Years gone by

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I think about 9-11, in some capacity, every day. I still dream about it, but certainly not to the extent that I did those first several months after the fact. That day and the day my friend Laura died nine months later are the two most acutely traumatic experiences of my life. Though the pain and shock are diminished and the sadness muted, neither is ever terribly far from my thoughts.

I remember details of both days in stark relief; I could piece together the events of 9-11 very accurately, as all of my senses were on high alert then and in the weeks and months that followed. The day Laura died was different—the shock phase of that grief process cycled quickly into profound heartache, and though I recall who was around me, the details are foggy. But as to that clear September day the autumn before (technically late-summer … why must I be so damn literal that I can’t let the poetry of “the autumn before” stand without an editorial note?), I recall what I ate, who I spoke with by phone and in-person, tones of voice, snippets of conversation, and so on.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write an anniversary post this year, but it’s become one of the few rituals since I began this blog in 2013. So here we are. I wasn’t sure I was going to write because at this point I don’t know what to say. I don’t think anyone wants to hear my version of the sequence of events, or my experiences on that day, because everybody has their 9-11 story. Sure, I was here, so that puts me closer than some, but it really doesn’t matter; we were all here.

With the exception of a relatively tiny handful of people on this earth, 9-11 succeeded in bringing people together across the planet and regardless of race, religion, socio-economic factors, education levels, stations in life, and any of the myriad ways that we divide ourselves. That is the collateral beauty* of that horrible day.

*This phrase, which I recently encountered, is apparently the name of a 2016 film of dubious merit. I like it, though, and am keeping it.

On a macro- global- historical- political- level there is much to be learned from 9-11. On a micro-level, there is this: we actually really, truly only have THIS MINUTE. The old “I could get hit by a bus” maxim has been upgraded to “I could get hit by a plane,” but the point is the same … this is all we have. We can not count on “some day.” There is no “I will get it together once _____” or “I just need ____ before I ____.” That is bullshit. That is not being kind to the you who is here today. What an existential shame it would be to deny today’s you her/his full potential because you were waiting for tomorrow’s you to show up.

I could go on and on and on and on about the importance of living life now and loving yourself always and being in the moment and believing and learning and caring but I am so tired of having to convince so many of the people in my life to live their lives that I am going to give myself the rest of the night off. I’ll be back to it soon enough.

May whomever is in charge of these things bless those we lost on 9-11 and those who remain.

Love yourselves. You know you deserve it.

 

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Until we meet again

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I write this post with a heavy heart. My aunt Debby died on Thursday, peacefully, surrounded by family and friends.

I’ve known Debby—I called her Tanta—for about twenty years. She and my uncle Charles married in their 60s. We grew close and used to have lunch together on a somewhat regular basis. Gramercy Tavern, the Yale Club, and Sushi Yasuda were our mainstays.

Debby brought to our world a profound sense of the importance of family. Family came first for her in a way that, devoted as I am to my own, I hadn’t really experienced before. She broadened our definition of the word. To Debby, family included everyone in her close circle, blood relative or not, regardless of whether one’s official title had “step-” or “half,” “in-law” or “twice removed” in it.

When you’d talk to her she’d go through the list—asking how you were, and how your partner was, then your dog, and our mutual friends. Anyone you introduced to Debby became a mutual friend. That’s how she operated.

She asked about everyone not to make small talk, but because she genuinely cared.

She was warm and thoughtful, funny and kind, and one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. So devoted was she to my uncle Charles that she, a lifelong Yankees fan, switched to the Mets; in earlier days they’d go to Port Saint Lucie to watch spring training. She was an interior decorator for many years, worked on some of the high-end lounges that were part of NYC nightlife in the ’80s. She loved good food and nice things, her manicure was flawless until the end. She loved lions. She loved having people to her house for the Jewish holidays. And most of all, she loved the people in her life and always had the capacity to welcome more.

As you may know, I believe in some form of an after life. I understand how one might not, but I’ve had experiences too otherwise inexplicable for me not to believe. And that brings me comfort. That helps me through times like these, and I’ve had a fair amount of them.

I will miss you, Tanta. Until we meet again.

All the things that matter most

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We buried my Uncle Charles today, and while one is never prepared for these things, his passing was truly unexpected. I have known Charles, obviously, for my entire life and have spent a tremendous amount of time with him. He lived in the city, he worked with my dad (and thus me, a couple days a week), and he was a fixture at family events and holidays and many of the significant times in my life.

The services today were a testament to the man he was—standing room only, an age spectrum between one and 91, people from every borough and at least eight states that I can think of. Charles was a brilliant man, a PhD, a staunch and active Democrat, and I have a hard time believing there will ever be a bigger Mets fan, by way of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In addition to yarmulkes, guests could choose from his vast collection of Mets caps to wear during the ceremony.

