Friday, January 28, 2011

Collective Consciousness

It's amazing how the mind works and how random memories (or maybe not so random) are constantly triggered throughout our day.  I think this happens all the time for everyone, but now that I am trying to catch those memories, I am much more aware of it.

I wish sometimes I could manage to write a stream of consciousness piece that captures the way that thought process works- going from one thought to another to lead you to a memory.

I have never forgotten that you were dead...not for one moment- even when I'm asleep though I hope it's a nightmare and I might wake up to find you beside me.  But I am surprised by all the memories that you are a part of.  I remember seeing a certain film, and laughing with someone- many years ago...and then, "Oh, that was you too..." or I remember teaching someone the best way to put a duvet cover on a duvet- and "Oh yeah, of course that was you too."  I remember meeting someone for lunch and waiting on line at Shake Shack for an hour one summer day, "You."

The memories come up and because they are of "us" they usually bring a taste of joy to the ripples in my brain when they surface...but then when I realize that one is lost too...I am very sad.

And these memories, they don't stop when we met...amazingly- they reach way back into two separate childhoods- and all of the memories we shared with each other.  In a sense your memories became a part of mine and mine yours- a collective consciousness if you will.

This week I had two memories like that...one from my childhood and one from yours, and it turns out they both have to do with songs we wrote as children.

Mine was called "Valentine's Day" and I made it up spontaneously while tape recording a "Valentine's Show" on my pretend radio station when I was probably about seven or eight?  It was a jazzy tune that I sang in a strange "grown-up" voice.  I played some of my childhood tapes for you- and you heard it.  We laughed a lot and sometimes we sang the song.  It came into my head this week and then I thought of how funny it was - as if the original memory itself was shared with you...and then I remembered why it was funny and how we had laughed together and how you had been there and known me- even as a child- because that is what happens when you come together...one flesh.

Then, just this morning, I remembered what you stated was your "first song."  I was putting peanut butter on a waffle for Audrey and started to sing it without thinking, "Peanut butter and jelly, put it in my belly...yum yum yum yum yum yum...oh ham."   I was feeling the warmth of that shared memory, without thinking of its source, when I was startled by the fact that this is your childhood memory and you are dead.  That's the best I can do to explain what it feels like.  I can't believe again that this is about you...the one that wrote that song and sang it in your cutest voice...you were proud of it I think.  So was I.  I taught it to Audrey and she sang it at breakfast today.  You would've absolutely loved it.

Flickerings

In one of the less weighty books on grief and specifically, sudden death, that I finished recently, I found a term for something I've been experiencing quite a bit for months now.

It's called the "flicker phenomenon."  Dr. Catherine M. Sanders writes that it is "a perception seen at the outside edges of our visual field as a flickering shadow.  Immediately, thoughts of the deceased come to mind, but when we look directly at that area, nothing is there."

The author of the book continues from there, "These sightings or feelings may well be the deceased trying to comfort us, trying to get through somehow.  When we try to rationalize and make sense of these experiences, we rob them of their magic."

I don't know if I'd call it magic or comfort, but at least once a day I have a "flicker" moment.  Sometimes I imagine it's you and then see right away what it is I'm seeing with my peripheral vision- when we had the Christmas tree it was that a few times, and strangely enough, it happens with your cello- standing in the corner of our room, all the time.   Sometimes it's my own reflection in a mirror that I see moving.

But there are time, certainly, when I can't point out the object so easily, and I am left just wondering.

Sometimes I imagine that when I die, you'll share with me a video of all of those moments when I thought maybe you were there, and my eyes will be opened and I'll be able to see that you were.  This is in my most hopeful, imaginary moments.

I ordered a small piece of handmade furniture to make a little "store" for Audrey and the woman making it sent me a few paint chip samples in the mail- just a few brushstrokes of different colors on small pieces of wood.  Then she wrote letters on them.  When I opened up the mail and opened that white envelope to see wood chips and letters, my first thought was that this was a message and I should put the pieces together and see what they spelled.  I was almost trembling.

Until

I remembered about the email conversation and the paint samples.

In grief, one is always looking for signs.

Doppelganger

Today I had a really bad day - unrelated to the grief mostly- which I actually take as a sign of progress.  It's the first time I've thought, "Today is a bad day," since you died...because every day and each moment has been concentrated wretchedness.  So...things must be changing.

Since my parents were watching Audrey, I got to run a few errands by myself and try out the "screaming in the car" thing one of my readers/fellow grievers suggested.  It was frightening, but good.  I screamed at you asking you if you even knew what this was like, what I'm going through at all.  It didn't take much for me to feel satiated.  Then I was done, wiped away my tears in the rearview mirror, and drove to the library to pick up a video I'd put on reserve for Audrey and a few more books for myself.  Appearing normal on the outside like this now while undergoing such intense emotional on the inside, I often wonder now what every other person might be going through under a composed surface of hellos and how are you's."

I'm glad I keep reading in grief books that you will feel like you're going crazy, because I think this about myself numerous times a day.

Last night (this morning) I dreamt of you.  It was the estrangement dream again...in it, you and I had gone our separate ways and you were with someone else and I was too...but I was longing only for you.  We were in the same setting and I was completely preoccupied with where you were or what you were doing...and I felt so sad, and I just knew that if you and I could hug for a moment- everything would be OK and we'd come back together again- you'd come back to me.

It's odd, even the you in my dreams isn't really you anymore...he's more like a doppelganger- he looks like you- but he...just isn't.  He's an impostor.

Still, despite the feeling of longing and estrangement in the dream, I woke up feeling like I'd just had a wonderful dream...just because you were in it and I remembered it.  I wonder how many dreams I have like this every night- but I just don't remember any of them.  I wonder how many.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bedtime Stories

Audrey's really into storytelling right now- so I often tell her stories about you and I when we were little or before she was born.  At night in her crib she usually asks me, "mommy, make up a new song!" and I make up something about our day and sing it to her...but lately I've been making up stories instead so now she asks, "Mommy, make up a story!"  My story lines are not impressive at all - tonight was about a frog named Henry.  But it reminded me of how you used to tell me spontaneous stories sometimes at night after we turned out the light.  They were totally random and didn't always have a real conclusion, but it was so endearing hearing you swallow in between thinking up the next sentence of your story.  You wanted me to do it too so sometimes I would try, but I just wasn't as imaginative or uninhibited as you.

When we were dating, you also used to sing me goodnight lullabies over the phone.  We talked every single night just about for five years of dating and the night usually ended with me in bed in the dark with the hot phone pressed up against my ear, about to run out of battery.  And sometimes you'd sing to me, softly, sweetly, like a child almost.

Once we were husband and wife, you started a new tradition.  When we'd turn off the light we would be silent for a while and then you would quietly say, "Good night to you" in your very sweet voice.  It took me by surprise the first time because I expected you to already be asleep- you always fell asleep so quickly while I lay awake thinking.  I hadn't heard this in a while.  This past year was so tense- we often just shut the light off and turned our backs to each other.  I am sorry for that.  Very sorry.

If you were here, I'd tell you a story, sing you a lullaby, and whisper, "Goodnight to you."

Goodnight to you my love.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Longing

Where to direct the overwhelming anger that comes with your tragic death?  Death.

Where to direct the love that I am so used to giving to you...I don't know...our daughter I suppose but I don't want to smother her and it's a different kind of love.  I have it in excess now.  I got out my guitar and started to write a song a couple weeks ago with lines like this, "I'm going to keep on loving you- there's nothing that death can do." I didn't finish.

We roamed the aisles of Target this afternoon just to get out and an idea I've had for a Valentine's Day party for Audrey materialized before my eyes in all of the cute junk they have there perfectly suited to a toddler Valentine's Day party.  I left with a giant heart-shaped cookie mold, cupcake platter with heart plates, stickers, foam hearts, small metal mailboxes from the dollar section, plates, napkins, red and pink M&M's and gummy hearts- among other things.  I haven't invited anyone to this "party" yet.  It just seems like a good idea.  I'm reaching beyond the survival mode I've been in, trying to affirm that we can celebrate for no good reason.  But while I pushed the cart around (with Audrey totally asleep having skipped her nap again), I mostly thought about how you had begun a tradition of buying her a Valentine's Day present specially picked out by you the last two years.  It was fun for me too because the first time I saw the gift was when you gave it to her.  Her first year you got her a green onesie that said "Happy" in bright letters on the front, a stuffed dog you named Bluptz, and a Korean book of folklore.  Last year you got her a Hello Kitty book on all 50 states, "Figured it'd be educational too and there's a lot for her to look at," you told me.  I heartily approved- she loves that book.  When we visited Arizona she commented that she had been to New Jersey, Chicago, and Arizona and was "visiting a lot of states just like Hello Kitty!"  So...yeah, I feel really sad that you won't be able to continue this tradition.  I felt it was so right, and so healthy for a little girl to receive this kind of affirmation and attention from her father and so happy that you were so into it.  We didn't have many holiday traditions established yet for Christmas - but this was a tradition we had.  I suppose I will get her a little something, but it's not the same.  It's not the same.

