Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's Like Being in a Dream Awake

When we first met, back in '99, I'd take the bus into Port Authority at 42nd Street and you'd meet me there. We'd walk down 42nd Street a lot- passing all of the Broadway shows.

Lion King was the newest hit back then- and we'd pass by the signs hanging below it with reviews every time. Our inside joke was to laugh at the one that said, "It's like being in a dream awake!" The sentiment just sounded so overdone to us, and we joked about it every time. For my first gift, you bought me a little stuffed lion from FAO Schwartz and handed it to me in the plastic bag it came in before I got on the bus to return home one evening. Inside was a note that said you were praying for me every night. I knew that you felt the same way. You said his name was Lion King. He is sitting next to me here now.

It's funny how that same phrase keeps coming in to my head the past few weeks- "it's like being in a dream awake." Well, in this case a nightmare.

Yesterday I spoke to a widower who lost his wife and two children at the same time. He told me he really kept believing for a long time it might be a nightmare and that he would wake up next to his wife. I have had that same thought, again and again. I imagine waking up next to Dan and how I will tell him about this long nightmare I've had.

The weekend concierge downstairs hadn't heard the news yet and after we got the mail tonight-he told Audrey to have a great night with her mom and dad.

I just heard myself calmly tell him that my husband had passed away a few weeks ago. "He drowned in a lake."

It's like being in a dream awake, being in a dream awake.


I wear your T-shirts and soccer jerseys.

I sing the songs you used to sing to Audrey now.

I call her "beptz," the name that you had for her since before she was born.

I dance the way you danced- and make your facial expressions when I think of them.

When I hear the bus brake outside of our bedroom window, I still get excited inside the way I used to- imagining you were home. The bus stops here during rush hour every 5 minutes or so, and I never knew exactly when you'd be home because it was different every night. So I'd be waiting while doing some freelance writing in bed. Hearing those bus brakes again and again. Then only once- I would hear those brakes and know you were there. I would hurry to the window, peak through the curtain, and there you would be...your silhouette in the evening light coming off that bus- headphones on usually- backpack behind you- sometimes that cello strung over one shoulder and behind you.

I picture you looking up at our window and waving that large, wave with one hand slowly- like people at concerts do during those power ballads or anthems. And I find myself imitating that too- while sitting in bed thinking of all this.

Baptism and Wisdom Teeth

The night I was baptized for the second time- as an adult in a pool, I came home to my parent's house where I was living at the time- and I remember there was a phone message from a friend with whom I'd been having some problems. It normally would have brought up a number of feelings in me- but it didn't. Instead I thought- God loves me- nothing else matters right now. I can easily handle this.

A year later, a few months after I met you- I found out I had to get my wisdom teeth out. Normally, I am a total wimp when it comes to stuff like this. I've only had a couple of cavities in my life and no surgeries- I've never even broken a bone.

But I remember when I went for the consultation at the oral surgeon, I thought to myself- in a similar way to that night after my baptism. It doesn't matter- I can handle it- I have Dan.


Saturdays were difficult when you were alive and touring. It's "family day" for the most part so usually pretty quiet around here.

And I think it's still the hardest day- with Sunday a close second- I look on Facebook and can't compete with all the happy family photos- people going fruit picking or to a petting zoo with their smiley kids- untouched by this kind of tragedy.

But today I had a nice visit from a very special friend- and a special gift in discovering on your iPhone the song lyrics to a song you only sang me once- at the end of May- only a couple of months ago- as a belated birthday present since you had been away for my birthday this year...the words all have taken on a new meaning for me now:

I notice the beauty

I notice the beauty
I notice the pain
I notice the things we've lost
And all that we've gained

The dreams we're still chasing
The ones we've chased away
The child that we hope grows into
a child pure and brave

Sometimes I feel like I could rule the world
And sometimes I feel I barely know myself

Then I'm reminded that I've won the girl
And I'm reminded I want nothing else.

Cuz I rule the world.

The skies will be bluer
The moon will glow bright
The strength of the innocence
Will push out the lies

I've walked on this long road
getting closer to home
I look forward to holding you
when we grow old

Do you know that I love you?
That one thing remains.
When I am too far away
That still will not change.

Letter from the Future

I wrote you this song for your 30th birthday Dan- and played it for you at the Irish pub where we celebrated with friends - a few of whom also shared songs.

I think it's the last song I've written. You told me it was your favorite and wanted to record it.

Back then, you were feeling discouraged about music all the time- in your mind you should've gone so much further so much sooner. You struggled daily at the 9-5 job where you felt so out of place.

So, I wrote you this song and this morning Audrey brought my guitar to me- and first I played some silly songs I usually play for her- and then decided I felt like playing this one for myself.

It's funny- the words to the chorus spoke to me so strongly just now- not from me to you anymore- but from you to me as I feel the gulf of time between us- however many years I have left here...and know you are beyond time and space...

I wish I could write you a letter

From the future when everything’s better

I’d tell you how fast all this time is gonna pass

And how these are some of your best days.

Maybe I’d tell you a secret,

Oh, how everything lost, you still keep it.

Oh, the only thing I’d do,

Mail that letter back to you,

To tell you everything will be well.

I remember when I got to that last phrase- and had an empty spot- those last words felt as though they were dropped into my head by God- not something I usually say or think: "Everything will be well," but now I am hoping it's true- hoping that you are telling me that now...that all of this- the pain and horror I feel anew this morning- the long long haul I have ahead- that for me and a little girl who misses her appa and has climbed up into his desk chair just now-

everything will be well...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Flowers in the Window

Just went back through some of my messages on FB from the past few weeks and realized something- one of the people who wrote me condolences is the lead singer of one of my all time favorite bands- Fran Healy of Travis.

Dan and I loved this band and listened to them for years- saw them live and agreed it was the best concert we'd ever been to- the energy, the music- it was just so much fun.

Dan was trying so hard to make a living doing this music thing- he had started getting in touch with so many people- including Fran. Dan was choosey though about who he wanted to play with, and I love that he was contacting all of our favorites- just following his passion and looking to play with the artists he actually respected.

But I just found this:

What shocks me is that Dan never even told me they had really corresponded like this. I remember him mentioning it, but not making it a big deal at all. I think he was always keeping things secret so that he and I wouldn't be disappointed. Things had fallen through for him a lot when he first got out of college. He'd moved to NY specifically for a music opportunity that later fell through. So he was quite cautious about any possible new opportunities.

Finding out about their correspondence has made me so sad- realizing how much was ahead of Dan- how much he was still working on and how far he'd come...

Listen to "Flowers in the Window" if you get a chance- it is a beautiful song and was the soundtrack to our falling in love, the year of our engagement, and our wedding day.

I Have Nothing to Offer

Thinking just now of one of our first talks together- probably in September or October of 1999. We'd had the "define the relationship" talk so early- just a few weeks after our trip to Maryland.

And then things got so dramatic for a number of reasons. So I remember us emailing and me saying something like I wasn't sure about things...the next email I got from you, you said you had left work early and were on a bus on your way to see me and to pick you up at 4:30 at the bus stop in Jersey.

I remember being blown away by your initiative.

I picked you up, we drove to my parent's house and walked across the street to a park. We sat on the bleachers, me in a pair of khakis and a purple sheer sweater with a white tank top underneath, black strappy sandals from which peaked light blue toenails. I remember them like a photograph because I think I was looking at my feet a lot while you talked.

You gave a lot of speeches- and that was one of the things I fell in love with. You dropped everything and came to NJ to talk to me. I know you wanted "us" to work, but what I remember you saying over and over was this:

"I have nothing to offer you. I have no money; I'm just temping. I'm not good at a lot of stuff. I have nothing to offer you."

