Widow's walk: a platform or walk atop a roof, as on certain coastal New England houses of the 18th and early 19th centuries: often used as a lookout for incoming ships.
You never know what ships are sailing, or what they carry, that's my experience. So it's a good idea not to freak out, no matter what my crawly apprehensions might be.
I confess. For the larger part of my life I worked hard to be pristinely unreliable: the last human on the planet you'd ask for help. In fact, even if I were the last person on the planet, you wouldn't ask me for so much as the time of day, a matchbook, or bus fare. One look at me in my ancient jeans and Frye boots, growling at the landscape, you'd probably elect not to say anything at all, just slide on by. I was drinking a lot back then; smoked boo by the bale, hash by the hectare, gobbled speed and downers like a hog in a feedlot, and swigged them down with tequila for that prized I'm-a-Martian feeling.
At the time I was a painter, without much money, sometimes living in my gritty frost-bitten studio over Wee-Washit laundromat, divorced, with a clutch of mostly rotten boyfriends, and certainly I didn't have any answers, help, or comfort for anyone. The needy need not apply, I decided early on.
In fact the needy could just stay the fuck away.
I went on like that for years, managing somehow to marry my boy, exhibit my stuff, and get jobs between the car wrecks. But then, certain members of my family hit stormy weather. My mother had breast cancer and left it so long, that by the time I saw her, her cancer had bloomed outside, on the breast itself like a bad rose. Then my uncle discovered he had terminal lung cancer and to my unending horror, he phoned me too. Both my mom and uncle contacted me, obviously expecting something. But what? And why call the druggie alcoholic? My family is littered with John Responsible types who would have arrived in a Yankee minute and sorted out their Blue Cross payments the same afternoon.
Even I knew better: When you're in deep shit, don't call the broke-ass druggie alcoholic.
But call me they did, and I tagged along as they went through bloody and terrible operations, were trashed by chemo, fried by radium, went psycho on drugs, wept and asked me unanswerable questions, showed me their wills and where they kept their cash. I had frightening conversations with surgeons and oncologists I hope to God I'll never have again. Then, finally, knowing I was equal to none of it, I joined an anonymous organization and quit the chemicals and lush that same day. I decided if I had no answers, help, or even much compassion for my mother and uncle, at least I could avoid being an outright nuisance.
Through that and much else, I managed to limp along sober, one day at a time and have for some twenty-two years now. It didn't make me good or even a terribly nice person, but it kept me out of people's hair and kept me alive.
Then one day, just before a meeting, as I stood outside the room, moodily smoking, a sketchy-looking guy, covered in jailhouse tats sidled up next to me. He started a long arcane discussion on Buddhism, which I tried to ignore as I did much else. Jeez, that was weird, I thought after the meeting, scuffing to my car. But three weeks later, I was in a zendo with my ass on a cushion, meditating for three-hour stretches. And like the other thing, I've continued doing that as well, although not with the eons of knee-clobbering zazen. Still, even though I proved to be a crappy Buddhist and continue on as such, Buddhism woke me up. A little maybe, but usefully so.
I've been musing over all those old days: my many years as a full-fledged creep, because often now (and you may be astounded to hear it), there are times when I feel like Jacqueline Kennedy. Right after the assassination, my father said, "Jesus. That poor woman. She just turned into a monument: JFK's Widow. She'll never be a human being again." Well, she showed us, didn't she? And good for her. But now I'm getting a lot of the JFK-widow stuff myself, with no Onassis in sight.
From my friends, despite their admiration or pity and combination thereof, I have more often gotten their most open-handed generosity, which is stuff for a whole other radio show. And I can usually deflect the admiration/pity thing when confronted with it in person, but not always. Some, I've noticed, just can't get rid of the sorrowful brown-eyed beagle stare.
What I've seen most often is that a whole group of assumptions clank shut like burglar bars when most people discover my situation. They appear to think my strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure, that I'm selfless and kind, that I'm uncomplaining, gentle, and a real sweetheart rolled into one huge gooey deep-fried Twinkie. And none of that is true, although I may hit a few high notes during the day.
I am here to say that it's possible to call your stroke-injured husband a cocksucker and a pricky sonofabitch, while he screams that you're a lousy manager and lazy to boot. Sort of like the way I call God a mean motherfucker, when he's being that way. We're all in a long-term relationship and when you're in a relationship, you're gonna get mad. But we keep doing what needs to be done, and we hang around. Me, my boy, and God, we're still tight, even if we talk ugly now and then.
Then too, the three of us always want to find out what happens next. What's he gonna do? How about her?
I don't worry about much anymore, as long as I know it's real life and not coming from a TV series, a talk show, or some brain-dead disease movie. There's no time, around my house at least, for heart-warming moments. Lord Buddha said, Life and death are a great matter. Do not waste your time.
Fighting with my boy, listening to his dreams the next morning, sorting clothes, sweeping red oak leaves off the ramp: these are great matters.
So is watching for a ship, seen first as a speck, then heaving shorewards, no telling what the cargo might be.
I don't waste my time.