Saturday 13 December 2008

Homesickness 2

It came to me the other day that homesickness can take rather different forms, even rather sneaky forms. The day came when I was off to hear "Les Contes d'Hoffman" which, you may remember, is the last opera at the Opera House for which I shall have to pay full price, being eligible for a 50% reduction with my disabled parking eligibility. Well, who should be there but he-to-whom-I-am-er-married, with his other arrangements. They were sitting in the same curved block, over to one side and, of course, a pound or ten further forward. It was only too easy to see them, to observe them, though I don't think they had seen me. In fact, moving through the crowded foyer before the performance, the arrangement had actually physically knocked in to me. She clearly didn't notice, being intent on getting wherever they were going, because she didn't look the type who would not have apologised for bumping in to an old lady with a stick, even in a crowd of the more-than-middle-aged, which, sadly, one does find preponderant at the Opera House these days. Himself hadn't noticed me neither so it remained my little secret.

Anyway, there I was, able to observe and assess. I found myself wishing I had not forgotten my opera glasses. ( Actually, truth to tell, I don't use them very often because when you wear glasses all the time, it is a bit of a nuisance to take them off or put them on top of your head in order to accommodate the binoculars, so it is quite easy to come out without them.) But, on reflection, I don't think there would, necessarily, have been any advantage in seeing them through a lens brightly; the distance was good enough. Interestingly, I found I was not primarily watching the lady. What surprised me was my reaction to Himself. He took off his glasses - he was always a glasses wearer - and puffed on them to clean them, taking his hankie from his breast pocket to finish the job. This was something I must have seen him do three million and forty five times when we were together and I was taken by surprise at the wrench it gave my little heart. There he was, exactly the same, but acutely different, if you see what I mean. Why hadn't I registered that he and his way of being in the world would be with him no matter who was sitting beside him? They shared a programme, another feature I, and others, had often teased him for: he would always buy only one programme. Still, we all have our meanesses and that was one of his.

There were two intervals and I was careful about where and when I moved about, feeling I would rather watch and imagine than be introduced and face the reality. But she looked nice enough, unexceptional, dressed appropriately - his appropriate - with pearls just like the first gift he ever gave me. I found I wanted to find fault with her; she was plain, she was badly dressed she didn't look very bright, and so on and so on; all of which would have been difficult to see, really, with or without opera glasses. However, it came to me that it didn't really matter. She was loved and enjoyed and was sharing the life which was very familiar to me and it was that which was causing the homesickness for what might have been, had he and I been more nearly in tune. It was not, simplictically, the man with whom I had shared all those decades of married life whom I was missing .( In any case, from the anecdotes he, himself, tells me he is a very different 'husband' to her at this stage of his life from the one he was to me.) But what I was missing and, indeed, envying, was the sharing of the life I knew so well, missing, perhaps, (and you can miss what you have never had) how he is now, retired, less busy and making things work tenderly and with care.

I remember when I was first on my own and would find myself in a restaurant or other public place, I would look around me and, perhaps, see a woman in a dress so ghastly I couldn't even picture the kind of shop where such dress might be bought. I'd criticise and analyse her and feel superior in my nicely-turned-out self. Then my inner voice, seeing her turned in to her companion, laughing, smiling, would challenge my right to judge her, when she was not eating alone and was well and at ease in her 'ghastly' clothes. Salutory, wouldn't you say?

On a lighter note: if you are in the UK to-day you will know that it is currently very cold, wet and drearyissimo. This morning, I found myself carrying my clothes in to the bathroom to dress under the wall-heater. So what's new? 65 years ago in the winter I would dress under the bed-clothes or run down to the living room coal fire and dress in front of that. That would make me 75 going on 10, would'nt it?

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