Friday, December 7, 2007


Peachy invited me for drinks on the Wednesday before her race. She wanted to give me a tee shirt to wear while she was racing, with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society logos and a picture of my son silkscreened on the chest. After a couple of plum mojitos she told me how she'd gotten involved in bike racing for charity. I'll try to repeat more or less verbatim here, but the quotations are more for reference than an indication of her exact words. Like I said, plum mojitos had taken place.

"I was walking through the Village with my brother, and a man comes up and hands us a flyer for the AIDS race to Boston. So I say, why not, and we go to the community center and I sign up. I don’t even have a bike.

"My brother buys me a bike, but says I have to give it back to him after the race. On the night before, I invite friends out and we are drinking and someone asks me how I trained. Trained? I didn't even get on the bike yet. So the next morning I show up at the parking lot and get on the bike. We don't know what the gears are for, but my brother watches some other people change theirs and he puts them in the same position. So, okay, I ride around a few times and I’m ready to go. And everything is just fine until we get to Connecticut, where there are a lot of hills. Everyone else is just speeding by” — Here she pantomimes a person riding uphill in low gear, then herself struggling in high gear-- “and I’m pushing and pushing and getting nowhere. This guy rides up next to me and notices my Romanian flag on my bike and he says, “How are you my Romanian flower?” and I say “I am not a flower! I can’t ride this bike and everyone else is whizzing by!” so he looks at my gears and says, “put it in low gear” and I say “huh?” So he tells me to pull over -- and I still don't know how to get my feet out of the clips, so I fall over. I somehow get my feet out, and he shows me how to adjust the gears. I get so involved I don't remember how to get the clips off next time.

"Now on the whole ride, other people are shouting, "Passing!" "Slowing!" "Stopping" and I have no idea what it means, but I say whatever they say. So when we come up to the light, I yell "slowing!" stopping!" then as I try to get my feet out of the clips again, "FALLING!" But finally I learn how to get out of the clips, I make it to Boston in a couple of days, and when I step on the scale, I lost 7 pounds!"

She told me her brother did in fact take her bike, so when she decided to train for the Arizona race, she had to buy a new bike -- and train. Team in Training seems to have a good coach and training program, because when Peach called me after the race, her first words were "I got the silver!" I was so proud of her. Jesse would have been too, and I told her so. When we got together last week for her birthday, Peachy wore her racing shirt, bright green and purple, with Jesse's photo on the shoulder. I don't think Jesse's brother or I will ever take off our purple rubber bracelets, Peachy. Thank you so much for letting us be a part of your victory. And please let me know if I quoted you wrong!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Is love real?

I'm glad it's taking a long time for summer and now fall, to pass through town. In September I was dreading the change of seasons: one more season Jesse would not see. One more step away from his time alive. I'd rather not move forward.

People say that those we lost live on in us, in our memory, but how, really? It's only the memory that lives on, certainly nothing of the real person. Sometimes I do really feel Jesse's love all around me but is that real, or is it some kind of emotional buffer my mind creates to protect me from his loss?

I think of what it was like as a teenager, crushing on someone. I remember convincing myself that if I felt "love" strongly enough, that it would somehow affect that person too, that he would feel love toward me because I loved him so much with a love that would last for all eternity. Of course, a month or two later, I'd have totally forgotten him. So whatever that transcendent feeling I'd had, it either wasn't really love, or love has to do with what's within us, more than the object of that love, or both are true. We call something love, and adorn it with mythology and neediness and hope, but the feeling we have inside is something else.

In a way, mourning a lost loved one is like an unrequitable crush. There's no hope of reciprocation, your life is warped around an emptiness that nothing can fill. You satisfy yourself with pictures, memories, maybe hope, but you're not really in a relationship with the object of your longing. You stay in stasis, because regardless of what you feel, nothing can move forward. There is no "there" there. No reality to check your feelings against. No one to communicate with, to rediscover, no one to save, no one to save you.

Friday, October 19, 2007


A small girl holds her mother's hand
drifting up third avenue on the
vast luxury liner of childhood.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Trying on reincarnation

If there is a cycle of karma, if we go through rebirth after rebirth until we figure out how to drop the sorrows of existence, then motherhood must be one of the top causes of samsara. I'd not only go through all this pain and grief again for those moments of joy, I'd do it right now. This morning on the walk to work, I heard a toddler saying "look, mommy!" It didn't hurt at first. I thought of Jesse, of course, the babyhood he left behind to become a man. But also of my cousin-- I remember him as a baby, a toddler, and loved him, but I don't mourn that babyhood as if I had lost him forever. I mourned Jesse's early years before he had even reached adulthood. Wise mothers don't tell that secret to their children.

My younger son and I were talking about (Godknowswhat) not long after his brother died. I was reassuring him about something, and said, "... of course I will. You're my emissary to the future." He liked the idea, but I don't know if he realizes what that means (who could?) Maybe that's why we keep our mouths shut about the past we have lost. Who knows how delicate a matter is the future.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Feeling it today.

From a conversation elsewhere (I was asked why Western women don't try to enlighten Middle Eastern women about the veil and all it symbolizes). My response was that it's wise to take care of the log in your own eye before addressing the burka over another's. My conversant took this to mean "men" were the problem, which I found an odd take on my point. So I explained further: women have to take responsibility for their own lives, and blaming men isn't useful.

Identify the problem, come up with solutions, and get to work. Share your insights with the sisters and the brothers, so everyone benefits. There's a reason the human race is still around, and it's not wars.

Destruction is not the reason we exist. Evolutionary success at least, has been largely a result of births within social units that protect our unusually weak offspring (for such a successful species), the cooperative nature of our species-long endeavors as they've developed (from hunting and gathering, through the division of labor during the industrial revolution, and on) and and therefore commerce.

War provides only a partial employment of these two vital aspects of our success, and while it informs the gene pool sometimes by creating a clear winner, so do the other social forms (besides war): family/parenting, group/social bonds, intergroup/society trade (in both ideas and technology), and intergroup marriage to create larger "safe" groups that increase population over larger territory therefore creating a wider selection of genetic material, and more techniques and land mass on which to find food and resources.

About moving on.

I know eventually I will, we all will. I know the last thing Jesse would want is for all of us to wallow in grief over him until we ourselves die, having achieved nothing. He would want us to carry on the exact kinds of things he expected of us all, and of himself in life. I couldn't be the kind of mother that I wanted to be with Jesse (life and human limitations saw to that), but we both tried, again and again, to find the kind of peace we wanted to have between us. I think if Jesse were around today, he'd be urging me to get things done, like going back to grad school, like traveling, turning dreams into plans into actions.

But I can't let go, move on, forget. I can't live for Jesse, and I can just imagine what he'd say if he thought I were. But I can't live without the belief that he is still out there somewhere, even if I have to lie to myself a little that there is some kind of afterlife, some way he knows of me and that I can know of him. That's my way of accepting my own limitations in the face of this ineffable, monstrous, mundane, obvious fact of existence. This bargain we make with life.

I can maybe add some new threads to the fabric of this blog. A little broader picture of life, of what it means to survive the event horizon of this endless loss. I can't move on, really, but I can move forward.

