Sunday Evening at Home

Saturday evening at home, listening to Keith Jarrett playing Handel’s Suites for Keyboard, part of Ray’s CD legacy. UPS delivered four large boxes of CD’s yesterday, hundreds of CD’s, packed and shipped by Ray’s executor Tom, who’s performing a labor of love cleaning out Ray’s so well appointed Pacific Heights apartment, the apartment where Ray lived thirty-six years, with its views of the Bay and Golden Gate off the tiny balcony. The music is Ray’s presence, not a substitute but a comforting feeling of Ray being here in the piano notes. To be the custodian of this musical legacy is an honor I didn’t expect.

I’m home from having had dinner with Sam and family. Sam made for the first time homemade lasagna. The twins were dubious, never having had lasagna before. We told them it was a spaghetti sandwich. Still dubious. Eventually they finished their dinners though not with pleasure, only as a way station on the route to a promised dessert. Sam, Saga, and I on the other hand had seconds.

The otherwise quiet of the apartment, with the Handel piano playing, is peaceful. It’s [x]’s sixty-fifth birthday today. Of course I’m thinking of her, how could I not be. I don’t miss her, though I miss the idea of being married, in the abstract. I can let my imagination conger up the ideal partner, a fiction. Reality is never ideal. Was it ever real? I had ideal for a time. It was brief and it was worth it, worth the heart pain that came later. To have had it remains better than never having experienced that first flush of passion, that first kiss. Maybe there is only ever the one time, the first time, and everything after is a photocopy of the original.

Maybe what [x] offered could never have filled the void left empty and sad inside me. It was different, not less than, simply different. And that made all the difference. I tried to fill it with her, and the very trying was an undoing, an unwanted togetherness that I couldn’t comprehend. The water was too cold.

The man I share with my few guy friends is not the same man who was once with three women. Nor was that man the same man with each of the three women in his life. Different woman/different man. Moments of perfection—perhaps that’s all we get if we’re lucky.

With my male friends perfection, peak experience, isn’t required. With my closest friends—there are only a few—there’s a mental oneness that communicates without words. When I moved to Boston Ray told me he wouldn’t any longer know who to talk to about the things we spoke about, the same line communication without explanation. We simply knew. Charleston. No, not the city in South Carolina. Vanessa Bell’s house. Billy Budd. Benjamin Britten’s opera, not the novella.

The piano music permeates the house, and my memories.

Nothing she ever did evokes similar.

Why I Don’t Unfriend Facebook


This morning I opened Facebook to discover something remarkable, a message from the past that I welcomed with a smile.

Years ago—more than twelve years ago—when I worked at FCB’s offices on Herald Square in Manhattan, I would frequently go over to the dingy Post Office in the Empire State Building. One day after waiting in line for the usual interminable amount of time, I was greeted by the guy behind the counter who, noticing a paper shopping bag I was carrying, said, “Where’s Yellow House Books, it’s a bookstore I don’t know?” I think I said something like, Come again? not believing that this ordinary postal worker had asked me about a used and rare bookstore in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

This began a many year at-the-counter friendship with a man who was no ordinary postal worker. He was a reader, a deep, avid, fascinating reader from Staten Island. We shared our favorite authors, favorite bookstores, offered suggestions, all the while ignoring the irritated customers standing behind in the inevitable line. He paid no attention to their growls of displeasure, and instead told me about his latest find.

In mid 2008 I moved to California and have never been back to that Post Office. I’m not sure it’s even there anymore. On many occasions I’ve thought about my postal worker reading buddy, but thought him lost among the many people we meet in life in one circumstance or another and never see again.

Until this morning. There in my Facebook Messenger inbox was a message from RK:

I don’t know if you remember me – I used to work at the Empire State Building Post Office- we used to talk about literature & recommend books to read … You turned me on to Murakami & I recommended Par Lagerkvist’s “The Dwarf” to you. Anyhow I just read Joyce Cary’s (an Anglo – Irish author) “The Horse’s Mouth” – never read anything quite like it – took me a while to get into it … but the language & writing is so unique, quirky & funny! It’s more than a bit politically incorrect for these times – so I wanted to share it with someone- but couldn’t think of anyone who could appreciate it – And then I thought of You! If my memory of you is correct – I think that this book will be right up your alley – well written , funny, quirky, odd

I literally burst with delight! Of course I remember! How but for Facebook could this reconnection have occurred. I know young people today scorn the platform, thinking it’s for old folks– like me. But what a joy to discover, or be discovered, by a long lost acquaintance. And to begin a conversation as though there had been no hiatus at all.