Earlier I wrote a colleague who lives in Spain for my freelance job.  We usually correspond in Spanish though mine's a bit rusty.  We hadn't corresponded in a long time.  She asked me how I was, "Como esta?"  and I replied, "Mi esposo se murio." along with a few other lines.  To see it in another language felt harsher and more unbelievable since I've been at least growing accustomed to the sound of the words in English.  This was new and ridiculous to reread in my mind.  Mi esposo se murio.

I think I am rewriting the stages of grief for myself.  After shock comes reality.

After reality, just

longing.

Things We Miss

"I can't believe you're missing this."

That is what I think tonight while Audrey says, "mommy, hold my hand, and then I say 'mommy- what aaare yooou doing!"  Just random cute things that don't always make sense...those are the ones that somehow I wish you could see the most.   Dan, our daughter is delightful.  If I was not grieving, I am pretty sure this would be one of the happiest times of my life- because I take so much delight in her.  I fear though, because of the grief- I am missing it too.  That's not fair.

If I did not have Audrey, perhaps I could pretend that things were not very different from when you left.  But the fact that she talks now and did not then, is hard to ignore.  I can't believe you didn't hear the sound of her voice like this...I mean, other than babbling and one syllable words.  I can't get over it.  You missed it.  You are missing it.

And the missing started on June 29th- when you took a cab to Newark airport and left our home for the last time.

I was trying to keep busy that week, as I always did when you were away- trying to make the time pass- trying to be occupied.  So, the things that I wanted to tell you about- were accruing already.

The day after you left we went to a free outdoor concert at the library.  It was that strange couple/band we saw at another library...very lively though and fun for Audrey.  Audrey looked so pretty wearing her Easter dress- the white and blue linen one you picked out at the Gap- her hair in small, wispy pigtails.  She was one of the youngest ones there and looked so small and sweet among the older kids.  That couple has a ton of props that they hand out and your little girl wasn't too shy about wanting some of those even though it was mostly older kids going up to dance.  At one point, she made her way up to get a little toy wooden horse to pretend she was riding. The man playing the keyboard saw her coming and asked his wife to "bring one for this little one here."  But the best part about that day was a video I took of Audrey moving that wooden horse up and down along with the music.  In it, an older Asian boy sitting next to her- maybe about five or six, keeps getting tapped a little by Audrey's horse- unbeknownst to her.  He looks irritated, but she's just having fun.  But then...then I think she notices him giving her the evil eye and she does it again on purpose.  I can't explain how cute and funny their exchange is in words...but I was so looking forward to hearing your laugh as you watched that one.

On Friday- July 2nd, I decided we'd join one of the moms groups I'm in who were putting on a small baby/toddler parade for the residents of a local nursing home.  I put Audrey in that same dress you picked out since it was blue and white, and added a red hair clip.  I took the worn American flag with thirteen stars you and I bought in Mystic and hung it from the back of the stroller because the idea was that everyone would decorate their strollers and we'd parade around the home.  The organizer brought dollar store stuff- little leis and flags- to dress things up and played patriotic music from a stereo she carried.  The residents sat outside in the back having lemonade and cookies.  After we "marched" by, we went to say hello and I was so proud of Audrey, Dan.  I thought she might be afraid of some of the older people, but she was perfectly cordial.  She got a little routine down where she would go down a line of old women and do three things- wave, give them a high five, and blow them a kiss.  They were all quite taken with her.  I took plenty of pictures of her with her little flag to show you.

Friday night we slept over my parents, and Saturday my mom and I took her to the mall so I could return a few things and she rode on the carousel with my mom before I headed back home to our place.  Sunday was church.  I think I emailed you about that- how she was having fun playing in the gym until someone accidentally ran into her and knocked her backwards.  I also told you over email that she was looking for you at church- you replied "That makes me sad to hear that Audrey was looking for me at church.  Appa misses Audrey."  And I told you how I let her stay up and watch the fireworks with me on July 4th from our balcony.  It was so hot and steamy out, I remember both of just sweating as we watched them go off in the distance on the Hudson.  Her favorite color was blue and she kept shouting out, "Boo!" hoping that the lights in the sky would comply.  I did get to tell you about this via email and you replied, "Did she like the fireworks?  I wish I was there with you guys."  

Sunday night, two days before you died, there was a fire alarm in our building in the middle of the night.  It's very loud in the apartment, blaring, "Attention- a fire has been reported in the building.  Please evacuate using the nearest staircase."  Usually it wakes Audrey up but she was sound asleep, so I grabbed her and headed down the stairs.  She was so out of it when she roused, and there was someone in front of us in the stairwell, and she thought it was you for some reason.  "That's appa..." she said drowsily but excited.  "No, no, that's not appa," I remember chuckling.

Monday we had a playdate at our house.  I made homemade chocolate chip ice cream for our guests.  It's still in the freezer where I left it.

Tuesday morning we looked at the little print out of your tour schedule I had pinned to the wall near the kitchen table to see how many days were left until appa comes home.

Around noon I got a call saying you were dead.

One of the first things I remember doing
is tearing down that sheet of paper with your tour itinerary and throwing it in the trash.

I still loathe the pin hole that it left in the wall and glare at it every time I see it.

Those are a few of the things I was planning on sharing with you when you came back though-small things- the dancing with the toy horse at the library concert, blowing kisses to the residents at the nursing home, and thinking that she saw you in the middle of the night in the stairwell.

Now there are many more...many, many more.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Acknowledgement

Another Sunday night I've made it to...it's almost like my weekends are what weekdays are for most  people- the working days- the ones I must "get through."  Because they are so quiet.

I play the role of the young widow as if in a film quite often, out of body really, because this is how I move now.  But it's a movie with no soundtrack I realize.  A movie with no music.  Remember I got you tickets to the John Williams concert at Lincoln Center for your birthday?  They had a movie screen and played live along with many of the films he scored and then, to demonstrate the power of music, played a clip without any music, and then with the music.  Without the soundtrack so much is lost in the films we loved.  I always thought when you got older you'd be a film scorer.  You were just so good at it.  You had a passion for movies and it was so easy for you to sit down and create some beautiful piece of music.

It's amazing how old I feel now.  I'll be 35 in a few months, but when I sit telling my daughter stories about back when her mother and father were young and things we did, I feel about eighty.  Except that she's two.  

I also feel very flaky lately.  I think this is also a result of widowhood.  At least once a day I seem to be calling or leaving a message canceling some meeting or class at the last minute.

I can't seem to kick this sinus thing I have, and it's pretty incompatible- feeling sickly and having a toddler.

But actually, I realized today, grieving and having a toddler, are quite compatible.  It doesn't take much to impress Audrey at this age.  If I say, "We're going to go to the bagel store!" she's excited.  If I give her a bowl of dried rice and beans and a bunch of measuring spoons, she's entertained for twenty minutes.  It is good that I (or the world really) can easily impress her, because I have such limited energy right now.  And also, because it is good for me to see this world through her eyes and find what pleasure I can, also, in the very small things.

On Friday we went out in the newly fallen snow (over the old snow) just to get out of the house.  Audrey brought her trusty pail and shovel and did some shoveling.  I did some real shoveling of the car and our parking spot.  I have to admit shoveling is one of the few "male duties" that you did (that and maybe taking out the garbage and recycling), and it was nice to have that help.  I put Audrey in the car while I did it and she played very nicely for about 20 minutes- climbing to the front at one point and pushing in her CD- "my moosic."  I was surprised to hear sound emanating from the car and found her in the backseat listening to the nursery rhyme CD that's been driving me nuts lately but she requests every time over the public radio station you had the tuner set to.

I shoveled vigorously and thought of you.

Then we made snow angels.  Actually, I made mine first while Audrey stared on.  I stayed there a while because after I laid down I was literally shocked to see the sky.  I guess I hadn't looked up and it was such a contrast to the white on the ground- it was blue with large white clouds moving swiftly...it was a windy day.  I didn't feel the cold below me at all (maybe thanks to corduroy pants and a full-length down coat), so I just lay there for quite a while watching the clouds, feeling actually- quite euphoric.  They were moving so quickly it actually felt like I was moving away from my building - the tip of which was visible to me.  I let them take me...

Of course, after Audrey made her snow angel, and we both stood up and I said, "Look, there's yours and mine!"  Audrey said, "I wish appa could make a snow angel too."  The euphoria I'd just been feeling melted into tears.  "Why are you crying?" our daughter asks me like such a grown-up.  I tell her because I miss you and that maybe you're able to look down and see our two angels there.  Imagining that makes me cry even more...and I can't hold back.  We walk back into the building- I don't hide my tears though there's not really anyone to notice.

The rest of the weekend has been pretty dull- quiet, like I said.  I set out deep cleaning the kitchen- which is already the cleanest room in the apartment- (I always tackle the easiest first-then run out of energy for the more challenging tasks- I know you're supposed to do the opposite) dividing it into sections which I wrote down- clean refrigerator- inside and out- including dust on top, clean inside of cabinets, reorganize pantry, clean sink, clean microwave with steaming vinegar, clean table and booster seat, clean and disinfect garbage can, vacuum and steam floors.  This is all really because I got a new steamer and then decided that must be the finishing touch of an already pristine room.  Also because I clean to the extent which I feel a lack of control in my life.

