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A Blaze of Glory and an Untold Song

On September 19th 2020 Hawthorne (Emily) Barber-Dubois joined their son Oscar in the stars. The fare for this unplanned voyage weighs heavy on the rest of us here on earth. They are survived by their brother, a man of considerable volume and clear blue eyes; their sister-in-law, a woman who has far less fear than she realizes; their niece, who never fails to lift the spirits of anyone around her; their mother, a woman who is generous to a fault and makes a hell of a casserole. They leave their daughter, the brightest light in this universe; cousins, aunts, uncles, chosen family and forever friends, and me. 

Hawthorne was born in the summertime of ’83, burning out at the rubber tree, a long-awaited first child to hard-working parents outside of Buffalo, NY. Intelligent and quick from the start, when their brother arrived three years later, they asked when he would be sent back for crying so much. Pictures of that time are scarce; the few that exist are tucked into a cardboard keepsake box adorned with sea life. They grew up creative and brilliant, only to be checked by poorly controlled asthma and the regimented nature of school and church. The markers for advancement weren’t their grade level, but the guitars they played and practiced on until their fingers bled. 

They left high school early and without graduating rather than fail another math class that didn’t make sense to them. High school had not been a place of youthful adventures and education as much as it had been the backdrop to bullying from peers and professionals alike. One teacher and her laminated promise to keeping kids like Hawthorne safe kept them coming back as long as they did. 

They traveled to Chicago and found themselves in a cult now made famous by Netflix. In six short months they experienced some of the highest and lowest moments of their queer life. They fell in love with a beautiful woman who touched their heart, holding hands in secret and away from the searching eyes of elders. They endured isolation and shunning for letting that love shine.

Hawthorne left Chicago, arriving back in Buffalo the morning the towers fell in New York City; they were one of the last trains to arrive anywhere that day. Conversations about America’s due for meddling in foreign affairs only hours before in the dining car rang true as their father picked them up at the station. They returned home to watch the first tower fall, Spot coffee and cigarettes in hand. 

They dated a boy they promised to marry, still believing their eventual destiny to be a pastor’s wife, still dedicated to being straight. It may shock some to know that this relationship did not work out. When they finally embraced their love of the feminine and the female, the scorned former fiancé moved out, and Hawthorne opened the Heartbreak Hotel with one of their closest friends. The pair charmed the pants off women, drank cheap whiskey on the roof, and sometimes cleaned on Sundays. Those golden days shined in memory over fifteen years later. 

Hawthorne went on to meet people and fall in and out of love, as your twenties are for. They formed a bicycle gang with their friends; the Spreadeagle Feminists made sure that George W. had as little chance as they could. They smoked, drank, wrote songs, and played every chance they had. They worked in group homes and coffeehouses; the jobs changed but the friendships developed within them blossomed. They settled down once or twice, ended up with a redhead in the banking world, and joined the Rural Metro EMT Academy and become certified in having a pulse and performing CPR, the two most skills the company demanded for the job.

It was unexpected when their love appeared on the scene.  Ella was a scraggly creature, more a blur of black and teeth than a dog when they first met at the SPCA. A one-year-old stray, wire-haired and just wired, the staff asked if Hawthorne was sure they wanted that one. Two days later after her spay surgery, Ella the Fitzgerald terrier took a nap on Hawthorne’s chest, and the two were bonded. If you asked Hawthorne what they wanted for a tattoo, it looked like this.

I had been lucky enough to meet Hawthorne in 2008 at work one night. They stood to the door of the trailer, smoking a cigarette as I stomped past, pissed and swearing about my partner on the ambulance. Hawthorne was coming off shift and I was coming on. I had noticed the hot butch in uniform but didn’t register more than that until the morning when I arrived for shift change to find them sitting on the donated couch with their feet propped up on a flimsy coffee table, reading the paper. They said good morning without moving, and watched me step over their extended legs to punch out. Their mischievous grin told me everything I needed to know. 

I can’t say a romance was born that morning, but I definitely had my eye on them. I was married but it was a rather open arrangement; Hawthorne was in a committed relationship. It would be years before the interest sparked again. Trying on pants in the women’s room, I complimented them the best way I knew how in that setting: a firm slap on the ass as I walked by, saucy smile tossed back over my shoulder. They were speechless – a rare occurrence. 

It was at least another year before they charmed me off my feet after driving me batty. Christmas 2010 they were partnered up with me, and like a little boy mistakenly pulling pigtails on the playground, unplugged the unreliable Toughbook computer I needed for my paperwork repeatedly. We ate chocolates their girlfriend had made and tried not to think about the other. We became lovers in a dangerous time; they helped me leave an abusive situation, and their own relationship ended with its fair share of drama. They left the ambulance company and started their college career intending to earn enough credits to apply to the police academy. The first day of orientation, they came home and asked me, “do you know what I can DO with a criminal justice degree?!” With their sights set on law school, they poured themselves into their studies. After one year they changed their major to sociology and pretty writing; they met some of their best friends and most influential people in their life. 

Hawthorne learned to hold a baby when their niece was born, a bright little girl with piercing blue eyes. The love emanated from them as they gingerly cradled her and the wonder filled their own ocean eyes. Two days later, with the sand on their knee to prove it, they proposed to me in the woods of Thoreau. We were married in June of 2014, on a beautiful summer day during the Allentown Art Festival. Their gray tux hangs in the closet next to my wedding dress and still carries the scent of whiskey. The honeymoon in the backwoods gave them a taste for country life that drove the city mouse to consider law schools in northern New England. 

They graduated cum laude in 2015 and earned the Conrad Vogler Promising Sociologist award. They were so proud to have been one of the small percentage of those who leave high school and go on to collegiate degrees. Within a few weeks, with no backup plan, no jobs, and no contacts, we packed up and moved to rural Vermont. Their dream of living in the middle of nowhere was realized, and they fulfilled a promise to Ella of having a yard big enough to run around in. They met the neighbor and discovered the local law school had a rugby team that was open to community members. Without hesitation and with zero experience on Hawthorne’s part, we signed up. Besides the whole fitness and running aspect, they had an absolute blast steering the scrum and chasing down the backs.  

That summer was spent in the river with a beer in hand by day and job hunting by night, with the daylight being much more successful. When they received the call back from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for a job, they were talking about selling platelets to make some meager income because I refused to consider them selling a guitar. There was no end to their generosity and devotion to care for their family. Thankfully they were hired into their addiction research department, and the qualitative sociologist began handling more quantitative data than they had ever hoped to see.

On December first, Hawthorne fell down a full flight of stairs. It would be four months before their pain was taken seriously enough to get an MRI, and an additional two months for surgery. To literally add insult, they were laid off just days after their surgery as their department was merged with Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. They then took a job at the local designated health agency as an emergency case manager, a job that recalled their time on the ambulance.  It was there that they met their adventure buddy, a friend who later helped give them a space to better define their gender fuckery. 

After that job was unable to work with them to aid their recovery after a second back injury and surgery, they worked at the local hardware store for the summer – another dream realized – and then at the local coffeeshop. Their barista skills from early-2000’s Starbucks served them well, and the tips were often returned to the same store for more books to line our shelves. 

In July of 2018, their wife gave birth to Oscar Prince, a beautiful boy who was stillborn. They held tight to the earthside body of their starside baby, knowing that this world was too fucked up for any firstborn son. They chose his only outfit, and drove him around the mountains when his ashes were released by the funeral home. They never forgot him, and never stopped loving him. 

Hawthorne returned to work just after what was supposed to be Oscar’s due date, and left the coffeeshop for a local residential crisis respite house. There they provided peer support to other Vermonters who were dealing with their shit, and found a beautiful community of folks that they connected with. They began playing guitar again, and in a few months Washboard Honey was born. 

In the summer of 2019, they came out as genderqueer and transmasculine; finally they were able to define themselves with words that rang true. They embraced their chosen name of Hawthorne, and began using they/them pronouns, since they often didn’t catch the message they were supposed to receive when referred to as “she.” They had top surgery at the end of the summer, or as they said, they Marie Kondo’d their breasts because they brought no joy. After that they pretty much refused to wear a shirt. They were finally starting to feel at home in their body; until then, they had thought of their body as a shell of pain that carried them around and didn’t match up with who they were. 

Their littlest love came into the world six weeks early, making them worry from the moment her mama started having preeclampsia. They wore their tweed coat and flat cap for three days, wanting to make a good first impression, and ended up having their fancy duds covered with an operating gown. They followed her to the NICU and held her first, keeping her skin-to-skin on their proud chest. In the pictures, Lucy Danger is already looking up at her papa with such wonder. They loved her fiercely, and it was returned the same. 

With the advent of 2020 also came a new wave of discovery and personal development. They began taking testosterone; nearly immediately their voice began to drop. Their soft alto voice deepened and richened into a smooth baritone; they picked up new harmonies and new skills to adjust for the transition. Their mustache and beard began to come in, their arms and legs became more muscular. Their thrill was a daily celebration. 

Hawthorne was injured at work just two months after Lucy was born. The medical system plodded along, finally recommending surgery in March, just as the novel coronavirus made landfall in New England. Ambulatory surgeries were cancelled, and Hawthorne waited, not patiently, for a date. It wouldn’t come until more than 5 months after the original injury. Unfortunately after that long wait, the “Hail Mary” surgery did not bring relief. 

Car rides were a particular hell for Hawthorne, but we travelled out to western New York for a cousin’s wedding over Labor Day weekend. We met up with close friends and danced at the wedding until we lost our breath. We met friends’ babies for the first time, and Hawthorne took Lucy down her first slides and on her first swings. They sang with their brother and their cousin, and smiled for dozens of pictures. 

In the dark hours of the morning of Saturday, September 19th, they woke up sick. After steadying out with an early morning bath, they took a nap. They fell asleep with their head on my chest, cuddled under their favorite blanket in our bed with Ella curled up behind their knees. Our son’s ashes sat under his golden crown across the room, guarded by his teddy bear as they always were. The sun poured through the windows in the early fall morning, throwing rainbows from a crystal prism on the windowsill. The frost melted to dew on the grass, and Hawthorne slept on. They never woke up.  