I had a dream

about Jesse. It was part of a longer dream and a lot of it was odd to the point of nonsense, but the parts I remember: I'm standing on a street corner with a bunch of friends. Behind us is a rolling clothing rack you often see in the Garment District, full of clothes. We start trying to remember the words to that kids' song, "do your ears hang low?" and all the moves. None of us can remember all of them. Suddenly Jesse appears, hovering cross legged above the clothes rack so it almost looks like he's sitting on it, but that's impossible. I know in the dream that means he's there as a spirit. He's smiling and aping our movements, but he remembers the parts we don't, and I smile and clap, raising my hands up in his general direction when he's done.

Later my younger son is watching tv with a group of people, and one of them (his college prof?) tells him "I don't like this show, change it," but when he changes the channel the guy says,"NO, I mean change the tv!" and he does. For some reason this causes the front air conditioner to spring a leak down the inside wall. I go back to ask him to return to the original tv because this one is making the AC leak, and he looks at me, exasperated.

Jesse appears, this time standing, and gives me a hug, smiling. I tell him how glad I am to see him, and he tells me he's going to fix the tv for his brother, and the leak for me. Then I wake up with a start.

It made me feel somehow relieved that he was smiling, that he looked healthy and that he was offering to help us do something. Those are all three things that didn't happen much in the last few months of his life. I wish I dreamed like this every night.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Bikeathon, racing in Jesse's name.

I just attended a fundraiser last night for a woman who's doing a bikeathon in AZ. Her name is Christina (Peach) Ciucur, and she's part of the New York team for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's TNT program. She and the team want to race in Jesse's name with a photo of him. If anyone would like to know how to donate for Peach's race,or if anyone has a picture of Jesse they think would be good for the team to use, let me know, and please pass this along. The race will take place on November 17 in Tucson. Her site link is

Thanks everyone.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Chester Alan Arthur

looks down on me with pity--
where once he presided
over your wild spins
on the tire swing,
he now casts his bronze gaze upon
the wreckage of my motherhood.

Your brother
my only living child
asked me if I were afraid of death
Not my own I said
and couldn't add: but yours.

Je pense en francais
en francais
je ne sais
que tu as passee.

Memere, je me souviens
le jour qu'elle me regarda
et pleura,
tu parle francais!
from the pearly horizon of her own death
she mistook me for a childhood friend--
c'est trop loin, ce pays la.

Monday, August 6, 2007


A few years ago, after a particularly disheartening loss in the ring, Mike Tyson told a New Yorker reporter something that struck me deeply. I wrote about it back when, and began using part of the quote as my signoff on my email account.

"Life is totally about losing everything."

I thought I'd lost a lot back then, in June of 2005. My father had died of a heart attack when I was 21, my older son was in remission from leukemia, my younger son just diagnosed with vasovagal syncope that caused him to drop to the floor, unconscious, eyes still open, his whole body spasming until he came to again. No idea what triggered it. My boys had lost their dad two years earlier, which was far harder on them than me, and I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out the right way to help them mourn someone I couldn't bring myself to miss. Both my grandmothers died within five months of each other that year. My job had deteriorated into a particularly nasty place to be. I was trying to accept that life is like this, that really I was very lucky, that things could be worse. The usual.

Of course things are worse now. I don't cry all the way to work anymore, and I don't know if it's the psychopharmacopia I ingest daily, or if I'm starting to heal. Instead, I see the dead. They lose familiarity as they walk closer, become strangers walking to work instead of my grandmothers, my son, my father. My sister in law. My aunt. I hear my son call me now and then, and can't always find a rational explanation for what I've heard. I ask him to help me find things and there they are.

I can't tell you why this comforts me. My belief in any of this is in the same box with Shrödinger's cat, no paradox to me any more. It just is/n't. I can't tell you why it comforts me to see other mothers mourning their adult sons on the nightly news. I want to call them up and ask them how we do it. Even though part of me knows. The part that doesn't really want to keep walking but does.

I've been through the whole process of mourning before, I know what's happening when I feel it-- anger at everyone but especially whatever God is or isn't and everything human beings say about it, the event horizon of depression shrieking in my bones, the tugging, insistent limbic self that still bleats for my baby somewhere in the middle of my brain. Those fleeting, lucid Archimedean moments where it all makes sense and it's ok that this is how it all happened because this is how it happens, has always happened, and always will happen until the stars die. Knowing where I'm going and more or less where I will end up doesn't make this much easier. Just a little less like chaos. You see me walking to work and you think I'm fine. My family and friends don't see what's happening below the surface. Somewhere in me I am always looking for him and telling myself he is gone. I have mourned him before, as he grew, and grew away from me. Only now there isn't a rational way to reconcile. I understand why the irrational, now. As the months go by I find it harder and harder to explain what it is: how can I be parenting the dead? And yet I am. I just can't tell you how it works.

Friday, July 27, 2007


His real name isn't Chino at all it's, say, Henry Franz (ok, it's not this either, but something like this). He's half Mexican and half German, and its the narrow, dark eyes that earned him his nickname. He has five brothers. I've met most of them, and used to know them all by name. They would come into my bar and flirt, which is fine, and I gave them free drinks but only because their brother had saved my life and I figured it was a fair trade. Plus it wasn't really my booze to give, but Chino was also a fellow employee so I could write it off as comp. The bar had been someplace famous in the 60s and we were just making money off its reputation, but we had some great bands, and one of the first mosh pits, before there was even a word for it. The floor was marble and people made a little flump sound when they jumped off the stage chest first and no one in the crowd knew they were supposed to catch them.

Chino was my bouncer, and stone silent always, except for the lifesaving thing, where he actually asked me out loud which guy had pulled the knife on me before dragging the guy off. Later Chino brought me the knife, a six inch by half inch wide folding blade with a fake pearl handle. "He wont' be needing it," he said. Which I took as a little bravado. I still have it. I don't even look at it any more but it reminds me that at 21 I thought I was invincible and I wasn't at all. I still see it slicing through my ribs that night although it never got closer than about a foot away, thanks to Chino.

Chino and I didn't talk much, like I said. He would stand with his arms folded across this gladiator chest, looking much taller than his 5'7" (maybe less, he was shorter than me), his black ringlets tied in a 70s bandana (not the gang bandana style; picture Olivia Newton John in Let's Get Physical) and a black muscle shirt because it was the 70s. It was a good look for him, because of the high cheekbones and square jaw and brooding, Chino-eyed stare. He was such a softy.

I lost that job, because I went home for Christmas and um, let's call him Vinny, the manager wasn't happy about that. "We can't use you," he said when I called for hours in January. I was working at a better bar (famous artists instead of semifamous rock stars just out of SIR sessions) within a day or so, and I'd still see Chino's brothers, but never Chino.

I asked his brother Max (I think that's actually his real name, although he looked more like an alcoholic weightlifting housewife and wore striped spandex pants to prove it). And he told me Chino had been bad and "sent upstate." Crap.

Not till I'd gotten out of the bartending game altogether did I run into Chino again. He was strolling a baby through Union Square. Dude. Turns out he had been in college out by the Finger Lakes, not in jail. He'd gained some weight, lost some tension in his face, and met a nice drummer from I forget what band, but she was cute and the kid was too. I told him I still had the knife and he laughed, the way you'd laugh if I said, "I still have that photo of you with the lampshade hat."

