Sunday, July 31, 2011

It Seems Like Madness

I've been alerted that my email subscription- 365 days of grieving devotions- is about to end.   I'll miss those because they were the only email I could count on in my inbox just after midnight each night even though their titles often made me say "ha!" out loud- things like, "Take up a new hobby."

I finally understand why people put away photos.  In the beginning this went against everything in me.  I did quite the opposite- leafed through every memory, journal, photo, video I could find.  Now, I understand this.  This putting away the photos- bludgeoned hearts hanging on walls.  Ours will remain out, but I understand this now.

Probably it was last July when I wrote about the things I was thinking of doing- one included brushing my teeth with your toothbrush.  Check.  I found some solace recently in redecorating my bathroom.  I bought a pretty vintage looking glass from Anthropologie for our toothbrushes- Audrey's and mine.  But before I threw yours out, I brushed with it dry.  I tasted the toothpaste you had used the morning of June 29th, 2010 before you took your packed suitcase and backpack, and said goodbye.  Then, I threw it out. It was a new toothbrush you'd gotten the day before at the dentist- so you'd only used it twice.

You do crazy stuff when you're grieving- things that make you feel like you very well might be raving mad.    You tape down the finger nails you found in the little box with his nail clipper on black paper and tuck them in a tiny envelope.  The same ones you almost yelled at him about the day he left when you saw them there..."Hey- can you please throw out your nail clippings!" echoed through your mind, but you held back and didn't say a word.   It seems like madness, but really it's just love which it turns out, is fierce when bullied.

The other night, while reorganizing the cabinet below the bathroom sink- all a part of my redecorating project- I see something that paralyzes my muscles.  I swallow hard and stare while squatting.  There, right above the child safety locks you installed on our cabinets, are two thin gray pencil marks.  There, you had marked where you would put the screws that hold the locks in place.  There are things all around me that are yours of course, but these markings, I had never seen.  And then, there they are.  Pencil markings.  A picture of your love as a husband and father.

Pencil markings on the interior of a dated bathroom cabinet.

Love written in grey graphite.

I squat there for a while.

You are Always Here

On the plane ride home from Maine, after take-off, amidst the familiar sounds of soda cans opening and air blowing out of those tiny nozzles overhead, I flip both of our little televisions to a soccer channel in Spanish even though we don't have ear phones.  

At night, I try to do pushups like you did before bed.  Sometimes you'd ask me for a number and I'd pick some random number for you to do.  I'm up to five myself.  

I sleep in your T-shirts- the ones you got at stoop sales or thrift stores in Park Slope or the black t-shirts I bought you for the concerts on the tour that you died on.  

Sometimes I just stare at Audrey's toes while I'm trimming her toenails- the nails look exactly like yours.  Her upper lip too, is a duplicate of yours.  

In the car, I keep the radio tuned to the station you listened to- the one that plays indie music, but on Sunday mornings plays celtic music with lots of bagpipes.  

I tell Audrey stories of how you were supposed to be practicing piano for four hours but when your mom went out, you ran outside to play with friends and only came back in right before she came back home.  She laughs at this a lot.

Audrey sings a song about manners and talks about "please and thank you," a lot and one day I hear her saying, "I wanna say please and thank you and goodbye to Appa."

I rub off my "deh" in the shower the way you taught me and I stare at your pillow nightly before turning to go to sleep.  

This must be the "integration of the loss" in clinical terms, I think.  For there was no goodbye- but there also is no goodbye.  "We couldn't forget him, so we decided to live with him," your dad told me tearfully at your grave in March.  And so, you are here always- not in a cheesy, sympathy card kind of way.  Not in a New Agey ghost kind of way.   Not buried in the cells of my limbic system, but on the surface of everything I touch or do.  Your life on earth, like the atmosphere of this strange new planet. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nostalgia

I'm pretty tired of writing here.

I've never had an end date in mind, but I think I'll know it when it's here and I feel like I'm rounding the bend.  Not because there's nothing more to say or write, but because there is no end to all there is to say and write.  And it's painful.

Audrey's imaginary friend Sarah has been missing her appa.  She's been sad.  This makes me sad to hear.

I really wish people wouldn't refer to their husband as "hubs" or "the hubs" on Facebook- it's annoying.  

Acceptance is not about accepting the death, or even death itself, but about accepting sorrow.  That there is no quick fix, that not even time will "heal," as so many tell you in the beginning.  Time deepens.  The sadness doesn't dissipate, it soaks in.

Grief is a kind of intense nostalgia.  Nostalgia- that malaise that you feel when you realize you didn't value something or some time or some one enough until you didn't have it anymore.  If nostalgia is a cotton muslin blanket you wrap around your infant in the summertime, grief is the lead vest they put on you before X-rays.

Today when we come back from Audrey's dance class at the library, I slowly put the key in the door, remembering just for a moment what it was like to know someone - you- was inside.  Waiting for us.  What it was like when I knocked at the door and hear your footsteps and saw the knob turning.  It's hard to remember what that felt like.  How taken for granted that simple knowledge that the one you love is inside your home waiting to open the door for you.

