Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tender Things

Today I started packing- and it felt...surprisingly- nice.  I was at that point before you move where I knew I had a move out date, but it still felt completely unreal that I was actually going to pack up everything I own in the next week and move.  To see a few boxes helps.  The amount of "stuff" that needs to go in boxes is a bit overwhelming, but I think the start of the packing also reminded me- packing for a move really is such a small thing- on the scale where you've buried your husband and listened to your daughter scream out for him at 3 am.  Quite small to pack belongings in boxes and seal them with packing tape.  I will do a little each day.

I had planned on meticulously cleaning each room and then taking photos of our apartment as it was before dismantling everything, but I never got around to it.  I think about taking the photos today and realize I don't even feel the need I thought I would.  This place is quickly becoming just an apartment- and one we lived in longer without you than with you.  You are certainly not a condo built in the 80's with popcorn ceilings and old wall to wall carpeting.  Still- I do take some photos- just incase I regret it later.

A young widow friend who already made her own move a long time ago tells me to rip it off quickly- like a band aid.  This sounds good- it feels like it's dragging now.

I go through some files in my file cabinet- planning on purging what I no longer need, but finding out quickly that the weight of all that paper and living is too much to bear sorting through right now.  I sift through just a few folders- one that has all of the information for this apartment so I can leave any of it for the new owner.  In it I find all these yellow slips we had to fill out for maintenance requests, and I'm  caught off guard to find so many of them in your handwriting.  Already I find, I don't remember a time when there was someone else who did these things.   I put a few of these in the recycle pile, and then I take them out of the pile and put them back in the file folder.  "Bath tub drain is clogged."  "Toilet keeps running."  "New filter for heater."  All in your neat printing- you told me you never learned cursive- but you were so proud of your printing- always joking that you should write the thank you notes or the sign for our stoop sale.  "I have better handwriting than you."

I think a lot lately about how methodical I am when it comes to this move and everything else.  Everything is done thoroughly.  Closure is important.  When I leave jobs, I write notes and make presents for favorite co-workers.  When I close my freshman college dorm room for the last time, I take a photograph in my mind of the door knob.  Before I get married, I write letters to my parents and my new in-laws.  Is it any wonder that it is taking me a while to work through your leaving- when I must do it with no warning and alone- without you here?  It is almost comical how mismatched this tragedy is to my personality- almost.  

The thought, "My husband is turning over in his grave," comes into my head sometimes lately, and I can't believe this is a valid phrase for me in my life talking about you- a 33 year old.  (You are still 33- that is so strange and inconceivable- how much more so when I'm fifty) It happens when Audrey tells me she wants to be a Broadway star, (you disliked Broadway) or when she's eating bread with too much butter or too many sweets.  I shrug my shoulders at your imaginary disdain.

I have strange dreams.  Last week that you and I are forced to live in this dream-like tenement slum.  The dream is in shades of grey.  I keep asking you how we might get back to our old life- the one in the regular city where we weren't in rags - the one in color.

I am invited to a new offshoot group on Facebook specifically for those who have lost people to sudden deaths.  I join.  I usually don't do much on any of the groups I'm in, but in this group- everyone is introducing themselves- sharing their story.  I read a bunch of them and share mine.  Did you know that people die from electrocution on their jobs?  Or from getting hit by an Amtrak train he didn't see coming while crossing in his car?  They do.  I don't know these people and I wish I didn't know these people, and yet we're on this same plane.  I do feel less alone reading the posts- how can my old friends possibly relate to what life is like now?

Since you've died I'm pretty sure every one of my close friends has been pregnant again.  In the past month, I've heard two new announcements.  It is hard, to put it simply.  Hard not to ask why others get to choose how many children they'd like- or why some seem to be "blessed," and given gift after gift.  It is hard to see families growing while mine was cut off and we lost a member and will not have any new ones.  It seems unfair.  I wish them congratulations with an exclamation point.

Still- I come up with a logic that helps me sidestep self-pity- at least in large or permanent doses.  It is irritating to me when people complain about very small things or trials now.  I remind myself though, that there are, have been, and will be, many people in our world that suffer much worse atrocities than I have, and if I indulge in self-pity- I am disrespecting them and their suffering.  It's just not right.  So, I tell myself, I will not do this.

Today I decide to get rid of some of the dozens of IKEA frames that held your photos at the display at your funeral.  I don't want them.   I take out the photos though and stare at one of them.  You appear to me the way a woman does when you're slightly surprised by her appearance but can't quite figure out what is different- when she usually wears make-up and then isn't.  I wonder if this is how it will slowly happen.

