The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Fade Up February 27, 2014

Just as the very real images of my dream begin to fade, my body starts to register some incoming data from the physical world… although I can still very clearly see the environment of my dreaming mind, I can also sense that my nose is very cold. My face too, and also the shoulder that rests outside of the covers. While still tracking the scene that continues to play in my mind, another line of thinking superimposes itself on top: for a few seconds both my sleeping and my waking consciousness are co-existing. And even as that is happening, there’s a third witness present; I (whomever that may be) am watching the two operate simultaneously, and I am marveling over it. Underlying the whole thing, dreams, to-do lists and the emerging memory that yes, we are out of fuel oil again, a soundtrack of Stanley Clarke’s School Days plays, over and over. The music is a bit distracting, but I can’t seem to stop it. Over and over again the line plays as my waking mind picks up speed and the lists start coming at me fast and furious. So much for sleeping in this last precious hour.

I watch the mix of thoughts and sounds fly around in my head like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the witch morphs from riding a bicycle to flying on a broom…. Thoughts fly about me in a virtual storm, and it feels I have no control… Eventually my witnessing mind is pulled back in from the sidelines, the dream evaporates, and I am now in my body again. The visions and soundtracks are gone. At last, I manage to sit upright in bed. Yes, the house is cold. The nightscape has faded into another day of earthly realities. And this business of keeping the house from freezing in single-digit temps is now number one on the day’s to-do list. In the past I might have been thrown by this alone – I remember in the early days, running out of fuel was downright frightening. It felt lonely and vulnerable, and although it was nothing personal on anyone’s part, it felt somehow as if the world had chosen to turn us away. But this morning, I wasn’t stopped, or even slowed down. (I admit that without the Brady Bunch double ovens to warm the kitchen and our portable electric heaters I might feel otherwise.) These days, it was just another thing to deal with. And these days, I’m getting pretty good at dealing with things. !

I am, however, a bit dismayed that the five gallons of kerosene I’d dumped in the tank yesterday afternoon didn’t even last us twenty-four hours; we’d barely kept the house at 60 degrees – truly, I’d been frugal. How in hell had we blown through all that fuel? Maybe kerosene doesn’t burn as efficiently. Maybe single-digit temps really require a lot more fuel. I guess. Having some concrete ideas makes it easier to take. We’re on a wait list for emergency oil thru the state assistance program, so relief is coming at some point. (It’s been a week without proper heat now, and although it feels like the longest we’ve gone without oil at one stretch, Elihu remembers us going nearly two weeks without heat a couple of years ago. Funny how you repress some things.) Besides, I’m sure there are folks much worse off than us. Sometimes I worry more about my instruments than I do us, and it’s then that I realize I guess I shouldn’t be bitching. I’m lucky we get help at all – and luckier still to have a piano and a harpsichord in our living room. Just take it day by day, I tell myself, and I keep my sights set no further out – because it’s far less stressful. And it’s kinda funny how the things that used to be the really big stuff become the not-so-big stuff in light of the truly heavy shit. Like a concert hall whose floor and walls are being removed as I write this, like a business that needs to be created, programs developed, budgets mapped out… Never mind getting my taxes together, learning the score for the children’s theater production next week or the Bach Partita with the right-over-left hand crossing business that I need to have learned by Monday (I have lovely memories of my father playing this, so it’s truly a joy to finally learn it myself)…. Yeah, it’s all pressing in on me, but with the drama of the Studio continuing on all the while – sort of like the dream and waking realities living side-by-side – it doesn’t seem as daunting. Interesting how one’s perspective on things can change.

My spirits are also somewhat buoyed by last night’s conversation about the future of the Studio with my mother. I’m back to teaching my continuing ed course I call “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher” on Wednesday evenings, and mom stays with Elihu. (I wasn’t able to teach it last semester as mom couldn’t leave dad. Now, of course, she’s free to come over.) After I got back we sat and talked about life for a while. Naturally the Studio was the main concern; we discussed the different systems of heating, the floor materials, small upgrades that might benefit the place – and I was surprised at how positive she seemed at the ideas. I myself had been fighting daily not to succumb to tears over the whole thing. How was she so calm about it all? I learned that from her perspective, this is dad’s legacy we’re talking about here; we need to do what needs to be done. (When I falter, Elihu says the same thing. “You have to do this for grandpa!” he reminds me vehemently.) It it so beyond the scope of anything I’ve done, and it almost seems downright nuts to talk about spending all this money when Elihu and I are living in a house without heat. (There goes dad’s VA insurance, but then this is a much more fitting use for it than an elaborate funeral!) Really, it seems crazy. But then again, it’s kinda like apples and oranges. The Studio will be a source of income one day (that’s the hope, I’m still working hard on believing it) and it will be my sole occupation at some point. So it makes sense to invest in it. We can live in a chilly house for a bit, it won’t affect our future. At any rate, that’s how I justify it. I just see them as two separate entities. And thankfully, as my focus is on the Studio now, it gives me less time to stew over my own personal situation. In a week’s time this will be nothing but a memory…

From one reality to another, from one set of priorities to another, I gotta keep living in the moment, dealing only with what’s before me. I’m keeping my head down here, and my focus on the path in my immediate field of vision. I’ll look up every now and then to make sure I’m going in the right direction, but for now, my individual steps are the most important thing. Soon enough this reality will fade into the next, so for now I’ll just do my best, carefully putting one foot in front of the other until I get to the next rest stop on the trail.

 

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