And just as it is with that one simple action of placing the key in the lock of our door, every action throughout the day is laced with you.  There is nothing that I touch or do that doesn't make me categorize "before" or "after."  Audrey tries on all of the shoes in her shoe basket by the door and I gently hold the little flip flops with bows that you got her in Korea that are now much too small.  I envision you picking those out in some store and handling them just the way I am now.  It seems I can get back there- to that place where you're buying them.

In cooking each meal, every thought is of you- how much to make now, when I first made this pesto dish in a walk-up apartment on the Upper West side while we were still dating.  In my recipe book I find meal plans for us with little notes saying, "Leftovers for Dan's lunch."  I learned to cook while cooking for you and eating is the most basic of functions- three times a day.  It's kind of like someone with an eating disorder who can not give up eating the same way an alcoholic must and can quit alcohol cold-turkey.  No, the person with the eating disorder must rearrange their relationship with the food because they can't get away from it that entirely.  And so it is for me, the way each meal and moment means partaking of you and our life together.   For an anorexic it is eating only that must be relearned.  For the grieving, it is breathing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Playground

Sometimes I simply wonder when I get this for a moment- these are still rare flashes of raw reality- when it will not seem ridiculous to me that this is real and I am the recipient of it.

It seems they don't have see saws anymore the way they used to when we were kids.  They have these contraptions that a child sits on either side of and then the bounce.  But remember those metal see saws?  If your "friend" decided to get off without letting you know, you came down hard.  Experiencing that once was enough to make me quite choosy about who I'd go on the see saw with.  Losing a spouse suddenly is like that.  Hitting that metal hard to the ground 'til it rings through your bones and up to your skull.

Another particularly traumatic incident for me on the playground was a fall I took in the third grade from those monkey bars that go across.  Some girls would sit on top of that and flip upside down until they hung right side up again.  I knew I couldn't do it but I got up there anyway and bluffed to some friends that I was going to do it.  The next thing I remember- I was inhaling dirt.  It's a feeling I will never forget.  I had fallen flat on my face from the height of maybe five or six feet.  (Hard to know how tall it was from adult eyes)  My face was not pretty and I was knocked unconscious.  This feels like that- like maybe I was sitting up there with my husband and child thinking maybe I was getting this, bluffing a bit, and then...breathing in blood and dirt.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Art Imitating Life

What, I often wonder, am I trying to do here with these words.  And why, as I walk around throughout any given day, are they forming in my mind, narrating my day to be something more artful than it feels without them?  Without them, it is drudgery.  With the words as my soundtrack, my slow rising out of bed in the morning, my chance meeting with an old friend, or the tributaries of thoughts themselves, are writing.  And writing can be art, if is done properly.

And then I often wonder, why, am I led or attempting, even subconsciously, to make something artful of this horror bestowed on us?  Is it just that the parameters of my world were blown clear away last July and I am in desperate need of some new definition and boundary?  Or, am I comforted by the appearance of my widow role in films and stories and trying to craft myself into one of those?  The kind I've said I would not be many times already, the bad film where the music picks up and the young widow packs up and moves to a new town, gets a new haircut, and starts a new life.  Am I imitating art and does life imitate art as Oscar Wilde claimed in the famous essay and Platonic dialogue, "The Decay of Lying?"  To say that life imitates art is a frightening thing because not all art is good art or even true art.

I do find this to be true with fashion.  I will imagine that suddenly, I've truly found my style and I really like the look of a handkerchief hemmed dress or boots with  buckles.  But then I notice that actually these are trends- I am seeing them everywhere and in another year when they are no longer "in style" I will most likely have found something else that is my true style.  But this actually has little to do with art as I'm speaking of it.  It's just annoying.

Wilde's argument just never sat well with me, and I think this is why.  The artists who create- are creating art from their own experiences and lives.  From what else could they draw?  Something in them, is compelled to try to make something of it all, put it into some kind of defined expression rather than carry it around like an aroma that can not be explained.

After all, how do you explain blue to a blind person or the sound of rain to a deaf person?   You can only use metaphor.  Which is what I end up doing most times here and failing still because grief must be experienced, not read about or viewed or painted or listened to.  This is how many life experiences are and often this is why they are best transformed and communicated in a poem or painting or wordless song- an art form that is not comprehended piece by piece at first, but it's meaning understood just the same.

I think the artists have a responsibility and an obligation to try to express and transform into art as much as the human experience as they are given.  And then...those of us who cannot do the same, recognize instead, our own experience in their work.  So, we are drawn to it, and thus our life imitates art.  But both of us, the imitators and the artists are working towards the same goal in my mind and that is: we are compelled to believe life is artful, our life.  This instinct becomes even more urgent when life is chaotic and in disarray.

I am happy to find someone who says it much better than I do, though I may be taking this slightly out of context having not read the book, but a Professor of Greek named Stephen Halliwell, author of a book called, "The Aesthetics of Mimesis," has this to say, "far from constituting the ne plus ultra of antimimeticism", the notion that life imitates art actually derives from classical notions that can be traced as far back as the writings of Aristophanes of Byzantium, and does not negate mimesis but rather "displace[s] its purpose onto the artlike fashioning of life itself".

Dark Space

E=mc2

I know there is something here in this equation.  Not just scientifically, but philosophically and spiritually.  The conservation of energy.  Matter cannot be created nor destroyed.  I know there's something here having to do with death and even love, but I'm no physicist.

