Category Archives: In the Spotlight

Star Struck

Robert DeNiro’s in town to visit his mother who is in the Cleveland Clinic (this was several years ago). My daughter’s favorite actor in all the world. She’d do anything to get a glimpse of him. So when she hears he’ll be at the Art Museum to view the Italian exhibit, she calls and asks when.

WHEN?

“Mom, Robert DeNiro’s at the Art Museum? Yeah, the Cleveland Art Museum. Let’s go up there.”

“To Cleveland? Now?” It’s early in the evening but getting dark early, and I’m, you could say, less than enthused about the idea.

“Yes, he’s there right now.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I called and the guy said he just went in.”

She’d called. I’m not surprised.

“Well, it’ll take maybe an hour or two to see everything.”

“If you won’t go with me, I’m going by myself.”

“No, no. Okay, I’ll go with you.”

Within 10 minutes we’re flying along 77 North heading toward our rendezvous, her rendezvous, with Robert DeNiro. We’re thirty minutes out and counting.

Practically jumping out of the car before it even stops moving, we run through the front doors, probably looking like the crazed stalkers we are at that moment.

“Where is he?” she gasps, nearly out of breath, the end result of running from the parking lot coupled with anticipation.

“Who?” The young man taking tickets asks.

“Robert DeNiro. I called earlier and they told me he’d just gone into the gallery to see the exhibit.”

“Oh, yeah. He was only here about 10 minutes. Then he left.”

“Left? He’s gone?” Her disappointment and disbelief are clear, palpable.

Having psyched myself up for this meeting, even if it’s just a glimpse, I’m disappointed, too. But I’m also wondering how he could have spent so little time in this special exhibit of Italian art? He’s Italian; why make the effort then rush through, not taking the time to really see what he’s looking at? To absorb each piece of art and wonder why this subject, why these colors, what is this meant to reflect? Did he go “just for show”? Just because of his Italian heritage? So he could tell his mother he went? Or to give the illusion of a depth of interest that he wanted to project but doesn’t possess?

Laura and I looked at each other. We’d risked speeding tickets and being sideswiped, jettisoning our self-respect and dignity like groupies at a concert – all for a room now devoid of his presence. Gone – that quickly. It was hard to fathom.

And if that weren’t bad enough, we got lost on the way home, of all places on a stretch of E. 55th St. that appeared almost abandoned and rather run-down. I finally pulled into a gas station and asked for help getting to the highway, any highway, just to get out of this part of town.

A man stepped up to the door and asked what the problem was.

“You know you’re in a bad area, don’t you? You shouldn’t be here. It’s not safe.”

Well no, we didn’t know that exactly, but we had noticed some disturbing changes as we put one block after the other behind us. The streets were relatively barren of cars and people. Each abandoned intersection we went through engendered a feeling of being unwilling participants in a Stephen King story where nearly the entire population of a town inexplicably disappears, leaving only a handful of survivors hiding in fear of things both seen and not seen.

The sky was dark, and a deeply eerie feeling settled in like a thick fog, creeping along the sidewalks and obscuring the way. Traffic lights continued to blink red and green but few cars were on the street and even fewer businesses were doing any, their windows boarded up, their doors permanently locked.

We explained our dilemma, and he told us how to get back, leaving us with some cautionary advice: This is not a good area for two women alone to be in, especially at night. Slow down only at intersections, and if there are no other cars, do not stop for red lights. Don’t stop for anything until you get to the highway, and you’ll be all right.

We certainly hadn’t expected that, but this wasn’t the first time we’d done something on the spur of the moment only to laugh at the missteps and problems we created for ourselves by going off the grid and doing something “normal” people don’t do. And we do laugh; we have a great time every time we do the unexpected and have ourselves a real adventure.

There is a lot to be said for the fun and unexpected surprises you can experience if you’re open to being spontaneous. We are always truly present in the moment we are in, even if that means living some of those moments on the edge because that’s so often where real living takes place.

