmly. I apologize but worry it is insufficient. A few days later, I call. We meet. I apologize again, try to explain. She is warm, effusive - the best version of herself. I am relieved - more so than I had anticipated. One gift of aging, I recognize, is this: an understanding that life is long, and we can take the long view of it. We can afford, perhaps, a gentleness with the people we love. It is not necessary to punish for every offense.
I am reminded of my wise friend L., who tells me this about the early years of her marriage: We were fighting all the time. And then one night, he said to me: You know, I didn’t marry you so that you could point out every one of my flaws. It stopped me cold, she says. Of course he didn’t, she says. And then I started focusing on what I loved, not what I judged to be lacking. It sounds simplistic, but it made a difference. “No one is perfect,” she says, with a laugh, “not even me.”
In the early morning, there is a distant mournful sound - like a foghorn - and it wakes my son, who cries out from his bed, “I’m scared.”
We talk him through. We can hear him crying softly. We heard it too, we tell him. It’s just a sound. We’re right here. This comforts him, and he is quiet. But I am awake now. I stare into the darkness for a few moments before I rise, come down to my desk, shuffle papers around.
Even at this early hour, there are birds outside my window. Their chatter is loud, incessant. The urgent matters they discuss.
A few houses down from us, there is a transitional home for men in certain stages of recovery from certain kinds of addictions. It is a beautiful old house with a wide, wraparound porch and as the weather gets warmer, groups of residents gather there - to read, to smoke, to watch the highway traffic rush by. Sometimes we will see a woman - alone or with a small child - waiting at the door. Or sitting on the front lawn, cross-legged in the grass. And periodically - far more often than one would ever want to imagine - an ambulance out front, its red lights blinking and spinning. What fragile creatures we are.
The first man I loved moved to New York after college, but was gone by the time I got there, years later. Still, I expected to see him everywhere. Sitting on the stone steps in front of the museum, my notebook on my lap, the sun on my shoulders, I would scan the crowds, searching. Walking the long crosstown blocks to the park, I would imagine him walking toward me, his black hair disheveled and wild. Or sitting in the cafe, where I would spend the hour or two that I begged from the graduate student, who would read her heavy textbooks while my baby napped. I had come to think of it as his city - him, everywhere in it. Since then, I have claimed and re-claimed the city with my own memories of it. Of my own life lived there. But he lingers there, I think. The way everyone we have ever loved, lingers.
On the last day we spend together, I stand next to him on the platform, as we wait for the train that will take him back to his city. We don’t speak much. It is summer, and the heat is exhausting.
As the train approaches, we edge forward. The doors open. We feel the cool air from inside the cars. There is only a quick embrace, but as he releases me he says - seriously, earnestly, like he is delivering unpleasant news: I don’t think I will ever not love you. And then he is gone.
This morning, on my mind, Beckman (from “Block Island”):
It rang and rang generously welling up in me
pouring over my edges, rang and drifted off
drifting off if you pick up the phone
I will overflow and love you forever
tell you I’ll love you forever, friends
can do this, can bear down on one another with emotion
and when it is too much the phone will
just ring and ring and flatlined
by the woman I stood there thinking
how mean she was and how much I wanted her
not to be that way and how much my wanting
would never pick up and you once said I’m not
going to leave until we figure this out said
I won’t leave until we figure this out.