Then I had two kids. He met them in the park when we'd run into each other, we'd make small talk, promise to get together and never do it. Then I lost track of him for awhile. Then a decade after that, I lost my older son.

Suddenly I run into Chino almost every other week, walking a little terrier. It's fate. I call him brah. He catches me crying on the way back from work, and just hugs me and lets me cry. His sister died of leukemia the year before, so he understands a little how it feels, how it never stops, how it shatters everything, even the weather. He's a masseur now, just got back from the West Coast, working with a famous star who did a movie that made him look and move half his age. (Chino made sure the guy could move the next morning at all.)

He looks happy, the stony quality completely gone. He looks like a papi chulo (I know, he's not Puerto Rican.) He tells me our old DJ is working at the cd store across the way. I still haven't gone in to see him. Not sure I want anyone to tell me how much older I look than I did 28 years ago, when we were all freshly minted rockaholics. Before anything had happened.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

About my father

Astronaut Proxy

My father would have loved these times
who once loved pointing me
to the stars
he would have seen two comets
one a smear of ice;

the Perseids and Leonids
dissatisfied with heaven
catch fire, come to earth
wheeling past years;

gathered everything he could read
to follow Galileo, Pioneer...

He would have would have
would have

All he sees now he sees
through my eyes
I take care to see everything
he would have
wanted that
how I show my son
how I show you
and show myself the heavens too

See how the shuttles fly
how they orbit
how they shatter
fall to earth as swans or stars

See how close Mars came to earth
how close then wheeled away but
he missed that too.

My father comes to me in dreams
bored sometimes, back for good
dissatisfied with heaven
fades with the dawn
but once
to nod in your direction and wink at me
as if to say,
“he's okay.”

Eden Park, Cincinnati 1967

a flock of third graders settles in the glade
it's the year of the locust-- giants in flight
their window pane wings
the ominous whirring
the gated mouth

We knew they ate nothing
after crawling from the dirt
some dead thing clutching a tree
burst open
to become something else entire
something wet and black
glistening, shuddering
in the pale sun,

then leaping away from its own corpse

Screaming girls
and squeamish boys.

I was my father's daughter.

I picked their empty bones
off the bark(their shrunken claws reluctantly give)
and stuck them to my sweater like brooches.

Now no one could touch me.

In Medias Res

When I was born
my father often told me, he hated the doctor
for whipping off my crib blanket
to show my parents I was a girl:
He should have had more respect for women.

I don't remember that of course
though I think I remember
my mothers knees dropping away
below me as I rose
aloft by my ankles
into the cold yellow world.

I remembered it for a long time, you know.
I just didn't realize that's what I'd seen.
Mostly other things (the curved top of old ice crusher, a cartoon whale's head) reminded me of a shape
that turned out to be the shape of the tops
of her bent knees past the edge of the world.

My father I remember first
sitting by while I fingered the piping of a chair
watching me pull myself up
with an astronaut's ecstatic focus
exploring this new world
where walking existed.

Years later the
baby whose genitalia he'd defended
would be crouched over him in a nightgown

pounding his heart
counting and begging
knowing that we wanted opposite ends
to our last moments alive together.
funny what comes out of our mouths
when we're not paying attention.

Later, the doctor took us in
to show us the body
his mouth gaping like any dead animal
it wasn't the animal I wanted.
We can only relight one candle
so many times.

Getting close to the six month mark.

I remember this point, after my dad died. Where the grief level you thought you'd left behind sneaks back up on you. You find yourself crying on the way to anywhere. Crying when you say goodbye to people after a dinner, or a chat, or an email. I think I have abandonment issues. And what worse abandonment is there than death? Last night I lay awake thinking about how much easier it is to be dead (like I have any idea. Maybe the afterlife has a tightly packed schedule).

It feels self indulgent to remember him. It won't really bring him back. It'll make me cry. Does he feel me missing him? Does he know? Or is there really nothing after life? In my fantasy afterlife we all reconnect. We all understand what happened in life, and forgive, and love each other without all the interference of earthly life and biochemical reactions and bad breeding. How is that any more or less likely than anyone else's?

People treat me like it never happened. I find that odd, and then I remember that to them, who didn't have their jagged lives hollowed out for them by deep volcanic forces (I am a geode, yes), things went back to neutral again after they said they were sorry for my loss. They have no idea that I am in flux. That I am on a different time, in a different world. They expect me to act like a normal person, but I've left normal way, way behind. (Some would argue I had done that long before, like maybe as a toddler, ask my mom.)

I have these two notebooks, journals I kept for Jesse and his brother in case I died before they got to know me as an adult. I didn't want them to go through what I did with my dad, not knowing who he was, what he really thought, no reminiscences, no anecdotes that change over time to reflect the changes in our relationship-- things you take for granted when your parent is there with you, things you may not realize you are missing. Perspective. And now Jesse is gone and will never read his. I struggle with this. I can't read it myself. Just thinking about it hurts. I don't know whether to give my younger son his now, before it's too late. Or add more to it.

I added one last entry to Jesse's. There's something profound about writing to the dead, knowing he will never open his book and read it, as the words flow from the pen. How do we do this? How do I do any of it. I'm at a loss to tell you more than this: I wake up in the morning because Jesse's brother exists. Because my present misery is less important than what he would feel losing me, too after Jesse and his father. That's my purpose in life, not to die on him. To set aside my grief a little and be his mother. If you're searching for more meaning than that, good luck to you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Absolutely horrifying crap.

I was invited to a community meeting in lower Manhattan, for people who had lived and worked in the area before/during September 11th.

It was a smaller group than I expected, and judging from the comments, I could tell that a couple were lawyers, one was a scientist, another was either a doctor or other health-related expert, some were local residents, and some were representatives of perhaps local government, or some businesses, or maybe a union or two.

The trouble started when they hit item 3 on the agenda (formerly item 4 but they were doing me a favor), environmental issues. A sweet looking older lady stood up and told us that the week before, a fifteen foot steel pipe had fallen from the Deutsche Bank building, shot through the 6-inch thick concrete roof of the fire department next door, then crashed through the next floor, made a hard right and embedded itself in the wall. Two firefighters were injured, and the street she lived on was shut down. She couldn't get to her home without an orange hard hat (God help her if her hard hat were blue or white, I suppose).

"Guess what they did to fix the fire house roof," said a lawyer sitting next to me. "They put up a sidewalk shed."

"Yeah," said someone else, "because a piece of plywood is much stronger than six inches of reinforced concrete."

I was surprise that some of the attendees actually started to laugh.

"Can't we do anything about this?" said the lady, a little desperate.

"Right," (the lawyer) "The site's run by the Gambino crime family, what can you do?"

A guy who seemed to represent the workforce spoke up: "But there's a clause in their contract that forbids them to engage in mafia dealings on the premises!" (more laughter, as he showed us the clause that shows the Gambino (Safeway) subsidiary, Gault, is barred from acting like Gambinos.) "LMCCC even has pictures of the site on their Web page, showing the violations, like they're proud of it!" (holds up pictures. More laughter.) [note: the photos he was showing us were off the web site as of the middle of last week.]

