The Ugly Dishes

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Today is very likely the last day I will ever spend in my parents’ house. Months after my father’s death, the apartment is in contract and I’m getting it ready for the buyer to take it over. I’m at their dining table right now, the same table around which we ate so many meals, preparing to say goodbye to all the things of my childhood.  Preparing to let my parents truly go.

I find it’s the little things that get me right in the heart. The dated blue light fixture that hung in my brother’s childhood bedroom. My mother’s battered old food mill, with which we made so many batches of Thanksgiving applesauce. The seventies-style coffee cups rubbed raw from decades of spoons stirring in sweetener. Even the utterly atrocious paintings that have hung over the living room sofa since I can remember.

I’ll be taking these things with me. They will uglify my own home now. They’ll look at odds with everything I own. One day perhaps I’ll be ready to part with them. But right now they’re the last pieces of the people who raised me, the last tangible link with the things they touched and imbued with meaning.

So much is changing. My time in Santa Fe may be coming to an end soon. I’ll be finishing my new novel before long. Leaving some friends behind, reconnecting with others. I’m not the sort of person to find change exciting. I dread it. I fear it. But here it is, and I hope I’m up to the challenge. Because like it or not, life goes on. And so, perchance, will I.

Of Breath and Boys


When my first love died, I learned a lot of things. Things I didn’t ever want to know, things that have changed my life, crashed and burned my life; even, eventually, bettered my life in small but significant ways.

I was twenty two and he was twenty six, and we weren’t together when it happened. We weren’t ever officially “together,” though there’d been a decade of intense and passionate connection between us. Of secrets, and sex, and infatuation, infantile and otherwise. He died in another girl’s home, in a fire, and she died too. I never asked if they were together. I never asked anything, except How am I going to live without the one person I could never imagine the world not containing?

I don’t think I have ever answered that question quite to my satisfaction, though it’s eighteen years and several loves later.

I wrote poems after he died. Book dedications. Had near-constant dreams where he came back to me, kind and generous as he never was in life, wanting to be my husband. I could smell his scent, and then, after a while, couldn’t. Remember the way he said my name, sweet, or cajoling, or even reproving as the mood took him. The way sweat would bead on the top of his nose when he drank or got up to no good. The booming sound of his cough, the wild and ferocious gleam in his blue eyes when he got an evil idea in his head. These things I haven’t forgot.

The whole first year after was just me, poleaxed, trying to breathe and not scream, not tear aside walls with my fingernails until, somehow, I might find him.

And for seven more after that, I sought him in bottles, and strange beds, and bulimia.

I didn’t find him, but I did, in pieces, find a greater understanding of life. I understood true unfairness for the first time, and powerlessness, and, in a certain way, strength. You survive the loss of something you think is impossible to lose, and yet, there you still are. You are, whether you like it or not. You stand on two feet, however wobbly, and your blood still sloshes around your body and your lungs still billow with what passes for breath.

My lungs, my lungs. Somehow, with loss, it is always about the breath.

After he died, I was able to quit smoking. I just told myself that cigarettes were dead like him, and nothing could bring them back. I could mourn, and ache, and sweat it out, want them fierce like nothing else, but they weren’t coming back and I had to live without them.

I had to, and I did. And eighteen years later I still don’t smoke.

And I still miss that boy, who died around this time of year.

Now I’ve lost another love, though this one to sanity and circumstance rather than death. The loss isn’t the same scream of disbelief; it’s not the cry of shocked anguish (everyone and their brother saw this one coming), but it’s again a rent in the fabric of my breath, my sangfroid, my fantasies of a future together. I can long for this live boy, it seems, every bit as deeply as I did for the one who died.

Somehow knowing I survived this and worse once before is no comfort. I had forgotten what a wound it is, how a thousand times an hour you can find your breath stopped in your chest, a bargain with the universe brewing behind your lips to make it just not true, just not today, just please, can’t I have what I want this one more time?

And when the answer is no, you can’t?

