Early morning in early Spring. I am struck by the perfection of my placement under layers of blankets. I reach over with my left hand and the other half of the bed is smooth and cool. A perfect metaphor for its departed occupant who, I surmise, is up-and-at-’em already. Probably out for a walk or curled up downstairs in the big leather chair by the fireplace writing something I’ll shake my head in wonder at later. Mainly, though, Audrey’s absence means the coffee has percolated and the cat’s had her breakfast. And, sure enough, the fed cat appears, launches herself onto the bed and, ignoring the empty acreage, sets up shop on my shoulder, purring ostentatiously. I pretend she was never born but a ten pound tuna-breathing chainsaw is hard to ignore. I’ve got to get up.
Many decades ago and for a brief period I regularly performed a credible imitation of an athlete. Where that actor went I couldn’t tell you but I miss him now. I shift the cat and with painful deliberation coordinate the muscles required to effect a launch. I actually have to hook a foot on the edge of the mattress to create enough leverage to heave my torso vertical. I think of the “better half” who earlier slipped so effortlessly from the covers that I didn’t even notice. I contrast her graceful escape with the preposterous flailings of her rhinoceros husband who, in terms of displacement anyway, is more like two-thirds of the marriage. But I’m up. And suddenly angry at my decrepitude. I bear weight. Both knees pop. I scratch my ear and hear clearly the ruined sinews of my left shoulder grinding. The cat slips under the covers and on to the warm spot I have surrendered. Like a hermit crab. Our little pas de deux and her one job – getting Glenn up – completed, she settles in for an all day nap. I hate her.
The stairs are a chore. My knees scream on each one. I get to the bottom and only then discover that I’ve left my glasses and my iPad on my desk upstairs. I wince back up and down again only slightly limbered by the exercise. Audrey is gone. To work I now realize on Saturday at a job exponentially harder than mine. Our coffee, brewed in the pre-dawn, is now cold. I microwave a cup and settle on the futon to skim through Facebook and the local news. A shooting in Harrisburg. A Turnpike fatality. A local college in shocked mourning at the sudden death of a Sophomore. Three separate and heartbreaking awfuls. I purposely ignore the day’s fresh presidential election obscenities and skip straight to the hockey scores. No Canadian teams in the NHL playoffs for the first time in 46 years. I pout, involuntarily.
Today it takes three cups of bad coffee to get me moving. I trade pajamas for sweats and wander out back to our wooded lot for a look around. A Cooper’s hawk has spent the last several weeks constructing an elaborate nest about fifty feet up a gnarly walnut tree. Now his full time job is convincing a female to join him in it. The other day I waddled out to check on his progress and inadvertently chased away his date who flapped off in a startled hurry. The male glared at me, fuming mad. I felt terrible. Today he’s alone in a pine tree and gives me a sharp bark and the stinkeye. He loathes me. I take his picture and slink back into the house.
I have some business emails to sift through and some significant work to do on an unfinished project I’ve been promising my boss for a month. So I decide to go to the gym. Planet Fitness. Ten bucks a month. It’s crowded, as usual, with no-nonsense Pennsylvanians who are working out like it’s their job. No chitchat. No bullshit. Just exercise. I grab a mat and a corner of floor space and labor through my routine of age-appropriate calisthenics: situps, pushups, chinups. Repeated until I see spots and nausea sets in. A tiny girl next to me is doing some improbable yoga, contorting in amazing shapes. She has on headphones and I imagine she is listening to a Haydn symphony. Joyful and brave. I want to tell her to enjoy her body while she can. Before she has to hook her foot on the mattress to get out of bed. I think of the murdered boy in Harrisburg, the teenager crushed when her car flipped over on the Turnpike and the college student whose sudden and unexplained death bewildered her friends. I want to tell this girl to be careful out there. And to wear her seatbelt.
Next is a half hour on the eliptical. It’s knee-friendly and a good alternative to running which is on the lengthening list of things I can’t do anymore. There is a sturdy, handsome woman about my age on the machine next to mine. She’s worked up a good sweat. Her face is set, determined, focused. She too is listening to music. Tom Petty I hope. And not Beyonce or something. I wonder if she knows about the dead children on the news. She could be the mother of one. I think about the parents of those kids. If they still get up, make coffee, read the paper, go to the gym. The unbearable agony of persisting. It scares me.
I finish my workout. At home I wander back into the woods and there are the hawks – two of them. Arrangements have been made, apparently. They fly off when I arrive but not very far. They perch at the edge of our woods, about fifty yards apart. The male barks at me. He tells me they’re not going anywhere. I close my eyes and talk to them telepathically. I tell them I’m not going anywhere either. And that the last time I checked my name was on the deed and my signature on the monthly mortgage checks. They’ll need to get used to me. I tell them how cool I think they are. The conversation makes me feel better. Like I’ve made some progress with them.
Back in the house I find the cat still asleep on my side of the bed. I scratch her head and she yawns. I ask her, if it’s not too much trouble, could she catch me a mouse later. I want to make a housewarming gift to my hawk couple. She rolls her eyes and goes back to sleep.