While away, I read an article about the how the human genome project is possibly making the existence of Adam and Eve, one man and one woman, impossible.  That based on the human genetic code, when homo sapiens appeared, they appeared together- about 1500 of them.  Francis Collins, who headed up the project, is also a believer.  Some say this disappearance of Adam will do away with Christianity all together.  Tim Keller said that it would discount the writings of Paul because much of what is in the NT is covenantal- through one man, sin entered the world- through another- salvation, that kind of thing.  I have no thesis of my own- just found it confusing and a bit disabling.

And then I watched a National Geographic documentary the other night called "The Moment of Death." I kind of felt I shouldn't be watching that - especially later when they detailed each manner of death, starting with drowning- complete with descriptions and little stick figures acting out the effects.  But I did, and found it also confusing.  When is the moment of death?  When someone is brain dead but their heart is beating because we have them on a ventilator, are they dead?  If there was a God and an afterlife, at what point would the spirit depart?  I also found it interesting that just a few centuries ago, or maybe a couple, people had no real way of being sure a person was dead so they set up living mortuaries where people who were presumed dead would have a limb tied to a bell incase they should wake up.  It was a person's greatest fear that they might die and be buried alive.  In 1907, a surgeon named Duncan MacDougall placed dying bodies on giant scales and weighed them before and immediately following death. Apparently, the soul has a weight- 3/4 of an ounce.

I am still fascinated and comforted by the infinite and therefore eternal by my standards, universe and have done a bit more reading on this.  Apparently there are a few theories on the shape of the universe and whether or not it has a limit.  It may be spherical and closed in time.  It may be flat, infinite and expanding forever, with no boundaries.  Or it may be open with a negative curvature and also infinite.  I'm regurgitating most of this because I'm no astronomer, but I just don't think we think about the universe enough or where it came from.  Forget about our planet or all the planets, what about the dark space that came before the birth of stars and planets?  Where did dark space come from, I want to know.

All of the above just to say, there's a whole lot of gray, inexplicable, and uneven aspects to life and death and for anyone to claim to know anything for sure seems downright silly.  This is all very tricky.

In other news, I'm tired of trying to force the continuity of two lives that feel totally separate except for the pain connecting them.  Instead, sometimes I wish to pretend, as I place my clean glasses, the ones we registered for,  back on the shelves, that these are actually different glasses than the ones we received for our wedding, though they appear the same.  The plates too, the ones we agreed on with the reddish rim (because I was in my red phase and our apartment had to have shades of red and green just like I'd noticed were the colors throughout the film Amelie), are different plates, though they appear just like those.

Momentarily Distraught

I recall keeping things, very small things, to tell you each night or weekend from my day or week back when you were...alive.  Even before Audrey was born and they were things she had done, I had small details of my day that seemed important.  Like running into an old friend of ours in the subway, a new melody I'd come up with I wanted you to hear, or something irritating a co-worker did.  That whole range of the mundane details of our lives.  And later, if I forgot what it was I wanted to tell you- I was momentarily distraught- "Oh, there was something else I wanted to tell you!"

This not getting to tell you that you died over a year ago and Audrey is almost three now- that I had to see your body and plan your funeral and I talk to your parents every weekend, that I'm not sure where we're going to live, but Audrey's signed up for preschool and I am fighting not to lose my faith, that your glasses are on top of your computer speaker along with your wallet and baseball cap.  That I lent out your cello to Julliard and I'm sorry, that Audrey has two imaginary friends now named Sarah and Ooks Ocks, that I recently took her to Maine to visit Abbie and Brian and she and Oliver had so much fun together, that your brother's getting married and I bought a new white quilt for the summer and a french antique armoire to house all of Audrey's art supplies, that I went grocery shopping today and got caught in the rain and that Audrey didn't care for the couscous and mini burgers I made with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes and hummus, but she did like the little yellow grape tomatoes.  That you never, ever came home Dan.  You never did.  That I'm terrified of forgetting you or the feel of the passionate companionship we had.   This whole thing of not getting to tell you all of these...is just quiet torture.

I know that if you're at all aware anywhere, you have much more exciting things to share than these.   Until then...I'll keep collecting these things to tell you.  I miss you very, very much.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 23, 2010

The day that the parallel realm of "should have" began.
On this day last year, you should have returned home from your three week travels.
Perhaps that is why I tell you an inordinate amount of times today, while Audrey is at a friend's or quietly while she is in the other room, "You never came home...you never came back."
"I miss you."

Things You Don't Want To Do

I have reasoned that one of the aspects that makes this journey so hard, and perhaps this is obvious, is that from the very first moment, everything one must "do" goes against what one wishes to do.  One must make phone calls and tell others the "news."  One must choose a suit, socks, and underwear.  One must order the service and visit possible locations for the burial.  One must walk down the aisle and view.  One must cry in public receiving the cries and sympathies of others.  One must keen alone in showers and in darkness.

And then, when the initial list of things you don't wish to do is done, a new list begins.  One must notify the world in its paperwork and procedures of the non-existence of the beloved.  Cancel bank accounts, scan and email official death certificates to insurance companies and the local DMV.  Each phone call pushes one further into a world where one doesn't wish to exist.  Each task on the to-do list is another step down that long aisle to the waiting casket, another flower dropped on the silent, open grave.