I’m not unfriending Facebook any time soon.

Time Passing

In a few days she’ll turn sixty-five. Before I used to joke she was a junior senior. Now she’s graduated. She can get a senior MUNI pass.

When she turned sixty I created a special birthday party for her, prepared elaborate food from scratch, invited all her friends, made it a birthday to remember. I wonder if she does. It was a lovely occasion, undertaken with love.

I wonder who will give her a sixty-fifth celebration, a moot question given the coronavirus and social distancing. What a convenient excuse.

She used to say she was a serially monogamous athlete, committed to one sport at a time: tai quan dao, technical climbing, cycling, swimming, running, rowing. Always looking for the next fix, not the pleasure of the activity. When I once asked whether she ever rowed out on the Bay for fun, she replied, “Why would I do that?”

These commitments last only for a while, then on to the next. Her approach to men is the same: serially monogamous. The relationships could never last; the end is ordained from the beginning. For a brief time the flame burns brightly, then she extinguishes it with ice water. It’s her history– as many pointed out after she ended our marriage. For her, commitments are not forever, whether sport or marriage(s).

On my own now, away from the toxicity of her false superiority, her I know more about the brain than you do judgments, her censure and quiet disapproval, I can relax my guard, be the man I am without trying to please someone for whom the mere act was displeasing. Let no man love a woman incapable of accepting it. Doomed failure, learned the hard way.

I hear from others how dramatically this lockdown is affecting them, how they hate it, feeling constrained, constricted, limited, panicked. I don’t feel this way. The entire circumstance of the virus is horrendous: people dying, ill, out of work, out of money. Then there is moronic Trump, as though the virus wasn’t bad enough. But sheltering in place, staying at home, is a kind of comfort. I like where I am, what I’m doing.

And I realize I would not be feeling this way if I were still with her, in her house.

I hope she, too, is happy on her own. I hope she has a happy sixty-fifth birthday.

I’m sorry she had to lie to me. I’m sorry she could not accept what I had given her, that her need to lie rather than to accept was all she could muster. That silence and distance became her defense. That fear undermined compassion. That she resorted to lawyers rather than conversation. That her name cannot be written. That she remains the woman she wound up being, stuck in those serially monogamous fixes. That like drugs pulsing through her veins, fix only momentarily before the next fix comes due.

After all that’s happened I do wish her a happy birthday. Aging is not comfortable for her, bringing with the passing of years new realities of her mortality. She used to tell me how should couldn’t imagine not being here, no longer being among the living, experiencing the world and its marvels. Can anyone imagine that? I think that’s the futile point of religion, to seed our imaginations with a possibility of something after. I was surprised when she wrote about a friend who died recently that she would be swimming with another now gone South End swimmer: where? In a heaven she doesn’t believe in? Has faith appeared at this late stage?

Reading a fictionalized diary of a real woman (The Lost Diary of M), I came across this passage, a rumination about a divorced husband:

Do I miss him? I don’t miss him. But I miss what he meant. Maybe that is what we miss when we miss people—we don’t miss their bodies so much as their meanings, the promise of a future now lying dead in the past. It is the meanings that linger and cause pain deep in my heart, deep at night.

I don’t miss the reality of her, her off-limits body, her everyday censuring self. I miss the meaning of what was lost, abandoned in self-interest. Undoubtedly new meanings will evolve out of old loss, and the future of possibility will be brighter, even in these dark times. Let it be so.

R.A.B./RIP- 04/10/2020

Yesterday I learned late in the afternoon that one of my closest friends had died the evening before, alone in his Pacific Heights apartment, in circumstances not fully known. He had been battling lung cancer since last summer, enduring months of chemotherapy followed by debilitating radiation; he recently learned that these treatments had not eradicated the murderous cells and that more treatments were necessary to continue living. He was scheduled for a full scan on Monday–tomorrow–with his doctors’ prognosis coming on Thursday. Earlier he had told me, and other friends, that if more radiation was recommended he would refuse treatment. He accepted his condition, was at peace with it, and didn’t want more months of misery.

What we know is that he had a call on Friday at 3:00pm with one of his doctors. I had spoken to him the day before, on Thursday, and we planned to speak again Friday. Earlier in the day on Friday he texted me to say that after two Zoom meetings and then the virtual call with his physician, he would likely be all talked out for the day–breathing was increasing difficult–and that we could talk on Saturday. Saturday never came.

