When did I begin to walk for a paper? Maybe when my back began to to act up? But eighty-seven and counting…can’t complain. For sure not to Martha unless I want another lecture on how it's time to quit what she calls my daily hike. So when was it we moved back here? Goodness, I think Nixon was still President. And she's still nagging me!
When Patsy’s visits, though, I never mention old times…or for sure she'll come up with something like, ‘Oh, Lizzie, do something new to keep your mind active’. I know she means well...even though she calls me Lizzie. Why don’t I tell her it bothers me?
Was always Mummy when she was a child…and even Mumsy a few times during her years at Stamford…‘Hi Mumsy, it’s Patsy’. Foolish...but does make me smile. Maybe it was being away from home for the first time. She seemed softer those first years at college. But now it’s Patricia. Not Patsy...not for a long long time...
* * *
But how I remember her christening! And the reception at our house afterwards. All that work so everything perfect for the daughter of the wannabe big cheese. That's when we hired Martha...to keep the caterers on their toes.
I often think of that night, Charles. You gloated the senior senator made a political point by coming. But I also remember the joke about our redneck congressman that you chimed in with. So you also remember as I told you later that night about my high school crush on that very same redneck?
How you blew up! Said I should be ashamed to even mention it. And then going on about how could a father let a young girl hang out with a low-life like Willie Wheater! Charles, you just couldn’t imagine Willie and me, could you? Willie and this little wisp of a girl.
Times were so different back then. And we just needed each other. Me to find a door into loving someone outside my family. Him to share his troubles. No shortage of troubles in that trailer camp with his dad after his mother had passed.
And Father wasn’t concerned about us together...at least he never said so...even hired Willie at the factory one summer. Mother, she was a different story…said 'about time’ when he left for trade school. She didn't know I hadn’t seen Willie for almost a month...we'd had some silly teenage argument...
But that night after the christening, Charles, did you get pulled up a bit? Maybe saw me as something more than a political necessity? Did it make you a bit nervous? Do believe that's about when you began calling me ‘Lizzie’ or not long after. A pet name, you said. Was pet a safer category?
* * * *
Another block and in this heat! Darn this walker! Reverend Scott tells me I'm being contrary. But Martha kept saying Doc Wilson was letting me use my canes far too long. Come to think, there's another thing…I was never shy with Doc Wilson. Told me once our bodies take on a patina when they age like old silver..but the worth is still there. Peculiar idea... but was somehow a bit of comfort...
Now there's the smart new doctor Patsy arranged for me…she never wants to hear me say I'm old. At eighty-seven? Really? And I’m always a wee bit nervous around her. Will I wake up cloned some day? Where will me be then?
Still remembering Willie?
He came to visit some two years after his Mary had passed and long after Charles had gone. Invited himself without even an invite. And Martha in the kitchen grinning like a Cheshire cat, chuckling that widower's not here to admire your china. She always liked Willie, maybe because both were from what some used to call the other side. Him from the trailer camp and Martha from the projects.
Willie and I, we reminisced about the town and about Patsy and about his boys, and how he was working on a Federal housing project. Then out of the blue he stammered that he couldn't remember what we'd argued about way back before he’d left for trade school. It didn’t surprise me…said I’d no idea either…
But the old intimacy was gone. Too many spent days wrapped around us, muffling our hopes. He's passed now too.
* * * *
Oh yes, the christening. Yes, Charles, I’m pretty sure that‘s when you started with Lizzie instead of Elizabeth. As though you had to put me in another frame. Too much danger with an Elizabeth woman…might be tempted to screw one of your aides?
Shocked to hear me use the word, Charles? Well, you may remember Richard Billings? You fired him after almost five years of fund raising when he said he wasn't comfortable in the new money game. That’s true, he wasn’t.
Well, Charles, Richard and I, we screwed. More than once too. Eventually I forgave myself for that fling. Called it my R&R… respite from robot. I suppose you never saw me flinch when you joked you were a meat and potatoes kind of lover?