Last night, yet another widow I've been introduced to asked a very poignant question: Is this torture- this grief so bad that I would rather that I had never met Dan and had those eleven years? Would I trade our life and love together to have not encountered this weight?" The answer can only be no. Our life together is who I am, it brought forth an enchanting daughter, and let me experience unconditional love- love that "Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end, Love (that) never dies." 1 cor. 13

"I have nothing to offer you," you said so seriously looking into my eyes on those bleachers eleven years ago. I'm so glad I didn't take that at face value. Look at all I would've missed.

Getting Things Done

For people who are always making to-do lists, it's a nice change of pace to make a "done" list.

I realize, that since July 6th, I have done a lot.

I have learned of my husband's sudden death and am still breathing.

I've planned a wake and funeral, picking out photos for a slideshow and writing a final goodbye to my love. In the process, sifted through eleven years of photo albums, journals, cards, and gifts.

Visited three cemeteries and chosen one- even bought my own grave while I was at it.

Hacked into Dan's email account so I could alert more of his contacts of his death.

I've attended said wake, funeral, and burial.

I've opened hundreds of sympathy cards that now sit in a basket next to my bed.

I've visited the social security office at 7 am, waited in line until 9 and filled out an application for benefits for Audrey and I.

I've started a blog for the first time and written 68 entries in 9 days.

I've received luggage from Switzerland and washed all of Dan's clothes that were in it. They are folded and back in his dresser drawers.

I've received his wallet and wedding ring, and decided to string the latter around my neck.

I've recorded Dan's last two saved voice mails in a recording studio as well as backed up any photos of our family that were on my computer with the help of a friend.

I've spoken to a few financial advisors about our current situation.

I've made five new friends through other friends- all young widows and one widower...and corresponded via email, chat, and phone with them all numerous times.

I've dusted and vacuumed my house. Also cleaned out and organized our closet with the help of a friend.

I've done at least 5 loads of laundry.

I've bathed Audrey many, many times...and fed her, and read her stories, and said her prayers and tucked her in every night.

I've changed my current phone plan and transferred my number to Dan's phone.

I've gotten in touch with my old therapist and had one session.

I can not overstate the physical exhaustion that comes with grieving. You sit and you stare all day- but it's a full-time job. By the end of the day you are mentally, emotionally and physically drained. I am quite content with my "done" list, and at the suggestion of the other widows- I am going to be kind to myself as much as I can...for this is certainly the hardest work I've ever done in my life.


Who would've thought it would be so hard to say goodbye to a phone number.

Just spent a very draining hour and a half transferring my number to your phone and account- and realized, I will never dial that number again- you'd kept that number for probably ten years now. It was one of the very few phone numbers- probably along with my own and my parents- and maybe my best friend from elementary school's home number- that I still had memorized.
I can hear your voice when you gave the number to someone over the phone. Exactly where you would pause, your intonation of each number. nine one seven...four nine four...six zero three nine.

And this I do not mean with the slightest bit of jest or humor-I will miss you dearly and remember you always.

A Change in the Weather

I know it's only July still- the same month Dan died, but last night I slept with my window open a bit, and this morning the temperature in our apartment was lower, and I felt chilly.

And then I felt scared.

I imagined the change in season that will eventually come- and will signify that I am getting further and further away from holding Dan on earth. The brisk air and turning leaves will remind me that time keeps moving with no pause for grief or loss. It will remind me that I must continue and go on without him through the seasons, through every holiday, and every day. I imagine autumn, his favorite season, will be particularly hard. He always wanted to get married in September. I will feel and smell those turning leaves and think of the song lyric I found recently while going through one of his journals: "Who thought death would look like autumn?"

Thursday, July 29, 2010


July 17th, 1999- (incidentally our wedding date 5 years later though we didn't realize that when we picked it)- we drove down to Maryland to play at a church youth rally. We had met three times before this and I liked you, but it was on this trip that we both fell in love. You called me every night after we got home.

There are many special memories from our conversations during that car ride. Mostly we talked of very simple things, and you told corny jokes. What I remember more than anything was that I had a smile on my face for most of the ride because you were just fun to be with.

I told you at one point that I had gone to UVa and did fairly well there, (academia was pretty much my whole identity at the time), but you surprised me by saying this:

"Wow- I'm so proud of you."

It was odd to hear that particular sentiment from someone I barely knew. But I really liked it. You were proud of me.

And now I am just trying to function and make it through another day of this. I am trying to still be the kind of mother I want to be for Audrey and not cheat her of me as well as you. And as I make her laugh, or wipe up the floor under her high chair, or teach her a new word, I feel as though you might- just might- be watching us. And I want to make you proud.

No Anesthesia

Writing this post has me in tears before I even begin.

How do I explain to a 22 month old little girl who loves her dad that she will never see him again? This is the most heartbreaking thing I deal with on a day to day basis.

Audrey is bright (and I'm not just saying that because I'm her mom). She has a tremendous understanding of things and an amazing memory. She is always listening to what I say- even if I'm on the phone or in an adult conversation- and chiming in to talk about what she hears me talking about. Her memory is astounding She remembers things from six months ago- and the genuine memory I believe. If I ask her what she had for lunch last Wednesday- she tells me- which is kind of frightening.

So- she is not at all clueless to what is going on as some might believe. Her world has changed- our routine has changed and many, many more people have been coming by. Besides her intelligence and memory- her and I are very closely bonded. She is in tune with my emotions and though I do my best to remain bright and steady with her- she knows very well that I am sad. I have told her. She witnessed me receiving the phone call on July 6th. I remember seeing her out of the corner of my eye kind of standing on tippie toe and cocking her head to one side looking concerned.

So- I have been reminded of something I gave a lot of thought to when I was pregnant- circumcision. Why? Because Dan and I wanted to be surprised and we thought we were having a boy. Every person on the street told me I was having a boy by the way I was carrying. "Girls steal all your beauty," a woman in a health food store told me, "and you look great. You're having a boy." Then there was the fact that we thought our doctor slipped once referring to the baby as "him" and quickly covering up saying "Well, we refer to all babies as him." And then there was an ultrasound- and it must have been a finger, but we swore...

So I found myself giving this a lot of thought and asking the doctor lots of questions. I wanted to know if there would be any anesthetic administered, and I wanted to know if I could be with him and hold his hand during the minor surgery. The answers to both were no. No anesthetic and no, I could not be present in the room.

But I felt- just because he is an infant - how can that mean he will feel no pain? We would never do that to a child or an adult, but something about infancy and even childhood- it seems we do all the painful things then imagining since it will all be forgotten later, it's as though it never happened. Even though it does happen and an infant is an infant- a brand new human, not a sub-human.

I keep thinking about this because I feel that way about Audrey now. I treat her very much as an equal in a lot of ways and have great respect for her- the independence she's shown as she practices getting each shoe on while balancing and holding on to the entryway table over and over again until she gets it; the embarrassment she now feels if she goes in her diaper because she knows how to use the potty now; the twinkle in her eye when she's being funny by pointing at different people in books and saying that they're me, or saying her name is grandpa. "My name gran pa!"

And so I know, that she is not immune to grief just because she is small, or just because she happily pointed to the picture of Dan above his casket at the memorial service, or because in a few years she may have forgotten him completely- none of that makes the grief she will feel any less real. So, i will be looking for signs- the way I hear her mumbling in her crib before bed: "Appa, Appa, God." Or on a day when she seems particularly hyper or difficult. or when she climbs onto my bed (where I usually am these days), and just hugs me.