"Well, can't we get the board to fire them?" (More laughter)

"The board is full of their friends!"

"Then we should get the governor and mayor to fire the board!" (more laughter)

"They appointed everyone on the board. Look, as (name left out) said last time, if you want to hire a contractor in this city, you're either going to get a firm with an Italian last name, or a big national firm-- like Halliburton!" (rest of audience laughs even harder.)

"well," says the defeated sounding lady, "Would OSHA help us?" (Pandemonium. She shuts up.)

The labor guy says, "I've personally looked at what's now thousands of pages of data on that building, and according to every test that's been done, there are no hazardous materials in the site." (Astonishment. Everyone here knows that there were bones and body parts being found in there on a daily basis, that the roof had been torn apart by the collapse of the trade center, and that all the airborne pollutants (asbestos, silica dust, human dust, smoke, jet fuel and so on) had rained down into the place just like the rest of the area.)

Now it's my turn to get up. I tell them my son's story, briefly, and refer them to the resolution they had just drafted, regarding PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in the WTC plume, you know, carcinogens. Even if there's no causal relationship, I tell them, if there's an uptrend in responders, there's going to be a similar uptrend in residents, and that means people will need to be educated about the symptoms. A week's delay can mean life or death with APL.

The lawyer stands up and gives a rousing, self-aggrandizing speech urging political action to force the state to do autopsies on everyone who dies in the downtown area, to find out who had undiagnosed leukemia. An aging neighbor with an oxygen line in his nostrils agrees and argues for an ACTUP style response. The lawyer says, "And our slogan should be "Don't bury the evidence!" And the old man says, "bodies are dropping!!"

Jesus. I'm sitting right next to you, assholes.

All I wanted was to encourage community groups to educate the people in their neighborhoods about the symptoms of leukemia, to get tested early and often, to save lives and to make sure that the recorded incidence of leukemias is as accurate as possible, to help us with government funding and education. All I wanted was to protect other families from losing their Jesses. What I got was an ugly picture of what happens when dozens of well meaning folks have been banging their heads against a brick wall for six years. What choice do they have? I don't know that I can do what they're doing.

The very next day, Community Board One passed a vote of confidence in the demolition process at Deutsche Bank. What the hell?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The letters are so hard to write, even now.

(to a friend of Jesse's who joined the Coast Guard search and rescue team after many long talks with my son)
Dear D--,
I’m sorry it took me so long to write back to thank you for the beautiful letter and essay on Jesse’s funeral. I thought you captured the spirit of it perfectly. You have a lot of writing talent—it isn’t easy to write from the heart and yet write well, but you have done so. I have it hanging on my office wall and read it and your letter from time to time. They comfort me.

I am so glad you were in Jesse’s life, and so thankful you and your dad came to the funeral, but mostly I am grateful you spoke to me about your friendship with Jesse and his influence on you. It made me feel closer to him, and close to you and your family that day. As the months go by and Jesse’s time on earth moves farther and farther into the past, it’s the friendships he kept and the memories we all have of him, and that you have shared with me, that help me feel a little bit that Jesse is still around.

I don’t pretend to know what happens after we’re gone, but whatever it is, I think we can be assured that if it’s something complicated or hard to navigate, Jesse will be there waiting for all of us, teasing us for not figuring it all out sooner, but ready to explain it all and get us where we need to go.

A huge part of my life is gone. Jesse changed my life in so many ways, from the day he was born, and all of it for the good. He remade me as a mother, taught me what is valuable in this world, and gave me the strength to do things I could never have achieved on my own. We had our rocky times, but I think given time, we would have worked it all out. I found myself through mothering him, and because of him Jody was made possible, too.

Sometimes I recall moments in his life, things I taught him, things I showed him about the world, and I realize I was trying to build something for him, a way of looking at life, a way of thinking and conducting himself, of always learning: about everything, including who we are and why we’re here. I wanted him to feel a sense of wonder, but temper it with a healthy bit of skepticism that might tide him over until wisdom arrived.

And then I think, oh where did all his memories and thoughts go? Because I’ll never know now if he would continue to love knowing the names of trees and birds, to see life as an adventure as well as an unending education. As a gift to spend wisely on loving and caring for the plight of others. I regret that loss of his future more than anything. He had the right to know what happened next in his life, and it’s unfair and cruel that this right was taken from him. I know so many mothers and dads all over the world are thinking this sad thought about their sons and daughters even as I write this and sad as it makes me for my partners in grief, it makes me feel less alone, and less cursed, as if this most horrid kind of loss were the most natural thing in the world. It’s only the modern-day illusion of our children’s immortality that makes us think otherwise.

It’s a harsh fact of human existence that parents have lost their children throughout history, often for the stupidest, saddest reasons. But I can’t be angry that he was taken from us so young, when I think how lucky we were to have had him in our lives at all.

I hope you and your dad are well, and I want you to know you are welcome at our home any time. Thank you both so much.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Someone Else's Jesse

This morning as I was heading down into the subway, I noticed a man hunched over on the sidewalk, on other side of the metal banister, peering in at me through the bars. The man was in pretty good shape, tight t-shirt to show off the muscle, decently handsome in a boyish way. And too sick to move.

He was dripping with sweat (it was 70 degrees out), and pale under his light-black skin (not quite ginger but light enough that you could tell the blood wasn't in his face). His lips were quivering. I asked him if he needed a doctor. He said, "N-no?"

I didn't believe him. Back up on the street. I asked him if it was ok to feel his forehead. By now a crowd was gathering. His MacDonalds breakfast was still neatly balanced on the top of the banister rail, but he was looking worse with every second. He nodded about his forehead. Clammy. His arm was cold, but I felt the need to comfort him somehow as I told him, "I think you do need a doctor, I'm calling 911." "Ok," he said. He looked so young and lost, his whole body shivering now. A MacDonald's manager had come out, and wanted him to come sit inside until he felt better. But the guy could not stand up, even with all his effort. "Don't try to stand up," said a Caribbean sounding lady behind him. "I know you want to but it's better if you don't."

She gave me a look of relief and then approval when she realized I was calling for him. Waiting for the 911 operator to pick up (luckily no elevator music on the hold button), I asked his name. "Damien." The operator wanted to know what color he was: black; how old he was (I asked him)


Astonished, I asked him again, thinking he'd said "twenty-one" and I'd just misheard. I stifled that crazy ADD instinct to blurt out some clumsy compliment, and tried to relay the information about where we were and his symptoms. I wasn't putting it together. He's, he's talking, he's lucid, but..."Park Avenue? Park?" She kept asking. Finally she said, Ohhh, Park Avenue South. And in saying yes I managed to make that one syllable sound like "yes I am an idiot," maybe telepathically. She patched me through to EMS but by now I was talking too much. He's sweating, he's clammy, he's shivering, he can answer questions, he's lucid...Slow down, she kept saying. There was something about his symptoms I couldn't quite put my finger on (all you medical geniuses out there, shut up). I knew this. But all I could tell her was that he looked like he was having some kind of "reaction." Finally she confessed she was sending an ambulance, and I realized I was going to be late for work.

