Fill In With What You Do Know

I am settling into retirement as if a bull in the chute before a rodeo. All I can say is someone was a little overzealous with the flank strap.

All I do is run in circles creating dust, bucking the system, and getting nowhere.

Oh, and my cowboy, has been avidly vocalizing his displeasure with my inability to establish a daily routine.

He’s become a hazer, you know the type, the guy that tries to keep the bovine running straight so she doesn’t accidentally stomp someone.

Here’s the secret, when Larry is compelled to share his insights, I willfully purge my sarcastic attitude, and just agree.

As I’m wiping the sweat from my brow after a thirty-minute spin class in my living room, he says, “you can’t sit around all day doing nothing (excuse me, I was writing) and then try and squeeze in everything that needs to be done in an hour.”

Cheryl says as she tries to catch her breath, “well, I just did.”

I get the look.

He’s compelled to add, “and then blame me for not helping.”

Cheryl smiles and with the most endearing tone says, “did that too.”

He says, “I have a job, I’m not retired.”

I tried, I really did, but I can only take so much, I spew, “you’ve mentioned that a few hundred times, and by the way, scanning for couches on Wayfair is not what I consider working.”

Well, that got him into the rodeo.

I had to remind him that I’m Swedish, not Italian, and therefore I find it impossible to insert a boring routine into my newly unfenced acres of time. As if rules, routines, and rubbing my hands with antibacterial soap while I sing Happy Birthday will make everything alright.

Here’s the problem, COVID, and this ridiculous trend of working from home.

It sucks.

Back in the day, pre-COVID, I used to go to work, Larry used to go to work. All was well and good. On the days we worked, we’d arrive home around the same time, we’d enjoy a glass of wine on the patio, barbeque some flesh, and watch Bosch obsess over his mother’s death, or some abnormally handsome couple restore an entire house before bed.

I had every other day off due to the block schedule at Notre Dame, these were my writing days. I’d kiss Larry goodbye, refill my coffee, hop back into bed, open my computer, and wrestle with my thoughts for the rest of the day. Total bliss. At some point, I’d drag my butt out of bed, get dressed, and minutes before I’d hear Larry inserting his key in the front door, I’d toss the comforter over the pillows. Wal-lah, time for wine.

The thing about writing is you have to find that “other” space that one occupies alone, sinking into your thoughts as if arranging your head on a soft pillow, snuggling deeper into this dual sense of reality with a reverence and need only writers seem to understand. Yes, I’m being dramatic, make some popcorn, enjoy the self induced drama. We’re in the middle of a pandemic what else do you have to do?

Currently, my cowboy is now working from home, he’s the restless type A, pacing the halls, televisions on in every room, measuring tapes laying around, grumbling under his breath, conference calls blaring from the office while he scans the frig for something to eat, and then every hour or so he yells down the hall, “Cheryl, come look at this.”

I say, “Honey, I’m writing.” See how nice I can be? When what I really want to say, “Honey, put a sock in it.”

He says, “You’ve been sitting there for hours doing nothing.”

I warn, “watch out cowboy or you’ll get hung up on my horns,” and I painstakingly drag myself back to the complicated narrative playing in my head.

The truth is I’m always trying to get back to this “other” place as if an insomniac trying to find sleep. It’s elusive, especially if your roommate tends to be the disruptive type, or worse, needy.

When I’m there I am most certainly not here. As Franz Kafka says, “Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.” Read that slowly, u.t.t.e.r. s.o.l.i.t.u.d.e!

It’s as if I get this divine glimpse into the unknown, an eternity passes, and I have no concept of time.

It’s my passion and Larry’s nemesis.

The problem lies with all the shenanigans required for me to get there (I’m talking about the “other” space), my normal reality is as if a troll refusing me passage to the bridge I need to cross. I sit around playing solitaire (by the way I was just crowned Master Jedi), browsing the internet, drinking gallons of coffee trying to wait him out.

He’s a stubborn bastard.

It’s a shock, but Larry has a hard time with this metaphor, maybe he can’t visualize the whole troll under the bridge thing, but I think it has more to do with his reality-based mindset versus my imaginary one.

So the other day out of the blue he says, “why are you writing about death?”

I say, “the shoe blog?”

“Yeah, it’s morbid.”

“Well, we’re all going to die.”

“Hopefully not today.”

“My Mom always said why put off tomorrow what can be done today, I’m talking about decluttering, not dying.”

“Yeah, well you can start with my office.”

“What do you want me to write about?”

“Memory and how it fades as we age.”

We just relocated all the family scrapbooks to the garage and Larry spent some time lost in the pages. Every now and then he would look up and say, “I don’t remember this trip, or this event, that birthday party, or honestly I don’t remember much about our wedding. It’s a blur.”

“That’s why we have writers who sit around all day rewriting your memories, embellishing and correcting the details as needed, you’re welcome.”

What I do when I write is gather things as if a bug collection of totally unrelated species. I pin down an emotion, the color of the sky, the taste of ice cream, the texture of the rug on my bare feet, the tiny ants dragging crumbs across the hot brick, the annoying sound the refrigerator makes when you leave the door open, or the way you feel after a cool shower. This collection includes hunger, frustration, impulses, fears, joy, even some faded images from my dreams.

I don’t know how they will fit together, but they do, it’s like solving a mystery. How dancing under the stars to the hip sounds of Knee Deep, the scent of perfume in the air, the feel of soft jeans on my thighs, sweat forming on my skin evokes powerful memories of high school dances. It’s an enigma. And by the way Larry’s dance moves are exactly the same as forty years ago.

The strange thing is all things go together as if weaving a series of prevarications to arrive at a greater truth, says Khaled Hosseini. It true, I changed the word lies to prevarications, it seemed more accurate.

I tell Larry, “I don’t let my fading memory get in the way of remembering this life. Fill in the blanks with what you do know. We laughed, we cried, we struggled, we made mistakes, we made up, we walked away, we forgave, we left it on the curb, we tried again, we had each other’s backs, we ate, we drank, we listened, we danced, we rested, we found out happily ever after is more complicated than it sounds, but most importantly we stayed.

He looks at me and says, “let’s just see if we can agree on a couch, declutter the office, and remember to charge our cellphones.”

“That’s how they’ll get us in the end.”

“What, we’ll forget our passwords?”

“No, we’ll forget what it was like when we weren’t flank strapped by cellphones, when finding a couch meant grazing real furniture stores, and recharging our batteries was staying in bed all afternoon.”

“Oh, I remember that.”


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