I tell her things- She loves the moon and proudly spots it even on a sunny day - a little white whisp in the blue sky. and I've told her in the past that God is kind of like the moon- sometimes we see more than others, or sometimes we don't see him at all, but he's always there- just like the moon. So, I've told her that appa is with God now- and like the moon sometimes, we won't see him anymore- but he is always there. I've also told her he became a beautiful butterfly. OK, maybe she'll need therapy, but it's hard to put death into words that a 22 month old child can possibly grasp when I myself cannot grasp it. And yet, this is the task before me.

Yesterday, she was looking at a craft she'd made with Dan in the church nursery before he left. We remembered together when he helped her make it. Then she started to walk away. I asked her to come back, and I looked her in the eye and told her that she has a great memory- and she has to remember her appa. "Remember him OK? It will be hard, but I think you can do it." She listened intently and then I hugged her. As an active toddler, she doesn't usually stay in one place for very long, but she leaned her head on my shoulder and we hugged for a long time.

Fortune Cookie

In the winter, when you had returned from the fall tour- my parents graciously volunteered to watch Audrey so that we could reconnect and have a "date."

We decided to check out a soup dumpling place nearby that I heard was authentic and rivaled the ones in Chinatown. You had taken me to Joe Shanghai's and we visited another place next to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory quite frequently. I don't know if I'd ever be able to find it myself now. You were so good at navigating those confusing little streets in the heart of Chinatown. I'd just take your hand...

It was a small restaurant- semi-clean, with curt service, but the soup dumplings were authentic and we enjoyed our time together slurping them out of the porcelain soup spoons.

When it was over, we opened up our fortune cookies. One of them said, "You will move to a wonderful new home within the year." I am looking at it right now. I saved it because I desperately wanted us to find a home this year. We were looking with a realtor and had visited a mortgage broker, but it was tough finding anything in our price range in this area. So I kept that fortune and stuck it in the corner of a framed picture of Audrey at 4 months on our dresser; not because I believe in fortunes or astrology or anything like that. Just because it gave me hope and I thought maybe it was a reminder from God.

Now...all I can think about since your death is this: Who got that fortune? Was it actually mine, or yours. And I am fairly certain, 99% was yours.

Little Things

Shower. Check.

Audrey's peacefully napping.

I am breathing.

Was thinking after my shower when I sprayed down the shower with the Method Daily Shower spray- (Dan who worked in advertising for many years would've said this was an "ad placement," but I'm just saying...), (and yes, I sprayed my shower- first time I've done it since all this happened but after my friend Ann scrubbed and cleaned the bathroom so well- I felt I owed it to her to try to keep it clean a bit longer), but ...yeah, so I was thinking about all the little things that seemed important before. I am a person interested in details, and yes I have OCD as well.

So I worried about spraying that natural shower spray that smells like Ylang Ylang everyday, I bought mostly organic food, I carried my environmentally conscious bags to Trader Joe's, I used make-up and products without parabens or other chemicals. I think back and I think it all started while I was living in Park Slope where this stuff breeds like crazy and everyone is quite proud of it.

But now it all seems quite silly. I think we live in a culture, at least here in the Northeast- of such self-preservation if that was in our control.

Wedding Band

After three days of staring at it on his desk, this morning I opened the package with Dan's iphone, wallet, and wedding band.

It's all gone rather seamlessly; I've removed the promise rings I was wearing- the ones we wore for five years while dating- and replaced it with just his wedding band. I wear it on the gold chain he wore when we met 11 years ago- his grandmother had given one to each of the brothers. He loved her very much. I've had it in my own jewelry box for quite a few years as he'd stopped wearing it a while back- I think because he said it was making him itchy or giving him a rash.

Another widow had told me and this is true I'm finding- that a lot of the bigger moments - the holidays, anniversaries, Audrey's milestones may pass more easily than I would expect. This is because in our minds we build them up and expect them to be the most emotional. So I opened the package and yes, I cried quite a bit- but like I said- overall the exchange was rather seamless- not unleashing the dam that I thought it might.

Instead, said my new friend- it's the ordinary everyday moments- just like the ones I most miss- that will sneak up on you and you will find yourself sobbing at the grocery store or at the playground.

Is there a way I can prepare for those too? No, because there is no preparation, no planning, no controlling I can do here. I think of Dan- I too feel helpless, carried by cold, cold waters.


A friend wrote me today and told me that she didn't know if I'd noticed, but I'd been sighing constantly her whole visit.

"i don't know if you even realized how much you were sighing. every time you sighed, i felt so much sadness for you. there are no words, only deep sighs from you innermost places. the heaviness can only be expressed in the sigh."

I do notice. I just sigh a lot now. Sometimes it's a quiet, hmmph. Sometimes it's a longer sigh- ahhhhh.

One Month

Today it is one month since you left us- to go on the tour. You left on June 29, 2010. That is the last day I saw you alive.

We didn't want another dramatic goodbye- we were always crying- both of us- while I told Audrey you'd be back, that you had to go on a plane. So, we just gave a simple hug and goodbye- see you in a few weeks this time.

After I closed the door, I still cried quietly, but quickly pulled myself together and started to get Audrey's lunch together.

Then I heard the door open- you came back in and said you would leave your house keys- since you wouldn't need them. So, our goodbye- our very last goodbye- was even more casual.

"Oh OK, bye. Love you." Something like that.

The Future

I have been a believer since I was about 13.

Of course there have been many ups and downs on the journey, and at a time like this- "Christianese" quotations or even verses are just no comfort at all.

Dan and I both had been struggling with our faith the past few years. I truly believe we were going to a deeper place though- a place where we were comfortable enough in our relationship with God to ask the hard questions- just as we were comfortable enough with each other to push the boundaries at times when we fought and struggled.

With this belief- there is a lot of hope. I know I would not have this same hope if I wasn't a believer, or a follower of "The Way," as it was said of Christ's earliest followers. I would hate to just starting grabbing onto some angel in the clouds kind of philosophy just because I am grieving and want to or need to believe suddenly in an afterlife. That would be a false comfort based on neediness rather than the truth. So I feel very lucky to already have this firm foundation- and that it is one that Daniel and I shared.

Still- at a time like this- I need a lot of reassurance. I don't "feel" God just as I don't feel much of anything- I'm numb. There have been a few signs and symbols here and there, but for the most part I'm leaning on the faith of the witnesses around me. So in the early days, I asked our old pastor, Mike and many others- "Do you believe Dan is right now in the presence of God?" They answered me with great certainty and no hesitation.

I also asked this question of an old boss of mine who is a believer, and one that seems particularly steady to me- intellectually based rather than emotional- her answer brought me much comfort:

I truly do. And I will be praying for God to show up here, and reassure you on that note.

And then she wrote this:

Daniel is not just part of your past. He is part of your future.

Things to Be Grateful For

Yes there are those still.

