An Incidental Tourist

I’ve watched thousands of movies over the years, but I’ve never considered myself a fan so much as a student. I don’t gush over movie stars, though I have paid attention to how they act, the way they deliver their lines, and the characters they play. I’ve never felt any desire to see places where movies were filmed, such as the field from The Field of Dreams. (In truth, I don’t understand the attraction. The field in Iowa is not a magical field as it was portrayed in the movie. It is simply a prosaic place where the magic of filmmaking once happened.)

Still, quite incidentally during my travels the past couple of years, I’ve seen several places made famous by movies: Monument Valley, Ridgeway (where much of True Grit was filmed), the LaBrea tarpits, Bagdad Cafe, the house where Sam Baldwin lived in Sleepless in Seattle, and the Bradbury Building. I’m sure I’ve passed by dozens of other film-famous settings without being aware of their significance, so it’s amazing to me that I recognized as many places as I did.

One of the hardest things about having lost to death the person connecting me to life is that when I see such places, I can’t tell him what I have seen. He was the one I watched all those movies with, and he would have appreciated seeing those settings way more than I did. The irony is that when he was alive, we couldn’t travel due to his health, so it’s only his death that has brought the world to me (or do I mean me to the world?).

One movie he enjoyed was Wolf, and he was especially taken with the office building where Will Randall worked.  On a recent excursion to downtown LA, I stopped in to see the Bradbury Building, which had been described as an architectural marvel, and there it was — the office building from Wolf.

I thought I’ve been keeping a scrapbook of my excursions to prove to myself that I am real, but the other day it struck me that I’m really keeping it for him — my deceased mate. I can’t tell him in person what I’ve been doing (as I always did), so the photos are a way of sharing my experiences in abstentia. He would have loved seeing the Bradbury Building — it’s even more incredible than in the movie — light-filled, soaring ceilings, ornate iron grillwork, marble stairs, and cage elevators — so I marveled in his stead.

(If you don’t know the name of the building, I’m sure you still recognize it. The place has been featured in many television series, music videos, and movies, most notably, Blade Runner, Chinatown, Murphy’s Law, Lethal Weapon 4, and of course, Wolf.)

Echoes of Grief

Today marks twenty-nine months since the death of my life mate/soul mate/best friend. I’ve come a very long way from that shattered woman who screamed her pain to the winds, who cried for hours when she accidentally broke his mug.

I still miss him, still want one more word from him, one more smile, one more day. I still have an upsurge of sorrow when I remember he is gone. And although I know — I feel — how very gone he is from my life, I still am prone to the foolish fantasy that when I am finished looking after my father and leave here to start a new life, my mate and I will be starting it together. But . . .

I barely remember our life together. It seems so very long ago and as if it happened to someone else. (Which is true — it did. Because of what I have endured these past two years and five months, because of embracing the challenges of the present and opening myself to hopes for the future, I am not the same as I was then.) I’ve turned enough corners now that even my grief seems unreal, as if that, too, happened to a different person. And yet . . .

Our shared life is very much a part of me still. Almost everything I do is accompanied by an echo from our past, almost everything I use originates from that time. I’ve bought a few new things — bits of clothing, mugs with my book covers on them (a totally indulgent purchase since I seldom use mugs), but I don’t really need anything. Most of our possessions are in storage, and I both dread and look forward to the day when I unpack them. I’m not sure whether I will find comfort in having our things around me, or if I will find more pain, but that puzzle is for another day, and perhaps another person. I am changing rapidly and will continue to change as my life changes, so the person who will need to deal with those possessions is not the me of today.

In a strange sort of way, I have been getting messages from him. Not messages from wherever he is now, but from where he was when he still inhabited this earth.

He used to tape movies — movies that we both liked, and movies that spoke specially to him. I am going through his movie collection, watching in backward order (from the ones he taped last to the ones he taped first), and I catch glimpses of what concerned him toward the end of his life. Death, of course, and me, perhaps. So many of the movies he taped that last year were about people (mostly women) whose spouse had died, forcing them to create new lives for themselves.

We watched these movies together when he first taped them, and I thought I knew then why he liked them — he was always fascinated with second chances, new beginnings, characters who came out of catastrophes to find renewal. But now, seeing the movies from this side of his death, they have a whole new meaning for me. Over and over again is the message: take care of yourself, accept the challenge and the change and the freedom that death brings, and most of all, find happiness again.

Sheesh. I made myself cry. But dang it — this new life would be so much more happier if he were here to share it.

Facing My Dreads

Yesterday was Saturday, typically a sadder day for me, but today I felt strong enough to face some of my fears. Or at least my dreads. Facebook has been threatening to switch me over to their new timeline format and today I decided to run toward my dread so I could get it out of my head. I wasn’t sure what photo I wanted to feature. I’d planned to use photos of my books, but since I used them for my page, I didn’t want to confuse the issue by using the same image for my profile. I’d played around with word art once, so I decided to use that. Spent a couple of hours getting it just right. So now I have timeline. And I have overcome one dread.

Then I decided to go after the big one. Watching a movie.

My life mate and I used to watch movies together — all kinds, from westerns to serial killer movies to comedy to romance. He taped hundreds of movies for us, and they’ve been packed away since his death two years ago. I just could not bring myself to watch the movies, especially the romantic ones because I knew how much it would hurt.

Flush with the success of overcoming the dreaded timeline, however, I decided to watch Notting Hill. I’d pulled it out of storage to view on the one-year anniversary of his death, planning to celebrate his life, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even put it away. The tape has been sitting on the shelf, waiting for me to watch for a year and two weeks. And it is again sitting on the shelf.

I put the tape in the VCR, watched for about forty-five minutes, and then came the gusher. Not just tears but sobs and gasps for breath and a yearning to see him one more time that clawed at me with a ferocity I haven’t felt in months.

I know two years isn’t that long, but I never imagined I would still have such upsurges of grief. Mostly I can handle being alone, though I do have times of gargantuan loneliness. I even have times now, such as when I’m focused on completing a task, where my missing him gets pushed into the background. And sometimes I can even look forward to the future. But the one thing I can never seem to get a grip on is the thought of his being dead. I have come full circle to a realization of how necessary it was for him to die. He was in such pain and could no longer function that continued life would have been torture. But even so, I hate knowing that he will never eat another meal. Never read another book. Never plant another tree. Never watch another movie.

I do still have the ability to watch movies, and someday I will finish watching this one.

Just not today.