"He is gone.  He is not coming back," I tell myself quietly tonight while the sun is setting and Audrey dances to a band in the marina next door while wearing a princess gown she has named her "dancing gown" for the evening.  If I keep telling myself that - will I finally understand that this is not a test- that you are not witnessing how valiantly I brave forward, only to surprise me and tell me I've handled it all very well.   "He is gone."  I am left with the slips of paper in your handwriting- the running toilet- the clogged bath tub drain...and your signature.  Trying to get things fixed for us.  This is what we keep.  These are the most tender things.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Resignation.  This is the word that plods in my head the past three or four days as I try to help Audrey recover from fever and her first ear infection, and as we head down to the beach with my parents for a few nights.  I am anxious and uneasy because she isn't fully recovered.  Things happen, go wrong- not everything "will be fine," in my worldview anymore.  A sick child causes more anxiety than she should.  "The apparent inadequacy of the precipitating event," : Didion quotes Karl Menninger's "Man Against Himself," and the way people can overreact to something seemingly ordinary- something assigned an "exaggerated value."  I'm fairly certain my shaky world view will hold much "apparent inadequacy" and much "exaggerated value" throughout my life.

Going on "vacation" is jarring as well- especially on the first day- the apparent inadequacy of a three hour drive to the Atlantic Ocean for three nights.  Even though it's been two years, it's only what- the third or fourth vacation without you?  It feels strange- and I feel about thirteen sitting in the back seat of my parent's car with Audrey.  Except I'm not- I'm 36 and her mother.  The other member of our family unit- is gone.

When we arrive and sit outside the lobby on the deck waiting for our room to be ready, a friend phones and I walk down to the boardwalk and begin to cry telling here where I am and how much I miss my husband.  I tell her how I miss the ease with which you traveled- the huge comfort that you were to me- someone who does not adapt well- a homebody.  She listens and concurs.  She does not see the apparent inadequacy- quite the opposite.  She is an old friend of ours- and a new friend to me- all at the same time.   It is cathartic to have even that fifteen minutes to vent before beginning "the vacation."

The trying as well.  The constant talk of swimming and bathing suits and splashing.  But it's the ocean, I tell myself.  And it is.  Before it I am small- this is a comfort.  The word in my mind then is not to do with its size or scope but for some reason, its mercy.  Magnanimous.

Three days of "swimming" in her floaties, collecting broken shells on the sand, ice cream, funnel cake, rides, and her first round of mini-golf.  You are absent every moment.  I think of you- playing mini-golf with us.  I hear you- teasing my seriousness.  Snapshots of our last few beach vacations play without request in my mind.  Audrey under an umbrella with a runny nose at 11 months.  You in the bathing suit you would die in.  Turks and Caicos - I am proudly pregnant.  We marvel at the warm, clear water, and take long walks at sunset.  We get food poisoning and try not to get the conch shell you found on the first day mixed up with the one they placed for decoration in our hotel room.  "What if they think we're stealing theirs when they see this in our bag?" you worry jokingly.

Awaiting me back at home today are flattened moving boxes leaning up against hallway walls- waiting to be filled.  I am tired and have a sore/scratchy throat from the hotel air conditioning.

Resignation- hieratic motion forward.  A far more accurate word, I believe, than acceptance.

It isn't at all a new "normal" as they say- (one of my least favorite phrases)- it's the new "abnormal."  But it's your life nonetheless.  It's the surreal quality everyone in NYC experienced on September 11th, but that slowly receded as they went back to daily life and the "Missing" signs and "Never Forget" signs were taken down.  Except for those who had lost loved ones.  And for them- and for me- the surreal film never recedes.

The other common sentiment- "Imagine what he would want for you, say to you" is also well- intentioned, but impossible to actually imagine since my world- one in which he drowned in a lake in Europe- is so completely foreign to him.  It never was information he was privy to.  I am living it out the best I can by myself- in the end, mostly grateful only one of us had to bear the knowledge in this way.

"Mom- that day you met appa- when you were looking for a husband- were you so happy you found him?"  she asks one day randomly.  "Yes- yes, I was."

"I wish you could marry appa again..."
"Me too."

I think about writing here a lot and many words.  Words and phrases pass through my mind that I imagine setting down but they're always long gone by the time I'd have the energy and the thought is overwhelming.  Tonight- I attempt because there has been so much and it's so packed in- like the wet sand Audrey filled her bucket with, but I feel I fail to articulate even a grain of it.  And I have a headache.  So I won't try anymore tonight.  "In three words I can sum up everything I learned about life:," says Robert Frost, "it goes on."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What I Leave Behind

I'll leave behind the constant view out our windows- the one you said looked like the scene of an Indie movie while the opening credits were playing.  I'll leave behind the scene of Audrey's first crawl, first steps, jump, and many attempts at skipping.

