On the eve of your death I am watching town fireworks the day after the fourth of July.
I am overwhelmed by the crowd of families around us on blankets with glo-sticks and cotton candy as we wait for darkness in the still, hot, summer air. There is a Korean family next to us on a blanket- the little girls are calling their dad, “Appa,” thanking him for the ice cream he has brought back from down the street. If you were here, I would be relaxed instead of feeling on the verge of a panic attack. You would’ve gotten Audrey her ice cream and a water for me. I would be excited- like all of these other families. Instead, I am isolated, always watching others’ lives.
The past week has been draining. I realized later- that one week ago, last Saturday, the day I had a panic attack and went to the ER for a cat scan, convinced I was dying of a brain aneurysm, was the date of the last day that I saw you. The day you left for the trip. The day we said our casual goodbye. The day you came back in while I was pulling myself together in the kitchen before feeding our baby lunch- hearing the door unlock once more- “I guess I won’t need these keys…I’ll just leave them here.” “Bye…”
Every night this week I’ve been panicking about the anniversary of your death. It is the first year I made no plans with other people. It is the first year I am in a new home- one you never lived in. Simultaneously, our daughter started kindercamp this week- a camp for all the kids in town entering kindergarten in the fall. It’s been a tough adjustment for me- leaving her at this new school where I drop her at the door and don’t have any real idea what’s going on for a few hours. Our 21 month old- for that is when it feels she was last ours- is almost five years old Dan. She is heading for kindergarten.
So, every day this week I’ve dropped her off, spent some time crying at home, and desperately tried to find the “right thing to do” for this year’s anniversary. Maybe go away for a night- someplace quaint and reflective- I thought. But no matter how much I researched- nothing felt right. And the days passed.
So here we are. We will spend the day simply- Audrey and I.
The fireworks were loud and if one looked up, they truly appeared to be falling on us- rays of falling light dissolving just before they touch us. Tears fall down my face at their beauty and light and fallenness. It’s Audrey’s first time seeing fireworks- besides the NYC ones we could see in the distance from our old balcony. The ones she watched with me on that balmy night calling out “Bue! Bue!” because she wanted more blue. And I told you via email and you wrote back, “I’m glad Audrey liked the fireworks- Appa wishes he could’ve been there with her.” Something like that.
“We used to call our apartment, “The apartment,” she says as I am pushing her in her stroller up the hill to the fireworks this evening. “Now we call it the old apartment.”
“That’s right,” I say.
Is this how you measure time? Is this how you measure three years. “The” apartment becomes the old apartment. But what does it really mean? This human unit of measurement…change? It has felt irrelevant to me since you left us. I have seen it, not as a spiral or a climbing line, but a flat plain- one in which I see the past, present and future all laid out in space together.
The movie theater where we saw our first movie together. It’s been replaced by a strip mall. The kids shoe store where we bought her her first sneakers together- has gone out of business. So has the luggage store where I bought the first suitcase for you for your tour.
They replaced the booths at Whole Foods with small tables and there is a tall counter with cafe stools looking out the windows at the Hudson. The pizza place that you liked with the extra large slices is changing ownership and name from Pizza Gallery to Frankies or something. The Barnes and Nobles closed and is now a Michael’s craft store.
I’m a member now of a lot of strange groups on Facebook with names like “Hope for Widows,” and “Gone without Goodbye.” I carry Xanax in my purse, but I still let the toothpaste clog by not closing it all the way.
The Office had its last season this past spring. Arrested Development had another season of episodes released on Netflix. I thought it was a bit of a train wreck, and lost some of the natural wit it had before. Oh, there was another Lord of the Rings movie, released sometime around your birthday. I thought about going.
The floral flannel pajamas that you got me for my last Christmas present have lost most of the flannel now- the fuzzy part- but they’re very soft. The mole on my right leg above my knee is gone- I had to have it biopsied and taken off. I have a lot more grey hair. Tonight at the fireworks Audrey is hanging on me, and I say, “Stop, I’m an old lady,” and she says, “No, you’re not!” “You’re right, I’m a young woman,” I respond. “Well, you are 37,” she says. “Soon you’ll be 40!”
Patti Griffin has a new album out. I might like to get it. Travis has a new one too I think. A little while after you died, Fran released a solo album and dedicated it to you. Cool right? I still don’t do a great job hand washing dishes. I see what you mean now that it is me that puts away the dry dishes and discovers dried stuff still stuck on.
