Friday, February 25, 2011

A Trip to the Gym

I’m driving to the gym after work and it just comes from nowhere.  I have GOT to talk to Amy.  I panic.  I have to talk to her.  Right now!  I don’t even know what about, really.  It consumes me and I become wholly disoriented for a moment.  She is dead right?  Jesus, fucking, Christ!  What the hell is going on, I wonder.  The thought convulses through me as if I’m connected to some electrical torture device and the dial on the brass box at the other end of these wires attached to my head, chest and testicles was just spun from zero to all-the-way.  Thoughts sweep through me in a wave.  I go from driving and listening to the radio to this rush of thoughts, emotions and panic in a moment.  I’m reminded of those times from my youth.  I drank too much and too fast and in a matter of moments I go from having fun, life of the party joking, to eyes tearing, nose running, vomiting in the toilet.  The transition from happy to shit-faced puking just happens all at once.  Sometimes you feel it coming from somewhere.  Sometimes it rushes up from nowhere.  This was from nowhere.

I’ve had plenty of moments when I feel the need to tell Amy something

Can’t wait to tell Amy, she’d find that funny, or amusing, or annoying…

But this felt new, different.  And I might as well be puking in the toilet. I start crying and screaming as I drive.  “Where are you?  WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?”

I wipe the tears to see where I’m driving.  I turn into the gym parking lot and just let it come.  This is not one of the sobby cries I sometimes get which just pass, but one of the fuller throated moaning cries.  The one that starts down low in the bowels. I park.  I throw my head down as I clutch the steering wheel and let out wails and tears and mucus and saliva and let my whole body shake.  I scream - Why did this happen to me?  Why, why, why?  The “whys” trail off and as the moaning cries return and drown them out. This goes on for a few seconds or a minute or two.  I don’t know.  It subsides some.

“Why did this happen?”  I whisper to myself and to god and to the universe.

I become partially aware of who might have walked by in the parking lot.  It’s dark out and I doubt anyone would see me.  Not that I care that some random soul sees me cry, but I fear, just a little, that they’d want to help, or that my pain would somehow pass out of the car into them.  This thought slowly tugs me out of it.  I breathe deeply.  Heavily.  Slowly.

I sit and stare at the dimly lit concrete wall in the parking garage in front of me.  I can see the small imperfections.  The small holes where an aggregate rock dislodged or an air bubble formed as the wall was poured.  Then the faint and fading wood grain impression left behind by the plywood forms that where built to hold the curing cement.

Amy is now light and dust and someday shall I be as will this concrete wall.  But right now we occupy different spaces and times. And I cannot see into her space nor be in her time.  Sometimes I accept it.  Sometimes I can’t.  I then think this is just how this will be.  Just driving to the gym and the discordance between my time and space – the time and space of the living -  and Amy’s time and space – that of the dead - reaches inside my soul, grabs me and slams me hard to the ground.  It is just how it is and how it will be.

I inhale deeply and let out a long sigh – “fuck.”

Each motion becomes slow and deliberate as I restart. I grab my gym bag, I open the car door, take the key out of the ignition, get out of the car, breathe again, close the door, lock the door. Turn and begin to walk.  I breathe again.  I take a step.  And another.  And a third.  And so on.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Changing Seasons

I love the change in seasons.  It really doesn’t matter which one, I love the transitions and am happy when the next one season approaches.  This week Spring briefly teased us with 70-degree weather, clear blue skies, and southerly breezes.  For mid-February in the mid-Atlantic this is not unprecedented, but a welcome break, and a sign Winter is loosening her grip.

Normally I anticipate spring’s arrival: The cliché’s of robins and daffodils and baseball and riding bikes in the street, but this year comes with a different anticipation, hesitation really, almost dread.  This past Thursday was the warmest day so far.  Thursday was also a full moon, or so it appeared.  This Thursday’s blue sky and warmth and people out and about brought back memories of another warm spring day, a Thursday with a near full moon, when Amy was killed.

I can remember nearly every detail of the hour before I was greeted by a DC police officer.  I remember sitting in the conference room in the earlier meeting. I was bored.  I look at my iPhone, sent texts and checked email instead of paying attention.  All the while not knowing the world is turning inside out.  It’s like when the sun finally explodes and we continue blissfully for a few minutes before being consumed.

The meeting ends and I walk to a snack bar in an engineering building and buy a large diet Pepsi, answer a call on my iPhone, and respond to an email as I work my way back to my office where a 3pm meeting awaits.  I review the agenda in my head.   But instead of the meeting, I am shunted into a colleague’s office.

It’s a beautiful, sunny, spring day and the shock waves rumble through me.  In my mind’s eye I see those old black and white films of atomic bomb tests.  There is one with a stand of trees. The trees bend over, then recoil back just as a second wave incinerates them into dust.  Then nothing.

I remember each little meaningless detail of that final hour on April 29 and then time stops and my memory is fragmented.  Seemingly random fragments and images connected by dizziness and nausea.

This past year, I welcomed the change of season from Spring to Summer then to Autumn.  And even with the holidays looming, of Autumn to Winter.  But Spring?  I’ll acknowledge your new green leaves and daffodils and robins.  But you are different this year.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spelling Words

"Daddy?  How do you spell 'mom'?"
"M - O - M."