The Caribbean lady was still there, talking to Damien gently, more or less on the same lines as before. She had that grandmotherly, schoolteachery look with the long skirt and neatly pressed blouse. The kind of person you'd hire to watch your kids without even calling all her references. "Can you stay with him if I leave?" I asked her and she nodded. I couldn't tell if she was smiling, but she kinda was. Like she knew what was happening to him, and he was going to be ok. I couldn't bring myself to believe her. Down in the station, I fumbled for my card for a few minutes before I realized I was holding it in one hand already. The train was coming, but as soon as I passed the turnstile I wanted to run back up and stay with Damien until the ambulance arrived. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Nothing could convince me I was doing the right thing by moving on. I even prayed to God to keep an eye on Damien, then I realized God's pretty spotty in that business. Thy will be done.

I'd given EMS my phone number, and I hoped they'd call me, but they didn't. It was hard not to clog up 911 trying to get news of Damien, but I managed. It wasn't till I got to my desk that I realized he was showing every sign of insulin shock, and what I should have done (I'm an idiot) was send the MacDonald's manager back in for some orange juice or a coke. Then I had a flash of his mom not even knowing her son was on his knees on a filthy sidewalk in the middle of rush hour. I'm an idiot. I should have stayed and called whatever number he could give me, and whoever in his family picked up, they could have told me he was diabetic and to get him something sweet. They could have had a chance to come get him, and protect him till the ambulance came. Luckily, there was this Caribbean lady who looked like she knew how to take care of someone else's child.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Could Jesse's leukemia have origins in the WTC disaster?

We lived close enough to the site that when the planes hit, I stood on our avenue and watched our national nightmare begin. Jesse was stuck in the Bronx that night, staying with friends from school, but over the months afterward we were all experiencing smoke and dust in the house, on the street, everywhere. The Armory right near us was a base for the responders. My younger son wore a face mask every day until the fires had died down, but I don't think Jesse did, especially after the first few days. I don't know how close he ever went to the site, I don't even know if he ever went down and volunteered. It'd be just like him to do that and never let on to anyone what he'd done to help.

If what Mt. Sinai suspects is true, and more and more people are going to be contracting plasma cell cancers, including APL, then New York and New Jersey need to know the symptoms of leukemia so they can get early treatment. Our doctors in Chicago called it the "good" cancer because there is a cure. The hitch is, if you don't catch it in the first week or so, you die of it. Jesse first noticed possible symptoms of a relapse around January 9th. He didn't go to the hospital until January 16th. Could that week have saved his life? I'll never know, but you can bet that I'm going to find a way to make sure Jesse's story saves someone else's life if that's at all possible.

Third wave of ills from WTC seen
Mount Sinai docs fear new cancers
Thursday, May 31st 2007, 4:00 AM

Responders to the 9/11 terror attacks could face a devastating "third wave" of illnesses - blood and lymphatic cancers - related to their exposure to Ground Zero air, says the director of the largest treatment program for those workers.
Though many scientists have cautioned that it's too soon to link cancers to toxins at the site, doctors at Mount Sinai's World Trade Center medical monitoring program are now seeing surprising cases of plasma-cell cancers in people who were there, said Dr. Robin Herbert.
"We know we have a handful of cases of multiple myeloma in very young individuals, and multiple myeloma is a condition that almost always presents later in life, so that's the kind of odd, unusual and troubling finding that we're seeing already," Herbert said in an online audio interview in advance of today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Doctors at Mount Sinai are trying to verify cases of leukemia and lymphoma reported by any of the more than 20,000 responders they've examined, she said.
More than 120 people with those cancers are part of a class-action lawsuit alleging negligence by the city and its contractors at Ground Zero, said lawyer David Worby.
"People are afraid of the C-word, cancer. It's taken hundreds of people getting sick this way for Mount Sinai to say, 'We are more than concerned,'" Worby said. "Washington and Mount Sinai should draw up an entire platform of blood tests and precancer tests."
Herbert was unavailable for an interview, but in the Journal she described three waves of post-9/11 illnesses.
The first was the stubborn, dry "World Trade Center cough" stemming from pulverized cement there and seen in the months just after the disaster.
The second wave involves chronic respiratory diseases that cause lung inflammation and scarring.
Cancers could be the third wave among responders exposed to asbestos, dioxins and other carcinogens at Ground Zero, Herbert said.
Although the "full range" of those toxins will never be known, "you really worry when you have a mix of chemicals about the possibility of [a] synergistic effect," she said.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

That dream we all dread.

Well, maybe you don't know to dread it yet. I fell asleep briefly in front of the tv and dreamed that none of this had happened. In the dream, I thought for a moment, that Jesse was dead, and then laughed at myself for my silly fears. Then I woke up, staring at the urn of his ashes.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jesse

This would be Jesse's 23rd birthday. I toyed with the idea of baking a cake, but what? Jesse's been so detached since he came back last May, that I have no idea what kind of cake he wanted. Maybe the one my dad liked (they were both born under the same astrological sign, shared the intelligence, cynical optimism, and cussed stubbornness. Different senses of humor. They both died young. They both died in front of me: dad with me pounding on his heart and blowing breath into him, Jesse with me holding his foot from the other side of the hospital curtain while the staff pulled his respirator tube. Jesse's heart kept beating, though he never took a breath. No death rattle. Dad's face turned grey every time I stopped one part of CPR to start another.

I'd rather think about Jesse's birth: at this point I'd been in labor for 31 hours. We had him at home, with no painkillers. I remember laying in bed between contractions, looking at the baby on a box of diapers nearby and thinking, I can endure this for you. And I did. But now? This?

I tell myself that it isn't really unfair. It's the human condition, and everyone goes through these horrible things in one form or another. In the living room that used to be part of Jesse's apartment in our loft, I stand in front of the urn and photos of him, and I ask him (I know, crazy. I'm crazy) do you like the new rug? And in my head he says, mock disdainfully, "It has a lot of big leaves." And I say, isn't there anything you like? And he says, "Jack Bauer," and laughs a little.

And then I remember, he always liked Phish Food ice cream.

If you'd like some, come by the loft tonight. There's beer and soft drinks too.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Photos of your smile

We've been finding pictures here and there, in your stuff. Pictures of your friends, of you, even pictures of us. I feel relieved that you've saved those, as if to say, perhaps, that you still loved us and all this distance was just something you were working through. In all these pictures you're smiling, sometimes a half a grin, sometimes a full throttle beaming face full of happiness. One shot, of you with Lisa, you're looking at me with that happiness. I remember that night, and how close and sweet it felt for all of us-- you were 20. Almost 21. You had survived the first round of leukemia, and we all thought you would live forever. How can all of you be gone?