Hawthorne leaves behind a family devastated, a daughter too young to understand, and me. They leave a legacy of laughter and music. They leave a body filled with pain and burning, with lungs that didn’t like to work and a mind that outpaced us all. They leave a woodstove for me to curse over, a pandemic that continues to rage, and a political climate that is wrenching apart our democracy. They leave their dilapidated fishing hat and about a thousand flannel shirts. 

But the Universe must have balance; where there is leaving, there must also be joining. Hawthorne is reunited with their family who has gone before; their father and grandparents. They have finally met their father-in-law, and probably are avoiding my mother. They are able to take their son’s hand and hold him as close as they once held their daughter. The captain of misadventures is no longer held back by pain and trauma. 

They also leave us gifts – not just the crow presents of railroad spikes and shiny rocks, not just the memories. They leave us with their music, their words and harmonies. They leave us with the connections they made with us, between us. They have touched literally hundreds of lives. And they leave us with a reminder to live – to carpe the fuck out of that diem.

So when you are out in the world, finding your way from place to place, and you find a pen someone has dropped, or someone’s wallet in a snowbank, or an inhaler tucked into the crook of a resting tree, you will know that Hawthorne has stopped off for a little visit. When you hear someone say, “well I didn’t think that would happen!,” know that they just wanted to have a little fun. When you hear quiet music, play it loud; and when you see injustice, stand up and speak out. Everyone who knew them knows that Hawthorne was not a quiet soul; I don’t see any reason that should end. 

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La de Dee, La de Dah

I don’t believe in fairness in this world. I’m not even 100% sure I believe in karma.

I do believe that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, that the net energy of the universe is static. It flares here, diminishes there, mountains to valleys and all that lies between. And I believe the physicist brings comfort to those left behind.  

And still, I am tired of writing obituaries. I am tired of losing family.

Two weeks ago, Stan Flynn slipped out of this world, his beloved wife of over fifty years by his side. It’s hard to describe who he was to me. It’s strange, isn’t it, how a family loses the same individual, but everyone has lost a different person. Technically, he was my father’s first cousin’s husband. I supposed he embodied more of an uncle/cousin role who, when he felt necessary, was known to impart his fatherly wisdom to someone who lost their own. Whatever branch of the family tree he sat on, he was Lucy’s grandpa, her Gumpy, through and through. 

Growing up I did not really know my cousins. They were older than everyone else’s cousins that I knew of. It wasn’t until I became a teenager and began to understand what a chosen family meant that I grew to know them. As a kid, I was a little afraid of Stan; I probably avoided him at family functions, not knowing how to interact with this large man who used a cane, whose face was obscured by a gray and trim Santa beard, stern blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. It would be years until I understood that it was not steel, but pain, that drew his brow together and made him appear disapproving. It’s funny to think now that I was ever intimidated by him. 

Stan was a master of sarcasm. I knew not to sit too close to him at Thanksgiving; I understood the impropriety of his sub-volume humor long before I understood the jokes, and I’ve never had much of a poker face. My mom was usually too busy talking with the others to hear many of his wisecracks, but I do remember some of her thin-lipped smiles when she heard but did not want to acknowledge whatever was just said. I knew I’d be the one in trouble if I laughed, so I stayed at the other end of the table. 

There’s no one experience I had with Stan that I can look back and say, yeah, that was the best day, or hey, that was the time when I knew I could show up and be welcomed with open arms. He was quiet in his ways of showing his love. He’d make sure that he picked up a case of what he remembered me liking to drink whenever I visited, whether it was ginger beer or the real stuff. He knew my mother’s long history of judging and commenting on my eating, and made sure I always had seconds of whatever I wanted; every time I cleared my plate was a thumbs-up from the head of the table. When Hawthorne and I were going to drive out to meet my birthfamily in Indiana, he made me put the number of one of his service buddies in my phone, in case anything happened to us out there. He worried about us travelling in that part of the country in Trump’s America.

Stan was in poor health for having such a good heart. The man endured; that can be a full sentence about him in itself. He underwent nine back surgeries which failed to bring any lasting pain relief; his legs bounced if he sat in his chair for any length of time, trying to find any moment of ease. In his seventies, he battled bladder cancer; when it recurred for a third time, they removed his bladder, giving him a permanent ostomy. Even without the organ, the cancer returned. More radiation cleared it up again, and he got clean results just weeks before his death. 

A lifelong smoker, I never knew how hard he was trying at any given time to hide his cigar habit. He always kept it out of sight, back turned to the glass in the door. I could smell it on him; his daily trips to the dump, grocery store runs for one or two items. Before they died, Hawthorne would pick up a handful of cigarellos to smoke in companionable silence. I kept the tradition going this past Christmas, knowing that H would have gotten a kick out of me sneaking away to hide the Cubans in the glovebox. 

The two of them shared something intangible that no one else in the family could understand; the experience of living in the uncompromising grip of pain. They were both beyond having tips and tricks to get by in the day to day. I think that knowing the other was there and got it made a world of difference to them both; I know it helped Hawthorne feel less alone in their suffering. I hope it did for Stan, too. The two of them would miss dinners and desserts, escaping to lie down in the middle of the day, trying to accomplish the dual mission impossible: get comfortable and don’t miss out on family time.

There’s still so much I don’t know about Stan; but I can feel his thin arms holding me so tight after Oscar’s birth, and Hawthorne’s death. He never could look at pictures of his first grandbaby, the one who never made it home. I don’t think he believed that the pictures could every bring anything but more pain. 

What I do know is how much we were loved, every one of us. The pride in his voice when he talked about his sons and their lives. The love and patience when he asked Annda if she’d taken her pills, the affable exasperation when she told him to move his coffee cup up if he was just going to fall asleep in that chair anyway. I don’t think there was a dessert she baked that he didn’t love, and say so.

When Hawthorne came to explain their gender journey and what transitioning meant to them, Stan was concerned. To him, somebody who couldn’t settle peacefully on either side of the binary must be sad to not have that space to call home. It took some conversation, and an agreed upon option for a name – “Ed,” for at least some of his worries around the subject to be eased. Throughout that, though, the acceptance and love never wavered. 

Lucy was just eight weeks old when we brought her over for Christmas. She didn’t quite take up the space of his two hands cradled in front of him. She wasn’t even six pounds yet, and had him wrapped around her tiny finger; he stayed right there through the day he died. He would bellow at her for putting her feet on table, and for getting handprints on the windows. He’d hang her whatever toys she threw out of her playpen, answering his cherished dog’s audible requests for more pets.

I have learned that I cannot talk about my losses without talking about love, and remember Stan is no exception. I don’t know how to finish writing about him, so I ramble on. I will be thinking of him when I find myself puttering about in the yard, and when Lucy leaves smears and sticky prints on the windows she can reach. I hope that as time goes on, I get to know more about him, so that Lucy can have all the stories she can about her Gumpy. I have seventeen pictures to show the love between them.

The family reunion in the stars keeps growing, brightening our someday sky of the beyond while hearts grow heavier down here. Stan brings them an extra twinkle, another smartass remark from under his breath. I should think he would enjoy being less orderly.

For now, that’s all I’ve got – so in the immortal wisdom of Stan Flynn, “If they don’t like it, fuck ‘em!”

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Fright Gives Way to Memory, Having Coffee With My Love

For years, I have loved Moka pot coffee. Fancy coffee at home has been a deciding factor of decadence to me. Hawthorne had been a barista for a solid decade, and must have been a bartender in a past life, so we were always on the lookout for new and fun ways to make special drinks. When we had met, I was drinking far too much; it wasn’t uncommon for me to finish off at least two liters of coffee a day. I was working overnights in EMS, taking classes during the day, and trying to learn how to live with my new husband; I ran on about 4 hours of sleep a night. I needed all the help I could get from the magic beans.

After we had moved in together and things started to feel like they settled down a bit, Hawthorne staged a bit of an intervention. Basically, I needed to get more sleep and cut back on the caffeine. They pointed out that my migraines and general headaches had been largely uncontrolled and that my anxiety revved at a pretty high baseline. I put up a fight. No way I actually drink that much coffee, I said. But sure, I’ll go to bed earlier. 

Of course, going to bed early in a new and passionate relationship with a smokin’ hot partner didn’t result in more sleep. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that I admitted to my new doctor that my migraines were more frequent than they needed to be. She tried me on an anticonvulsant that I hadn’t tried before. After two days of feeling like Hawthorne existed solely to piss me off and some nice but confusing hallucinations of a pet cat that did not exist, I stopped taking the medication and agreed to maybe try some lifestyle changes. I’d drink more water, go to bed earlier, and yes, cut back on the caffeine.

By now I wasn’t working on the street anymore; I was working in quality improvement for the ambulance company, and though I was always on call, it was a 9-5 job. I wasn’t in school, I wasn’t trying to hold multiple jobs or devote 20 hours a day to being productive. I asked Hawthorne to help me cut back; they were in school, so anytime we were home, the coffeepot was on. I had finally met the one who could match my stubbornness; they kept on my ass about how much I was bringing to work, and since we couldn’t afford for me to get coffee out often, I ended up cutting my intake in half. My migraines didn’t improve overnight, but it was a major step towards controlling them again. 

Early on in their junior year of college, we drove out to Premier on Niagara Falls Boulevard. We splurged; Hawthorne picked out exactly the right coffee contraption; more importantly, I found two Le Creuset demitasse cups, blue and brown. The silver, angular hourglass  of the Moka pot was entirely new to me but promised something near espresso, and my barista beau was more than willing to be in charge of it. For a little while, Sunday mornings were for fancy coffee and homemade breakfasts.