Your brother got married. Mine’s engaged. Dov and Charles had baby boys and named them Daniel. Alice had a fourth. Mercy had a third and so did my friend Sam. Your old bandmate got married. He asked me for some music of yours to play while guests were being seated or something. Of your two close remaining bachelor friends one got married last month, and the other is engaged. I’ve been invited to all of these weddings, but couldn’t bring myself to attend one yet.
I still have your bottle of hot sauce in the fridge.
Audrey’s gotten a first, second, and third hair cut. We sprinkled the hair from the first on your grave. She’s also been to the dentist numerous times. The last time the hygienist showed me one of her bottom front teeth that is ever so slightly loose.
Our bank got rid of deposit slips all together. I do the drive through now like a pro. We’ve changed churches three times. We live in a different house. In a different town. Did they have the iPad when you were alive? Audrey’s quite proficient at games on my parents’ Kindle. I broke down and finally bought a TV after we moved.
The next World Cup is just one year away.
I used to enjoy the sound of a ringing phone. Now I do not.
This is how I measure time. Before. After. How long.
But this past week I feel as though I’ve gone somewhere else for a while and returned. A distant star and in some sci-fi Twilight zone kind of way, I’ve been away just long enough that when I return – the light years it took me to travel back have stolen time from me. I am not 34 anymore. I’m 37. I live in the suburbs- our 21 month old is almost 5 years old. I feel the same, but everything else has aged.
I keep this word and its definition open in a window on my iphone all the time. Antipodal: related to or situated on the opposite side or sides of the earth.
The fireworks are beautiful and seem fitting for the eve of your death. They are powerful and the sound is a bit faster to reach me than the light. Because I hold my ears, the sound is muted and the lights become visualizations of our love and grief.
The light takes time to travel in our vast universe. As a result, we are often looking at the past- the sun eight minutes ago, the dim red dwarf four years ago, the light from the edge of our universe-14 billion years ago- almost three times longer than our planet has existed.
How do I measure time- this time- three years. The years were spread out like playing cards the day I heard the words, “Dan is dead.” They have already been there. I reach them now. That is all. The rawness of my pain for our family is now a chronic inflammation that I’ve accepted just as the aged or infirmed often do.
I sit beside Audrey in her bed in the dark as she tries to get to sleep after staying up so late past her bedtime tonight. “Can you tell me any stories about appa when he was a little boy?” she asks me. I tell her about the few stories I know and she reminds me, “Remember how you said he climbed up to the kitchen cabinets and ate sugar out of the sugar bowl with a spoon? Did he really do that?” “Oh yeah, he did. I forgot about that.” She laughs a good, long laugh. Then she hums the tune to a song I’ve been singing/writing for a few months. “What are the words to that song anyway?” she asks. “I don’t know, I haven’t really written them. Maybe tonight or tomorrow night for Appa’s memorial I will finish it since it’s for him.”
“Maybe he can hear it like some secret kind of message,” she says. “Maybe.”
This sitting in the dark with our daughter, I realize, is a much holier way to remember you this year than any I could have planned, I will remind myself to stop trying so hard to plan things and let them happen organically.
It is three years now. Just after midnight. It is different. It is the same. I have had three years to process your death, but I still don’t understand or believe it, especially when I hear myself say it out loud to others.
When Audrey was an infant in “the old apartment,” people with babies who were 18 months wanted the two to play together and it seemed so outrageous to me. The 18 month olds seemed like giants to me. My baby was 7 months old. But there wasn’t even a year difference and in no time, they seemed to be proper playmates. It was similar when you died, and I met widows who were three, four years “out,” as we say. These women were light years away from me, to use an appropriate cliche just this once. Light years.
The funny thing about measuring the distance to the edge of the universe is that by the time you figure it out, the universe will already have expanded a great deal making your number untrue.
It is three years though. I am mostly tired. I still say, “My husband died a couple of years ago,” because it doesn’t feel like old news to me. Friends tell me they “still” think of you- which tells me that the time passing for them has felt a different amount. And as for God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years, like a day.” (2 Peter 3.8) This would probably sound about right to most of the widows I know.
Trying to measure time is like looking through the glass darkly- at the dark night sky to the universe beyond. I cannot trust our standard of measurement. Because it’s late, and I am tired and not fit for writing, I will end here. If much of what I’ve written makes no sense to you, it’s not because I’m deeper or more profound- I’m exhausted and it probably doesn’t make sense- though I would’ve liked to pretend it’s the former. In closing… “these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1cor 13 Forget about the years. Somehow, love makes it through the wormhole, a song breaks through the boundaries “like a secret kind of message”, and a little girl laughs at a father she has no memory of, in the dark.