"Daddy?  How do you spell 'died'?"

Heavy sigh.  I swallow hard,  "D - I - E - D."

And so began our after-dinner family activity.  Homework for the eight-year-old and some quiet activity like reading or drawing for my five-year-old.  Tonight he decided to write a message and transports us to another time.

Mom died on April 29 I did not no that and then we ate. A piece of pizza and then we watched tv.

Tears welling in my eyes, I gently query my five-year-old. "Really, we ate pizza?"  I had no recollection.
"Yeah, Daddy.  We ate pizza after we stopped crying."

I guess that's true.  I was being eaten whole by grief and don't remember the moments after my boys came bounding home and I had to tell them the apocalyptic news that mom died.  I don't think I ate, or drank, for a couple days until friends forced food on me.  I lost 12 pounds in two weeks.  My boys logged hour upon hour of television and wii time.  We slept together every night. Sort of slept.

My memory of those early hours following that sudden and inexplicable moment are fragmented like some horrible swirling nightmare from a childhood fever I now, as an adult, vaguely remember.  And it's a five-year-old that conjures it forward from his memory as he learns to spell words.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day Letter to My Sons

Dear Boys,

It was Valentine's Day 12 years ago that your mother and I went on our second date.  It just worked out that way.  We met at a restaurant in Alexandria, VA for dinner, then returned to my apartment in Arlington.  We watched The Simpson's Valentine's Day special.  I bought her a small box (4 piece) Godiva chocolate sampler and a Bart Simpson Valentine's Card, perhaps like one a classmate gave you today.  It had a butt-naked Bart with Cupid wings and bow and arrow with the caption, "Will you be mine, man?" Your mom loved it.  It was understated but romantic, and a little silly.  I can't tell you how long I agonized over what to get the woman whom I just met for Valentine's Day.

We talked that night.  A lot.  And about you.  Not specifically, but in more than just theoretical terms.  As we chatted and gradually exposed to each other whom we were, we shared about our previous relationships.  How was it that you, I wondered to your mom, seemingly quite a catch, was 30-something and single?  Well, your mom explained, the person she was with before, among other things, didn't want children.  Your mother, of course, did.
I remarked, "that's a coincidence, the same thing happened to me."
"You mean you don't want children?" she asked nervously.
"No," I hesitated, "my girlfriend didn't."

We paused.  We stared at each other.  For a while neither of us spoke.  Our second date.

We covered a lot of territory that night.  Easily three or four date's worth.  We discussed love and family and our respective plans for a future.  It felt easy.  It felt new and exciting.  I didn't know it in the moment, but I had fallen in love.

It's bittersweet recalling that night.  And it seems strange, in some way, that your mom and I didn't really make a big deal about Valentine's Day over the past few years.  Of course there would be some flowers and cards, and we'd almost always retell that story to ourselves - "can you believe it was only our second date when we talked about children?"

And so it was.

Why do I share this with you?  I don't know - I guess it's part of our family history, the beginning in fact, and I want you to know it.  And I also want you to know about the love your mom and I had.  Still have.  And how much that love existed early on and was behind and a part of us wanting to come together. To create a family.  To create you.  But perhaps more than that, I want you to know of love.

You'll probably come to a point in your life and wonder, like we all wonder, if you are "in love," or not.  And how do you know if you love someone, or not?  Is this the right person for me? And so on.  They are questions with no answers.  At least, no answers that someone else can satisfactorily give.

However you come to understand your love for another, know this:  Love will scare you.  And it will scare you for many reasons.  But one reason it will scare you, if you are at all like your daddy, is because you will be afraid, once you have it, that you will lose it.  Falling in love is to risk losing another.  And the greatest loss is the reflection of the greatest love.   You need to find your way through that fear.

There are several variations of the Saint Valentine story, but we generally understand that he was martyred, beheaded perhaps, for marrying Christians a long time ago, which, believe it or not, was a crime in Rome.  He accepted the ultimate risk in the name of love.  Was he afraid of dying?  Maybe.  I don't think we'll ever know.  But that didn't stop him.  He believed in something bigger than he; bigger than Rome.  He believed that when two people truly love each other, they should be together and that joining together be sanctioned publicly.  He died because he believed in love then acted on it.

When I was young, in my teens and twenties, and even early thirties, I was afraid to act.  I was afraid to act because I was afraid to lose.  Recalling those days conjures the dull grief and aching suffering of loneliness.  I look back through a different lens now and have a measure of compassion for that young, fearful boy.  I probably wasn't too different from my friends, though I felt different.

And now I again experience grief and suffering.  This time it is the searing, white-hot stabbing pain from the grief and suffering from losing my beloved.  My dad, your grandpa, was right when he quoted Tennyson at your mom's memorial service - it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved.  I say that having experienced both.

I hope some day you each will wonder about the nature of love.  I pray for you that some day the fear of loss does not prevent you from enjoying the grace of full love.  And while love may not come when you want it, or even with whom you think you want it, always remain willing to love.

And be willing to lose.