I’m not sure why it stopped; maybe it was too much hassle to keep clean, or it got packed away for another move. Whatever the case, the Moka pot made only very rare appearances in Vermont. It remained a promise, this time set in nostalgia; when I was studying day and night for grad school, Hawthorne would mention making some that weekend. It didn’t happen, for one reason or another; finally I started asking Hawthorne to make it. They’d agree and kiss me on the head. “You love a Moka pot,” they’d say. I’m pretty sure my reaction would always be somewhere on the Catana spectrum of love and excitement.

As grad school wore on, the role of coffee in my life changed dramatically; I was brewing something much more magical than beans. I dreamed of graduation day, taking pictures in my cap and gown, Hawthorne at my side and our baby on my hip. The smell of coffee made me nauseated; I had gotten so sick while trying to cut down on caffeine before we were even pregnant, and hated every minute without that familiar jolt. I drank green tea to wean off, and then for the nausea. Since I was the morning person, I still saw to their coffee in the morning, but Hawthorne would be waiting with a hot mug ready for me as soon as I walked in the door from work. When I was five months pregnant, I remember driving down the mountain heading to work, and just needing something more than tea to wake me up. Newsflash, pregnancy is exhausting. I drove to Dunkin Donuts and bit my nails in the drive through; even the smell of the store was turning my stomach, how was I going to drink it? But I NEED it, I argued with myself. By the time I pulled around I’d come to the conclusion that I would try an iced coffee with no sweetener. 

I drove back the way I came, making the turn at the light for the hospital. I took my first sip passing a cemetery behind wrought-iron fencing; color began to seep back into the world. The gray of the stones picked up their luster; the oddly lush green of the not-quite-spring grass shone more verdant. Shining purple and butter-bright crocus emerged in dense patches on yellowed lawns, shaded areas holding on to shrinking piles of dingy snow left over from the long winter. My forehead and neck relaxed, my shoulders loosened. My mind felt clearer than it had in months. Oscar learned the caffeine jitterbug that day, and we would dance in the car on the way to work, listening to RuPaul while cradled safe in my belly. I miss those dance parties. 

Lucy didn’t miss a beat when it was her turn. She demanded her coffee strong and iced, with a healthy dose of cream. Occasionally, she would relent and allow me to throw back a quick-fire shot of espresso and cream, but would still revolt at the scent of sweet, hot coffee. I stuck to half-caf for a while. OK, well, I tried, alright? I intended to stick to half-caf until I realized that I was drinking double the coffee, completely negating my efforts. Oops. So, I just tried to be a little more intentional about it, drinking my normal amount but with a few scoops of decaf beans. Fast forward to now, when I’m not breastfeeding or pregnant, and it’s just a high-octane free-for-all. Sometimes I find myself staring at the leftover decaf beans from over a year ago, wondering what to do with them. Then Lucy will growl or Ella will whine and I’ll forget about it.

I’ve come to accept that grief is going to rear up and grab me unexpectedly. In the time between Hawthorne’s death and packing, I realized that they were never going to be there to make me Moka pot again. It began a cascade of similar thoughts; there was no one to buy me flowers, or additions to my fairy collection, or jewelry from the shop on Church Street. They were no longer there to tell me to treat myself, to make sure I got a donut or a coffee, or have that glass of wine at the end of the day. There was no one there to tell me I deserve it.

I don’t know what hit harder, the utter grief and loss I felt in that moment, or the hot wave of shame that crashed over me immediately after, salt water in already raw and bleeding wounds. How could I be so selfish? Hawthorne was dead, and I was feeling sorry for myself over coffee and presents? What the hell was wrong with me? 

Writing about it now brings the moment back so strongly. Sinking down to the floor of the kitchen, the floor cold and unforgiving, the darkness of the evening pressing against the windows. Flanked by guilt and self-loathing, I couldn’t even cry. Grief returned to her post in the presence of these bullies, quietly celebrating the break.

This is one of the experiences that makes it feel as if Hawthorne has been gone for so long. It’s taken time, and distance, and therapy to work through this episode. I still remind myself that it’s not selfish to wish they were here to make me something – chili, tea, their magical healing chicken curry soup. One of the ways they showed love was cooking, or acting as barista or bartender. They liked to put the time into those acts for people. Sometimes I wonder at what creations they would have dreamed up if they had been able to bake. 

One of the things I decided when I moved to this new place, this home without Hawthorne, was that I would make myself fancy coffee once a week. I’d buy myself flowers, and treat myself. And I have. Maybe I haven’t made my weekly coffee, but I know how to do it now. And yes, I may have gone overboard on the treats; I mean, I don’t need to be eating cupcakes for breakfast three days a week (a dozen cupcakes don’t last very long), scattering sprinkles in the car. It makes me laugh to see the bright colors littering the car seat, and to remember Hawthorne’s look of horror to find my stash of sprinkles in the console. They hated the crumbs and detritus that filled the cupholders and got lost down between the seats. I think they were mostly shocked not only at the fact that I essentially drank a few teaspoons of sprinkles at a time, but had been doing so for weeks without their noticing. It feels good to laugh.

I miss them every morning when I make my coffee. I stand in my bright kitchen with its black countertops, still learning to navigate around old furniture in a new place. I often make my go mug at the same time I make my first cup; I had nearly ten years where I made up two cups at a time, so it just feels natural. I often stand in the middle of the apartment, watching the light come in while I get that first hit in. I do my journal and set up for yoga, letting the day seep in, taking quick notes on the early thoughts running through my brain. 

I’m not missing the gifts they gave me that I no longer will receive; it’s not out of selfishness that I get upset at jewelry commercials and “treat the woman in your life,” advertisements. I’m not grieving their loss because they did things for me. I’m grieving the loss of someone who showed me love, and believed that I deserve nice things and special moments. Hawthorne wanted me to be kind to myself, to show myself love in ways that were meaningful to us both, to treat myself if they weren’t right there to do it for me. I miss how they made me feel as if I deserved those things, when I so often don’t think to. I miss being made to feel like I was the only girl in the world, the only one who got to see their eyes light up just so. 

It’s hard to show myself the love they would have when they aren’t here, and I don’t feel like I deserve it. But then I remember, I didn’t have do anything to earn or deserve their love; I was just myself, the girl from Boston with the pigtail braids stomping up the steps at work. I was just the Patriots fan undaunted by the barrage of Bills fans telling me that Brady sucks. I was the one who found their inhaler in a snowbank, the one who wouldn’t pronounce the R’s in their name; the one their rescue pup liked better than their girlfriend. I was the one, and they were mine. Now I’m the one left behind, the one who has felt all our shared dreams fade over six months of mornings without them. 

At least they made sure I had the proper equipment so I could be awake to make some new dreams. Turns out, a Moka pot can hold an awful lot more love than it can coffee. 

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Why Do I Care How Much it Storms

I was a paramedic for ten years. 

That’s not quite true – I became certified as an EMT in Massachusetts in October of 2006, earned my New York State paramedic card in 2010, and let that lapse in 2016 after moving to Vermont. Two states, two certifications – for those who don’t drive the band-aid bus, it’s simpler to say that I was a paramedic for ten years. 

Now, in the times of Covid, people react differently to that. “Thank you,” is heard a lot more often. Neutral acknowledgements of, “you must have seen a lot,” and “Bet you’re glad you’re not doing that now!” have become the common response, replacing the question every first responder hates.

“What was your craziest/best/worst call?”

I’m never sure what people are looking for when they ask. War stories? Blood and gore? The intro to an episode of Criminal Minds? 

Sure, I’ve seen those. I can tell you about the heartbeats I’ve watched slow, the last breaths I’ve exhaled alongside, the countless rounds of CPR. I could tell you about not knowing how to deescalate a person in a schizophrenic break, or knowing how to best restrain a violent patient before they injured you and your partner. I can give you the names of the friends I have lost, not in the line of duty, but duty still implicated in their deaths. 

I can take you to the ambulance bay, the acrid smell of stale urine and freshly crushed cigarettes, chew spit and diesel exhaust. Where every head turns when the bay doors slide open, triggered by errant garbage interfering with the sensor. Where hard plastic backboards, not yet washed clean from last night’s shootings, lean stacked haphazardly, waiting for bleach.

I can take you to where the discarded nitrile gloves are missing a finger (the better to find a vein with, my dear), where oxygen tubing holds closed wobbly cabinet doors, where the radios crackle on and on.

I can tell you about the smattering of good calls; the ones where we actually made a difference, when we were in time. The babies I’ve helped come into this world, the overdoses reversed. 

But that’s not the call I want to tell you about. 

Hawthorne and I picked up shifts together as often as we could. We stretched them out, offering to take a couple extra calls, hold hands a couple extra hours in the never-quite-dark of the city. We never ran out of things to talk about. 

One day, sometime in late winter/early spring, we got dispatched around morning rush hour for an interfacility transfer. A woman had given birth and her baby had been transported overnight to the children’s hospital NICU. These were easy calls to us back then. I took the chance to drive while Hawthorne took care of the patient. She didn’t need any care other than observation and conversation, something to help pass the worried minutes from door to door. Now that I’ve had kids and especially one in the NICU, I think about those calls often, the opportunity for empathy I didn’t notice as it passed. My own ambulance ride to bring Lucy earthside is hazed by the hypertensive headache and steady drip of magnesium sulfate; I remember that my medic that night was in the military, and he was kind. 

Since I was driving, the radios were mine – dispatch, 911, and AM/FM. I skipped over the country station in deference to the direct challenge in the bright blue eyes that caught mine in the rearview mirror. I settled on Top 40, whatever the station was. Traffic had cleared mostly by the time I called transporting. I sang along softly to the radio and made the trip into the city.

As we pulled into our destination, Bruno Mars came on, playing “Just the Way You Are.” I glanced back at this person who put stars in my eyes as if they had been born for that purpose. Those brilliant eyes smiled into mine, the melody making its way behind the dividing wall between the compartments. I remember straightening up in my seat a little, and pushing my voice out a little louder, a little more confident. I sang them every line of that song. I somehow navigated the ambulance into the parking space; I don’t remember ever looking away. 

