Sunday, July 29, 2012

On My Knees

Yesterday was a darker day than most, but the thought of writing about it- trying to capture the complex  kind of darkness- is overwhelming.  Words will fail...words will fail- the stream of consciousness speed of light kind of pain says over and over as I try to capture it.

Do I write about going through my dresser in attempt to purge and organize before I pack and move- something I'd always previously enjoyed and found therapeutic?  How this time, I find I've left enough of your clothes to make it hard for me to get up after sorting through one drawer- just enough, I realize- for a weekend trip- a few of your favorite soccer jerseys, your favorite basketball shorts that you slept in or wore around the house- the very same ones you wore when I drove to Staten Island to pick you up our fourth time meeting -for a youth ralley in Maryland- July 17th, 1999- five years to the day until we would get married.   A few pairs of your socks I have been wearing since they fit and most of mine have holes.  A pair of boxer shorts with hearts on them that I got you for Valentine's Day while we were still dating...and that you refused to throw out for that same reason even though they are quite tattered.  Your sock drawer also has in it two pens- one from Google and one from Commerce bank- free pens you picked up probably at work.  It has a converter for your cell phone for Australia and New Zealand- your tour destination before your last.  And it is littered with foreign coins- Euros and Korean Won mostly.  And also the lock of your hair I had the funeral director cut off for me- now in a Ziploc bag.  And the velvet pouch he put it in which I happily put in the discard pile.

Besides your clothes- there are mine.  These too are saturated with memories.  The outfit I went out to buy the morning that we met- that I could never bear to part with.  The complete Indian outfit you bought me for my first birthday with you just because you saw it at some street fair and "thought you'd look cute in it."  There is the brown cashmere sweater you bought me in a thrift store across the street from the boutique where I got my wedding dress on 9th street in the village. There are the pajamas you bought me in Sweden and the free t-shirts I sleep in.  There are nursing bras that I was still wearing when you died- having just weaned Audrey a couple of weeks beforehand.  There are the many pretty nightgowns I received at my wedding shower including the one I chose for myself for our wedding night.  Audrey tells me it is very pretty.  There is so so much in those drawers.  So many more items - each with a background and recollection.  I smell your clothes and can't believe how they still smell like you - especially the part around the neck.  All the while Audrey is occupying herself by collecting your foreign coins in another little pouch I give her.  "I'll start a collection!" she says.

In my top drawer also, is my old cell phone.  The phone I had then when I received the call- that was sitting on the kitchen counter as I ran to it...I decide to charge it.

Later, I turn it on and find a video of Audrey as a baby swinging in her swing that you put on there along with the words, "Audrey LOVES Mommy!!!"  Three exclamations- I notice.  Just an example of the sweet things I took for granted in the "before."  And then I scroll through the photos that are stored there- random ones because back then I didn't use my phone as my main camera like I do now- a picture of me in glasses I was thinking of buying- so I could show you- a picture of shoes I saw for you in a shoe store on the upper west side and wanted you to see so I could buy them for you.  Remember when I used to have someone else to shop for?  There are a few photos of Audrey so infant-like- I barely recognize her as ours at first.  In the text message tab is the true story- there are texts from the night of Audrey's birth that I had treasured, "It's a girl- her name is Audrey," I had sent out to friends... and their replies.  And then there are the everyday ones - a few from me to you or you to me- though neither of us had texting plans back then- "Hey- I'm outside the door- let me know when it's safe to come in..." from you when you were home from work but afraid to wake up Audrey whose room was close to the doorway.  "I miss you- thinking of you," from me while you were traveling for a weekend. "Hey- just got here..." from you when you arrived at your destinations.  And then...the after texts- from friends and people mostly trying to coordinate help "after."  One friend quotes the verse from Zephaniah, "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing..."   Another long-time friend who lives in another part of the country writes the day after your funeral, "I heard you were eloquent and graceful on Friday..."  Eloquent and graceful...the part of the widow.   I thought I would drop this phone off in the collection box for recycled phones at Whole Foods- I thought it would be simple- and a relief- another step forward- but nothing is simple- I had forgotten about all of this...

