Instructions, As If
by Dinah Lenney
If I were brave, if I could commit to anything, I’d say scatter me in Elysian Park.
You don’t want me to take you to Nantucket? Fred asks. And this is absurd. This is the sort of thing that puts me in a fury—as if I have any connection to Nantucket, as if he does—that’s not just the road not taken; Nantucket wasn’t ever remotely in the offing, not for a minute.
Nantucket, I say. Nantucket, why?
Because we spent New Year’s Eve on that island three decades ago? Because, show off that I was, I stripped down under frigid skies and ran into the ocean that last gray day of December? Because my toes froze on the bike ride back to the inn, where he bought me a toddy in the bar, then took my feet into his lap and massaged them back to life. Because, that night, in the restaurant, bathed, fragrant, swathed in velvet, I went him one better: lifted the long starched cloth that draped our corner table (this, between the oysters and the entrees) and went down on my knees under there, as if for a lost fork. Because, though we couldn’t have known, we were starting our lives together, that’s the reason, according to him (such a romantic); implicit, of course, that I would therefore choose to spend the rest of my life on Nantucket. Or—or not my life—my what? My, my. As if eternity as well as the other coast, belongs to me.
As if. Puts a spot on the absurdity of choosing a location: unless I do it for his pleasure and convenience, which brings me right back where I started, doesn’t it? Were I able to summon the courage of my convictions, to actually entertain the idea of my demise, I’d shrug off the whole idea of exotic locales; I’d insist, or at least surrender to spending the rest of time—not my days, exactly, but time itself—in the park not a quarter mile east, where we’ve walked our dogs for 25 years, assuming, that is, that he stays in this house, on this street, in this town. And absurdity aside—the absurdity of dictating his choice (he will put me where he pleases)—what about the pretention? As if to impress, whom, each other? As if to fulfill some fantasy scenario, too much, too late? As if I’d have the nerve to tell him to trek, for my sake, to Paris, London, or Rome; to the mountains of New Hampshire; to the Cape (the bay side, naturally); to Manhattan. And yet—Manhattan—isn’t that where I belong? Bosh. Tell the truth, why don’t you? As if you ever once came up out of a subway and knew where you were. And yet: for the longest time, I kept one of those pins in the bottom of my pencil jar, the size of a silver dollar, white with red letters: Broadway, I’ll be back, it read. As if, all over again. What did I think? That the kids would grow up and I wouldn’t? That we’d return to New York and be whom? Not ourselves. We, ourselves, happen to live just over the rise from Dodger Stadium on the other side of Elysian Park. Elysian!—we, who don’t believe in that shit (perhaps because we don’t believe in that shit) aren’t paying attention, are we? But c’mon now, we’re looking to rest in a better place?
No better place. Still, I’m one to keep my options open, as if, when I’ve been reduced to ash, when the dregs of me are rattling around in the bottom of a canister, I’ll have options…
I’ll tell you what, love. You go first. I’ll shuttle youwherever you please, though how to abandon you there (don’t you want me to visit you?), when the only heaven we’ll ever know is here? Meanwhile, you and I foolishly yakking, planning, squinting into the smog as if there were something above and beyond.