April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

They don’t tell you
In the basement;
In the belly;
Of the Cathedral;
Silk-lace-beads-satin pillowed at your feet,
As the warm streams out of you;
Out of your marriage parts,
They don’t tell you what it feels like to have emptied yourself.

And years later,
They don’t tell you
In the silence;
In the tundra;
Of Battery Park City;
Surviving the simulacrum of seven years together.
As the life surges into you;
Back into bones and blood and complexion;
They don’t tell you that the belly-moment
Was the moment to say No.

(December, 2009)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

Wicked tongue
You have me lashed to you now.
Your vain voice,
The gentle rolling cadence
Lilting laugh,
Falling timbre.
Darling,
It’s a vicious, thrilling ride.

(March, 2008)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

Long hair
is for Young women
And short hair
is for Mommies
And grey hair
is for Matrons,
silver with
age and confidence

But my hair,
Flaxen
Grab-worthy
For cinematic streetcorner kisses
Lexington, Park
Uptown, downtown
My hair,
Gentleman-preferred
Is for you.

(August, 2008)

I am and always have been a reader – and in 2016 I resolved to Read More. I wanted to continue that through 2017, so I will update you quarterly on my progress through my reading list. Between December and now, here’s where I am:

  1. Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed – ed. Meghan Daum (a book of short essays about being child-free)
  2. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (a brilliant, magical-realist interpretation of the Underground Railroad)
  3. The Light Between the Oceans – M.L. Stedman (a lighthousekeeper and his wife, after repeated miscarriages, rescue a child orphaned at sea and deal with the fallout of that choice)
  4. Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit (short, feminist essays)
  5. Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay (longer, feminist essays and critiques in a style and on topics that are not immediately apparent as being “feminist”)
  6. Runaway – Alice Munro (typical Alice Munro short stories)
  7. The Broken & the Whole (a rabbi talks about family tragedy and healing from grief)
  8. Commonwealth – Ann Pachett (a brilliant, complex story of a brilliant, complex blended & unhappy family)
  9. The History of Love – Nicole Krauss (a magical, intergenerational love story)
  10. Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance (a memoir about growing up in Appalachia – and moving on)
  11. Why I Am Not a Feminist – Jessa Crispin (a short book about the state of modern feminist theory)
  12. Shrill – Lindy West (essays on love, life, fat acceptance, internet trolling, and death)
  13. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (an intergenerational novel about Ghanaian families, slavery, and differences in the toll of time)
  14. Black Edge – Sheelah Kohlhatkar (a story about the rise and fall of SAC Capital)
  15. Hallelujah Anyway – Anne Lamott (a slim volume that seems to touch on the theology of mercy and happiness)

Some General Themes: I am reading more writers of colour; I am reading more about feminism; I am reading more essays. I am trying to challenge myself and my perceptions and get out of my Reading Comfort Zone.

Book Club: I had to quit my book club. Not because I didn’t like them – I did like them, a lot! – but the books they picked were universally So Horrendous that I couldn’t continue to read what they wanted to read. I liked their company. I hated their taste in books.

What’s Next: Poetry; some hefty non-fiction; and one or two really classic novels.

(This is the seventh and final in a short series of posts)

After the service, we stand in a makeshift receiving line outside the church. JRA performs the social duties of widowhood, which seem not unlike those of being a bride, except unfathomably lonelier.

This is the way marriage is supposed to work, right? I think as I watch her, Only one of you comes out alive. But what do I know about Till Death Do Us Part – I’m the only one of us who has been divorced multiple times, which suddenly seems pretty lonely too.

In the receiving line, my first husband and his wife greet me warmly. He is wearing the cashmere scarf that I bought him for Christmas many years ago; I am wearing the necklace of rough-cut citrines he bought me in Shanghai. The trappings of our life together are still omnipresent and unavoidable. Even after all these years, I still recognise pieces of his wardrobe as things I bought him; I still know exactly who gave us what as a wedding gift. The one thing whose giver I could never identify was the sturdy mortar and pestle on my counter that I would use to grind spices and make guacamole. Then one day JRA noticed it and said I’m always so glad you always have that out, Pete and I were so worried when we gave you something that wasn’t on your registry.

I wonder, briefly, where people who haven’t had first marriages get their Stuff; and how, once divorced, they manage to cleanly untangle their necklaces and cashmere scarves, and separate their kitchen gear, and uncouple their iTunes libraries.

All the mourners are invited to Pete’s parents’ country club for a reception following the service, and we spend the better part of the afternoon reminiscing and eating miserable sandwiches. Eventually, I settle in and chat with Andrew’s wife. There is an easy intimacy between us because we are both members of the same strange sorority of being Mrs. L—.

The afternoon wears on and the club is closing, and we all head for the exits. Andrew and his wife and I are the only ones left waiting for our coats, and we leave together. I watch them get into my beloved, ageing Jaguar – the car Andrew is still driving, which is now covered in the accoutrements of family life: a badly placed ski rack; children’s car seats covered in toys.

It makes me laugh a little, and reminds me of a line from a song that had come on the radio as I was making soup the night Pete died:

And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Towards the end of his life, Pete had stopped eating solid foods. Soup was always on the menu, and at our social gatherings, there was always a thermos of it; at restaurants, we always remembered to check the menu for drinkable dinners. He’d tired of the fact that soft foods were nearly always sweet – he was desperate for savoury; threatened to make a pizza smoothie, which caused endless eye-rolling from JRA.

