Getting through the first year without Peter felt like a goal, something worth working to achieve. By the end of November, though, having reached the end of the first year without Peter, somehow I felt almost cheated that there was no reward, no feeling of achievement, nothing. I had somehow expected life to feel easier after the first year, but it didn’t. On the contrary, December felt like a long, uphill battle for no discernible reason.
Setting up and opening the “new” workshop, the Werkstatt am Hauptplatz, was an important goal, and it was absolutely worth the effort, but it did indeed require a tremendous effort. When November was followed by December, and I realized it was time to think about Christmas, it felt like more than I could possibly cope with. When the notice came from the tax office with the schedule of payments to cover Peter’s income tax from 2011 by the end of the next year, it nearly defeated me. Then finally I realized my mistake: somehow I had unconsciously assumed that now everything could return to “normal”, and that I could prepare for Christmas as I had always done in the past, but that is, in fact, no longer possible. As much as Peter always complained about the disruptiveness of Christmas, we still shared responsibility for preparations. We shared ideas about presents and divided up both errands and costs, but that only works with two people. It came as a shock to realize that I can no longer afford to do Christmas the same way that Peter and I did it together in the past, but by then it was too late. I had already spent too much money even before I received the notice from the tax office, and it was too late to come up with an alternative plan.
As I felt disappointed, apprehensive, under pressure to keep up with work, even more so because of the urgency of needing the money, the stress started to manifest itself physically. At some point I realized that if Peter were here, he would have noticed that I was becoming increasingly irritable and unreasonably grumpy, but he would also have noticed that I was limping and made a connection. Admittedly, it invariably irritated Peter that he always had to tell me when I was in pain and start nagging me to do something about it, but at least I could always rely on him to do so. Theoretically, I know that taking the attitude toward physical pain that if it’s not fatal, I can live with it, is neither healthy nor sensible. Putting that theoretical knowledge into practice, however, is definitely not one of my strong points. But without Peter now, even that is solely and entirely up to me. I have to rearrange my life, my whole life, in all the minor and major points. I have to readjust my thinking, my expectations, my daily routines and all my coping mechanisms. How did I miss that part, while I was just concentrating on getting through the first year?
On the Saturday before Christmas I lost the plot. When Seth came in and found me in tears, he went straight into action, throwing Christopher out of bed and getting Paddy on the phone at the same time. While pain had kept me awake all night, I had convinced myself that all my efforts were a waste of time and energy, nobody was interested in Christmas, they were just going along with it to humor me, so Seth’s efforts to motivate Christopher and Paddy to get involved only seemed to confirm those misgivings. In the end I fled to the workshop to set everything up for “#twichteln”, the Christmas party of the Linz Twitter community. That was probably the right course of action, since the party turned out so well, which helped me to feel considerably less incompetent. While I was in the workshop, Seth and Christopher went out to buy a tree, set it up in the living room and brought up all the boxes from the cellar. Then on Sunday Azra came, and she and Christopher and I decorated the tree, hung up the stockings (including the two new ones I had made for Azra and Agnes), and set out other Christmas decorations. Azra was so sweet about listening to all my stories about each of the ornaments and where all the decorations had come from, that I started to feel much better. I was touched to hear Christopher telling Azra about Bean, my grandmother, as though he had actually known her, although telling Azra about Amy made me feel a bit sad, because I am increasingly realizing how much they would have had to say to one another. Because I am not Amy and because of the ways we were very different, now I can only tell Azra what she is missing. And consequent to Seth’s efforts, I learned that, far from having lost interest because he wanted to do his own Christmas celebration, Paddy had been working very hard to surprise me, which was why I hadn’t heard from him. I felt like a complete fool then, thoroughly ashamed of myself for making such a fuss.
Once the tree was decorated and presents started being placed under it, Hester seemed to revert to her early kitten-hood and insisted on hiding under the tree behind the other presents, just as she had done a year ago, when Paddy first brought her to me.
Then after all of my misgivings and worries and unhappiness, because I felt that what I had to offer was too meager and stretched, and no one wanted it anyway, it all turned out well after all. Christmas Eve with Peter’s family felt gentle, warm, enjoyable, and I felt contentedly certain that my attempts to express affection and care for his family would have made Peter happy. Then watching everyone open gifts from one another on Christmas day at my house, I felt deeply touched by the thoughtfulness so abundantly evident in both giving and receiving. Among all the other presents, I saw there was an envelope under the tree with my name on it. An invitation to a nice personally cooked dinner in Vienna? A concert or a play? Announcement of a CD not yet released or some other kind of promise? When I opened the envelope, I found this sheet of paper inside:
While I was still blinking, Paddy ran into the other room and came back with a guitar – a new guitar for me.
I have never had another guitar, other than the one given to me for my twelfth birthday. It gave me great pleasure then, opened up other possibilities for me when I learned to play with the folk mass group at church as a teenager. It has accompanied me everywhere since then, proved to be quite useful when I was a religion teacher in Innsbruck, and got me some of the best rides during my hitch-hiking days. Although I think a few old photos do exist of Peter and me playing the guitar together, for the most part I just left it up to him, because he played much better than I did, and later Paddy learned to play much better than Peter ever did. At least, however, I can claim credit for having taught the boys the first few chords on the guitar, but I don’t think they found “The Crawdad Song” amusing after the age of about four. Recently, I started trying to play again, because with no more musicians living here, now I have to make my own music again. After the first attempts were a bit frustrating, I asked Paddy to tune it for me, which helped a little, but my poor old guitar is so battered and worn now that not even Paddy can make it really sound good.
With the new guitar, along with Paddy’s suggestions about where to find chords for more interesting songs than the ones I used to play for my pupils in Innsbruck, I have the feeling that some of my confidence is returning. My fingers have grown soft, of course, my fingernails too long, but I can change that. At least my fingers remember now where they belong on the strings. The cats are clearly not impressed with my attempts to sing again, but they are happy to sit in the lovely new soft case while I work on it. With neither Peter nor Amy here to roll their eyes, it is tempting to indulge in a more extensive metaphorical interpretation of the new guitar: I have to rearrange my life now, not just for a year, but indefinitely. Maintaining the workshop and paying Peter’s income tax at the same time is a huge challenge, but I lived alone on very, very little money for a long time before I met Peter. I can do it again, but that doesn’t mean that I can just pick up where I left off more than twenty years ago. I need to relearn old skills, but acquire new skills and also new resources at the same time. I need to abandon certain habits and work on things that I could afford to not be good at for so many years. I need to learn to seek advice from people with different skills and other experience, and follow it. There is no specific goal, no finish-line, no set time frame, and there will be no prize or reward for achievement. This is simply my life now without Peter.
But when I think of all the people there are in my life who matter, I know I have a good life, and it is worth the effort.