  • My parents live nearby and can help with Audrey. She LOVES them.
  • My church family- whom I feel I barely knew- brings me fresh meals every couple of days and has a schedule til September- that blew me away.
  • Though things did get a lot quieter- my support group is still going- still calling, emailing, and helping with Audrey.
  • Everyone who stops by, brings food or a present for Audrey. (I've started to hide some away so I have things to take out when I'm having a rough day and so she doesn't get TOO accustomed to getting five new presents a day!)
  • My friendships are strong- people I have not seen in years have traveled great distances to come and be with me. It didn't feel awkward at all- we picked up right where we left off.
  • I live in a secure building where the concierge can take packages for me and have an amazing friend/neighbor right downstairs so it's not as isolating.
  • Though I could worry about money, I don't really feel I have to- I have family and friends who I know will help look out for us.
  • I have an education and a Masters and will do what I have to do to provide for Audrey and myself.
  • I live near a city with more jobs than most.
  • I have great classes for Audrey that she still gets to go to with my parents- a free one at the library- and the one at the Little Gym for the summer.
  • Audrey has been giving me a much easier time going down for naps and bedtime- as if she knows.
I'm sure there are a lot more- but this is all I can come up with for right now. Being grateful or saying, "well, things could be worse," certainly doesn't make them any "better" per say. It's like when I've battled depression and people (Dan sometimes) try to tell me others have it much worse- there are people starving, dying, in a war, people with nothing- how could that make me feel better when it's so sad. It always made me feel much worse about life in general and the amount of suffering in the world.

So, yeah, thinking of others who don't have all I have during their own state of grief or tragedy, certainly doesn't make this "better." But thinking of the good things I do have- it's still worth noting.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oh My Love

I remember thinking that this John Lennon song was so pretty when I heard it in high school on the Imagine album I think...I wanted to find a love like that. And I did and the words were appropriate then. But I found this song playing in my head the past few days- for they feel even MORE appropriate now.

Oh my love for the first time in my life,
My eyes are wide open,
Oh my lover for the first time in my life,
My eyes can see,

I see the wind,
Oh I see the trees,
Everything is clear in my heart,
I see the clouds,
Oh I see the sky,
Everything is clear in our world,

Oh my love for the first time in my life,
My mind is wide open,
oh my lover for the first time in my life,
My mind can feel,

I feel the sorrow,
Oh I feel dreams,
Everything is clear in my heart,
Everything is clear in our world,
I feel the life,
Oh I feel love.

Cleaning the Closet

Ann and I also tackled the closet for the greater part of yesterday afternoon and evening once Audrey had gone to sleep. It's a walk-in closet that you could barely put your pinky into.

And I confess, I cannot blame its state on my current grief- it was pretty bad before Dan left the apartment to fly to Europe. But with recent events, it had gotten worse- I just kept tossing things onto the pile.

But since it was getting nearly impossible for me to reach in and smell his shirts, I told Ann it would make me feel better to sort things out.

So- we took out most of the stuff- got rid of some, and put it back in a more organized fashion. Since it's pretty much our only storage in the apartment, we keep our clothes but also any other miscellaneous stuff- which we really don't have a lot of- in there. There's a guitar, a Christmas tree stand, blankets, Dan's weights, extra toys/books I rotate out for Audrey, and some of Dan's music equipment.

So now I can so easily step right in to the closet- which is now a sacred space for me. I walk in, pull out the shirts that retain his smell the most- and sigh. I can not believe how clearly I feel he is in the room or I am holding him when I smell them. How can he be gone and his scent still linger on? But it does.

And now I'm getting worried that if I keep going in and pulling them out even a little bit to smell them- they will start to lose that smell. What to do, what to do.

Just Come Home

Thinking about the Friday night, September 19th, that I went into labor with Audrey. I was exactly seven days overdue. I'd gone for a long walk to the water near our Bay Ridge apartment and sat down on a bench there to pray because I was feeling quite on edge and discouraged. As I headed back to the apartment, I started to feel the contractions. When I got home, I started to clean furiously- room by room. But by the time I got to the kitchen, I had to stop. I sat down at our little table and chairs- my great grandmother's chairs that I had worked so hard to strip and refinish and reupholster and the Windsor table from Crate and Barrel we got when we first got married.

Then you called.

You were on your way home and had just gotten out of the subway, and you asked if I wanted you to pick up anything- food or snacks. You were always asking me that.

I said no, you'd better just come home because I thought I was in labor.

When you got home, you seemed a combination of excited, paralyzed, and terrified. You sat down at the table with me, took my hand, and cried- saying, "I love you."

I asked you to go ahead and start making me the mac and cheese we'd bought as part of the huge "labor basket" of snacks and tools to try to get me through natural childbirth.
"I need to eat now to keep my strength up."

It was a long night - stretching into the next day until the next night- including two trips back and forth to the hospital in cabs while I got on my knees screaming and cab drivers drove nervously eyeing me in their rear view mirrors. While we were laboring at home, I took baths, you gave me massages, snacks, and we tried to watch some of our favorite show at the time, "Arrested Development."

Throughout the night, you carried the birthing ball, various bags of "stuff", a stereo with my "labor mix" all around. And you massaged my back for hours at a time- the only thing that was helping.

The next morning after I'd given birth to our Audrey, you arrived as early as you could at the hospital (you weren't allowed to stay overnight unless we paid $1000 extra for a private room), and you brought with you flowers, and a card for me, and a card for Audrey.

The card for Audrey- now in her baby book has a drawing with colored pencils of a beautiful flower, cloud, sun, and a little viking ship like the ones in the mobile we'd hung above her changing table. On the front, you wrote in pen:
our beautiful daughter"

We've been waiting for you for so--- long!! Mommy and Daddy can't tell you how happy we are now that you are here. We loved you even before you were born, but the moment we first saw you was like magic!
You are our precious daughter and we will forever love you.
Mommy and Daddy.

My card just said Julia with blue lines on either side on the front and inside:
What can I say?
Thank you so much for being the strongest and bravest, and for bringing an amazing, beautiful little girl into this world!
I love you, Julia. Always have and always will. Look forward to seeing you as the world's greatest mother (No pressure...) You're certainly the world's prettiest mother!!

Love, Dan
and Audrey thanks you too!!

You were always saying that to me: "I love you. Always have and always will." In a Scottish accent because I think you said it was a line from Braveheart.

Dan- I love you. Always have. Always will.


Last night, I played a few of Dan's songs for my friend Ann.

There was one in particular I'd written for her that he wrote an amazing piano part to that made the whole song so much prettier- it was called Ann. She had never heard his version. He really wanted me to record the song so he'd laid down the piano track for it and I found it on his computer and sang along softly for her.

For the most part of two days, we'd cleaned together and attended to practical matters. But as she listened to the striking chords he chose for her song, her eyes welled up with tears, and she just looked at me, crying and said, "What a loss, Julia. What a loss."

Of course Dan was so much more than his music, but I think I feel the loss, not just to me, but to the world, when I sit and listen to his playing now. Music had become such a point of tension in our marriage that it had been a while since I appreciated the magnitude of his natural gifting.

In a strange symbolism, I've had no problem wasting things the last few weeks. It feels somehow just and right to throw something out - food, belongings. As I toss a container of old rice into the garbage and hear the heavy thud, I feel a tinge of satisfaction. "What a waste. It is such a waste."

Child-like Imagery

What a beautiful image a relatively new friend who has been emailing me and checking on me constantly- to the point where she asked where the line was between supporting and stalking- ha- sent me this just now. I think it's a great image.

The imagery that came to me about sharing your burden, being beside you, is like this:

If we were school age or something, we'd walk together. You'll say, "This sucks." And I'll say, "Yeah." and kick a rock on the road.

Or, the kids would be playing dodge ball in the school yard. You'd have a broken leg or something and I'd sit next to you to keep you company as we sit out the game.

How Are You?

I think I included this on my list for things not to say to a grieving person, but I think it's worth reiterating.

Do not, by any means, ask this question of a person newly grieving- or for that matter, a person further along in the "process."

I am at a loss for words when I am asked this question. I am beyond shitty. I am in a nightmare. I am in a state of utter disbelief and shock that my husband has apparently died, and it will take a good year, I have been told, for this to sink in.