I don’t think I had called Hawthorne beautiful before that day, when I borrowed those lyrics to give them. The magic of music is that it gives us the words we can’t say. I know my voice cracked a bit on those notes; mama sure as hell sang tenor, not whatever high-alto range Mars is famous for. I don’t know if I have ever sang truer.

The DJ broke in, the vocal equivalent of a record scratch, and not nearly as welcome as the real thing. The radio static almost obscured the response from dispatch after I called us on location. The moment over, Hawthorne turned back to the anxious woman on our stretcher. I jumped down from the ambulance, swinging the door hard to close it. I reached up for the handle; right door, left door swung open. I lifted my hand to my partner to steady themselves on the steep drop between the truck and the ground. They clasped it as if the world hadn’t shifted underneath us. I pushed the lever in, pulled the stretcher out; Hawthorne guided the wheels down, and through the sliding doors we went. 

We finished the transport and walked the stretcher back to the truck. I made it up, sheet precisely laid and tucked in, safety belts clasped and tightened, ends folded and arranged just so. Hawthorne wandered off with the rugged laptop to finish the paperwork and have a smoke. I jumped out of the rig, slammed the doors shut, and walked around to the driver’s side to move the truck out of the way of whoever would be coming in next; the driveways in and out were narrow, and call volume was high. Flip the switch, hop in, turn the key. It worked (always a question of whether it would or not), and I slid the truck out of the drive and into a spot, angled towards the old brick wall. I let it idle and pulled out my book, The Bridges of Madison County. My eyes were devouring Waller’s words; I was deep in the heat of Iowa summer when the door holding my feet in suddenly opened. Hawthorne leaned in, leaning over me, their boots steady on the corrugated running board, legs apart for stability as they held onto the frame. Eyes on mine, those clear-day ocean eyes, they kissed me until mine unfocused. My hands were trapped between us, holding the book, one finger stuck awkwardly between pages. Tenderness, a soft thunder I had not heard from Hawthorne, radiated out and around us, warming me far more efficiently than the questionable heat in the rig. 

I don’t know how long we stayed there, lost in that moment. It was like a dream; the kind that you wake up from in the middle of the night, not knowing why, then you fall right back into it; when you wake up in the morning, you can’t tell what was dream and what wasn’t. 

I can’t tell you a single other thing about that day; any other call, any post we made it to. I don’t know if we got out on time (probably not) or if we volunteered to work longer just to be near each other (probably). The only thing I knew was that Hawthorne had trembled my heart, so tired of hurting. They had reached in and given me a gift I didn’t know I wanted, didn’t know how desperately I needed. And I had given one to them, as well. From that day forward, until it became a word too imbued with femininity for them to find themselves in, I called them beautiful as often as I could. 

It’s going to be six months this week that they’ve been gone. Grief digs her nails in my softest parts, leaves bruises over bone and sinew. The hurt and anguish run deep; the anger has become a balm to the raw wound, a salve that deadens the pain for a little while. I’m exhausted from feeling so much, so consistently. I’m still working out how an absence can weigh so heavy, how a loss can leave so much behind. 

The wind is picking up, neighborhood chimes creating a chorus of sing-song clanging; not exactly a lullaby. Some undetermined piece of house shudders with the gusts, banging against the siding. The past couple days have seen temperatures in the fifties, but the wind has snuck in leaving a cold wake around doors and windows so recently open. Nights like this Hawthorne and I would curl into each other as best we could around 40 pounds of anxious old dog. Ella hates the wind. 

I’ve got the bed, the dog, and the blankets. All I’m missing is my love. 

So tonight, I’ll remember that call, wrapping myself in the tender and warm they filled me with that cold day a decade ago. I’ll cuddle Ella close and listen to the wind moan its way over the old boards, but it can’t get to me here; I’ve got my love to keep me warm

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An Algebra of Lyricism Which I Am Still Deciphering

Every two weeks, I will write and publish a blog post, I said.

I’m announcing this for public accountability, I said. 

Six days later, the love of my life slipped wordlessly away from this world while I sat at my computer, tapping away. I had logged over two weeks of daily writing, more than I had accomplished in years. I heard Hawthorne’s snoring change, and left the cursor blinking on the screen as I tried to quietly run upstairs, so as not to wake Lucy, sleeping in her swing by my desk.

The next week I kept my promise, with the support of my friends, family, and therapist. 

Yet now, I sit here, watching that thin line blink, a silent metronome of progress unmade. 

I need to write, I tell myself.

I don’t want to. I watch myself in my mind’s eye, see my folded arms, childish pout on my face. Hawthorne said when my eyebrows came together like that, I looked like Sam the Eagle. It hurts too much. I hurt too much. 

It has been a difficult week. Work has been wonderful; I go, and throw myself into the data, the tracking, the registration of folks coming in for their first vaccine. It’s the closest thing to a party I’ve seen in nearly a year. Eyes crinkle up with smiles behind masks; the effort is made to stay six feet away, though difficult with this crowd, close talkers that they are. At times, there’s almost a waft of jubilation; we can meet our granddaughter, our nephew, our cousin/child/long lost friend, they say. I can see my parents, my older children, my students, they tell me. Soon, they smile. We will be back to normal soon. 

Some are frightened. Some have heard nothing but conspiracy theories, some have allergies and medical problems. So many have been isolated for so long they seem intimidated by the people around, the noise that builds at the busier times, even with detailed and careful scheduling. Many arrive, anxiety balled up in their pockets, worried to shreds by restless hands; but everyone looks lighter when they leave. The weight of “someday, maybe,” has been lifted, replaced by colorful kites of “soon.”

When the work day is done, the sun slips west. I pick Lucy up from her daycare and bask in her light, securing her. We sing on the way home; she interrupts herself with growls and little shrieks. The moon rises full, stark against the softening sky in the east. 

Within an hour of arriving home, Lucy is fed, changed, and asleep. Her single-nap days playing with her friends knock her out by 7pm. The hours lit by still mismatched incandescent bulbs stretch before me; what once felt like stolen time now drags by. I think Netflix has stopped asking if I’m still watching. Most evenings I wake up, disoriented, to the plot of episode something of NCIS, having no idea how they arrived at their conclusions, or even how many fifty-minute mysteries have been solved. 

All around me are projects, half-done or barely begun. Painted terracotta pots wait for their glaze; the plants droop, losing hope that I will soon re-pot them. A belated Christmas stitching lays over a bookshelf, and yards of fabric await their transformation into curtains. One room remains full of boxes to be unpacked; books and office supplies and blank greeting cards and candles. A roll of contact paper sits on the bar it is meant to revitalize. Corkboard monstera leaves sit in their stack next to a decorative photo box, on sale and misspelled, saying “kindess matters.” 

I don’t want to write. I don’t want to open that door; it’s too heavy, stained too dark, and I am weary. I lean against it, a passive act of resistance, feeling the creak in the boards and hinges. My heart already feels too raw, my soul still scraped from the last missive. 

But I know – whether I put pen to paper or not, or fingers to keys or not, the words will be there. They will build and build against the other side of that door, until, like a sinking ship, it bursts open. If I wait for that to happen, the waves come with splinters, arrowing in on old and unsuspecting wounds. My phone lights up to remind me to drink water; the little notepad icon taunts me. I carry how many notebooks, and still, my go-to place to record the lines and stories that cross my mind is my phone. Maybe I should call it Diane

A giant laid down their head the last time this week; one of the brightest city lights of San Francisco was swept away to the stars. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, my favorite of the beat poets, died at 101. I can honestly say that I have never really stopped to think about who my influences are in my writing, but without a doubt, he lead the pack. I have been infatuated with his poetry since high school. I had the opportunity to see him do a reading at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I arrived late and breathless with my boyfriend; the auditorium was full, and we sat on the wide, shallow steps on the side. Ferlinghetti’s deep voice hummed over the words as if the world had slowed, allowing each line to reverberate from his lips, past the ears of all in attendance, and out and down the hallowed halls. I still hear the echoes whenever I return, though it’s been fifteen years. 

I loved his unabashed appreciation for the beauty of the human body; he didn’t shy away from words like cock or breasts, a titillating and undeniable mark of maturity to my sixteen year old self, poring over his poems in study period at my Catholic high school. I was already queer and appreciating the female form myself, but he helped me discover my love for women went beyond wanting to get under their skirts. Burned into my memory is the image of a woman hanging laundry atop an apartment building, no shelter from the California sun; the wet sheets cling to her, and she laughs. It is a gif; more movement than a simple photograph can allow, yet there is no need for a story before or after, only the complete immersiveness of the moment. Even now, as I lean hard into this season of anguish and grief, I know that rooftop awash in sunlight is there. It is no oasis, but a pinprick star through the gloom.

So, before I say goodbye, Lawrence, Mr. Ferlinghetti sir, a favor if you will – if you see my love there among the stars, perhaps watching the sunset between the baobab trees, tell them that I ache for them. Tell them I miss the planes and curves of their body, the soft skin and all the changes; tell them I’d give anything to watch them hang out laundered linens on a rooftop. While you’re there, mapping the constellation of your next hundred and one years, tell my son a lullaby, a spoken word song that comes from a far rockaway of the heart. And if you can spare it, send a little of their starlight this way, so I may teach my daughter how to paint sunlight, and give me a wild dream of a new beginning.

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The Slow Honey Drip of Those Young Nights Long Gone

Ten years ago, I realized that I’d fallen in love with a beautiful person who was supposed to have been a one-night stand. They had done the same, and tried to end our budding romance, as we were both in other committed relationships at the time. I cried for three days; I remember the sun shining bright as I tried to hide my eyes from my partner on the ambulance, and gazed with aching sorrow down the street that would take me to their house. He bought me coffee that day, and was kind enough – or smart enough to save his skin – to not offer platitudes or advice. My marriage was in shambles; my husband had moved his boyfriend in months ago, and I could not relax in our house. I could only work, try to keep up with the housework and the animals we had, and avoid the two of them for my own safety and sanity. My lover was the sunshine that had disappeared from my life; I didn’t notice it was gone until they kissed me, hadn’t realized the dark around me until they made me burn. 

