Thursday, December 24, 2009

I don't know what made me do it.

Maybe because it's Christmas eve. Maybe I just haven't let myself miss him enough lately. But tonight I broke down and searched that "where the hell is matt" video that makes me think of Jesse (like he'd ever do that silly dance, that's not it). I probably started crying the second that dopey guy starts dancing. It's not the worst storm of tears I've endured, but I still felt that awful slipping toward disaster, toward some point within me I can't escape from once I'm there. I pulled back. I indulged myself. I typed "I miss you Jesse Smith" in google and read all the entries, looked at all the Jesse Smiths in the world and what they were doing and who they were. I saw a cached file about him on Lycos, but the page was gone. Someone from Fordham had put it up a while ago. Most of the rest were other Jesses. So many things he could have been. Doctor, musician, tattoo artist, teacher. Girl. Ok, not girl. Patti Smith's daughter, in fact. I calmed down a little. But still, it's impossible to accept that I will never see him again. Only people who haven't lost a child think this can be done.

Merry fucking Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I was taking eggs out of a carton to make breakfast. They were all white and perfect until I turned the middle one over as I pulled it out of its nook. A concentric break at its narrow end with little cracks running from the first circle out to the farthest. I stood wondering whether to use it or not-- if it were cooked through, would I still get sick?

As I was making coffee I realized that the broken egg had to have been a dream, because we were out of eggs. Turned the dream over in my mind-- how boring, I wouldn't even tell anyone about such a mundane dream. I forgot about it by the time I got to work.

At the grocery later, I called my son. I'd forgotten the list. He read out the items, including, of course, the eggs. Without recalling the dream, I checked prices, considered who'd be here over the week (three egg eaters, including my stepdaughter) and splurged on the carton of 18. Checked them all for breaks. Carefully put it in its own bag so the eggs wouldn't be crushed by heavy items or heated by the roast chicken.

My arms's in a brace because I'm having a bout of bursitis, so most of the heavy stuff goes in my backpack, the light, fragile stuff I hand carry out the door. This being New York, I don't have a car, so I only buy what I can carry. I get to the curb and hear a soft rustling and then a definite plop. The egg bag has escaped to the sidewalk. I open the carton and turn over the middle egg, exactly the one that had been broken in my dream, and was relieved that this one wasn't broken exactly the same way.

As I walked home through the park, careful now that the eggs had already fallen once, I thought of the dreams of Jesse dying. I've never dreamed of anything bad happening to Jesse's younger brother. He is always safe. Was this mundane egg dream a test of the system?

When I got home I found that 8 other eggs had been broken also, exactly like the egg in my dream. So much so that the smallest circle of shell popped into the bowl as I emptied each egg, yolk and all, while college helped unload the rest of the groceries.
As any good French girl would do with eggs broken after breakfast, I made a triple size custard. It's sitting in its bain-marie now, slowly becoming solid.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Love after death.

In one of life's ironic twists, Jesse died at the same age I was when my father died. So now I see dawning adulthood from two different mortal points. At 21-22, it's rare to already have an adult relationship with your parents. I was sorriest of all that my father and I didn't know each other that way, that I was barely able to reach across the chasm of our ways to him. I had learned to indulge him some of his fantasies of me-- he had lectured me before Christmas, that I needed to marry as soon as possible out of college so I wouldn't be tempted to commit a mortal sin (I'm sure the Catholics out there know which one he meant). I didn't laugh in his face or tell him to go screw himself. Nor did I lie or meekly say, yes Daddy. I was growing up a little. And two months later he was gone.

So I search for indications that Jesse was trying to tolerate my parental idiosyncrasies. I'm sure they existed, and I can guarantee you I tested his tolerance more than I realized at the time (or even now). I can never ask him this. I can never know what it would be like to sit down with my first born and just talk about life like two grownups. And that was what I had been waiting for, for half his life. Don't get me wrong, I cherished every conversation we had. I knew all of his life that each moment we had together was special, irretrievable, precious. I don't know why I knew. I used to think I was just lucky to have some perspective, because of the loss of my father. Looking back though, I realized that somewhere in time, I would lose Jesse. I had recurring nightmares about it. I couldn't sing a lullabye without crying. Even before I became pregnant with him. He lived far beyond those premonitory dreams, though. I had him until adulthood. In my nightmares he never aged beyond fifteen.

Truth is, I cringe when people speak as if they take loved ones for granted. Calling a partner their "ball and chain" or complaining about the kids being around all summer. Or worse, openly wishing for them to grow up and leave home. They say they're only kidding around, but it hurts me to hear it. I want to shake them and tell them how horribly they may regret these words one day. How awful it is to buffer yourself against love like that.

Many of my most recent memories of Jesse were of him expressing some form of disapproval of me. His moving back home was rough on him, and, as with the divorce, I took the brunt of the blame in his mind. I'd made up my mind to just accept it, and wait for him to come out on the other side of that, too. Now I'll never have that. All I can do is replace the memories of his distance with the earlier Jesse, the younger Jesse who loved me unconditionally and lit up when he saw me. At first this seemed unfair of me: who am I to deny who he had become at 22? But then, who am I to deny his entire range of his life? If the closest time we had together is what sustains me, then that is what I'll take. Jesse may not have been very happy with me three years ago, but that was only a small portion of his short life, and to fix him at that point would be unfair to his nature. He wasn't the kind of person who would want anyone to be miserable for the rest of their lives over something he'd done in the distant past.

And I don't believe his unhappiness with me would have lasted, but suppose it had? Why should I pay for it now?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dreams are a gate.

Last night as I first drifted to sleep Jesse came to me as himself at age 5, and gave me a hug. I told him I wanted to come with him, but he said, no mom, not yet. I wasn't even sad. This morning I got out of the train and felt happy. Not for any reason, just that sudden, unexpected tug of joy to see the sky and to walk down the street. I realized that something had been lifted. I looked toward my destination and saw a guy walking toward me with, only briefly, Jesse's adult face, before he became again whoever he was. And I said, thanks honey. And then I cried a little.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Here we go again.

I got home from my life-changing trip to Bali, only to hear from my husband that my sister in law has just been diagnosed with leukemia. I don't know if it's the same type as Jesse had, but dear GOD, my brother already lost his first wife.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today College son told me as gently as he could that some friends of Jesse had said, around the time Jesse died, that he wouldn't have wanted to be stuck in an urn. He said, I don't know if it's been long enough that we can talk about this yet. You can tell me if you're not ready. He admitted that he felt somewhat the same as these friends. He told me who had said it, and I understood what he, and they, meant. I think a lot of us like the idea of scattering a friend's ashes someplace beautiful, someplace they'd have wanted to go or loved to be. His friends certainly knew Jesse was not one to be confined by anyone. College actually said, he wouldn't want to be in there.

I wondered if that were the reason we heard less from Jesse's friends as time went on, and not because that's what normally happens after you lose the child, their friends drift off toward their futures, the lives they need to live. Had I offended them in some way, because of this need to keep his ashes? I don't think so. I know they were being kind, in not expressing their feelings about this to me. I know that the lives they lead now are touched by Jesse, and that they'll never forget him. And after all, they were Jesse's friends, not mine, and I am not Jesse, so I couldn't fill that role for them. Still, I care what happens to them, and it comforts me to think of them working out the lives they're just beginning.

I can't really think of "the" place I'd scatter his ashes, and I can't really think about what it would mean to me to do this. I'm not ready, I suppose. But as I reminded my son, Jesse's not what's in that urn.

But that, and a few of his things, and memories, are all I have left of him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It sucks

to work on drug literature for what you were on at Sloan Kettering. It makes that time too real, too recent. Especially now that it's getting cold. I keep feeling I need to go up there and see you after work, even though you're gone. I can see the IV tree in my mind, all the bags hanging off it, your cramped semi private room with a cold draft off the river, and you a little irritated that I wouldn't go away. I couldn't. I wish I hadn't.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My future

After the broken foot's week in bed, I started building back up slowly, and am now up to 4 miles a day walking. Sure, my feet are a little sore now and then, but I can tell it's just work, not damage. I like walking without pain and have probably annoyed the hell out of more than one companion with the number of times I've said more or less that. Like realizing you're happy to be alive, being happy to be able to walk is an earned experience.

I usually do physical work better if I have a goal in mind, say an upcoming hike on something with a scary name. Yes, I collect Scary Name Hike Experiences. I've hiked Mt. Horrid, Avalanche Lake, Breakneck Ridge, and Hellhole (which is actually the tamest of the bunch). Of course when I found out there was a volcano on Bali, that became the goal. According to legend, it was placed on Bali by Shiva, as the throne for the Goddess of Lakes and Waters, Dewi Danu. I was hoping for something a little scarier than an immortal Public Works manager.

And I got my wish. Last week one of the Bali Web sites posted a warning that Mt. Batur is now closed due to volcanic activity. Apparently, the locals can tell the volcano's probably going to blow, whenever the lake below it starts to heat up. They leave, wait till it's over, then come back and replant. The glorified heated office chair hasn't erupted since 2000, so I'm not sure why it's chosen to screw up not only my vacation plans, but my reason for perambulation.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Family Feud

It's getting so the only time I hear about my dad's side of the family is when one of them wants to persuade me to gang up against another. We used to be very close, all of us. Dinner every weekend on my grandparents' farm, weeks and weekends at each other's houses, three day long family reunions with barbecues and hootenannies and camping around the bonfire every year that drew relatives from all over the US.

My grandmother was the glue that held them all together, and apparently my dad was the woodclamp, because since he passed away, things have gone downhill, and aunts and uncles on either side of the feud will take one of us aside from time to time, and say "this never would have happened if your dad was alive." As if this is all somehow our fault. Now keep in mind, these people are in their late sixties to late seventies, they're all healthy, living and working on small farms or in small towns in wholesome southern Indiana.