Did he hear bad news from his doctor, news that convinced him to throw in the towel? We’re not exactly sure how the end came. The investigating policeman told the coroner natural causes/probable heart attack. Apparently, according to the person who found him dead in his apartment, all the police really wanted to confirm was that it wasn’t Covid-19. All that person is saying–he’s one of his longest time (fifty years) friends and is 85–is that he found him in the bathroom and “it was ghastly,” and “I won’t describe it.” He said his old friend’s apartment–he lived in the same Pacific Heights apartment with stupendous views of the Bay and out the Gate for the past thirty-six years–was completely organized, nothing out of place, not a dish in the sink, phone positioned in the center of his dining table, and a file with the cremation documentation on his desk.

What’s heartbreaking is the thought of my friend alone, and isolated, due to the coronavirus, from anyone who could possibly have come to aid him, making this fateful decision in loneliness and despair, without any hope, or human comfort. Perhaps it was a heart attack. I want to think so. There’s no way to know. He will be cremated on Monday.

He was the second friend I made after moving to San Francisco, in 2008, and over the years he (together with the first friend I made) have been two of my three closest friendships. On my first Thanksgiving in a new city where I knew no one, he invited me to accompany him to an annual Thanksgiving dinner at Serenity Knolls, a treatment center where my friend had got sober the year before. He valued his sobriety with near religious commitment, and his community of friends at our Cow Hollow men’s group a much loved fellowship: a very special, and lasting bond, for many of us.

Elegant with no pretension, learned with no academic gloss, unfailingly kind, he was a mentor, guide, patient listener, spiritual adviser who doubted the existence of God, sponsor to many, friend to all. I was honored to be included in his own pantheon of closest friends, the others of fifty years or more. He was the only friend to give my then fiancé and I an engagement party. He was steadfast at my side when five years later she ended the marriage. He accepted my anguish with compassion and grace, as all three of my closest friends did, supporting me through a very difficult period,  That they could all be together at my farewell dinner, hosted by my third friend and his wife, is a joy I will always hold close to my heart.

His loss is deeply felt by many.

Today, when going about my routines,  I found myself thinking often, “what would Ray do?” While not a man of great formality, he maintained standards of dress and table manners worth emulating.  I will be sure to always use a sterling napkin ring, and the “good” dishes every day. Why save them, for what? Today is the day I’m living, not some time in the future.


Much love.


Sense of smell

A hint of roasting chicken leaked into my apartment this afternoon and my immediate thought was Oh good, I still have my sense of smell, I must not have the coronavirus, loss of taste and smell being an early sign of infection. I’ve left my apartment only once since last Saturday, mouth and nose covered, gloves on. The classes I teach are now via Zoom. I speak with my sons daily, friends often. Though alone, I don’t feel disconnected. It’s a comfort being on my own, doing what I want. A few days ago one daughter-in-law wrote to say I must feel relieved not to have to share self-isolation with my former (unnamed) wife. Indeed that would be alone within aloneness. One plus one only ever equaled one plus one. Never two.

My rhythm is day to day. Though I have classes scheduled for both the summer and fall terms—fall projected to be back in-person—these seem data points not life movements. I’m grateful for them, and enjoy my students and colleagues. Yet I have visions of great leaps forward, new awareness, new ventures, new possibilities that didn’t exist before. I need to move into these.

I want to paint again, give expression to this new life, dive deeply into who I am, free to be and act and reveal through images the dreaming of my thoughts. Pick up the brushes; start; anything; everything.

Arranging my new place has been delicious. Sam says it looks like every other place where I’ve lived on my own. Two ordinary rooms turned into a sanctuary. I’m pleased with the result. The caution is complacency, falling into what W.E. calls tranquilized obviousness. Too warm. Too comfortable.


Though happily lacking any underlying conditions I’m in the danger age zone for dying from Covid-19. Is avoiding contagion, long term, even possible despite taking the ordinary precautions? Is every surface contaminated? Every package, every shelf in a store, every person on the street? I’m not obsessing over it, but the idea is there, every present—it’s become the always already there worry of our time.

