I’m mad at food. Not all food, just the ingredients. Not all ingredients, just the ones I’ve purchased. Mostly the perishable ones. Unprepared, they wait in my kitchen. Five ripe tomatoes stare from a bowl when I pass by for a glass of water. Three bananas whisper, “Please don’t let us end up like the last bunch, peeled and shivering in a ziploc in the freezer. You say you’ll use them later to make banana bread, but by that don’t you mean toss them out?”
Saturday I cooked and prepped all sorts of fresh ingredients for a bunch of pizzas. We were having a birthday party for Xeena and Starbeck. Syd was making the crusts and bringing them over in the evening. So I browned sausage, roasted sweet peppers, sautéed potato slices, shredded prosciutto, cut up pineapple, cleaned arugula, sliced mushrooms, made sauce, and had Dave shred mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan. By the time Syd arrived, everything was arranged in bowls on the counter.
Her beautiful crusts were already stretched on pizza trays and cookie sheets, stacked and carried in by her brother. It was no work at all to load them up and pop them in the oven. “We should start a business,” we agreed.
The next afternoon, seeing the containers of leftover ingredients sitting in the fridge when I opened it to snack on leftover tiramisu from Xeena’s sister Esme, I said, “I should make a couple more pizzas, to use up that stuff.” It wasn’t what I wanted to do with my evening, it just seemed to be the thing to say.
“That sounds amazing,” said Dave. First I did what I actually wanted to do. (Raking and mowing the lawn. Heaven. Chilly and quiet in the yard, sun going down.) Then I looked up an easy crust recipe because I didn’t trust the one Syd emailed me. (It didn’t say anything about the dough rising, and now it was too late to call and ask her about it.) The easy crust was my first mistake. Pictured.
No, my first mistake was letting the ingredients in the kitchen. If they hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have had to top my poor crusts, who’d clearly been saving themselves for a Red Rock canyon diorama, with savory sauce and fresh pineapple and sharp arugula and sweet peppers and perfectly blended cheeses, all of which could be enjoyed only by being scraped off the canyon floor with a fork.
A well-stocked kitchen is a constant reminder of what’s wrong in the world. People like me have too much food while others don’t have enough. The staring tomatoes remind me that I need to get on the neighborhood food bank donation list. Of course, I can’t donate the tomatoes and other fresh ingredients we all need more of. But at least I can make some room by getting rid of canned goods.
What I really ought to do is quit buying ingredients. Ordering takeout makes more sense and is a better means of overall food distribution. People who can handle all those ingredients can prepare the meals. People like me can order one meal at a time. And five ripe tomatoes can get the respect they deserve, without tormenting my psyche in the process.
The Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park has made a decision. I saw her yesterday. Dave and I took Django to the park, and stopped on the way to grab Zoe. Miss Hepburn’s sister greeted us at the door and said we’d meet the new caregiver when we got back.
Zoe pulled cheerfully all the way to the park. Then all the way through the park. Then all the way home. She stopped pulling only when I threw the ball for Django. She’s learned that Django gets a biscuit for bringing it back, therefore Zoe gets three biscuits: one for sitting while Django finds the ball and then pauses, seemingly lost in thought; another when Django returns, dropping the ball somewhere along the way; and a third when Django spits hers out because she’d prefer liver or cheese.
When we got back, Dave headed to the garage to carry in a large bag of dog food, and I went inside to meet the new caregiver. This is the sixth one I’ve met since things got hard for the Hepburns. The first was reportedly “an angel.” It took several weeks for the Hepburns to realize she wasn’t the right angel for them. She mostly just talked on her phone. Then there was the sweet one. Then the stern one. Then someone who could only come two days a week. Then the artsy one. And now, the calm and kind one, who seems like she might actually be an angel. Miss Hepburn is eating a beautiful lunch of fluffy omelet with toast and grilled peaches on the side.
She is so tired she almost can’t sit up, but she looks happier than I’ve seen her in weeks. She says she’s decided not to do the hospice thing. Her cardiologist had sent someone after her last appointment, and ever since she’d been in a funk. “She told me I could have all the salt I want,” she says.” I can eat what I want and do what I want, because it doesn’t matter.” She breaks off a tiny piece of omelet with her fork. “I mean, I know it’s progressive, but am I just supposed to give up?”
Her sister has returned with Dave and reminds her, “The hospice people are very nice.”
“Oh yes, but that doctor just sent them out, just like that. I hate him. I’ve always hated him.”
“You’ve only had two appointments.”
“Well, I hated him the first time, and I hated him the second time.” The sisters laugh. Miss Hepburn continues, “I mean, the way he put his size eleven shoes in my face! He sits across from me and crosses his legs and his feet are right up here.” I am reminded that she is not as tall as the other Miss Hepburn. “He doesn’t even look at me. He just says, ‘Someone from hospice will be out.’ Just like that!”
A few months ago, I saw a defining moment when Miss Hepburn could no longer work in her yard. But this defines her yet again. Her back is so bent she has trouble looking forward. She’s got bruises and bandages from surgery and falls. She’s on oxygen 24-7 and still has trouble catching her breath. But she asks me, “Did you see Margie’s cute car out front? Isn’t it adorable?”