It's not that they fight about any one thing, they've been at each other's throats for over a decade now. Uncle L asked Grandma to give him power of attorney so he could help her with her affairs, but Grandma didn't like Uncle L's wife, so she gave POA to Aunt K. Now you can't say anything nice about Aunt K around Uncle L or he'll throw you out. And Uncle M will storm out of his own house if you don't watch it. That killed our rompin stompin gun and beer totin family reunion hoedowns.

When my grandmother wrote her will, she literally implored my aunts and uncles to get along, that she wanted them each to have an equal share of her earthly goods, and that she wanted them to care for each other and be glad for each other. Well that went to shit before she got a chance to die. They fought over who visited her most, who took her furniture when she moved to the old age home, who cut her lawn, whether one was stealing the farm or the other was abusing her somehow. They called the cops on each other, once from my Grandma's home.

I used to visit all of them every year when I came back, but the last straw was when Uncle L's wife told the whole family that my brother was a rich millionaire who was trying to steal grandma's farm by having Aunt K hold an auction for it across state lines where the rest of them couldn't bid on it. And yes, they've known my brother since he was born, and no, he's not rich. All he ever said was he wished the whole family could pitch in and buy the farm together so we wouldn't have to lose it. Aunt K had to sell it in anticipation of grandma's nursing home expenses. By now she was in her late 90s.

The winter before she passed away at 99, Uncle L started litigating to take over her care from my aunt, then when she was gone, he tried to get executorship of the estate, from Grandma's trusted family lawyer. He lost. He filed criminal charges against Aunt K and got her thrown in jail for a bit, but she got out. She used her POA to buy all of grandma's furniture right before grandma died for a dollar and sold it all and kept the money. She put a registry book in grandma's old age home and hid it at the nurses station, so that it would look like the rest of the family never went there. He sued the estate and accused Aunt K of hiding funds. Aunt M's son in law became his lawyer and they all decided the estate owed him and every other lawyer a yearly stipend.

This went on from 2005 until the present. My sisters, brother and I stayed out of the fighting. We didn't want to choose sides, we loved them all, and had reason enough not to trust anyone's version of events. Since our father had passed away, his portion was supposed to go to us, split evenly.

We don't know why the estate didn't just release the funds to us before the war started. We don't know why we're being made to give up our portion of the estate to pay for the lawyers our aunts and uncles are lobbing at each other. We just assumed there was some kind of lien on the estate until Uncle L and Aunt K settled. We figured they'd just waste the whole estate in legal fees, because some of their actions were aimed at the estate and its executor.

Then last year the court assigned a mediator, they hammered out an agreement, and three of the siblings signed it. They kind of forgot to invite me and my siblings, and worse, they forgot to make sure Aunt K signed it. She didn't. There was a hearing yesterday, and my cousin's husband tried to get out of having the estate pay the mediator, since he never notified us of the meeting, and never ensured Aunt K signed the agreement. But that was the only matter the judge wanted to hear about. He ordered the estate to pay the mediator, told the bunch of remaining family members to work it out, and left them. Aunt K never even bothered to show up.

My dad, the oldest, was born at home. They all lived in a farmhouse Grandpa built himself out of the former corncrib. The original farm house had burned before they bought the place. It was the Depression, but my grandparents made enough through farming and factory work to support five kids, and take in cousins on the weekends. Grandpa even hoarded nickels to buy his nieces and nephew ice cream of a Sunday. Every night, on the top floor where all the bedrooms were, the whole family would recite the rosary together before bedtime, telling the beads as they lay in bed, loud enough for each other to hear.

They woke up before dawn, milked cows, fed pigs, and headed off to school together. They all came home at the same time and did chores till supper, then played basketball/did homework/worked on their hobbies till bed. It was a good life, they all admit it.

I'd really like to just get it over with. My sister told the judge she was willing to give up a chunk of our share if we could just get out of it and never have to deal with it again. They're acting more like little kids than we were allowed to in all my childhood.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The social thing.

One weird side effect (to me anyway) of Zoloft is that it makes me much more comfortable in groups. I never really realized how much energy it takes me to hang out with people, even (sometimes especially) people I like. It can be draining, but I do enjoy it: I guess this makes me an introvert? The last vestige of my childhood shyness is chemically removed. I expected to be able to write about Jesse without crying, and I expected to feel a little, well, elevation. I'm even okay with the piles of furniture and curtains and paint and construction supplies all over the loft now. (Sure, that's why I'm mentioning it. because it's okay.) But finding myself enjoying the prospect of hanging out with a large group of friends? I'm going to have to test run this new side of the Meyers Briggs attitude dichotomy. In Bali. Yes, I actually find myself sorry that I'm going alone. I never had that attitude about travel before, but here I am, wondering who I'm going to point out the fish to. Not sure I'm crazy about that feeling. I'll probably end up bonding with tourists.

The other weird side effect is mild nausea.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Discipline (right)

Making myself write again. I took out a notebook that Jesse's girlfriend had left behind when she moved, and wrote my first day's entry into it: dreams are like stars, they're always there, just easier to see at night. It sounds romantic but it's also a current theory of dream production in your brain. During the day, reality checks. At night, not so much.

I try to give myself a lot of assignments at a given time, so that when I balk at doing one thing (say, building my web site) I can procrastinate while doing something useful (planning for Bali), educational (reading the dozen or so books I've bought this year). Enough plates in the air and you don't stop running around the table. Right now I'm reading Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. Mostly sticks pins in all the gender difference studies, beliefs, myths. Once I'm finished, I'll do a review. That's going on my site. Which I can screw around with when it's too hard to write here. Right now, I'm writing here because it's too hard to confront my web page.

That's right. I am treating my mind like a toddler. Redirecting myself when I'm balky, toward something shiny. When I lose interest, I shake some new bauble at myself and propel myself forward in a different direction. This, I can do.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Yesterday morning I woke up with a slight nosebleed. It's happened to me once before, when the kids were little. I'd been sitting at the kitchen table talking to a friend, then a splitting headache and blood. Then I was at the ER. A volunteer held my arm while the nurse tried to insert an IV line in my wrist. Every time the nurse would jab me, the volunteer would suck air in hard between her teeth with a sharp hiss, and I'd jump, and the nurse would miss the vein. This happened five or six times before the volunteer said, "Oh, this tooth is killing me."

I told the nurse to just stop and leave me alone. They left, and I burst into tears. The neurologist came in while I was crying and began grilling me. He said didn't believe that the migraine could possibly be painful enough to make me cry. What happened before you came here? he kept asking me. What's going on? There's some emotional aspect, he said. I denied it.

I realize now that he suspected my ex of bloodying my nose. It still shocks me that he picked up that I was abused, even though he was wrong about the nosebleed.

Fast forward 15 years, and Jesse is in the hospital because his nose was bleeding uncontrollably for no apparent reason. A cut on his arm wouldn't heal but wept clear liquid lymph. Leukemia. Greek for white blood.

And I looked in the mirror at my bloody nose yesterday, and wondered if there's something in my blood that he inherited, that wrung the red out of his blood. Something wrong that I had passed on. Epigenetic? I grew up a few miles from Fernald, the nuclear munitions plant in Ohio that poisoned the aquifer in my town and others around it. And I think of all the things that could have been, might have been wrong, that could have caused this one mother cell to switch one chromosome. And that was the beginning of the end. Nothing I did from that moment on could have saved him, but that won't stop me from trying to figure out another way. A way to blame myself, a way to conquer death, as if I believe somewhere deep and childish, that I can go back in time with the answer, and still fix everything.

I remembered the moment after he died, as I began my closer acquaintance with death; turning his hand over to see the pooled blood under the skin of his lifeless arm. Exactly where I'd heard it would be. No longer his enemy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Moving forward

Today I voted, not so much for Michael Bloomberg, but against changing mayors. Is that so crazy? I got up early, limped over to the voting side of town, then realized that I could prop my foot up if I'd buy a footstool, and ice it at work if I only had a cold pack. Then it occurred to me that if I keep making these little 5 block trips, adding one or two more a day, I'll be walking a mile or two by the time I leave. And if I use my shopping pelf as free weights, I can do my upper body workout in the process. Yes, I am become Efficiency, Ameliorator of Time Constraints.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bali, hi!

Now that I can walk a little without the brace on my foot, expanding my range a block at a time, I'm starting to sketch out my two weeks in Bali. I'm going there because a dear friend has her home there, and she's been nagging me to go since she moved there. Now that she's threatening to move to yet another island altogether, the pressure is on, Bali now or never. Husband can't make it, so I'm on my own. This will be the first time I've spent that much time on a plane, seen the other side of the Pacific, been to a country where christians are few and far between, the first time I've left New York for thanksgiving... oh, you get the idea.

I want to climb the volcano. I know, broken feet are pretty lousy trail companions. But I'm going to build up my endurance. I have three weeks. And it's a pretty small volcano. I hear the trail is actually shorter than Breakneck Ridge, the mountain where I cracked the metatarsal in the first place.

Temper that with the snorkeling, the beach time, the touristy stuff, I think I'll be plenty busy.

Monday, October 26, 2009


That's where I've been. Surrounded by soft cottony zoloft. No crying fits, no overwhelming desire to rehash what happened. I can smile when I think of Jesse. I remembered the day that I knew he was moving back home for law school, I remember those weeks when I knew, and felt a glow as if I were pregnant. It was my happy non-secret. Not long ago, I stood in the hallway between the two halves of our loft and I remembered standing there, knowing he was there behind the closed door, safe and sound. I remembered and I didn't cry. I smiled. Felt the cool shadow of that happiness on me again. My baby had come home.

Friday, October 2, 2009

What I'm working on...