Every morning, with a cup of freshly brewed coffee (preferring Six Depot’s Blue Velvet) I’ve been reading essays, W. G. Sebald, Guy Davenport, Bruce Chatwin…


I never did this in the north-west corner of Central Richmond. No censure would have been forthcoming, other than the ever-present atmosphere of not-measuring-up. I realize now that what I felt was the way she wound up being, being herself, outside of herself, not overtly or purposely but innately, as much a part of her as her delicate skin and fine-boned body, the body she could not give, but felt invaded not shared.

Walking along Constitution Beach at 4:00pm, the sky filling with dark clouds, the air mildly chilly, the only other person I saw was a woman exercising her dog, a Vizsla I think. He bounded near the water line, and once ran up to me and I wondered whether to pat him on his eager head or was he a carrier, a carrier of sickness and possible death. Wearing gloves, I gave his head a tap.


The early evening now is bright and Bennington Street is empty of cars and walkers. An empty Blue Line T train passes behind the opposite side of the street houses. I know no one in my neighborhood. Other than the upstairs neighbors she knows others on the street only as neighborhood acquaintances. She always said I too casually referred to people as friends.

Back then, in the days of that marriage (more than a year has passed since she told me she wanted to end it), I told myself that I was happy when happiness was fleeting—momentary times when the burden of being who she was fell away and the lovely person she could be was unfurled, slowly like the fronds of a fern opening in the morning dew. And like the morning dew, it was gone by midday.


She says these are figments of my imagination. If others hadn’t experienced the same behavior, the repeated leavings, the repeated don’t-get-too-close-to me protective armor, if others hadn’t also observed the way she never said a kind word to me, held my hand, I might have wondered myself. Validation is cold comfort.

Night in Orient Heights, quieter than usual. Boston now has a 9:00pm curfew, although I don’t know how that’s enforced and have no intention to test it. No cars on Bennington Street, a few lights in the windows across the street. Even the street is mostly dark. Alone in my apartment I’m OK. I don’t miss her, though I miss the idea of her, the idea of easy companionship. What’s happening now is no longer part of the narrative. Chapter closed; the past in the past.

There are enough lies circulating in the world, this new world of untruth, that to live one is a crime of against humanity. One moral failure need not beget another. Let hers rest in eternity.

I hear another Blue Line T heading westward toward central Boston, likely empty, waiting for safer days. We are all waiting for safer days.


Black Curtains

So now she’s spreading tales, half-truths, about how she had to protect her identity, involving lawyers, threats of restraining orders, stemming from her deep fear of men and menace and harm going all the way back to island state girlhood to present days of criminals having committed unspeakable acts of sexual violence and worse. (That was never what it was about.) Those to whom she tells her tales of victimhood muddle the stories, repeating new and more elaborate versions, like children playing telephone whispers. And round and round it goes, all the way to this other coast. It’s not becoming of the person she holds herself out to be. But then that was always the problem with the person she wound up being. What you see was not what you got.


She and her pathetic need to justify, too be right, are of trivial concern. She is nothing if not small, today and always. The entire world is consumed by a viral blight far more lethal than a man who wanted togetherness. Covid 19 the latest coronavirus is indiscriminately taking its toll, spreading sickness, death, and almost worst of all universal fear. Fear of what we cannot see, so therefore everyone and everything becomes a possible vector of infection. It’s as though the air is filled with virus, that every breath becomes a prelude to dying.

Is infection inevitable? Will the virus fade, wear itself out in some way yet unknown? How many businesses will fail? How many people will die? Will there be an end, or is the planet changed forever? Doomed? Are these the prophesized Last Days?

It’s time to reread Samuel Pepys plague diary, when the Black Death killed a fifth of London’s population. He survived.

Shall people be hanging black curtains in the windows?

Practicing social distancing, the nice euphemism for staying away from other people—those possible Typhoid Mary’s among us—is not so onerous for now. I spend my time organizing my new apartment, finding the last storage opportunities for too many random items, ordering food and staples online, along with a desk, loveseat, storage bins and shelves…all minimally designed to fit into my small space. Hanging pictures, placing carpets, sorting books into my own personal Dewey Decimal System. Somehow James Frazer and Charles Doughty belong together on the same shelf.


Would I rather be sheltering in place with someone with me, to share the solitude? With her? In some other ideal world, yes. With her as I first knew her, yes, before she could no longer not withhold who she wound up being. Before she told a friend she didn’t do relationships well. She should never have begun.

