Whistle for me

She disapproved of my therapist relationship with Dr. Ralph. She thought we only had fascinating intellectual conversations, not leading, perhaps, to changes she wanted to see in me. She never met him, nor really knew what we talked about. Perhaps I reported inaccurately. Perhaps, also, it was clinical competitiveness. Apart from her own students, I never heard her praise another psychologist.

Where, oh where, are you now Dr. Ralph? I miss our weekly sessions. I miss our conversations. I miss your insights. I miss your uncanny ability to pull a Sondheim lyric out of the air as an exact analogy to what I was experiencing.

“Anyone can whistle, ” that’s what they say, “easy.”
“Anyone can whistle, any old day, easy.”
It’s all so simple.
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me, why can’t I?

I can dance a tango, I can read Greek, easy.
I can slay a dragon, any old week: easy.
What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me:
How to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free.
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me.


Once, when I was distraught over a romantic breakup—crazy distraught—he told me he knew from the beginning it would end this way. I asked him why he never told me, and he replied, “Because you were so happy.” He told me that he, too, when in graduate school at Harvard, had a sad, heart-breaking break-up. He asked his professor if the pain, the heartache, would ever go away, and the professor replied, “no, but you will grow bigger.”

Grow bigger.

Minutes ago I learned that a much loved and amazingly vital, loved by all, man at my swimming and rowing club has just today been stricken with a malignant brain tumor. He became disoriented after his morning swim in the Bay.  He’s had surgery, with complications, and remains heavily sedated in the ICU as I write this. It seems this year that every week there’s some new piece of terrible news. 2019 has been a bad year indeed.

How big does one have to grow?

Now, a day later, our friend is on life support, his family has said their goodbyes. He’s not going to make it.

Goodbye, Buck, we miss you already. Since I have been a member of the South End, we have lost Dave, Jim, Andy, Bobby, Dianna, others whom I knew less well; now Buck. Bob Roper’s memorial will forever be stained by being the day my wife told me she no longer loved me and wanted to end our marriage. A double death on the Dreaded 9th of February.  It’s time to leave this place of sad memories.

Dr. Ralph, I need you now. Before I go.


The Past Drawer

October 18, 2019.

Today would be my 5th wedding anniversary. While still technically married until the end of December, when the divorce my wife initiated becomes legally completed, this is not a day to celebrate. It’s a sad day. I intend to make it a hopeful day.

Without question my life benefited in many ways from my marriage to this woman. I am grateful to her for the many things now important in my life that she either facilitated or made possible for me. Yet, she chose to end our marriage, and with that declaration and act of ending, even without drama, there are consequences.

She doesn’t get a free pass to be part of my future community.  She chose to exit my life. I can accept her decision as “just what happened” only to the extent that it now exists as a piece of my past, and does not need to be carried into the future that I will create for myself.  She is being put in the “past drawer,” as Werner Erhard calls it.

I accept that whatever feelings I have for her—whether they are loving or bitter or both—are my own internal states. To be emotionless is to be dead. Equally, to let my emotions influence my behavior is to be histrionic and guided by passion rather than insight and intention.

She has disrupted my life in very consequential ways.  The disruption may ultimately be a good thing…but I will make it so, not because of what she did but because of what I do. She has traits that ought to have been fair warnings to me that either I didn’t see or saw and ignored. She isn’t my enemy, nor should she be shunned. But she is not my friend. Brenda remaining in my life does not improve my life. She had a time to play that part, and she did for a while, then she chose to exit the scene.  That play is over.

I do not wish her ill. I genuinely hope her decision to end our marriage, as distressing as it’s been for me, brings her some kind of peace. I doubt she will ever be happy, but that’s not for me to judge.

I will be more consequential not married to my wife.  I know that. Yet, knowing that is not the same thing as thanking her for dissolving our marriage.

For me, right now, the past drawer she where she will reside.

Put the past in the past.

R.I.P. October 18th.


The Gift Unwanted

I find myself in an ironic, conflicted state of mind. Despite the absence of sex and genuine affection, I liked being married to my wife. The status quo was OK.  I would have continued on for years in this state of —as Werner would say—tranquillized obliviousness.  Life had a routine, a comfortable sort of familiarity, its own petty pace.  It was almost like having a home.  Maybe I just liked being married.  As my wife let me know, married men live longer.

