Today was Thanksgiving. My daughter and I feasted at the assisted living home where my aunt Jean lives — a mild, merely warm repast. Jean gets more frail every day. There were several people there who had no visitors. Dorothy (a pleasant, tidy woman who spends her day doing Sudoku in the sun room) was sitting in a chair staring at the carpet. I went to her and asked if she was all right. “Why do you ask?” she smiled. “You look sad.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Do you miss people?” I asked her. She looked down, unable to speak for a moment. I took her hands. “They miss me,” she said. Every once in a while I am reminded of what the residents have left behind; husbands, children and grandchildren, houses, friends, hobbies, music, privacy, home cooking. Most of the time they cope nicely, but Thanksgiving got to Dorothy. “Thank you,” she said, “I will pray for you.”
Back in my daughter’s apartment, we we shopped online for Christmas presents (I felt hypocritical doing that after complaining about the commercialization of Thanksgiving, but we saved hundreds of dollars), and watched six episodes of season 3 of Downton Abbey, a television series my husband, Terry, would never be caught watching. We Facetimed friends and family, and I came back to my apartment, which is right across the hall from hers, thank goodness.
I had not heard from Terry all day and was curious more than anything. Australia is 16 hours away and across the International Date Line and I had trouble orienting his day to mine. Finally, at 10:30 in the evening, he called, full of apologies that they hadn’t found easy Internet access or cellphone connection. Only his friend Peter’s phone worked. I sensed that he had been anxious, but I told him not to worry for one second about not calling sooner. “I know what it’s like to travel, and I know no news is good news. I won’t worry about you, and I’m fine.” I didn’t want him altering his plans to chase connection. The last few years were the first in our now-long lives during which we could hope to have convenient, reasonably priced daily conversations while on such a distant voyage. How quickly it has become commonplace to maintain constant contact. It is nice, but perhaps also intrusive on our individual experiences to be waiting for a phone call or searching for Internet connection while on an odyssey like this one.
It is ironic that Terry is in Australia, not I. My first husband, Ernest, my children’s father, was Australian and both children are dual citizens, though neither I nor they have ever been to Australia. The only person I know from those days is Tory. We were friends in Athens, Greece for several years. She married a Greek, returned to Australia, divorced the Greek, and is now a cowgirl on a station west of Sydney. We write once a decade. Ernest was proud of his nationality, though he had no desire to return there and had lost touch with his Australian family and friends. After our bitter divorce I heard little about Australia, but hoped that my children and I would go there some day. Australia has been a benign shadow which was now coming alive for my husband Terry, not for my children and me. To assuage Terry’s guilt about going off on such an adventure without me I said, “Consider this a scouting trip.”
Our phone call was short, but I learned that the gardens at the ashram in Melbourne where they are staying for a few days (Peter’s visit to Australia has to do with his being on the Board of a yoga group) were the most beautiful he had ever seen. “You’ll love them. We’ll come back together.”
He is having an experience that renews his life, and I am too. I think I am over my “Eat cupcakes and cookies” phase of life alone, and will embark on Friday on a trip of my own — four days at the yoga/meditation retreat Kripalu in Lennox, Massachusetts.
He signed off, “I love you, dear.” Yes, it does seem that after the romantic maelstroms of my early and middle adulthood, I have found my unicorn. That is the title of my book, Searching for the Unicorn. Symbol of true love, of the only imagined perfect and pure. I thought that true love existed nowhere but in my imagination, but maybe I have the closest thing that exists on this messy, often disappointing earth of ours.