I always had an affinity for the number eight. When I was two or three in dance classes in a young teacher’s garage I believe- she would often have us guess a number and in that way auction off her old jewelry. The day I guessed the number eight, I won and received for my prize – a little sterling ring with a horse head filled with brown and blue turquoise.
I still remember practicing the number eight in my basement and drawing one circle on top of another. It was my older brother who corrected me explaining that it wasn’t as simple as two circles, and demonstrating how to cross the curving lines.
Sideways, infinity. I’ve always liked the number eight.
Today I went into the city for grief counseling. On this, our eight year wedding anniversary. The thoughts in my head felt like I was writing poems all day long.
I thought about how even though our marriage is not legally acknowledged once you died, it sure feels like we’ve been married the last two years- otherwise what was with all of the paperwork I did, all of the copies of your paperwork, repetition of your social security code, all of the tears, and all of the work of grief.
I want to sit at the Starbucks across the street before my appointment and read Didion’s latest memoir about the death of her daughter, “Blue Nights,” and take notes for my appointment, but a man in his fifties, I always see around there- who it turns out is the medic for a huge building they’ve been building across the street for the last two years, sees me waiting for a seat and asks me to sit down. I end up getting a whole lesson on how buildings are built- complete with photos from his iPad, which is fascinating, I’ll admit. At some point, though, after showing me photos of his son, he asks if I have kids, if I’m married…I am wearing both of my rings…I briefly explain- and add that today is my anniversary. After telling me of his divorce, he adds that at least I liked my husband…”I treasured him,” I answer.
When I get off the ferry afterwards at home, I sit and write for a bit at the end of the pier. I look at Riverside Church back across the Hudson- where you were baptized when we were in our early twenties. I remember how I played the guitar and led worship, how I was wearing a scratchy brown tunic from J-crew that you got for me for Valentine’s Day. But I cannot remember the date, (thought I’ve searched through journals hoping for a mention unsuccessfully) and I cannot remember the Scripture passage you quoted before you were dunked…for some reason I feel if I could remember these things – they would be like missing pieces to this grand puzzle and I could get closer to making sense of it all.
Grant’s Tomb is beside Riverside and since you lived down the street on 125th, I remember us taking a walk up there, going inside, looking down at the caskets below glass in the center of the dome. I remember meditating on the fact that there really were two people who had lived there- a couple…below. How they would never have guessed that they’d be there, and that we- Daniel Cho and Julia Pirritano (at that time) would be peering over a glass encasement at their tomb.
Tonight I think, as my parents and Audrey and I share a pizza, about what I might have been doing if you were alive- would we have gone out to dinner together? Probably- but that’s the problem with death- there’s no way of really knowing any of that.
After Audrey’s asleep- I decide to exercise for the first time in a long time, followed by a glass or two of wine- which I need when I finally decide to watch our wedding video. Remember I had suggested we do that as a yearly tradition? You weren’t into it so I think we did it the first year. Last year Audrey and I watched it together. This year I was sure I couldn’t do it and didn’t want to…then a friend of yours I never speak to happened to send me an instant message saying he was remembering how you sang to me and I sang to you at our reception with such clarity and how it had made it so special and unique. With that- I dug up the video and told him I had to go cry it out and watch it after all.
And I discovered something as I sat watching…shaking a little bit…
our videographer was terrible.
And I’m sorry about that. It’s all shaky and moving around quickly and the highlight part at the end to our favorite song, “Flowers in the Window” by Travis- is literally a compilation of the most awkward interactions at the entire wedding.
Still- it was a good reminder of the fact that it was real and flawed and no fairy tale…but it was real.
It was real when you sang to me…and I sang to you- looking each other straight in the eye. When we danced our poor dance to a song that we’d known we would dance to for five years…when I awkwardly bowed in Korean dress for the tea ceremony, the orchids in tall glasses of water that were the centerpieces that my mother’s friend thought were misplaced and therefore turned them upside down when she got there a little early, your brother’s toast in which he revealed he kind of hated you while growing up as we all smiled nervously waiting for the punchline.
I am disturbed by the words of our pastor in the ceremony- would we promise…etc etc. as long “as we both shall live?” Shouldn’t it have been “as long as your spouse lives?” But not really- because like I said earlier- I feel we’ve made it through eight years- somehow- even though so separated- I hope I still honor and cherish and love you.
I think of how even though two years might seem to some like a long time- it has not been two years of anniversaries- this is only the third day of that. The third day. And the first one doesn’t count because it was the day after your burial and so I wasn’t there.
I think of Didion’s take on memories as I painfully go through the video- quickly- fast-forwarding- but just enough to taste the day- the memory.
“In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment,” she writes, “In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.
How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see.”
I think on my wedding I was probably more appreciative than most of the ordinary days she’s talking about here…but I still don’t think we can ever be as appreciate or aware- as we are afterwards. This may be the most brutal aspect of our existence.
and later on towards the end of the memoir she writes again on the topic of memories,
” ‘You have your wonderful memories,’ people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”
For my next book, I need to start reading something cheerier.
While I also have petitioned against the whole “You have your wonderful memories,” tidbit people like to say for some reason- and while I agree- they are really no solace…when I remember our wedding tonight- I remember how much I was loved by the sweetest man I had met- and even though I’ve lost that- it is almost enough to have been loved that way- even for a little while. Almost enough.
Sometimes I think that I have been greedy. To have so much love, such a special love, something many people may not ever have, and then to say that the time we had with that love wasn't enough.
But it wasn't.
July 6 was our tenth wedding anniversary. This year no one remembered. I guess anniversaries don't exist when your spouse has died. It still existed to me, though, just like you describe. I thought about how we'd planned to finally take a trip by ourselves, without the kids, our first in five years and our first big trip ever. Instead I had This. This life that is so different from the life I was supposed to have (according to me). I feel like my old life runs parallel to my new life. For the rest of my life there will be times where I look over at the old life and see how things would have been, should have been, but simply aren't, and I realize all over again what has happened to me, not that I ever forgot.
This is a hard time for me, too.
I'm so sorry Jessica…I had a similar plan for 10 years. I'm thinking of you- and I agree- it wasn't.