It's a heavy, humid, cloud-filled day, but it doesn't actually rain until late afternoon.  We have no plans and so I'd started this project- purging one dresser- something I would've easily done in my old life- along with an entire room including closets- in one afternoon.  Now I sit on the floor afraid I can't move from that position while Audrey beckons me that the "show" is starting- an imaginative world she creates with about 100 paper dolls she's carefully cut out and spreads out all over our living room floor.

Didion talks in "Blue Nights" about her promise to herself to "maintain momentum" early on in her own grief process.  I realize that I too have had an unvoiced, but similar promise- I've acted on it whenever I refused to miss a shower, or leave dishes in the sink even after one meal, or spend an entire day inside.  Didion then talks about the loss of her own momentum manifested in ill health/shingles, and the feeling one night that she is afraid to stand up and get out of her chair at the theater I believe...

I fear the loss of my own momentum lately.  I doubt my competence as a mother a lot more than I did in the early days...months...the whole first year.  Audrey's at least able to entertain herself for longer now so I find myself devouring books each day while she works at her "art studio," or even while we eat a meal together.  Words- any decent words that can articulate this kind of pain are like rungs in this very painful ladder I walk  I am more tired than I've ever felt in my life and decide to make a doctor's appointment.  I even try exercise and taking more vitamins.  I feel like I need some kind of IV to keep me awake each morning, afternoon and evening.

In another devotional on grieving, I read that grief can also be described as "the loss of courage."  The courage to do the most mundane of things- get out of bed, get up off the floor after sorting through the items in your dresser- the one with the phantom drawers that are still yours and not mine no matter what I put in them.

Lewis had equated it with fear.  And there is more fear now.  Fear of being separated from my daughter, fear of looking at my bank account, opening up the mail, picking up a ringing phone.

Even though it's still raining by five o' clock, Audrey and I decide to take a walk across the street to the Japanese place and get udon noodles. Before we do, I take off my wedding rings and leave them on the entry way table- even though I always wear them- today I don't feel married at all.  I am too sad- and too alone- and missing you too much.  Audrey wears her rain boots and splashes as we go.  As we sit across from each other at the small square table - the only people in the restaurant- it seems like she could be thirteen rather than three- which I also feel bad about.  But then she decides to play waitress and places my napkin on my lap for me as the waitress had just done for her- and then collects our empty dishes and hands them out again-  "Just one more time..." a few times.  "Thank you, waitress..."

After our udon, Audrey and I splash back home and she pretends that we are able to splash into a puddle and into another world- a current favorite.  We have to pretend once we jump in that everything is different- our apartment building, our apartment- we've never seen any of it before.  "What is this whole new world?" she says.  I am wishing it was.

It's been a week of brokenness- more than usual.

A friend of ours relays some news to me- her one year old son has just been diagnosed with Down Syndrome.  They are heartbroken, and I am in tears when I read her email in a shopping mall with Audrey.  She's already been through so much in her life...I can't help but ask, "Why her?"  I can't help but feel for some- life is easier...more is given.  She quotes a famous Christian speaker in her email who says that "shattered dreams are the prelude to joy.  Always."

"But will it be enough to fill the brokenness?  I have a hard time believing so..." my friend writes in response to the quotation.  I do too...I do too.

A new friend and the mother of one of Audrey's playmates, tells me she's awaiting the results of a second biopsy, but that she has to pull herself together and be a good mother tomorrow.   I email to check up on her, "I don't want to be a bother- but how are you?"

And my mind goes to the families of the victims in Colorado have probably just finished funerals and are probably still in shock...the family of a six year old girl for God's sake- but that for the most part- I haven't heard anything about anymore- the Olympics have taken over in the media.

So much brokenness..."and will it be enough?"

Grief is also, according to the same devotional, "a gradual unfolding of life's secrets.  Secrets that surprise us.  Secrets that horrify us.  Secrets that make us shake our heads and wonder, How could I have lived so long and not known this?" 