So, I cleaned out one pantry cabinet today.  It's amazing how emotionally draining something this simple can be when someone who lived here has died.  It used to be I'd get an emotional lift from cleaning/decluttering.  Now throwing anything away is a challenge- because most likely you touched or used everything here.

But I did.

I came across a small box of Japanese candies "for tea or something," you'd said, you brought back from Japan.  The violinist's wife's mother gave them to each of the band members.  They're very pretty and I'd been saving them.  I touched the box tenderly thinking about how you'd made it home alive from that tour- which was further away and longer- Japan, Australia, New Zealand- and you even stopped by Korea on your way home- missing Mother's Day last year.  You'll miss it again this year.

I showed the box to Audrey- we opened it and each ate one...mostly they tasted like pure sugar- or a sweet tart- without the tart- but I can't really taste anything right now because of my cold and I decided to throw the rest out- in the box.

Also of note in the pantry was a bottle of Apple cider vinegar that we "won" at the Korean grocery store.  We were coming out of the large Super H-Mart when we were asked to come over and play a game they had set up there to possibly win a prize.  Oh, Koreans.  I can't remember what we did, but we were always up for free stuff, so we played.  We won some dishwashing gloves, and that apple cider vinegar.  I noticed it had expired so I threw it out.  I remember thinking we were very lucky- in a light-hearted sarcastic way, when we won that.  But it was a good memory- of the three of us together- on a simple errand.  Together.

I also found in the cabinet below, the leftover beers from the party I threw you before you left for Australia.  I wanted to tell you how proud I was of you for getting this gig.  That even though it was hard on me, I celebrated you and your achievement.  I invited a bunch of our friends over and got pizza and Korean fried chicken.  I had to leave the party once everyone had arrived to go pick up the chicken. I still can remember so vividly how excited I was in the car the whole way, how anxious to get back to the party we were having.

Anyway, there were about five Stellas left from that party.  I put them in the fridge.

Earlier, I found myself thinking, "This is unacceptable," about your death.  So I guess I'm not really gliding into that "acceptance" stage, but I've also read in some grief book that a better word is acknowledgment.  I agree-
acceptance is too welcoming a word with the open mouths of two "c's."  
Far too welcoming.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Steeping

A part of me is still in denial- I realize.

Last night I decided the hell with it and got out a new dental floss- and left the old one in the medicine cabinet- I just can't bear to get to the end of that string.

I'd told myself I'd leave your clothes and computer - which are pretty much your only possessions in the apartment- untouched at least for the first year- why move anything?  But I realize now I can't imagine moving them because a part of me still thinks you need them.  Moving your socks or your T-shirts and taking over those drawers myself will be a giant step towards the acceptance of a lifetime without you moving forward.

I am steeping in the grief tonight...Audrey got overtired and fell asleep silently after flipping through her favorite book of poems in her crib.  My cold has moved into my chest and throat so when I cry out tonight to you and to God, I sound like a seal with my hoarse voice- even more pathetic than usual.

I searched for your name on my email account thinking I might read some old conversations of ours, but never made it past the emails regarding your death that came up as the most recent in the search.  It is part of healing from the trauma I have read- to relive the early days.  So I read a bunch of those exchanges - the first email I sent to friends at 4 am on July 7th announcing your death- and the back and forth from friends and family following.  My words are unreal to me and my writing voice very unfamiliar.  I am completely surprised now to see some of the things I wrote to people.  I am sorry for myself- for that woman who wrote those emails and was in such tremendous shock that she temporarily became someone else.

I sit and read the responses- all something like this, "Oh Julia- my heart is broken and I feel sick.  If there's anything we can do..."  feeling the tears streaming down my face and dropped off my chin onto my scarf as I read.  You always told me it helped to wear a scarf around your neck, even if you're inside, when you're sick.  So...I've been wearing one the last couple of days.

I think about a place I could go where I could scream really, really loud- for a long time, and not disturb anyone.

Out of nowhere, Audrey asked to play with "my baby toys!" yesterday so I got out the small bag of toys I'd carefully cleaned and packed away in expectation of another baby in the future, and she played with them, trying, I think... to remember them.  A friend who had been pregnant the same time as me emailed to tell me "In other news"- she's pregnant and expecting in May.  Of course, of course she is.

There are just so many angles and facets to this...almost an infinite amount.   It turns on an axis- the light hits it a different way and the tragic reality of what has happened is newly realized...bouncing rainbow splotches of pain on my wall like sunlight through my diamond engagement ring.

Empty House

I am laying in bed.

She is "trying" to nap in her crib but so far she's had a parade with all of her "amamals" jumping around in there, and looked through a book of snowflake photographs I left in there pointing at each one saying, "Do you wannn dat one?  Orrrr dat one!"

I am drinking Korean honey/citron tea- your favorite.  I'm still not feeling well at all, but probably better since I had the urge to start deep cleaning our kitchen this morning.  I remember being sick a few months ago and a Korean friend offering me this tea- I couldn't imagine drinking it because it made me too sad...but the last time I was at the Korean grocery store, I bought a large jar after a short debate in my mind.  Today it brought me comfort to drink this.  The grief is evolving.  I am aware of this.

Now she is looking at the family photo from her first birthday that her Hello Kitty doll holds- where you and I are kissing her on either cheek..."There's maaaaaama, and theeeere's aaapa, and there's Auuudreeeey!"

I cry.

I can't stand how incomplete and truncated our family feels.  Of course, her and I are still a family, but we are so, painfully incomplete without you.   Yesterday, I went to pick her up at a neighbor's who had kindly volunteered to watch her so I could rest for a bit.  As I went down the hall I could hear the sounds of Audrey playing with the two little boys and tears started to stream down my face.  I wanted for her to have a home with a complete family- father and mother- and siblings too.  I am sorry for her that she has to come back with me to our house.

A house where someone is always missing...and where it always feels so empty when I turn the key in the door and go in.  Every time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Dear Audrey

Dear Audrey,
You are starting to grieve for your father in a new way.  One night out of nowhere you said at the dinner table, "Appa twaveled a yot."  "Yes, he did," I said after having you repeat it a few times so that I could understand you.  It must've been important to you that I do because you patiently repeated it as clearly as you could at least three times until I got it and nodded your head with relief when I did.

Another day after a rousing rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," you said "I wish appa could hear me sing Twinkle Little Star."  "I know, I know you do,"I say.

You realize he will not be here for so many things.  This morning on our way to the drugstore, you said, "I wish appa could go to the drugstore with us," and then, "I'm sooooory, appa...I'm sooooorrry."  I think you got this I'm sorry part from me because sometimes when you say something like, "Appa died," I tell you that I'm so sorry that this happened.

Tomorrow you will be 28 months old.  You last saw your dad at 21 months when you were only speaking mostly one syllable words.

A minute later in the car I am stunned by your words:

 "I wish appa could come back to life."

Sun Shower

Being sick definitely makes it much easier to feel self-pity...I've been feeling horrible but had to look at another preschool and take Audrey to a class this morning.  After being in for two days straight, I thought I'd give it a try but by the time we left the class, I had non-stop chills and felt miserable.

The town where we take the class is the same one I had my first job after college in.  I drive right past the building where I worked to get there.  Every time I do, I want to imagine it is 1999, pull into that parking lot and park my car, and head up the stairs where I'd sit in my orange cubicle and email a guy I'd just met named Daniel Cho.  Even my coworkers knew I was completely in love by the smile I had on my face when I simply walked into work in the morning.

But Audrey's in the car now, and Dan is dead, I realize.  Strange how time travel always seems possible for a second.

Also in this same town, we took one of our last family outings to buy Audrey new sneakers.  We chose the sneakers and then went for frozen yogurt.  I pass by both of these places as well.

As reality sinks further and further in, I find myself thinking very simplistic thoughts- in the car- "I am so upset about this," speaking about your death.  So sad, and so upset- but a depth of sadness I did not know was possible.

People assume that I'll think life is more precious now that I've experienced the sudden death of my spouse, but it's really quite the opposite- not that I don't value it at all, but it seems much more temporary,  able to be ripped away and disappear at any moment- so I wouldn't invest too much in it- at least in the societal norm sense.  I'm not really sure yet what is worth investing in- loving people I think- even though they can disappear so wretchedly- loving seems important.  But that's about it.  Having a great time, or a comfortable life, or living your dream career-wise- these don't seem very important to me now.

On the way home I realize I have the windshield wipers on but it's very sunny.  A sun shower, I explain to Audrey.

I think about how the prettiest things - well at least to me, in life- are often those that whisper about the contrast we see and experience here...the bittersweet- love and pain- sun and rain.  The pairing feels like it's supposed to remind me of something...that these things coexist in the world seems otherworldly to me.  As my windshield wipers wipe away the sunny rain drops, I think about this and
I hope...