There’s no air left when you know that answer. It’s all turned into a fist inside your throat, a stranglehold that suffocates and makes you think, no, this time I won’t survive.

Or worse, you will, but it won’t get better. It’ll always be this loss-loss-loss-loss-loss.

But that’s silly, says the voice of reason and time and experience. Take a deep breath. You’ll survive.

I know I’m looking at long weeks, or months before I’m totally okay. And maybe “totally okay” isn’t even what it will be. I met a man recently who told me he’d had his heart broken not that long before. I said, “How did you get over it?” and he said, “You don’t get over it. You just find a way to carry it with you.”

It wasn’t the answer I wanted. I wanted, “Take two of these and call me in the morning,” or “The fever will break in a couple of weeks, and you’ll be back to yourself in no time.”

You’re never back to who you were, though, are you? You’re someone new, with a life that took a left turn and isn’t going to look the way you expected it to, not ever again.

Yet it’s not the expectations I miss. It’s those blue eyes, then those brown eyes, that each in their own time made me catch my breath.

Death, Divorce, and Moving… On?

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Today would have been my mother’s seventy-fourth birthday, had she not died of pancreatic cancer three and a half years ago. Eight weeks ago, my father died of lung cancer at the age of seventy-six. And just under a month ago, my husband asked me for a divorce.

Last weekend, he moved the rest of his stuff out, leaving dents in the carpets where his bookshelves used to be, and deep grooves in my heart where the little, kindly routines of our lives were supposed to intersect.

I wake up wanting to tell him about that weird dream I had, or an idea for how to get the cat to stop drinking out of my bedside water glass… and I stop short, remembering.


What do I do now with all the little in-jokes, the puns, the cutesy phrases I made up just to make him smile? How could I ever again look at the dedication page of BLISS, where I thanked him so effusively for being my partner, without feeling like a schmuck?

The reasons for the split are all valid, even if the timing was awful. But that doesn’t make my feelings now any less bewildered, my panic each morning when I wake up and realize I’m on my own diminish.  No mom, no dad, no emergency contact.

Just me.

Well, me and three cats who don’t care if their person is grieving.

You better get up NOW, two-legs, and put kibble in that-there bowl. Never mind that it’s 6am and you just got to sleep at 2.

So I’m sitting in what was supposed to be my dream life, kind of shell-shocked, trying to figure out how I’m ever going to feel joy again. Trying to understand where everything went so wrong, and knowing it wasn’t the fault of some mustachioed villain, unless you want to call life itself a villain. Trying to write a next chapter, literally as well as metaphorically, and failing utterly to imagine a happy ending.

I can’t control cancer. I can’t control other people’s behavior. And honestly, right now, I can only control mine about a third of the time. I sit down to write, and I just weep. I try to be graceful or gracious about the split, and I end up acting like a twit and saying passive-aggressive crap that purely appalls me even as I fail to rise above it. I put one foot in front of the other but half the time I’m drowning in quicksand no matter how furiously I slog on.

I see the daffodils in town begin to blossom and their yellow crowns make my heart clutch. My mom was a flower fanatic, and each year around her birthday when the forsythia and the tulips and the daffs and crocuses would reemerge, she’d gloat like she was personally responsible. I wonder what she would say to me now? I think she’d be mad that I’ve managed to alienate my handsome goyishe husband. Tsk her tongue at me for hiring an accountant to do the estate taxes instead of handling them on my own.

Would she be proud of me at all in this moment? I honestly can’t ever recall her saying such words to me. (It was always, “Oh, you got an article published in the Huffington Post? That’s great… but too bad they don’t pay!)

At least I know I’ve done as much as she could have, given the same circumstances, and that’ll have to suffice.

As for my dad… right now if illness hadn’t intervened, he’d be gearing up for April in Paris with his new girlfriend, planning to enjoy some good cheese and wine and art and hobble down the left bank best he could on gimpy legs.  Instead, the new, monogrammed Tumi suitcases he never got to use sit in my closet, waiting for my next venture.

Whatever that may be.