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Warning! Be On the Lookout…

I had my first flasher today – oops, poor word choice, let me rephrase that – I witnessed my first flasher today at the pool. I’d been swimming for an hour when I picked up a kickboard to work just my legs; this means my face was above water instead of buried in it, and I was looking around trying to hang on to an idea I had for a piece I was currently writing about my father. I looked toward one of the two clocks and saw a man sauntering toward the Jacuzzi in a leisurely way. I paid no attention at first, but it struck me as having an uncovered kind of look. That’s when I noticed it was the back of his rear end in all its glory.

No. That couldn’t be. I didn’t see what I thought I saw. A trick of the light. Water in my eyes. Blurred goggles. Surely that wasn’t bare skin. Yet there he was, or rather, it was, and he was simply too old for playing games like that. It wasn’t a bad looking tush but nothing to write home about either.

Surely he was wearing something; maybe it was just a nude color and my cursory glimpse wasn’t fairly assessing his, uh, attributes. I took a quick look a second time to be sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me.

Second Viewing Results: There was no mistake. His towel was neatly folded in one hand that swung back and forth with each step he took. Maybe he thought he was taking a walk in the park and had forgotten to get dressed. The clothes were all laid out on his bed but he’d gone from the bathroom directly to the car instead and wound up here by mistake. Maybe it was karma. Perhaps he envisioned he was in his own pool, the one surrounded by the privacy fence in his backyard.

Maybe he was absentminded. Senile even. Or your average pervert who gets his jollies flashing both men and women in a pool at the gym.

The last person I’d seen in the Jacuzzi, which is where I’d initially intended to go after my swim, had left a little while ago and it was empty the last time I looked. I noticed the dial had been set back to zero to stop the jets.

But when I got out of the water, there was a man with his back against the Jacuzzi’s wall, the jets running. I could only assume it was Flasher, sitting in the hot water nice as you please – as naked as the day he was born. His towel was lying, still neatly folded, about six feet away near the steps where he’d entered.

I opted for the therapy pool instead. dismissing the steam room entirely at that point – its densely foggy atmosphere isn’t always conducive to seeing, clearly, who else might be in there or in what state of dress, or undress, that person might be at the time. Too risky. And you’re supposed to sit on a towel when you’re in there – I couldn’t even count on this guy doing that much.

When I left the warmth of the therapy pool, the man was still sitting in the hot, bubbling water. Alone. No surprise there, but I couldn’t really identify him as Flasher because I’d never seen his face.

Prosecutor to Defendant: “Stand up and turn around sir. Now drop your drawers please.

Prosecutor turns to witness under oath: “Can you identify this rear-end as the one you saw Ma’am?

Witness to Prosecutor, Judge, and Jury: “Yes it is. I’d recognize that backside anywhere.”

Might it come to this? What if too much time passed, and in my memory other backsides got mixed up with this one I was faced with now? Suppose I fingered the wrong perp’s tush?

Would the wrongfully accused sue me for defamation of character or something akin to that? Would I have to pay for plastic surgery so his bottom could not be recognized as criminal booty in the future?

Going into the locker room, I ran into a friend I see all the time standing at the mirror. “Tell me something,” I said. “Do they have some kind of policy regarding nudity being allowed in the pool? I don’t recall anything about it, but some guy is walking around the pool area wearing nothing but thinning hairs and a few moles on his backside. No swimsuit. No towel, even. She scrunched her face as if to say “eeuuww.”

“I thought not,” I said, heading for the front desk, though I was dripping wet myself – and yes, I was still wearing my bathing suit, flip flops, and had a towel wrapped around me, too.

The woman I spoke to made her way to the pool and when she came back, said she couldn’t find him. I felt like my imagination was playing tricks on me. Where could he have gone? He wouldn’t have been hard to miss unless he’d slipped into something more appropriate while sitting in the Jacuzzi – just in case word had gotten out. Pun intended. No one would have taken notice at all if he’d had something on. Perhaps he’d expected a more enthusiastic response when he strolled by the pool slowly enough for a comprehensive viewing but, not getting it, was weighing his options as he sat in the hot water.

I wonder: Did he wear his towel on the way back to the locker room or try once more, sans towel, to attract the attention from the swimmers that he didn’t get on his first pass?

The woman came back through a little while later saying she was going to check once more, and this time when she returned, she said I wasn’t the only one who’d seen him in his entirety. There were at least five of us present at the time.

