Now when did I begin to walk for a paper? Maybe when my back began to to act up? Recall someone saying exercise might help. 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 hike.
And just when was it that we moved back here? Goodness, I think Nixon was still President. And Martha’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’. And 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 her being away from home for the first time. Seemed softer those first years at college. But it’s been Patricia and not Patsy for a long long time now.
* * *
I do remember her christening, though, and the reception at our house after. Theater, that’s what it was. All that work just so everything could be perfect for the new daughter of the wannabe big cheese. And yes, that's when we hired Martha to keep the caterers on their toes.
In fact I often think about that, Charles. You gloated that our senior senator made a political point with his presence. But I'd also remember his joke about our redneck congressman Willie Wheater. So I'm sure you remember later that night when I told you 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 Wheater! Charles, you just couldn’t imagine Willie and me, could you?
Willie and this little wisp of a girl. But times were so different back then. And maybe we didn’t date long enough for things to go wrong. We just needed each other. Me to find a door into loving someone outside my family and him to share his dreams and troubles. He had no shortage of troubles in the trailer camp living with his dad after his mother died.
I also recall Father wasn’t concerned about us dating or at least he never said so, and even hired Willie at the factory one summer. Mother, she was a different story…saying 'about time’ when she heard he'd left for trade school. Didn't know I hadn’t been seeing Willie for almost a month because of some silly argument we'd had. But we were teenagers…
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? Maybe that's when you started calling me ‘Lizzie’ or not long after. A pet name, you said. Maybe pet's a safer category...
* * * *
Another block and in this heat! Darn this walker! Reverend Scott tells me I'm being contrary. But Martha does keep saying Doctor Wilson did let me use my canes for far too long.
Come to think about doctors, though, there's another thing…I was never shy when Doc Wilson examined me. Told me once that our bodies take on a patina when they age just like old silver but the worth still shines through. Peculiar idea but somehow a bit of comfort.
The smart new doctor Patsy has arranged for me…never wants to hear me say I'm old. At eighty-seven? Really? And I’m always a 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 passed and long after Charles had gone…invited himself right out of the blue. And there was Martha in the kitchen grinning like a Cheshire cat and saying that there widower's not here to admire your china. She’d always liked Willie, maybe because they were both from what some folk used to call the other side. Him from the trailer camp, Martha from the Projects.
Willie and I 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 still couldn’t remember what the heck we’d argued about way back when, before he’d left for trade school. Didn’t surprise me…had been hanging in the air. Said I’d no idea either…
But our old intimacy was gone. Just 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? Are you shocked to hear me use the word Charles?
You must 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, he and I, we made love…and more than once too. Eventually I forgave myself for that fling by calling it my R&R… respite from robot. Maybe 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 kind of weather? An inversion? That's it...and I teased Patsy and asked if inversion was the opposite of the missionary position. She looked shocked…Mother doing it? And Charles , you once muttered that sex can be a lot of fuss about very little. Were you talking about yourself ?Now that is worth a chuckle…
I can't remember when Patsy started calling me Lizzie. But it was well after she’d divorced her Tony and ended her fling with the Arts world. How Charles not-so-subtly maligned Tony. I liked him...thought he was cute...had very inappropriate thoughts for a mother-in-law!
But they drifted apart, especially after she had moved to the State Prosecutor's office. Do recall the news article...Senator's girl on her way up. Girl? And there were no tears after the divorce. Tears go into the garbage along with Mumsy, Patsy?
* * *
Oh, and look. The boy and his mother outside Rumbles… and see his ice cream’s melting! This is a strange day…
Oh, my sweet Paulie…
Patsy, I think you once asked me back then, who's my favorite? Probably said I could love and cry for both of you…and that’s all I'd say even today. How does one measure the love for their child?
Those brothers on TV…what was that show…something like Smuckers...recall one of the funny bits about a brother telling the other how their mother liked him best. Thought then no mother alive could laugh and not feel a bit guilty for it.
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 about what might happen when he grew up—but he was clever and you did brag about that.
But just a boy in most ways. As Martha said once, Miss Elizabeth, that boy may be 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 when your heart was set on something. Child, you could charm a turkey into the oven…occasionally wondered to myself if you might even outdo your father in politics or something.
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 afternoon…there was no stoplight then. All we know is what he testified and he could never say clearly then or after. I do remember though that it was hot, like today. My goodness, 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 a treat at Rumbles? Sammy said what he remembered was you waiting beside him for the traffic to clear. Then he heard you yell Mommy…and you 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 you did get one thing hushed up, Charles...my boy in my arms and me screaming at the black boy who’d been driving the van. But I only could see the red staining Paulie’s blond hair and the boy standing there frozen.
Martha, you understood and forgave without my asking. But I've never quite forgiven myself and I doubt I ever will.
* * *
At the funeral—even more theater, Charles. Holding your hand beside the coffin and then you hesitating a moment...so cameras could get a better picture? Me dead inside and almost too bitter for tears, then walking down the aisle behind the casket. But in the doorway came the purest gift I have ever received.
Or was it just plain luck that I saw them far back from the steps outside the church? The boy and his mother. He was holding her hands and she was crying. Their faces were stricken but in his eyes was what I know now was pleading. And for reasons that only God knows, I dropped your hand and walked to them.
We stood there 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. And maybe it was that simple acknowledgement 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 hope so. Leaving for the cemetery and with Patsy already in the limo, you offered your hand to me. And then you bent over and whispered, almost smiling '"Lizzie, that was absolutely perfect…and before the cameras left the grounds".
To this day I don't know exactly what happened. But I can still relive the black fury that swept over me—because finally I clearly saw what you were—and what you were not. And I may have struck you. I do know that it was the last time I ever let you touch me. Ever.
Did you think I wept over the grave for Paulie? Charles, 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.
* * *