I was stepping out of my favorite Joycean establishment (and by that I mean it looks like a set from The Dead) the other night to smoke my cherished CAO maduro (I tend to buy one cigar and keep it around for a few months in the humidor till I've wrung the anticipation (and probably too much of the moisture) out of it). Anyway, I was stepping out of the bar and up ahead of me was Ryan McMann (not his real name, but close enough). Hadn't seen him in at least 20 years, and he was more or less in the process of being asked kindly to exit.

He didn't seem particularly out of control, but that's the exasperating part of his charm. He's a big red headed Irish bull of a drinker so he probably didn't hear me call his name as he wrestled the air on his way to the cab his friend was about to drive off in without him. So that's where I caught up with him and proceeded, with a great deal of reiteration on his part, to catch up.

We managed between the two of us to get back to the sidewalk during the course of what can only be called a conversation for lack of a better term. Turns out he had just gotten back from watching a childhood friend die up at Mt Sinai, and was on his way to the wake, which in his terms meant the wake would probably be the next day, and he was trying to honor the occasion at every bar between here and Queens in the process.

When I said Ryan is big, I mean first, extremely tall and lank of jaw-- I remember now he once told me he had Marfan's syndrome, and spent a great deal of time at doctor's offices being studied and treated for it. But big too in other ways less obvious to the eye.

We hadn't been stationed at the sidewalk long before he'd learned I was married now and stopped asking for my phone number while simultaneously asking to meet my husband and petitioning the group next to us for a cigarette. What I heard was him mumbling and the group of kids simultaneously moving in and backing up a bit, wild eyed like nervous colts sniffing something new. He turns to me and says, "These crazy kids think I'm calling em a dirty name and I'm just askin for a fag!"

I give the group my maternal assessment-- they've never seen anything like Ryan before, they're all from good homes where no one keeps liquor or wears last season's shoes. Don't ask me what I said to calm them, but I'm sure by their reaction that they realized he was harmless. They skittered a little closer and one of them realizes what a fag is in his mind and hands him a cigarette.

This is a filter cigarette?! he asks as if it's not obvious. A filter? He rips the filter off it and mutters about the filter being what gives you cancer. The kids laugh and start to get a little comfortable and Ryan continues on his fag/fag theme and I realize as he's talking that two of the kids are actually gay, probably because one of them leans toward me as Ryan is rambling on and says we're partners, we're gay and I'm nodding and saying that's great, congratulations and Ryan is still oblivious when the kids amble off, but not before he begins a monolog (and in the ten years I knew him before the twenty in which I haven't seen him I had never heard him give off a shred of poetry, much less of all things Oscar Wilde, which made the colts even more skittish because Ryan keeps repeating his aside which is "and I have no idea what men do with young boys," along with the much more innocuous, "1888." And he's in full Irish story mode, beginning with the nights of revelry and dissipation leading up to Wilde's crafting of the poem we're all now dreading to hear. But first Ryan must pay tribute to the long-suffering wife and kids and now Oscar's pulling up in front of the house in a horse and carriage in the cobblestone street and staggering in the door, breezing past his bewildered family to sit before his desk and pen the poem we're about to hear, if Ryan ever gets to the point. The kids are getting a little terrified that there'll be consequences if they interrupt him again (which could mean he's going to start over at the beginning or take a swing at one of us). The poem, it turns out, is The Harlot's House, and he declaims it quite well, for a man with whiskey and cigarettes for a voice and recent death weighing on his mind.

The kids breathe a sigh of relief when it ends. Exeunt kids. My husband shows up for introductions and we're treated to more of Ryan till he manages to forget he's already given us Yeats but at least it's He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. And each time dramatically lays the imaginary cloths at my feet, so it's a little embarrassing but not nearly so much as when he announces to the kids at his first recitation that he never slept with me and only wished he had.

The second time it gets a little annoying and I chafe a little at my bond of debt for what I owe him, just to stand here and let him talk before he staggers off to the next bar to try to forget his friend just died in front of him, a guy he'd known since he was five, they'd shot up together and cleaned up together and Ryan traded heroin for whiskey but for his friend it was all too late. He'd already gotten Hepatitis C, and his clock was ticking.

And I worry silently when he tells me this part, that Ryan's clock is ticking too, and he's pushing the hands faster and faster tonight. This bothers me because despite all the boozy blindness of his rambling and his big scariness, Ryan is as good as men get. He's telling my husband about his life in the Village, he plays some kind of music, I don't know what, he was friends with this and that jazz musician, and I'm thinking back to why I knew him from behind in the dark from thirty feet away and took the trouble to hobble after him with my foot splinted in this giant boot. And it has nothing to do with who he knew or what he played or recited or even that he made his money shucking stack on stack of the Daily News out of the back of a truck since he was a beanpole kid with barely the arms for it.

No. I met Ryan because he was a regular at my bar in another life I had back then, and he would stumble over to an unruly patron and whisper something to them and they'd put a big tip on my bar and walk out, expressionless. He'd hang out and tell stories I can't remember, and tipped well. And one night when I crashed at my girlfriend's loft and one of her other guests waited till we were all asleep to rape me, and I woke up and felt I was on fire, and everything hurt, not just the raw memory of what had happened, but the water of the shower on my skin, and the thought process that led me to take that shower instead of going to the cops, everything, even the air hurt me, and the next place I knew to go to in that part of town at that hour was Ryan's, and he made me breakfast and put me to bed and hovered over me like a mom and I knew that nothing else could hurt me that day. And I can still remember the icy white blue of the walls as the sun first hit them, as if that were all there was left in the world. And Ryan let me stay until I was ready to go, and never asked anything of me for it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The truth is

I didn't really understand what love meant until I lost Jesse. I don't think I can explain it to anyone in a meaningful way, except to say that you never really know a thing until you've been enveloped in it and then lost it, like water, or air. It's a horrible thing to say, I suppose, to tell people that love is nothing like what you think it is. That's it's a scam of nature. A great, important scam. A dirty trick nature plays on us: you love a person or thing because that's what makes you protect it most fiercely, that's what makes you willing to stand in their place and take whatever comes, past death. You feel the payoff, love makes you feel good, you seek it out, you nurture it. You look for ways to make it even better. But the payoff of love is not entirely for you. You may think it is. You think love is a positive emotion, that it makes you happy, it makes your loved ones happy. You think it's good. You think your bargain with life is that if you love someone and protect them -- if you're good, so to speak, you will be loved and protected too. Those you love will be part of your tribe, support you, that among the people you share love with, there will be some kind of comfort and perhaps even happiness. You don't think about what will inevitably happen. You can't really. If life lifts the veil of contentment (you may not call it that or experience it as that, I'm sure, but believe me, it's a relative term) from your eyes for a moment, and you see what's coming, how will you go on? In a sense, you only torture yourself if you try to cheat nature and see the world for what it really is.

The payoff of love is that some of what we love so flagrantly, heedlessly, intensely, that some of that will survive. Whatever causes us to love doesn't care if not all our babies make it. It doesn't care if we die from losing love. It cares that somehow, love makes some of us survive. It is designed to make us keep loving no matter how horrible and ugly it gets, because love is the bridge between now and tomorrow. It's the only way that human beings, for example endure. You don't believe that, you counter with the example of insects, bacteria, viruses, all these things that live and survive without love and how many more of them there are than us, you think of what propels their races forward. But it's because we aren't those things that love matters most for us. You think it's because we're smarter or faster, or stronger, but it's love that keeps mothers tethered the whole mindless scheme that brought you here, to read these words.

So that trite analogy of humanity to something insectlike, or microbe-like on the planet is wrong, in a sense. We're something else. Think of how the cells in your body all pitch in and divide the labor of keeping you alive, live and die in some forgotten corner of your body, for the sake of you walking around the earth, to whatever purpose you think you chose. Or those parts of you go to war with you and you die.

Human love is nature's way of stepping up the game.

There's a song I can't listen to without crying.. I've had the cd for years, and never knew the words because it's in a Portuguese dialect of Mozambique. I always thought it was a lullabye and you can see why from the sample. I wanted so badly to conquer that reaction of misery to this song, so that I could listen to it and enjoy it without breaking down. So I tried googling it, free translation sites, Web sites that mention the singer and the band, just blindly feeling around for some clue as to the meaning of this song beyond what it means to me inside. Today I read a brief translation of it that goes "Whenever I think of lazy people, I think of Cecilia."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Something about the end of the world.

It ended before I knew it with a phone call in the kitchen just back from my first trip to the Caribbean, that was supposed to be a surprise birthday trip but a buddy had spilled the beans back in March. The phone rang at say 6 pm, it was July 10, 2004, a Saturday and I don’t ever have to check a calendar because you always know where you are when your world ends.

I picked it up. My college son, Jesse was on the other line. “Mom, don’t freak out.” And I knew it was bad, but college bad, not the other kind, right? “Okay, I’m sitting down,” I said. Mom don’t freak out but I have leukemia.

So that was the beginning. I was on the next plane from New York to Chicago. When his girlfriend’s mom took him to the ER there it was for a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop. Nobody hit him. It just wouldn’t stop bleeding. I thought of him in cargo shorts and low rise sneakers lugging bikes up and downstairs at his job, bumping himself, bruising. How easily he could have bled to death just doing his job.

They wouldn’t let me near him without a mask and gloves. He was livid that life threw this at him, right before his senior year. Wry, ironic in his suburban hospital room with nice carpets and a view of a lawn he would never walk on and a tree he would never touch.

We moved him downtown, the local hospital didn’t have facilities to treat APL. It was pure luck the admitting doctor recognized it in his blood, had seen one case before, once, and never forgotten. Another day, week, he’d have been dead. Chicago gave him two more years. He went back to school that fall. Chemo tube in his chest, he went to class. They let him use a handicap sticker for his car so he didn’t have to walk far, but the insurance didn’t consider this a disability that would let him stay insured and off his feet while he fought for his life.