On the third day, lightheaded and resigned, I asked to stop by their apartment. I had a Valentine’s gift for them and their girlfriend; a poem I’d written for the two of them, every stroke of pen a denial that it was I who wanted those long looks, nights with old movies, and shared bottles of wine. I walked up the steps and waited on the porch with its painted floorboards starting to sag. They creaked underneath in the icy grip of February. My lover opened the door and looked at me; neither of us moved for a minute, maybe more. I don’t know who moved first. They pulled me in and we buried our faces in each other’s necks. Their soft voice echoed through my body. “Stay,” they said. “I can’t do this anymore. I won’t be without you.”

The following months were fraught with arguments on each of our homefronts as we each tried to detangle ourselves from relationships that had long since soured into “situations.” My husband’s boyfriend grew more abusive; after one night where he nearly broke my arm, I stayed at Hawthorne’s apartment they shared with their girlfriend for three nights. Hawthorne gave me both a safe place and the resolve to not return until the boyfriend was ousted. They took pictures of the bruising, and told me that I didn’t have to leave, even after the boyfriend left. I did, though; they walked me to my truck and kissed my forehead, telling me I’d always have a safe place with them. I went home and tried, again, to fix what was left of my marriage. My then-husband would never forgive me for evicting their lover, and crossed boundaries in our relationship that couldn’t be uncrossed. It took a couple months more for me to concede that I had done everything I could, but I could no longer stay. One night, laying as far away from me as they could in our bed, he asked again why I wouldn’t just leave if I was so unhappy. The summer air was cool on my skin as I tugged off my wedding ring and laid it on the nightstand. I dressed quickly and quietly in the dark, grabbed my get-out bags from the back of the closet as he lay silently. I didn’t think he had any reaction until I backed out of the drive, and he appeared in the headlights of the truck. He stood, softly calling me in the hideous pet name he had for me, his voice childlike; his eyes looked dead in the artificial lights. It took more than twenty minutes to talk him down and away from the truck. I drove down the street without looking back, calling Hawthorne on the way. I had texted them when I was first leaving, and they had left a couple frantic messages when I had been delayed. I arrived at the apartment in tears and exhausted. They ushered me in, undressed me gently, and tucked me in on the futon. They held me until I fell asleep. 

Hawthorne’s story of the spring of 2011 doesn’t feel like it’s mine to tell, at least not yet. 

We talked about this every year, about a week before Valentine’s Day. 

“Remember when you broke up with me?” I’d ask.

“I had to,” they’d reply. 

“Never again,” we’d say. We meant it.

We were married almost exactly three years from the night I left the house I owned with my ex-husband. The nights were comfortable; the day dawned gray and dry, and the light cloud cover gave way to skies the reflection of my lover’s eyes. 

We chose our vows carefully; Hawthorne personally curated the music for the day and the ceremony, and given the DJ a list of approved songs. We wanted no mention of ending or death; we wanted to be in the moment, to ride that wave of joy and jubilation that was bursting out of us. We brought the light out in each other. As I walked down the aisle to an instrumental version of “The Luckiest,” we were trembling with laughter, smiles so big they hurt our cheeks. 

We promised forever.

We never said “til death do us part.” 

It’s been nearly five months since they died. My body feels hollow, a cavern carved from sorrow, jutting protrusions left from where my heart was torn away. I didn’t know it was possible to feel such anguish before Oscar died, and my womb became that haunted, hollow place. The echoes of my own cries ring out, bouncing off the sharp edges, sounding foreign even to my own ears. 

It has only been recently that I’ve started to be able to talk to them, to let them in, to let them linger. It was easier to be angry. It was easier to refuse to talk to them than to acknowledge the emptiness of the space beside me. Now the soft material of the shoulder bag that Sherri gave them feels like their jeans when I reach over, my hand searching for theirs in the passenger seat. I grip the sturdy cotton and watch the dance of the tow truck lights in the bumper of the car barely in front of me in traffic; the ambers and reds refract in my tears, a kaleidoscope of blurred edges. I think about how they would never have let me let the car get this messy, the grief I would have gotten for the errant sprinkles from a week’s worth of cupcakes for breakfast.

They’ve come home, too; my friends and I have talked about all the apartments that fell through, leaving me in my new place, with all her creaks and moans. I don’t think its happenstance that this house reminds me of Buffalo with its wood-framed glass built-ins, it’s layered-painted white trim, and two-handed bolt on the back door. It has the wide entryways and narrow-planked hardwood floors I came to know so well in other 1920s-born apartments. I hear Hawthorne’s footsteps in the floorboards. I hear them checking on the baby in the night, I hear them unloading the dishwasher and the drip of the water off the hot, clean glasses. I hear our summer nights spent fishing in the sounds of the radiator, the forced air system earning its name.

Valentine’s Day was about the little things; great food, wine, chocolate, and just being together, silly and romantic. There was never pressure, there was never expectation; just love, that joyous expression of it we always seemed to be able to find, even in the cold and the dark. We would dance, wherever we could. We’d trade cards, proud of our finds or our creations. I’d keep the fancy box long after the chocolates were gone. They would kiss me until my head spun, and I’d smooth away the lipstick left behind as I caught my breath. 

I don’t know what to do with myself this year. I am not decorating; my heart aches too much to hang up the garlands of fish I made for our first real Valentine’s; I can’t bear to open the tote where they rest among the Easter chicks and foam pumpkins anyway. I’ll hang Lucy’s first piece of art, a heart made with her long little feet dipped in red paint. The rest can stay packed. 

I’ll buy myself the chocolate, and hell, I’ll take the heart-shaped boxes too. Let them burn; strike a match and watch the cellophane melt, red dye dripping into spreading pools. Let it seep into the frozen ground, branching out a root system, something to ground me in the cold winter nights when I’d give anything to feel their ice-cold feet sliding up my legs to warm up between my thighs. 

I will never forget that burgeoning joy, the sheer exuberance of our love for each other. It doesn’t matter if what ended up being the last months were the hardest; we had a lifetime of love crammed into our ten years together, jam-packed like a Pop Tart. Anger might be easier than the depths of this grieving, but there is solace to be found here, too. It’s just hiding in the shadows, waiting for that slight sliver of light to catch off the surface and set it glowing. 

So I’ll sing the bebop apocalypse to our baby, and I’ll leave an extra-thick pair of socks near the bed, when the cold feet looking for comfort in bed are mine; and baby, our love song will survive.

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It’s Knowing That This Can’t Go On Forever

One year. 

It’s been one year since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a worldwide health emergency.

At the time of this post, there have been over 102 million cases, over 2.2 million deaths globally. In the US alone, over 25 million cases, and over 436 thousand deaths.

You hear the numbers. They’ve climbed so high, they cease to make sense. Who can comprehend of hundreds of thousands of deaths? It’s as if Oakland were wiped off the map. All those people, gone.

You can see the effects. You look around; almost everyone knows, or knows someone who knows, someone who has contracted the disease. You see the businesses that have closed, the decrease in traffic, the increase of delivery trucks, and lack of big yellow school busses. I wonder, can you see the ghosts? The nursing home overnight environmental staff whose ’13 Honda doesn’t pass your house when you sit down to dinner. The schoolteacher who no longer needs her parking pass. The taciturn grandfather who used to pick up a 30-rack from the convenience store every few days. 

You taste your food, and you’re grateful in a way you never have been before. You have been home, cooking; all your ingredients are delivered, hand-picked. It’s easy to bitch when there’s been a substitution you weren’t expecting, and there’s no one there to explain or make it right. You make your sourdough, post it on Instagram. The tang of the warm bread, the melting butter seeping into all the nooks and crannies inside, are a comforting reminder that you have followed the rules, that you’ve kept yourself safe. Your hands taste like sanitizer, so you’ve stopped biting your nails while working from home. 

When you do go out, you smell your breath behind your mask, remind yourself to add mouthwash to your Instacart. Maybe it’s time to cut back on the garlic. You cough once, as the dry winter air reaches your lungs. All heads turn. Your eyes both apologize and deny that it’s the ‘rona, it’s allergies. Remember to wash your cloth masks; they’re telling people to double up, as new strains wind through communities, spreading through the mountains and the cities to raise the threat of contagion. 

You touch no one. You pay for your coffee from your phone, you do the still-awkward “I’d shake, but,” smile-and-shrug when you meet someone new. You watch people approach with the warning in your eyes, meeting the same in theirs as they watch you. You rub sanitizer on your hands when given the opportunity; you’ll scrub your hands at home, smooth and soothe the dry skin with a lotion made with oats or aloe. 

Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you go out, like everything is okay. Maybe you do your shopping at a busy supermarket, 2:00 PM on a Saturday, grab a free sample. Maybe you go to church and shake hands with your neighbor. Your kids go to school, you go to karate and yoga and soccer. Maybe you somehow don’t think it’s a big deal, that it’s just politics, the China virus. Maybe you think your faith will save you, or maybe you’re just tired of the restrictions.

I’m tired. I don’t know about you, but my hands hurt from the emptiness. My arms ache to wrap around someone; my cheek yearns to be laid upon another’s. I’ve always been a hugger; physical affection wasn’t just reserved for my beloved, but was always available for anyone who needed or wanted. 

The way I talk has changed over the past year, not just since Hawthorne died. I tell my friends that I love them more often; I tell people I miss them. The words “be safe” leave my lips every day. I make much more of an effort to stay in contact with those distant from me. I RSVP to online events with every intention of logging in, I promise. I have a harder time staying organized, keeping track of the days, remembering things. Relegated to mere mortal status, Hawthorne would say. 

There is no resolution, no lesson in this. Yes, the vaccines are coming, and again I recognize the privilege I carry in having had my first dose already. But the preliminary numbers show that as of December 13thover 16,000 people in the US alone have died over the past year than was expected based on data from the past ten years. That doesn’t include the past 6 weeks which saw nearly 140,000 additional coronavirus-related deaths.