To be sheltering in place with my little dog, the dog she kept, would be a comfort. Though my dislocation and eastward move didn’t permit keeping, or sharing, our dog, that she has him for company during this time is one of the unfairnesses of her dissolution of our marriage. Collateral damage. I miss him, still.

Version 2

No wonder news of her drinking isn’t surprising.

Everyday my boys and I check in on one another. We have a WhatsApp group that makes it easy, and the occasional video call on Zoom. We are a connected family. Sam is a short walk from my apartment; we visit many times a week. This morning Sam took me to the early seniors-only opening hour at the Seaport Whole Foods.

Though the chemotherapy eradicated Adam’s cancer it’s left his immune system compromised just now when he can least afford to be vulnerable. So he stays mostly home, enjoying his time as best he can before he begins his first choice internal medicine residency at Highland Hospital. He’s a happy young man. We are happy for him. The May 9th wedding celebration is now in doubt, given coronavirus travel restrictions. There will be even more to celebrate, let us hope, at a later date.

What comes next is unknown, uncertain for everyone. I’m glad I’m away from her orbit, now turned so uninhabitable.

As an associate in her law firm wrote to me, “As part of my job I read your blog, and was moved. I wish you well on this painful journey.”

There is no more pain. The journey continues.


What Didn’t Happen

Flying to San Francisco. Flying at night, on a clear winter night, is magical, the lights far beneath the plane like lights on a far away Christmas tree. There’s life going on down there, people going about their evenings, preparing for bed as the plane makes its way across the country. An ordinary evening in Cleveland, or St. Louis, or wherever we are 36,000 feet up above those houses with their people going about their ordinary lives. Some might be doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed. Some might be arguing; some making love. Maybe there’s some wife down there telling her husband she no longer loves him, has fallen out of love, time for him to pack his possessions and move out. Maybe he can rent a room somewhere she might suggest. Not her problem when she’s the one always already leaving,

In our relationships, when we focus on our problems or how wrong things are, we lose our power to be and act effectively. Problems lie in the lack of inventing a future for our relationships “as a possibility.” When there’s no possibility created, pretty much what’s left is being upset.

The payoff in that is that we get to be right and see others as wrong. In being upset, in withholding our happiness and well-being, we both limit the other person as well as our own ability to be. If we switch that, if we invent ourselves (instead of just reacting), the way the world occurs shifts—we could be in a relationship with Godzilla, or anyone. If we don’t switch that, we don’t get a chance to celebrate all that’s available to ourselves and others.

When something’s missing as a possibility, there’s not a sense of insufficiency or inadequacy—we leave behind the conversation about how things are “not” going to be. What’s missing becomes a possibility “for” something. Making this switch requires disrupting our old conversations and most likely completing things from the past—there’s no wish for things to be different, better, or more. We come to know a space within ourselves where that can happen—it’s a state change, to being the author, as it were.

The conditions and circumstances for our relationships begin to reorder and realign themselves. In creating possibility, we get to know what’s possible in being human.

 Angie Mattingly
Landmark Forum leader

She was always already leaving. For her, leaving was the possibility dragged into the future. Leaving kept her safe, gave her an out, pre-ordained. It was only a matter of time.

She said her life was changed as much as mine. Not so. As she was always already leaving, nothing changed for her. She was leaving when we met, leaving throughout, leaving at the end. She’s still leaving, and word on the street has it trying to provoke a leaving in someone else’s relationship. Love has no currency in leaving. When your life is dominated by leaving, there’s no way but out. Leaving.

That I’m happier away from her leaving is not a validation of her leaving the marriage. It’s the inevitable, if long time coming, consequence, the new freedom to be, to act. Woe to the next man who fails to perceive her trail of leaving, mistaking it only for independence. Self-proclaimed independence is her cover, her mask for always already leaving.

I’m in my own apartment after two months living with my son and his family, a joyful, restorative time after last year’s dislocation. I’m immensely grateful.

Now I’m faced with sorting through too much stuff, too much of everything, to fit into my comfortable but not large one bedroom apartment. The space is entirely adequate: it’s my stuff that isn’t. Anyone who knows me knows this is true. Even with four sizable closets, rare in an apartment this size, there’s much left out that doesn’t fit. Time to divest, not one’s or two’s of this or that, but wholesale eliminations, half of everything should go. (Not the books!) Short-term angst for long term ease of living.

She would be laughing had she a sense of humor about me.