He shouldn’t be hard to isolate, given we all have barcoded IDs we run across a scanner that brings up our photos, names, and the date and time we enter the facility. At the very least, I expect an email sent to all our members saying something like “This is a reminder that appropriate attire is required in the pool area at all times.” Or, maybe they’ll put out an APB (All Points Bulletin) to “Be On The Lookout For…”

 

We Don’t Remember Days, We Remember Moments

We don’t remember days, we remember moments

Ed on his motorcycle. Ed working on his truck. Ed having a burger and a beer at the bar. Ed laughing with friends. Ed listening to country music at the Jamboree in the Hills.

Ed telling stories in the way only he could tell them.

There was Ed the philosopher, Ed the scientist, Ed the astronomer, Ed the computer whiz, and Ed the chef. He knew something about seemingly everything, and in most cases more than just a little something.

Ed had a dry sense of humor and often dispensed sound advice based on his uncanny ability to get to the root of a problem by stripping it to its essentials with the precision of an expertly handled machete.

We remember moments. “There is no death…People die only when we forget them…If you can remember me I will be with you always.” – Isabel Allende, Eva Luna

I know I have my “Ed Moments.” There was never a time when Ed was in my kitchen that he didn’t have a tip for me about everything from cream puffs to glazed carrots and all manner of foods in between. Dawn and I were frantically trying to get the glazed carrots to “glaze” for a holiday party and he came in, asking what we were trying to do, and said we were using the wrong kind of pan. “The saucepan is steaming the carrots,” he said, adding that a frying pan should have been used instead.

He and I went to the movies and out to eat a few times over the last few weeks, and each time he talked about his childhood, saying he was “kind of a loner and buried {himself} in books” as a child. That’s when his love of science and astronomy began to develop.

In his mid to late teens, he took care of his ailing parents over several years with love and the patience one expects of older individuals. And though it took some time, he saved the money to buy them a joint headstone etched with woods, deer, and a lake because his mother so loved these things. He never complained – he just did what needed to be done, a trait that served him well throughout his abbreviated life.

In these last months, Ed watched Laura take charge of his care, relying on her research skills and ability to converse with his doctors from a knowledge base most lay people don’t have. It was a side of her he’d not witnessed before, one he respected, admired, and cherished. Even though he wasn’t pain free, he managed with Laura’s encouragement and help.

And her love for him.

I believe Ed found strength, too, in the warm embrace of friends, He enjoyed being with those who visited and texting messages to those who called because his vocal cords were severely compromised. He loved being with all of you, feeling cared about, and giving back what he could, “being useful,” as he put it. One day I found him putting together some computerized thing and bemoaning the fact that the company hadn’t sent all the parts, but it felt so good to be doing something helpful for someone else. He continued to help others with whatever he could and to be a part of life around him.

He worried a lot about Laura, whom he loved and trusted completely. He worried about what all this was doing to her. We talked about a lot of things, every conversation ending with Laura. Ed’s first thoughts were always about others. He was generous and kind and never hesitated to give of himself, or his time.

It’s hard to think of any death, especially one that comes too soon as a result of something as invasive and heinous as cancer, as a good death, but it brought Ed and Laura closer together than they had ever been. For that I am as grateful as I know they both were.

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Laura and Ed did get to Los Angeles, unfortunately during the worst rains California had seen in a long time, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and the infamous “Area 51.” Even though they didn’t get to take one last trip together, Ed had the woman he loved – and that’s what mattered most to him.

Ed was a cherished flower in our family’s garden. I loved him like a son – and I will miss him more than I can say.

“This flower, too, will fade and be no more” – unless we remember what it looked like, how it blew in the wind, and how lovely was the scent it left in its wake when it was prematurely plucked from its stem.

Laura has set up a site for donations for a memorial for Ed at http://www.youcaring.com/edward-grether-421348 where you will find more information about him and his life.

A Love Letter

I used to think that the only music Bill liked was classical – largely because it’s all I ever heard him listen to. I love classical music, too, but not to the exclusion of other musical genres. My tastes are more eclectic; Bill’s, not so much. He has a strong distaste for a lot of the “popular” music he hears which he deems largely (if not entirely) responsible for what is wrong with this country and many of the people in it. Elvis Presley and The Beatles, notably credited with the inception of the era of Rock ‘n Roll and everything it spawned, were, according to Bill, the beginnings of what developed into a disrespect for authority, a hippie culture whose mantra was drugs, sex, and free love, and an unearned sense of entitlement. They were responsible for the “ruination” of our youth.