I know it's a part of our culture and something that just comes out of our mouths naturally, especially when we're caught off guard, and run into someone who we're not that comfortable with. So, I understand and won't hold it against anyone.

But it is painful to answer. The question itself decreases the magnitude of what I'm going through and makes me feel so much more alone. If someone asks, "How are you?" they obviously have no idea- no idea at all.

But my answerlessness will be the same now, months from now, and probably a year from now. In two months, I will NOT be in a different "stage" or "place," so it will not be more appropriate then.

Honesty is best. I am in a very honest place and have always appreciated this from others. I received a wonderful message this morning admitting to multiple attempts to write me and conversations with her husband about not knowing what to write or how to write to me. That is a wonderful thing to tell me. That shows me that at least as much as is possible, this person is trying to imagine what it is like to be me right now.

What a stigma there is around grieving people- people feel uncomfortable because I am a reminder of their worst fears and pains. But no, really, I am not one of "those people." I am one of you. We are all in this together. After all, as an old pastor of ours used to say, "No one gets out of here alive."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


People always say it's the ordinary moments you miss the most- so when you look at all of the posed photographs on birthdays or holidays, they just can't capture that.

Dan and I loved photography so we were always trying to take artistic shots, rather than the posed ones. So I have those, but they're still not the ordinary moments.

The ordinary moments, the ones I've been playing in my head, are just images really: of Dan quietly turning our bedroom door knob and stepping in quietly and looking at me with "hello" in his eyes when he came home late and Audrey was asleep in her room just outside our door.

Or the image of him sleeping beside me, his long eyelashes extending 1/2" at least from his eyelid. His breath moving his chest up and down.

Or the image of him sitting at his desk listening to soccer highlights, or coming out of the shower in his boxers. Or bringing me a glass of water, or handing me some chocolate he got at work for me. Or pushing Audrey in the stroller, or driving, or flossing his teeth, or eating his favorite cheese doodles.

You don't take pictures of those things.

And you don't take pictures (well, normally) of your loved one's body. You don't take close-ups of the side of his face with the freckles you know so well, or the pores in his nose, or the birthmark on his ear that looks like he has that ear pierced, or his messy sideburns, or adam's apple. You don't take photos of his big toe, or muscular calf, or his fingernails, or his belly button, his elbow, or the scar on his side where he had his appendix removed.

And that seems like a shame now, because all I can rely on is my memory- the photos I've stored away there. I wish I could print them out somehow like we do all our digital pics these days- but I can't. I can't back them up on a hard drive either. I have to enjoy them now while I can, and remember...

You Just Never Know

You never know what someone else is going through. You just never know.

So we probably should be careful what we say.

Yesterday, as Ann and I were taking Audrey for a walk near the river, we stopped at a bench and another harried mom, with two kids in tow, passed by and yelled out to me, "Stop at one!"

Yeah, Dan and I were planning on trying for another baby as soon as he got back from the tour, something I wanted very badly. So, her complaint about her two children was best not directed at me.


Cleaning has always been very therapeutic for me. I also have always felt only I know how to clean my house right and thoroughly- so in the last few years, I tried not to make you feel guilty for not cleaning that much. Plus, you did other things. Like working really hard outside the home, taking out the garbage and recycling, and giving me great, stress-relieving massages on my neck and head- far better than any I'd ever paid for.

You'd always offer to vacuum and then I'd say "I actually enjoy cleaning. So just let me do it. I like it."

This morning, I felt a surge of motivation to clean our living room- to dust and vacuum really well. My friend Ann volunteered- as she was eager to try out my Electrolux vacuum, but after she did just a little bit, I found myself taking over. She, good friend that she is, wound up cleaning my bathroom- very, very well. That is a good friend.

So, I dusted every surface, and then got to the vacuuming. Something about the motion of the vacuum back and forth, and especially the sound of particles or food or dirt being sucked up in it- like sparks or static- so satisfying.

For a moment or two- I felt normal- like it was an ordinary day and I was cleaning as usual. But then it was not an ordinary day. Until now though, my home has felt like a crime scene to me- as I wanted to leave most things untouched- wanted to look for dark hairs, fingernails in your nail clipper (I found a few), any remnant of you.

But now, I didn't skip anything but did the most thorough job ever- using different attachments to clean the furniture- taking off all of the couch pillows and getting every last crumb under there. Why should I do it halfway- there is Audrey to think of. She deserves my best. Her sheets were changed, her blanket washed, and her room carefully vacuumed. Everything is in order.

Pragmatic Thinking

Since your death, I've had these moments that seem like totally clear thinking- frighteningly pragmatic and emotionless though- so I know they are not. Actually they are just a way I think I'm trying to survive.

But I stop and think: "I had a feeling this might happen. I worried all the time- about you traveling- about the possibility of your death. Furthermore, I knew one day you'd die and I'd probably be left alone. I knew. has happened. I must just go on."

And this morning I had a burst of normalcy, and cleaning. And I felt as I vacuumed the rugs quite feverishly (but that's how I always clean), "OK, it happened. The worst has happened. Now I must clean up, now I must get getting."

These thoughts both comfort and disturb me at the same time. Because I know it is way too soon for me to "get going" and I know that it is some strange survival instinct rising up in me- but I know that also- eventually, not for many days, but one day, it will be true.

Snack Time, Nap Time

Being in a state of grief feels kind of like being a small child, or maybe more like a very old person.

The fence posts in your day are reduced to the basics: bath time, oh it's snack time now I'm exhausted. Lunch time, maybe a cup of tea. Phone calls and visits from those with more energy and mobility than you. Time for a nap. Time to get up and put together a simple dinner for one: some soup maybe, some bread or a small sandwich.

Three Weeks

This time three weeks ago, Audrey and I were heading out to the pool at our building so I could teach her how to swim.

It took us a while to get ready- putting our suits on, suntan lotion on Audrey, packing a snack, water, hat, sunglasses, clean diaper and outfit for post-swimming. I threw them all into a bag that still sits on the entryway table today as I left it later that morning.

Audrey loved the pool noodles they have there- it made her feel more relaxed- so we got a pink one and a green one. "Kick with your legs, kick, kick, kick." "Blow bubbles with your mouth. Watch mommy."

We swam for quite a while because it was a hot morning. Then we got out and went to our chairs. I dried her off. Gave her some water. She wanted to head towards the other end of the pool to check out the shower they have there for cleaning off before or after swimming. She hates getting her hair rinsed so since she showed an interest, I put it on and went under to show her: "Look, mommy's getting her head all wet. It's so much fun!" She made an attempt to get close, but when she felt the sprays of water on her face, she backed away squinting and putting her hands up to her face. She was more interested in the pile of pool noodles next to the shower.

Then she decided she wanted to go swimming again, so even though I didn't feel like it, I wanted to encourage her so we walked down the stairs, back in to the water. We swam around a bit more- I stood her up on the side of the wall: "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great...fall!" And she jumped in for me to catch her. "Don't worry. You can trust mommy. Mommy will always catch you."

When I'd had enough, we got back out and headed back to our chairs. We sat for a moment, and I felt contentment. I thought to myself how lucky I was to stay home with Audrey, to have this pool to go to, and to have a nice summer planned ahead. "I am very lucky," I specifically thought.

Then I changed Audrey out of her bathing suit, out of her swimmy diaper into a clean one, and we walked out of the pool gate to head inside. When a woman sitting in a chair outside the pool area saw her walking with me, she commented,
"She looks just like a little doll."
"Thank you," I said.

And she did, and I was content again, and very proud.