But he did it.

And the rest of the end came later. After he moved in with his girlfriend whom he’d loved since freshman year, after they went to Europe together and nearly starved trying to stick to their vegetarian diets (in Paris, by God). After they skydived together and had the sense to take pictures so even now I can see the shot of him apprehensive at the door of the cabin, the shot of him holding in his terror as the plane climbs, and the wide grin as he leaps out into nothing.

The world doesn’t end in a split second, see. It rolls around a while before it comes to complete stop. So Jesse got to graduate and he got into law school furious it wasn’t the one he wanted but he’d try again later after he could get off the oxycontin for the endless pain in his back that no doubt started with the bone marrow samples they drilled out of him with an ice pick while I watched. He got through the first semester. Everyone loved him because he made law funny. Don’t ask me how; this is what they told me at his funeral.

Yes. He had all that before the world ended. When the nurse at the new hospital called me to come in even though I was sick and not allowed to be around him because he had no white blood cells, and I thought they needed me to sign some papers and she said no, just because you need to be here. And I knew and didn’t know what exactly she was saying. The world is a juggernaut that must destroy everything in its path before it can stop.

He was already gone when I got there. Induced coma. I called to him anyway as they wheeled him from the single room he’d had to fight them to give him, that he’d only spent a weekend in, while the drugs made him hallucinate he was anywhere else, back in the semiprivate. Watching a movie. The one weekend I couldn’t be there because I had a cold but now that didn’t matter and it would never matter again that I wasn’t there when he looked up from the toilet seat at the nurse and gave her his wry grin, his ironic take on his own death happening already in his brain. What I called to him was, I’m here Jesse. I won’t leave.

And still the world wasn’t quite done with us. They wheeled him down to the ICU and everyone who knew him or me flew in or drove or took a cab or somehow found us and we slept on the floor of the unit like gypsies. Kids from his high school, his law school. Generations of my family. None of us knew what to do, least of all me, the unofficial leader. And we believed in everything that couldn’t be true, that his brain would stop bleeding, that he could hear us. That he could wake up. That this could end any other way than how it did. I was a terrible leader. I wouldn’t leave him. I didn’t care if he came back without a voice or brain. I didn’t care if it took him months to die. I wouldn’t leave him. I threw away all my stupid voodoo healing amulets. They meant nothing anymore. Then I retrieved them from the garbage and tried to put them back together as if that somehow would reverse this. Nothing does. Because next the doctor with her pleading eyes comes to me as if it’s somehow my fault Jesse’s heart is still pumping and she says I’ve got to stop this. And I let her.

She won’t let me stand with him while they pull the tubes out of him, but compromises and I stand on the other side of the curtain and hold his dear swollen foot without seeing what his body is subjected to. I hold onto him like Thetis knowing there is only one end to this awful bargain of a world. They clean him up and let me back in and his heart is still pumping. He hasn’t got enough in him to breathe or even know he isn’t breathing, but it still beats. Slower until it fades. And that is the last of him and my world.

I sometimes wonder what life is beyond this one. Or how or in what fashion one might find his way there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You never really know a person till you share an inheritance

My Memere used to say that all the time, but she was from an old New Orleans family where any will was both an admission and denial of blood. When Jesse died, he had no will, what person that age would? I was the next of kin. So it was up to me to tie up the loose ends and settle everything. Relatively simple if you don't take the emotions into consideration.

Now though, my Indiana grandma's will is on the table. Different but just as ancient family: on her side no one had traipsed through the wilderness driven from the wintry flank of Nova Scotia to the low savage swamps of Louisiana. Nor had they sailed from war-torn Alsace looking for a teaching job in the French colony. No, her people had come with the rest of the early country, fought in the Revolutionary war, escaped hanging in Germany, or migrated from Ireland at the famine. A different strand of the European vine.

My grandma had five children, including my dad, who passed away at 45, when she was in her late 60s. I wear her shoes, I guess. My dad was the oldest, the stubborn, the loyal, the one who left, but came back and stood by my grandparents ever after.

The remaining siblings had been our surrogate parents when we were kids. We spent summers together, on weekends my dad would drive us to Grandma's and we'd spend at least a day with everyone, share meals, some ritualistic farm chores almost as ceremonial as they were practical. We bonded with our farm inheritance by tilling, planting corn, gathering berries, milking cows, pulling weeds. Work was love, was family. I don't remember much fighting then, just sharing of work and play, but I was a kid and there was a kid's table in that house. There was also an outdoors we were sent to, during which times some of these long-term resentments must have been laid out and fondled and honored and brandished and cradled and nourished, like another set of kids themselves.

Must have been my parents and grandparents protecting us, they were the ones sending us outside. The uncles and aunts careened more or less through life, didn't finish college, got into debts, premarital pregnancies, scrapes with the law and life, before settling down in the more or less forgiving but never forgetting landscape of southern Indiana, where their family had been for so many generations that our names appeared in history books simply because we were still there.

But there were always resentments and rivalries, regardless of what Dad did to corral them before or after his death (they would all say, if your dad was still here none of this would happen, every time they feuded). Because when Grandma died, even though in her will she split everything equally and admonished them not to fight over the inheritance, they had already started the war. They'd started it before she even left the farm for the old age home. And it got worse every year, until it threatened to swallow my brother and sisters and me up in it, and the few cousins I could still call friends. And now, four years later, the thing those uncles and aunts have been nurturing in their hearts has reached us.

They think we're going to let them use our share of Grandma's money to pay for their feud over it.

They've forgotten that we're my father's children.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Trying to be rational.

Not a good end to the summer for me. Problems on the home front that I can't resolve because they're not, in the long run, my problems. It's harder to look in the mirror and fix what you're missing, than it is to see what others are doing wrong, but you have a lot less control over the latter than the former.

I wonder if that's why I blamed myself so much for all that went wrong between Jesse and me when he was a teenager: if it was something I did wrong, then I could fix that. I was the grownup, so no matter what Jesse did, thought, heard or was told, no matter what, it was up to me to figure it out and fix it. But the clock ran out before we could sit down and make sense of his teens. We were just at the beginning, him still angry, but willing to put it aside, to live in the same house with me. Me still scared, angry a little myself, but able to talk to him a little, trying to feel my way toward reconciling. And Mr. Nomist so positive that we would work it out.

Fall is coming. The beginning of his end. This time, in his last year, we were trying to get him and his girlfriend to come to dinner on us. He would have none of it, no matter how we tried to make it work out; he would barely talk in the hallway. But we ran into each other-- at the grocery store, on the street, and we would talk as intimately as if we were sitting around a table together, close, sweet, hopeful. He had a hard side, that kid.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm not here.

I'm really too drained to write. Ideas well up in me and I can't make it here fast enough to get them down before I'm overwhelmed. Too much to say? Too much I can't say? I don't know. College Nomist left for Europe. I texted him, "fly safe, my heart" and cried, and felt it must embarrass him to get such a text from his mom at his age. And then he texted me back "Landed." So I tried to play it cool and not text him again, I'd wait till he texted me so he'd have some peace from the helicopter. That night I woke up at 330 and lay there fretting that he hadn't texted me as he'd said he would. It was already the next day over there in Hungary. Finally I said out loud, to Jesse and my dad, look out for him, make sure he's ok.

Less than a minute later I got a text from him-- Sry i know its late i am just saying send me at ext So I knw ur getting these.

So I said, out loud, Thank you guys.

And I don't even believe in this stuff. I don't care if it's a coincidence. It just happened this way.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I've built a kind of shell in my loft, I guess, consisting of boxes of stuff I may never use again. What I wore when I weighed less than I ever will again. Jesse's clothes, his debate trophies. Baby stuff. Boxes of the boys' father's paintings. His writings. My writings. I seal it up and kick it behind me, but it's not really gone. It's there, only I don't see it. College Nomist (that's what I've taken to calling Jesse's brother) has his own boxes, so I don't feel so bad. He's packing up and leaving to travel around Europe for two months, starting in ten days. I'm terrified. I tried out all those things people say to comfort mothers when their kids leave: plenty of kids who aren't as smart as he is have done this and survived-- but you know? That doesn't really work for me. I said the same thing when Jesse went off to Michigan.

I'm trying not to think about this. I'm happy for him that he will have this experience. I try to think of it this way, of him, later in life, telling someone he's getting to know, "When I was a junior in college, I took a couple of months off and hitchhiked all over Europe and had these adventures...."

But somewhere in the back of my mind is a box marked, what if something goes wrong.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twenty five. Law school graduate. Married? Not yet? My grandkids? Not yet. Somewhere in my heart his life goes on.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How I've come to look at it.

Because all religious belief, including christianity in every flavor I've encountered is, from a psychological standpoint indistinguishable from any other irrational belief (superstition, or magical thinking, for example), I've come to see it as protective, or perhaps a defense mechanism. First though, defense mechanisms get bad press. They aren't always harmful or unhealthy. We all use them to get by in life. After all, you can't spend your whole life completely focused on the full reality of human existence: it's too much. You need to be able to buffer yourself.

That said, I think one thing most religions have in common is the comforting notion that there is someone bigger than you who makes your life possible, who looks out for you to some degree, expects great things out of you. Many have the component of transcendent joy in serving this greater being. Most include an awesome fear of trespassing against it. All of these elements are far too much like a young child's relationship to a parent for me to see it as anything but an adultified version. A comforting construct: God as the Parent who will kick your enemy's ass, and give you paradise, if you're very, very good.