There are the firsts one doesn't wish to celebrate without the beloved, but must.  There is the first Christmas and the first vacation without.  Birthdays, anniversaries, snowfalls and spring.  None of these are welcome or wished for.  They must be done.  Every step, every action, drags with the weight of the soul's refusal and the world's insistence.

It takes all of one's physical and mental strength to do things against one's will each day over and over again.  And this goes on for quite some time.

And then, in moments, very small ones, in order to survive, one must find at least one thing, one does wish to do.  Like laugh with your child, or take a walk,  a bubble bath, or go to sleep early under a new white quilt.  These actions then, are like trading the weight and dangling legs of a three year old on your hip with that of a newborn in your arms.  Soft, light, and holy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Maine

The rugged, rocky landscape of Maine suits my grief, but then it hits me that this is really the first trip I've taken alone with Audrey.  And that this is how it will be.

For the most part I'm busy during the day caring for Audrey while we're here- we visit a light house and I try a lobster roll.  You know, doing the things you're supposed to do in life when you visit a new place.

I miss you dearly when we tour their cute little town and I imagine how we would have strolled the streets together, popping in and out of antique stores.  You would have bought me something.  We would've gotten coffee at the cafe and eaten dinner in a nice restaurant.  Realistically, we also would've gotten lost, fought about where to park, I might've made it difficult deciding where we should eat- but this is all part of what I miss as well now.  Strangely, like those who lose a limb and claim to still feel an itch or a pain there, I still see you with us many times.  I gaze into the hallway of their home and see you coming down the stairs, giving a nod to our hostess.  I see you with me taking photos at the lighthouse, and I even imagine you in bed next to me before I go to sleep staring at the empty white pillow.

At night,  I put her to bed early- she is also very tired.   Then I sit on the top step of the attic of this old house my friends have purchased and fixed up.   The steps are painted a blue- grey floor paint and my friend's husband has placed a tiny manger and baby Jesus on the small ledge in front of me above the raised doorway to the stairs.   I sit there to make sure Audrey is asleep and also to weep alone for a few moments.  The crying, I recognize, is much more cathartic lately.  I don't necessarily have to be processing or thinking about your death while I do it.  It is just plain crying.  This feels like I'm maybe getting somewhere.

And even so, the depth of it has not changed.

The other night I google, "overwhelmed with sorrow."  Do you ever do that?  Just google some phrase out into the universe as if Google is one of those old-fashioned pneumatic tube mail systems that might bring you back some answers.

What I get is a quote from Jesus himself before his crucifixion,

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On This Day

last year I buried you.

Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary.

Sandwiched between those two tonight I have no words.  I am in one of those dazes that you can't blink your stare out of.  It's like I've given up my vision and have the inaccuracy of peripheral vision right in front of me.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Downpour

One year ago today, I saw you for the first time since you left on June 29th.  Only...it was not you.
Walking up the church aisle towards the open casket was the most horrifying moment of my life- receiving the phone call was the most sorrowful and traumatic.  

Today that wave of grief from last night lingers like bad jet lag does.  And the details of the tragedy in Brooklyn  sat with me all day as well.  Grieving, I think, is like being outside in a downpour all of the time.  Some days though, your umbrella comes in handy...this "umbrella" is your daily routines, your small comforts, your hope.   You put it up and it's enough.  Other days, it's that kind of downpour when an umbrella isn't helpful at all...in fact, it goes against you.  The rain is blowing so hard that the front and back of your legs are saturated as you try to steady your umbrella.   No, it just won't do on days like this.  Finally, that umbrella blows inside out.  Then it's broken and useless.  You see these broken umbrellas in NYC trash bins on corners after stormy days. 

Tonight after Audrey's in bed, after a long and cranky day for both of us, I do the pile of dishes in the sink and as I'm putting soap in the dishwasher, I think about dumping the entire box of powder into that little cavity until it's overflowing.  Tragedy just seems to warrant acts like this, but whenever I realize I'll just have to clean it up and that would require energy I don't have...I quickly abandon those ideas.   Remember Demi Moore in Ghost tosses their glass bottle of pennies down that dramatic loft staircase?  Only on television or in movies do people get to do those things; you never see them cleaning it up later.  

Audrey was asleep in minutes tonight.  I go in to look at her as I sometimes do.  She is sleeping straight on her back - like you did- with Hello Kitty on her right and her elephant on her left.  Then I put my palms on my cheeks and say quietly, "Oh my God," realizing that she belongs to you and me- that she is made of us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't Know Why



I don't know why I decided to watch this tonight.   A little video montage someone made to remember you.

I am crushed.  I cry until I am coughing.  I just can't believe you died.  You were living and breathing and walking and talking- we were fighting and loving and everything was so unfinished- I can still see you- here, in this room, like a living being.  

It's a tough one tonight.  The tent stakes of this little shelter I've set up camp in and lived in for over 365 days, for one revolution around the bright burning star, my "new home" with just the basic provisions for survival- those stakes aren't strong enough tonight for the gales that blow about.  

My quaint covering is blown clear into outer space.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Forward

The young widows say, you don't move on, but you try to move forward.  I like this.  There is no moving on.