What I strive for:

Forgiveness enlarges the future

By David Cunningham


Forgiveness is one of the most powerful actions a human being can take–it doesn’t change the past, it enlarges the future.* Forgiveness is a choice that frees us from the burden of resentment and regret–it doesn’t alter the past, make things right, condone what we did or may have been done to us. It shifts the present and allows us to move forward. Creating a new future is declarative and takes a commitment to being complete with the person or people involved.

Forgiveness is not really about the person who we say has done wrong; it’s about the one who is forgiving. It’s about finding the courage to step out of “the way it should have been.” To complete a past hurt, resentment, anger, fear or failure, it’s worth noticing both how we’re holding what happened now, in the present, as well as recognizing that whatever happened more than likely will have gained over time a certain mass and complexity in our minds. In taking that into account, we’re more able to address the context, hear others, and look at what might be next.

For example, if we’re harboring resentment, it involves taking responsibility for the diminishment of the other person and requires generative language, such as “I’m giving up the grudge I’ve been harboring for years.” 

Upsets and grudges that we carry from the past narrow our options, impact our relationships and limit our experience of living fully.

The lights are still on down there in the country. We’re over the great plains of Nebraska, Fewer lights, more distantly separated, Lonely lights, Lonely night.

Tomorrow is Adam’s end-of-chemo party. Six months. I hear in my mind our phone call of early September when Adam called to tell me he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. He has borne the cancer and the treatment with grace and fortitude, curtailing nothing, caring for the ill himself as a fourth year medical school student. He will be a fine doctor, a rare physician of compassion and knowledge.

He received an all-clear from his oncologist yesterday; come back for a check-up in three months. The relief is immense.

My boys are blessings she could not fathom. She called them straight arrows. Power is expressed in language.

Let go and set myself free.

Let returning to San Francisco not be a set-back.

Let circumstance not have us meet.

Let go and set myself free.

To be or not to be

When I said to my wife that I liked being married, her response was of course I liked being married, men live longer married than when alone, unlike women who live longer when not married. As though I had checked the actuarial tables before asking if she would marry me, conducting a cost/benefit analysis on married versus unmarried lifespans. A cost/benefit analysis on the deleterious effects of divorce would have been of more benefit. Ahhh hindsight!

But why like being married?

There’s much evidence against it, from divorce rates, to the popular media’s incessant portrayal of unhappy couples (when was the last time you saw a film or television series about a happy marriage?), to an article in today’s (02/16/2020) New York Times titled “They’re More Than Happy Not Being Married,” about women opting out of marriage and finding they prefer being single. Now I see the cover article in the March Atlantic is “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake,” by David Brooks. Yet to read.

No-fault divorce, pre-nuptial agreements, #metoo, open marriage, the women’s movement, gay liberation, gender blending—all symptoms of the demise of traditional marriage as a committed, meaningful, desirable institution. Why get involved in a losing proposition, especially if raising a family isn’t a consideration? There are other options.

Yet, marriage is a commitment to something larger than oneself. It’s a commitment to a way of being, to sharing one’s life with another human being. Otherwise it’s a piece of paper, a legality lacking in the creation of a new, combined future. To dissolve a marriage without trying to get beyond the way one wound up being, beyond the petty obliviousness of daily living, is a moral failing. It’s a lack of creativity, of creating a new future that didn’t exist before. To succumb to feelings (“I fell out of love with you.”) is what a child does before it learns the lessons of selfish self-interest.

My wife didn’t regard our marriage commitment as anything more than a quaint notion, a semi-formality of the occasion that was neither binding nor life-long. No richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, ‘til death do us part; definitely not poorer. Her words were something along the lines of a marriage commitment isn’t forever; nor was love. (I dare not quote her, much less name her, lest another lawyer’s sanction arrives in my inbox.)


Still, I liked our mostly easy companionship. Though sometimes disagreeing, we rarely argued, never fought. Her rage against men remained below the surface, appearing only when affronted by an egregious remark that couldn’t be ignored. Not from me. Her fear of men on the other hand nearly took me down one evening on the sidewalk steps away from our doorway when I approached her from behind having stopped momentarily to retie my shoe. Lesson learned, that time without a broken arm or worse but decidedly chastened.

Where do I go from here? My older son David in New York repeatedly tells me, “Dad, no more girlfriends or wives, they don’t turn out too well for you.” Not that I’ve had many: one girlfriend, two wives. The girlfriend in between. The ratio seems all wrong. Clearly more sampling could have been attempted.