Charles knew a lot about a lot of things and was a proud sharer of his knowledge—sometimes to the point of stubbornness. He used Google less to gather information than to verify what he already knew—and, in fact, he did know. He cared deeply about the things he cared about—the Mets, politics, his family, Volvos, dogs. He was a weeper (a gene that I’ve inherited); one of the people who spoke today said that he’d cry at the opening of a shopping center. Not in a maudlin or sappy way, in a feels-things-to-the-core way. This is not always an easy trait to carry, but for those of us who do, it’s an integral component to our selves.

His son, my cousin, spoke beautifully (as did my parents and several other people) and talked about the fact that Charles continually reinvented himself—continued to grow and learn and be active and involved and committed.

Today reminded me of the things that matter most, things like family, evolution, sincerity, passion, the Mets, and love.

In addition to my grief, what I am feeling most right now is unmoored. I may not have spent a lot of one-on-one time with my uncle in recent years, but he was a steady presence in my life. And he was someone I loved very much.

I will miss you, mon oncle.

Let’s go Mets!

 

To my colorblind troubadour

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It’s time now, my friend, to acknowledge the thirteenth anniversary of the day your last words were, allegedly, “Oh fuck!” The rest of the mythology of you after the fact is more than I can put into words in this forum.

So, how do I do it this time, Jon? Tonight I realized that you’ve been dead longer than I knew you. But I think we know one another, still. Your parents met my parents this past weekend, at Drew’s wedding. My mom didn’t give great details except to say that your mother spoke kindly of me. I remember the last formal you ceremony I attended – I think it was 2011 because it was a big(ger) deal (anniversary-wise, than usual). I remember your mom said, as we sent balloons into the sky, that she liked to think of you in Hawaii.

Hawaii has come up as a possible upcoming journey friend-and-family wise.I have a feeling, dear, that perhaps I’ll see you there someday.

In one of the final days of Charles Keating’s life one of the boys asked if he was afraid to die. His answer: “Wherever I was before, I’ll be again.”

I recently went through a bunch of boxes that had been in storage in my dad’s office and I found paraphernalia from the early 90s: your roach clip, a – JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO ROACH CLIP – a couple of photos of you, your then-business card and two handwritten notes you’d sent me. Jay suggested I send copies to your parents’; the card, sure. The rest is actually far more personal and “us” than I think I ever realized existed.

You were so handsome, so imperfectly perfectly handsome. And you were nice to and tolerant of my early-20s friends who probably tacked Hibiscus Margaritas onto your order of Bud. And you made me feel like a smart, kind, interesting and important person.

I remember going to dinner with you at Etats-Unis, which had newly opened, and we had a really good meal.

I remember ordering sushi at your apartment on 70-somethingth street and having you answer my question about what the exact content of meat is as I choked down some eel.

I don’t know what I “own” of this, babe. I know I was way too young to spend the right time with someone like you when we knew each other. But you had an impact on my life that would exist regardless of where you worked that day.

We didn’t have music – we listened to a lot of music – and, of course, you played music, my favorite instrument, actually. I had so many more things on my 23-year-old-brain than what constituted good music. Things you fulfilled, beautifully. Yours were the conversations for which connections exist.

Damn Jon – I wish you’d met Louie! You guys would have gotten each other. I’m grateful he was born 8 months too late to experience 9-11. We’ve been through an awful lot, all being relative, which I know it isn’t.

Sometimes I think you are around, else how would I remain so protected despite my propensity to forget to remember what to do?

The song that makes me think of you is “Santeria” by Sublime. A few years ago I stayed at Sean and Ivy’s – they’d had a holiday party the night before and when Sean, Jay and Dave played, they set a chair for you, for the celestial bass player. The next morning while walking around the kitchen making coffee Sean was singing that song along to the radio – no other reason than that, but I love it.

I have so much more to say to you, my sweet, but I feel like I need to sign off for now and continue to speak to and about you tomorrow.

I love you, my dear friend, and I know you’re in my life.

Across these purple fields

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When I reached the corner of 41st and Madison today, I saw a woman sitting in the street; she’d just been hit by a car, it seemed. She had her back to me and an umbrella over her head – it’s pouring rain in New York – so I couldn’t really see what she looked like. Her legs were crossed strangely and she was just sitting there, while strangers gathered around, talking to her and directing traffic. I was on a phone call and outside my destination, so I couldn’t really avoid the scene; it was incredibly upsetting. The vulnerability on display, the kindness of strangers – sometimes I feel too emotional for this world. Soon a firetruck arrived, followed by an ambulance, and after what seemed an exceedingly long time, they took her away. 

