In the dark

It’s definitely winter now. I’m spending much of my time huddled up with a hot drink — and feeling a bit guilty that I get to loaf around while Alene has to go to work. It’s been reminding me of another winter I spent this way.

In October of 1999, a few weeks after Alene and I were connected, a business trip took me to meetings in Vienna and Paris. After wrapping things up in Paris, I went out to my house in the country. I hadn’t been there since the end of May — and I knew I would be returning to something of a “crime scene”. That long weekend in May had been one of non-stop wine drinking — all by myself. I had gone down there in the happiest of moods after a few dazzlingly successful weeks at work — but had quickly fallen into a dark hole of a depression — not good when there is a cellar full of wine on hand. I was late returning to London — and not in the best of moods. But in October, I was the happiest I had been in years — and I hadn’t been drinking since being connected with Alene — so I felt that I could face the house again.

When I entered the kitchen, it was like time had stood still there. On the large table were at least a dozen dead soldiers (empty bottles) — and a few that I had opened and somehow not finished. There was broken glass on the floor from dropped bottles and wineglasses – and dried up wine spills all over the place. I had half a mind to just go back to Paris and forget the whole thing — but I really wanted to share this house with Alene, even though she couldn’t see it. If I spent some time here, she would get to know the place. So as soon as she left for work, I got busy cleaning up and tried to forget what was going through my head that weekend in May — and by the time she was home for work, I had got the place looking reasonably presentable. There was no food in the pantry or fridge, and it was too late to go out to buy anything, so for dinner I had to make do with the bread and cheese I had brought with me from Paris. It was a warm autumn evening and I enjoyed a picnic in the garden.

I was now six hours ahead of Alene, but I didn’t need to be up early the next morning, so I stayed up very late to spend time with her. When I was finally lying in bed with the light off, I marveled at the quiet — and I realized it was the first time I had ever gone to bed sober in that house. Wow. I slept really well but did not sleep late. The morning sunshine flooded the bedroom. I was also very hungry. I decided to get up and drive into the village to get provisions — milk, bread and crepes. By crepes, I don’t mean the ones with fancy fillings, just the plain article that you spread jam on, or even eat just plain. After breakfast, I sat out in the garden and read a book while I waited for Alene to wake up and join me.

I was there with for five rather blissful days — and returned to London most reluctantly. Without the background energy of London, I had enjoyed Alene’s company more readily — and I was better able to be there for her. So, over the next few months, I decided to negotiate a leave of absence as part of a transition into early retirement — and in early January of 2000, I headed back to the French countryside to spend the winter.

It was a rather rainy, chilly winter, as I recall. And the house was neither well insulated nor well heated. I had had the plumbing updated and a modern bathroom built out in the old scullery off the kitchen, so I could have a hot shower — although the hot water only lasted for around five minutes. The darkness and the rain and the lack of any time commitments made it easy for me to keep hours that more closely matched Alene’s. I got up at around noon and enjoyed a quick shower. Then while Alene was getting ready for work, I went into the village to do my shopping. On my return, I would enjoy a leisurely breakfast while watching her start work. I had a little plug-in electric heater that I could move from room to room, and during hours of daylight I liked to be at the kitchen table with the heater at my feet. Then as darkness fell, I would relocate to the sitting room.

There was a TV set in the house, but reception was very poor, so I’d only ever watched videos there. But I now watched Alene’s TV, so it was hardly a problem. I was often up until around 4am my local time, but with nowhere to have to be during the day, that was no problem either. Saturday was the best. Alene got up early and made crepes for herself (at my suggestion she had looked up a recipe that she could handle) and we enjoyed a very long breakfast with the TV. Outside my window it was usually raining. Outside her window, it was often snowing.

Alene did indeed get to know the place. She quickly learned the layout of the house — and especially the kitchen, where I spent so much of the daylight hours. I was rather chagrined one day when she nagged me to do the dishes. I had been letting them pile up for several days in the sink — and in her mind she had formed an image of a sink filled with tea mugs and plates! She could also describe the rather ratty gray cardigan I slouched around in (another piece of clothing I had rescued after my wife tried to throw it out with the garbage.) And she recognized the little old lady who served up the crepes at the creperie. Even though Alene could not see through me, she had managed to form images and link them together into a coherent space — just as a blind person would.

One of the happier features of Alene’s terrifying summer of 1999 was a photography class. She had no difficulties at all in the dark room — finding that if you closed your eyes it made everything easier. And then as she developed prints, she marveled as she watched images gradually appear, one little piece at a time. In hindsight, it seemed to be a heads-up for what would be coming her way.

I must admit I’m rather disappointed that Alene has been less perceptive of my surroundings down here near Cape Horn. The distance is greater, although the time difference is less. She quickly grasped the layout of the cabin and the view as we walk along the path to the storage facility. And she somehow knows that Allen is going to break down some pallets that are taking up space in the storage facility so that we can have a winter solstice bonfire. But she doesn’t seem to have “taken up residence” here the way she did at my house in France.

Perhaps it because I’m not alone — so there are concerns of privacy. Or it could be that she has more distractions at her end this time: in 2000, she was living alone in a house way out in the woods instead of in a small apartment in Seattle — and we were both experiencing winter, spending a lot of time alone indoors. She has also come to feel less personally and financially secure in recent years — and so less inclined to allow herself to indulge “the world inside her head.”

I just managed to get a smile from her though. Allen is getting ready to head out for a bit of exercise and he has on a rather amusing black-and-red knit hat that he surely wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in Seattle — unless he wanted to make someone laugh. He’s taking my mittens too! I’d better get them back! The temperature has been hovering around freezing of late and it seems to snow frequently, but the constant wind prevents much accumulation other than small drifts. Right now, we’re enjoying what’s known in Britain as a “bright interval.”

It’s rather beautiful down here. I need to draw Alene further in.

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