A bit dramatic, but anyone who knows Bill is well-acquainted with his hyperbolic bent.

To be fair, there are lots of others who feel the same way Bill does. People who complain about the music being so loud it’s difficult to make out the words of the songs. And there’s a lack of clarity in many singers’ voices as they mumble their way through the lyrics – if there is a story in there somewhere, one can’t find it. In addition, I take issue with refrains that are repeated over and over because someone was just too lazy to put words together that mean something more; a case in point here (one of many) is “Because I’m Happy” – a catchy tune but, by virtue of its irritating repetition of these same words throughout nearly the entire thing, more annoying than anything I’ve heard in a long time.

When Bill and I take trips in the car, he listens to classical music as he’s driving, and I listen to everything else when I drive – and he wears ear protection at my insistence so I can also enjoy all the other kinds of music I like.

So it may surprise you, as it did me several years ago when I discovered his love of “marching” music: John Phillip Sousa in particular, among others. When listening to his marches (and German beer songs one hears in a beer hall), his fingers drum on the steering wheel, the arm of a chair, the kitchen table – reminiscent of his drum-playing days. I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of getting him a set of drums for Christmas. When he told me some time back that he’d always been a fan of Johnny Cash and had even gone to The Front Row theater once to see him in concert, I was shocked to discover that he liked country music, too. Some of it, anyway. One notable exclusion is Willie Nelson, discounted, at least in part, because of his politics.

Even so, little surprises like this aside, he steadfastly refuses to deem dancing worthy of consideration. Not even a Texas Two-Step.

Everyone has an opinion about what good music is, and the same holds true for dancing. How do we define good dancing versus that which, well, isn’t, exactly? The best dancers don’t always get all the steps right either, but what sets them apart is not necessarily perfection but the unconscious way some dancers physically interpret the music, allowing it to inhabit them, to fill their limbs and embrace their essence, making their connection to it intensely personal. The best dancing originates from within. It’s an interpretation of music that is felt and defined by the dancer him/herself, even in the context of adherence to manufactured rules and prescribed steps.

In any case, we’re not all going to like the same music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Wouldn’t this be the dullest of worlds if everyone liked the same things, did the same things, said or thought the same things? Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 where all cookies are cut from the same mold.

We can’t all sing in tune or develop workable scientific formulas to improve our world. Nor can we all be dancers, at least not dancers who willingly, and sometimes unconsciously, set ourselves free through music and the feeling that dancing itself engenders.

It’s not that Bill has never danced with me – because he has. Someone even got a picture of us in dance mode at a family wedding where it was he who pulled me onto the floor (maybe the affect of too much wine). But it’s rare to get him on his feet for that purpose.

And maybe that’s because to dance, one must surrender. One must give oneself over to the music and its rhythms. Be willing to make mistakes and not let making them adversely color one’s self-image.

For some, dancing is a need, an addiction, a privilege, and even a gift. It can be an act of desperation as well. A need to feel something, be something more than everyday life allows. Dancing is fulfilling and fun. It offers an escape and the freedom to step out of your own shoes and become someone else, if only for those few moments on the dance floor.

But it’s demanding, too – an athletic endeavor that requires strength, balance, stamina, and concentration. It doesn’t require perfection – only the desire to move to the music and paint the floor with feeling that writes its own story as surely as do words on paper. Dancing is a love letter written by a dancer, for the dancer, punctuated by one’s sensitivity to the music and a dancer’s immersion in it.

Dancing is conversation between the body and the music. Whispering and singing with abandon. Great dancing is nuanced and subtle, like a tango that is at once docile and violent, frivolous and purposeful, innocent and sexy – an exposition of the self becoming a love letter that is anything but indifferent to those who understand how to open and read it.

 

 

 

Wild Beasts and Angels

Yesterday Bill and I attended the funeral of a dear friend named Bob Erwine. I’d come to know Bob through another very dear friend and mentor, Mae Packan, an institution in the annals of Coventry High School. Bob and I, having graduated 14 years apart, were both former students of Mae’s a long time ago. Mae, a surrogate mother to me and five other Coventry alums, have had lunch together for many years – every other month at my home where I prepared a home-cooked meal, going opposite months restaurant-hopping in various spots in the Akron/Canton area.

