I don’t feel old or worried about being old this year. One, because I know 35 is young. This became clear as soon as I learned you were dead. We are so young. You were so young. Two because in light of the future- this is the youngest I’ll ever be. The past is already done. Three, because I am straining towards the finish line these days…even though I may have so far to go.
After a slow morning with Audrey and lunch with her and my parents, I took the ferry into the city and used a gift certificate given to me by one of your old coworkers for a massage at Mandarin Oriental overlooking Central Park. It was a special treat. But I was again reminded of how I felt at the spa in Arizona at Christmas- no amount of external pampering seems to make a dent in this grief thing.
Or maybe, I think, it’s depression. Nothing feels extraordinary to me anymore. Food tastes…like food. Nothing is particularly good or bad. A massage feels luxurious as a massage does.
Before I went for the massage, I took the wrong bus from the ferry and had to walk up Broadway past your old office building. When I realized, I asked a guy sitting in front of me on the bus- “Wait, this is the 50th street bus?” He tells me it is but “It’s a nice day for a walk,” he adds. Yeah, except for me it will mean walking by your office building. I walk by and peer inside into the large lobby. I expect I might see you coming toward me with your card ready to swipe me in. I cross the street with tears streaming down my face pushing through the crowds outside the Letterman show.
I pass what used to be a Duane Reade on the corner of Broadway and 57th but now it’s a bank. I can remember going up the few steps to get bottles of water there late at night with you. And then I curve around towards Columbus Circle. When I lived for a summer on 56th Street, we’d walk this path all the time to take the train except back then the whole Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle wasn’t there yet. And there was always construction and narrow pathways for us to walk through…still, I walk that same path. There at the statue we met on your lunch break when I interviewed at a small nonprofit next to the Starbucks many, many years ago. Here at the elevators is where I would come up for my appointments with my OB when I was pregnant just one street over on 58th Street.
At the spa, when I head into the “relaxation room” to wait for my therapist – there are two couples in robes…one of the men is laying with his head in the woman’s lap. I make a quick exit and go back to the steam room until they are gone.
After the massage, I walk from Columbus Circle up to 81st Street where my close friends have organized a dinner for me. I have extra time so I walk slowly- mostly with tears in my eyes. Every corner and every block holds a memory for me. It’s like walking around in a live diorama of my life or a 3D photo album.
There is Lincoln Center where we sat by the fountain at night when we first started dating and asked someone to take a photo of us. We also went swing dancing there a year or so later. There is the indie movie theater where we saw Bend it Like Beckham and another romantic foreign film on a whim. I step towards the theater. There, in the back…those benches and that fountain- we sat there afterwards and watched a family of birds or something. The memory comes back to me.
Up in the 70’s, there’s the empty lot where they have the flea market on the weekends- we visited it quite often when I was living on 83rd Street. There you bought your famous “safari jacket.” That’s what the seller called it. I was meandering around when I saw you talking to him and then you asked me what I thought. I wasn’t so sure, so the seller talked up that jacket even more. You bought it for something like ten bucks. It’s hanging in our closet.
I stop and look through the metal fence at the empty lot crying. I swear I can see the whole scene…and I see us both there from outside of myself. We are so young- so in love. Things were so simple. We came back and bought three old NY photos in black and white to decorate our apartment when we first got married.
As I make my way up to the restaurant where we’re meeting, I find I am thoroughly drained. It’s exhausting envisioning things that are past all day…exhausting searching streets for your face, exhausting trying to comprehend that in all these hundreds of people walking around me- you are not to be found.
This is meditation I think- I live in it now with every city step, every breath and beat- every light turning, siren blaring, horn honking- meditation. You.
I think about the chances of our union- how if each person is unique- they are one in billions and billions of people to have roamed the earth throughout its history- and then for another person with whom they can connect on a soul level- who is also one in billions – to be on the earth at the same time- and for those two to find each other and make that connection- well- it’s simply extraordinary and miraculous isn’t it?
The longer this goes on, the luckier I feel to have been so loved by you- and the more luxurious your love seems- the more vast the loss- not just of your life- but in my life.
I receive text messages, voicemails, and an onslaught of facebook messages on my wall- I would’ve been sad if I hadn’t received them, but there is truly only one person’s wishes that matter at all to me. I realize that is how it always was. It was nice to open up presents from others on special occasions like my birthday- but your card, your gift, your song- these were treasures- like gold. They were from you. My beloved.
35. The first birth happened in 1976, but a new one began on July 6th, 2010 and it’s a long labor- still going on. In grief, I am both the woman laboring, and the child- struggling to be born. Sometimes I fear she will be stillborn. Sometimes I believe she will be lovely.
I was glad and thankful to be with friends tonight. I tried to talk to everyone who made the effort to come out. It is humbling. I wonder often lately where all of these friends came from and why I have them. It feels like I haven’t “given” anything for so long. I wonder what they see in me.
It strikes me as strange that a few times I look behind me for you. It’s like something physical or biological- this looking for you even though I know there’s no reason you would be there. Empty table and chairs behind me. Still, I look a second time.
I have two glasses of sangria and smile- I only bite my lip when they bring out a cake and sing happy birthday to me. I bite it hard and blow out the candles quickly keeping the tears for later. Someone is taking a picture of me- I don’t want to disappoint by looking miserable. But hearing the singing, staring at the cake- happy birthday julia- it hits me that you are not here to be with me. That I am alone. I blushed last year when you called me from the tour and I heard you say, “happy birthday…” in that soft way you would when you really meant something. I am now 35- an age you will never be or see me at. The distance between us grows-
Happy Birthday Julia. yes, the rebirth of the self…I believe "she will be lovely"