Next, it seems people are neurologically predisposed to find a God construct. There are areas of the brain triggered by prayer and/or meditation in fMRIs of religious folks of all walks. There's the God helmet, too, which triggers a sensation of God's presence when worn, simply by triggering the right hemisphere temporal and parietal lobes. There are other similar studies of similar phenomena. Now, I'm not saying that I think that just because your brain is wired for something, that that means the original thing is real or not-real. The brain is wired for dreams and hallucinations, which I think we can all agree have limited reality (that is, they exist, but only within our own brains). This doesn't mean that I think all these phenomena exist solely in the brain either: there's evidence that some out of body experiences are objectively real, even though you can have a fake one fairly easily, according to Michael Schermer.

When I was in the throes of unbearable grief over Jesse, my psychiatrist kept pushing me to at least try to believe in God and follow a religion, on the theory that it would make me happier, and cushion the loss. I tried to point out to her that there aren't many religions that would accept a dead atheist like my son into heaven, so what exactly would I be forcing myself to hope and pray for?

I've been a serious, deep believer. I know how seductive and convincing it all is. I guess what I want to say is that I don't think believers are stupid, or delusional, necessarily. I think we all have things we believe in with less than sparkling pure evidence. For many, the intuitive sense of Godness is all the proof they need. It's not meant to be logical. For others, that which is good about, say, the Bible, adds to their proof. Again, doesn't stand up to logical tests, but it's an understandable framework, and not stupid, just limiting.

The test is whether the belief is useful, helpful and positive, versus unhelpful, destructive or limiting in some unnecessary way. Maybe God is the ultimate woobie. But woobies and pacifiers when used properly won't kill anyone and they aren't contributory to or indicative of idiocy of themselves.

Got a guitar handy?

Usually when I make up a song I don't remember it for very long. But this one comes back to me all the time. I have to force it out of my mind if I'm in public. Today is Jesse's brother's birthday (I have to give him a nickname so he's not always in Jesse's orbit this way). As I was walking home last night I remembered the day of his birth, and how easy his was, compared to Jesse's, so easy that I started laughing in the middle of it.

I loved being their mother.

This corny song I wrote for Jesse

I hate these corny songs
That make everybody cry
So I don’t have any excuse for this one
It’s just been so hard
since you’ve been gone--

So I try to see you near me
I try to feel you near me
I try to know you’re near me
I try to see you everywhere.

I was walking in the park
Last night and everywhere I looked
I saw a little bit of you
In every face that passed me by

I saw the children you could have had
I saw the child that you once were
I saw the father you’d have been
I saw you old, and slow and grey

And I could feel you near me
I could see you near me
I could hear you near me
And I
Saw you everywhere.

I went off the pills
And in my head I heard this song
And there’s so much I want to say
And hear from you, I’ll never hear you

But I
feel you near me
I feel you near me
And I
I see you everywhere.

I want to tell you
about your brother and your friends
They’re all doing well
And when I see them it’s a little gift
A gift from you, a bit of you.

That’s when we feel you near us
We feel you near us
And we
See you everywhere.

This last verse is hard
Too much like saying goodbye again
Feeling your heart stop
Under my hand

So I'll pretend you're near me
I'll pretend I hear you
I'll pretend you're near me
And I'll see you everywhere.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Right after Jesse was diagnosed with a relapse, I wrote a post titled Fearless. We had been through this before, we were going to beat it again. His spirits kept mine going. We were going to be fine. The leukemia was an annoyance, a returning nuisance, after the bone marrow transplant, all would be well. He'd never have to go through it again. Then later, when we realized his blood counts were worse than we thought, when the pain got worse, when the infection started, and it hit him that he might die after all, we only had a few days for him to confront the possibility of his death, to fear it, make peace with it. Ignore it, and live each minute as if it were just like any other. I prayed all the time. Every step was a prayer. Everyone I knew prayed.

Yesterday I was walking home from work, and remembered that his last moments of consciousness were a wry smile at the nurse, who had found him sitting on the john, slumped against the wall. Dying. She had asked him if he was alright and he smiled. And then he was gone. They pumped him with drugs to induce a coma. By the time I got to the hospital he was out cold on a gurney, getting prepped to go to the neurological ICU. Intubated. The MRI showed a fountain of blood in his brain, destroying everything that was Jesse. Obliterating memory, movement, thought, dream, breath. All that was left for days was his heart. It stood up to everything, until they pulled the tubes out of his lungs, and then only slowly did it give up. My hand on his chest, feeling those last beats, as precious to me, each one, as his first.

It wasn't the first time I'd been that close to death. I was there when my father died. I kept him alive till the ambulance crew arrived. I knew the color and smell of death, the taste of it, the sound of the death rattle, and lived with that for another 28 years. Longer than my life had been till then. And I had Jesse alive, with me for most of those.

Two years later, those last moments with Jesse stick to me. But then, his whole life is mine now. I'm the only person left alive who remembers it all, or most of it. Everyone else is dead, or born or came into his life later. I will carry you. Up until I lost him, I worried about both boys, about losing them, about what would happen if they lost me. It kept me up at night, fearing for their safety, praying to God to protect them, praying to my Dad to look over them and keep them safe and happy. As if my thoughts, from the moment they were conceived, somehow kept them in this world.

Now that seems so foreign. Someone else did that. Someone misguided worried about things she could not control, believed she had a way to trick life, to fool death, to beat the odds like so many do. Now I don't fear for my future, for my life. I don't expect or believe God or my dead will protect us. The only life that matters to me is my son's, now, and I have given up believing I can do much but be part of that. I can't protect him, only hope that he cares for himself. It's not for me to worry, but to trust him on his own journey, however long or brief.

I don't see my own death as such a terrible thing anymore. Either you are alive or dead. (I could never understand this until recently, and now I can't remember what it was like to see it any other way). The blessing of death is that you know no more loss. Whether part of you carries on or not your time here is done. There will be no more goodbyes. The fear in the pit of my stomach is gone. That writhing, constant weight of worry lifted. You don't have to worry about death, and worry won't stop it coming.

So, no more fear of death. Acceptance of my own at least. I realize that the world works this way: I don't resent that I will go. The world must be this way, and there are nations rising up to take my place as I leave. Who would want to change that? It's fine.

Imagine how surprised I was when someone told me there was something wrong with me for feeling this way. That therapy would fix it. Why would I want to change my peace with mortality? What is there to gain, in wanting to live longer than my time here? What good did the fear of death do me? I was angry that this person thought I should go back, give up my newfound understanding. It took days for me to realize that if I had been who I was after my father's death, I probably would have said the same thing to me. I believed that all my fear and worry somehow kept my world spinning around, kept me and my children alive, kept us in God's eye. But death and I are a little better acquainted now. Life is what's sad and terrible and necessary. Death is just the other side of that, not really a door so much as another step.

Friday, June 19, 2009


That was the title of the second show I went to. The trip through space took a bit longer than I expected, add to that the cab ride through Manhattan and I nearly missed "Nothing"-- which was a nice after-journey.

There were several astrophysicists on stage, including John Hockenberry as moderator, Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek, cosmologist John Barrow, and physicists Paul Davies and George Ellis. Going back to the beginning, or the middle, which is where I came in, Frank was saying "before the big bang, there was no before, but there was some physics before space time. There had to be rules in order for the big bang to occur."

The moderator rummaged around for possible energy sources for the big bang, and pointed out that gravity and electromagnetism work in a vacuum. As they discussed the nature of the nothing between planets, Frank said that at some point, we'd had to stop thinking of space as nothing: we found out we'd have better laws of physics if we ascribed properties to space. He then drew the analogy between space and water. Fish physicists might not understand the properties of water until you took it away. And then they'd realize all the things it does. Imagine space as nothing, do the math, and then you realize when it doesn't work, that there has to be something there.

The moderator said, so "nothing" is an active space.

Frank then launched into a description of everything you can find in nothing. Quarks and antiquarks, condensate wiggles that produce pions. Electrons and positrons pairing up and then disappearing. Higgs condensate by the way, is what he means, and he's pretty sure it can be detected with the large hadron collider. Everyone onstage loved the large hadron collider.

Everything in the universe jitters, he told us. Higgs bosuns, pions, quark interactions. Particles and antiparticles come together briefly, then annihilate. It happens constantly [this is why the guy earned a Nobel prize btw]. The thing is, when an electron and a positron meet and annihilate, we're talking about an event that takes place in 10 to the -21 seconds, in a space that's 10 to the minus -10 cm. Hard to measure, except indirectly.

But as Paul Davies reminded us, "finding nothing is not the same as not finding anything."

He related the quantum vacuum to some of the properties of that antique concept, ether. Quantum ether, he said, is mostly frictionless, except in the case of black holes. A black hole vacates the region it occupies. That is, it scrubs a big hole in space.

In 1975 Stephen Hawking told a conference full of physicists that black holes glow; they steadily evaporate heat until they disappear. In the quantum vacuum, that space has negative energy compared to the rest of space, so energy flows into the black hole, causing it to shrink. The spin of the black hole radiates energy in a nonuniform way, creating a kind of vacuum friction.

John Barrow added that virtual pairs of particles/antiparticles on the boundary of a black hole, rather than annihilating, hang half in and half out of a black hole, so that the half that stays out is observedly real. (Which another speaker scoffed at and said, you can't localize those particles!)

Barrow responded that you can apply force to a vacuum, stop the particles from annihilating and becoming nothing, so that positive charges pop out of the vacuum: you're looking for electrons shrouded by positrons; the effect is like a pool ball wrapped in felt: you'll see less deflection of another electron. The strength of the effect is dependent on the energy in the environment.

George Ellis points out that the vacuum has both size and shape, and has properties that determine how big things are, and how time curves. The vacuum, he says, is the rule book of all the properties of space.

The moderator guides us back to the big bang. If there had to be rules for it, how were they different?