The memorial, I decided, was not particularly hard.  I had processed beforehand.  I had planned things of beauty to honor you with others.  I have lived and breathed your death for 365 days.  For most of the people in attendance, I think the remembrance was more jarring- pushing aside their busy lives to allow sorrow in.  Me?  I had company at your grave.  That was nice.  Audrey sprinkled white rose petals on your grave. We released rainbow colored balloons.  We placed stones on your newly carved headstone.  We sang.  We prayed.  It was hot.  I blew you a kiss after everyone left, and then we all went for lunch at a Korean tofu house.  This is what grief on earth is- seeing your husband's name carved in stone on the anniversary of his death- and then enjoying his favorite foods at a busy restaurant...the holy and horrific, and utterly mundane like driving and eating and talking- all mixed up like a bowl full of bi bim bap.

I also hear that the first year is, especially in the case of a shocking death, mostly numbness.  I agree.  It's not that magically on the one year mark, the numbness and shock lift, but after a year of "let me get through this holiday..." and "let me get through this birthday," and then "here comes the one year marker..." one is left with just...the missing.

I miss the way you held chopsticks, and the way you moved your fingers across the mouse on my laptop.  I miss the way you moved your eyes back and forth in your head just to be funny.  I miss the shape of your foot in white sweat socks and the sound of your voice on the phone line, "hey..." i miss having someone at home who wasn't looking at their watch, wondering when they have to leave- to get back to their life, their family, their home.  

I am looking for an apartment- two realtors brought prospective buyers into our home yesterday.  It felt invasive but I decided to try to put a positive spin on it and think of it like I was on an HGTV show or something.  The first realtor asks me as she puts her shoes back on, "So, where are you moving to?"  "I have no idea," I tell her.  She hands me her card.  The wife of the couple who came second complemented me on the brightness and warmth of the home I'd created, stopping to look at Audrey's dinosaur world.  "Are you a teacher or just a good mom?" she asked.  "No, I just teach her."  "Are you a filmmaker or an artist?" she asked again after they toured the bedroom.  "No, I guess I'm a writer and my husband was a musician."  "I just love everything you did with the place," she says again before she leaves.

I call a potential apartment for us today and the woman renting the apartment in her two family home asks me to tell her about myself.  This catches me off guard.  "Well...I have an almost three year old...I live in Edgewater...um...my husband actually passed away about a year ago so it's just us."  Guess I'm going to be telling this story a lot.  

A couple of days ago, on the new sidebar of friends you can chat with on Facebook, I see your photo.  Really, I think, can I chat with you?  I click on it.  "Daniel isn't available right now to chat."  But then I see something surprising- an old message- from May of 2008- when I was about five months pregnant with Audrey.  "Hey babe," you wrote.  "You're hot.  What are you wearing?"  "Grey sweatpants. (smiley face)" was my reply.  And that's it.  That must've been the only time we ever chatted on Facebook.  I type you a message because according to Facebook, "Daniel isn't online right now but he'll receive the message later."  I send you this message and now your face appears in my messages when I click on it.  I like to see you there.  

Your cousin visits today.   She is special to me.  I like how she always starts her emails to me, "It's your cousin, --"  And after spending the day with us, lunch, running errands, going to Audrey's swim lesson- where Audrey resists swimming saying she doesn't want to die, a quick dinner- she hands me a card from "all the cousins" in Chicago right before she goes to catch the bus- the very same one I'd hurry you off to.  I open it to find money, and I cry because it is humbling but mostly because in the card there are lots of words.  I can see the different cousins have written little segments for me in their own handwriting- kind of like those birthday cards that get passed around offices.  When you are constantly told there are no words, it is lovely to see some.  It is the best gift to me...a keeper of words.  

Where I live now, I decide today, is like a trench created by shifting tectonic plates on the earth's crust.  I read about the convergent collisions that gave rise to the Himalayas- the highest mountain system on earth- and they also gave rise to the Mariana Trench in the North Pacific Ocean, the deepest point on earth.  And moving forward, not moving on, is a lot like what I read about this living geologic mass in our lithosphere, "churning currents in the molten rocks below propel them along like a jumble of conveyor belts in disrepair." 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Two Days Afterwards

Two days after the first anniversary of your death, I sit drinking a glass of wine on the balcony reading a book called "Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos."  It is raining.  The sound of the cars going fast on the wet pavement is a comfort.

"Dip colored chalk into water and draw...find a puddle of water in the sidewalk and scribble in it.  When chalk is wet, it has a different texture and makes thicker and softer looking lines."  


I feel like wet chalk on pavement.  Two days after, I am trying to get my bearings.  To gather myself up and understand what happens next.

I wish "I am drowning" wasn't the first metaphor to always pop into my mind when I think about how I feel.  Maybe that's why I try so hard to come up with new ones, better ones,
more appropriate ones.

Today Audrey made up a new game called "cemetery," where she sprinkled things on the floor reminiscent of how she sprinkled rose petals on your grave with me Wednesday.  She told me her cemetery is a really happy one, but still, I told her "Let's not play that game."

Later while she played in her "kitchen," she brought me a piece of small paper, which turned out to be a post-it, saying, "Look, a wow wa!" (translation: flower).  And it was, a small green post it with a flower drawn on it in black marker.  Dan had put little drawings and phrases on folded up paper in her plastic Easter eggs for her to find two Easters ago.  I swear we've looked through all the eggs by now- but she found it in one of the plastic eggs in an empty egg carton in her "store."  I turn away from the boiling raviolis and cry.  You are still sending me flowers, huh.  OK.

