A walk to the library

I need to return a book to the library. As I usually do, I’ll walk. Want to come along?

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I live in an 80s-something building here in Tsawwassen, B.C., in a third (top) floor corner apartment, where the view from my balcony is of another building in the complex with adjacent parking lot, 16th Avenue just behind it, and –happily– trees, both surrounding my place and in the distance.

I take the side door out and go down the back lane. It’s a sunny 22 degrees today, and the air seems mostly clear of smoke. At the corner of 16th and 56 Street, where I turn left, there’s a Shell station. The price of gas is $165.9 L today. I have no good idea why we pay such a high price for gas, but this is a car-based community and people simply pay. If I happen to be in Ladner, a mere 7 kilometres north, when the tank is getting low, I fill up there, because invariably it will be several cents less per litre, which doesn’t amount to that much on a tank, I know, but it’s the principle of the thing and it’s the best I can do.

I walk along 56 Street, the main road into Tsawwassen, a busy road, lined with little strip malls, fast food places, and apartment or condo buildings. Fortunately there are boulevard plantings, including –yes –palm trees, to draw the eye. Once I’m up the bit of incline into “town,” there are several ways to get to the library. I’ll take my favourite way. (I remember how excited I was to discover it.) I turn right off 56 into a quieter street, and then through an archway (is there anything more intriguing than an arch?) and through the “common grounds” of a condo complex, which happens to be a shallow lake. It’s like a little taste of Venice I suppose, in that the water comes right up to the buildings, though there are no canals, gondolas, or singing gondoliers. 

 

There are no benches to linger on and enjoy this lovely sight — I guess the sitting and enjoying belongs to those who live in the condos, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone sitting on their balcony and doing so. I cross the wooden bridge over this little shallow sea, go around the fountain at the end and follow some other paths that weave around the buildings until I come to a last slightly elevated path up, and there, the town’s library.

The library recently set out artificial turf and some chairs and the town supplied some bright flowers made of that polyethylene foam used in pool noodles. These blooms have been rotated through different parts of town, with the hope to cheer us up. Unfortunately they prompted a huge, even nasty, debate on the local Facebook group, on account of some decrying the lack of regard for the environment, because the foam is difficult to recycle, and others decrying those concerns as grumpy pettiness, and on and on it went. Honestly, this town is the friendliest place, people greet when passing on the sidewalk and so on, but some exchanges on that social media site have me shaking my head. Although I next-to-never post, I did venture a comment about the undesirability of leaf blowers once — citing a California community that banned them — and landed in a hornet’s nest; did I expect people to rake and sweep? One guy said he would find out where I lived and come blow his blower outside my window until it ran out of gas. Seriously, though, this is a friendly place.

So I drop off my book, then take another way back to 56, through a pleasant patch of water and rocks at the centre mall. I decide to stop at one of Tsawwassen’s two thrift stores, to check if there were any “new” jigsaw puzzles (I like 500 piece sets for a quick puzzle fix) and run my eye over the books. This store now organizes their books by colour — a long shelf of red, another of blue, black, yellow, and so on — and the usefulness of this baffles me. I remarked to a volunteer shelving some books that it’s actually more difficult to scan through the books that way. He replied that it was too hard to alphabetize them. I hadn’t suggested that as the option, it would be fine, in my opinion, to have them all mixed up. But, speaking of books, I forgot to mention that Then the Fish Swallowed Him was an excellent read, “convincing, unnerving,” as one review put it, about a man named Yunus (Jonah) in modern Iran, caught up in the prison innards of a repressive regime for a slight involvement in a bus drivers’ strike.

 

But homewards now, back down 56 Street. On very clear days, the far mountains are visible as I come over the bit of the incline. Walk, walk, walk. I look up at my apartment, left side corner, top floor. It used to be that when I walked to do errands, Helmut might be on the balcony when I returned, and we’d wave, or, when he was still able to go out, he might be coming back and I would see him, so same thing from a different perspective, that exchanged gesture that always provoked a tiny spike of happiness.

And now I’ve nattered and chattered all the way there and back, and I thank you for your company.

 

Eating alone

I mostly eat alone. There are semi-regular meals with my children and grandchildren, yes, which I enjoy, and coffees on patios with friends, but I’m still wary of having people in on account of Covid. So, I eat alone. I’m eating well, thanks, taking care of myself, thanks, and I usually keep company with a book while I eat so eating isn’t actually the loneliest part of living alone. I know some people think reading while eating is a bad idea, one ought to be concentrating on chewing, I suppose, but that’s boring in the extreme. Eating alone, a book is a fine substitute for conversation. 

