Monday, April 30, 2007


It’s a rainy, dreary day, and I’m in a rainy, dreary mood. A year ago today was the last day Lisa was fully conscious, and the last day she spoke coherently. At least — and I will always be profoundly grateful for this — she was never in pain. The tumor was in the brain stem, shutting down the body functions that aren’t consciously controlled; we were told — less than 36 hours before — that she would simply get more and more tired and eventually fall asleep and not wake up. And that’s exactly what happened: an easier end than many, but hard enough to bear.

I wish we had had more time to talk about it. She had been so determined to live that we didn’t really talk about the possibility of her death until the very end, and it was a jumble, trying to fit in years of thought and philosophy and comfort into about 36 hours. At the same time, I’m glad it was quick. I grew up with tornadoes, not hurricanes; I understand how to deal with random, intense devastation, dropping out of nowhere and gone again in an instant. Lisa and I went through one hurricane together (Gloria), and I thought I would go out of my mind after four hours of it. I don’t know if I could have handled a longer dying — and yet I’d have given anything for a little more time together. It’s not that I feel there was much of anything left unsaid — I think we got through the crucial stuff — but there’s stuff I would have said better, and more of, if we had had more time.

I saw a newspaper story recently that said that the bereaved felt not depression, but yearning, and certainly that’s been true for me. I yearn for her, I ache for her presence, I listen for her in spite of myself. I still think of emailing her with new ideas, or look up from a book to tell her she has to read this one. Last week, I bought a new mystery, and realized it was more for her than for me.

And yet, I’m making new starts. For the first time in nearly 30 years, I’m meeting people who have never known Lisa. And, to be honest, I’m enjoying them. I do think about how much Lisa would have liked them, but I’m also enjoying them for their own sake. I spent a weekend with people from the knitters’ list, and had a wonderful time. I have begun work on two novels that Lisa never knew about; I’ve finished a short story she never saw.

The last thing Lisa said was, “Thank everybody.” I think I have as much or more to be grateful for, so I offer my thanks as well. Thanks to all my friends, old friends and new ones, the ones who knew Lisa and the ones who didn’t. Thanks for being yourselves: it makes all the difference.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Today's Portsmouth Herald (print edition) leads off with the headline "Working with Anna Nicole: Exeter native stars in 'Illegal Aliens.'" Accompanying the story are two stills from the film, though, to be fair, neither one makes more use than necessary of Smith's assets.

Below that is a large picture of Mitt Romeny, with the caption/headline "Romney Makes 1st Local Stop of '08 Run."

Next to the Romney photo is the headline "Gays can say 'I do' in N.H.: Civil unions OK'd in Senate; Lynch to sign."

I'm glad someone has their priorities (dare we say?) straight.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's the Little Things

(I haven’t been posting much lately because of my job with the CPAs. Now that tax season is past, I hope to get caught up on the entries I’ve been imagining over the last few weeks....)

It’s never a good idea to speak too loudly about one’s good fortune, because it’s bound to come back and bite you. This time, I made the mistake of commenting (to my mother) that despite the windy weather, the pilot light in the furnace had not blown out. For good measure, I added, “which is a really good thing, because it was Lisa who knew how to relight it.” Such a remark is asking for trouble.

Three nights later, on a Saturday evening, I noticed that the house was a little colder than usual. Since the house gets cold right before the heat comes on, I waited. Nothing happened. I went to the thermostat and pushed the lever until I heard the “click.” I waited some more, and nothing happened. By now, I pretty much knew what was going on, but nonetheless I went into the bedroom and checked the thermometer there, just in case I was hallucinating the chill. The temperature was 59F.

The pilot light was out.

For a few vain minutes, I wondered if I could wait until Monday and call the repairman to show me how to do it, but if it was already 59, and tempereatures were expected to be in the low 30s overnight (again, Fahrenheit), that probably wasn’t a good idea. I thought about calling the repair guy right then and there, but it was Saturday night, and that meant serious overtime — again, not a good idea. Besides, Lisa always swore the pilot light was actually easy to relight... once you’d done it.

And that was the catch. I hadn’t actually done it myself, though we’d talked about it a few times, and I knew that (1) there were instructions on the inside of the furnace door and (2) you hold the red button down for at least 60 seconds. I’d never seen the red button, mind you, but I knew it had to be held down firmly and for a full minute. Armed with this knowledge, I headed downstairs to the basement.

I should add that this isn’t a finished basement. It’s more of a cellar, really, with a concrete floor and fieldstone walls and a habit of flooding when the storm drains get too full. (But that’s another story.) The washer and dryer live down here, which has more to do with lack of space upstairs than the intrinsic habitability of the basement, and it should tell you something that this is where I had the plumbers put the cheap new sink I intend to use for dying fabric. Oh, yes, and the cats’ boxes are down here, too, along with lots of gardening supplies and Christmas ornaments and miscellaneous tools and scrap lumber and other junk.

So you can imagine how much fun it was to come downstairs and discover that the best way to gain access to the furnace was to sit on the floor. But I had found a flashlight, and there was an obvious handle, so I successfully removed the furnace cover and turned it over to read the instructions.

Steps 1 and 2 (turn down the heat and remove the cover) were already done. Step 3 was “Follow the gas line to find the pilot light. Remove cover if present.” I found the gas line — it was right next to a knob that said “pilot” and “on,” and next to that was the mysterious red button — but the gas line went back into the depths of the furnace, between the burners and behind a rusty piece of solid metal. After some fumbling with the flashlight and a pair of kitchen tongs (to hold the matches), I realized this was the cover (to be removed if present), and finally figured out that the spring-thing sticking out from it was in fact the handle by which it could be removed.

And, voila! The pilot light! Stone cold dead, but definitely the pilot light. At this point, I think I would have been happier if it had been on, so that I could have called the repairman with a clear conscience.

The next step seemed simple: turn the knob to “pilot,” hold down the red button, and immediately light the pilot light. I patted myself on the back for knowing that you had to hold the button down for a full minute to keep the pilot lit, and then took a deep breath and did as I was told.

Nothing happened.

I did it again.

Still nothing. So I did it a few more times, all without result.

Then I lay down on the floor and peered into the furnace (using the flashlight) to make sure that this was in fact the pilot. There was nothing else that could be a pilot light, and it matched the little picture on the inside of the furnace door. So I turned the knob to “pilot,” held down the red button, and lit yet another match.

And nothing happened.

By now, I was accumulating quite a pile of spent matches, and the cellar was definitely getting cold. I was beginning to wonder just how cold it might get by Monday, and exactly how much the repair guy would charge me for a Saturday night call, anyway. And then I looked at the knob again. I was turning it to “pilot,” all right, but only to the “t.” Maybe, just maybe, you had to turn it further. So I lit another match, grasped it firmly in the kitchen tongs, and turned the knob past “t” to “p.” There was a definite, gratifying hiss. I mashed the red button down, stuck the match into the pilot light — and it lit! Of course, I was in an incredibly awkward position to keep holding the red button (I hadn’t really expected it to work), but I held it down while I counted to sixty, and then let go.

The pilot stayed lit. I sat for a moment, smiling at that pretty little flame, and then realized I had to put it all back together again. But, you know, Lisa was right. Once you’ve done it, it’s not that bad.