Not everyone has a chance to live through history, and know it as it is happening. As we enter year two of this global pandemic, I again think back to the Ebola epidemic in 2014. I remember how terrifying it was to watch the newscasts and see these tiny numbers in large text in the corner of the screen, vying for attention with the different ALERTs and BREAKING NEWS banners that scrolled by. 11 people had Ebola here in the US. Now the numbers grow so large the news is forced to either abbreviate them or minimize the font size; I’m sure marketing teams decided based on what was thought would retain the most viewers. 

I remember healthcare workers scoffing at having to learn and then practice regularly how to don and doff the significant personal protective equipment required to safely care for patients suspected to have Ebola. It won’t get here, they said. And then, they were right. Still, they also believed that Ebola was a real disease, and a threat to anyone close enough to it. Nobody wanted to be the one who died bleeding from their eyes. 

I wonder if that jaded response helped to lead to where we are now; where people don’t trust scientists, where literally an entire disease is thought to be propaganda by some. Where people don’t want to take the precautions necessary. After all, no one is bleeding out in the streets. Not here. Not this time. 

I do have hope that with the old regime gone, we may have greater faith in a leadership who puts their trust in science. Will that change again in 4 years? Maybe. 

Maybe by then, everyone will know how to keep their mask over their fucking nose. 

I love you. 

I miss you. 

Be safe. 

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Are You Still Taking Notes

I can write anywhere. When I make it a priority – when I let myself make my writing practice a priority – I enjoy the trappings. The desk set up just so; pens and notebook ready, for whatever comes through that isn’t the topic I’m working on, or doodles and notes about pictures to add. My brain feels like it’s always firing, so I always have some version of a to-do list handy to catch the fleeting thoughts of “call the vet,” “get creamer.” There is a window nearby, natural light softening as it shines through the curtains, or lit from the other side by the warm glow of the desk lamp. There are plants within reach; stuck on a thought, I check the dirt for dampness, and usually add it to my list before rising for a stretch break and to cross it off. There may be music playing, there may not; it depends on my mood, and that’ll change during the writing. If certain tiny humans and old puppies didn’t demand my attention, I could sometimes move hours into the evening before noticing the shadows. 

When writing makes itself a priority, I can and will write anywhere. On the back of an envelope off someone’s desk with a quick, “can I use this?” Post-its, receipts, bank statements. The Notes app on my phone serves as a catch-all, thoughts recorded while driving, intermittent list items, ideas to explore for a blog post. I’ve written entire journal entries on it, if you can call furiously moving my thumbs clutched around a three-inch light in the dark as my brain races ahead beyond the screen “writing.” I do. Right now, I’m sitting cross-legged on the cold wooden floor at the front of my new apartment. My posture is terrible (she says, straightening her spine as she types this), and my ass is frozen. In front of me is the thick braided rug that used to lay in Lucy’s room; I set up old lady Ella a little nest at my knee with a bathmat and the couple of towels I could quickly find. She’s tucked up against me, a scraggly black crescent of snoring dog. 

Yesterday was the day I moved the three of us into the apartment; the movers came the day before with the contents of the storage unit in Vermont, which apparently did not include a single chair. I had ordered an IKEA sleeper sofa which was supposed to be delivered yesterday and never showed (item for to-do list: call IKEA 10am). My desk is where I want it to be, but without the chair, I default to the couch – or where it should be. My pre-caffeinated brain put me in the right place, whereas my barely-caffeinated brain is telling me to move forward a few feet and join Ella on the rug. Yet my fingers keep moving, and my cold ass stays in place.

I am on a constant search for tools and tricks to maximize productivity, provide structure, and enjoy the results. Yes, enjoy – a deliberate choice of words, because using tools and structure to creates something – whether that’s a piece of art, a blog post, or a work product – sparks true joy (I will never KonMari my toolbox, and you can’t make me). One thing I stumbled across recently was a new app called GoalsWon. I chanced upon the opportunity to beta test it, and thus far, I’m finding it helpful. I’m using it specifically for my writing practice; I wanted something to keep me on track in this time of crazy transition, when nothing feels stable, and I don’t even have my coffeemaker unpacked.

On moving day, I set two goals in regards to my writing: make my daily goal of 500 words, and get my writing space set up. I hit my word count easily in the morning, pouring out my angst about the day, and how bullshit it is to have to be doing this. Later I muttered to Hawthorne that I never thought I’d be carrying them and our son under one arm to the car, I figured I’d be dragging them both; a kid-at-heart and kiddo not wanting to leave the playground when it was time to go. 

My other goal didn’t happen. My immediate thought was that I had failed; I wanted to get my writing space set up, and I did not. I automatically cast myself as both judge and defendant, Lady Justice peeking out from her blindfold to tip the scales and let me sink into the cold, comforting arms of the part of me who somehow always feels so undeserving. Reframing this as data doesn’t release me; it doesn’t give me the familiar path of saying, “well, guess I’ve gone and fucked it up again, what a surprise.” That loop of failure to accomplish equaling my failure as a person is a deep-set track; the banks are steep, and once I’m in, it’s easier to stay than grind my way out. 

One intention I set this year is to be kinder to myself; so rather than thinking about not meeting the goal as failure, I am trying to reframe it as a simple fact, one of two possible outcomes. Making this choice to deliberately turn failure into data is not easy; recently, one of my best friends told me that I could squeeze failure out of a tomato. It’s funny, because it’s true.

And clearly, the fact that I did not set up my writing space is OK. Because here I am, cold ass and snoring dog, banging away at the keys. 

I let go of writing for a long time; truly, it was a different world. The bright blue folder I’ve carried with me, hidden, house to house for over twenty years is ripped at the corners, the shine on it dulled from years of being tucked away. It is thick with my angsty teenage poetry, songs that I wrote in the shower, and fragments of stories that were not my own. I have been collecting these lines, building up the case to remind myself in ways that no photograph ever could of what my passion is; an indelible reminder of the kid that I was and the dreams that she had.

I had just recommitted to writing this blog when my world was utterly shattered for the second time in as many years. Hawthorne spent their last minutes asleep in our comfortable bed, Ella snoring alongside them while I sat with our daughter who was asleep in her swing. It was a sunny Saturday morning; I was awake, sitting at my desk, iced coffee going warm by my elbow. I was writing when the sky fell in. Exuent Hawthorne. Scene. 

One of my friends, a particularly badass and fearless woman, somehow held onto the thread of my writing through the chaos that became my world that week. She asked what no one else did, what I’m sure no one else was even thinking about; was I going to publish my blog on time? I told her, with some pride, it was already in the editing phase. One week after Hawthorne died, I met my scheduled biweekly goal when I published the obituary I couldn’t give to the papers. 

Part of why I had left writing locked up for so long was that Hawthorne had been planning on going to school. They didn’t think they had a career in sociology, so they were looking at their MFA in creative writing. I think their Facebook page still lists their major as “Sociology and Pretty Writing.” They were not so prolific as I find myself, but each word was hand-selected, a quality gemstone for just the right setting. Like their return to music, however, picking up the pen again proved difficult; pain robbed them of the ability to think of much else, and the medications that took the pain away also stole the keys to their creativity. For those who continue to fight through incredible pain, it is a battle engaged on every front and facet of a person. It’s too easy to forget that if you aren’t facing it day after week after month. 

I didn’t pursue writing because I wanted to give Hawthorne the space to do so. They never asked; they never would have dreamed of it. Instead, I let my impossible standards transfer leak out. I worried that success was pie, and there was only so much to go around; what if we both weren’t successful? What if writing turned out to be something good and important for me (which, clearly, it’s integral) and they did not have a good experience? What would the fallout be? So without breathing a word of this into actual conversation, I decided the best way to support Hawthorne’s writing dreams would be to put mine aside. 

It’s only now that I am able to articulate this thought process. Whenever it came up before, I’d always brush it off; Hawthorne was the writer, I was the data person. Qualitative and quantitative, a perfect match. It was one aspect where I did not want to compete; I was afraid for what either success or failure would mean, and I could not see beyond that binary. It took losing Oscar to find that in me again. The world had crumbled, leaving dusty artifacts and oddly preserved opportunities to build anew. Some of those are in Hawthorne’s own hand; I have a crate full of their notebooks that I cannot open yet.

Today, through the wonders of both time and therapy, I know that it’s not just writing. I find myself excavating pieces I had thought lost, for one reason or another, usually ridiculously self-imposed based on what I feared other’s perceptions would be. Each discovery is wrapped in grief and guilt, and must be carefully exposed. It takes time for the relics of my dreams to be brought out into the light, time I know must be dedicated. 

Hawthorne would never have knowingly buried my dreams. They were my champion; they gave me the pushes I need to take new jobs, to go back to school, to apply to my dream program. Once I said I wanted to write, they were all in, and they were hurt by my surprise at that. I tried to explain it wasn’t them, that this view was completely fabricated in my head. I’m not sure they believed me. 

I am getting to the point where I can talk to them again. I look at their picture on my desk or on my phone. I awkwardly met someone recently who happens to be quite attractive, and one of my first reactions was, Hawthorne’s got to be getting such a kick out of this. Our friends agreed when I told them, after only a brief internal argument that it was too soon for me to see another person as attractive. Hawthorne and I would tease each other mercilessly when this would happen; why not now? I like to think it’s their laughter that shines the stars bright enough to break through the light pollution of the city, giving them that extra twinkle.

It’s a different day; I still don’t have my writing space set up, but I do have a couch. I’m writing in bed, in my bedroom sanctuary, free of (most of) the flotsam of moving. I have the fan on, since the heat from the house seems to settle here the most. I’m much more comfortable than when I started writing this post; the urgency is no less intense. I can hear what Hawthorne called the sound of mice tap-dancing as my fingers fly across the keyboard, trying to keep up with my thoughts and outrace the red lines of misspelled words. Lucy will wake up soon, and the day will begin. By the end of it, I’ll find scribbled notes to myself, quick lines of prose enmeshed with shopping and to-do lists. Tomorrow morning I will take the time to sort it out as I find some space between the half-empty boxes to park myself and write again.

