stored in a shoebox there is a letter from my mother that reads in part: “i am writing to you after our disappointing phone call today to let you know…” (at one time in the not too distant past, people used to write letters to each other — on paper — address an envelope and stamp it, mail it using the united states post office — no one called it the postal service — i’ve kept a lot of these letters, not just from my mother, but from my friends and relatives as well. they’ll never be published, you know, as “robert patrick: letters 197_ to 198_”, but they do give a little insight to what was happening in my life at the time.)
but back to “disappointing phone calls”: i had two yesterday. one with a friend who lives in paris and the other with a friend in chicago. it wasn’t until i had hung up with my friend in paris that i realized something was wrong; i’m not sure she knew who she was speaking with…she is elderly, and she admitted that her children had arranged for people to come and check up on her every day and get here and there and back again. when i asked if she’d been painting, she replied, “not for at least a year now.” which saddened me as there wasn’t a time that i’ve known her when she wasn’t in the middle of some revelation, breakthrough, new insight, and applying the news in paint on canvas/paper/tennis shoes. that’s 31 years of creating and that’s just the time i’ve known her. when i shared the news i had of two recent deaths of people she knew, she seemed disinterested, cold even.
and so, when i hung up, i realized that she sounded not unlike my uncle who has alzheimer’s…relatively reasonable about “how he’s doing”, but a little hollow and perfunctory, as if he were being polite to a stranger. <sigh>
the other phone call was with a friend whom i’ve know for as long as my painter friend in paris. this one still in chicago and struggling financially, still in her home, but barely, working two jobs, going without electricity one month, gas the next, or some other important daily necessity just to make that mortgage payment. i relayed my news, but she would not let me get a word in — her diatribe relentless (relentless diatribe = redundant, but true) and off-putting, for what was i to do, but listen and murmur agreement? finally, i said “i love you, but i have to go now.” and she quieted down and we parted–still friends, still sharing, still suffering.