It is one terrible secret really.  And all along you realize that the people around you probably see you as weak and fragile- sad.  Little do they know all of the secrets you hold...all of the revelation that comes so much so that they appear to be asleep to you.

I find myself more lately- on my knees- not because I start out in prayer- not that kind of "on my knees," but really- it's a position you just wind up in when you're desperate and sad and low.  Another widow friend, I remember, has written it often in our correspondence, "it brings me to my knees..."  And I wonder lately- did people consciously kneel in prayer as an act of reverence- or did they start out kneeling in this desperate, sad, low, posture, and wind up praying to their Creator?

By the end of the day, I am almost there...I am relieved- it has been a dark, existential hole of a day- but
Audrey's been having a hard time sleeping again, and before bed, she cries after I explain to her that God made night and day- and night is for resting-  through her tears-  "I wish the world could be my way...and never be night time and always be morning."  I am silent.  I have no response.  I have no words.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Today is the day you were to come home.
It was up on the wall.
It was a Friday.
Two years ago.

Every day now is the day you don't come home.
But this date will always be marked and felt to be lived in the umbra.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I always had an affinity for the number eight.  When I was two or three in dance classes in a young teacher's garage I believe- she would often have us guess a number and in that way auction off her old jewelry.  The day I guessed the number eight, I won and received for my prize - a little sterling ring with a horse head filled with brown and blue turquoise.

I still remember practicing the number eight in my basement and drawing one circle on top of another.  It was my older brother who corrected me explaining that it wasn't as simple as two circles, and demonstrating how to cross the curving lines.

Sideways, infinity.  I've always liked the number eight.

Today I went into the city for grief counseling.  On this, our eight year wedding anniversary.  The thoughts in my head felt like I was writing poems all day long.

I thought about how even though our marriage is not legally acknowledged once you died, it sure feels like we've been married the last two years- otherwise what was with all of the paperwork I did, all of the copies of your paperwork, repetition of your social security code, all of the tears, and all of the work of grief.

I want to sit at the Starbucks across the street before my appointment and read Didion's latest memoir about the death of her daughter, "Blue Nights," and take notes for my appointment, but a man in his fifties, I always see around there- who it turns out is the medic for a huge building they've been building across the street for the last two years, sees me waiting for a seat and asks me to sit down.  I end up getting a whole lesson on how buildings are built- complete with photos from his iPad, which is fascinating, I'll admit.  At some point, though, after showing me photos of his son, he asks if I have kids, if I'm married...I am wearing both of my rings...I briefly explain- and add that today is my anniversary.  After telling me of his divorce, he adds that at least I liked my husband..."I treasured him," I answer.

When I get off the ferry afterwards at home, I sit and write for a bit at the end of the pier.  I look at Riverside Church back across the Hudson- where you were baptized when we were in our early twenties.  I remember how I played the guitar and led worship, how I was wearing a scratchy brown tunic from J-crew that you got for me for Valentine's Day.  But I cannot remember the date, (thought I've searched through journals hoping for a mention unsuccessfully) and I cannot remember the Scripture passage you quoted before you were dunked...for some reason I feel if I could remember these things - they would be like missing pieces to this grand puzzle and I could get closer to making sense of it all.

Grant's Tomb is beside Riverside and since you lived down the street on 125th, I remember us taking a walk up there, going inside, looking down at the caskets below glass in the center of the dome.  I remember meditating on the fact that there really were two people who had lived there- a couple...below.  How they would never have guessed that they'd be there, and that we- Daniel Cho and Julia Pirritano (at that time) would be peering over a glass encasement at their tomb.

Tonight I think, as my parents and Audrey and I share a pizza, about what I might have been doing if you were alive- would we have gone out to dinner together?  Probably- but that's the problem with death- there's no way of really knowing any of that.

After Audrey's asleep- I decide to exercise for the first time in a long time, followed by a glass or two of wine- which I need when I finally decide to watch our wedding video.  Remember I had suggested we do that as a yearly tradition?  You weren't into it so I think we did it the first year. Last year Audrey and I watched it together.  This year I was sure I couldn't do it and didn't want to...then a friend of yours I never speak to happened to send me an instant message saying he was remembering how you sang to me and I sang to you at our reception with such clarity and how it had made it so special and unique.  With that- I dug up the video and told him I had to go cry it out and watch it after all.