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Maybe It’s the Fire in My Little Girl’s Eyes

I was going to write about resolutions; it’s the time for it, after all. New Year’s resolutions; we make them, or say we do, when I don’t think that’s exactly what we mean. There’s a difference between goals, resolutions, and intentions. From Dictionary.com

Resolutionthe act of determining upon an action, course of action, method, procedure, etc.

Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed 

Intention: an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result; purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct

It feels imperative to understand this difference, especially this year. When we talk about setting resolutions, I think we most often mean intentions and/or goals. I don’t know how much planning the course of action factors in to peoples’ resolutions; I have never set a course of action when naming a resolution, and I’m a planner. Looking back, I realize that I have set goals and intentions. For example, for 2020 I said I want to lose 15 pounds, I want to read 25 books, try 50 new recipes, get back into yoga. I wrote it all into my bullet journal, pretty sketches and colorful checklists.

What were my results? For all I intended, for all the goals I set, I would say I accomplished about 25%. I did not lose 15 pounds. I finished 2 books. I tried about 30 new recipes, and in November, started doing yoga again. Not what I would generally call a success, but hey, 2020, amirite? 

I had no plans to go along with these intentions, no route to get me to the goal line. All of my planning went into other things: making childcare happen for Lucy, and somehow being OK with leaving her all day. Making sure Hawthorne felt supported in their music and creative expression. Splitting up the chore list with both of us back to work, and a tiny baby to work around. 

All those plans went to hell on January 14th

The pandemic was barely acknowledged then; it was still some strange outbreak in Wuhan. I had just returned to the office after maternity leave, and was looking forward to getting into the work after spending the first day just going through emails and things I had missed. I wasn’t quite at the office when Hawthorne called, saying they had gotten hurt at work. It was their back, and they weren’t sure they could drive. I remember being both pissed and worried as I stopped into the office to let them know and then headed back up the mountain to get them. I called a friend to blow off the steam; this was a major wrench in all the plans I had so carefully constructed. I hadn’t planned for wrenches. 

2020 continued to unravel, as we all know. We took a trip to Buffalo in early March and made it back to Vermont just before the first restrictions on travel were handed down. We ended up in isolation, as Hawthorne had picked up some bug; they were tested for Covid in the parking lot by a nurse in full isolation precautions, and we were sent home. We tried to get Hawthorne set up to have the upstairs to themselves, and Lucy and I would remain downstairs, so as not to cause any transmission. I divided out silverware and plates for them to use, designated linens and loaded toiletries and snacks into a canvas bag that hung from a rope on the stairs; they could pull it up from the aperture in the upstairs hall without any contact. We vowed to Facetime a lot, and agreed that this was the best thing to keep the family safe.

We made it about 3 hours. 

We just couldn’t make it work in any feasible way, not with a 5 month old baby in a non-partitioned house. They kept their silverware and plates and cups separate, washed their own dishes, and used their designated bathroom and linens; but I couldn’t handle the baby, the dog, the house, and take care of them more. They were still injured, still in a great deal of pain; we were holding out for hope, waiting for the surgical consult. 

The emergency room called us at 10:00 PM two days after the test, Hawthorne had tested negative for the novel coronavirus. We took that as our warning to take the virus seriously. The grassroots crafter’s movement of mask making hadn’t taken off yet, and our plans changed; we would just hunker down and go out as little as possible. 

Hawthorne spent lockdown in immense pain. The consult got pushed off; no elective surgeries were being performed, and all related appointments were being cancelled. They eventually had a virtual consult and were scheduled for surgery at the end of June. The day came slowly; the surgery was uncomplicated, and we went home. The pain continued without abating; I encouraged them to keep. Hoping it would change, maybe it was just swelling, but I think we both knew better. The pain and loss of feeling in their leg would remain nearly unchanged until their death. 

I don’t mean to gloss over any of their experience, it’s just not my focus. The summer was one long, difficult day after another, punctuated with appointments and bad news and a couple of bright spots. We made another trip to Buffalo, knowing we would have to quarantine upon return until we tested negative. It was worth it to attend the small, beautiful wedding for one of Hawthorne’s cousins. We danced; they were in so much pain, but we danced. Someone got a picture of us; Hawthorne had put their hat on my head, and we were pressed as close as we could be. We never missed an opportunity to dance. We just didn’t know it would be the last time. 

In so many ways, we are all ready to put 2020 in the rearview. Think of the jokes history professors will make about what we learned this year, in hindsight. I know I have a few tucked away; I might be her mama, but Lucy’s still going to get all the dad jokes. 

2021 dawns darkly for so many. I see the memes, the products advertised. “I survived 2020!” My reaction is vehement and immediate; hundreds of thousands of people didn’t. Nearly 350,000 families have lost loved ones to the pandemic. 24,000 babies were born still, never having taken their first breath. Black lives continue to be taken by police at disproportionate rates. More than 350 trans* and gender nonconformingpeople have been murdered this year alone. The pandemic situation is too dynamic for reliable data on suicides yet, though we know suicide has been the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

Hawthorne didn’t survive 2020.  This New Year’s marks the first they will never see. 

It’s so strange to think about. Here is this person, this complicated, beautiful soul with whom I laughed and fought and grieved and danced with – just gone, in a fingersnap. Most days, it just feels like they’re missing; they’re on assignment, a trip, deployed, something that keeps them away. The wedding in Buffalo was the last celebration they’d be a part of. They missed Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos. They missed Lucy’s birthday, her first steps. They missed Thanksgiving and Christmas and the solstice. 

But they’re not just missing; they’re not going to walk in the door for some emotional reunion moment that gets broadcast on Tiktok. They aren’t anywhere in this world to see the sun rise on 2021; they are nowhere to be found.

And that means that we aren’t tucked in our woodstove-warmed house in Vermont, wondering if we can make it to midnight, or if we should set an alarm to kiss and fall back asleep. They’re not going to creep out of bed to visit the crib, and I don’t have to beg them not to wake the baby at midnight to celebrate with us. I don’t have to worry about hearing gun shots or fireworks set off up the road, scaring the dog as neighbors bid adieu to this shitty year, and hear Hawthorne grumble about it and threaten to message the constable – in the morning. 

2021 dawns with the weak light of January, cold and unforgiving. Hope has never felt more tempered with reality. The wan sun shines through branches frozen in wintry relief; the wind bites, her teeth leaving marks of red on my cheeks, the only part of my face exposed between my hat, sunglasses, and mask. 

I have set intentions and goals again; I want to lose 15 pounds, I want to read 12 books; try 30 recipes, stick with my yoga practice. Rather than resolutions, this year, I have resolve.

I am one of the lucky ones; I survived 2020. So did my daughter, my friends. Though it feels like it, all is not lost. The sun rises and sets with more time in between, and I have already made the choice to live each of the days I have, as hard as it is. Some of these days, survival is enough. The difference is now I go into each day with that resolve, and with the intention of finding the good, the laughter, the progress; to at least acknowledge that these things exist alongside the grief and the hardship. There is no way to focus solely on the positive; such a narrow view serves no one. Whatever plans I make, I do so with the understanding that they can be ripped to shreds in a moment. I am learning the hard way to not become attached to my plans. My dreams have been shattered more times than it feels like I can carry; I continue to rebuild them, as strong as I can, but with that same awful caveat in the blueprints. 

I’m starting the year with strong coffee, great music, and an open Word document. I have my intentions and goals set, and this time, I’ve left room for wrenches. I do have hope; it ebbs and flows without pattern or consistency, crashing against unforgiving reality. I have a new job to start, a new apartment to move into, and a 14-month-old daughter who is the brightest light in this dark world. I have no idea what 2021 will bring, but I have the resolve to see it through. 

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And Your Untouchable Face

It’s been three months.

This week has passed in a slow, melded blur. I’ve been by turns anxious and listless; my soul has the shakes, and I feel it in my joints. My hands hurt more these days, the middle knuckles starting to stick again. 

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post. I haven’t been writing daily. My carefully crafted schedule has gone to crap. I’ve been keeping up with some things; daily yoga practice, drinking enough water. Mostly I just feel aimless. 

So, at the urging of a couple of lovely friends, I got out of the house and came to the beach. It’s not storming today, but rain is moving in. The clouds are rolling overhead, thick and heavy as they slowly edge out the blue. The dry seagrass moves gently in the cold breeze, marsh sparrows darting in and out of their quiet rattle. There is no snow on the beach. The sand isn’t even frozen; it gives softly under my boots, leaving dents instead of footprints until I approach the water’s edge. 

The tide is out, the ocean receded about as far as she goes here. I remember how much you wanted to be there for low tide to look for shells, and how excited you were to find the times of the tides were published. I brought your camera. I finally adjust the strap to fit me and sling it over my shoulder. I start walking, tracing the path we always took. 

I have never walked this beach this slow. I remember how impatient I could get with you, here, in your favorite place on earth. Most times we came here, it was winter. I was always dressed for a walk, but not a walk with you on the windy beach when there was so much to stop and look at. I don’t know why I insisted I’d be fine without gloves, or scarf, or whatever I had been missing. I knew what a walk at the beach entailed with you; I knew it could be hours before I sat back in the car. 

I’m sorry I hurried you. I’m sorry I didn’t prepare better, and my hands got cold. I’m sorry that it became annoyance, that I didn’t want to bend over to pick up shells anymore, that I didn’t want to take your picture another sixteen times only for you not like any of them. 

I never thought I’d walk this beach alone, but here I am. I’m dressed warm enough. I’m not being yanked along by Ella, or worried about the tiny baby strapped against my chest. I’m not impatient or hungry or cold or annoyed, and that just makes me remember all the times we were here when I was. I stand for a bit, the air cold enough on the soft breeze to bite at my cheeks, eyes squinted behind my sunglasses against the glaring light of the pastel winter seascape. 

