Monday, February 4, 2008

The perfect life game

Marcie was a big fan of board games. Long before I met her, she was a big fan of Life, Payday, Monopoly and Scrabble. But her favorite game was one I called, "Perfect Life," and it was played on the template of our hopes.

There was no board, just the afterglow of some meal or thrill in the bedroom or in the car. Something to set the mood. Just as a nice rainy day in her youth might bring on a long session of spinning and moving plastic with her brother, a quiet, happy moment could sometimes tease out Marcie's playful, speculative side with me.

Usually such little sessions were preceded by her plopping into a seat on the couch as I read. Either under the pretense of reading our New Yorker, or after some time silently spent flipping through her movie book or the listings for her favorite theaters, she would push her feet into my lap.

Sometimes she put them under the book or magazine I read, sometimes pushing the item against my chest so that I made space. It didn't matter. I always surrendered, if sometimes with a touch of exasperation.

"Yes, my love?" I would ask, my stock indication that I was resigned to sating her desire for attention, or a favor, a massage, or any number of wants. One never could tell when Marcie's feet were involved. It could go anywhere from the feet.

"If you could have any house you wanted, what would it look like?" she usually asked.

Our first time having this conversation, two days before her birthday, elicited the grandiose response of a young man who thought law school and an MBA with an International Business focus might be a ticket to riches.

"It will look like a castle," I said. "It will have at least one drum tower, and it will be built with an open courtyard in the middle. The inside will be all wood, dark or slightly burned, with textured wallpaper in the narrow halls. Every corner will have a room, a dining room, a library, a music and dance room and a guest quarters, with an extra one in the tower. At the back will be a kind of keep, added onto the middle of the curtain wall, which will house the master bedroom, with French doors to the courtyard and a spiral stair to the second floor."

I remember she rolled her eyes, so I asked her, abit miffed, "If you could have a house built to your tastes, what would it look like?" I asked.

She looked around at her humble studio at Casa Arleda and smiled, "It would look like this," she said. "But it would be bigger and it would have a yard big enough for whatever animals I decided I wanted, and it would be screened from the street, but it would be near downtown or Hillcrest."

The next day, we toured the area and looked at the houses. She found one or two she liked, but thefact that she could see them detracted from their appeal in her eyes.

She asked every year, but rarely, in retrospect, more often than that.

The descriptions changed as we grew, and grew up, together. My homes became more modest, overgrown cocoons with vines and moving water around them, shelters from a place not kind to either of us, elaborate domestic shields against a callous and callow California outside our sanctum.

"What kind of house do you want us to have?" she asked me the year I married her. The message was clear. We no longer built for ourselves. This was for us now.

They were built in the city to make sure Marcie would be there, as she purported to hate the country. Now they incorporated more Victorian elements like window settees and complex inside woodwork. Now they had yards for animals we both wanted. Now we could speak for each other, because we had reached accommodation on accommodations.

Then, a bit over a year ago, as she suffered through her chemotherapy, she put her tired little feet in my hands and asked me a new question.

"What would the perfect house be like for you?" she asked, her eyes a little glazed from pain and exhaustion. I began rubbing her feet and gulped. I carefully avoided her cracked heels and little abrasions where skin had torn from being worn too thin.

I smiled and sighed, and she slapped her hand on the couch impatiently, "Honey, tell me before I fall asleep. I am tired and I don't feel good."

"It would always be warm and never too dry," I whispered hoarsely. "Every wall there would have ramps and resting spots for kitties, and every room would have a climber. There would be library with a chaise lounge for you and a big easy chair for me."

As she squinted and covered her eyes, I rubbed her feet and gulped. "I would let you decorate it, because you always do that so well. It would have a basement for my junk and a courtyard for your plants and a pool, and ivy would grow over it and give us a canopy so we could be outside without the sun."

I remember pushing her foot aside and sliding in next to her, burying her head in my shoulder and under my neck as I cuddled her and she shook.

"I can't think of a perfect home, or even one I could stand to live in for very long, without you and your love there to keep me happy," I said. "But any home we have together is perfect enough."

I covered her with blankets and held her for a long time, long past the point at which she fell asleep, wide awake, petting Seamus as he integrated himself into our snuggle. When she woke and I carried her into bed and tucked her in, I went too, despite the early afternoon hour.

She never asked me again. But because she was so ill around her birthday, and the memories of birthday seasons past played in my mind at her bedside in a Poway hospital, I thought of what I would say.

I believe that she would have asked had she not been knocked down so hard by the medical misstep by hospice. So I will answer her here and now, and hope she understands the lateness of it all.

My dear wife, my perfect home would be whatever place you have prepared for us. Festoon it with your trifles and decorate it with your tastes and interests, shape it however it will please you most. Construct a paradise to lure me, no matter my travels and my future here, no matter who or what consoles me in time.

Make for me, if you can, your perfect place, and I am sure that I will recognize it as the place I need to be when I come to it.

But if such a place is not to be, or cannot be, or cannot be shared when I pass, then there is no perfect place to worry about, and the mercy of oblivion is shelter enough.

Either way, I despair that no place seems balm enough to soothe me in your absence. I miss very badly our favorite, playful, loving game and the feel of your skin as I told you my dreams.



Lana Banana said...

I am very moved by your memorial . . . My thoughts and prayers are with you, even if we don't know each other.