Monday, January 17, 2011

This Is Where I'm At

The toothpaste and dental floss are still the same ones you used, but I can feel the dental floss getting lighter and looser.  Literally, each night, when I pull some off, I fear that I will reach the end.  The end of flossing next to you.  Such a small thing.

When I hear the bus brakes now outside our apartment complex, I barely notice.  I don't expect you anymore, but every once in a while, I still want to pretend- and I think about getting up and moving the curtains and looking for you- but I don't move.

I have been able to watch a few short sitcoms on Hulu.  For the first time, I could stand the distraction from the grief and even enjoyed the shows.  I could hear you laughing right next to me at the parts you would've laughed at.

I have slowed down because it's more painful to write, but I am not done writing or talking- i have to keep telling this story until I believe it.  The writing feels sloppier because I get it out as quickly as I possibly can.

The phrase that I most often want to say to people, but don't think I ever have- is not a command or affirmation but a question- really a simple one, but pregnant with more questions:  was he real, I know he was here, I have his child, do you miss him like I do?  wasn't he a spectacular creation?

It is just this:

"Remember Dan?"

A Visit to Church

Audrey and I went to our old church- the one I last attended on July 4th, 2010- two days before you would drown.

I haven't been able to go back for various reasons, and haven't really gone to church much since you died.  A friend took us to the city to Redeemer a few times, and I tried out a really terrible church last Sunday- felt like I'd been sucked into the 1970's in West Virginia- very strange.  So, Audrey's been asking to go to her "old church," that's what she calls it.  Even though she was about 20 months the last time we went together, she still remembers the "ooola oops" they had in the gym and basically associates "church" with the playground at the school where this one meets.  I may be doing a bad job overall with her Christian teaching since the other day she said her food was yucky but kept eating it and when I asked her why she was eating it if it was yucky, she replied, "Because Jesus died."

Anyhow...

I was nervous driving there.  It was a huge step.  Dan had played piano on the worship team up on the stage and he would wave and smile at Audrey.  If he wasn't up there, he'd be holding her, dancing around to the music so I could have a break.  I was hoping by going back there I might reinforce any memories of Dan she has there in that building.

It felt almost normal when I first got there.  We waved to the fishees in the fish tank in the hall.  I declined the church bulletin on the way in as I always do.  I sat down in the last row in the back of the huge auditorium on a folding chair- Audrey sat next to me.  I was surprised by one thing- the church has gotten a lot emptier- who knows why- churches go through seasons, or maybe everyone was just late.  I was kind of relieved.

Of course, probably 5-10 people I know there did come over, pat my shoulder, or give me a hug and say that it was good to see me there.

I dismissed them as quickly as I could without seeming rude.  It was important to me that they not think I was "healed" or "coming back to God" and I'd just been angry before.  It's nothing that simple at all.

Audrey wanted to sit up on my lap and strained to see the stage: "I see appa..." she said quietly.  "No, no, remember appa died- I tell her sadly but matter-of-factly (which I hate).  "That person looks like appa," she insists.  I'm not sure who she's referring to but there are a few Asian guys up there so I'm afraid she's forgotten you or that she is just so hopeful that you will be there.  I think she really thought that Dan- I think she really thought you might be there because you often went to church early and then we met you there.   A part of me felt sick, like I'd played some cruel trick on her taking her there.

Shortly after we went to the nursery classroom where we both stayed the rest of the time.  She ate snack, played with play dough, and got stickers.  That's pretty much what they do there.  I chatted with a few of the moms.  The super smiley children's ministry woman came and told me it was so good to see me there.

One thing I was struck by immediately when I went into the service in the beginning was the need I used to have to manufacture some "feeling" when in church.  I looked around and at least I imagined some people were doing that.  How hard, I thought, it is to touch a greater reality when your life is just  comfortable.  You have to make an effort.  Suffering- suffering leads you straight there- it's like once you learn how real death is, you also learn how real a God could be, if he's there at least.  Any shelter, protection, or buffer you have from everyday life that prevents you from truly "seeing" or connecting to the larger reality- is gone in suffering.  You are naked...exposed...like raw nerve endings walking about. It's just so painful I can see why many of us want to put on something hard like bitterness to cover ourselves up again.  What's the other choice?  I guess putting on humility- smallness, hope and wisdom.  Not sure how to get there yet though- I'm still walking around with just those nerves exposed.

On the way home, in the car, Audrey said to me, "I wish appa could've come to sunday school with me."  She's been saying things like this a lot more lately.  She is recognizing the loss that will follow her all of her life.  What can I say?  I do too, I do too...my familiar reply.

Is This How It All Ends?

There was a night, early in our marriage, when we both thought we were going to die.

We lived on the top floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn, but there was no separation between our apartment and the rest of the home- owned by one wealthy family.  The apartment was long- a railroad apartment I guess- and we could close the bedroom door and living room door and walk a narrow hallway in between those, but the main hall by the stairs, kitchen, and bathroom were exposed.

Well, one night, you heard our landlord call out, "Dan...call the police!" after we heard some knocking at the front door.

Actually his wife had a similar nickname and he was speaking to her, but we thought he was yelling up to you.  So...we called 911.

But first, we closed our bedroom door and living room door, and began pushing furniture up against the doors.  We were scared- we had a horrible feeling that something terrible was happening right below us. Before we barricaded ourselves in though, you had gone to get a butcher knife.  It was a scary thing seeing you holding that while we pushed furniture up against the door.  I was on with the 911 operator telling her about the situation, and then finally I leaned out the window and saw the police downstairs...they were at the house but now they were already leaving...but we didn't understand what was happening.  I remember opening the window and calling out weakly, "Help!"  I told the operator I might jump if they didn't come back.  She said something like, "Well, don't do that honey."

Well, while I was still on with her, you got a call from the landlord explaining that everything was alright and that some deaf man had come to the door- the door knob was broken (yeah, sucky landlord), and been able to come in.  He had gotten scared and asked his wife to call the police, but later the deaf man somehow explained that he had been looking for another house and had the wrong address.  Now, who knows if this is really true or our landlord just got taken for a total ride.  At any rate, I asked you to go down and just  make sure he was OK and not being held at knifepoint or something while you were on the phone with him and he was telling you all was well.  You did.  He was OK.

That night, even though it was late, we got online and planned a trip to Paris in the spring- for my 30th birthday, but also just because...life seemed short.

And I remember you saying to me, "I thought about what might happen to you...and I got the knife."  We both agreed we would've died for each other and that we had both had the same thought, "Is This How it All Ends?"

Those words come back to me a lot since you died...and I think, "No, Dan- this is how it all ends.  But it does, it does end.

I wish planning a trip to Paris or a night of holding each other close could comfort us now.

The Music

Your career, your music, has really complicated things all along.

I prayed and prayed to meet and marry a musician.  I knew you were out there actually, and I wrote a song and used to sing it to myself all the time, "I look for you, on the train, between the doors, and in the city streets, but will I know you when you looook at me.  I pray for you, sometimes too...etc."  I forget all of the words- it was about eleven years ago and I lost those lyrics a long time ago.

Then after we got married, I wrote a little country song that went, "Be careful what you're wish'in, I'm in love with a musician."  Because...it was hard.  You had a passion that seemed, to be always taking you away from me.  The thing is, I think I'd prayed for someone mediocre- who sang and played the guitar and piano maybe on the side- but what I got was a musical genius with perfect pitch and non-stop creativity who was driven to do this thing for a living.

And then, just when you were reaching your goal- doing music, for the most part, "full-time," when I was saying, "Go- do it.  It'll be hard, but this is your time," you die.

More complications.  Reading about your death online on music websites, reading comment after comment that began, "I don't know the guy, but I saw him play with Regina last year and I'm a huge fan...etc."  This was hard.

But now, I'm back at that everyday place where, just like the soccer and movies...your absence leaves a giant personal void in my life where music used to be.  And not just music- not just talking about the craft, sharing lyrics or melodies, or new artists (which you mostly introduced me to and kept me up to date with), but the actual lifestyle that we led together.  Going to gigs late at night, meeting interesting and artistic people, following the trail of your music really- to different venues, people, and shared experiences.

I can't paint an artificial rosy picture of that either- it wasn't always enjoyable.  Some nights I loathed all of the twenty-something girls in tank tops and heels in those clubs.  I didn't think they were really there to appreciate the music.  I was also creatively frustrated myself.   It had been my choice to put song writing and performing aside because I was just too immature and emotional to work at and share my music with others in that way...so I'd given up- which frustrated you.  I wrote an essay about my creative struggle for my MFA program in which I referred to myself as a "shadow artist," mostly just supporting you from the sidelines.  But I'm not sure I was even doing that.

I'd sit in a corner with my feet up on the chair and listen to you play beautiful music- sometimes with tears in my eyes- later you'd tell me "You looked like you were chewing on a piece of crap" (a favorite expression of yours).  Sorry, sorry I looked that way.