And I discovered something as I sat watching...shaking a little bit...

our videographer was terrible.


And I'm sorry about that.  It's all shaky and moving around quickly and the highlight part at the end to our favorite song, "Flowers in the Window" by Travis- is literally a compilation of the most awkward interactions at the entire wedding.

Still- it was a good reminder of the fact that it was real and flawed and no fairy tale...but it was real.
It was real when you sang to me...and I sang to you- looking each other straight in the eye.  When we danced our poor dance to a song that we'd known we would dance to for five years...when I awkwardly bowed in Korean dress for the tea ceremony, the orchids in tall glasses of water that were the centerpieces that my mother's friend thought were misplaced and therefore turned them upside down when she got there a little early, your brother's toast in which he revealed he kind of hated you while growing up as we all smiled nervously waiting for the punchline.

I am disturbed by the words of our pastor in the ceremony- would we promise...etc etc. as long "as we both shall live?"  Shouldn't it have been "as long as your spouse lives?"  But not really- because like I said earlier- I feel we've made it through eight years- somehow- even though so separated- I hope I still honor and cherish and love you.

I think of how even though two years might seem to some like a long time- it has not been two years of anniversaries- this is only the third day of that.  The third day.  And the first one doesn't count because it was the day after your burial and so I wasn't there.

I think of Didion's take on memories as I painfully go through the video- quickly- fast-forwarding- but just enough to taste the day- the memory.

"In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment," she writes, "In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.
How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see."

I think on my wedding I was probably more appreciative than most of the ordinary days she's talking about here...but I still don't think we can ever be as appreciate or aware- as we are afterwards.  This may be the most brutal aspect of our existence.

and later on towards the end of the memoir she writes again on the topic of memories,

" 'You have your wonderful memories,' people said later, as if memories were solace.  Memories are not.  Memories are by definition of times past, things gone.  Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember.  Memories are what you no longer want to remember."

For my next book, I need to start reading something cheerier.

While I also have petitioned against the whole "You have your wonderful memories," tidbit people like to say for some reason- and while I agree- they are really no solace...when I remember our wedding tonight- I remember how much I was loved by the sweetest man I had met- and even though I've lost that- it is almost enough to have been loved that way- even for a little while.  Almost enough.

Monday, July 16, 2012

That Was Beautiful

"She's kept her love for him as alive as the summer they first met.  In order to do this, she's turned life away."

"To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape.  It might seem like you're limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky."

from "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss

I've been thinking about these sentences since I read them.  It's not that I think I have or will turn "life away."  Having a child you love really makes it impossible to do so.  But I can't let go of the purity of the summer we met, or the first year of dating, or the proposal, or engagement year- or any of the ordinary days in between.  If you ask me, being in love is underrated- not the opposite.  It was different from the movie romances, but better.  It is hard to let that go, and it is worth protecting.

I also recently finished a book called "Heaven is Here," about a Mormon woman, Stephanie Nielson, mother of four (now five) who was in a terrible plane crash with her husband and burned over 80% of her body.  She lived, and went through the painful recovery process and has been an inspiration to many.  After I read the book, I googled her blog and found a video of her through google showing another mom around her home and describing some of the challenges she has now doing some of the simple things for her children, that other mothers take for granted.  At one point, she points at a family photo taken before the accident, and the other mom comments on how beautiful she was before she suffered the burns that transformed her face.  Stephanie says, looking at the photo, and I paraphrase, "That was beautiful, and this is beautiful too..." pointing to her current life.

I think this is a way of looking at any kind of loss that I've been trying to grasp onto myself.  If I don't keep looking at what I've lost, then what I have still looks beautiful.  It requires holding them kind of separately and taking them each for what they're worth- then and now.  It's when I compare us to others, or when I remember how it felt to have someone help carry up the grocery bags, or tease me, or brush their teeth beside me, or admire my daughter with me, or say softly "good night to you," as I turn out the light- that I feel how empty and full of loss "this" is.