Paul Davies says, It'd be strange if the rules that operated before the big bang only operated before it. The big bang is the origin of time, space, matter and energy; if it was natural, it had to have rules; there are laws that governed it.

Moderator: So the big bang was nothing? Or a door?

Paul: it wasn't a space/time singularity, there are many other "doors."

John Barrow: It's a pure assumption that the big bang was the beginning of the universe at all. The universe may not have a beginning in time.

Paul: Even if there's no beginning, you have to explain it. It can't be turtles all the way down.

Moderator: Leibnitz' question, "why is there something, rather than nothing" is the wrong question. We should be asking, what is nothing? Why did something come about?"

Paul: Nothing is an only child.

Frank: Laws aren't adequate to extrapolate past the big bang. Space is a medium; it's not empty, which opens up new possibilities. Materials propagated through space have very different properties. "Nothing" is so unstable that something spontaneously forms.

Moderator: doesn't that contradict entropy? If the natural state moves from nothing to something?

Frank: if you thing of nothing as something that possesses energy, or carries attractive forces between particles, that moves them-- that creates energy. You put them back together, and things happen. That's not the same as reversing the second law.

John: what was once merely philosophy has entered a harder environment where you can test it and list it more exquisitely.

We don't know if vacuum energy defines precisely the relationship between density and pressure; is the universe being accelerated by this? or something almost like it?

Paul: Now we're talking about dark energy, the energy of empty space, of quantum effects. Is it speeding up or slowing down? You can't know how the universe is moving, if it's on the borderline -- only if the relationship between density and pressure is large enough, that you will go on expanding.

George: --and we don't know if it's likely to reverse or not. That's what we're looking at with the LHC and the ion collider on Long Island. [he makes an aside about people who worry about them destroying the universe with those things] You could nucleate a bubble of black hole material. If a black hole expands at the speed of light and engulfs the universe...well, you won't know it. Or you'll see it but you won't have time to realize what happened.

Frank: Nature has been doing more violent, extreme things in space than we can do here.

Then after a pause for effect, he adds: Space is filled with bond pairs, quarks and antiquarks, sigma mesons, all these interactions derive consequences you can check. Pressure changes, how particles move, oscillations, vibrations we can see as pi mesons [if you're lost, a pion and a pi meson are the same thing; he's trying to say they're not making all this stuff up, and that they're going to find all this stuff one way or another].

George: Space has size, it expands and vibrates. The vibrations are associated with the way structure is formed; expansion determines the shape of matter.

Even the audience questions were interesting. Well, not the questions so much as the answers: one dreamer asked if there were fluctuations in time, if it ever moved backwards or changed speed. Frank answered: we've done well so far by assuming that if it does happen, we can ignore it. John added that the universe is blind to the direction of time, expansion is constant, and doesn't distinguish future from past.

Another scifi reader asked if consciousness affects physics [I think she thought that had something to do with the uncertainty principle, or maybe the laws of attraction? but I can't be sure]. Frank's response?

"There's no evidence consciousness affects physics...Well, only in the sense that if your standards are low enough you can never be wrong."

The next question had to do with (gulp)external reality [I'm sure you can imagine], and the answer was this: it would be shocking if our senses, designed to give us a way of functioning in the world, had exhausted reality. They only sense a very small sample of reality. Where we see nothing, there's actually lots of stuff. Even with technology we can't see all of it, but we can see what Nature didn't expect us to see.

Observations are not recorded only on our consciousness, but on photographic plates, etc, and then we interpret that. Are we biased, distorting? Yes, there's interpretational bias, but there is a reality beyond that. Reality is impressed upon us by the existence of our own senses, by the evolution of our organs to sense it. They had to be evolving in response to something real. We have ears and eyes that evolved to adapt to an outside reality that has to exist separate of our ability to sense it.

The last question of the night was about string theory. Frank couldn't help taking a dig: string theorists are important, he said, but they "haven't made serious contact with empirical reality yet."

Oooh, Nobel slamdowns are sweet.

So, I guess the message of Nothing is this: you can't think of space as just the empty, three D background of stellar matter. It's (as Einstein would say) more like a three dimensional fabric that can twist and flex, that is affected by the mass of the objects in it, and that affects those objects in profound and measurable ways. And if you can't figure out a way to measure it, Frank will probably make fun of you.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Across the Universe

Thursday was the first day of the World Science Festival, and I was lucky enough to score tickets to what I consider the best event they've sponsored in two years of their existence, Navigating the Cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson, champion of Pluto's planetude and director of the Natural History Museum's Hayden Planetarium, arranged the spectacle: a digital compendium of images of the universe so detailed and vast that you can literally bring binoculars to see more of the sights. As Tyson told us, "No frontier of cosmic discovery is beyond our reach. .. They put pieces of this [digital universe] in space ships, but we'll see the whole thing .. a hand-guided journey through the universe." The dome of the planetarium will become the night sky, and then something else altogether.

I admit I got a little tired of hearing about it at this point, but once the introductions (Brian Abbot, the joystick operating Manager of the Digital Universe, Jim Gates, Lawrence Krauss, and Evalyn Gates, Queen of Dark Matter) were done and the lights went down, we were set free to roam the vast depths of space. Brain sent us rolling around the night sky, first hovering weightless over Manhattan so Neil could show us Broadway (inexplicable).Then up to the moon's orbit we fly; Larry tells us the energy we see from the sun took a billion years to travel to its surface from its center.

We drift backward away from home, past ring after ring of planetary orbit. Yellow jagged trajectories marked where Voyagers 1 and 2 looped their separate, gravity-warped ways out of the solar system, where, Neil said, they will later be discovered by an alien culture and repurposed before finding humans again...past Pluto, which makes Neil sigh sadly. Such a fate, but be fair, its orbit is so akilter, and it's so small...and then we're in our familiar arm of the Milky Way so that Larry can blow smoke up our asses: we are all star children, connected to the cosmos, he told us. Every atom was once a star.

When the universe began, he says, hydrogen, helium and lithium (which some of you may be more familiar with), were the only atoms in existence. The rest of the elements were created in the stars. 200 million stars have blown up, he told us. you are only here because of them. Every atom in your body has been through a supernova. Eery hundred years, he says, per galaxy, there's a supernova.

Brian drags us unceremoniously out of reach of our galaxy and into the vast reaches, etc. so we can get a look at Alpha and Beta Centauri. Crap. It's dizzying. I can't imagine how much faster than light we'd have to travel. we're surrounded by tiny, blurry, glowing dots. Those dots, Larry tells us, are not stars. They're galaxies. Images of galaxies that we've taken with one instrument or another, right where they belong. Larry tells Brian to show us the patches of completed star maps, and suddenly entire strips of the universe go white. Those, he tells us, are not just bald patches those are the areas of space where we've mapped everything we can detect. Behind each galaxy, another galaxy, and another, so that the whole strip is blotted to white.

The ratios of distance to speed, so you know how fast this is all moving, is this: galaxies that are twice as far away are moving twice as fast. Galaxies that are three times as far away are moving 3x as fast. That's what makes physicists postulate dark energy, a repulsive force driving the universe apart, the opposite, in a sense, of gravity. And since the movement of everything away from each other is speeding up, not slowing down, it's possible all the objects in the universe will at some point exceed the speed of light, which means we'll no longer be able to see them. The rest of the galaxies will disappear from the night.

Why is the universe like this, he asks us. Because we are here to observe it. And there is a structure to all these galaxies. They develop from a general haze to form filaments. Within the filaments, Evalyn tells us, are groups of galaxies bound together by gravity, tumbling along in space all tethered by dark matter. There is, she tells us 50 times as much mass in the universe as what we can see, but it doesn't shine.

The big bang, she says, is an opaque wall. When the big bang occurred she says, it ws so hot that no atom could exist, only protons, neutrons, plasma. You can't see past that old charged plasma. What you can see is the cosmic microwave background radiation. Discovered, Jim adds ruefully by a couple of guys in New Jersey who weren't even looking at it. Relax, Neil tells him, you'll get your Nobel.

Jim says, you know that static on an old tv, 19% of that static is microwave radiation from the big bang. He shows us our options about the shape of the universe, based on the form of the CMB. Only in a flat universe are the bumps of the CMB the same pattern and size as what we see out at the end of our ability to see. But if this is the correct form of the universe, then 70% of it is missing. Empty space, he tells us, weighs something. Larry and Jim want you to know that they're interested in the shape of the universe because this is how they're going to figure out how the Universe will end. If it's curved, that means light goes around and back to its source (if you look far enough, you'll see the back of your own head). If it's open, and infinite, matter will expand forever. If it's closed, matter will collapse again into a lump. If it's too big, gravity won't be able to travel across it. Gravity is restricted to the speed of light, like everything else. But the size of the universe affects the speed of light.Only in a flat universe is gravity and light speed at the right balance.

Then Evalyn shows us how to look at the universe through Einstein's telescope. 349 exoplanets (that is, they're outside our system) have been discovered so far, using the light bending properties of gravity predicted by Einstein. She brings up an image of the planets we've found, pointers like daisy petals around them, centered around Earth because that's where we were when we found them through gravitational microlensing. It's simple. You look at a star and you can tell by the way its light bends that something is disrupting it. By observing this over time you can tell that this something orbits around the star. And you can use this lensing phenomenon to find dark matter, too.

She tells Brian to drag us cursor like over to Ursa Major, and there we float, while she shows us a bundle of galaxies, all traveling and interacting together gravitationally. They're bound together by a huge mass of dark matter, and those identical looking quasars are actually reflections of one quasar among the many galaxies embedded in this sea of dark matter. You can tell by watching them over time. An event in one is echoed in all of them. And dark matter affects time. The light varies in quasars so you can see the patterns of variation and how long it takes to be reflected -- longer than it takes for light to travel. Then she shows us a series of galaxies, each surrounded by a blue halo. Each blue ring, she says, is another galaxy. a few billion light years behind. The closer galaxy and lumps of dark matter bend the light from behind it. lensing it so that it forms a halo, called an Einstein ring. The first one was seen in 1987. The lens is made out of space time.