The other day, during that awful heat dome that pressed over the northwest of the continent, I decided to have supper at the local White Spot. My apartment doesn’t have AC, and I was managing with fans, but by the afternoon of that day it had gotten just too hot. I was compelled by the AC of a restaurant and the food would be a bonus.

“Table for one,” I said to the attendant at the front desk when I came in.

Slight pause. “One?”

“Yes, one.” She wrote it down and I sat down to wait. The place was full and more people were coming. Obviously I wasn’t the only one longing to cool down in an eating establishment. 

When it was my turn, I sensed some slight confusion, or perhaps dismay, by the front staff, perhaps as to where I should be put, one person taking up a booth when up to four might be seated, and that many more orders and income etc. etc. I had this weird fleeting wish to say that my husband had died, as if I needed to explain why I was eating alone, or as if to say, well there’s just one but actually two if you know what I mean but only one of us is visible. But that would have been awkward for them, and disingenuous on my part, for I was there specifically because of heat, not grief.

I had a better idea, though: I quickly offered to eat at the bar counter, which was empty due to Covid restrictions, and they thought that was just wonderful, to allow one person there. Their relief –honestly, it was palpable, I don’t think I was imagining it. I felt happy to do it too, for them and everyone behind me, also wanting to eat in a cooler place, so I’m not recounting this with indignation. It was interesting, though, to pick up these various vibes about “one” and also my own sensations in those exchanges.

The White Spot folks were super attentive to me after I’d made my “sacrificial” suggestion, and though I did feel a little conspicuous perched at my bar stool with my meal and water, without the protection of a booth, it was okay, I had a book, and also there was a hockey game on if I wanted to look up from the book, and the bartender and I had little bits of conversation about the game (like sports fans do, ha ha, after I’d asked what TB stood for and learned it was Tampa Bay playing Montreal). The manager bustled over at one point to ask about dessert and was perhaps overly enthusiastic about my choice of cherry pie, as if I’d pulled a winning ticket or something, though I believe it was because they were out of apple, which I’d actually wanted at first.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve eaten in a restaurant alone, and I’ve never been self-conscious about it, but this time I was, and I think it’s because, in fact, I now mostly eat alone. As of course many do, regularly, but it’s newish for me, that’s what I mean. It wasn’t an exception being marked as much as an extension of personal reality into a public space.

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To mark Sundays, I use my china for breakfast.

Making it better

I’m finding that making things helps. Last week I made a cake, an entirely unnecessary cake, but one H. would have liked and one I could share, not to mention eat slowly myself. I’ve also been “making” in the form of a visual grief notebook, pasting and painting and noting, the book getting fatter as the pages stiffen and crinkle with watercolour and glue. I’m not sure why it helps, maybe it’s the fiddly effort of it, which makes grief “work” tangible, or maybe it’s the fact of a record (allowing me to trace where I am/was), or maybe it’s just that it holds down, however temporarily, something otherwise internal and unpredictable and uncertain. Also, the doing is enjoyable. (And as I’ve said before, having finally grasped this for myself, it’s not the artistry that matters but the process.) Whatever the psychology involved, it reminds me of lines from a Sandra Birdsell story in Night Travellers:

…crying made everything worse. But she’d discovered that crayons and paper made it better. Drawing was a bird moving against a clean sky the way you wanted it to.  

Here are a few pages from the book to show what I mean. One early page contained “ordinary little” reminders of him.C1C6E3BB-8AB2-4361-A791-E7215D30841F_1_201_a

Another told a story about his clothes. (Yes, I’m afraid I actually went to the thrift store and bought back a shirt I’d donated!)379E668D-6CC3-439E-9406-9D450757AD32_1_201_a

 

There was a small regret to note. During the last years, he wasn’t allowed grapefruit because of a heart medication he was on, so we never had them in the house, though we’d both previously liked grapefruit a lot. Once in hospice, off those meds, why didn’t I bring in some juicy triangles of grapefruit to let him taste again? It never occurred to me! Now that I’m back to eating grapefruit myself, I wish, oh I wish, I had!

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The most recent page I made was prompted by something I saw in an illustration of Covid loss, which I recognized immediately as a powerful description of absence — space filled with a life summed in obituary. I worked from happy photos of our 46th anniversary last August when we had our morning maté (yerba tea) at the bay, sitting on our favourite log. I walk there still and sometimes sit on that log beside the unbodied shape that memory makes.

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