The long green stems of the chives on our balcony swayed in the breeze and we went out to sit in the waning light of the day. Rosemary had noticed the chives; she is often the one who creates little spaces in our day, openings for us to attend to and appreciate the world.
“The moon is full over the harbor, come, look,” she might say in the night, calling me from my pillow. I would rise, reluctantly, and stand behind her at the window, putting my arms around her, reminded of the Kathy Mattea song we danced to at our wedding, “There’s a full moon up and rising, / There’s a whisper of a breeze.” A young, single mom at Arthur Murray studio had choreographed a simple two-step for us during our many weeks of lessons to the song. “Tonight I feel like all creation, / Is asking us to dance.”
But, that night, called to the balcony by the chives, I saw the one star I saw nearly every clear night—the one I had noticed from the street the night we moved in, when I was worried about missing the night sky now that we lived full time in the city. There were clouds in the sky, but by leaning out over the railing and looking backwards over the roof of our building, I could see three more stars, which were surely the handle of the Big Dipper, although I have trouble identifying stars when I can’t see the wider context of the whole night sky.
I was grateful that Rosemary was well enough to be sitting there with me; the week before had been a particularly difficult one. Her new drug appeared to be working, but the side effects had been intense. I studied her, surreptitiously, seeing not only the grandmotherly, mature and experienced face of her current age, but a palimpsest of faces: the young 23-year old face I met in 1979 when she came from the legislature to work in the Office of Policy and Management; the face of a young mother sitting on the grass under a tree on Boston Commons, looking down at the new baby she was holding; the soft, smiling face of our wedding day, standing before a filled congregation; the beautifully strong, assured face of Rosemary in the New York Times, in her office, being interviewed about her program; her smile beaming from under her tasseled cap at graduation from our doctoral program; the older face on the stage at the college at her retirement; and many faces in between these, superimposed on one another and emerging and merging before my eyes.
I could not have predicted, nor probably wished for, some of the circumstances of these last years. Most recently, we had had four months together, just us, in our apartment, learning the routines of this new way of living. We might, considering our illnesses, have been home together like this without this virus, but now, nearly everyone we knew was at home, sequestered as we were.
Rosemary saw me studying her and looked at me inquisitively. I smiled. Behind her, the white of the long, rectangular planters that held our new garden stood out against the darkening sky. Rosemary had the idea for these planters when we had given up the Maine house and moved to a condo on the estuary of the Connecticut River. I had loved gardening and was sad that I was no longer able to get down on my hands and knees and run my fingers through the damp earth. These new planters on wheels allowed me to sit in a chair on the condo’s patio, pulled up beside my raised garden, and tend to the plants as I looked out at Long Island Sound and watched the boats coming up the river. Now they were on our Brooklyn balcony, at the confluence of two other rivers, and I was grateful for Rosemary’s thoughtfulness, bringing me a little taste of gardening each spring.
Rosemary spotted a bright light coming from the south, “Look! Is that a plane?”
We hadn’t seen many planes during the lockdown, first none, reminding us of the empty skies after 9/11, and then one every few nights in the later days of our isolation. “Or maybe it’s a helicopter,” Rosemary added, squinting at the sky. Helicopters had taken over the skies: police helicopters assisting the ground units and news helicopters reporting on the action below. Sometimes three or four at a time circled our building and rattled our windows as the demonstrators and police filled the streets below. As supportive as we were of the protests in the streets, the noise of the helicopters annoyed us well into many nights.
I twisted in my chair to get a better view of the sky behind me. “No, I think you’re right. It is a plane. Headed toward La Guardia,” I surmised, as the light came closer and the wings of the plane became more visible.
Before long, a second one followed the same path. Then we spotted a plane taking off from JFK. “Life is coming back to the City,” Rosemary observed. And, a moment later, as several loud bangs erupted on a near-by street, throwing red and orange light onto the buildings, “Especially if you count the fireworks!”
The news was full of complaints to the Mayor about the illegal fireworks exploding across the expanse of the City that lay before us. The dogs were hiding under beds, the papers said, and a toddler in the Bronx had been injured by fireworks flying through an apartment window.
“Do you think the fireworks are connected to the protests?” I asked. We had had a bird’s eye view of much of the protesting, rallies in the park across the street, speeches at Borough Hall, to our right, marches heading across the Brooklyn Bridge. Over the years, we had been to many demonstrations together, protesting side-by-side, on so many issues; it was hard not to be in the streets in the middle of all the energy when there seemed like such possibility for real change, at least at the local level.
“Or, people are feeling liberated after being locked down for weeks,” Rosemary suggested, setting her water glass down on the little mosaic table by her side that I had made when we both studied mosaics several years earlier. New York was doing well with the virus, as the Governor took pleasure in pointing out; we had gone from the highest to the lowest transmission rate in the country. Like many friends, we were trying to devise an appropriate path forward, a way to move safely out into the world now that our state was going through its recovery phases. We had not seen our grandchildren in Boston since February, and had planned a trip there the following week. Rosemary’s oncologist and my rheumatologist and pulmonologist had all given their approval to our carefully worked out plan. Our older daughter on the west coast would come in a couple of months, quarantining for two weeks when she got here, before visiting us.
“I’m looking forward to our visit next week,” I offered. “How do you think the children will be after seeing us only on FaceTime for so long?” Rosemary looked away. I should have known that she wouldn’t have wanted to tempt fate by talking about the trip. If she weren’t feeling well enough, we wouldn’t go. I loved these children dearly, but they were her biological grandchildren and she had shed many tears over the notion that spending time with them might not be a possibility. The loud roar of a helicopter overhead saved the moment; we couldn’t talk above the sound. Rosemary motioned that we should go inside.
Lying in bed beside her, I felt a strong, welcome breeze through the open window. It had been hot and muggy for too long. A helicopter, maybe the same one that had chased us inside, hovered nearby. I sat up, leaning on my elbow, and noticed two airplanes coming out of Newark Airport. I turned to point this out to Rosemary and saw that her eyes were closed and she was breathing deeply. For the past two nights she had been up until nearly morning; I was glad she was sleeping. I felt lucky to have her with me.
My favorite lines from the Kathy Mattea song came to mind, “And all the things on earth worth having, / Are things that we’ve already got.” Our dance at our wedding was a great hit, bringing tears to many eyes. It had been worth the weeks of lessons. In the wedding video that a friend took, you can see me at the last notes of the song, throwing my head back and laughing in relief that we had made it through the choreographed steps. I looked again at Rosemary, probably deep in some dream by now. Much of her hair had fallen out this week. Yesterday, she had let me cut it really short, and she looked younger and edgy. I laid back on my pillow and felt the breeze blowing across my legs. I had given up other dreams to live this one, and I did not regret my choices.