Mae had spoken of Bob so often and how much he meant to her that one day I told her to bring him to my house so I could meet the man she loved like a son. As they walked up the steps to the front door, I came out and hugged him hello, telling him I felt like I’d already known him for years because I’d heard so much about him. He was the legend I’d been looking forward to meeting. He said he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to live up to all the hype.

It was the beginning of a long friendship and many lunches where I regularly tested new recipes on the two of them because they were such willing guinea pigs. Mostly, my experiments worked out well but not always. At those times, we’d have a good laugh and I’d whip up something else on the spur of the moment. It wasn’t about the food nearly as much as about the friendship, and the love. We were family.

When several trees in our backyard were toppled onto our house in a storm, we had a screened in porch built to replace the damaged deck, and Bob, Mae, and I ate lunch out there as much as possible. We even braved the cooler spring and fall temperatures wearing jackets. Once when the spring temperatures warmed up unexpectedly and the porch furniture had not been put out yet, we set up a card table on the porch and ate outside anyway and had the best time.

We did a lot of fun things. Several years ago when HBO ran the series about John Adams (starring Paul Giamatti), Bill ordered HBO so we could watch it. We recorded all the episodes, then invited Mae, Bob, and Dick, over to watch it in segments over the course of a week. (If you’ve been following my blog, you already know that Dick, my first husband, gradually became an integral part of these lunches.) We were like fans having a week-long super bowl party. Bill and I rearranged the furniture in the family room closer to the television to make it easier for Mae to see because macular degeneration made seeing increasingly difficult for her, put Dick on the side of the sofa where his hearing was best, and strategic placed numerous pillows around on various chairs for Bob. Even then, he was having difficulty with his back and his legs; he would periodically have to stand and walk around to ease the pain. He never spoke about it. Never complained.

When Dick died almost five years ago after an extended and complicated illness, my daughter Laura took her father’s seat at our lunch table, always bringing her dog, Mojo, another much loved addition whom both Bob and Mae adored. We’d gone from two to three, then to four. Without realizing it, Laura helped us make a difficult transition after her father died. Occasionally, Bill also joined us, and that helped a lot, too. Gradually, we were able to move on.

But it’s going to be harder this time. Harder to be just two again, like when we started. Dick was two weeks shy of 80. Bob was 80. Mae is 100 and lost her only sibling just last month; he was 93.

Bob missed last year’s Christmas lunch/dinner which always took place in mid-afternoon just a few days before Christmas, and Mae elected to put off our holiday get-together until Bob could be there. So thinking he’d be back in the swing of things by January or February at the latest, we waited. But those months came, and went, and Bob’s health issues mounted. Mae and I continued to eat out because lunch at my house just wouldn’t feel right without Bob. I felt the same way – it would seem like some kind of betrayal to have lunch here in his absence, like saying we could get along without him when we couldn’t. “Let’s wait for Bob,” she said.

He got better, then worse again. Better, then worse. The last time I spoke to him, the week before he died, he said he felt stronger and was hoping to come home in about a week or so, and I started thinking about the celebratory lunch I would make in honor of his return to us. “Love you,” I said to the man that was much like an older brother to me. “Love you, too, my dear” he replied. Our last words to each other.

The minister was speaking about wild beasts and angels and how both come to us in a variety of forms. Wild beasts are carcinomas, they are lies. These beasts are nourished by hatred and prejudice, gossip and negativity. They come in many forms – some made of toxic individuals who poison others’ lives in many kinds of ways, both big and small.

But the angels – the angels come into our lives for a reason, and they are angels because they comfort us, enriching our lives by their very presence. They make us smile, laugh, think. They give of themselves and never ask for something in return. They are kind and generous yet never boast of their accomplishments. This, the minister said, was Bob – an angel in the lives of all those he touched. A quiet and modest man whom most people didn’t even know had graduated from Yale. Angels make us better people by their very presence in our lives.