What made this especially strange was that I was already planning to write about what happened to me exactly two years ago today. 

In the winter of 2011 I fractured a tiny bone in my wrist – my scaphoid. I didn’t realize it for six weeks, six weeks during which I banged out a draft of a screenplay and downward dogged on a regular basis – something I doubt I’ll ever be able to do again. I wound up in a cast for a year – a series of casts, actually, as I had three surgeries on my wrist during that time. 

On June 7 I had my first (and, as it turned out, last) day of a class in midtown. I had an afternoon appointment with my wrist surgeon and in between I ate lunch in Bryant Park. It was the first hot day of the season – incredibly hot, and humid. I had enough time to walk to my appointment, so I began to head uptown after lunch. On the corner of 52nd and 5th I started to feel lightheaded. The subway was across the street and I decided to take it, but by divine intervention I didn’t make it. Instead, lights started flashing in my eyes and I realized something was not right at all. The last thing I recall is turning around, seeing a store and heading toward it to sit in the air conditioning. 

I came to surrounded by people I didn’t know; one person was behind me holding my head, someone was offering me water, someone else said, “You’re okay – you fainted but the ambulance is on its way.” I told them I had to get to my appointment and tried to get up, but they wouldn’t let me. I looked over at my purse and saw a puddle of what looked like Kool-Aid; when I asked what it was the person holding my head said, “We spilled something – don’t worry about it.”

This is hard to write.

This is what happened, I found out a few days later: some of the shop’s employees came back from lunch and found me standing in the doorway to the office, which was next door. Apparently I grabbed one of them by the arm and told him I didn’t feel well, and he told me to come in and sit down. He put his key in the door and I fell backwards through it. They stared at me for a second and blood started to pool around me. One of the guys who worked there was certified in CPR; he’s the one who was behind me with the compress on my head. I was out for a little over four minutes and it took the ambulance 15 to arrive. 

I remember the rest. The paramedics strapped me into the thing-they-strap-you-into and lifted me in. I asked them if I was going to die. They asked me all my pertinent info and compared it to my driver’s license. They asked me the date, the name of the President, and his predecessor; I made some sort of political joke because I was desperate to prove to the universe that I was okay and going to make it. 

My parents were flying back from France that night, so wouldn’t find out about this until the morning. My then-boyfriend came down to the hospital, though it was a while before he could see me. 

Once it was established that I was stable, I spent hours on a gurney in the hallway of Bellevue being hip checked by whomever passed by. At one point they wheeled me outside of an x ray room; a patient they were examining inside the room went into cardiac arrest and died. I heard them yell “Code Blue!” and a dozen people rushed past me into the room. I heard him flatline. 

Because it was a head injury, I spent the night in a room that had 24-hour supervision. My roommates were three men: one was a prisoner, handcuffed to his bed, with an attending cop stationed outside; one was a grandfatherly Latino on oxygen who kept asking for cigarettes and giving me sympathetic looks – he was very protective of me; the third was Mr. Singh, a Sikh who was yelling obscenities in Hindi all night long. He and I were separated by a curtain and the nurses kept shouting things like, “Mr. Singh, put your pants back on!” “Mr. Singh – that is NOT a bathroom!” I was on a Valium drip – Gawd I love those – and they kept upping the dose because having Mr. Singh as a roommate is not conducive to rest. 

One of the doctors who saw me was a young, cocky resident who was chomping on gum and trying to get me to confess to a drug habit that I did not have. 

The upshot of all this – a concussion and several staples in my head. The cut itself was fairly shallow. I had serious short term memory loss in the weeks that followed; as it turns out, the part of the brain that I injured is the part associated with communication and language. I forgot words. I forgot close friends’ names. I forgot who visited me and when. I couldn’t walk down the street by myself for many weeks. 

I sent this note around at the end of July:

Individual thank you calls forthcoming, but collective profound appreciation to all of my friends and family who’ve been so lovely and supportive in the aftermath of my accident. Feeling so much better in every way – and you were all absolutely wonderful during my time of many needs. Special thank you to Claudia , Mo and KJ for accompanying me to doctors’ appointments and acting as my short-term memory/balance when I had neither, and to Angel, Alyssa, Di, Erika, Sean, Suzanne, Vanessa, Christina, Linda, Tommy, Rachel, Cheech, Sherrie, Paul, and the folks I’m inevitably forgetting for visiting. Thank you always to Tara and Lisa for listening so well and so patiently.

I have the best friends in the universe. Truly. xoL

Wow. I’m glad I got this out. I really, really hope that the woman I saw today is okay, and that she has the guardian angels on her side that I did that day and still do.