Now, on my own, my future is entirely in my hands.  Of course it always was. I let a relationship substitute for a future.  Having the possibility of creating a future for myself that wasn’t going to happen is a gift my wife gave me.  I didn’t want it, fought against it, suffered because of it.  I harbor complex emotions about her because of what she did. Instead I should simply be grateful.

Months ago I wrote in this chronicle about my gratitude to her for the many things in my life made possible by our relationship.  Her closest friend harshly criticized me for being “back-handed.”  That wasn’t my intention.  She opened the door to my near entire experience of California.  She introduced me to my best friend.  She re-introduced me to the joys of swimming in the Bay.  She initiated our adoption of a dog.  I’m even mostly vegan because of Brenda’s diet.

In the movie Beyond Rangoon, a Buddhist from Burma explains to a visiting American, “We are taught that suffering is the one promise life always keeps. So that if happiness comes we know it is a precious gift, which is ours only for a brief time.”

My happiness with my wife was a precious gift—which was ours only for a brief time. Being gone, the future is mine to write.


Move on

Last Saturday at Heart’s Desire Beach a South Ender I hardly know said to me, “Your wife  told me once, before she ever met you, that she didn’t do relationships well, that she was always trying to get it right.” The woman who told me this not too surprising revelation—many others have told me similar– is a therapist, and conjectured why this might be the case.  Knowing my wife better than she I thought she was off the mark, though the “not doing relationships well” bit was true to my experience.

A much more enlightening insight came from a swim coach who only knew my wife slightly from holiday dinners. He observed that many perfectionist athletes often fail at relationships, that the relationship, just as their own performance, rarely lives up to their expectations. They keep trying to improve, and improve, and improve; yet are never satisfied.

Little did he even know of her serial approach to sport (as with men.) From ju-jitsu, to technical climbing, to cycling, to swimming, to marathon running, to rowing. Accomplish one and move on. Never satisfied.

There’s a pattern here: many sports/many husbands and lovers. Keep moving on. Never satisfied.

Maybe she’ll get one of them right someday.

Accidents and Happenstance

I am the ordinary son of an ordinary man. Which is pretty self-evident, I know. But, as I started to unearth that fact, it became clear to me that everything that had happened in my father’s life and in my life was accidental. We live our lives this way: viewing things that came about through accident and happenstance as the sole possible reality.

To put it another way, imagine raindrops falling on a broad stretch of land. Each one of us is a nameless raindrop among countless drops. A discrete, individual drop, for sure, but one that’s entirely replaceable. Still, that solitary raindrop has its own emotions, its own history, its own duty to carry on that history. Even if it loses its individual integrity and is absorbed into a collective something. Or maybe precisely because it’s absorbed into a larger, collective entity.

Occasionally, my mind takes me back to that looming pine tree in the garden of our house in Shukugawa. To thoughts of that little kitten, still clinging to a branch, its body turning to bleached bones. And I think of death, and how very difficult it is to climb straight down to the ground, so far below you that it makes your head spin. 

(Haruki Murakami. Translated, from the Japanese, by Philip Gabriel. October 2019)



Today my life is entirely up in the air, far up that tree above the ground, the ground I used to know as my reality. I have some points of contact, a general destination, an aim and an ambition. Much ahead is a leap of faith—not faith in a god that might guide a safe landing, but faith in myself to navigate a way forward, to find a new reality.

It seems foolish to spend much time worrying about any idea of reality. It’s just what’s happening now. Accidents and happenstance. It’s happenstance that my wife decided to end our marriage. Yet happenstance has consequences, too, which are real and chart a new basis of reality. The old reality no longer exists or has any meaning. “I shall not regret the past.”

I don’t have to like it, only accept it. I don’t have to like her anymore, only accept her as she is. Her decision has defined a new reality, for both of us. I don’t have to forgive her because forgiveness isn’t part of the equation. Nor do I have to condemn her because condemnation implies a moral high ground that I don’t, and can’t, occupy.

It’s all just happenstance, the way the world turns when you can’t ever see it turning. The points on the horizon looked the same to me. I never saw them growing fainter, more distant. Someone else was turning the wheels. Someone else was looking at a different horizon.

The idea of home is just an idea. Or no home. The reality of “home” exists in my head not in any physical building or place. It’s an idea I long for. I haven’t had a home in a long time, not even when married. Yes I had a place where I lived but never a home.

I was entirely replaceable; and that was only an accident and happenstance: absorbed into the collective reality of the dispossessed.

It’s time to climb down that tree onto firm ground, and not stay aloft, clinging to my branch, turning into little but bleached bones.