In all fairness, it was often because I felt you were so much better than some of the people you played with- and I wanted you to succeed and wasn't sure if playing with them was the best route.  I was upset when you barely got paid, or even refused any pay after lugging sometimes both your cello and keyboard by yourself to a venue and skipping dinner.  "No man, that's OK," you'd say, and I'd tell you that if you ever wanted to make a living at this you better start asking for what you're worth which in my opinion was a lot.  You'd tell me that you were making connections or doing a friend a favor.  You knew what you were doing much more than I did.  You knew by then what the music industry was about.

You'd pack up your cello, and tell me you'd just be a moment, but then you'd always wind up talking to the various people who wanted to tell you how amazing you were.  I tried to teach you over the years to say, "Thanks." because I got tired of hearing you deny it.  "Just say 'thank you,' " I said.  "Because you are good and you know it's true."  To all those artists who eulogized him by saying how humble he was and how he always turned it around to say how good they were...that is true, and one can only be truly humble if one knows exactly how talented one is.  He knew, of course he knew.  That is what was so beautiful about his humility.

I've decided you can tell a lot about a person by the kind of spam or emails they receive after they die.  Your inbox is full of song writing contests, lyrics of the day, Paste magazine newsletters on new indie artists...all of that you brought to our shared life.  I think about subscribing to some of them myself.

Despite the tension and complications, in some ways your death is like a filter, or a sieve, draining that all away and leaving only the pure, the original, the true:

us at a piano in a coffeehouse while we were dating - you placing my fingers on two keys and telling me to keep hitting them while you play something amazing around them.

there we are at the front of a church leading the congregation in worship...afterwards you told me you were blessed, even if I messed up a bit.

you standing at our wedding, holding your cello and singing to me, "I have come to pour out my heart, to tell you I love you, to tell you I cherish you- but you already know it's true..."  a love song.

me sitting with my guitar over white wedding gown, being sure to look you right in the eye while I sang, "I want to thank you for loving me, so very well..."

us standing in the balcony at a Travis concert hearing the song, "My Eyes," and knowing that this was going to be the soundtrack to our pregnancy.

and about a week ago, I was sitting in the ferry station before coming back from the city and started to listen to all of your voicenotes on your iphone.  I thought I'd listened to most of them but I found one I had missed.

You are playing the piano and I can hear Audrey in the background making baby gurgles.  You start to sing, "Audrey....Auuuuudrey, you're beautiful.  I'm sorry...it's this way" over a stirring piano line.

I can only guess, but I think this apology is either because we had a fight or more likely because you were traveling so much and missed her.

It is a beautiful, beautiful melody, and the lyrics are doubly appropriate now.  

Things were tough.  Sometimes when you got angry with me for resenting you for doing music, you'd threaten to destroy your cello- which is worth quite a bit of money.  "I'll just destroy it right now," you'd say.  Then I'd have to beg you not to because I knew you really might in your anger.

But there it is now, in the corner.  I keep thinking how I learned to "invest" in people rather than things because they're the only thing that lasts- but now all your stuff is still around, and you're...gone- at least to my human senses.

Anyway, I had no agenda or intention for this post.  I just miss the music.

The complications, the things that put music in that spot of contention in our lives- earning a living, paying rent, etc.- blow off like a layer of dust on a piece of paper.  Underneath I see
just the notes
and the words
in your handwriting.
and your voice singing over the piano:
"Audrey, you're beautiful...I'm sorry it's this way."

Friday, January 14, 2011

To and Fro

Tonight it's hitting me particularly hard.

With no nap, Audrey went to bed at exactly 8 pm, leaving me a much longer stretch of evening.  I try to get things done.  Phase 2 of my thank you notes.  Phase one- the first batch- was sent out last week.  I gather the sympathy card stack that I had no address for and start emailing people.  It seems formal and pointless since I'm contacting them to get their address, I may as well just say thank you then...but this is the way things are done properly, and I want to do everything that has to do with you...well.

When I have free time, I feel like I have ADD- I go from one thing to the next as quickly as I can.  So I did some work for the thank you's, some cleaning in my room, will shower, and do some paperwork before bed.

But as I'm going from one thing to the next, putting things in their proper place (sort of), I stop and look for the lock of your hair given to me by the funeral director- in a plastic Ziploc bag.  I take it out, sit down, smell it, hold it up to the light, and kiss it telling you I love you.  Then I place it back about to go back to my cleaning when I realize how horrifying and sad my life has become.

That's because I see the act I've just done from your point of view- at least your point of view before you died.  I imagine your horror.  I also think about how your hair was such a point of tension, but how had you cut your hair like I wanted, I wouldn't have this precious long lock.  I also imagine myself showing it to Audrey, a grown woman, many years from now.  It's amazing how the mind goes to and fro so rapidly...traveling space and time.

Then as I'm putting it back in your drawer, I fall into your clothes, crying.  Your whole drawer has a smell that mine does not- even though your clothes are all clean.  I touch your clothes- boxers, t-shirts, socks...I tell you that I miss you so much and I love you so much.  That I loved your t-shirts, your hair, your music, your passion for sports...all the things I said I didn't...the things that drove me crazy- I loved them, I tell you. I loved your bladefoot, and the pores on your nose, and how cheap you could be.  I loved it all.

I close the drawer and continue straightening.

More things to be done, water the cello, fold the laundry, get ready for bed.

Last Summer

"It doesn't seem impossible to turn back six months of time," a friend of yours says to me online while chatting at the six month mark.

It doesn't, I agree, because it feels possible to push back and prevent this from happening still.

I've been starting to teach Audrey about dates, because pretty much for a child, other than their routine and the steps that move them through one day and to the next, the world is still timeless.  I made a small wooden block perpetual calendar for our kitchen table and we turn the blocks to the new date each morning.  The thing is, she's stuck on January 10th.  I was very proud when she said that on January 10th, but every morning, I ask her what number comes next, we change the number, and I repeat it- and then I ask her what today's date is one minute later and she has the same reply: January 10th! (enthusiastically).

I think there must be something to this- this difficulty in understanding the constraints of time and the systems we've set up to try to corral it into some order.

Your brother refers to "what happened last summer," in a recent email and the term "last summer," takes my breath away.  I am appalled really by the distance in those two words.  Time is ordered in just three long days for me now.  Yesterday. (you died)  Today. (I grieve for you) And tomorrow. (I hope to see you again)

This week, I wrote an email to you for the first time since you died.

Surprised myself when I went to check your account a week later and saw it.

It begins:
"Just for a second, i want to believe you're alive and will receive this message.

just for a second, I wanted to type your name in the to: line of this email and feel the way I once did."

Back Door

I told my counselor on Monday that I am feeling such a void now...and started crying as I said this.  That all of the things you brought to our life- your knowledge of pop culture, films, sports...are gone.  I find myself wanting to learn about the things you loved.  I found myself this past week researching the Asian Football Cup that's going on right now and feeling that I must learn everything about the Korean soccer team you so rooted for.  "Why now?" I asked my therapist..."Why couldn't I have taken this kind of an interest when he was alive?  He would've loved it..."

"Because you had him here...and he was bringing that into your life.  Now that he's gone, you may need to do it."

"Yes," I say, "I think soccer will have to be a part of our life- he wanted to teach Audrey about it."

I think this is why I also feel it's necessary to keep in close contact with your close guy friends.  They're my link to you...with them you shared those areas that are now missing from my life including sports and movies that I wouldn't watch.  I hope they don't find it odd that I need to have this communication with them.

So I read about the soccer (football) matches going on right now...I read all of the background articles about the players and the coaches.  It feels like some kind of back way, or secret entrance through which I might be able to still reach you.

But then what I find is just your absence.  I read there is a new coach- and know you would've had a lot to say about this, but I have no idea what and I cannot ask you.  I want to ask you to explain a few of the other rules or terms that I'm reading about, but I can't.  I want to hear you say, "You're so funny," or "You're so cute," when I try to understand the rules, but I will never hear your voice again.

Because it's too late...there is no more back and forth.  And even though there is no back door to where you are now, what I find is a way to know you better even though you're gone...because it's an area that is largely untapped by me.  There is more to learn.

A Line

I cry a lot more these days.  Every night.  It's as though I'm Cinderella and I have to hurry and put Audrey to sleep before the clock strikes and I can't hold it in any longer.  The crying doesn't have to be manufactured by certain thoughts or remembrances.  It just comes, as it is if I let it, containing the whole of you and I, of all that is lost- without words, but instead in soft moaning and sometimes chattering teeth that I had never heard come out of my throat until you died and now I am quite accustomed to.

I dreamt of you last night.

It wasn't anything spiritual or supernatural, just the work of the unconscious.   I was full of anger and resentment towards you, but there was also that good kind of tension as we got close to one another.  You were slightly distant, but I was so glad to see you.