I’m about to move to my own, new place in Boston. Since September last year I’ve been living in temporary accommodations. I’ve called it homeless but housed, in truth very fortunately and happily housed, first in Oakland in the house of my friend Robin and now in Boston with my son Sam and family. These both have been comfortable arrangements. I’ve enjoyed living in the bosom of family life, here with Sam and his wife Saga and twin just-turned-four year old boys Miki and Ethan. I will miss it, and also will be happy to be on my own, reunited with my books and possessions, free to be and free to act. I worry, too, about loneliness. My mind tends in dwell in dark places when I’m on my own—something to resist, with plans to paint and read and cook and, at least for a while, continue to rationalize my too much stuff, sending some off to Goodwill, other things posted on Craigslist and eBay. Keep what sparks joy, as Kondo-san says.

Relationship(s)? I’m open, not looking. I bought a twin bed that converts to a full, just in case.

We’ll see what happens.


9th of February


A novel


“We need to talk,” she said, only minutes after returning from the memorial service for Bobby Roper, the often described father of Bay swimming and iconic if not universally loved long time fixture of the South End Rowing Club. The service had been at the club, the place where she had arranged to meet him at the doorway, those six year ago, after corresponding for several months on an online dating site. Her friends had stood behind the door that day to defend her should the man be not what he had advertised.

“We need to talk,” she said. He knew that nothing good ever follows those four simple yet fearful words. It was February 9th, a day memorialized by Bobby as the Dreaded 9th of February, the day he asserted the dark water was the coldest in the Bay, and on which a long and difficult swim was always organized. Only the bravest swimmers, indifferent to the temperature and conditions, joined the challenge. This day was another challenge, another dreaded 9th of February. He wondered if that irony occurred to her.

Today, too, is February 9th.

“We need to talk, she said, leading him to sit in the dining room on that dreaded 9th of February. “I have fallen out of love with you, and want you to leave.” Her words fell like stones, not thrown or hurled but dropped, heavy and unanticipated as a boulder might loosen and fall from a cliffside on an unexpecting hiker. The house was hers and in cold clinical terms he was being evicted. (I feel the weight in my chest even today one year later, a lifetime later.) The heaviness of abandonment, of rejection, not knowing what to say or what to do on that 9th of February afternoon, weighted him to his chair, took his breath away. Not breathing was one of the ways he had always suppressed emotion at times like this. She had often exhorted him to “breathe!” when speechless he would clam up in anxiety or distress.  He asked her where could he go and her reply was perhaps he could rent a room somewhere in the city, it wasn’t her concern. Take some time, she said, but plan to leave within a month or two. The cold directness of her intention pressed his heart deep into the back of his chest, beyond where breath was formed.

He left the house and walked first to China Beach. The only acceptance he could envision in those first hours was planning an end. The cold water flowing out of the Gate beckoned in a different way that afternoon. Being a strong swimmer he knew it wouldn’t be easy, something had to be added to the endeavor to ensure no change of heart or wasted intention. That had happened once before in his life, when ending was foiled by inconsequential accident, foolish and stupid rather than tragic and final.


He walked for hours that afternoon on February 9th. It was one of the great pleasures of where they lived that the coastal trail was immediately there, two blocks away from the front door of her house. He walked along the trail curving out and around Land’s End and looked at the water, looked at the westward horizon—he could see the Farallons– wondering how far would he have to swim before cold and fatigue took its toll, before the urge to turn around was past the point of no return. He had always loved swimming and one of the joys she had reintroduced in his life was swimming in the cold open water of San Francisco Bay. That this joy would find another purpose occurred to him as appropriate, as a desire he had long imagined.


He walked down to the rocky beach where a few years before he had scattered his mother’s ashes, throwing them beyond the rocks as two dolphins suddenly surfaced as though to greet and escort her to another world, a world awaiting him that afternoon. His mother had disliked water, and despite years of lessons in truth couldn’t swim more than a few yards. It wasn’t her wish to be scattered it the sea. He had done it for himself, to be able to look out beyond Mile Rock and know that she was there, waiting.

He knew that day was not to be the day: fear perhaps. Hope perhaps.  But then he didn’t know what he knew except that his life had shifted in a direction he didn’t want, couldn’t imagine, that the woman he had loved, had called his wife, had never been the wife he wanted or imagined but that the calm acceptance of that realization had sustained a fantasy of love and companionship that she had shattered, on that dreaded 9th of February, 2019.

