There are always surprises when I least expect them and yesterday I needed a surprise. I've needed one for a long time.
A writer friend emailed that her husband died Monday evening. She was sad, but all right with his death. It's hard watching someone you love slide slowly into the abyss bit by bit. I sent her my condolences, not because I knew her husband Fred but because I know her and have watched his decline from the sidelines all these years.
Yesterday, she sent me a message thanking me. She thanked me for my kindness and for my book, Among Women, because it captured her and took her somewhere else when Fred was in such pain and she could do nothing to help him. That's a pretty big compliment. What else could I say but you're welcome? I am still sad for her loss, but also glad that Fred is no longer in pain and his family can now grieve, something they have been doing in fits and starts for years.
I remember what it was like to lose my great Aunt Ann when she had Alzheimer's, which is what Fred had. She stood six-foot-two in her stocking feet and was from solid peasant stock. She was creative and fashionable and had made a huge success in her life. She never had children, although her husband had a child by his previous wife; he was a widower when Ann married him.
When we found out about her, Aunt Ann had been living in her big brick house all alone and the neighbors were stealing her blind, which is probably why she kept so much of her cash in her vast book collection. Having Alzheimer's made it difficult for her to remember, except in brief and fleeting flashes, where it was, but it made her feel safer. She had lost so much weight she was a shadow of her former glorious peasant self. She smelled and was dirty and her beautiful home was a dump. That's what living alone for several years while she was ill did to her and her surroundings, as it eventually does to the people who love her.
My parents took her home and my father cared for her until she eventually died. They sold off her possessions, cleaned up and sold her house and took care of her during her few remaining years. My dad cared for her as if she were a child, and that is what she had regressed to in the end, a child with easy smiles and wide wondering eyes unfamiliar with the world around her or the people she once knew so well and had towered over.
I know how my friend felt because I've been there. There is relief followed quickly by regret when someone you love dies of Alzheimer's, and yet there is also peace; someone you have loved and who loved you is now resting in the arms of the universe, has moved past his body and away from his mortal coil to be a part of the universe once more, having been given a glimpse of the eternal while they were still alive, and silenced by the disease so they cannot tell those left behind the wonders they have glimpsed that brought them to their knees emotionally and spiritually. At least, that is how I see it.
The rest of the day was the usual battle with a pernicious computer program that had a stranglehold on my OS and I spent a good part of the morning trying to get rid of it. When I finally figured it out (turn off the antivirus program) it was late and I was hungry, so I ordered in. The delivery driver is one I have come to know well over the past three years and he had news for me. After a year, he has finally finished chapter ten of Past Imperfect (gotta change the name the next time around) and he was excited about the twist on the story the characters had engineered. I was just along for the ride, and to take notes. He has two more chapters to go and he's anxious to see which guy will get the girl, or which guy the girl will choose. Depends on your point of view. What he said next surprised me.
"I really should read more. If you only knew how big a deal it is that I am reading this book . . . ." He faltered there. "I'll get my mother to write you a note." I explained that wasn't necessary and showed him my latest book. "Are you giving this to me?"
Actually, no, but since your eyes lit up and you seem interested . . . . "I'll sign."
"Yeah, and I'll bring back the other one so you can sign it, too."
Surprise. He not only likes the book it has taken him a year to read, getting to it whenever he remembers there is a book to read, the only book he owns besides a telephone book (or so he told me), but he is anxious to read more and to read my latest book. Big surprise.
Two surprises in a row, each of a different origin, but both equally wonderful. People are reading.
If there is anything that would make me happier it would be that more people read, not just for work or because they must, but because they want to, because the story or the author engaged them and made them feel like reading, because they actually were transported and could forget the mundane details of every day life. What better purpose is there for authors and their books. Yes, it's for us, for the authors, but it's also to share a bit of how we see the universe and each other, and just because it's fun to pretend to be someone or somewhere else. Not every book has to have social significance, but it does help if the book -- no matter how badly it is written -- takes us away from what is to what could be or will be or just might be. That is the magic of books and the surprises found between its pages -- virtual or real. What better job could there be?
Yeah, I know. It doesn't always earn a lot of money, but whatever happens to my books, at least I know that at least two people who are not related to me enjoyed the books and were transported. That's enough for now.