Right after the World Trade Center went down, we were living near the armory where people had begun posting photos of their lost loved ones: "Have you seen so and so?" and a picture, almost always of someone smiling, often with a group of friends, family-- and it hit me over and over, that each of these photos had been taken by someone who loved that person, whom that person was smiling at-- that the photos weren't just a record of that person's face but of their relationship to the unseen person behind the camera. I cried every day on my way to work as I passed them. Now, I cry on my way to work, talking under my breath to you, to you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Things I'd like to ask

On the way to work today, the park awash in pastels, I wonder what Jesse thought. He spent so little time with us after he left for college, that I honestly no longer know him as well as I once did. I fantasized about what I'd ask his friend, his girlfriend, if they would only tell me. All of you who knew him know he felt distant from me. What I'd like to know is why. I couldn't think of anyone I knew in college to whose parents I could explain why their kid was distant from them at that time, but I think Jesse must have been pretty articulate about whatever it is I did. It's not that I think I could fix the relationship now, it's just that I want to know. I want him as he was, in my heart, not the parts of him that I remembered from childhood, what he let me see as a young adult. I cried all the way through the park, realizing how far away he seems.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

As if I'd just written it:


I look for you everywhere. I know you’re not there. I hear your voice calling me, but I know it’s only a memory of all the times you’ve called me Mom. If I can’t find you, I want to find people talking about you, telling each other about you. How much they miss you, who you were to them, who you told them you wanted to be. I want to be as close to you as we were when you were little. I want you to sit beside me and neither of us be afraid or angry or hurt any more. I know you’re gone. That there’s no way to know where you’ve gone or if in any way you exist as yourself any more. I understand why people need to believe in that other place. Because otherwise, how do we endure the pain of this loss?

“I’ll carry you. I’ll go from world to world until I find a time and place when you can come awake in safety. And I’ll tell your story to my people.”

This morning your brother told me that it was easier to handle his dad dying than you. Because he said no one cared about his dad dying—he meant you, me, Dan, the people he knew. That your dad didn’t have friends. That I wasn’t affected by his death the way I am about yours. Reminding him of the loss by my grief.

Even now I feel myself in the middle of a conversation with you. Things we had talked about in the hospital, that I meant to follow up on, that I wanted to ask you more about. That should have been different. The infection, the fever, but that didn’t kill you. How strange and terrible it was that it was a brain hemorrhage. None of it seems real. That you are gone, although I saw it all. The way you went, although I can’t deny any of it. That I will never see you again, although I know this is true.

Do you know how much I miss you? How many times I think of you and the shock of it hits me again, wracks me physically like a hand tearing out my chest? I’ll fight thinking of your face, in laughter, in anger, in death, because it makes me want to die, too, to stop this pain. This weekend I started saying good night to you at night, and good morning when I wake up. I think it might help to pretend a little that you are still here somehow. There were plenty of times since you moved back home that you weren’t so glad to see me, that there was nothing to look at but the closed door, but still I was glad. Happy, joyful that you were there, home with me, safe. I didn’t care. I didn’t know how soon it would end, but I am glad, glad, glad that I had those months. I’ve put up pictures of you everywhere I look, so I’ll get used to it. So that the thought of your face doesn’t waylay me and destroy me every morning. So that the idea of your death no longer rips at my gut.

Last night I received a book in the mail. It was a nice new hardcover copy of Ender’s Game, the book I took your memorial quote from. Inside was a note from Card’s wife Kristine, explaining that they had heard about you and your card quote from somebody at my old job. Card had inscribed the book to me, a sweet paragraph about loss of a child and his being glad we found some comfort in that quote. You would have loved it.

I realized this morning that one thing that makes it so hard to “put you away” so to speak is how incredibly angry you would be to see me/us doing these things if you were alive. I feel like I’m violating your privacy when I open your mail, go through your computer and check your accounts and debts. It makes me sick thinking about what it means: the finality of it. That you will never come back for these things, or to hold me accountable for what I’m doing with them. Oh GOD how I wish you would. I wish there were some way you could just let me know you’re ok, you forgive me, you accept my forgiveness, that we are ok, that we are at peace with each other at last, not simply because you are gone forever.

I realize that part of what makes this so hard is that I can’t just ball up everything I know about you and toss it. I can’t find anything okay about losing you. Tomorrow I’m going on Prozac. I hope it helps me through the worst of it. You know, at some point every day I find myself looking for something about you online. I google you. I reread your blog. I reread emails people have sent me.

As much as I know that it won’t hurt me so much as time passes, I don’t want time to pass, because every day is one day further away from the last time we ever talked. The last chance I had to be there with you. I try to tell myself that you are just as much in the past today as you will be a hundred years from now, but somehow that doesn’t work. I want to go back in time, and the time when you were here is so close, so close I can remember everything about it, and yet it’s over, it’s gone, and I can never ever go there again and relive those moments with you, good or bad.

About the funeral

How his service went:
No clergy, just one of the Fordham deans sharing what the profs thought of him, then his friends and family telling stories about him. Three women from his contracts class said now that he's gone law school won't be fun anymore. (I guess you have to be in law school to get it?).

We wanted to do cards for him, but he's an atheist so we couldn't exactly have Jesus and the Simpsons' clouds. So I found a photo of him at two and a half, running bare-butt away from me toward the lake. For his saying on the back I chose a line from one of his favorite books: "I'll carry you. I'll go from world to world until I find a time and place when you can come awake in safety... And I'll tell your story to my people."

It's not just that I miss him. Whole futures no longer exist. No forgiveness, no plans, no plan B, no chance reunion. No "I will." When you have children, you don't just have people, you have this whole span of their unimagineable tomorrows. Those are gone.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another dream

Last week, I dreamed that I saw Jesse on the street. I caught up with him and offered him his glasses. He smiled and said, no, I don't need them any more, Mom.

It wasn't till I woke up that I realized why.

Maybe part of me is finally learning that he's really gone. I find it hard to let go of that insane wish that he come back. You'd think that insanity was my only hope of sanity. The psychiatrist said it would be easier on me if I had a religion. Why? I said, because Jesse was an atheist, and no religion I know of would let him into heaven anyway. I'd rather nothing than eternity without him and his brother.

What is the psychiatrist's view of religion? She seems to think it's helpful, even though she agrees with me that it's got all the earmarks of a neurosis. There's nothing in reality that proves or is conditional on the existence of an afterlife or God. You can only hope or believe it's so. Reading the Bible only shows you that the concept of God is tied heavily to the civilization who imagined it. If God were an objective reality, he might have mentioned knowledge of the world that the Israelites didn't have-- oddly God seems innocent of the very physics of the world he created, with all the talk of firmaments and suns rising and setting. And, jeeze, what a petulant, destructive asshole that God is. Have you read Job? But if it's a neurosis that helps you adapt to the harsh reality that we all die, is it necessarily harmful? Why is any particular religion better than just picking what you want to believe and fleshing it out as you go?

People who believe in the intervention of God puzzle me now. Do they think Jesse was a bad person, so God let him die early of a rare disease? Am I evil because God didn't answer my prayers and let him live? Believe me, I begged everyone I knew to pray for him in any form they could. I believe they did. Were all of my friends and family too evil for God to listen to? Do people really believe there is a greater good being served by Jesse's death? That God "works in mysterious ways?" If God can't or won't intervene, then all we can do is accept what God has to offer us, and be thankful it's not worse. Nice place you got here, but what's the point?