But then Stephanie continues while they look at the photo and she comments, "I had all of this in my life...and I still have all of this in my life," pointing to all of the members of her family.

And I don't.  And I won't.  And that makes saying, "This is beautiful too..." a lot harder.

Today was the day that I buried you.

Tomorrow would have been our eight year wedding anniversary- 13 years of being together.

I'll be thinking about the day you proposed to me and that little note that you taped with scotch tape to the back of the ring box.  How it represented so well the child-like quality of our friendship and love.

I'll be thinking about the anniversary jar sitting on my dresser that I created a few years back to put loose change in and then use that money on our anniversary to go out to eat dinner- you joked that we could probably get a cup of coffee...

and of course I'll be thinking about the magic of that day- waking up in the morning in my childhood room, going to pick up the orchids for my hair, forgetting my veil, waiting outside the sanctuary- and walking up to you- even with the wrong notes my friend played in the wedding march on the piano- a moment I had dreamed about for five long years of dating.  I'll be thinking of how happy we were as we checked into the W in NYC as husband and wife that night before heading down to Mexico...and the little note you wrote on the W hotel stationary with the little cut out "W":


Sunday, July 15, 2012


This day is dreadfully painful, but it only occurs to me tonight that this was the day of your wake.  The day I saw your body and the last time I saw your face.  The evening I had dreaded for a week.  The collapse of my body as the funeral director turned that little knob on the casket and I realized I would never see you- even though that was nothing like you- again.

I wish that the phrase, "I'm drowning," didn't come into my mind so often to describe the wave after wave of intense nostalgia and pain grief brings.

I wish, as your wife, I knew what your final moments on earth were like.  It doesn't seem right that I was so far away and don't really understand what happened.  I know this fact makes my grief complicated and lasting.

Audrey and I talk about you every day.   Today she tells me "Maybe Appa sees me from heaven and he thinks I'm a really beautiful person."  "Yes, yes, he definitely would."  Would.  I can't make promises.  But I can tell her how true that would be.  That no one would think her more beautiful- than you.  Oh, if you only saw her now- with her long hair.

While she's doing a puzzle of the United States later, "My appa was really good at puzzles.  He could do like...a hundred thirty piece puzzle!" smiling up at me.  I must've told her of your puzzle skills at some point, and it makes me glad that she was listening.  She knows about you- at least as much of a picture I can paint without the person here.  I hope and pray it doesn't read like a personals ad to her.  "Likes puzzles, musician, makes people laugh,"  There's so much more than that to a human being.  So much I could never put into words.

The finality that came with year two has been hard.  The fact that we are also moving accentuates that.  I stare into space a lot more often throughout the day.  I relive the phone call- the steps...the dance between Audrey and I in the little hallway as I run towards the phone in wet bathing suit because I must say goodbye and will not walk those steps again the rest of my life.  The place where I answer.  The chair I hold onto, (yours) while I scream, "What the f--- happened?" when he asks if I'm driving.  The exact place- under the doorway of the kitchen- where I stood when I heard the word "dead," and it was much worse than I ever could have imagined even though I felt it was bad already.  The couch I floated to and sat on while I stared at the photo of the two of us kissing Audrey like a sandwich while I screamed, "I'm a widow at 34?"  and followed by a delusional, "No, everything's fine, he's coming home July 23rd...everything's fine and hanging up.  Even then, I knew I was acting.  Even then, I really did know.  But at that moment, with those words, I slipped into my actress clothing and make-up because I realized this could not be me.  This can not be you. But I can play the role.

I wish we could be close forever like we were.  But I can't figure out how to do that.  My life changed dramatically- I experienced something you never did- alone.  I am alive.  You underwent something that is a mystery to me.  I have no real idea if you know or not what happened then, or what is happening now- though I'd like to believe you do - I have to confess it is all mysterious to us in the end.