It reminds me of a memory that's been coming back to me lately.  It was a few years before we got married, probably eight or nine years ago.  We were in one of our dramatic fights, but we both went out separately to a gig of a friend of ours downtown.  We had the same group of friends- so I was with a few of the women, and you were closer to the stage with your group.  I remember telling two of the older women that I just didn't know if you and I were meant to be together and that I was angry with you (for whatever reason- I can never understand what all that drama was really about now).  One of the women told me that she honestly could tell people her husband was just the greatest man she'd ever known.  I wondered if I could say the same of you.  The loud band played.  I think I had a glass of wine.  I saw you towards the front of the long, narrow venue, talking, laughing.  We were both doing that.  But then...

our eyes kept meeting.

There was such a distance between us there...but our eyes met several times.  There was anger in your eyes.   There was also hurt and a bit of confusion.  I'm sorry.  I left with a friend without saying goodbye to you, and I remember crying about that.

Because there was also so much love in your eyes- so much.  Even in that loud, crowded venue, it was as though there was a magnetic force between us...a line.

I don't remember exactly what we were wearing or how we looked- whatever I conjure up in my mind about that evening is just the work of my imagination and I'm aware of that.  But that look in your eyes and all it meant- remains with me- even if I can't see it with my eyes.  That memory has evolved into a dream- the kind where you wake up and you can't remember all of the details, but the imprint, the milieu, the feeling, is so strong.

I smell your shirt today and it still smells.  I can close my eyes, lean my head on it and pretend we are embracing.  What will I do when it no longer smells?  When I can no longer trace you that way?

I look at photos now and I'm pretty sure that I'm starting to get it all slightly wrong and that if you should walk into the room right now, I'd be just a little surprised at how I've been picturing you slightly eschew.

I want to believe that line is still there.  I want to believe that when your physicality is out of my grasp- your scent and stature- that the imprint, love's milieu, the feeling of looking into your eyes, will still be with me.

And I also want to tell you, that yes, you are the greatest man I've known.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tension

Grief is a lot like pushing out a child- the heaving and pressure that something must come out when you keen- sometimes with no sound.

Both labor and grief have a certain rhythm though labor can be charted with minutes and seconds and grief can not.

Six months and less is what the young widows board that I don't frequent had considered "newly widowed."  So I guess I'm an old widow now.  It is all just beginning.

Taking down the Christmas tree last Friday was much harder emotionally than putting it up.  The dry needles falling off, the stray piece of tinsel- these were always depressing, carrying that anticlimactic- back to reality feeling with them.

Six months is reality.

Six months means you are never coming home and your photos, flat and frozen in time will be all I see of you and will most likely help me remember you slightly wrong.  I find my favorite photos are the ones that are not posed, that capture not a smile, but a precious expression and maybe a close-up of your fingernails or your freckles.

I often wonder how everything was so clearly done and so sharp that day I received that phone call.  I was in shock, but I also knew and understood the information given to me enough to set things in motion immediately- choosing a funeral parlor, church, cemetery, notifying your family, parents, friends in a few days.

At six months I revisit the fact that this is permanent, but also intriguing to me is that I knew deeply in my soul of the permanence the instant I heard the words on the phone.  I knew and I felt it.  You were gone and it was the single most permanent fact I had ever encountered in my life.

Was thinking yesterday that this grieving process- at least the first year is like the opposite of the year of our engagement.

The engagement starts with anticipation and joy and over the course of the year it is building, higher and higher, as preparations are made.  It culminates with a ceremony.

The death begins with the ceremony followed by a year of paperwork, coming out of shock and straight down, down, down, to reality.  There is no culmination- just to go on living.

I do not want to erase you- your name from our bank account, your clothes from our dresser and hamper, your shoes from the entryway.

I feel more incapacitated these days...physically weighed down the way I was in the early days.

It is impossible to say what is "hard" about this because it is all very, very painful and there are so many layers and piece to it.

But it is hard that when you left, there was so much tension in our marriage.  Though we emailed and spoke lovingly about missing one another once you'd left, the words, "let's resolve this when you get back," had even been spoken days before you left.  And then you died.  This is hard.

Not getting to say goodbye or tell you how much I've loved you- this is hard.  So I say it everyday in my own way.  "I adored you," I speak to the evening behind the glass of our window.  This is hard.

Watching a little girl sleep tonight who will not have you as a father- because you would have been an amazing one as she grew, as you were the twenty months you knew her.  I would've wanted you as a father, I think, so I grieve the unfairness of her loss.  This is hard.

The loss of expectation- that tension that a married person has and becomes accustomed to- waiting for the phone call, the door lock turning, the evening when you can unwind and tell someone about your day, the end of the week to be relieved and enjoy time together.  Gone.  This is hard.  I had become so comfortable with that tension, especially with you always playing late gigs at night and being away the last year of your life.  Tension, I realize, is beautiful.  It's what holds all good art together.  Sixpence None the Richer had a song a while back with the lyrics, "the tension is to be loved when it is like a passing note to a beautiful, beautiful chord."  Without the tension, life is flat, monotonous, insipid.
Artless.

And that is where grief differs so much from labor and from engagement.  The moment of climax, the phone call, comes at the very start- is the very start...and from there, it is a slow realization of
the missing tension
the absent expectation
the tired, naked christmas trees laid out on the curb waiting to be picked up:

it is over.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Underdog

"I don't want to lose my appa," Audrey said out of nowhere last night at dinner.  I had to ask her to repeat what she said because I'd never used those terms with her or heard her describe your loss like this.

"I don't want to lose him," she repeated.  

To believe, have faith, give praise, seems almost perverse when you hear these things from your two-year-old.

But I want to- I want to.


You, you were always rooting for the underdog.

Your favorite films were all about the fight of the underdog:  Braveheart, Rudy, Shawshank Redemption.  And as a rabid sports fan, you always rooted for the teams that never or rarely won: the Wizards, Red Sox, and Tottenham.   If you were watching a game, all I had to do was ask which team was expected to win to know which one you were cheering on. How many times did we sit together at the last minute of a basketball game and you'd have to turn the channel because you just couldn't watch your team lose so painfully in those last thirty seconds?  "It's over...nevermind."  Boy, you'd get depressed.  But then you'd be right back there rooting for them again the next game.   When the Red Sox beat the Yankees in 2004, we had just gotten married and went to a few pubs to watch the series because we didn't have a TV yet.  We also listened to a few of the games on the radio which we both agreed had a certain charm to it.  I was in awe of the way you established an instant kinship with fellow Red Sox fans- total strangers, at the bar one night, giving high fives and smiling with delight as your team won.  I was also afraid after the game as we made our way through all of the NY Yankee fans and you proudly wore your Red Sox hat and jacket.  You hated the Yankees with a passion because they had the unfair advantage of money that could buy good players- something like that.

In life too I think, you were rooting for the little guys- the nice guys, the ones who got a bad deal.  You made friends with the homeless guy with the dreads at our subway stop on 7th avenue.  You were friendly with the "weird guy" at church that was a bit much for most people to handle, always saying, "I feel bad.  He has a rough life."  And I think you were rooting for me too...and for our marriage- which very often, felt like the underdog in one long, intense game.


Grieving feels something like that too- long, intense, pretty hopeless.
I want the respite of faith. (ah, that reminds me of that time we went to Prospect Park and I said it was a "welcome respite for my eyes."  You laughed and said "No one talks like that!" )

But in believing,  it seems I'm in danger of doing exactly what Lewis describes,

"Am I, for instance, just sidling back to God because I know that if there's any road to H., it runs through Him?  But then of course I know perfectly well that He can't be used as a road.  If you're approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you're not really approaching Him at all."

Or will I drift off into what theologian NT Wright describes of the confusion of many practicing Christians and churches about the hope in which they profess:

"Frankly, what we have at the moment isn't, as the old liturgies used to say, 'the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead' but the vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end."

No, I cannot succumb to the vague optimism on sympathy cards.  There is nothing behind it.

Though I vacillate weekly, daily, momentarily, between faith and doubt, underneath it all, the confusion, horror, and unbelief, know this my love:

I am rooting for the underdog.

Marriage is Like a Poem

Marriage is like a poem- it is concentrated- it is deep- while it is not often understood- it is always felt.  Mostly that poem is set on a shelf while the business of life is attended to.

In our marriage, I knew this concentrated humanness...in the physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional.  Ours was like a furnace...often uncomfortable, but doing the work- intimate- and very warm.



I remember still noticing for the first time the way you'd sometimes get a small white ball of saliva in the center of your top lip and then sometimes a string of saliva would hang from that lip to the bottom one as you spoke.

You tried to teach me how to spit and hack up my phlegm.  I wasn't very good at it.  "No you're doing it wrong- from the back of your throat."

You taught me to rub the "deh"- dead skin off of my body with the pads of my fingers- you said it worked better than the Korean scrubbers made for that purpose and touted your own beautiful skin as evidence.

You held my right foot while I pushed our child out of my cervix after 25 hours of labor- "You're doing it!" you said with a mixture of joy, exhaustion, and fear on your face, the long ponytail you promised me you'd chop off when we had our child, tied loosely behind your head.

One night, you drank an entire leftover 4 ounce bottle of my breast milk once just to see what all the fuss was about.