I'll leave behind our mutual complaints of the cigar smoke and noise from the upstairs neighbor- the security guard who works here and was chosen to come verify that there really was a smell of smoke because of the insane management of our building - who came and said he did not smell anything.  The one you loathed thereafter and was referred to simply as "no frickin' sense of smell..." by us when we drove into the complex and he sat in the little booth.  I still do this when I see him.

I leave behind the day of our move here - when the heat didn't work and we had to leave with our five month old daughter and go back to sleep at my parents' house one more night.

The first night we slept on our new IKEA mattress on the floor.

I leave behind the spot we last slept together - wedding photo framed above the bed in the brown frame you chose for the photo you enhanced - the one your friend took of us on the church steps, kissing while friends and family blow little bubbles around us- you made it sepia and blurred the people around us, keeping only us in focus.

I'll leave behind the spots where I took the photos of Audrey every month in the same dress until her first year birthday- and the bedroom I stayed up in until 2 am for a week making dozens of tissue paper pom poms for that party so that when you came home from traveling the night before you thought I was crazy.  I leave behind our first real Christmas tree- our only Christmas morning alone as a family.   The floor where you played "Charlie Brown's Christmas" music on your keyboard and a 15 month old Audrey danced and called your name softly as she did then, "Ba," and placed her hand on your shoulder.  An Easter morning egg hunt with those little slips of paper you drew pictures on and wrote sweet notes for her inside a few of the eggs.  You carrying in my breakfast on Mother's Day.  Us sitting together as a family around our kitchen table having homemade waffles with heart-shaped strawberries on your last Father's Day.

I'll leave behind the place where you laid down and lifted Audrey on your legs and flew her back and forth- and the space where you tossed her up in the air so that in the photos both of you are just a joyful blur.

I leave behind the chair and the spot that Audrey and I still refer to at the kitchen table as "Appa's chair."  I leave behind your desk- which I am quite doubtful I will have put back together mostly for lack of space, but also because...   I leave behind the chair you picked out to go with it which Audrey and I also still refer to as Appa's chair- the one that had one of your shirts hanging around it when you died that still smelled strongly of you and is now in a sealed bag in the closet.  The one you sat in nightly when you were home looking for work, contacting music industry people- scratching your head, bouncing your knee.  The desk that is now dusty, and the chair where I sat crying those wretched sounds the day after- listening to your music and roaming through your computer as if I could find you there.

I leave behind the pencil marks you made when you installed the safety locks in the bathroom, the toilet seats you installed, the kitchen sink you stood in front of washing our dishes, the bathroom mirror we stood in front of flossing or brushing our teeth looking at the other's reflection.  The one where one night I said I wanted to have a little space in there and you said, "You can't wait until I leave..."  The mirror in which I wrote "Audrey and mommy love Appa" on it after my shower, to which you left a reply the next time you showered, "Appa loves Audrey and mommy."

I leave behind the sound of the bus brakes bringing you home- the possibility of seeing you step off of the bus.  I leave behind Audrey in her blue and red sundress and white flower clip as we waited to greet you that night only weeks before- and you were so happy and said you felt so lucky to get off the bus and be greeted by both of us.

I also leave behind the bus stop going the other direction across the street- the one I'd strain to see you walk away to on the mornings when you worked- the one I strained to see you and your cello standing inside the small shelter in- sometimes while we still spoke on our cell phones saying just one more thing.

I'll leave behind the farewell toast at the party I threw you in May of 2010 and the toast I recently made at the two year memorial with friends here,  "We love you and we miss you...cheers."

I'll leave behind the sound of the doorknob to our bedroom turning as you came in at 11 or 12 midnight...trying to be as quiet as possible and not wake Audrey.  I'll leave behind the image I have of you with backpack on back, releasing a great big sigh after a long day of work- to which I jumped out of bed and embraced you saying only "tough day."

I will leave behind the spot where we argued and I spoke the words, "Let's resolve this when you get back."  And the spot where we last said goodbye- did we embrace?  The spot by the door where I told Audrey you'd be back soon.  The spot I walked away from in tears moments later.  The spot where you returned to put your keys back in the drawer of the entryway table moments later, "I won't need these." I didn't even see you- only heard your voice.  The spot where I rolled in your suitcase- afterwards.  Where I opened the envelope that came in the mail with your wallet, phone, wedding band.

And I Will Leave Behind the steps to the counter where my cell phone was.  The wet bathing suit.  The spot where I first screamed.   The shower where I collapsed and keened so that I thought my body could not withstand the force.  The hole from the tack that held your tour schedule- the one we'd looked at that morning and counted the days together until you'd be back.  I leave all of this behind.