This is the story.
You were on tour with a well-known singer. It was your second time in Europe. You had gone in 2009. The day before you left, I made sure you had your teeth cleaned, we went to the park with Audrey- she rode the carousel. We rode the train together and took a family photo. Our last one. We ate BLT’s I’d made that morning at Whole Foods. You and I fought on the way back about something that’d happened on the drive there. Something about driving- always a source of tension. Because I was afraid one of us might die. After a longer fight at home, I told you we’d resolve it when you got back. When you got back.
The next morning, we went to a bakery we heard was good. You got something called monkey bread. You gathered your stuff and we said goodbye. Did we hug? Tightly? I don’t remember. I don’t think so. “I can’t take this anymore…I don’t want a long, sad goodbye,” I said. You said goodbye to Audrey, “Bye Auuudrey!” Did you hold her tight? Did you kiss her softly? And close your eyes for just a moment. Your long eyelashes pointing straight down. We closed the door. To you and your suitcase, the one I bought you, backpack on your back, the one I chose carefully. I cried. Wiped my eyes and went to get our lunch ready.
The sound of the door opening. “I figure I’ll leave my house keys here. I won’t need them.” No, you won’t. You didn’t. “OK, bye…have a good trip.”
I had a list of the schedule pinned up on the kitchen wall. I looked at it every day counting down the days with Audrey until the day I received the most atrocious phone call of my life and ripped it down and threw it in the trash.
To this day, I don’t know what happened to you. I know from the guy you had swam out to meet that you repeatedly said you were cold. I wish he hadn’t left you to go in by yourself. I wish you hadn’t swam out there in the first place to where he was. I know you were just being obliging. Sometimes that bothered me, how you wanted to please others. How you were willing to go along. But you usually knew when to assert yourself and you did. You said you were going back while this guy went further. You never got back to the shore. What happened Dan? What happened?
I got the worst news of my life, I called your family to tell them and hear the worst sobbing I’ve ever heard. I, at 34 years old, planned your wake, and your funeral. I visited three cemeteries. I bought my own plot. I went through countless albums and journals trying to pick the most special things for the program. I contacted every musician I know you respected and asked them to play at your funeral. I ordered a black dress that fell below the knee with three-quarter sleeves.
Can you believe it?
Here’s the really big news. This was all over a year ago. Audrey is now almost three years old. The other day she got a big box of hand me down clothes from a friend- her favorite item- a little leotard with a tutu and ballet slippers. When she put it on, I choked up before I could realize why- I couldn’t believe you were missing it and in my head the words, “You know who would have REALLY liked this?” You would’ve Dan. You would’ve been in tears I think actually. Because that’s how sensitive you were- mostly when it came to your daughter.
In the beginning, I had to keep talking aloud telling you, as I paced around our small apartment glaring at your clothes, your computer, “You died.” Now it carries a different weight, “You died…over a year ago. Audrey’s almost three.” She was 21 months then. Remember how little she was? I wish you could’ve seen her jump for the first time with me, or sing her first song, or tell me she loves me. I wish I didn’t have to feel so sad at each of these milestones. Having a child, I’m finding, is bittersweet in itself. Loving someone who is constantly changing into someone else right before your eyes. But knowing that you’re missing it all…and there is no going back- it literally makes me sick.
Why am I telling you all this, you might ask? Because this is what I do to heal, I’m told- I tell the story over and over again. And I do- I tell it to strangers and to friends. But I’m starting to fear I’ll never be done telling it, because the one person I shared everything with, the one person I most have to tell this spectacularly tragic tale to
was thinking and feeling this just yesterday – all the things I lived, saw, had to do. The only one I want to tell it to can't hear it anymore.
My darling Julia – so true, so tragic, so real to me. I am still telling everyone I meet what happened, from people I know, to strangers I bump into at the bus stop.
Sometimes I literally panic at the thought that there is no going back, that this is how it is. The cruelty of it is, that as our world expands the one person we want to share our new experiences with (as well reminisce over years of shared memories) is no longer here. I said in the beginning that this altered life makes me feel claustrophobic and six months on, the walls are still closing in.
Love from London, as always.
"Loving someone who is constantly changing into someone else right before your eyes"
Bittersweet is putting it mildly. You write with such clarity. I wanted to compare your writing to the sharp quality of light on an overcast day or a stained glass window but similes fall so short. Words occupy their own realm and have their own way of reaching into our deepest selves. Thank you for putting your wordkeeping out here for the rest of us to read, feel & hopefully understand to some degree.