Dark matter forms a web she tells us, 4-5 million light years across. Galaxies travel in knots in this cosmic web, in those filaments I mentioned that have gathered out of the earlier cosmic fog of matter. You can see it through gravitational lensing: when light travels through dark matter, it's altered, so you can trace out the shape of the dark matter, and figure out what it looks like. You can measure its effect, plot it out in charts. In other words, you can "see" it because its gravity warps spacetime, warps light, warps the very form of all the cosmos.

And if you ever wanted to visit the empty space between the known cosmos and the cosmic microwave background radiation, here's your ticket.

Jai guru dev om.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Men Yelling.

It was pouring, thunder, lightning, and dark as night this morning. I waited for the worst to pass and stepped outside with a golf umbrella and knee high galoshes. Not three doors down from mine I could hear a man screaming in fury. "Move it! You fucking assholes! You morons! Move it now you stupid idiots!" and on in that vein as I got closer to the corner store. I looked in the crowd-sized windows and saw an older man standing in front of a line of workers, all, including him holding a long granite countertop, and in front of them, a couple of guys scrambling to move some bakery racks out of the way. The depth of the man's voice was the only thing that kept it from qualifying as a scream, but when I saw him, he seemed almost serene, except for the contortions of his mouth required to make that volume of noise. I didn't stop, but there was plenty of opportunity to hear him continue his berating, enough so that as I turned the corner, another worker entering the store saw my reaction, half-grimaced and rolled his eyes almost imperceptibly, acknowledging my reaction to the abuse.

There was something almost transcendent about the scene. I flashed on a simultaneous history of crappy bosses, cruel teachers, my angry father, my ex, strangers in a rage anywhere, all these angry voices and their contorted faces.

A few blocks up the next street, as I was maneuvering my gigantic umbrella under a leaky scaffolding, a man coming the other way began yelling as he stepped up onto the curb. Not really looking at anyone, just yelling to the rest of us passersby: get the sidewalk clear! Clear the goddamn sidewalk so people can walk!

I have no idea how many of us he was yelling at, holding his elbows up almost to his shoulders and threshing at everyone around him as he walked.

And I thought of an exercise I'd participated in a few weeks ago, something meant to help teachers learn how to speak to children. In it we arranged a set of 8 chairs in a ring, facing outward. 8 adults stood on the chairs. Three other adult participants were told to walk up to each adult "teacher," now several feet taller than us, and say "I'm a child, and I just want to belong."

Those of you who know Rudolf Dreikur's work will be familiar with that idea: kids who are misbehaving are sending you a quite different message than the actual behaviors themselves might indicate. The behaviors and the typical adult reaction are so ingrained that Dreikurs made a chart. If you have x reaction to the child, he's probably doing y for reason z. They pull on your shirt, they throw a tantrum, they sit in a corner dull eyed, they demand attention, all because what they really want is to matter, to be part of what's going on.You may wonder how Dreikurs could categorize children in these neat little boxes; people often asked him that very thing. His response was, "I don't keep putting them there, I keep finding them there."

This exercise was meant to cut away the extraneous distraction of the behavior itself, to get to the deeper meaning: include me. The "teachers" were told to give various dismissive or negative responses, the kind you and I might normally give an annoying or misbehaving child.

You may be able to imagine the effect of seeing a small woman standing before a now 8 foot tall man, her face scared and pleading, "I'm a child, and I just want to belong." You may be able to imagine the effect of this giant yelling back at her, "GET BACK TO YOUR SEAT! I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR CRAP! I TOLD YOU ALREADY YOU CAN'T COME UP HERE!" over and over as she cringes before him. But it's not the same as being there, seeing her fear and his fury. Knowing the two of them have been in these roles in life before. Remembering times we'd been in the shoes of either of them. Several of us burst into tears. But we could also see what had happened to this man. That he had lost everything by blowing up at her: his dignity, her trust. Our faith that he was only acting a role. Of all the "teachers" he was the one that stuck in all our minds, troubled us.

We later found out that the two of them were in-laws. He was her sister's husband. She told us that she'd been terrified to go up and say her line to him, because she knew what she was in for.

I thought of the men in that store, and how I felt when bosses treated me like that. How many people I knew who had become saboteurs of their own employers in the face of that, why Office Space had touched a nerve. What the tradeoffs were, for a pleasant boss or parent, for spouses who give up power struggles and the need to win. And I thought of the yelling boss in the store. What he was really saying, and how ignoring his words was the only way his employees could stand to work for him. How frustrated he must be to realize they tune him out. The cycle of ever escalating abuse, trying to get a reaction. Trying to matter. To belong.

How many ways do we undermine ourselves and our relationships because instead of listening to the message, we only hear the words?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

International Noodles

One of the things I love about New York is that you never have to eat alone, or with anyone else. Tonight, I had a girls' night out dinner at a restaurant known for its Pan-Asian noodle dishes. Of the four of us I was the only native born American, but because of my upbringing, I'm pretty sure I don't represent America the way my friends see it. Peachy, the bike racer who won silver twice in Jesse's name, is from Romania. She's leaving tomorrow for a few weeks in eastern Africa, and was in recovery from her malaria pills. GG, close to my old lady status, is Moroccan, and Mariana is from Ukraine. Somehow we got on the subject of Americans and geography. Gg had recently been asked if the pyramids were in Morocco. Then she told us about a coworker who wanted to honeymoon in Paris, without having any idea where it was. Honestly, if you didn't know Americans, would you think she was making it up? I told her, no wonder Parisians don't like Americans, coming to town not knowing where they are, not able to speak the language, and angry that Parisians don't act like Americans. Then when people come here, I said, Americans get mad because they don't know English, can't read signs, and don't act like Americans. Peach talked about how hard it was to go back to Romania and speak Romanian again, found herself translating directly from English, and scaring the locals: Can you break this 20? She asked a shopkeeper, who looked at her in horror. You want me to tear it in half???!

When I first got here, GG said, the only English I spoke was British English and I couldn't understand a word of American English. I

had to laugh. When I first got here from Ohio, I told her, I couldn't understand anyone here either. They talk too fast, they mumble...I kept telling people, could you please repeat that, slowly?

Now, GG sighed, when I go home they say I speak Arabic with an accent. My French has an accent, my English has an accent. Every language I speak, people look at me a little funny, trying to figure out where I'm from. Same with Mariana in Ukraine. People can tell right away she's not from there any more.

I didn't respond, but it brought me back to the week in New Orleans. I used to talk like that. If I stay there long enough, I will again. I listen to the voices around me and I can pick out who lives in the bayous of Louisiana-Mississippi, who lives in inland Mississippi, who lives in Metairie, who lives in the city--and sometimes what social group they belong to: working class Irish Catholic? Cajun? Creole? Lakeshore Protestant? Post-WWII southerners? you can tell. As we were passing Memere's old neighborhood one day, I could hear her voice reading the name of a nearby street: Neyrey, and I realized, right then, that you could hear in the way she said it, the vestige of her French accent, in how she pronounced the r. For a moment, she was there with us in the car. Neywwrhey. I told my son and imitated how she'd have said it, and he could hear it too.

When she was in the Chateau de Notre Dame rest home, I'd visit her, and speak to her in French. The first time, she cried to hear it. Later, she kept mistaking me for a childhood friend. I didn't see the point in correcting her all the time. What did she need of reality, at 99? She was much happier if we were both 12 and talking about the summer to come.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A little closer

I've had a migraine since I got back. It started in the taxi line & I tried to pretend it would go away. By last night I was nearly gagging in pain. Nothing I threw in its way stopped the momentum of the pain. Working from home today. The doctor was a disappointment (not as dire as that last cup of gumbo), but really, how much can anyone do? I started crying about Jesse in her office, and she started crying too. It made me feel better for some reason, not that she cried, but my crying. That is, it's kind of a relief when the other person cries, because it makes me feel like they get it, but at the same time, it's upsetting to hurt another person with the painful facts of my existence. But yeah, the migraine got a little better. Better enough that when I stepped out of her office I realized I was pretty close to Fordham, where Jesse had just started law school the fall before he died. I'd left a pair of sunglasses there in October, when I first talked to the development dept about Jesse's Fund. She's saved them for me this whole time. I pushed myself the few blocks, prisoner of my own will to move forward. feeling what he must have felt there: this wasn't what he had in mind, but it had its well-tended beauty. A row of white birches on an emerald lawn, broken by a gate. It felt safe, and clean and serious, like college campuses do. By the gate above a grating set in the grass stood a thin column of steam, about five feet high, writhing in place like a tethered spirit.

What happened to him? How could this have happened? How do you get some rare blood disease nobody gets and what did I do wrong? How could I have thrown myself in front of that trackless and invisible, that soundless speeding train? When will it take something else from me that I can't bear to lose?

I ran into one of his classmates on my way out. Amanda. Just barely recognized her, and she me. "Do you know Jesse... did you know Jesse Smith?" and the light went on in her eyes and we talked. She told me the dean's speech at commencement had been mostly about Jesse. I wish I'd been there, but it's probably best for me that I wasn't. How much, exactly do I allow me to torture myself. Listen: that's a bigger part of life than you think.