Your bus, #158, goes by, but doesn't stop.  I wish I was in a desert or a forest so I could scream loudly, but instead, I say quietly, "Come home...you can come home now."  I want to go inside now, but I'm immobilized.  The world is dark and made darker by the wet rain.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eve

The "eve" of important days seems almost as important, if not more so, than the actual day.  Christmas Eve, New Years' Eve, the eve before one's wedding day.  It is the time of anticipation.

In 2010 this was the eve of your death.  It was the night I wrote you- "Love you.  Missing you tonight," and I did...I really missed you.

And tonight that hasn't changed.  I love you...I'm missing you tonight, Dan.  But I will gratefully acknowledge that tonight isn't the eve of your death- that was one year ago.  Tonight is the eve of your memorial and the anniversary of your death- a day on which we will remember your life and honor you, a day I wish to be about hope and togetherness.  I will not have you die again.  That is a one time event.

There very well may be a second life, an after life as we commonly refer to it.
There is no second death.

"How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked? "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born?" 


Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

John 3.4-8

Monday, July 4, 2011

Comprehension

For the past week or so, I have completely lost track of the days.  I have to think really hard to remember what day it is.  Today is Monday, July 4th.

Last year the 4th was a Sunday.  I dressed Audrey in a blue and white dress you'd picked out for her for Easter and tied a red ribbon around one of her hair clips.  We went to church.  I wore a white v-neck t-shirt and charcoal skirt- both I'd purchased the day before with my mom after sleeping over my parents' house.  I was eager to show you the new clothes I'd bought when you came back.  In church that day, I'm not sure why, but one of the parents in the nursery was snapping polaroids of everyone and giving it to them.  So, I took home a mini polaroid of me holding Audrey, smiling.  I think it is the last photo I have of us together before.  I've had it taped on a cabinet in my kitchen ever since and I often look closely at my expression, my smile.  It is innocent and completely ignorant of what is to come.  I think I even see pride and arrogance in there too.

After church, we went to Trader Joe's.  It was hard coming up with things to do on "family" holiday weekends when you were away, but I tried to keep busy.  And now it's the same, but very, very different.  We had fun though shopping and then a salesgirl came and said we could look for "Petey the Parrot" and Audrey would get a prize. I was a woman on a mission.  We found Petey in the bread section and Audrey got a red lollipop.  I took pictures of her enjoying it while still sitting in the shopping cart in the parking lot.  This was the kind of small thing you don't really bother telling friends or other family- but I couldn't wait to tell you.

At night, Audrey was giving me a hard time sleeping, so I gave up and decided she and I would watch the NYC fireworks on the Hudson together from our balcony.  It's not close, but near enough that it's pretty.  The air was so thick and humid that night that I had to force myself to stay outside and watch them.  "Boo!" she kept saying because she wanted more blue fireworks for some reason.  I missed you deeply that night and wrote you a nonchalant email about how we had watched them together.  You wished, you replied, a day before your death- that you had seen them with us.  "Did she like them?" you wanted to know.

I guess those fireworks will be going off in another hour.  Audrey's asleep this year and I'm exhausted.

It seems like I should reach some new level of comprehension of your death as I near one year in two days.  But I don't.  What I find is that still, it's not the holidays or special occasions, but most mundane of acts that secrete the Truth.  The way you banged the kitchen sink strainer into the garbage every night after washing dishes.  "You shook this strainer like I am now," I think when I do it each night.  That is when I catch a glimpse of what has happened.

And I think, these days, that death must be otherworldly.  I know it's supposed to be a part of the "circle of life" and nature, but then why, why, would it be so damn hard to comprehend.  Why would my dear husband's shell of a body appear not natural- but hideous and horrifying?  Sleeping - that is natural.  So I am beginning to discern reprehensible death instead, as evidence of a supernatural world- something beyond our natural world - a curse, a sentence from a battle long ago.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What Was I Doing

In December of 2002, while we were still dating, you were attacked and stabbed in the subway of Washington Heights after dropping me off on 181st Street.

I wrote an essay about the stabbing and the time we shared together in the ER that night in graduate school.  In it, I imagine what I was doing while you were being so maliciously attacked.

"Dan left to catch the subway back down to his apartment on 125th Street and I got ready for bed.  
            I must have been flossing between each tooth while he was walking back up the hill to the subway stop.  Rinsing with mouthwash while he descended the long escalators to the empty platform.  Washing my face while the first guy spit on him?  Pulling down my blinds to block out the bright lights of the George Washington Bridge, climbing into bed with my cell phone next to my pillow on vibrate, setting my alarm while the five other guys appeared and surrounded him on the empty subway platform.  Under the comforter now, soft down around me, lights off, as they pinned him against the wall and punched him with their fists.  Silence in my bedroom, hazy thoughts fading into drowsiness.  Closing my eyes, praying for his safe trip home, for the trains to come fast as I always did, while the knife was going in him. 
            The phone rang.
“Julia?”
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the hospital, but don’t worry.” 
“What?  What happened?”
“Bunch of guys attacked me while I was waiting for the train.  I got stabbed in the chest.  But don’t worry, go back to sleep ok?”