My goodness, it's hazier even than yesterday. What do they call this weather? An inversion? That's it. Oh, once I teased Patsy by asking if inversion was opposite to the missionary position. She looked shocked…Mother doing it? And Charles, recall you quipped once that sex could be a lot of fuss about very little. Were you talking about yourself? Now that is worth a chuckle…
But I can't remember when Patsy began calling me Lizzie. Certainly it was well after she’d divorced Tony. Charles, you not-so-subtly maligned Tony. I thought he was cute...even had a few very inappropriate thoughts for a mother-in-law...
But they drifted apart, especially when she moved to the State Prosecutor's office. Do recall the newspaper article about Senator's girl on her way up. Girl? And there were no tears after the divorce. Did the tears go into the garbage along with Mumsy, Patsy?
* * *
Oh, over there...the boy and his mother, outside Rumbles. And his ice cream’s melting! Oh, just a little like my sweet Paulie? This is a strange day...
Patsy, I remember back when you were maybe ten asking who did I like best, you or Paulie. Probably said I could love and cry for both of you…that’s all I'd say even today.
How can anyone measure their love for their child? Those brothers on TV…what was that show…something like Smuckers? But do recall one part when one brother complains to the other how their mother liked him best. And I thought then no parent alive could laugh and yet not feel a little guilty.
Darn this haze…getting worse by the minute. There's the store…get the paper…soon home. Where you hardly ever were, Charles. Too many levers to pull on the Hill. And you never seemed easy around Paulie as he got a little older…like he didn't fit your pattern. I worried even then what might happen when he grew up—but he was clever and you certainly did love to brag about that.
But just a child in most ways. As Martha once said , Elizabeth, that boy is bright and a light in the house...but he’s no angel. Oh, I knew that, whose is? You were ferocious if taunted and more than a wee bit free with the truth if your heart was set on something. Paulie, you could charm a turkey into the oven…wondered a bit you might even outdo your father in politics. Or maybe something better..
And energy.. so rambunctious and then some. Dear God, if only not quite so much. If only.
Old Sammy Wilkot was on the crossing that day…there was no stoplight then. All we know is what he testified, and he couldn't say clearly then or after. I do remember though it was hot, like today.
My goodness...feel a little faint...maybe should have listened to Martha.
But why'd I decide that day of all days to surprise you after school with an ice cream cone at Rumbles? Sammy said all what he remembered was you waiting beside him for the traffic to clear. Then he said you yelled Mommy…and darted out to cross the street. Paulie, you saw me coming out of Rumbles, didn't you?
Must stop this crying…they’re staring. But, Charles, you did get one thing hushed up from the papers. My child in my arms, screaming at the black boy who’d been driving the van. But I only saw the red staining Paulie’s blond hair... and the boy standing there frozen.
Martha, you understood and I know forgave me without my asking. But I've never quite forgiven myself and I doubt I ever will.
* * *
At the funeral—more theater, Charles. Holding your hand beside the coffin, then your pausing a moment. Was it so the cameras could get a better picture? Me dead inside and almost too bitter for tears as we followed the casket down the aisle. But in the doorway there came the purest gift I've ever received from above.
Or was it just plain luck I saw them, far back from the steps outside the church? The boy and his mother. He was holding her hand and she was crying. Their faces were stricken, but in his eyes was what I realized was pleading. And for reasons only God knows, I let go your hand and walked toward them.
We stood with our hands joined for maybe a minute. And for the first time during those three terrible days came the thought I may actually survive this. Was it simple admission of mutual pain that began my slow trek to forgiveness?
Charles, what happened next...did it haunt some corner of your mind for the rest of your days? I surely hope so. As we left for the cemetery and with Patsy already in the limo, you offered your hand to help me in. And as you bent over, you smiled and whispered, '"Lizzie, that was absolutely perfect…and before the cameras left the grounds".
To this day I don't know exactly what happened next. But I can still revive the black fury that swept over me—because at last I could clearly see what you were. And what you were not. I may have tried to strike you. But I do know it was the very last time I ever let you touch me. Ever.
Charles, did you think that day at the graveside that I was weeping for Paulie ? I know better now. Yes, I wept for Paulie. But I also wept for Patsy. And for me. And for all those empty years.
And perhaps a little for Willie, too.
* * *