What he wouldn't give to have some . . . sense of scope. Some perspicacity. But he could never see forward. Even the act of looking back--at how he had gotten himself hip-deep in muck, again and again--even that was hard for him to fathom.
~ Gregory Maguire from A Lion Among Men
Before Dad got sick, he spent a lot of time in his huge garage building something or fixing something or just tinkering. He had a lot of time to let his mind wander, and what it often wandered to was counting things. When we'd talk on the phone, he'd tell me what he had been counting:
Number of people he could seat in his house: 18
Number of cars he had owned in his entire life: About 100 (I don't remember exactly)
Number of marriages: 4
Number of houses he'd lived in: He told me but I forget
Number of kids: 8
Number of times he took road trips: A bunch
I've been doing my version of tinkering here in my blue room all day, sorting and tossing and filing. My mind wanders, but not to numbers of things. Here are a few things that came into my mind today:
Poems I've memorized
Friends I've written with
Whether or not I'll ever need this piece of paper with random notes on it
What I want to make for dinner
Whether ordinary people ever become enlightened
How much happier I am when I make meditating a habit
When Dad would do something particularly silly or strange - like pretending a new toilet plunger was a trumpet - he would turn to me with his sly grin and say, "I don't know why I do these things." If I had asked him why he counted things, he would probably have said the same thing: I don't know.
When I was a housewife with an infant and a toddler and my husband worked all day and went to law school four nights a week and I was desperate to remind myself that I still had a mind, I memorized these lines:
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
~ Opening lines to "Renascence" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
When I think of these lines, I am instantly in that apartment in Sunnyvale, polishing furniture while the kids napped. I can hear Mona's footsteps coming from her apartment to mine, the fast flip flip flip of her backless shoes. She comes in and leaves my door open, as hers is open, so she can hear her kids if they wake. She carries a small hinged box that has a mirror in the lid, and she sits at my kitchen table putting on her make-up and taking out her curlers. We talk while she gets ready for her husband to come home and I scrape old wax off of the kitchen linoleum with a table knife.
Maybe when Dad was tinkering in his garage, he would visit each of those houses he lived in and take rides in each of those cars. He often wished he could go back to when we were all kids, do it over again, do it right next time.
All those chairs - and he was so alone.