Hospice is great when you’re ready to give up. When you know you’re near the end, the people of hospice can enrich your life and the lives of your loved ones in uncountable ways. But some doctors haven’t learned that not everyone gives up at the same speed. Some people just aren’t made for it. Also, they don’t like shoes in their face.
We got a new push mower. Dave researched and researched online and finally ordered the Fiskars model. I figured they’d be good because of the scissors. It arrived just when we got back from lunch with T—, and she was staying for a cup of tea, so we couldn’t immediately open the box and put it together.
T— is Dave’s ex-wife. Dave said it wasn’t until we were at First Slice, sitting at the table, that he remembered that they used to be married. Not that he had forgotten, just that the specific connection didn’t enter his head. I wondered if she felt more like general family, something like a cousin, but he said it wasn’t that. She just seems so right in her present life, and of course to me Dave does too, so while they are clearly very connected and seem to care about each other very much, it doesn’t seem to be fraught, or post-anything.
It’s weird, meeting the exes of your current love. I can’t imagine the same person being attracted to both of us. T— is a force of nature. She’s an amazing singer of about the hardest music you can imagine someone singing. She wears coordinated jewelry. Multi-surfaced, arty jewely. And smart shoes, with heels. And hair that’s cut on a definite angle, no shilly-shallying. There’s no trace of apology in her, not even when she tells the waitress to leave her used tea bag and bring her some more hot water. She’s everything my hypnotist included in the custom-designed affirmation I repeated 25 times a day back when when I was coming out of my dead dad depression. Powerful and confident and safe. Everything definite, from her career to her style. She has the clarity of confidence. Or maybe it’s the confidence of clarity.
The Fiskars mower is not cute like old-fashioned Craftsman mowers. It’s cute like a pair of Fiskars scissors, if you consider those cute. Gray and orange, and shaped for efficiency. Later in the afternoon, T— headed on her way, and we put off work for a few more hours to try it out. We should have been working, we felt guilty about not working, but we were drawn irresistibly to the Amazon box.
Dave put the mower together and took it for a spin. It was a miracle of manual lawn trimming! Direct and efficient, and it makes the most beautiful sound as it glides through the grass.
My neighbor is back in the hospital. I saw her Friday and she seemed okay. For her. For where she’s at lately. Thin and weak and overwhelmed by the mountain of infirmities she’s been living under for the past few years, but able to smile; you know, okay.
When I first met her at the dog park, seven or eight years ago, my neighbor was a sprightly 80-year old with a rambunctious border collie mix that loved to eat garbage, sticks, rocks, anything that came into its path. My neighbor would laugh and shrug her shoulders, and tell us how gentle the dog was at home. Even then, she seemed impossibly thin and ageless; the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park. She volunteered and recommended great restaurants and worked in her yard, cheerfully complaining about how little she seemed to get done. Eighty seemed like an arbitrary number.
But problems started to add up faster than she could recover. Colds into bronchitis into pneumonia and back again. Doctor visits multiplied, and medications, and new complications. “I don’t seem to recover like I used to,” she said a few years ago, when I met her walking in the neighborhood, the dog snuffling in the parkway for garbage. “When I do get better, I seem to have lost a little ground.”
This is an old story. If you live to into your eighties and nothing immediately catastrophic occurs, it just happens. You go from weeding the front parkway in a cute denim hat to trying to do something called interviewing a caregiver when you’re so tired all you want to do is take a nap while they make you a sandwich. You have to learn how to gracefully accept help from friends and neighbors. You’ve always been the one doing little things for people and now you’re the one saying thank you, thank you, thank you. And yes, that’s a good thing, that there are so many people who love you and want to help, but still, when even your personality gets taken over by your infirmities, it’s hard to find yourself.
Do you hold on to who you were? Do you float along and try to be a good patient? Do you give up? The Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park just kept seeming a little surprised. More and more, over the past few years, as she saw parts of her old self slipping away, slowly, the gardening and the dog walks and the concerts. One day she realized she hadn’t chatted with a neighbor over the fence for weeks, or was it months? Because it had at some point become too difficult to stand in the yard. It’s not a big deal, chatting with a neighbor, but when you realize you haven’t done it for months, you also realize that simple act is part of who you are, and that part of you is gone.
When it happens gradually, over a period of years, I wonder if it’s harder or easier to lose pieces of yourself. Maybe it gives you more time to replace them with something else, or to realize the deeper truths of yourself. Maybe it’s a blessing. Or maybe it’s a slow-motion nightmare, like trying to run in a dream. You see the monster coming closer and closer but you just can’t seem to want to move your feet.
We don’t get to choose, so I guess there’s no point in thinking about it. But the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park gave me her little denim cap, a while ago, when I going on a trip. She said it was the best hat, because it’s so cute and it’s great for either rain or sun. It’s a little too small, but perhaps in time, my head will shrink. That happens, right? Or maybe everyone else keeps growing, full of expanding plans and personalities, and you just stay the same, the nice little old lady who always has a smile.