No heart for speech

…but a thought
Of that late death took all my heart for speech.


This morning I learned that the daughter of good South End friend was killed in a horrific car accident on the major highway running from San Francisco through Silicon Valley. The why is unknown but she was driving southbound in the northbound lanes and crashed head on into a taxi with two passengers. All four people involved were killed.

I have no words for this, no words for my friend that could possibly help. It’s every parent’s nightmare. I didn’t know the daughter, but my thoughts aren’t about her. She’s gone, tragically. My thoughts are with my friend her mother.

Coming on top of my own son’s cancer diagnosis last month only deepens the idea of loss, the feelings of helplessness and despair. Adam underwent his first chemo infusion last Friday and seems to be faring as well as to be expected; maybe even better than expected. His spirits are good, he’s maintaining his medical school routine, his life is being lived as normal. We had dinner together last night and all was as it should be. It’s a crisis that brings us all even closer together. As it should be.

We only have one another in this life, our family, our friends, our fellowships. To abandon those bonds in pursuit of some private aim is truly a moral failing, a failing of the universe to hold us together.

To abandon the man who loved her was my wife’s failing. What do we have if we don’t have one another? To not try, to reject love, to seek solitude and perhaps even loneliness…why?

I’m told over and over that she was never kind to me, that I was looking for something she could never give me, that the intimacy and affection I sought was never there and could never be there, that the damage my wife had endured in her life grew her protective armor only harder and harder through the years. There was no way, never a way, I could break through, and that my trying, and need to break through, drove her away.

Knowing this now, being alone might be better. But at times like this, in times of family crisis, and crisis with friends, having the support and simply being-there companionship of being married would be a comfort. Not to be.

Her vision was too clear to contemplate remaining together.

So tonight I remain alone; perhaps she is, too; or perhaps she’s tending to the needs of a former now gravely ill lover. Maybe he’s no longer living, I don’t know.

I’m listening to Jessye Norman sing Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs. Jessye Norman, too, died last week. Strauss died before the songs were first performed. My friend Ray calls them the end of Romanticism. They are otherworldly beautiful.

There are many ends to the end of romanticism.

An empty seat


It’s always young women who offer me a seat on standing room only crowded BART trains or MUNI buses. Never young men, who remain seated, cocooned in their obliviousness by whatever screen they’re attached to. The young men never even look up, even when they’re sitting in the marked senior/disabled seats as they often are.

This courtesy however comes with the harsh realization that a kind young woman has regarded me as a senior; in other words, old. Of course I am a senior, in biological years, yet am always surprised when asked if I’d like to sit down. Of course I don’t want to sit down…or am ready to admit that a seat would be nice. I always decline.

Gertrude Stein once said, “We’re always the same age inside.” Inside I’m not a senior. Maybe…35? 45? Certainly not a teenager, or even twenty-something. To regain those years could only be contingent on knowing what I know now and applying that knowledge (wisdom?) forward. Maybe I would make the same mistakes, but it would be with some foreknowledge of the end game.

Being a senior comes with some relief, too. I’m not hopeful about the world in general to wish to be young today. I fear for my grandchildren. Irreversible climate change. Erosion of democratic principles and practice. Scarcity of needed resources. Environmental catastrophe. The lowering of civil discourse. Population growth. Resurgent nationalism. Cancer. Republicans. Trump.

The daily news is a heavy dose of depression and anxiety.

There’s heartbreak, too. Reading a story I wrote about another time and another loss, a friend of mine wrote the other day, “My sincere hope for you in this very difficult year is that these many reflections bring clarity and not disappointment and being disillusioned. You are walking a new path with new knowledge.”

Clarity. Disappointment. Disillusioned. New Knowledge.

Clarity and disappointment might be the same thing—though clarity is a word I never want to hear. It’s the word my wife used to confirm her decision not to try to find a new future for our marriage. Clarity of vision. Her vision. And yes, that was disappointing, heartbreaking.

Disillusioned? Love seems to be a disillusion. That it’s so ephemeral, inconstant, unsustaining. That marriage vows mean nothing, can be so easily broken. That one must be in love or out of love. That relationships require “equity” to be maintained, to make the effort “worthwhile.” My wife said our marriage had no equity, and therefore was not worth saving. That is disillusionment.

So perhaps, just perhaps, being a senior means not being disillusioned for too many more years. And finding a path to that new knowledge before it’s too late.