Buying this new condo was a way of acknowledging that Rosemary was not returning. It was not a place that she would have chosen. It didn’t have views. It was at the end of the complex, down a rabbit’s warren of streets, at the end of a cul-de-sac. Except for one window in the den that looked out onto the circle at the center of the cul-de-sac, and a couple of small windows at the very rear of the house that allowed a glimpse of the back hill, most of the windows faced a private courtyard. This was a house meant for going inward, not for looking out.
Years ago, when my mother was still alive, Rosemary and I moved north of the City to be closer to Mom’s assisted living. We drove around the countryside, looking for a place to live, and spotted a hand-printed For Rent sign at the end of a long driveway. The owner showed us the apartment in the main house, but we knew right away that it was too small. As we were leaving, Rosemary spotted the little cottage that stood at the other end of the wide front lawn.
“Is that for rent?” she asked, pointing down the driveway.
“Well, it will be soon,” strands of the owner’s gray hair fell across her face as we stood in the yard, and she brushed them back. “The current resident will be moving out in a couple of weeks. It used to be the chauffeur’s cottage, and it housed a Duesenberg. Do you want to look at it?”
Inside, Rosemary went immediately to the living room and looked out each window. What she would see outside was as important to her as what was inside. Our grandson, Galileo, was with us, and he and I followed Rosemary on her tour. Through the windows, we could see the large pillars which marked the driveway entrance and the huge elms that dotted the yard. Stone walls lined both the front lawn and the grassy fields that sloped to the trees lining the Titicus River. Out the master bedroom window, we could see the houses on the hill that rose on the other side of the valley. We had fallen in love with the house before we returned to the landlady, sitting on a stool in the kitchen, watching us patiently with a slight smile. Rosemary once said, of all the places we had lived, that chauffeur cottage was her favorite. But she said that before we lived in our two high floor apartments in Brooklyn, so I don’t know if she would still choose that little cottage on Titicus Road.
In our lives together, Rosemary and I moved way too many times, but each time, the view was a major factor in our final decision about where to live, especially to Rosemary. We looked out over the lake in Maine, the Connecticut River and its estuaries in Old Saybrook, the Hudson River from our West Village balcony, and the Brooklyn Bridge from the St. George Towers. I have written elsewhere about the views of the harbor and the East River that we had from our last apartment together, on the 32nd floor in Brooklyn. I am glad that she had those views for her last home.
But now — now I was in a house that allowed hardly any views of the world. The first time I went to look at it, I parked near the grassy area at the center of the cul-de-sac and stood looking at the unit, trying to locate the door. The real estate agent emerged from around the side of the condo, and led me through a gate into a courtyard. At the other end of the courtyard, and around another corner, we finally came to the front door. This was a place that precious few would enter. Like a medieval castle with a moat, this condo was a fortress, both protected and shut off from the rest of the world. It was a place well-suited to this year of 2022, when the Omicron variant raged outside and, because I had no protection from the disease, I allowed no one across the threshold.
I had carried with me an unexamined notion that all I had ever said or thought or did, and everything everyone ever said or thought or did, was recorded somewhere. I never really turned my attention to how it happened; I just harbored a vague notion that nothing was ever lost, that once something was said or written or done, it could not be unsaid or undone, or, for that matter, unthought. I did not consider where that place might be, perhaps, when I was young, I thought of it as the mind of God, certainly it did not have a material existence. I would visualize it now perhaps as a non-material vast Internet. But somewhere those thoughts and deeds remained, in the same way that all my memories are still in the creases of my brain, and, if they seem lost, it is just that I have forgotten how to access them. If one were persistent enough, there would be a way to go back and check on all thoughts and deeds, and to pull them into the light once more. I never examined this belief, or thought through how it could possibly work. I neither believed nor disputed its existence. It was an unquestioned assumption, like gravity, or breathing. It just was.
I did not know until recently that there were others who had these same notions about the ongoing existence of all that transpired. The concept appeared in many places, including Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and was shared by many others, including the Theosophists, a group of people who started a movement in the United States around the end of the nineteenth century. These folks believed in the Akashic records, “a compendium of all universal events, thoughts, words, emotions and intent ever to have occurred in the past, present, or future in terms of all entities and life forms, not just human. They are believed by theosophists to be encoded in a non-physical plane of existence known as the mental plane.”
Now that my attention had turned in that direction, I was agnostic about its existence. But, in order to understand my life, I had to acknowledge that, for most of my years, that concept had provided a kind of subflooring to my mental life. At a more literal level, this belief was manifest for me when I worked in state government in Connecticut. The State Office Building, or the SOB as we knew it, was a huge six-story limestone building that had been built in the 1930s. It stood diagonally across from the Capitol. It housed several state agencies, and, to me, with its high ceilings, thick walls, and long marble hallways, it was a symbol of bureaucracy. Our paychecks came from there, as did everything administrative. To my mind, it was the center of State Government, and, somehow, I imagined that every contract signed, every letter written on State stationery, notes of every meeting, each paper of any significance to the State, found an eventual home in one of its many offices. In the twenty-some years that I worked for five different state agencies, I believed, without ever thinking about it, that everything that ever happened in the executive branch of state government was recorded and housed in the SOB. As with the Akashic documents, I never really analyzed whether it could possibly be true. But I assumed that if, sometime forty years from then, perhaps in 2022, I wanted to find the contract that I had written for a program at the YWCA, it would be there in one of the dark rooms of the SOB.
Maybe because of this Akashic assumption, when it came to my life, I felt an obligation to keep records as much as I possibly could: tax documents, letters from friends, journals, photographs, restaurant receipts, notes written to my boyfriend in study hall, birthday cards from my grandmother. Friends wondered sometimes what I had in those one hundred plus boxes in my finished basement. That was what was there. I believed there would come a time when I would sort through it all and understand what my life had been about. And that time had come.
For there, there in my introvert house, for the first time in a long time, I was surrounded by my belongings, not only my furniture and clothes, but the boxes and boxes of my past – journals, letters, photos, receipts, records, books, and notebooks. I had brought them from various storage facilities, from my Brooklyn apartment, and from my Dumbo office. They were neatly labeled and organized on shelves in my finished basement. This was my SOB. Over one hundred boxes. Some of the contents belonged to others before me: Rosemary, my mother, my father, my grandmother–even my great-grandmother’s Bible was there. But most of the bins were mine. The task that lay before me was to review these papers, to examine, appraise and find meaning. The detritus of my life. My personal Akasha.
It would not be a small task to sort through this accumulation. Each item in those bins was a door to another time, another person, another self. I planned not just to sort, but to savor, to explicate, to revel, and to indulge. The content of those boxes had been waiting a long time. And what might expedite such a process more than living in a home closed to the outside during a pandemic? For, if the view out my condo windows was limited, the view inward went on forever.