Jesse would have loved this discussion.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Gaining control

A little. They say that having kids is like having your heart walk around outside your body. Losing a child is major surgery without anesthesia. When I was pregnant with Jesse, someone told me that you have to forget about the pain of childbirth or you'd never have another child. But I think you also have to forget how painful it is to lose anyone you love or you wouldn't make it to the next loss. This is like going through labor every day, with no new baby on the other side, just another morning of awful realization.

I can make it through most of the day with distractions, now. I save it all for the walk to work. Signs of spring physically hurt: flowering magnolias are sharper than knives. I walk every morning through a park Jesse and his brother played in when they were little. I'm used to it now, but the sight of new grass on the central lawn breaks my heart. I wonder how long it takes that deep, animal part of your brain to accept that your child is really gone. Because I understand it intellectually-- he's not coming back. He's not going to be mad that we moved his stuff out of his closet, or changed the room. I'd give anything for that fine indignation again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Today was the latest step in the process of closing out Jesse's life. It's hard not to feel like I've violated him somehow, during the process of reading through his mail and his files, finding his accounts and debts, having myself made essentially the executor of his estate. Sitting in the administration office in Surrogate Court crying my eyes out filling out forms. Crying as I called and visited the banks and loan companies. Crying in the office of the notary public, of the bank officers, in line at the customer service desk. Crying when the checks came. But this morning I had to put the checks in my bank account so I can pay off his debts. It wasn't till after I was done, sitting on a park bench with my husband, sobbing, that I realized the sun was warm on the melting snow, that Jesse loved to walk outdoors, that he and I were too far apart when he died, that everything he planned so well is nothing now.

I hope there's some money left to put in his his fund at Fordham. At least that dream of his will live on a little. If the lectures and seminars sponsored by that fund inspire just a few of the next generation of lawyers and judges to rethink how children are treated in the judicial system, maybe something will change. Maybe in the audience, Jesse's spiritual heirs will gather, and his real legacy will begin.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Coping. Or not.

I do my crying on the way to and from work, lately. Keeps it out of the office. Mr. Nomist has been absolutely terrific at helping me through the rough spots, doing things I can't do (like emptying out my son's closet-- I mean, literally I couldn't even look at it). The hard part is how many times I have to be reminded in a day that he's never coming back, so x, y, and z don't matter any more. It's like opening up the stitches all over again each time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The letter I wrote to his first doctor

Dear Dr. T,
I'm sorry not to have communicated with you sooner, and I'm not sure whether anyone else has let you know that my son, Jesse K. Smith, passed away from a bilateral cerebral hemorrhage on February 8th. I want you to know that your care, words and kindness helped him more than I can express, over the last years of his life.

Thank you for giving us those last two and a half years with Jesse. Without you, we might not have been so lucky. During that time, he moved in with his wonderful girlfriend, they went skydiving together, and visited several countries in Europe. He graduated from the University of Michigan, right on schedule, and eventually, came back to live with us in spring of last year, because he had realized another dream by entering law school at Fordham. Over a hundred people showed up at his funeral, some he had known since grade school, some from University of Michigan, and many from Fordham who were just getting to know my loving, witty, argumentative and disarming son.

Because of you and everyone at NWM, I had the blessing of knowing my son was home and safe for 9 of his last 10 months on earth. I could walk by his door and just smile, knowing where he was and that he was achieving the goals that meant the most in his life. Those last months before he passed on were joyful for me as a mother, even if law school was rough on Jesse.

It's painful to me, knowing that APL is so treatable, that Jesse didn't survive. But it's a comfort to know that you were there for him and me, by phone and email, so that he knew what was happening and what to do to help himself.

The only thing I would have changed would be for Jesse to be a little more "paranoid" a lot sooner about those little symptoms that meant a relapse. But even then, there's no way to know if getting into an ER a few days earlier would have mattered to his outcome. I suppose if I had any message to people in remission for APL it would be just that: "be a little paranoid!" but more so, live like Jesse did, fully and with the realization that you and your family are lucky indeed to have that second chance at life.

Jesse kept a blog about his last weeks at Sloan Kettering, if you would like to read his funny, smart and brave take on life with APL. It's called

Jesse wrote in his personal statement for law school, that he felt lucky as a result of his experience with you and NWM. I am including it with this email so you can read as I did, how Jesse processed his illness, and how much you influenced him.

Thank you for everything, including your patience, with Jesse and with us.

Below is the text of Jesse's personal statement.

Jesse Smith
Personal Statement Part 1

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from life it’s that the bigger the challenges you face, the smaller other challenges seem to be. For the first two years of college I thought my life was hard. I was supporting myself, becoming an adult and making my way through school. I expected that this was as difficult as life gets, at least for a college student. After I was diagnosed with leukemia the summer after my sophomore year, my life, and my perspective, changed dramatically. While it may be surprising, the most significant change, the one that will last, is that life doesn’t seem as hard anymore.

Before cancer there were a number of stressful things in my life; I had to make new friends after moving to college, I had to deal with the loss of a parent … and I had to learn to manage my finances, all while still trying to get good grades in school. Each of these aspects of my life seemed overwhelming at the time. In retrospect, I feel that while I hate to use the word lucky, it almost seems convenient that I have had a life experience that has put all those things into perspective.

Doing schoolwork, managing finances or dealing with a personal life is a challenge for almost anyone. In my case, I was suddenly in my junior year of college, attending a full class schedule against the advice of my doctors and while on numerous inhibitive medications. In addition to what used to be my big problems, I now had to get my blood drawn weekly, learn to cope with being bald in a Michigan winter, maintain a catheter in my arm for months, and receive chemotherapy after class. I quickly realized that life was substantially easier when all I had to deal with was school, money and a personal life. In fact, few things I did before cancer seem very difficult anymore.

Not many cancer patients feel that they are lucky to have cancer. I spent at least a day in the hospital accepting the fact that I was going to die within weeks. Eventually the doctors told me I had a very curable type of cancer. This led nearly every nurse I encountered to tell me how lucky I was. For the first couple of weeks it seemed like a cruel joke. At 20 I was in a hospital bed unable to even breathe the outside air for fear I would die. I had to go through the seemingly endless nausea of chemotherapy and I couldn’t even walk around my room without dragging the IV tree that was attached to my arm, but I was being told I was lucky. Once I could accept that I was going to live, I noticed something about the other people in the cancer ward with me. Many of them would be there for far longer than I would, and many of them would not leave. I was lucky.

After that realization, I could joke about being in the hospital and used this humor to cope with my imprisonment. I made it a point to ignore some of my doctor’s advice, and even fight them in some instances so that I could feel like I was standing up for myself. I initially feared that my life would never be the same, that I would spend most of it dealing with cancer. However, I knew immediately that for me to be able to manage my situation I needed to make sure that one day my life would be back to normal again and look ahead to that day. When I became determined to fight to regain the life I almost lost, I realized that I could look forward to the day when I could go back to just dealing with school, money and a personal life. I had found a perspective that allowed me to see challenges in my life as beneficial instead of harmful.

