Today would have been Paul Mandracchia’s 60th birthday. Had he lived, I would be planning a celebration for August 2018 when we would have marked the convergence of his being 60, my turning 70, and our 35th Anniversary.
It is very tempting to write about this loss, my loss. Our loss. His struggles. The challenges of his last years alive.
But I think instead that it is more interesting to think about his life.
Paul was an amazing problem-solver. I still laugh about my approach to gardening which usually involved a dozen trips to the garage to get anything accomplished. Paul used to watch me bustle around the yard while he sat at a table making a list of the equipment he’d need for the project. He’d then collect it all in one trip and take it to the site on which we were working. If I commented on his failure to give me a clue to save the time running around, he’d comment that he thought I needed the exercise.
Paul had dear friends and caregivers who knew him well. Few, however, knew the amount of time he spent every day for years forgiving people for the hurts he experienced. Each morning from about 6:30 until 10:00, Paul listened to Chopin preludes or nocturnes while doing the stretches that had been so much a part of his life since he was a teen learning to dance. Sprawled on the floor, he might touch his nose to his knees or hoist his legs over his head to touch his toes to the floor behind his head. During these moves, Paul thought about any hard feelings he harbored and forgave us for contributing to them. His caregivers, friends, and family greatly benefited from the wisdom of his actions. None, however, benefited as much as Paul and I did.
The High Holidays are usually very near Paul’s birthday, so we often talked about New Year, birthday, and forgiveness at this time of year. On his last Yom Kippur, I asked Paul if he wanted to apologize for anything. This, of course, was my teasing him. But, without missing a beat, Paul said, “Yes, I apologize.” When I asked him for specifics, he added, “For everything.” We both fell over laughing.
Paul was also a very sensuous and sexy man. On our first date, he did this thing with his eyes, opening them wider whenever our gaze met. I said to him, “You know, that isn’t going to work with me.” He responded, “It already has.” He was right. One day years ago, I asked him why he was putting a folding screen in front of the sliding doors that led from our foyer to the back yard. He said he didn’t want anyone watching while we had sex on the lawn. A half an hour later, a friend knocked on the gate to the yard and barged in. While I was working to throw a blanket over us, Paul just stood and said, “Hi.” He argued that it would be reasonable to expect we’d be making love on the lawn.
Two weeks after we met, my father died. Paul came over and hung out with me through the funeral so that I would not be alone. He encouraged me to join friends of mine to play Trivial Pursuits a few days later. That’s the night I got a bigger picture of Paul’s intelligence. He wiped us up with his knowledge of history, geography, geology, astronomy, botany, and the arts. Over the decades, I witnessed many times when he would dismantle an argument with some unsuspecting person through the force of fact and logic. Sometimes during these jousting matches, Paul would slightly turn down the very tip of his nose — how DID he do that? — as a sort of punctuation to his take down.
Paul was well-read, but cared little for contemporary fiction. He preferred science, biography, memoirs, and history. He enjoyed looking at modern classics in furniture and film, but was interested, too, in understand the history of the times in which they were created. In his last year, he could not read easily. Damage to his optic nerves made this important pastime nearly impossible for him. When he was hospitalized or in short stays in rehab facilities, he would let me read to him. Our last book was a history of ballet. Every few pages we would pause to talk about what we read, how it fit into his broad understanding of the field, and what he thought I should take away from the passage.
He loved the human form, but held as suspect any notion that it could be somehow perfected. Instead his nude drawings aimed to show the human form as beautiful in stylized ways that suggested appreciation for what is. His last self-portraits expressed the anguish of his experience of MS. They are stunning in their realness and unrestrained access to his deepest self.
Yes, I miss Paul terribly. But my sense of loss is surpassed by my experience of awe and appreciation. Many have acknowledged the strength of my commitment to Paul, having increasingly taken care of him over the last 14 years of his life. Perhaps I more than anyone else can acknowledge the strength of his commitment to me and to us. Before we started to live together, he told me than when he moved in it would be for life. His pledge to me was that he would do his absolute best to figure out whatever got in the way of our union. He did not let me down.
What a wonderful life to have witnessed!