Monday, September 29, 2008

A Benefit, for Jesse, for LLS

Peachy Ciucur is throwing a Leukemia-Lymphoma Society benefit on Friday. In a sense, Jesse will be the guest of honor. Last year, she rode with his photo silkscreened onto her racing shirt, and she won the silver. She told me, this year we're going to win the gold. She means, she and Jesse; she wants him to have the gold. I think Jesse would have been all for it.

She asked me to make a poster of Jesse, to hang at the entrance where she takes donations; but he seldom let us take his picture at all, much less a professional shot we could blow up. And I can't bring myself to keep using his senior high school picture-- it's nice, but solemn and stiff. You can tell he didn't like having to sit for it. Jesse wasn't one to sit still for much.

So I made a poster, a collage of snapshots we'd taken through his life, starting with his birth, and ending with a party photo one of his friends sent me, from one of the Christmas parties he'd gone to, just a couple of weeks before he ended up in Sloan Kettering. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be, to sift through all the boxes and books of pictures. It's hard to look at the thing now that it's finished.

She just sent me the location and time today:

Friday, October 3rd @ 6pm
Location: The Irish Rogue
356 West 44th Street(Between 8 & 9AVE
New York, NY

Minimum donation suggested of $30.00
or you could donate in advance @

Sometimes, I just have to stop, and sit back and realize that in some way Jesse has found a way to inspire others to help those in need, even after his passing. I hadn't realized how much he inspired his friends, until they all took turns speaking at his funeral, and I'm sure I'll never know how many lives he's touched, with his own words, and now through them, and people like Peach.

I'm not asking you to donate (although it'd be great), all I'm saying is, think about who you are in the world, and what you can do, even if it's a little thing, and do it. Let a little Jesse into your life. You'll be surprised how one act of support and care (even if it's like Jesse's personal brand of smart-assed coaxing and cajoling) can ripple through your life and the lives of those you love.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eyes Open.

Jesse used to sleep with his eyes open sometimes. We were living in a shotgun flat in Chelsea. He and his brother had the long narrow bedroom that led to the bathroom. I'd pass them in the night and Jesse would be lying there, as if staring up to the ceiling, seeing nothing. Just sleeping. I would close his eyes for him, because I was afraid they'd dry out like that. I'd walk back from the bathroom and they'd be open again.

What was he dreaming about? What did he see? He hated that I'd moved out of the loft he and his brother were born in. He would argue with me when he was at this new little apartment. It wasn't big enough. He didn't have enough toys, clothes, games. He missed his dog. He wanted to go home. I know he had no idea how this lacerated me, all of it. His father did, and I could read his imprint on all of Jesse's criticisms and unhappiness. I knew his turn of a phrase. But Jesse was just being a boy, miserable because everything he knew had been turned upside down and he couldn't understand why, only that I was the one who did it.

But you know, I was happy then. Not because he was miserable, but because now I was free, and if enough time could only pass, he would see that it was better this way. HIs father would calm down and stop feeding him this bitterness. I can't even bring myself now to say what happened in that loft that drove me out, but the only witness left in the world alive from those days is Jesse's little brother, and he was too young to understand or remember any of it. He wasn't even old enough to be upset at the split. He thought it was fun to have two houses at first. At least until their father realized how much mileage he could get out of making him unhappy too. I don't think my younger son sees it that way. I don't want to change his mind. It's better for him not to know or believe what I saw, what everyone who knew us saw happening. And what difference would it make? Proving I was right? For what? His father is gone. Jesse is gone. Even the dog is gone. All that's left of that life is my only remaining son, and me. And I will protect us at any cost.

There were people who saw a little of the drama. My sister. She testified in court. My mother. Family friends. People at the school. Jesse and his brother's friends, their families. I don't know why I'm talking about it today, except to make a little bookmark in history, to help you find this spot where the book of my life naturally falls open, because it's been pored over so many times. How I could have handled it better. How I could have left sooner, and gone farther, how I could have saved Jesse if only I had done this or that. And I don't even mean, saved him from dying. I mean, saved his heart from what he suffered from the time he was only seven or eight, when things started getting bad. I would go back to that time, and pluck us all up and away from there if I could, but how could I know how things would work? I didn't believe it at the time. I thought going slow, building a plan, an exit, a safe way out was the right thing. I didn't know how little time we had.

And still, I'll wake up in the middle of the night here, back in that loft where both boys were born, but safe now, because we tore out everything their father had built, tore out even the walls and bathrooms, tore it bare to the shell of the building itself, and rebuilt everything. I put up new walls, new bathrooms, new kitchens, with my own bare hands. We even stripped and sanded the floors down to bare wood, stripped them on our knees, and brushed away every trace of their father I could remove.