I am sad that so much separates us and that this intense nostalgia follows me wherever I go.  In two years- that hasn't changed much.  The nostalgia you typically feel for something in your past - your childhood, college days, is felt in grief the day after you spoke- because that life is suddenly as old as your childhood- only much older.  And you feel it for the present - for that parallel line in another dimension when he is here- and you are all together- complete.  And you feel it for the future- which will be entirely different.  In which you will be entirely different.  And you feel all of this at once.

And everywhere.  You are in my clothing- the shirts you bought me- t-shirts you got for free through work that were so soft you bragged about how comfortable they'd be when you gave them to me, it's in our home - the one I am now leaving behind in another month- where you stood washing dishes, playing with our daughter- where you unlocked the door one last time and returned your house keys, "I won't need these..." in the pencil marks you made on the interior of the bathroom cabinets so you could screw in the child safety locks, and...although it is hard to conceive of how one can feel such overflowing delight and such sadness at once- it is in our own little girl...breaking my heart even as I savor each moment with her.

You have left us.  We will leave here.  Life will continue on.

Nostalgia.  From the Greek.  nostos: return home.

and algia:

Saturday, July 7, 2012


How do you measure two years?

Two years of saying goodbye.
Of wanting to wake up from a bad dream.
Of hovering somewhere just outside of my physical body- watching all this.

Two years.  A few changed light bulbs.  A couple of bottles of shampoo.   Lots of bags of trash taken out.  Meals made, eaten, tossed.  Two years- not enough time to figure out how to cook just enough for myself and a preschooler.

Two years.  A first jump, sentence, first "I love you," first song, first hop, first skip.  First day of school,  first graduation, two birthday parties.   Potty-training.  A crib to a big girl bed to our bed.   Monster nightmares and princess dresses.  Disneyland.  Several trips to the Dr. for checkups and colds.  And before you know it, she has been alive longer without you, than she was with you.  I am glad I wasn't paying attention and missed that milestone.

Two years- the time it takes for her to start to "get this."  Less time remaining before I have to "explain" what happened, why we visit that hill in the cemetery.

Two years.  It is now "years." Plural.  I keep saying at today's memorial, "He wrote that song a couple of years ago," but then I quickly realize you've been gone a "couple of years..." so I need to backtrack a couple of years from a couple of years to be correct.

Two years.  Of elevator dings down the hall.  Of little shifting noises, shadows in the house that make me look to hear your key turn in the door.  Two years of hearing your bus pull up and watching people get off.  Two years until I finally saw someone with a similar walk to yours.  I strained and watched with every cell of my body...pretending.

Two years of trips to the library and countless books on children and grief, grieving, death, dying, life after death, heaven, biographies on loss.  I read in a book on grief recently that just as your body grows in spurts as a child and it takes your brain a little bit of time to catch up, so it takes your brain a long while to catch up with the loss.  Two years of catching up.

Of sitting and staring at your desk.  Visualizing you there with your knee bouncing, hand on chin.  Two years of trying to much do I remember?  His hand in mine...the tiny brown and black hairs that grew over his lip...the feel of his sideburns or how they looked after he cut them himself.  His toes at the end of the bed, his voice saying my name, "Hey Jul."

Two years means it's the Euro; two more years until the World Cup again- the first in over a decade when I will not witness your excitement over this event.

Two years- of not seeing your fingers touch piano keys or lay across the neck of the cello.  Or brush your teeth.  Or floss.  Or trim your finger nails.  Wash the dishes, take my purse or bags from me to carry.

Of not going out on "dates:"  to eat dinner with you, or watch a movie with you.  Not squeeze your hand in church after we pray, or tease you or be teased.

Two years.  Still having the protective plastic coating on your (my) iPhone.

Of thinking that maybe I could still receive a message from you on Facebook, an email, or even a phone call- when it rings and no one says anything at first.  I assume.  For just a second.  Or two.

Two years.  Visits to the cemetery.  Of the worst thing I never could have imagined.
Happening still.

Now it is the third year of your absence.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

And Yet

Today's been pretty miserable which seems to be typical of the "day before."  