Despite the wild beast of cancer that finally defeated him and about which he very rarely spoke, Bob was this kind of angel – always giving of himself but expecting nothing for himself in return.

Having been advised the night before that Bob’s situation had so quickly become dire, Bill and I were hurrying to see him early Tuesday morning when we got the call that he had slipped away in the middle of the night. I didn’t get to say goodbye. To tell him what his presence in my life meant to me. I just can’t get that out of my head, or my heart.

That homecoming lunch will never be made. Instead of celebrating Bob’s return, we celebrate the life he lived and those precious, intangible gifts he gave to so many others. When Mae and I can face having lunch at home without him, we will remember and honor Bob. We will talk about how much we loved the honest, selfless man, the humble man who fought off the wild beast as long as he could before taking his place among the angels.

Something She Must Do Herself

Mom at 22.

Mom at 22.

She was weak before the accident and more severely weakened after it. The orthopedic surgeon said her arm was shattered and because she was an extremely high risk for surgery, he’d settled for Option #2 – putting her under for the 10 minutes it would take to reshape her arm and hold it in place while they cast it. It would not afford her the mobility she would otherwise have had, but she would have some use of it even if it didn’t work quite as it once did.

There was a time when her hands did what she wanted them to do. When we were kids, Mom didn’t have a lot of free time, but on Sundays she played games with us. Our favorites were Sorry and Monopoly, one game sometimes taking an entire afternoon to play, and a card game called War – so fast-paced we played it over and over again. Sometimes Mom made popcorn on the stove, put it in a big bowl, and we’d eat it as we sat around the game board on the floor in the living room. When she was able to set aside a few extra dollars, she took us to a movie and bought us milkshakes at Isaly’s or took us to the park to play and swim.

She was always busy cooking, cleaning, making our clothes, washing and ironing, keeping the shack we lived in as clean as possible, and making curtains for the scarred windows to make it look more like a real home.

When my sister came home from school with lice in her hair, Sunday game time was put on hold, and Mom spent the entire afternoon and evening going through my sister’s long, thick, black hair, one hair at a time, picking out the nits. It was a painstaking process, but her fingers were deft then. They could do anything.

But those same fingers that once pushed our clothes through a hand-wringer washing machine, now struggled to push the buttons through the buttonholes on her blouse.

Her hands ironed my father’s work shirts for his shift at B&W, and later, after he left us with nothing, they ironed a bushel basket full of white dress shirts each week for the men of other wives with easier lives. Each bushel basket contained 20 damp shirts rolled up like newspapers. Twenty white dress shirts to be starched and wrinkle-free. A pristine job earned her $5 for the basketful. If the owner was dissatisfied with even one shirt – Mom got nothing for her efforts.

Those same hands that made most of our clothes using material selected from the pile of remnants on the bargain basement table at Marshall’s in Barberton, now have difficulty pushing a button on the tv’s remote control because the arthritis in them is so bad.

Mom’s hands have wallpapered, cooked, sewn, crocheted, and knitted for far more years than they haven’t. There is a picture of a flower-patterned, intricately crocheted tablecloth on top of a lamp table in front of which my sister and I are sitting when we were about 4 and 6 years old. Mom had placed a small Christmas tree on top of it, and Christmas icicles were dangling from it behind our heads as the photo was taken. Mom made that decorative piece the year before I was born – it now graces my own dining room table.

Those hands that took care of us and did so many things with such ease falter now trying to push the nurse call button. They experience difficulty pushing her up from her chair or pulling a blanket over her in bed. She’s a little better after all the physical therapy, but not enough.

She tries to lift her left arm so she can use her fingers to utilize the utensils she needs to cut and pick up her food, but it proves difficult. She tries again and it’s hard to watch her struggle and not jump in to help, but we are told not to. It is something she must do herself. The fiberglass cast stretching from her shoulder to just below the first knuckles of her fingers is too heavy to lift with her good arm which isn’t strong either. Her fingers shake as she attempts to grab those fingers on her other hand which are semi-contained by her cast. I want to cry. Her entire life has always been a struggle.

She works hard to get strong enough to go home. All she wants to do is go home, but she will not have to do everything herself this time. We will extend our hands, returning the gift she gave us. We will take care of her now.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

 

 

 

A Life Unlived

Antonia sits alone in the basement of her youngest son’s house, waiting for him to come down and talk to her. And Peter does. Often.

