Many people wished me A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year, even those who know my every day/every hour/ sometimes every minute is shadowed by Alzheimers'. We sent and got cards this year because I decided it's a tradition we once enjoyed. I gave my husband ten cards and it took him forever, but he was happy, felt useful. We enclosed my first printed, generic yearly update. I'm still receiving and sending cards. So what if the postage has gone up to 46 cents per card? I like my postman. He's a former Marine, lives around the corner, wears shorts all year, and has killer legs. We talk, like old friends somedays. I run out in my pajamas to give him stuff, maybe it's 2 o'clock in the afternoon. He laughs at my packaging, the stickers I put on envelopes. He is impressed I wrote to Neil Young and hopes I get some response. I taped all of the cards up, like the old days, on a door to the basement. It makes my husband happy. He re-reads the cards several times a day and thinks it's wonderful.
One afternoon, before the crazy plummeting temps, I walked around the neighborhood to hand-deliver several cards. The sun was blinding, but there was no wind chill; my sons were home. I desperately needed to get out of the house. Ended up hearing 45 minutes of one neighbor's problems, but he's helpful with my husband, came over one day with a brand new chainsaw, as a gift. They cut firewood together. He's got a good heart. He's intelligent and kind, was born in the house he lives in, now alone. Every room is precise, clean. He's thinking of moving to Delaware, to be near his brother, but thinks the water table is too low there. I leave his house, and the sun is no longer warm; wind has picked up, but I still feel the need to be outside, so I walk.
Around the bend, where my sons once waited for the school bus and I chatted with other mothers, all of us in pajamas underneath our coats in winter, clutching mugs of coffee, the wind is now blustery and I wore no gloves. Stuffing two cards into my jacket, I re-wrap my scarf and stick both hands into warmer pockets. Continuing towards Edith's, I take in everything: tacky Christmas decorations, broken mailboxes, cars parked illegally and still running, houses for sale and for rent signs, squirrels and birds. I don't even think of taking photographs.
One house from Edith's, I see and hear a woman pacing on Edith's front porch, talking on a cell phone, as if in anger, thinly disguised. It is my former neighbor and I decide to keep walking, just go back home. Unfortunately, she sees me and waves, gets off the phone. We hug awkwardly, and I step on her foot. There's no love. No nice feeling going back and forth. She invites me to come in and visit, says she wants to discuss a few things "in person". I'm thinking: fuck, don't need this, don't want it, but I'm polite instead. My instant plan is exit as soon as possible, but if she brings up broken fence, I will set the record straight.
Edith is so delighted to see me, her plan is to have us reconcile. She brings out red wine and nibbles. Goes upstairs to get a book for me, so the ex-neighbor and I are alone. I leave on my black leather jacket and scarf, put my left foot up and get as comfortable as possible, given the circumstances. I ask how her husband is doing, our only common denominator being we both are married to men 14 years older than we are. She tells me she got him into a VA program in Arizona due to his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, when he was a pilot. She strongly persuaded the doctors to put him on medication, but it gives him anxiety and nightmares. She says "It's our cross to bear, having older husbands." Nice try, not even fucking close.
I know a great deal about side effects of medication, so I continue that topic. She complains that if she's gone too long, he constantly calls her. Then she says, "Several new doctors don't think he has Parkinsons' and doesn't need the medication." I reply, "That's great, so get him off the meds. Bad nightmares are not fun." She shakes her head, tells me she got him a puppy but he's always calling to ask what to do. "It's a therapy dog, but not technically, so I'm going to force the issue, since my husband's a casualty of The War." Despite the wine, I'm feeling pissed off because she's playing a fucking game with her husband and the system. Then she sighs, tells me how much she hates Christmas and would rather be in Argentina, alone.
She takes two phone calls, speaking in Spanish, then compliments me on my purple leggings. I tell her I bought them secondhand years ago and now they're back in fashion. Two dollars for L.L. Bean leggings that had never been worn. Edith appears, hears L.L. Bean and heads back upstairs, with a cheery comment about how glad she is we're having a friendly talk. Edith is another good neighbor, heart of pure gold, so I change my tactic to please her. Ex-neighbor says she noticed the fence is still not fixed. It is no testament to my personality, but for God, family, country, and Edith, I develop a sense of calm. Deadly calm.
In my purple leggings, I eat a few almonds, then rattle off the "things I'm dealing with and sometimes feel overwhelmed." I watch as all of it goes over her head, and she actually yawned, which is when I saw my cue to exit stage left. However, Edith reappears with a burgandy L.L. Bean velour dress that could cover a multitude of sins and hands it to me, saying someone gave it to her and it would look better on me, since I'm tall. Happens to be one of my favorite colors and I hug her timing. The ex-neighbor perks up and invites me to go to a movie with them, to which I reply, "Sorry, I've got no coverage for my husband, and I really should go home. I left dinner cooking in the oven."
She is the sort of person who must get the last word in, so she tries. "Well, we're putting the house back on the market, so we need the fence fixed." I repeat what went over her head earlier, " The ground is frozen; that style of fence is no longer available, and I have other priorities currently." I also remind her the fence is on our property, that she widened her driveway, past her property line, but if she wants to install a privacy fence on her property, I have no problem with that at all. I get up, hug the heck out of Edith, thank her for the unexpected dress and leave. As I walk home, the sun is no longer visible in the sky; I'm happy about the dress and I hope dinner isn't burned. The rest, I let float upwards into the wind and early stars, much like the smoke I see coming from my woodstove at home.