And I'll wake up in the dark in this reborn loft, and I'll remember Jesse's eyes wide open in sleep. Remember how I used to cry when I sang him lullabies when he was a baby. I must have known, somehow. I dreamed of losing him again and again, from the time he was born. Terrible dreams about disasters I couldn't save him from. How can I say I didn't know? Something in me knew I wasn't going to be lucky enough to keep this child. Who saved my life just by being born. Without whom his little brother never would have been. Whom I saved. I can't even say the words. I don't want you to know what his father wanted at first.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Again, just like that day.

Did you notice, New York? The weather was exactly the same. Where were we? At this time, I was trying to find my children. Funny how, in those moments when you fear for their lives, you really don't believe you have lost them. But it's not until you actually lose one that you know that you never believed it before. You're scared, sure. You're terrified. But nothing ever approaches this.

I've been trying to understand for myself, what it means, life and death. We can't call our dead and make sure they're ok (I wonder how that felt for nomads, when a son broke off from the tribe, you never knew what happened to him, just like death, even though he could have been fine, raised a family, thrived-- no way to call, check in, visit once in a while). That magic hellhole in the park, the playground, when I walked by on the way back from work, talking to my sister, thinking, if only I could call Jesse like this. Thinking how jealous I was of everyone around me with children they could talk to. Feeling sorry for myself for a moment, then snapping back. Jesse wondered about the other side too. Enough that the only dream he ever wrote down was of his father, coming back to tell us there was in fact, another side. (Which, in keeping with his father's personality, you could apparently reach by bicycle through our front window if you pedaled fast enough.)

What if my sorrow is what the Buddhists say, an illusion? The desire to have Jesse back, an illusion? The difference between us, an illusion? I don't quite believe that either: empathy can't exist if individuality is an illusion.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The 9-11 of it all

Never fails.

This morning it occurred to me that Sarah Palin was really just a shiny bow and wrappings on the same old package. I really like her, although I couldn't agree with her less about a lot of issues. I could see getting along with her anyway. But people, imagine John McCain's health fails him in October. Do you really believe the Republicans would run her as their presidential nominee for the rest of the month? I can't imagine it.

It was pretty easy for her to take shots at Obama and the Dems in general. After all, she's in the duck blind here. They're the ones out in the open. We know all about the two of them, and we know almost nothing about her. In fact, every time the media, or anyone tries to dig into her life story or deviate from the Republican version, they cry sexism. They make up stories about "Obama-Biden Democrats" making slurs, yet whose names they can't seem to come up with when pressed. Yeah, she's a good hunter. A sniper. For now. As Obama pointed out on 60 Minutes last week, she's complaining about the snooping and nastiness she's getting now about her personal life, and it's only been a week or so. Look what he's been getting for the last year and a half.

Her speech really didn't reveal as much about her as it could have. I didn't hear her speak about a couple of her supposedly strongest beliefs last night, the pro life issue, her belief that the Iraq war is a mission from God, that Bush's foes are going to hell; that creationism should be taught in the schools; but she ws pretty clear that she wasn't going to stand up to international oil conglomerates who want to drill up every inch of our country and sell our oil resources to China or the highest bidder on the open market. I heard her talk about McCain's suffering at the hands of his torturers, but I didn't hear her speak out against torture. Or for the Constitution. Or for checks and balances in government. Or against the imperial presidency.

I heard her belittle Barack Obama's, and by extension, every grassroots organizer's work and yes, responsibilities to the people they serve in poor communities-- and these are Christian organizations he, and others like him, worked and work in. She sold them down the river for the sake of a political point.These are the thousand points of light, the faith based initiatives that the Republicans say are better than governments at serving the needy. Yet she thinks she's superior to those folks who give of themselves for the poorest of us?

I didn't hear her admit that she was all for the bridge to nowhere until it became unfavorable in Congress, then, when it became clear it wouldn't pass, and Stevens was in trouble, she was all against it. But that is in fact the chronology. I didn't hear her admit that she went to Washington herself, lobbying for her own earmarks for Alaska. But she did, and got them by the tens of millions.

On the other hand,I didn't hear her claim 9-11 for the Republican party, and try to make it a political trophy. She alluded to the war, and McCain's experience (although frankly, a fighter pilot is not a general). But I respected that she didn't try to shove the images of our burning cities in our faces, and threaten us with more of the same if we didn't vote for her man.

Oh no. She didn't have to. The RNC did it for her just a little while ago. And the voice-over, smarmily saying, "we all remember where we were on that day."

Fuck you, whoever you are. I was there, on Fifth Avenue, right after dropping my kids off at school, watching helplessly with thousands of my fellow New Yorkers. I was there, frantically trying to find my children in the ensuing chaos. I didn't see Jesse till the next day because they cut off the bridges and public transportation, so he was stuck in the Bronx overnight. My friends were in DC, evacuating federal buildings where they had served America most of their adult lives because no one knew what would be hit next.

And we New Yorkers were there for months afterwards as the photos went up and the body count mounted and the burning and the digging and the praying and the mourning continued. And you don't get to call dibs on what happened to us.