I loved taking communion with you.  You'd take me aside in church and we'd do this ritual together- you'd pray softly.  We shared the bread and the wine on our engagement day and on our wedding day.

We worshipped together.  The first day we met, you sat at a piano and I next to you while we sang together quietly.

I watched you go under the water in the echoing sanctuary at Riverside Church in Manhattan for your baptism.  Standing in the font, you held the small leather Bible I gave you while you read a verse before leaning back into that water.



We shared our creative work with one another often.   "Can you help me write lyrics for this?"  "Can you listen to this melody I wrote?"



We cried together during long into-the-night arguments.  Watched one another cry.

We laughed together- during favorite sitcoms, when I tickled you for the number of seconds equal to the number of days you'd been away on tour.



And...I keep thinking, we were naked together, entirely vulnerable, entirely loved.   I wish I could've pushed aside the context of our culture enough to comprehend the holiness of this sooner.  For only here, the forgotten poem is
picked up,
recited,
understood.

Faith

"It doesn't surprise me at all that you're feeling this way," an old friend I got to see in Arizona told me when we went out for lunch.  I had been telling her all about my struggle to believe in the tenants of the Christian faith-mostly that Dan exists still somewhere in some way-  the things we had professed together for years in a church that met in an International Youth Hostel on the Upper West Side that believed in supernatural healings and miracles no less.

Well, it has surprised me.

I said I believed.

"But this is experiential," another friend says to me on the phone the other night.  Yes, yes it is- my reply.

I memorized all of those long answers for my confirmation class test.  I got 100 percent.  The pastor of the small Lutheran church we attended congratulated me.


Question 1. What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins,  and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. 


I professed it again later while wearing my bathing suit- at a local swim club where I was baptized at 22.

But now the faith brings me questions, not answers, in my greatest time of need, the funeral cards I've reread over the last few days, even from well-meaning believers- ring trite and hollow.

In Lewis's words, "The reason for the difference is only too plain.  You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.  It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box.  But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice.  Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?"

My faith was about feeling and rational- but if faith doesn't lie there, where does it lie?

Is faith a sixth sense- a way of perception like sight or smell?

Or is it just a matter of sheer will.  Do I will myself to believe?  If it was will that brought us away from  the garden- is it will that brings us back?







Fear

I tell the therapist on last Monday that I am starting to experience something rather new: fear.  I've always been an extremely fearful person- something I believe I inherited, but once I got the phone call- there was nothing more to fear, was there?

But strangely, a new kind of fear- enters my mind with a sense of entitlement that surprises me.  If I think about a worst case scenario- like, oh, if I let Audrey sleep with those extra big blankets, she might turn into them and suffocate- there is no longer any voice saying, "Oh that's silly, she'll be fine, she's 2-1/2."  Instead there is a quiet, smug voice that says, "Maybe...anything's possible.  Look what happened to your husband."  It's not taking over my life, but it is a bit irritating.

"Fear is part of the grief work," my therapist says to all this.  "That's normal.  You're getting to the place of reality."

Do most people live in this particular place of reality, I wonder?  Because I feel like most of them still probably hear that first voice- the one that tells them it'll all be OK.

She searches in a drawer for something related to the stages of grief- a worksheet it turns out to be.

Really?  Is the guidance I need in an overcrowded drawer, on a photocopied worksheet in neat little bullet points?

I realize lately that I just had no idea you could die at this age.  It was an impossibility really.  I was prepared for accidents and long stretches of hopeful prayers, but not the phrase, "Dan is dead," a phrase where there was nothing required of me...nothing left to do but go from a typical day to a day of mourning and keening.

And just as it was an impossibility then, it requires a strange breed of "faith" now to believe that you are actually dead- there are no photos of your body- I have no real proof that it is true.  My mind has blocked much of it out.  Did I really see your body devoid of any life?  "I just want to hold his hand one last time- so maybe I won't look at the face, but just hold his hand," I'd cried to a friend that first week.  "It won't feel like his hand," she told me bluntly.  It did not.

So, first I must believe that you are dead.

And then, I tell the therapist how I find my entire world view eschew.  That previously I'd been one of those people who always believed there was a purpose behind everything- and often, one that I could discern if I struggled enough.

We got bed bugs in our Brooklyn apartment the week we brought our child home and had to lose everything we owned.  Well, I thought, after months of depression- maybe we were all going to get hit by one of those crazy Bay Ridge drivers and die, and this has saved us.  "I don't know how, but I believe God was actually saving us," I told Dan much later, getting choked up while I said it.  I don't recall his reply but he usually didn't fall for my easy solutions masked as wisdom or spiritual prowess.   I often thought I was the more spiritually mature- but no, it was you all along, wasn't it?  I see that now, just like I see so much.

And then there were the "lessons."  Maybe we had to lose everything because I was at the height of my control freakness and headed down a bad path.  If it didn't stop right then and I didn't learn to let go, then who knows what kind of damage I would have done to Audrey as her mother?"

But then add this brief afterward, "Dan dies by drowning in Switzerland," to the story I've just composed, and no, none of that makes sense.  We were saved, and lessons learned, so we could experience the worst tragedy of all two years later?

I tell a friend last night while chatting online that if God is like a storyteller, this isn't like a well-written tragedy, it's just really poor writing.  The other analogy- of God as a loving Father, this one isn't working so well for me these days either.

The old analogies don't work, and neither does the figuring out reasons and purposes for disasters and tragedies.


"So, I guess I'm not sure how to live now," I tell the therapist.

"Trust," she says.  "That's a mature faith."  She says the word mature with a hard "t" sound emphasizing the meaning of the word.


Now I see the kind of faith I had before in other Christians who have yet to undergo any real tragedy (you know, other than the drama we mostly make up for ourselves- I have done it very well for years), and as an observer, I see now how very small it makes the creator of the universe...it makes him too much like us- which he obviously can not be if he is what we believe him to be.

And then...when I acknowledge that I will not explain by feeling or reason- that I know nothing about this being who (assuming it's true for a moment) fashioned me, his existence

is

frightening.

Maybe this is a good place to start.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  Proverbs 9.10

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Six Months



One's body acknowledges it even if one doesn't wish to.  I feel nauseous as we check out our books and leave the library to walk home in the cold.  Walking down the steep hill from the library, I can see the Hudson River and the buildings on the other side.  It is cold, still, and hazy white with a touch of peach up in the sky.

At the front of our building, while Audrey touches the remaining snow, I read an email from a friend on your iPhone: "It's been half a year, hasn't it been?"

This is the friend who emails me faithfully each day- but in fact, I barely knew before this.

But I am shocked.  The power of words- I had been calling it six months- a half a year feels stronger.

My eyes tear up and I see you coming towards me.  You've just gotten off of the bus and you're smiling.

It's funny...I realize lately with the cold weather, I see you in your winter clothes.  I would've thought you would stay in your summer T-shirts- the ones of my early visualizations...but it seems you accommodate the weather too.  Lately you wear your grey flannel shirt and the green down coat I bought you after yours was torn when you were stabbed in the subway.

We eat grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch.  Audrey feeds your picture some.  I tell her that you loved grilled cheese and used to make it for us and she nods her head as though she remembers.  "Do you remember?" I ask.  She nods again.  This makes me cry quietly though I don't think she sees, and she says, "Mommy's c'wyin cause appa diiiied."

Then I explain to her that today is significant because it is six months since you died.

I decide to take a candle in a holder an aunt just gave to me for Christmas and light it for a few moments.  I usually don't light candles because I have a fear of lighting matches, but I do it over the sink- while thinking, "Isn't water supposed to make fires worse?  Or is that a certain kind?'

On my second match, I've lit it successfully and Audrey puts down her grilled cheese thinking it's a birthday cake.

I sing two verses of Amazing Grace and Audrey interrupts, "Mommy, you're a good singa."

"Thank you honey."

Then I tell you that we miss you and we love you.

Audrey tries very hard to blow out the candle but cannot, so I help.

"Now we eat it!" she says- still thinking there's cake involved somehow.

We do miss you dear- so very much.  It is incomprehensible.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Funnel It Back


Our last photo together before you left taken in the basketball court of our building while Audrey ran around.  I keep it on my desktop and look at it a lot.

I loathe signing into this blog lately; it's like Lewis said in "A Grief Observed" which I finished on the airplane, when you write about your grief, not only do you feel the grief, but you also have to think about grieving.  Why do that to yourself?

I don't know.

Today we stayed home.  Audrey used miniature clothespins to hang up washcloths on a little line I strung around the living room.  She took little pieces of blue painters tape off of her craft table to put on her roll of paper as fast as I could rip them off to make "art."  I cut out six pointed snowflakes and she chose where to stick them on our large windows.  I've thought to myself a few times since you died that maybe we are all in hell or purgatory already.  But this little girl just doesn't fit in the picture.

At dinner, I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up and before I could explain what I meant or give her choices, she answered resolutely, "bigger!"

She's been talking to you constantly since we got home.  Maybe she missed having the chance to connect with you in that way while we were gone- I'll ask my therapist tomorrow.  She shares all of her food with you and shows you everything she's doing, waiting for your approval.   "I'm putting snowflakes up Appa, do you see it?"