We walked inside, me with my wet bathing suit darkening the charcoal skirt I had on around the bottom.
"C'mon Audrey, let's go. Mommy's getting all wet. Let's go inside and eat some lunch."

We entered, I put down my bag of stuff.

I heard the phone ring. I had left it on the kitchen counter that morning.

Audrey was in the little hallway between the entryway and the kitchen and we did that little dance back and forth as I tried to get around her to grab the phone. I remember feeling particularly irritated:
"Audrey, momma needs to get the phone. It's probably Appa!"

When I grabbed the phone, I fully expected it to be you Dan. I saw it was a foreign country number and quickly said, "Hello!"

"Hi Julia, it's K."

I knew. Right then I knew.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Maybe Tomorrow

Well, I couldn't do it. Couldn't open up the package, and my friend and I decided I wasn't ready.

A wedding ring, wallet, and phone- all very personal items- the most personal, and the reason they came separately, is because you had them on you when you went to take that swim. I have heard you were looking at videos of Audrey on your iPhone right before you must've put it down along with your wallet, maybe a towel, and headed for the water.

The wedding ring you wore and must have still had on when they found you.

Gearing Up

Another package has arrived for me. I remember when packages were fun to receive. This one is from Switzerland and contains your wedding ring, wallet, and maybe your iphone Dan.

I am preparing as best as I can to open it- it sits beside me now on the bed. A good friend is here to be with me.

Was just thinking how everything feels so switched. Even as I talk to people here and walk around here, I feel I'm in the land of the dead- and you're in the land of the living.

Real Tragedy

Three days before I received the phone call telling me "Dan is dead." I was driving to the mall near my parents' house with Audrey and my mother.
Dan was away, so since weekends were harder- I had slept over my parents with Audrey. I was going to return some clothes, and while we were there, we were going to let Audrey ride the merry go round- something she loves.

As I drove there, I was talking to my mom about how I still wasn't quite over the whole bed bug fiasco- a horrible trial Dan and I had suffered through the week Audrey was born - finding out our whole building in Brooklyn was infested and leaving behind everything we owned and moving in with my parents for five months. It was still hard even almost two years later to think of that dark period of time.

But what I remember specifically is telling my mother that I'd get over it and was starting to get on with life ...and...that though it was stressful and horrible, that I'd never had any real tragedy in my life.

"I've never had any real tragedy in my life," is what I said. "So I feel lucky. Some people go through far worse."

And now I know tragedy. Now I am "some people." Now suddenly, all of the things I worried about before, all of the drama seems utterly pointless- in fact I know Dan and I were always stressed and fought a lot- but I can not for the life of me remember what all that was about - or why it mattered. We were together- we loved each other. Why wasn't that enough?

Since I was a little girl, I'd always had an extreme aversion to two games: musical chairs and hot potato. If I was at a party and they were suggested, I panicked inside. Both were so exclusionary by nature...forcing one person to leave the circle. But I also, at such an early age, saw them as an analogy for life- the lack of chair and the hot potato were tragedy and pain, and I was just trying to avoid being caught with that potato in my hand. So I played those games furiously- my legs and arms reaching for that chair- tossing that potato out of my hand in an instant as if it really was hot. I just wanted to protect myself- to get through life as unscathed as possible.

But here I am holding that potato and the music has stopped.

Tragedy is not for "other people." The human condition is tragic. Death and separation is tragic. I believe it's tragic because it is utterly unnatural. My mind still cannot comprehend that my love's shell- his dead body- is buried under what the funeral home described to me as "a ton of dirt." My body has been in a total state of shock physically since this occurred- all kinds of chemical changes, digestive problems, and physical ailments. It is unnatural- it is impossible to process. Why is that? Why?

It reminds me though of having a child- you can not seem to process no matter how hard you try- that there is a human being sprouting up inside your body. That one simple act between you and your husband has created a unique individual. When the baby arrives and especially as she grows, you think back to those first wondrous kicks and flutters inside of you, and you look at your growing child running around complete with personality, and you just can not process that the two are connected.

So I believe both life and death- are not ours to process because they are not ours at all. We are witnesses. How did this life come? How did it go? We build things and make things- we've come very far. But the equations found by mathematicians, the knowledge discovered by doctors as they try to decipher this body we live in, the satellites we send into outer space to look and listen- even the music notes we put together and find something pleasing about- they're all just finding things that are already there- the equations fit- we did not make them fit- the body forms and functions- we desperately try to understand how even though it is our very own. The universe stretches and spins and we try to trace its origin, and the music is out there- floating in space as well- waiting to be found by ears who can hear.

"He who has ears, let him hear!" Matthew 11:15

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Bitter-Sweet by George Herbert

Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.


Oh my God. It's starting now. I'm starting to miss you Dan.

How Was Your Day?

So for about eleven years, I've been telling you every detail of my day. I'd probe you about yours, but you'd mostly not want to talk about it during the 9-5 office years.

But I think women save up things to tell their husbands much more. So I'd save up funny things that happened, things that made me angry, cute things Audrey did most recently, and tell them all to you when you got home.

It was kind of obvious it drained you to listen to all that, but you did listen and you were always behind me. If a lady on the sidewalk was rude to me when I was passing by with Audrey in the stroller, you said she was probably fat and ugly. At night, we curled up on the bed and watched new videos or photos of Audrey that I'd taken that day.

So, now. Even in grief, I still have these kinds of things, though slightly different, to say to you. But suddenly you're not here. So very suddenly, you are permanently gone.

Who will I talk to? Who will listen? Who will hear?


Audrey loves pizza- it was one of her first words. And I was all into making my own whole wheat dough this past winter and my own little pizzas. Part of my pursuit of holy domesticity. Really a ridiculous one I mostly failed at.

Someone asked me what kind of food they could drop off tomorrow and I mentioned Audrey could have the whole wheat pizza at Whole Foods.

I could go for pizza too actually- even though I still have very little appetite for most food. You always said when a person was sick, they shouldn't have to eat healthy or chicken soup necessarily, but just to eat whatever they loved and felt like. You said pizza was a good one.

You loved pizza Dan- said you could never get tired of it. You discovered something in Brooklyn called "grandma pizza" that was cut in rectangles and tasted extra fresh- I guess like your grandma would make- with lots of garlic- something else you loved. You even loved frozen pizza- not the healthier kinds they have now, but the kind we ate when we were kids, and a few times we bought it just because we felt like it.

Before we went to Korea for the first time as a couple, I remember we walked to the pizza place on 7th avenue. We knew we'd be eating Korean food nonstop for 2 weeks, so we wanted to enjoy some good pizza before we left.

When you got back from the tour around Christmas and we found out the tour would be postponed until March were feeling the pressure to get a job quickly since we had no income. You started playing wedding gigs, and you also decided to interview for another job you saw online- giving pizza tours in NYC. I think it's called Scott's Pizza Tours. I laughed when you told me you had a phone interview, and I smiled as I sat listening to that interview in our room not that long ago. You and Scott seemed to hit it off, and one of the first questions he must've asked was, why do you want to do this or think you'd be good at it. So I heard you saying very enthusiastically, "Well, I've always liked pizza." I was dying listening to this conversation.

Turns out you could've had the job, but he needed someone long term and you had to return to the stupid tour. But Scott tipped us off on the best pizza in Edgewater.

A Few Good Men

A friend told me yesterday about another widow who chose six men to specifically be a father figure for her daughters once her husband passed.

I like this idea, and will be thinking about it. I can not imagine being Audrey- growing up without a dad. She is going on a path I have never walked. Though I can never replace her father with a composite of other men, I want to do everything I can to support her and provide the guidance and love she needs. Dan would want that too. He would want that desperately.

