Friday, August 28, 2015

Interregnum

I was at the tire shop in Marathon having a well worn screw removed from a tire which had developed a slow annoying leak. I carry an air pump in the trunk as I have found modern tires will work as hard as they can to stay inflated and an application of compressed air can get you home without having to fight the spare wheel...This thing set off the low pressure alarm every ten days for a couple of months till I got around to dealing with it at Island Tire:
I mentioned how young people today don't know how to change a wheel, maybe because modern tires are so much better than the ones we grew up with? I refuse to put spare wheels on for people he said gruffly. It's a basic life skill we agreed, us old codgers, nodding our heads and pondering modern helplessness. Mind you I'm not going to repair my own punctures...I'd rather pay him twenty bucks to get his hands grubby, thanks.
I love this shop, no frills, good workmanship and skill. Take your car to the big chains and there's no telling how the tires will be returned. I've come away with lug nuts missing, wrong pressure and I've heard of worse. This guy offers a service that gives peace of mind in a community where conscientious work is often hard to find.
Besides which I like to make sure my car is ready at a moment's notice should my wife need to evacuate in a hurry in summer. I usually get it serviced in the Spring before hurricane season so it's ready for a summer road trip as well as any sudden unplanned drives Up North when winds come blowing across Florida. I guess it's all part of growing up, learning to plan, thinking ahead, getting ready. I'll leave it to the youngsters to organize hurricane parties, I want my wife and dog out of harm's way while I'm locked down at work during a storm.
And then there are the unplanned events that interrupt the smooth flow of an orderly progression into old age. It was the summer of 1981, almost exactly 34 years ago, and I was watching the sun come up over the desert near Mono Lake in the eastern California village of Lee Vining. My plan was to ride my Vespa, which I had bought new in Brooklyn that May over the mountains to Yosemite Valley and complete my continental ride. Then I met Giovanna who wondered if the scruffy little oik drinking chocolate milk knew Vespas were made near her home town of Florence. Actually I did, as I lived not far south in Umbria.
I don't think either of us were prepared for what came next. Our chance encounter became a crazy relationship that lasted almost a decade and was pulled apart by different life visions. I cannot say that meeting Giovanna changed the course of my life because she simply reinforced my determination to live my life on my terms. Ours was a tumultuous affair, she is 13 years older than me so I blamed her 36 year old self for not knowing better. She blames me nowadays because ...I forget why exactly. But she has a brain tumor now so I suppose she has finally got one over on me and I have to be nice.
I don't want pity she said the other day so she confides in me alone among her family and friends when the cancer seizes her imagination and those around her threaten to look mournful. I make her laugh even over the phone at one in the morning. Fuck cancer. She lives in British Columbia so she is three hours behind me and when the night fears grab her by the throat she sends me a text which is okay as I am frequently sitting up at work trying to remember what is important in life amidst the morass of drunken 911 calls. It seems absurd to me that with so many children, church friends, scattered cousins and ex husbands it ends up being me that routs the demons.
My mother died of a brain tumor so in Giovanna's eyes I am an expert in this struggle which is absurd but sometimes one grasps at whatever straws float past one's sickbed. And perhaps the worst of it is that she feels fine. Last September they removed the tumor, an event she never revealed to me in the compartmentalized, "need to know" way she lives her life, a life of second guessing that was one reason I had to live apart from her. Now the tumor is back and at last the evasions, the "need to know" is stripped away and as she waits for more tests and through them a prognosis I see the old, the real Giovanna revealed, like an old faded canvas smothered by years of neglect refreshed and restored, colors vibrant once again.
We talk and memories come tumbling out, things that I remember about those long lost years that she has forgotten and things that have remained vivid in her memory are gone from mine. I used to go up and see her in Florence and we had whirlwind days of playing tourists in love in one of the most romantic cities in the world. When it was time for me to go home it was a reminder for me of all the good byes of my young unsettled life. We would sit and drink hot chocolate on cold winters' nights at the Giubbe Rosse coffee shop, waiting for the train that would whisk me away. I was always bereft, holding her hand, holding onto her scent, hoping for a few more minutes before I had to go back to my lonely empty life from which she had saved me, a few scant days at a time.