You are more and more coming down from the "mythical Dan" everyone talked about at the funeral and in memorial letters to "my" Dan.  I see you doing really ordinary things- sitting scratching your scalp giggling at Family Guy.  I hone in on your wallet and glasses sitting on top of your stereo speaker where I placed them.  I actually look down the little hall leading to our doorway expecting you might come in while we're eating dinner, put your bag down, sigh, and take your coat off, and I imagine that I'll act just as usual and let all of this just slip away.  Yes, that's what I'll do.

The small, the little, the very human things about you are in the foreground now...and it is very painful.  Because it seems the continuity I've been searching for between my old life and this one is there- in the mundane and blase.  It comes out in the memories lately too.  I don't just remember the holidays or the occasions.  I just remember moments.  Like me trying on a sweatshirt of yours (I wear now lying here), and you bragging to me since you got it for a few bucks at a thrift store or Ebay, "Comfy right?"

On the plane ride home, I remembered how we couldn't get two seats together on the airplane back from a trip to Paris and I was crushed.  We asked an older woman if she would switch but she insisted on an aisle seat so she could use the bathroom- damn old people.  Well, in the end, she felt for us and agreed to the switch.  We wound up talking to her about where she was from- somewhere in Europe and where she and her husband- who I believe was meeting her there- were going to go in NYC.  You drew her a little map and some notes of your favorite restaurants and places in Brooklyn.

Or cutting the snowflakes today- I remember us cutting them last year- and you trying to be more creative in the little shapes you put in them, each of us unveiling our snowflakes proudly and sarcastically knocking the others.

And I remember your smallest features and traits.  I try to walk like you sometimes, but I can't get it right.  I drag my feet a little bit and point my toes in just a bit and sometimes it feels close.  I think about your body a lot- the archipelago of freckles on your left cheekbone and the way your earlobe felt and your tiny hairs grew in on your chin and above your upper lip- some light brown and the rest thick black stubs.

Yes- slowly- in these human, small moments and details- I see the connection...that was you, and me.  That was us, and this is me now- because you died.  There is a connection between the two lives I bear now.  There it is in the way you danced for our daughter with your arms up shaking both fists.  Yes, that was you.  You were definitely here.

This is real.  I am awake, I tell myself tonight after finishing some freelance work that I just couldn't concentrate on.

It's almost as if you have to see a window into a greater reality in something like this to survive- but to get the continuity you have to funnel yourself back into a small container- the one that you were living in before- which was completely valid and all you knew, but yes, very small and contained.  But if you don't acknowledge it, if you can't get back there at all, it only seems to negate the intense grief you feel.    But if you take the small moments and details you can break up this massive reality and get it back through the funnel, back through the hourglass to survey the life you once had just one more time.  Ah, that was it.  Only then, when you taste it once more- can you fully grieve the loss.

Today I went into your gmail account which I stopped doing a while ago, but I found you had credit on Skype that was about to expire if you didn't make a call.  It was over $10 so I figured it was worth it so I was able to reset your password.  But while I was on Skype in my own account, I unintentionally scrolled to the history of calls and found your last phone call to me:

7/5/10 6:15 pm  00:15:29

I wish I could talk to you Dan.

 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 On To Something

So we're home now.  As I suspected, it was startling at first.  We got back around 8 pm last night, New Years Eve.  I turned on the heat, watered the Christmas tree.  I smelled your shirt that hangs over your chair.   I tried to ease the blow of returning by letting Audrey stay up a little bit later and I was so thankful I'd left a bunch of presents here for her to open, because watching your child open up presents can't help but bring you some joy.  And then routine kicked in.  I spent today slowly unpacking.   Audrey and I took a walk in her "no boots" and I shoveled what snow was left on the windshield of the car and around the tires.  We went across the street to get a half gallon of milk for her.  I made breakfast, lunch, dinner, changed diapers, bathed our daughter, and dressed her.  Routine.

Now that we have crossed the threshold into 2011, I feel a certain relief.  I can't even remember what I did last night, after Audrey was asleep.   I felt glad that apparently no one expected anything of me for this holiday.  I could just ignore it.  I listened to a sermon while a dull boom of fireworks went off somewhere nearby- maybe at the park next door.

I thought of all of the New Years Eves we've spent together.  One of my favorites was the one where we spontaneously decided to get out of the subway at Times Square after dinner downtown with friends.  We wound up herded all the way to Central Park with a million other people- standing on top of a rock, we could see straight down to Times Square when the ball dropped and fireworks went off over the park.  You kissed me and I said something about this next year being a good one- we exchanged a knowing glance- we both knew we'd get engaged that year.

There were a couple of New Years in Brooklyn watching fireworks at Prospect Park, and a couple at my parents clinking glasses of champagne and red wine.  There was one when we were dating, where you didn't seem like you were going to come over to spend the New Year with me, but were secretly taking the bus over at the last minute.  I was feeling miserable and full of self-pity in my childhood room- writing feverishly and dramatically in a journal about how much I hated life when you called to say you were on your way.

I used to think that life was relatively harmless.  I thought that I was deep.  Ha.

We went to a nearby diner where we were the only ones there.  The waitress took our picture I think and put it up on the window.  We held hands from across the booth and laughed at the whole evening.

Three years ago, we had dinner with my brother and his girlfriend who were visiting from California and watched the fireworks at Prospect Park before heading over to a friend's for champagne.  I pretended to drink mine and slipped the glass to you- I was just a couple of weeks pregnant, but I already knew and had told you my suspicions.

Last year, we turned down an invite to Regina Spektor's party to stay home with Audrey.  It's hard to find a babysitter who wants to sit in your bedroom on New Years' Eve- especially when you have no TV.  So, we sat on our bed, and kind of as a joke, you brought up the ball drop on my old computer.  We watched the action in Times Square on the stuttering screen..."Heee rrr eee wwweee rrrrrr in Times Squaaaaare." We laughed at our situation and were together.  I'm sure we kissed at midnight because we always do that, but I don't remember.  I wish I did.

Last night after I went to sleep with the quilt up over my head, I dreamt I was back at my old grant-writing job- my first out of college before I met you.  A few of the same people were there, including my old boss.  As I walked around, people seemed embarrassed for me to see me there again- and they knew...my husband was dead.  It was a horrible dream.

And then today, a day replete with the darkest kind of malaise, I had a message from you.  It's an inside joke and not really something to share with anyone else, but it made me smile at you and acknowledge your existence as highly plausible for just a moment.   I danced with Audrey and thought, "Yes, I believe."

"To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something.  Not to be onto something is to be in despair."  Walker Percy- The Moviegoer

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Living

I'm nearing six months- and a new low.

I notice if I tell someone what is now "my story"- that my husband is tragically dead- I always say the same thing, that you died "a few months ago."  It's almost six months, but I'm afraid even when it's a year or more, I'll be saying "a few months."  I think partly because I don't want time to take our living bodies apart- and also because it feels so fresh still.

I sat in our living room today wondering why the hell I had a Christmas tree there in July for a second.  The fact that it's December, OK January now, feels totally artificial to me.  Time and everything that points to it- seasons and holidays- feels made up and I guess it kind of is.  Hey, maybe I'm on to something.

So yeah, we're home now.

On the last night of our trip in Arizona things started to feel more heavy.  I think I felt like you do when you're a little kid biting your lip and trying not to cry- you get that lump in your throat.  It felt like that but on a much larger scale.   And I think because I hadn't been able to openly grieve for days, I started to become even more sensitive.  My aunt was talking about her niece finding her wedding dress that day, and then of all things, planning a destination wedding in f---ing Switzerland.  While we ate Chinese food my Uncle had the TV on and it was one of those programs they show at the end of the year documenting all of the well-known people who died in 2010.

You.

So many things started to go through my mind.

I thought about how I still remember exactly how we lay in our current bed- so it had to have been in the last year and a half, when we discussed if we'd want to be cremated or buried.  I don't know why this came up.  You said cremated, and I replied, "Well, what if Audrey and I want a place to come visit?"

You are buried.  Mostly at the request of your parents.

But I think of that, and how we were able to discuss that morbid subject because it simply seemed impossible it would ever come to pass.

But it has.  It really has.

I thought about how my whole life before you seems like a prelude to our meeting.  The last eleven years, my entire adult life,  you molded me and I molded you.  We melded together.

I thought about memory and how I'm not sure which memories to write down and keep anymore.  I still jot down what feels like little "jewels"- funny things that we did or said or happened to us.  But more and more I'm unclear about what those are.  The things I assume are just obvious now and won't be forgotten, may be.  So should I start writing down all of the ordinary details of our life as I remember it?  Even the words can't keep all of that.

I thought about how much I hate the words "grief recovery."  But yet at the same time, it does feel like it'd be nice to form some kind of scab over this gaping wound.  Sometimes I think it is forming, but then the living tears it right open again.

As we drove to the airport yesterday, Audrey commented seriously, "I forgot to show Appa the cactus."