I brought a bag this time. I actually found one in the car, like I always thought I would. I start walking, eyes downcast, stopping every few feet. I reach and turn over shells, picking them up like I’ll find you underneath, and have only half a moment to grab you before you disappear again. Maybe I’m searching for you here because it feels like a graveyard. The storm this week left the last vestments of sea creatures littering the sand in thick lines where the waves pushed them up. Among the pinks of the limpets, the rainbow of scallops and smooth white of clams lay the jagged shells of horseshoe crabs, ranging in size from my palm to our dinner plates. I find more spirals, broken homes of conches and who-knows-what-else, than I think I’ve ever seen before. I collect at random, filling my bag with the remnants we are drawn to. I stop here and there along my slow walk to pay respects at little altars to unknown deities; a dance of gull feathers stood up in the sand, curved mosaics of pure white shells. I find pieces of glass worn by the sea, and these I slide into the pocket of my jeans to come home with me. 

I search for every shell you ever dropped, every piece I didn’t want to pick up. I criss-cross the sand, from the tide line to the surf. The water foams up to my boots, and I remember your wild giggle as the sea would catch you in your excitement. I think of the starfish parable, and remember how you would toss  any object back into the sea if it was home to something living still. You made a difference to that one, and that one, and that one…

I reach the end of the jetty and start up the dune path; it’s an easier climb that I remember. Of course, the last time I came I had Lucy strapped to my chest, adding all of seven pounds. I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding when I reached the top. The tree still stood. 

We had picked out this tree for Oscar that first time we stayed after he was born, even knowing that it would one day be taken by the sea. The squat pitch pine stands about ten feet tall and just as wide, branches heavy with thick needles and tight cones in clusters. He is not buried here, but he is here, in this wild place where he can see the water and the land, feel the wind and the spray of the sea. Two years ago, we hung a small wooden fish ornament that we wrote his name and birthday on. It wasn’t always on a branch, but we have found it every time we came to see. I search her boughs and under her canopy, gently but thoroughly. It makes sense that this is the first time that I cannot find it. We had purposefully picked out the wood and jute rendering, knowing that sooner or later it would be returned to the natural world. I feel more peace than sorrow at the loss. I kneel on the carpet of her fallen leaves and press my face to the earth for a moment. You are ever here, and ever loved. 

I stand, feeling a flutter on the back of my neck. I ask you out loud if you are waiting for me here. It’s the first I’ve spoken this whole walk. For a moment, I feel you in the breeze, but then you are gone again. 

I don’t get any more of an answer than that, and I don’t understand the translation.

I make my way out of the dune and approach the water at the inlet. Foot and pawprints mar the sand in every direction; there’s a unmarked patch, maybe four feet by four feet, that is untouched. I take the horseshoe crab tail out of the bag and draw a large heart taht ends up a little wonky. It will be washed away with the next high tide, but that’s alright. I kneel and set out piece after piece, shell after shell, sea garbage after beach debris. Seaweed that looks like stacks of coins on a string, scallops and clams, mussels and conches; thick pieces, broken pieces, pockmarked and scarred pieces. I add the delicate leftovers of crabs, pine cones from the tree, a piece of waterlogged cedar shingle. I write Oscar’s name and his date, then yours, and your dates. You always wanted me to write RIP,  but I thought it was tacky and too much like a Halloween decoration, so I never did. Instead, I write “forever in my heart,” for you both are. I take some pictures, take some time, then turn to walk toward the car, still slower that I ever had before. 

I’m wrestling with your absence, and everything you left behind. I miss you so much, and most days I’m still pissed. I tell you almost every night that I’m still mad and I’m not talking to you. I did last night, and probably will tonight. I’m angry that you aren’t there when I lay down, when I wake up. My heart hurts because you had the audacity to die on me. You’re missing out on so much, and I’m missing you unbelievably. I’d give anything to argue with you about if we should come here for Christmas or not, or to feel your cold-ass feet sliding up my legs again. I wish I could take you to the beach, and I’d dress warm enough. I’d bring a dozen buckets and scoop up every shell you pointed out. 

I’m sorry, and I’m angry, and I miss you. 

I’ll see you on our road, and I’ll meet you one day at the tree in the dunes. 

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You Might be Surprised How Far She’ll Get With Her Feet on the Ground

It’s been five days since I arrived at the Cape, and I am just now getting to the beach. It has been nearly 60 every day, with plenty of sun and some Oscar blue skies; now, it is storming. Gale force winds are tearing whitecaps from the waves as they break. The storm rolling in, shaking the trees in the yard inland, told me it was time. Now I stare at the sea and remember the mountains.

The days are passing; time marches on. I am in limbo. The house is packed and ready, waiting for my final arrival at the steps of the Estrogen Triangle. According to the landlady, men have not had luck in that corner of our winding country road; some tragedy or serious legal matter always befalls them. I’ve wondered, more than once, if that was part of Hawthorne’s bad luck there. They had said the house felt cursed before, when we lost our son before he was even born. I didn’t believe them – I might be starting to. 

There is a wrenching deep in my chest, as if a giant, mechanized hand is trying to gently grip my heart and massage it back to life, but cannot determine the pressure of its own welded fingers and joints. It is a deep and bruising twisting that never unwinds. 

It is not only anger anymore. Rage is the stalk that anguish winds around, sinuously reaching and spiraling around to join in a longtime lover’s embrace with grief. She holds me as a morning glory clings to a climbing fence, delicate tendrils coiled with surprising strength and no desire to release. The trumpeting blooms distract the eye, hiding secrets and stories themselves.

Several weeks after Oscar died, Hawthorne and I were down here on the Cape. My cousins were out of town and we were house sitting, taking space for our broken hearts in the salty air between the seagulls and the tourists. We joined them one evening and took a sunset whale watch. I insisted on having our Jack and Rose moment; after that, Hawthorne kept back from the rail, more than a little scared of heights and being tossed into the ocean by the waves and wake; that is, until distant plumes pulled them forward by their excitement. 

I don’t remember the exact moment, but I remember the colors of the evening slowly spreading, and the spray of the sea as the vessel sliced through the waves. It was sometime in that changing sky that my heart, defying its own weeping wounds, decided that it was not finished. Oscar had died before having a chance to do anything other than know love and joy and freeze pops; well, we would just live for him. Not exist, not go on, not let time pass by; I was going to live. I sent that promise to the sea and the stars as they began to sparkle in the deepening sky, and I’ve kept it. Mostly. 

I had forgotten about that moment these last months. A good friend, adept at zeroing in with blunt words and a compassionate heart, reminded me. She asked if I was at that turning point yet, if I had decided that I was going to live. She wasn’t asking about suicidality or the extent of depression, or how close I felt to giving up. What she was asking was if I was ready to determine my path forward, both for myself, and for how to remember Hawthorne. 

At that point, all I could do was shake my head; very effective method of communication over text message, I know. This loss was different; this one made a horrible kind of sense, like there was almost a shrug under the blanket of shock. Hawthorne had been in such pain, and all who knew them knew that. There was the relief that they were no longer suffering; no longer so anxious, no longer so hurt. With Oscar, there was none of that sense of ‘grelief,’ as it was coined by another friend’s therapist. Though it is baffling to say, Oscar’s death was a simpler affair, maybe from the sheer difference between the length of their two lives, though both were cut short far too soon. 

With Hawthorne’s death, there is so much more to process, so many more memories to sift through. Photographs of them throughout their life; from professional family photos from the church and candids from Easter and Christmas to angsty black-and-white prints from disposable cameras that smelled like cigarette smoke. There are fights and unfinished arguments to work through, and I’m left standing the winner by default, rounds denied by a too-early TKO. There are moments they are missing now; Lucy’s screeching and hilarious antics, Ella getting stuck in the yard, so many memes. I mourn for each and every one. 

With Oscar, it is as if I am allowed to simply miss him and love him, grieve for him and, in one all-encompassing package, the dreams that died with him. With Hawthorne… it’s a damn sight more work. 

I’ve never shied away from work. I tend to overfill my plate and empty my cup before I realize that even I am mortal, and cannot harness every minute of every day. I am the person who, were I to ask for broader shoulders, I would expect an even heavier load to carry; so either I do not ask or I prepare myself. I’m not afraid of working hard. 

I am reading Rachel Hollis’ new book, Didn’t See That Coming. The title was similar enough to Hawthorne’s catchphrase, “I didn’t think that was gonna happen,” that I grabbed it off the shelf without pausing and tossed it in my cart. I’m not always ready for the truth in the pages; her reminders that the past cannot be remembered correctly through rose-colored glasses are sometimes more gut-punch than love-tap. There is a story she tells about talking with gold star families of Navy SEALS, and a lesson she took from them: “If you’ve had something ripped away, if you’ve been knocked down, get back up. Every time. Wear the identity you earned with pride.”

The turning point has come. 

It’s not exactly an exciting or joyous moment. 

It is the deep breath you take as the roller coaster engages and starts to drag you upward, and you’ve never done this before.

It is getting up from a hard missed tackle, dusting the pitch off your face, and running for the next before you can tell which direction the ball is going.

It is the arch of the diver’s body as they hang suspended between the rise of the board and the precise position of the fall.

It is Karen’s laugh of recognition that grabs you by the throat:

You’re not the first one to start again, come on now friend

There’s something to be said for tenacity

The rain is lashing against the car now, and night has fallen here at the beach. There is no relief in the blackness beyond the headlights, no star or lamp to distinguish between angry sea and raging sky. There is power in that, in the wind that whips through the sawgrass, the rain that falls in sheets across the sands. I feel it within me; the mecha-hand that gripped so hard has retreated for now, at least for long enough to allow the cool rain in to soothe. The storm brings clarity.

I am deciding to live. I need to find a new dream, one for me and Lucy and Ella. I don’t know what that looks like yet. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be comfortable, but I am nothing if not resilient. It is no honor to Hawthorne, a preemptive theft from Lucy, a broken promise to Oscar, and a utter disservice to myself if I continue to exist. Will I have those days still? Sure, and that’s OK. I’ll get back up.

I know what I can say about tenacity, and it will be my roar.