Day moves to evening in San Francisco with a subtle but definite drop in temperature that is felt well before the sky fades to gray. He was cold that afternoon having been out long past a normal Saturday afternoon walk. She texted to ask whether he was coming home. He wondered why she cared. He didn’t answer and thought how sadly and finally inappropriate that word home was. It was her house, from which she only hours before had told him he needed to leave. It was not his home, and the realization that it had never been his home, only his residence granted by her, undercut any remaining shred of sentimentality. She gave and she took away; like her body, like her love, provisional and uncommitted.

He walked back to the house in the last light of that afternoon, not knowing what to expect, what to say or do. That was the beginning of the end, the beginning of extinguished plans, extinguished hopes for the possibility of marriage, extinguished love.


Today is one year and a lifetime later.

To be continued.


No voice divine the storm allay’d,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch’d from all effectual aid,
We perish’d, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm’d in deeper gulfs than he.

A Happy Day

One day you’re a swimmer in high school; the next you’re graduating from college. What seems like a few years later you’re sixty-nine. A lot of life happened in between.


Today’s my birthday, the cusp between Aquarius and Capricorn. I doubt that has any meaning but I like to think about this idea of cuspness, between one sign and another, the best of two worlds, maybe the worst of both?


And indeed it is! The cusp of Aquarius and Capricorn is the Cusp of Mystery and Imagination, so says


Determined, creative, entertaining, idealistic, witty, empathetic


Detached, chaotic, selfish, aloof, critical, judgmental

I could write an entire narrative to support these characteristics. That’s what we do. We string together life’s happenings into a story that gives—we believe—substance and meaning to our lives. A reason why we’re here, doing what we do.

It’s just a story we tell ourselves.

But today is a different birthday. It’s not an especially important one. I don’t mind turning sixty-nine. I neither feel it (however it’s supposed to feel) nor regret the advance in age. That’s what happens, and who wants to be young today anyway. Not me. I fear for the world my young grandchildren will inherit.

Today’s birthday comes at the beginning of a new future, a future that didn’t exist in my life a year ago when my wife decided she no longer could be married. My birthday came only a few days before that declaration. I should have known it was inevitable, history repeating itself, but chose to see only what I wanted to see, which wasn’t the dissolution of our marriage. But it happened. Life happens, even when you don’t want it to.


Today’s birthday is in Boston. I moved here two weeks ago, a one-way ticket to a new life in a familiar city that I will create, not out of my past but with a new freedom to be, freedom to act. It’s an imperative.

I’m spending today’s birthday—which I share with MLK as a holiday—with my son Sam and his family. I know a special breakfast is in store, smoked salmon, rye toast, scrambled eggs, two little twin boys maybe singing happy birthday if grandpa is lucky.

What I want to guard against is routine, falling into a routine that’s safe and orderly and ever so respectable. That would be easy to do here in Boston, a safe and orderly and respectable city, or at least the city I know. Some will be enough.


Last night it snowed, soft thick snow that covered the ground by morning with about four inches of powder. It was the first snowfall of my first winter in the new life chapter. We shoveled the driveway parking area, piled a mountain of snow for sledding, at least enough for a few good rides the twins could enjoy. By afternoon most of the snow was gone, the temperature reaching 38, dipping to 18 again tonight. Winter in Boston.


Today on my birthday I’ll think about my friends in San Francisco, and the probability that I would have started the day with a birthday swim at the South End, a birthday swim, like others in years before, with my friend Josh. This time of year the water in the Bay is cold, in the low 50’s if not colder. I remember one birthday, two years ago, when Josh and I swam up to the Creakers and swimming back encountered a strong current coming straight out from the Cove, pushing us away from the opening. For about ten minutes we both thought we might not be able to muscle our way back in. The water was frigid; we were frigid. Of course we did make it, and the sauna that morning was especially welcoming.


I’ll think of birthdays in happier days spent at Deetjens in Big Sur and the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. I’ll think of my 60th birthday, getting side by side massages in Palo Alto. I’ll think of my 50th birthday in Briarcliff Manor, a dinner party of good friends from those days in my honor. The Westchester County friends are no more. Nor is 50.


Today’s birthday, here in Boston, will be auspicious, steeped in intent. It will be intentful, a marking, a passage to this new future.

It will be a happy day.


Farewell. But not forgotten.