I traveled to America to find a better way to live. We tried it together, life in California but she spoke no English, she wanted children, our characters clashed. She got divorced from her first husband and emigrated to Quebec with her second husband and as she spoke French she settled in Montreal. There was no internet we lost touch. Then she found an old postcard of mine, perhaps she simply found the courage to write to me in care of my stolid farming sister who I knew would never move. If you need me write to me at Liz's address in Umbria, were my instructions. My sister dutifully forwarded the message with no comment. Giovanna was the scarlet woman who threw open the shuttered windows of the castle to revel nude in the morning sun under the startled gaze of the local peasantry going about their chores. Giovanna needed to live life to the fullest every day and it was quite wearing for the proper little man I struggled to be feeling the obligations of my life in my ancestral village.
Giovanna is my last tenuous connection with that life. She remembers me lost in my castle, the poor little rich boy, living like a ghost in the cold empty corridors of the great rock pile that dominated the dying village that had supported it for centuries. She brought life to me when she took the train from Florence. She would descend to the platform like some movie star trailed by men anxious to carry whatever piece of luggage they could for the blonde princess. I need to feel alive she would say carelessly as she threw her arms around my neck and planted a big wet one on my mouth in front of her impromptu retinue. The contrast was too much for me when I had to take her back to Orvieto and stick her back on the train. Castle Dracula was empty without her. I lived a wildly unbalanced life, teetering between ecstasy and depression, between loneliness and exultation.
It is not yet certain what the outcome of the next cat scan might be but this sudden confrontation with the possible loss of another sliver of my increasingly remote and increasingly absurd past has shaken me. My own most recent check up revealed nothing at all and I face the possibility of living longer than I ever expected with a feeling approaching dread. Keep your wife close, Giovanna keeps reminding me, she feels the loss of her third husband, a man who adored her and had the bad taste to die of his own tumor not long ago. I need no reminding how lucky I was to find a woman who not only understood me and my demons but could help me manage them in ways Giovanna never could. To lose two legs of the three legged stool of my old age would be too much. However it is apparent the slide has begun whatever the outcome of Giovanna's tests. Her illness is a wake up call and now I have her and my wife and Giovanni (below) to worry about.  He is my childhood buddy from that era, but unlike my ever supportive wife, Giovanni the cardiologist makes no effort to attain old age, no exercise for him, but plenty of cigarettes.
I don't think I shall do well as a widower and even though I have made every effort to squeeze every ounce out of life, per Giovanna's original instructions I hope I shall be ready for a more contemplative end should my worst fears be realized. I remember a friend once telling me that friends come into your life as you need them, and leave as they came which in large measure is true. However there is also truth in the notion that some few people, good ones if you are lucky anchor your life to where you came from, good or bad. My wife lived our California life with me, a repository of memories of life in Santa Cruz in a pivotal time. Giovanni's role was to grow up with me; he rode mopeds with me and we still do ride together all over the place, and as teenagers he put up with my always frantic search for meaning through sensation. Giovanna helped me become a man and set me free to find myself. She was the gift that made my marriage possible, that enabled me to sort of settle down while still living life and learning to share it. She gave me my life partnership with a woman much more suited to manage my mercurial moods while she eventually found a lunatic as crazy as she, capable of making her feel appreciated in ways that still strike me as unbearable - dramas, fights, doors slamming, irrevocable promises always broken, marriage as a platform for invective.
I keep hoping the tests will show this to be a false alarm and the new tumor will be unlike the last, that this one will be benign and not aggressive that she has years to live. That I can postpone the day of reckoning and not yet have to face the fact that even with the most careful planning I may well end up alone with my memories. I used to hate to talk about my preposterous life as a medieval land owner, a fading way of life inherited from my mother who herself struggled to disentangle herself from her fate of living and in the end dying in the pile called Palazzo Paparini. She spent much of her life in England with her English husband but in the end Fate got the better of her and she died alone and divorced in the castle that defined her youth and gave her refuge in World War Two when the world blew up around her. It extracted a heavy price and I ran away to California to avoid the same fate, and for the longest time I tried to bury my castle in the fog of forgetfulness. I wanted a new start in the world, a life built on my own efforts not on the shoulders of my numerous very capable ancestors. Yet now that Giovanna, the last person who shared that life with me may be about to depart I feel as though I am losing the first of my critical anchors in the world.
I don't think all is well at all. Everything sucks.