New Orleans

I remember that I took a notebook, but only wrote one page, in the car, on the way somewhere. Apparently you can't live your life and blog it too. Very disappointed at the crappy result of my foray to R&0 over in Bucktown. Who dumped the Worcestshire bottle into the gumbo pot? What was that fetid thing I bit into? It couldn't have been a shrimp. Shrimp must be bigger than a finger. And red. Mandina's has made it through the post-Katrina era with a reliable seafood gumbo. What gives, R&O?

Friday, May 15, 2009

My left foot

There's a lump on a tendon in the arch of my foot. The podiatrist thinks it's a fibroma, so I went for an MRI of my foot today at lunch, stuck my foot in the machine and fell asleep. While the machine hummed around my arch I dreamed that I answered a door, and as I opened it, it became the door to our family home in Ohio, and there was my dad, smiling. Grayer than I remember, a little shorter. I hugged him and said, "you know, we never really cared if it was $60,000 or $20,000, we just wanted you here." And he hugged me harder, as if to say, "I know that now..." but before he could answer I woke up. The machine was still humming.

On the way home, someone from Jesse's law school called and said, "I've been thinking of you and Jesse all week. Jesse would be graduating now, and the dean wanted to mention him in his speech." She read me her notes, but I could barely hear over all the traffic. It sounded fine, whatever it was. Right before we signed off she blurted out, "and I'm, I'm sorry." "Thanks," I said, trying to sound as warm as possible.

Just last night I was out with friends from Slate's fray, and one of them, in response to some wisecrack of mine, said, "except my mother's dead." "Well, there you go," I said. And then I caught myself in the same spot my existence puts everyone else. I looked at him, thinking, did I say the wrong thing? Was that stupid? Did he lose her recently and I fucked up? He looked back at me as if to say, don't worry about it, and we moved on in the conversation, but I can't help thinking: I know when I'm ok with making light of my orphanhood. But I can't know when it's ok to be light about someone else's, even when they present it lightly. Death's territory begins at the edge of every word.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy birthday Jesse

This time 25 years ago I was sound asleep with you in my arms, after 33 hours of labor. You were born at home, with a midwife, a couple of my friends, and your dad to help. She laid you on my stomach and you looked up at me, wide eyed. Everyone clapped, till the midwife told them to be quiet for your sake. For the first few moments your father and I had been afraid to touch you, you looked so fragile. I didn't realize how small you would be, even though at 8 and a half pounds, you were a pretty big newborn. The midwife had to coax your dad to pick you up and give you your first bath, then hand you gently back to me to nurse.

At the time we both believed that we would be perfect parents, that we would be able to give you an ideal childhood, free of the mistakes our parents made. We were as stupid as any young parent can be. Worse because we refused to believe anything anyone else told us. We thought we were smarter and better than anyone.

This morning I couldn't help flogging myself remembering that Green Day song, Time of Your Life. In my blind arrogance I really thought I could give you that. Now I look back and I can't think of a time after you were 10 that I could credit myself with giving you anything like a happy childhood. No matter how I tried it turned out painful and wrong. Like the year your birthday fell on Mother's day, and I called you in Michigan that Friday, in case you were leaving town-- I didn't want to miss your birthday call. Then on Sunday you called to wish me happy Mothers day and chewed me out for not remembering your birthday. I started feeling as if there were nothing I could do that wouldn't hurt you, no matter what choices I made. I don't know how conscious you were that you were always looking for reasons to be angry at me. I don't think you understood what had been done to you to make you look at me that way, always looking for the flaw, the proof that I somehow didn't love you, that I couldn't be trusted.

And now I realize that your distrust of me was a mirror of my distrust of the world. We each labored behind our own warped glass, unaware that were weren't seeing things as they were, or as we wished them to be, we only saw through the filter of our fear and ignorance. In my case, everything your father said made sense because it fit my fears and foolishness. In yours, you were too young to know any better, and I didn't know how to reach out to you past what you were brainwashed into believing.

There should have been time for us to work through all this. There should have been decades and second and third chances.

The minor victories weren't enough. I'm sorry.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Emptying Grandpa Milt's place

It's not fun, going back to a place full of that many memories, after the owner has died. I can't help feeling like I'm violating it just by being there. My brothers in law seem to have their emotions in check, but I'll look at one of Milty's guyaberas, or his captain's cap, and start crying. The younger one teases me for this. I don't blame him. It's easier to keep your cool if you make fun of someone else for losing theirs.

I'm helping them empty it out. First we took out tons of papers and things no one would ever need again. Then we cleared out everything the real estate agent told us should go, so we could use the rest to stage the place for sale. They painted it, and photographed it with a fish eye lens so it looked enormous. The middle brother had to stop them from including a shot of the Hudson no one could have seen from that window. You'd have thought we were in a boat, not on the 16th floor.

Today, more bagging of things. I'm to get several pieces of furniture. They want me to take more, but I can't find a place for all of it, as nice as it is. Some of it is probably too nice for my loft. But I can't stand the idea of anything that pretty, or that meaningful, getting thrown out. My husband will probably freak when he sees the two stone pillars, but I'm taking a stand. They're beautiful, I've always admired them, and now I'm told I can have them, that I should take them. One is darkly veined white marble, one is a greenish alabaster. Milt had an eye for good lines. My own grandparents had so many beautiful antiques, and when they passed on, my aunts and uncles fought over them and tore the family apart. My dad was the family peacemaker, and he had been gone for decades. Now they're calling the police on each other, and my grandparents entire inheritance has gone to lawyers. So this peaceful transfer of goods, of the symbols of family, of the dead, is more than ceremonial to me.

I guess in a way, taking these things binds me back into my ex's family, unites me with my children's grandparents again. They're a symbol of what was and no longer really is: the brothers in law were never very close to us, not the way Milt and Julia were. I don't think Jesse's brother is ready to understand what it means to say, that was my grandmother's, that was Milt's. Maybe it's foolish to take pride in things. I'm sure it is.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Let in your dead.

A few years ago, I stepped out of a grocery store on third ave, into a cold, half drowned, windy day, one of those throwaway afternoons when everyone wishes they were anywhere else, or at least home; only to be overcome with the sensation that I was my dad, alive for this brief moment, embraced by this amazing wind, the rain's delicate fingers tapping my skin; exultant to be carrying bags of food, to see the hundred kaleidoscopic grays of the sky and leafless branches. The music of of tires on rainy asphalt, again and again. I could feel each person who passed me by as if they had brushed against me and whispered something only they knew. I could see how the day would unfold but what matters was I was here, on third avenue, alive, even for this moment alone. Reprieved.

I'm told that New Orleanians are a bit too comfortable with their dead, with death.(I hear the post-burial second line bothers the hell out of folks from out of town, when it's associated with an actual funeral.) I suspect that's one reason Rice set so many of her novels there. But I wouldn't give up my relationship with my own dead, even if it's really a relationship with parts of myself that they represent. Too much would be lost in cutting them out of my conscious world. That doesn't mean I think it's ok to be preoccupied with loss.

I'm afraid, I think, to let Jesse that far in, to give him the reins as I did my dad. It's already so unbearable to have lost him, and to have lost him in so many ways. In trying to get to know who he was as a young man (in those ways that parents can't know their adult children), I've sometimes asked his friends to tell me things about him; but it's not the same. Not knowing reminds me too much of how far apart we'd grown, of the destruction of trust we were helpless to prevent.

Jesse and his girlfriend had broken up two months before he died, but they had remained close friends. She has become family in a way; she and my sister are friends, as are she and I. I think she'll probably need more time to work things out for herself, but nothing would make me happier than to see a picture of her with her new baby on my photo wall, right next to the one of her with my sisters' baby, from a few months ago. We're the only people she can mourn Jesse with, and I have no inclination to protect her from her own process and feelings. I do however, think twice before asking her to help me with mine.

I'm trying to settle with going back to times in his life when we were closer, when he and I really let each other in, and to connect with him that way. I know what he loved when he was younger. I know what hurt and what he admired. I don't know how it is that I knew my father better than I knew my son. I knew them both almost exactly the same number of years. How is it that these bookends of death have placed themselves in my life?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I know you're out there.

I think about you, worry about you a little, even. I know you can take care of yourself, but this is hard, harder than anything else we face. I know you come here once in a while and read. I hope the things I write don't upset you. If anything, I hope this makes you feel less alone. It makes me feel better knowing you stopped by. You don't have to say anything.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The specific insanity of long term grief

Cut loose from what used to bind me so tightly to life. I don't get those pure moments of joy anymore. I miss it a little, but I don't know how to recreate it, or to kindle it when the spark begins. Spring used to do it, I can remember that. A free, unexpected jolt that lifted me out of my shoes and let me float for blocks. Now that little singing in the heart when the trees blossom is cut off, flat, halting. I'm no longer in myself that way. I hover a bit behind. I'm beside myself.

Every good thing seems to lack justification. Why music? Why that symphony? Do we need it? Why do we live so long? Why do we help each other? Why is each day important? Why cure disease, why love? Why do people work so hard to create things? Why do we strive so much in our brief time here?

Why am I alive? That's the tough one. I keep making up purposes, that's what I do. But really, what's the difference between life and death? Not the obvious ones. I don't care about that. The line has been blurred for me. Death doesn't scare me, even if it means there is nothing, no existence at all. What difference will it make if I don't know it?

It's hard to understand me if you haven't been through this part of life before, I realize that. I don't expect you to. Who would want to understand this? I get up in the morning, I do what I need to do. You can't ask me more than that right now. If there is a purpose and meaning in your life, well, good for you. I remember how that feels.

His birthday this year falls the day after Mothers Day. I was going to find the list of all his friends' email addresses, and invite them over. I'd love if some just showed up to say hello. But I just can't find it in me to keep searching through the shuffled paper in and around my husband's desk, the boxes of files. I don't know where I put it. I don't know where it's been moved or by whom. I can't bring myself to keep looking. I'm sorry. Next year. Grief is long.