an empty chair

blue chair

This morning, in beautiful sunlight, I asked John to take some photographs of me. I need one for the cover of Blue Portugal and it seems dishonest to use an older one. Does anyone ever like photographs of themselves? Who is the person we imagine we’ll see when we look at what the camera has found? It wasn’t me this morning. Who was that woman with her droopy eyes and tight smile? I didn’t know her. Maybe we’ll try again another day. But looking out after I’d said, No more!, I saw my Steller’s jay friend on a branch behind the chair we’d used (blue after all…) and I tried to focus on the bird, snapped the empty chair instead.

Late yesterday afternoon I finished a draft of an essay I began last week, an essay about how we went into Vancouver in mid-October for John’s scheduled double hip replacement surgery at UBC Hospital and what happened after. It’s long. It might not be any good and it might be too personal. But I felt that I was doing something worthwhile as I wrote, remembered, consulted daybooks and medical instructions. I’ve called it “Seams” because I was making two quilts at the same time, I was changing the dressings on John’s incisions, and I was reading about a geological occurrence called tension gashes, when rock stretches and veins of quartzite or calcite “stitch” the resulting fractures.

Here’s a little bit of the essay from the last section.

What we did. We went from home with equipment we’d borrowed or bought, we wore our masks into the hospital where you were taken away to be opened and given new hips, and when you woke, you had no feeling in your right foot. For a week you got out of your bed in a high ward and you learned how to move in a new way, helped by men who were strong and kind and who taught you to adjust for your injury, who taught you to use the stairs, to lie on your bed and teach your legs to work again. Sometimes you cried, because it hurt and because you were disoriented. I did too, for those reasons and others. At night you were alone. At night I was alone, stitching, or reading about a woman who entered hell and returned, parts of her body missing. When we came home to the house we built 4 decades ago, we were not the same.“Diagnosis,” said Anne Boyer, “takes information from our bodies and rearranges what came from inside of us into a system imposed from far away.” But I remember after the second hospitalization, after your heart had stopped fluttering like a frightened bird in your chest and after the foxglove had become habit and after your doctor told you to consider yourself no longer at risk, just take your medications, and after we’d learned a new pattern for our days and nights, we held hands in our bed, the stars as bright as they’d always been, Christmas coming, owls in the darkness, and it was each other we loved, the beauty of our fire in the mornings, poetry some afternoons as you read me Louise Gluck or I read you Stanley Kunitz:

The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only...

14 thoughts on “an empty chair”

  1. I too feel like a different person since my diagnosis of incurable macular degeneration. Who is that woman? Suddenly older–her actual biological age. And who is she in the mirror, with her long craggy hair? Yesterday I hugged my daughter. First hug in over a year. Imagine!

    1. I’ve cut my own hair twice in the past year, just bending over and cutting what falls forward. Needless to say it’s not a good look! Lucky to see your daughter!

  2. Oh gosh, can I ever relate about seeing ourselves in photos and wondering who in the world is that person? How did I become this?

    Your writing is quietly delightful and yet intriguing all at once. I always feel a refreshing sigh at the final sentence. Such is your talent with writing.

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