And now I have similar thoughts though I've never really follow them because they are too difficult.  The outcome this time was already sealed by the time I got that phone call.  This time I heard someone else's voice- not yours.  Because of the time difference in Europe and because I don't even know when you suffered- only when you were "found", it's hard to tell what I was doing.   I do know that the night before, while you were sleeping - I was feeling a strange ache for you- more than usual- that caused me to write a short email, "Love you.  Missing you tonight."  And then, while I was sleeping, you were reading that email the next morning at your hotel.  You didn't get a chance to write back.  

Most likely, I was sleeping while this befell you.  Maybe I was feeding Audrey breakfast, or reading her a book.  Maybe we were getting into our bathing suits so we could go to the pool at our building.  While you struggled.  What was I doing?  Was I smiling or singing or eating or swaying with your little girl?  Was I silent or speaking or pensive or busy?  Was I laying in our bed holding our girl after she woke up calling for me or was I still asleep with my eyes closed, breathing deeply under my blanket, while your life left your body.

Sensations

The sound of the voice uttering the most hope-void words I'd ever heard, "Dan is dead."  My wet bathing suit soaking through the skirt I had thrown over it when we came inside.  Hard knocking on my neighbors door below.  Pacing.  The look on another's face when I tell them, "Dan is dead."  "So this is sorrow," I post on Facebook.  The sound of Audrey's wooden puzzle- the train whistle of the train piece keeps going off by itself because the battery is dying.  The sound of your parents deep sobbing when they call me.  "Julia..."  is all they can manage.  Your older brother's words, "Julia...no matter what, God is good."  The coldness in the top of my chest.  The strange odor emanating from my skin.  The loss of control over my bowels.  The feeling of my breast milk coming in even though I'd stopped nursing.  The moaning and keening that came out like labor sounds so strong that I thought they would kill me they had such force.  The collapsing on knees in showers, the clawing at wet walls.  The long, heavy sighs every few minutes.  The opaque quality of the dark at nightfall in the kitchen.  The sense that you were there.  The inability to turn my back to our bedroom door.  The paralyzing fears at night under my quilt after I'd turn out the light.  

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Comfort

In the beginning, there is honestly no comfort at all.  All of the wishes in sympathy cards and via emails or calls that you would feel comfort "in your memories" or "from God," are completely hollow.  There is no comfort.  You sit feeling the most intense pain you've ever known, one you didn't even know existed- and that is what you do- you feel it.  There is no inebriate.

In those days, I was desperate for one though.  I felt that surely someone, someone knew what would make this go away.  I asked other young widows when it would lessen, hoping that they would say soon- hoping that even in those very early days and weeks, I had been through the worst- but I hadn't.  They would all simply tell me, "I'm sorry, but it's going to be this way for a long time."   I would have a day with a few moments that were not overflowing with this searing pain and think perhaps I was stronger than those women and I was grieving faster.  "Don't be surprised if you take a few steps back tomorrow," one of them told me.  She was right.  And then you get used to the pattern and know- you no longer trust those moments or days when you think, "Hey, I think I'm OK."

Further along, there was still no comfort.  I messaged with another young widow online asking her how I could keep doing this.  "There's nothing?" she asked.  "What about chocolate or foods you like?"  "No," I answered.  "Nothing tastes good to me."  I could not listen to music; I could not watch anything on television or a movie because I could not focus on anything but the loss for any length of time.  Though I'd mostly steered completely clear of alcohol or any kind of medication, I had one glass of wine at a friend's one night in those early weeks or months and found it made everything worse and more nightmarish.  In short, there was nothing to dull the pain even slightly.  Not alcohol, distraction, music, friends, food, Bible verses or God- not even poetry.

While I can't say at one year all of that has changed and here is the neat resolution to my pain, I do acknowledge progress.  I do feel comfort at times and happily accept it any way I can because I will take any brief reprieve that is offered me.

I can still remember the first time food tasted somewhat good again.  A woman from our old church in Brooklyn came to visit a few months after you died, and she is a wonderful cook with gourmet tastes.  She brought all of the fixings for sandwiches- prosciutto, cheese, good bread, olive spread, tomatoes, etc.  We walked along the river and I ate it there.  It tasted good.  I was surprised.  I ate the entire sandwich.

Today I take comfort in fresh brewed coffee with warm milk, the sound and scent of heavy downpours- thunder and lightening; I watch comedic Korean dramas because you laughed when you first came home one night to find me doing that and because they are funny.  I take comfort in children's books like the ones I read to Audrey about simple things like taking walks and coloring.  It brings me comfort when I tickle Audrey on our bed until she giggles that really deep giggle.  I like going to the library and find comfort in browsing and taking out a stack of books for myself with subjects ranging from art projects for preschoolers to the new book by Oliver Sacks.  I especially take comfort in sitting on the bus or ferry terminal reading a memoir on someone else's grief.  The articulation in words of this thing by someone else is comparable to wrapping up in warm down blanket on a cold day.  I take comfort in cards and emails from both friends and strangers, in dancing to kids music with Audrey, and leaving my kitchen clean each night.  I take comfort in staring at a rhinoceros at the zoo- marveling at all of the creatures that live here with us that we hardly see in real life, or reading about the vastness of outer space.  I take comfort in baths that are so hot they're hard to get into, potato chips, and root beer, fresh flowers, and gusty winds against my face.  I take comfort in sitting on the balcony at night in my pajamas looking at the sky and the steep cliff of houses before me, remembering how you said it looked like the backdrop of an indie film.  Yes, I think- you were right about that.

