Back in Oakland. Palm trees instead of snow. Bright sunshine through the windows of my study where C installed new French doors for me while I was away, as a surprise. Nursing a cup of coffee, the remnants of a head cold and the last shreds of jet lag.
Saying good-bye to the kids in Massachusetts is always wrenching. My seven-year-old nephew borrowed his mother's cell phone and stood outside on the cold and dark platform for ten minutes, talking and waving to me while I sat inside the train, talking and waving back. They didn't leave until after I had pulled out.
And Miss Thing, my brother's four-year-old daughter, who is slow to warm up to new people, played and played with me. We get each other. Same cock-eyed originality, same fierce stubbornness, same sense of humor. It doesn't hurt that she looks just like me--even my sister-in-law's mother says so.
When I was kissing everyone good-bye at the door, she ran back into the den. I followed her, where she sat on the floor, absorbed in a toy. Squatted down next to her and asked for a kiss. She offered her cool little cheek. I was at the doorway when I heard a small voice: "I wonder when you'll be coming back. I think I'm gonna miss you."
Me too, Miss Thing, I miss you too.
Dad and my stepmother and I flew out early to Detroit, where ten inches of snow were predicted on Friday, but mercifully did not fall. There was some snow--by California standards a lot of snow--but not the paralyzing blizzard we had feared. C arrived a few hours later, looking fairly worn-out from exhaustion and travel, and we had a nice dinner with his brother and sister-in-law at our hotel.
C and I had both been a little nervous about our families meeting each other--would they like each other? Would there be too many cultural differences? Would dinner be unbearably awkward? But no, my globetrotting stepmother fell in love with his hearth-tending family and there was a lot of talk and laughter. C's sister-in-law, Speedy, had knitted me an ice-blue scarf as a "Welcome to Michigan" present, which I put on and did not take off for the remainder of our visit.
We went to Saturday's afternoon perfomance of Kaddish. Masankho flew in from San Diego where he'd been studying Spanish and arrived at the last moment. It was like a family reunion to see him.
There was a good audience! I was so glad because the bigger the audience, the better the actors do; they feed off the energy. Dad and my stepmother started tearing up as soon as we arrived in the lobby and saw the posters for the play with my name on them, and the photos of the actors on the walls, and the reviews (two reviews, both good, and an interview with me in the Jewish newspaper.) It was good. The actor who plays the mother is getting better, although my family also felt she was the weakest link. It's too bad, because after the New York show in 2006 I came away convinced that she was in fact the main character, the one whose changes are the fulcrum of the play, the one who is in the most scenes.
I listened hard all through the play for any lines that could leap out at me that would make good alternative titles, but I didn't hear one. I will rewrite Lydia's performance art monologue and maybe something will come from that.
At the end of the play my father was crying. My stepmother said she had never seen him cry that much since she met him. I just held him and hugged him. He is so precious to me and I am so grateful we were given this much time to make a circle back.
We flew home Sunday and I taught at the Writing Salon that night, with the help of several cups of strong black tea. I was running on fumes and had a head cold, but the class went well--it's a great class, and in a rare burst of foresight I had prepared the lesson two weeks earlier. Yesterday I was slammed though, just hit with a wall of fatigue. I didn't manage to get out of my pajamas until about one in the afternoon.
I did call Carla to talk; she wanted to know how the show went, every detail. Reassured me that audience numbers and money are not what make a show a success. She had had her appointment for a second opinion while I was gone. I know, because we had talked about it, that like me, she had been hoping against hope that the ALS specialist would say, "There's been a big mistake. You don't have ALS. You have xyz, any other curable or livable disease." That's not what happened. The eminent specialist ran more tests and said that "in his heart of hearts," he thought she did have ALS.
There's still hope, of course--there's always hope. Hope that she may be among the percentage whose symptoms arrest at an early stage; hope that he's wrong; any and all kinds of hope. But what Carla said to me, when I gently tried to express sympathy about his confirmation of her diagnoisis was, "My positive attitude cannot be conditional upon results." It's one of the most profound lessons I've ever heard, so I'll repeat it here, for my own learning: My positive attitude cannot be conditional upon results.
Unconditional love--that's the thing we're all striving for, isn't it? Here it is, in action. Unconditional love for herself, for life, for whatever comes. Whether it results in a remission of her symptoms or an early death. "I have to just pray that I learn whatever I'm supposed to learn from this." Meanwhile, she's buring a boogie board tomorrow in preparation for her trip to Mexico.
I'm still at my desk, facing the final galleys for the essay I wrote that's going to be out in April's Sun magazine--today's the last day I can input any changes--and I need to get back to the dramaturg I met in Detroit and talk about revisions to Kaddish with her (I didn't want to do it yesterday because I was too foggy.)
On the plane coming back I read most of Philip Roth's Ghost Writer, and finished it up this morning--it's a wonderful novella. I had never read much of Roth before, except for long excerpts of the novel about Sabbath Somebody which were published in The New Yorker--this was great, although hardly an advertizement for the writing life. Old, grizzled, anti-social, chronically dyspeptic writer shut up in a New England cottage with drifts of snow outside writing, writing, and not living...that's one of his main characters, and the other one is Nate Zuckerman, an aspiring young writer who wants to be just like him. From what I've read about Roth's current life, it seems he has achieved that goal. I hope it makes him happy. It sounds hellish to me. But the book is beautiful, whimsical, rounded and rueful, so maybe that's what it costs. Is the bargain worth it--life for art? That's the question Roth seems to be asking.
Last night we watched Quest for Fire, an old movie C had mentioned several times to me, so I bought it for his birthday. It's remarkable--the most faithful depiction of what human life might have been like 80,000 years ago that the filmmaker (and the scholar-consultants he hired) could come up with. I was impressed with the egoless performance of Rae Dawn Chong, who totally became this naked creature loping through the tall grass, using her whole body freely and without affectation to convey every emotion.
The movie brought us back to imagining what kinds of ancestral memories must lie encoded in our brains and bodies: abject terror, the necessity for warmth and companionship because we needed each other to survive. (There was only one character in the whole movie with any white in his hair--most people would have died before our age, of hunger, or wild beasts, or in an accident, or childbirth.
The movie centers around fire, the hearth, the beginnings of story-telling. Having just come back from seeing my little play mounted in a $40,000 production (and hoping desperately that they will recoup that investment--the house was not full, and they were running a two for one sale, so they are not making much on it,) it was good to be reminded of the origins of theatre, and of language itself.
Best of all has been C and I reuniting--it had been a ragged week for our relationship. He was preoccupied with the project of the French doors, and keeping it a secret, so couldn't be totally present when I called from Detroit in nervous distress. And he is, at heart, a hearth-tender, so it was stressful and exhausting for him to travel alone to Detroit, with a weather advisory posted, after working hard all week, when he would really rather be puttering and playing music. Over the weekend I was feeling uncharacteristically out-of-sync with him, which troubled me; when we finally got home and I saw the beautiful beautiful doors, and how he'd labored to give me a snug warm place in which to write, I understood.
And now we're back in our sweet routine; the cat pads onto the bed, wadded-up kitty litter caught in her paws; she nestles down in the covers, purring loudly. We take turns serving each other food and coffee and water and wine, do household chores, take out the garbage, unload the groceries, read together in bed at night. Morning and he's off teaching kids at Juvenile Hall, and I'm facing the usual desk full of projects to revise and emails to return. And life resumes.