School is still challenging and will remain so for the next three years, money is still a problem and may be for some time to come, and my personal life is still interesting at best. Nothing in those areas of my life is likely to change soon, but I had an experience that fell so far outside the range of what I thought of as difficult that I have a new perspective. School, money and my personal life are now the normalcy that I hold dear in the face of much greater challenges. The fundamental way that I interpret my life has changed so significantly, that I won’t see anything the same way again. I look forward to the day when what used to be major problems are my only problems. When I look back, I realize that I could spend my time thinking about how I could have died, or focusing on how much I suffered, but instead I prefer to breathe deep and realize the simple truth; I am lucky.

From my experience I also gained an understanding of what it really means to need help. I faced a situation where I was helpless and would certainly die without the expertise and care of others. This showed me that helping others is more than just knowing what they don’t. To truly help someone, you have to understand their experience, including what it is like to feel your life threatened, and make it clear to them that you can make things better. My new perspective reinforced my desire to practice law, since I believe the law, and a good lawyer, is there to save lives. People often need legal representation in a time of desperation and I feel that my new insight will allow me to benefit many others if given the chance. I hope that I can gain the expertise needed to make a difference in their lives, the same way my doctors did for me.

Personal Statement Part 2

In seventh grade I had my first experience as a criminal lawyer. In my social studies class, I prosecuted Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing. The next year I defended Andrew Jackson at his impeachment. From that point on I knew that I wanted to practice criminal law. My hero in middle school was Thurgood Marshall and in high school I wanted to be Jack McCoy from Law and Order. However, it wasn’t until the summer after my junior year of college, when I interned with a Michigan District Court, that I knew why I wanted to practice criminal law.

While working for the court, I watched a preliminary hearing for a man charged with raping his nine-year-old daughter. I watched as the courtroom was emptied so the little girl could testify without being overwhelmed. She walked into the courtroom wearing a pink dress and had her bright blond hair in pigtails. She sat down in the witness seat and could barely reach up to the microphone. After being asked about whether she understood the difference between the truth and a lie, the prosecutor asked her about what had happened the last night she had seen her father. She described how she gave her pet hamster, Buttons, some food, changed into teddy bear pajamas and got into bed. She then told the court how her father got into bed with her and the things he did to her. The entire time she was speaking, her father, dressed in a prison jumpsuit, was grimacing and shaking his head at her. From that point on I knew that for me, criminal law was about protecting those that can’t protect themselves.

This courtroom experience came less than a year after I went through a one-month hospitalization for leukemia. In that time I learned what it was like to be almost helpless. As I saw the little girl on the stand, I realized that she was in the same situation. Beyond the obvious evil of what had been done to her, she was nine years old and almost completely alone in the courtroom. Someone had to be there to defend and represent her since she could not do so herself. Most people that find themselves in the criminal justice system need serious, capable, knowledgeable lawyers to represent them. After having benefited from experts and professionals in my time of need and seeing the little girl in a similar position, I know why I want to practice criminal law. Law is a professional way that I can make a personal difference.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Nothing else can be taken from him
He’s beyond all that. Beyond tomorrows, beyond forgiveness, beyond love.
We lose who knew him or who hadn’t met him yet.
We lose “I will tell him”
We lose “I should have”
We lose every promise we made to ourselves about him.


Last night I dreamed that I was trying to get people out of my loft. Over and over. The first dream I don't’ remember so much. There were little children involved. I woke up and had a hard time falling back asleep. The second one, people kept coming in until there were dozens trying to look at the loft to rent it. The window kept bumping open like shutters and leaves blowing over the top. Dead leaves. I was angry because I thought the landlord was trying to get rid of us and had lied to all these people that the loft was available so they’d make me leave. At one point I had them all sit down and told them that they’d been sitting there for six hours (from six am to 2 pm by my watch), and the landlord had never showed up so that proved I was right and they needed to leave so I could go to work. Then I woke up.

The third dream, there was a repairman, and someone else who barely knew him. I was trying to get rid of them but the repairman lay on the bed like he wanted to have sex with the other guy. I threatened to call the cops and they acted like they were joking and were going to leave. Then the other guy was sitting with me at a couch, eating gummi candy out of a gummi candy dish. The repairman made a joke, oh now you don’t want us to leave. No I need you to leave, I have to get to work. As they went out the door, Jesse was walking out, dressed to leave, behind the gummi candy guy. He stopped me in the doorway and said, Mom, can I come home now? I want to come home. I could see his face so plainly, the hurt and need in his eyes. Yes, honey, come home. I want you to stay. I want you to come home. The other two left as Jesse and I sat on the floor, hugging. His shoe was off and I was rubbing his bare foot, saying over and over again, yes, yes, yes. You can stay. I want you to come home. I woke up and spent the whole morning sobbing that he could come home, yes, yes, yes, any way he wanted to come home, he could always come back. That was the first good dream of him as an adult since he died. The other two dreams had been earlier, one of him as a tiny child, a good dream. Another of him as an adult, arguing with his brother and me, hostile as he had been recently in life.

Do you know how much I miss you? How many times I think of you and the shock of it hits me again, wracks me physically like a hand tearing out my chest? I’ll fight thinking of your face, in laughter, in anger, in death, because it makes me want to die, too, to stop this pain. This weekend I started saying good night to you at night, and good morning when I wake up. I think it might help to pretend a little that you are still here somehow. There were plenty of times since you moved back home that you weren’t so glad to see me, that there was nothing to look at but the closed door, but still I was glad. Happy, joyful that you were there, home with me, safe. I didn’t care. I didn’t know how soon it would end, but I am glad, glad, glad that I had those months. I’ve put up pictures of you everywhere I look, so I’ll get used to it. So that the thought of your face doesn’t waylay me and destroy me every morning. So that the idea of your death no longer rips at my gut.

Last night I received a book in the mail. It was a nice new hardcover copy of Ender’s Game, the book I took your memorial quote from. Inside was a note from Card’s wife Kristine, explaining that they had heard about you and your card quote from somebody at my old job. Card had inscribed the book to me, a sweet paragraph about loss of a child and his being glad we found some comfort in that quote. You would have loved it.

I realized this morning that one thing that makes it so hard to “put you away” so to speak is how incredibly angry you would be to see me/us doing these things if you were alive. I feel like I’m violating your privacy when I open your mail, go through your computer and check your accounts and debts. It makes me sick thinking about what it means: the finality of it. That you will never come back for these things, or to hold me accountable for what I’m doing with them. Oh GOD how I wish you would. I wish there were some way you could just let me know you’re ok, you forgive me, you accept my forgiveness, that we are ok, that we are at peace with each other at last, not simply because you are gone forever.

I realize that part of what makes this so hard is that I can’t just ball up everything I know about you and toss it. I can’t find anything okay about losing you. Tomorrow I’m going on Prozac. I hope it helps me through the worst of it. You know, at some point every day I find myself looking for something about you online. I google you. I reread your blog. I reread emails people have sent me.

As much as I know that it won’t hurt me so much as time passes, I don’t want time to pass, because every day is one day further away from the last time we ever talked. The last chance I had to be there with you. I try to tell myself that you are just as much in the past today as you will be a hundred years from now, but somehow that doesn’t work. I want to go back in time, and the time when you were here is so close, so close I can remember everything about it, and yet it’s over, it’s gone, and I can never ever go there again and relive those moments with you, good or bad.