She listens but never says anything.

And though he’d prefer a more equitable interchange, like they used to have, Peter has adjusted to the altered circumstances of this one-sided discourse. When she was alive, Antonia was the only family member who listened to what he had to say, and now, from the urn Peter placed on a special shelf, she still is the only one who does.

Antonia had been in and out of the hospital for at least a year, and Peter went to visit her every day, sometimes bringing his wife along, though Jackie never once entered Antonia’s hospital room. Never once telephoned to ask how she was doing. Never once told Peter to say hello on her behalf. Jackie didn’t even ask how his mother was doing. When his visit was over, Jackie would pull her hefty frame from the chair in the hall, eager to be anywhere but here, and walk to the elevator without words, her heavy steps now purposeful. Peter, trailing behind, out the main doors and through the parking lot to the car, had given in long ago to what he felt too tired to try and change. He and Jackie rarely exchanged more than a few stiff words that were always poised for delivery of the sharp jab or a nasty reproof.

A much younger Antonia had once moved to Los Angeles with her older sister when both were in their late teens, lining up babysitting and waitressing jobs to pay the rent in a small, furnished flat. To her older sister’s chagrin, Antonia took a keen interest in the soldiers that frequented the downtown Los Angeles bars and restaurants, flirting with old and young men alike while keeping an eye out for the occasional movie mogul who, watching her from the corner of the room, might think her destined for greater things than waiting tables. The ingénue turned promising starlet. The new Elizabeth Taylor or Natalie Wood.

Antonia’s mission had been two-fold – to escape the tyrant of a father she loathed and to become a movie star. But in a year’s time, she and her sister moved back home because their father had become ill. Neither one of them cared all that much, but their mother begged them to come home because she thought he was dying, and they did so for her sake. Her sister, eagerly; Antonia, not so much so. No, not at all.

Sunset Boulevard turned out to be no more than a street like that in any other town across America – one of false dreams and broken promises.

But lives filled with bitterness and disappointment only sharpen the wanting.

As she grew older, Antonia turned her energies toward Englebert Humperdink. She became an ardent fan, organized a fan club in her area, and started following his concert tour gigs around the country – she and other groupies who worshipped him in like fashion. They became concert fixtures, managing to secure front row seats, or so Antonia claimed, as groupies tend to do after a while, eventually getting an invitation backstage on one occasion, maybe two. Maybe. It was sometime during this obsessive-compulsive phase that she began regaling her friends with vague and undocumented tales of her once-upon-a-time stardom. Antonia fashioned herself not as a Taylor or Wood, of course, or they’d know that wasn’t true, but as a person-of-some-significance in the world of fame and fortune.

If you did the math according to the timetable she propped up her career with, you knew it wasn’t remotely true. She’d spent the years in question ensconced in small Michigan town with her husband and three young children. He worked on a construction site and she complained because he didn’t take her out enough. But what would be the point in bringing that up? She was desperate to be, or to have been, a somebody. Desperate and determined to secure attention and fame in any way she could.

Long after her groupie days were over and her pseudo-life faded into the passing decades, the stories about those glory days witnessed a revival and were embellished with renewed fervor as her slow march to the end approached.

Then Bob Hope died.

“I’m really going to miss him,” Antonia said matter-of-factly, adding how sorry she felt for “Deloris” whom she knew from her days in LA, adding that she’d kept in touch with “Deloris” over the years, sending her cards and letters. She suggested they’d been close friends for years, corresponding regularly, though she’d uncharacteristically failed to mention this until “Bob” died. It was all she talked about for months afterward.

Her self-styled obituary referred to her as a singer, a dancer, an actress.  All make-believe, a supernova of distortions coalescing into a truth of their own. One that failed to paint the picture she thought it would. Instead, this one was a sad and pitiful portrait of the life she had never lived, despite the wanting of it she thought would make it so.

Over the years, she sent her sister greeting cards for holidays and birthdays. They contained poems Antonia had written on separate slips of paper.  Poems she’d seen in obituaries. Poems of remembrance, loss, hope. Poems plagiarized from the obituaries of strangers – like the one now taking up space in her own.