Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks, but have been so busy DOING the thing that I haven't sat down and done the writing about it.

I find myself in the midst of a bathroom renovation, the second task of which was to gut my shower, pulling down a ton of tile and the drywall behind it. And almost as soon as I began, I was both bemused and amused at how it echoed a detail from A's life.

When I first knew A, he and his wife were living separate lives under one roof, and had been for a few years. He was waiting for her to make a move and get the ball rolling on the divorce she'd asked for, and there were several projects around the house he said he'd do to get the house ready for the eventual sale they both expected as a part of the divorce, the largest of which was a bathroom renovation. He said that as bad as living there still was, he wasn't about to come back and work on a house he was no longer living in. He told me that the wall behind the shower had been pulled down completely, and he needed to put up new backer board and retile it. The shower was currently unusable.

He moved out to his own apartment the month before we finally met in person, my visit being the impetus to make the move at that time, bathroom and other projects be damned. He liked his new place, though he only lived there for a year and a half before he died. He never did finish the bathroom, or any other projects, for his soon-to-be-ex-wife; it was just one of many things he left unfinished. But I think about it and smile, and think maybe he would, too, about the ultimate, unintentional, "fuck you" it ended up being. "Get someone else to fix your shower, lady. I'm outta here." It's kind of like the jury duty he got out of, though I've joked to him (wherever he is) that it's a damnably extreme gambit for skipping jury duty.

As I've stood there sweating, broken tiles flying and a layer of crumbing drywall dust sifting over me, I think of him working on that bathroom, and me being so impressed, because I wouldn't know how to do anything like that, and wouldn't take it on. And I think about who I am now, because I'm doing it. And I think about how I'm finishing the bathroom he started...and maybe it's my job to finish lots of things he started, or at least make my contribution to the inexorable continuation of life.

That is not to say that he didn't complete his own life; by some cosmic reckoning, maybe he well and truly did, however incomplete it appears to those of us left behind. But rather, it's more that, for the first time, I've felt in a very real way how it is on the survivors to take what we learned from those we lost, what they gave us, and how they shaped us into the people we are now, and use that going forward. That this is the best kind of ongoing tribute and memorial to those we love and have lost. Early on, I told myself that I couldn't grieve myself into oblivion forever, because I owed it to him to live, to really live instead of just exist, because that's what he'd want, and because he couldn't. But it was all talk, an intellectual consideration. It wasn't until I had tools in hand, picking up in my own life where he left off in his own, though, that I felt it, rather than thought it. I didn't even feel this way as I've moved forward in playing guitar, probably because I was so far behind him that I may not ever catch up, but this bathroom I can finish; maybe that's the difference.

Many times since he died, I've hoped that A is proud of me for what I'm doing, how I've healed, who I've become in, and because of, his absence. But surprisingly, I find I'm proud of myself when I suddenly become aware that I am doing something he could've or would've done, or said something he would've, because he was a good, and kind, and patient, and brilliant, and skilled man. My life is very much my own; I am not trying to live his for him, nor could I ever succeed in doing so. But it pleases me when I find my life, or my thoughts, running in familiar traces; for in those moments, our lives coincide once again. These are, in a way, new memories I can make with him, connecting my present, a future he could never foresee, with the past he shared with me and that which we lived together. I'd like to think he sees, knows, and it pleases him, too.