Audrey seemed especially aware of the anniversary.  She sat looking at albums by herself while I cleaned the kitchen this morning.  I came out and stood behind her just in time to hear her say aloud to no one in particular- probably herself, "Appa used to be alive...but then he died.  I'm really sad.  I'm really, really sad...I wish he could live forever."  She did not say it matter of factly this time.  This was the worst part.  There are no words to explain the crushing emotion I experienced as I listened.  

A lot of people told me they were sorry and occasionally still do, "I'm so sorry Julia..."  But, I realize one day- I am the only one who tells this to our daughter.  I come up beside her and hold her...she lets me.  "I know...mommy understands...I'm so sorry Audrey."  I alone say these words.

I try to plan out a few details for the next two days.  Audrey wants to sprinkle rose petals at the cemetery because she remembers doing that last I order six bags.  "What color?" I ask her.  "Pink! Pink! Pink!" she replies- a line from "Pinkalicious"- a popular book around here.  

I make a list...list of things for tomorrow...a list for the next day when I plan on having a small open house.  I hear back from a few more people saying they can't make it.  It's funny because sometimes I feel like people think this is for me- they're always saying, "You do what you feel comfortable doing..." which is good advice, but in the end, what I feel comfortable doing is giving other people an opportunity to remember you and pay their respects to you.  I really live this every day, but I feel like it's my role to offer that chance to others.  Next year, I decide- I will go away with Audrey maybe- do something relaxing.  It's funny- all week I've felt too that maybe I should get my hair cut, do something nice for myself.   It's a tribute to you that I knew this is what you would be telling me to do...not to plan more for you- but to go out and do something for myself.  You were always telling me, "Buy something for yourself...go to the spa...go out with your friends..."  Now I wonder how common that is among husbands.  Thank you for your kindness.

I know that your family is already awake on the day of your death now as I write.  It stretches it out that we're on two different continents.  I feel it coming early this afternoon...and now it's here for them.  I am well aware of that.  We pray for them before Audrey goes to sleep.  My heart hurts.  In the morning, when I wake up...the time will have passed.  The actual time of it.  Because you were on yet another, a third continent.  

I think the other day about how I got your iphone in the mail along with your wallet and wedding ring in a small envelope a couple of weeks after.  I think about how I couldn't find your wedding ring at first- I think it was tucked in your wallet...I panicked.  Then I remember thinking..."What does it matter?  Why shouldn't I lose another thing...I've lost it all."  And then I found it.  And on your iphone all of the photos you'd taken on the tour since you left.  I wonder to myself when I recall looking at those for the first time- how many people leave behind a record of photos as they were literally walking to their death?  Each one...took me to that final one.  A shadow.  

"He will not die again...he doesn't die again," I remind myself because this concept really helped me last year.  And yet.  A novel I just finished uses this phrase repeatedly- effectively...and yet.  It seems suitable for anything I  or others use to try to comfort myself at this time.  On this date.  He will not die again.  I've survived.  I have all my memories.  I have Audrey.  "You're so young."  And yet.   And yet.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4

I sit outside in the dark on my balcony, listening to the distant boom of the Macy's Fireworks over the Hudson.  I have a nice view straight down River Road.  The air is furnace-like but I don't sweat.  I leave the AC on while I'm out here with the window open...let it run.  I breathe in deeply the cigar smoke of a neighbor.  Did I do this last year, remembering?  I have no recollection of last year.  But two years ago, I couldn't get Audrey to sleep and it was my first time even stepping onto the balcony which we hadn't used at all back then...she and I watched them in the heat...her calling out "Boo!  Boo!" because she wanted more blue ones.  Tonight feels exactly the same...except she fell asleep because she has croup and it's been a rough couple of nights.  She'll be disappointed tomorrow when she realizes she missed them.

It's funny- July 5 two years ago our building had a fire alarm in the middle of the night.  I grabbed Audrey and headed down the five flights of stairs.  As soon as we started down she thought she saw you- you'd only been gone for six days.  "Appa!"  she kept calling out and I explained that was someone else.  Well, today, out of nowhere on the elevator upstairs after picking up her prescription and a trip to the Dr., she said, "Remember that time I thought I saw appa going down the stairs?"  I tell my sil who I chat with earlier- we must feel it in our bones- the spiral.  It comes around again.