So, I'll be thinking about it- a few men who can buy her a present on Valentine's Day- in the tradition Dan had started (her first- a green onesie that said "Happy" from Baby Gap, a stuffed dog he named Bluptz, and a book of Korean folk tales- one about an old man with a huge goiter who can sing really well- don't ask; her second- a Hello Kitty book about all 50 states). Maybe they can come to her birthday parties and give her hugs, maybe help teach her to ride her first bike, and kick a soccer ball.


I've been waiting for Audrey to jump for a while. She tries so hard but usually her feet don't leave the ground and she just bends her knees and bounces up and down. But just now before her nap, she was a bit hyper after the morning with grandma and grandpa. So suddenly I realize the reason she seems more hyper than ever, is because she's actually jumping around. I tell her and she gets so excited. Though in this moment I feel your absence so greatly Dan- I also feel your presence - I feel the joy you would've had at this accomplishment as we looked at each other. I see you taking out your iPhone to record it and asking her to jump again. I also hear you telling her to be careful she doesn't hit her head. We love you and miss you so much.


You were always coming up with ideas- and you really were an entrepreneur at heart. One of your dreams (and mine) was to one day own a restaurant/cafe/music space where we'd serve really good food and have great music. When we were walking by an empty store for rent in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn- you made me stop so you could punch the number of the seller into your phone. I was angry- we could barely pay our rent- how would we buy a store and start a business?

You had other ideas too and somehow got connected through a friend with someone who patented inventions. I remember you meeting with them and telling me they really liked one of your ideas. That's as far as my memory goes though.

You also had an idea for a website very similar to Facebook I think- but it would connect people who didn't know each other according to their mutual interests.

But for years, you were passionate about a stuffed animal idea. This stuffed animal would be a really fat version of all different animals- a fat cat, a fat dog, a fat pig. They'd be called, yes, you guessed it "Fatimals." Why? Because you thought everything fat was cute- (hey wait a second?). Fat babies, fat bulldogs (your favorite- the more slobber- the better).

I think you bought a website with the name or something. For years, I'd go to get our mail and find a whole bunch of credit card offers and other services addressed to Daniel Cho, President and CEO, Fatimals.

Staying Put

Am starting to feel a certain societal pressure that I should be going places as I normally do. I do not feel like leaving my apartment yet. The few times I have gone out, the contrast between my world and the one out there is just too great. I know the expectation others are having, because I think I felt in the past, that when I saw a widow or widower after a few months, they were surely on the mend.

It's funny though, because when this first happened, I had this vague romantic notion that I was going to travel. I told friends who came or people at the funeral who invited me to come visit them. "Yeah, that sounds good. I think I'm going to do some traveling."

Like that would be the part in the movie where the upbeat music kicks in- maybe KT Tunstalls' "Suddenly I See," and you'd see me packing and getting in a cab to the airport. The camera would pan out on my taxi heading to JFK. Enter new, bright chapter.

But now I don't feel like traveling at all. At least not yet. I feel like grieving. I feel like wearing a black dress every day like my father's Italian grandmother did. I feel like wearing his T-shirts and taking long showers. Oh yeah, but I have a little toddler to care for so even those things sound like vague romantic notions.

A friend of Dan's, someone who knew the sudden loss of a sister, had written me in the first week and shared some of the things that comforted her- some of the ways she grieved. She cut a purple ribbon bracelet she had on and left some in the casket; she scooped up a little dirt from the burial site, she took photos of her sister's home as she left it, recorded voice mails, and printed emails. She emphasized how little ritual there was left in this country for grief and that those things had worked for her- but I would have to claim my own.

Megan O' Rourke puts it this way in The Long Goodbye:

Many Americans don't mourn in public anymore—we don't wear black, we don't beat our chests and wail. We may—I have done it—weep and rail privately, in the middle of the night. But we don't have the rituals of public mourning around which the individual experience of grief were once constellated.

Instead there is the expectation of an organized process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and then a prompt return to daily life. Of being strong, and time healing all wounds.

Well, for now I am staying put- in the same apartment we lived in together, in my bed. I am writing.

Mythical and Imaginary

It has been happening since the day I received the phone call. I've been losing you. First you became this mythical, saintly Dan- created by the kind words of those who loved you closely and those who hadn't seen you in many, many years. I wanted you back- the Dan who just walked around our apartment in white socks and basketball shorts bringing me a glass of water. Another widow told me that the real you- the one I know- would come back though- after everyone went back to their lives.

But now this is happening- the more I write and think- the more you become me and less "you."

C.S. Lewis puts it perfectly in a "A Grief Observed" when writing about the loss of his own wife:

“Already, less than a month after her death, I can feel the slow, insidious beginning of a process that will make the H. I think of into a more and more imaginary woman. Founded on fact, no doubt. I shall put in nothing fictitious (or I hope I shan’t). But won’t the composition inevitably become more and more my own? The reality is no longer there to check me, to pull me up short, as the real H. so often did, so unexpectedly, by being so thoroughly herself and not me. The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant—in a word, real”.

He and I

Just found this- it was something we had to write in my MFA program- modeled after an essay on marriage by Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg called "He and I."

Julia Pirritano- Non-Fiction Workshop 9/17/02

He is grateful for everything. I complain a lot. And when I complain he always apologizes as if he is responsible for the problems and complications of daily life, “I’m sorry”. He sighs.

I sing. He plays the piano and cello. I had no formal training. His mother forced him to practice classical music for four hours every day when he was a boy. Today, he disdains classical music. He went to a music school where jazz and rock are studied and plays gigs in smoky little clubs in downtown Manhattan where I sit on someone’s old beat up couch from the 70’s and listen.

I compose a melody in simple chords on my guitar and write the lyrics simultaneously. I memorize them. He writes the notes for songs in his head on the bus or on the train, and transposes them onto lined sheet music. He knows music theory; I do not. I took one class in college and using the rules I had learned, composed the worst few measures ever for my final assignment. He has perfect pitch, I can pick out a note that moves me in a song or write a song around one beautiful chord completely unaware of the name given to that chord.

In the recording studio, he arranges all the instruments. I sit on a chair and listen or read until it’s time for me to sing. Sometimes he doesn’t like my ideas for harmony and suggests something different. I usually get angry and imitate it poorly on purpose. One time, I could not hit a certain note, and he laughed. I left the studio and went shopping on Broadway before returning an hour later.

He doesn’t need to practice much before a gig. I practice a lot. We argue when we practice.

I have nervous breakdowns before performances. He is incredibly calm. He thinks about a million other things while his fingers move over the keys or cello strings. He is never thinking about the music. I think about everything, the notes, the people watching, the words. His eyes are open, mine are closed.

I have light eyes. They are so sensitive to the sun. They tear painfully on a sunny day if I don’t wear sun glasses. He has dark eyes and long eyelashes. One of the first things people notice about him are his long eyelashes. He says they’re long because he trimmed them when he was a kid.

He wishes he could sing like a black man. He sings the parts that a cello or piano would play instead of a voice. It ends up being incredibly high and irritates me to no end when we are in the car listening to music and I’m driving.

I had a phobia of driving for a long time. He can’t understand why. My mother used to hold on the side of the car whenever we went anywhere, as if she were afraid for her life. When I got my driver’s permit, I would drive around with her, her hands hanging tightly onto the handle on the door, saying “Stop, slow down, look out!” One time I actually stopped the car and made her get out and walk home. Sometimes I am angry at her for passing on her unhealthy fears to me. I have a hard time forgiving.

