Friday, October 29, 2010

Love and the Cathode Rays

At some point in the next week, I will finish watching season 6 of The Office on NetFlix and part of my connection to Verna will dissolve. I’ve been half channeling, half mirroring Verna since she died, and at the conclusion of season 6, the last one available instantly, I will probably stop watching the shows Verna viewed for the last several months of her life.

Shortly after she was first diagnosed with cancer in 2006, family and friends brought her DVDs to watch while she recovered from her biweekly doses of chemotherapy. We were reformed TV addicts at the time, but Verna quickly renewed her habit out of necessity.

A cancer memoir that appeared shortly after Verna first got sick captured Verna’s state of mind. Cancer Made Me Shallow Person, an illustrated narrative by another woman who ultimately lost her battle to cancer, is funny, irreverent, poignant, and a brash statement of identity amid a terminal illness.

Verna loved the book (which I also read) and used it to defend and rationalize her sedentary lifestyle. So she watched Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, The Sopranos, 24, The Medium, Curb Your Enthusiasm, MI5, both the original British and later American versions of The Office, countless movies. She said she just didn’t have the energy or ability to concentrate long-term on reading books, though she still devoured them, albeit more slowly.

I alternately resisted and embraced her TV viewing. I preferred reading, but TV is so mindless and, yes, watching a show together meant being together even if it was a very passive form of connecting. Sometimes I would read on the landing leading to our garage, huddled against the first step while Verna, resting in her recliner 20 feet away, cackled at some comedy or was engrossed in a tense drama. And at other times, I employed a can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em approach and sat on the couch and watched with her.

When we were laughing together or nervously awaiting the outcome of a show, I still preferred to be engrossed in engaging fiction or non-fiction, but it wasn’t as if Verna and I had no prior TV viewing history.

When we were first married, Thursday nights were Cheers. Then we drifted to Mad About You, a show that resonated because it was, like us, the story of a Jewish guy married to a non-Jewish woman. Tears of laughter streamed down our faces at the various family situations, often involving Paul Reiser’s neurotic Jewish relatives, Paul and Jamie navigated.

Then we had Miguel, and TV became less and less important. Verna went back to work, I did some writing, and we spent our evenings cleaning up or relaxing with books, magazines, or the newspaper. We still watched movies, pretty faithfully every Friday evening and often on weekends, but we avoided the boob tube (no pun intended).

So, now as season six winds down, and Jim and Pam just got married, escaping their own ceremony to secretly wed in the mist of Niagra Falls, I feel wistful and miss Verna so damn much. I sit in her electric recliner and, like her, have the computer propped on my knees, and I imagine myself laughing at the same scenes and instances in The Office as she did.

And that is why the soon-to-be conclusion of season 6 is so sad. In some ways, I feel Verna is with me when I watch her show. Once the show ends, I will have to confront in even starker terms what I have been living with since August 30: Verna has died and is not coming back.

Then, again, another one of our shows, the surprisingly witty and often hilarious How I Met Your Mother, season five, is now available on DVD. Verna and I watched seasons 1-4 together. I’ll have to see this one alone.

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