And I think for the first time, when I cry for you each day
the crying
is
slightly
cathartic.

Friday, July 1, 2011

This is All Wrong

On the way back home from the city yesterday, I think about how only now, now that you're gone, do I see our relationship clearly.  This is because it is over.  I am not in it, but holding it in my hand now like a box- not a coffin, but a present.

I stop in the drugstore because I have some time to kill and I'm going to buy a drink here where it's cheaper just like you always did.  But I also see a nail polish I like- it's the color of purple cement and the name (don't you love nail polish names?) is "Master Plan."  I decide I should buy it just based on that name.  Later, while I wait for the ferry back to Jersey, I sloppily paint my nails "Master Plan", believing in signs and plans and order.

But before that, while I waited for the shuttle back to the ferry, I envision you as I always do, walking towards me down the street.  But you're wearing a coat.  This is all wrong, I realize- it's July.

July

There is the din of fireworks from the town display next door at the park.
To me they sound like giant footsteps on this slow death march.

I miss flossing and brushing our teeth next to one another...the way your mouth opened uncomfortably as you flossed your back teeth.  Even then, your expression was charming to me.

There is so much to say and so much impossible to say and I don't think people are generally chatty on their march to death.  Boom.  Boom.  Boom...go the fireworks next door.

Yesterday before my appointment with the counselor, I walk to our favorite spot in Central Park- the poets walk where the American Elms form a graceful arch over a wide pathway with benches on either side.  Tears fall as I head down the long cobblestone winding path there- past sketch artists, tourists in shorts (fyi: not many New Yorkers wear shorts), and horses tied up to carriages with sadness in their large pooling eyes.  As I near the pathway, a band in the distance is playing "When I Fall in Love...it will be forever."  There near the dairy which is next to a big field where I once sat on a rock at an end of the year class picnic as a 7th grade teacher of English at a private school on the upper east side.  This was another life entirely.

I walk down the path remembering.  "We can cut through the park," you'd said after we attended an evening church service together- maybe our third time meeting in July of 1999.  I was wearing a purple shirt dress, black sandals, and matching purple mascara which was funky for me but you said looked great.  When we arrived at those arches, they were also purple- lit up by the setting sun behind them.  We stood in awe together.  And I think that's when we knew something was happening between us.  A photo of the archway would be on the front of our wedding invitation almost exactly five years later.  It was the last special place we'd go as a couple before we had Audrey, and the only place we ever got to take her to the city together when she was almost one year old.  You walked up and down the path with her in the stroller trying to get her to nap.  A poet named Willie the Poet came by while I sat on the bench alone and offered me his poetry- he's also known, according to his flyer, as "the poet of new york city."  The funny thing about that was, when we'd first started dating, this same Willie the poet- about ten years earlier- had given us a copy of his poems on the subway.  I still had it in a box of special memories.  (someone he made it in there).  So I told him that- "You know it's funny...i remember you..."  Willie the Poet- like a returning character in the Shakespearean play of our lives.  And this is why I'm always drawn to nonfiction over fiction.  This stuff isn't made up.

I cross the street dodging cyclists and think I recognize a homeless man sitting near the entrance.  I'm sure I've seen him for years.  Then I think about how even though I've been saying how fragile we are - it's also kind of hard to die.  I think of all the people who live much more recklessly or unhealthily than you did and are still...alive.

As I near the benches yesterday, I want to tell the Chinese man sitting beside his sketches, in vest, black cap, glasses, and sandals with socks, "I came because my husband drowned."  But I don't.

I sit and pick up two rocks from the ground behind the bench.  I will place them on your headstone from Audrey and I on Wednesday- this was part of my goal in walking here.

"I just feel like we're going the wrong way," a tall tourist in white says to her fellow walkers, "What are you looking for?" I ask after them.  "The boathouse?"  I direct her and remember a conversation from just a little over a year ago, when I was making up my fun "summer list" of things we'd do as a family.  "I want to take Audrey to Central Park and rent a boat or those little boats for her to sail,"

"Sure, sounds like fun," you answered.

On the left of me, down by the entrance a band composed of drummer, bassist, guitar, and sax are playing the melancholic "You are My Sunshine," while a little further down to the right, a group of Mexicans with a fat guitar shaker and flute, are also playing loudly.  They clash.

I decide to call the monument company to see if the headstone will be there by Wednesday for the service.  I hate making phone calls in general, (you would always laugh at how I'd always opt for email) but especially this one.

"Yes, I just wanted to check on the status of the stone I ordered.  It's for Daniel Cho."

She asks me when I placed it and then tells me it's not ready and the quarries will be closed for two weeks.  I hadn't realized there were real quarries involved.  I start to tell her I had planned a service for an unveiling on Wednesday and have people coming, and she tells me to hold on.  While I'm on hold, I calm myself and decide, so what- if the stone's not there- it's not really about the stone.

But then she gets back on and says, "It's already here- they knew about the service Wednesday.  It'll be there."

I feel simultaneous relief and horror.
And she closes with,

"So don't worry...everything's going your way."

The fireworks are over now.  It is the first of July, 2011.