He loves his family. He says he forgives all their dysfunctionality, his dad’s drunken behavior when he was a kid, his mom’s demands. I still feel bitter.

I have many fears. He hides his well.

I fear sudden tragedy.

I fear loving someone until “death do us part”.

I fear pain and disease.

I’m also afraid of heights. When we hiked to the top of a mountain in New Mexico, I got dizzy and had trouble breathing. He stood on the edge and had me take a picture of him as if he were falling. He loves amusement park rides; I’ve read too many news articles about rides gone awry.

I love deep conversations. He is afraid of them. Maybe he thinks he has nothing to say, he usually keeps those thoughts to a minimum. I feel like I’m stealing a few dollars from someone’s wallet when I try to bring up something important. I have to close it and put it back in its place before I am noticed.

I always ask him what he’s thinking. He thinks I think too much.

His thoughts though are often much more profound than mine, maybe because he doesn’t even realize how profound they are. He isn’t presenting them the way I do; he is just speaking. They are always poetic and child-like at the same time, a beautiful combination, like an award winning children’s book about the moon or the snow.

He loves children and babies too. He says he sees God in them. When we’re walking along the city streets, every time a baby is pushed by in a stroller or a toddler toddles by, his eyes are drawn to them instantly and he interrupts whatever conversation we are having and says, “Look at this kid!” or “Look at this baby”. If I can’t find him at events where there are babies, I look around and see him bouncing a baby in the air or talking to a child. He says he does it so he doesn’t have to talk to grownups.

He likes McDonald’s and Coke. These are his staple foods. I stay away from both. He likes red meat. I rarely eat red meat. I cook him pasta and vegetables. He cooks me rice and ground beef with onions. He claims the onions are a vegetable and make it a healthy meal.

I like to eat snacks. Chips, pretzels, ice cream, and chocolate. Otherwise, I try to be healthy. I buy Barley Green powder and juice carrots when I get the urge. I try to eat fruit and vegetables as often as I can. He tells me not to fill up when I am eating snacks. He says I’m going to ruin my appetite for lunch or dinner. I get mad and tell him he’s going to give me an eating disorder and that eating for girls is a very sensitive issue, does he think I’m fat, is that what he’s saying?

He doesn’t like sweets. I order dessert and he has a bite, usually adding the comment, “Too sweet” as he lays down his fork. He does like Tiramisu though. He usually wants to order that everywhere we go. He isn’t always very adventurous in trying new meals. Once he finds something he likes, he usually sticks with it. Maybe that’s why we’re still together.

He hates sticky hands. His room is a mess, but he has to wash his hands immediately if there is any food on them. I can eat cheese doodles until my fingers are orange and just wipe them on my shirt.

I like to keep my space neat. If it gets too disorderly, I can’t think. I hate clutter, especially the kind in my mother’s basement. She has furniture from everyone in our family down there, filled with baby clothes and blankets. If anyone ever needs anything, she tells us to “look in the basement”. I think secretly she fears that if she ever does throw anything out one day someone will ask for it and she won’t have it.

He doesn’t even try to keep his room orderly, yet it is not cluttered. His CD’s, books, computer, and things that are important to him are easily accessible. His dirty clothes are in a huge pile on the floor. He has lots of clothes. I have lots of clothes too. Every now and then I make a vow that I will never buy another item of clothing again because I clearly have more than I can wear and it’s ridiculous when some people have nothing.

He hardly ever shops. The few times he has on his own, he’s gone to Kmart or Walmart. He’s always proud to show off the great deals he’s found. I’m never too impressed. He is thrifty but he worries I’ll think he’s cheap.

I don’t spend a lot but I shop impulsively. I buy gifts for other people more than I buy anything for myself. I don’t like shopping because it makes me feel like a less of a woman than I thought I was. I easily fall prey to the advertiser’s ploys to seduce me into thinking I need one more thing to be complete. He tells me I look great in whatever I wear.

I buy things and dislike them in a few months. The thrill is only in their newness.

He likes garage sales and old stuff. He took home an old film projector someone at his office was throwing out.

I am always on time. He is rarely punctual. Once he left me waiting at Port authority for over an hour on a Saturday morning because he’d overslept. I didn’t speak to him for an hour train ride to Brooklyn. He blamed it on a train even though when he’d called to tell me he had just woken up it was already the time he was supposed to be there.

I’m a light sleeper. He snores heavily and sleeps anywhere. We think maybe he has sleep apnea. He sleeps until 1 pm on his days off. I wake up by 9 at the latest even though I’m tired. There is something that scares me about staying in bed. Maybe it’s because my dad used to yell at us when we were kids watching cartoons at 11:30 on a Saturday morning, still in our pajamas. I don’t like to waste the day. He considers sleep his favorite part of the day.

He has no trouble waking up early if the World Cup soccer game is involved. He claimed that it was Korean pride that made the games so important for him. He had lived in Korea almost ten years and been rooting for that team he said, “ever since he stepped foot on Korean soil”. I thought it was sweet. Then I realized he was staying up til 2 am or getting up at 6 to watch games between countries that were not Korean. England and Sweden, and all those other ones.

Besides watching sports, he also loves movies. I enjoy them but I’d rather talk. I never used to watch cartoon movies until I met him. I never watched action movies either. Now I watch a little of everything. Still it seems he has seen many more movies than me, even recent ones, except I don’t know when he sees them since we’re always together.

He knows all the actors and is always spotting them in New York. A few times I was with him and he points one out to me. I never would’ve noticed them, would’ve walked right past. I’m bad with faces. I couldn’t remember what he looked like every time we separated when we first met. Finally, I had to ask him for a picture.

Besides movies, he watches TV a lot too. He looks up to Homer Simpson. He takes it as a complement when I tell him he’s really starting to remind me of him, drinking beer and lying on the couch in front of the TV. I mean this as an insult.

He asked me once what character in a movie he reminded me of. I couldn’t really think of anything. He said I remind him of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. He thought he was a combination of the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion.

He’s excellent at making analogies. They are always simple yet poetic and they usually make me smile.

I like to stay home. I work hard to make my home a sanctuary, a refuge from the world. Traveling is fun for a day or two and then I want to come home. He loves traveling and can adapt to being just about anywhere with very little luggage or amenities. The fact that he can sleep anywhere helps too.

He loves his neighborhood. I think Harlem is dangerous and I worry about him. His street is pretty though, and there’s an old Spanish man with white hair, blue eyes, and dark skin who sits in a window. He waves to him every time he sees him. The old man smiles and waves back.

I am serious. He is easygoing. He likes to be around people. I become drained easily. I take them like a vitamin and then I make my exit before depletion begins. He wishes I could be more easygoing. “I just wish, I just wish…” he always says, “you could be more easygoing”.

I make lots of lists. I have two planners, one for my desk, one smaller size to carry around. He writes things down on one calendar that hangs on his wall. I type up my goals for every area of my life once every year. He gets bored when I read them to him.

I cry. When I am hurt, or nervous, or angry, or stressed, I cry. The last time I was under extreme pressure, he had to lift me off the hardwood floor where I laid curled up in the fetal position crying. Somehow hard floors are sometimes more comforting than a blanketed bed when I reach the bottom.

One time he actually told me it “pained him” to hear me go on and on in my own self-absorption, talking about life’s complexities. I didn’t think I’d be able to share anything with him after that, but I do.

We recently took a personality test. His said he was like “sunshine on a cloudy day”. I love the sound of hard rain falling on the roofs and running down the gutters. I turn my stereo down just to hear it.