I was ill-prepared this year for these feelings because one felt bigger than two.  Because there was a big plan and lots of people around last year.

I decide July 4th is my least favorite holiday.  It's one of the smaller ones like Memorial Day where we have no plans usually- where people keep telling me to have a great fourth, and I feel the buzz and energy of people shopping for barbecues and going about their busy business. To me all it is a precursor- of this life I now know.

All it is is the day Audrey and I went to church and I dressed her in that blue and white dress you picked out for Easter- and I tied a piece of red ribbon around her hair clip- the Sunday school teacher took a small polaroid of us...all it is is  the trip we took to Trader Joe's in the afternoon, the one where she found Petey the Parrot in the bread section and got a red lollipop out of it.  All of which I planned to share with you through photos when you returned.  And it's that heat at night...that "Boo!  Boo!"  And it's mostly- a two day window when you are still alive.  A countdown to the moments when I could still prevent this from happening.

I try to think about our last fourth of July together- we spent many of them- ten?  I realize you were away for 2009 on the first trip to England...and away again, two days before your death- somewhere in the Italian countryside while we watched the fireworks, writing me the next day, "I wish I could've been there to watch the fireworks with you both.  Did she like them?"  Yes, she did.  I haven't gotten to reply.  So the last time was 2008- when I was pregnant...all I remember is a very passionate evening of arguments and me walking to the pier by myself in Bay Ridge Brooklyn- with an umbrella?  Calling you- you coming?  Finally- the two of us, standing under umbrellas...waiting with lots of other people.  And then the tension of the evening breaks when we finally see the fireworks- they are absolutely miniscule- miniature- you have to strain to see them really- like a joke from where we are- and yet there are hundreds gathered and waiting in the rain.  We both think this is so funny.  This is what I remember.

Funny how when it comes down to it- it's our senses we recall- that is what we're left with...loud fire alarms, the heat of a summer night radiating from your skin, falling rain and the smell of the pier in South Brooklyn.  I miss you.  Please know.

Monday, July 2, 2012



I open up a hard drive to look through photographs from the past two years.  I am hoping to find beauty and proof that I've survived.

Instead I wind up playing some of the music you left behind- mp3s I copied from your computer/studio.  What a wonderful thing to leave behind after you are gone, I think.  What will I leave behind? The most beautiful piano and cello tracks...two songs that I'd written that I'd never heard your instrumentals for.  I play them.  Piano keys as if you're in the room...our daughter's voice softly in the background "reading" books aloud because she can't go to sleep...a dim kitchen, ticking typing.  Hearing your music is like hearing your voice.  It is you. I can close my eyes and pretend you might be playing beside me, how you did for so many years.  Wasn't I lucky- I am always thinking now.

I begin to think lately that one cannot go on living as a broken piece of another life.  Better to start out as a smaller piece of something totally new.  The continuity for me- has never come.  Instead, now as the day approaches- it just washes over me nightly- my old life.  I feel it and taste it and hear it.  I ache for it.  But it is now further than ever- completely out of my grasp.  Part of the pain of those first few hours and days- at least for me- was that I already foresaw this time in existence.  I already knew the separation that would happen.  Two years- sounded so long when I met others who were this "far out." I hoped that they were in some very different place and looked for evidence as such- were they remarried, did they have a different life entirely.  But now I see you aren't a veteran at two years- far from it- you're still in camouflage, still knee deep in swampy waters- but you just don't recall as acutely or as often the old life because this is all you've known now for quite some time.  This is what you feared and knew already- that first hour- would happen- when you'd only spoken to him- yesterday.  When his, "hey, it's me," was still fresh.  When he wasn't someone you'd had to introduce to every new person as "My husband passed away."  When you spoke his name often- to him and to others.  When you still had things you were angry with him about- things unfinished- trips you said you would take, places he wanted to take you, children to be born.

Today, tonight- this is the time you foresaw - in this time spiral of light-years and lives.  It is here.  It is not satisfying.  It is awful.