That night he’d died, I’d sung along to Talking Heads in my kitchen, and served up chicken soup to a friend who came over for dinner. We’d had a lovely, quiet meal, but neither one of us had known that it was a beginning and an end when JRA had called later that night and said, Pete’s not doing so well.

And now, I stand in the golden February afternoon and watch as my first husband gets into my large automobile with his beautiful wife, and for one split second, I laugh in astonishment at myself as I wonder: How did I get here?

As I pull out of my spot in the overflow parking on the golf course, a flock of Canadian geese rise towards the sky.  It occurs to me that I shouldn’t be surprised at all; I have known all along exactly how I got here, which was that fifteen years ago, Andrew introduced me to JRA, who walked down the aisle as my bridesmaid when I married him, and JRA fell in love with Pete, who together created Lady H, who walked down the aisle as my flower girl when I married Paul, and Lady H danced that night with her dad, who is the one who brought us all full circle today.

Andrew and his wife pull away, I think that maybe hope is not the thing with feathers, love is.

(This is the sixth in a short series of posts)

We bury Pete on one of the coldest days of the year, which strikes me because we had buried Tommy, his younger brother, on one of the hottest. I once read an article in the New York Times about the importance of the rituals of death as part of the grieving process, and I wonder, as I drive to Long Island on the morning of Pete’s second and final memorial, if that is why my grief over my grandparents’ deaths has been so complicated. In their case, they had died a year and a day apart – necessitating two grim trips to Orlando during which I had inquired about formalities – and my mother had looked at me askance and asked: Why?

When Tommy died, back in July, Paul and I had been in Newport, because Andrew and I had always gone to Newport in summer and I never saw a reason to stop. After I’d taken JRA’s call about her brother-in-law, I’d come back to the table and motioned for the bartender to come refill my Sauvignon blanc, which she did, to the absolute brim, until the surface tension of the wine in the glass made a dome over the rolled lip of the sturdy barware, and we didn’t discuss the matter of the phone call further. But that night, I’d come down with my third case of shingles – this time an ophthalmic emergency – and I’d had to drive back to the city one-eyed the next morning.

Likewise, the day Pete died, I took to bed for a week with the flu and a 103F fever. When my therapist asked me, Perhaps we can deal with your feelings instead of letting everything become physical? I looked at her like she was crazy and told her, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I arrive in Glen Cove and I stand with a clutch of family at the gravesite and then head into the now-familiar church with the carved wood walls, and the raised pulpit, which I remember so clearly from Tommy’s memorial in August like it was yesterday and not six months ago. I am meant to give a eulogy today so I sit near the front of the church – Dorota and Michael sit next to me. Once the sanctuary is fully packed, the traditional Episcopal service begins, and I listen to the other remembrances.

Then it is my turn to rise shakily and talk about my friend:

I first heard about Peter when he was a senior at Brown, and Jessica was describing the love of her life. I didn’t have a chance to meet Pete in person until a few months later at Campus Dance, when he rolled out of his fraternity house, laughing, and joking, and that kicked off what was to be a long friendship. And for years, I teased that I was the friend that stood out at Brown events – not Pete – because at many of those Brown parties and reunions, there was almost always more than one guy in a wheelchair, but there was only ever one painfully WASPy, conservative blonde. 

Pete had remarked, in his writing, and throughout our friendship, that visibility mattered to him. Being in a wheelchair, and eventually, having all of his equipment, he occasionally commented that people noticed the stuff long before they ever got to know him. But one of the things that made Peter a remarkable friend was the way that other people were so highly visible to him; the way he could make you feel like you were the only person in the room when he talked with you.  This was clear from how he was as a friend; obvious in how he was as a dad; I’m sure Jess will debate me on whether this is true about him as a husband, but I’m not sure there’s a wife who wouldn’t engage this debate. 

This quality came out in his professional life as a social worker – a profession that Pete seemed tailor-made for. Pete often ran groups – providing support for families of individuals with disabilities and for men with disabilities themselves. My favourite story of Pete’s was early in his career when he came up with the idea to run a group for men with social anxiety. He prepared the materials; set up for the group…and no one ever showed up. Being a social worker had a learning curve. 

Over the years, I had the good fortune of watching Jessica & Pete’s love grow – they loved each other fearlessly. They were always present to each other; visible to each other; kind to each other. Pete was an ordinary husband, who drove Jessica nuts in 1,000 perfect, loving, wonderful ways. To be presented with such significant challenges and still have such an ordinary love is one of the things I admire so much about Jessica, and one of the things I loved so much about Pete. 

I also got to watch Pete become a father. About a week before Helen was born, I had dinner with Jess & Pete in New Jersey; walking along the Hudson on the way to the restaurant. I remember watching Peter watch Jess; seeing her expectant reflection in the window of some building along the waterfront. The moment still sticks with me – Helen, Meatloaf – I know your daddy saw you before you even came along and loved you from before he even met you. There’s no swimming stroke you’re not going to be able to conquer, and there’s no bird or animal you won’t be able to identify – you got your dad’s perseverance and concentration. Seeing the way Pete SAW Helen – not just for being his daughter – but as a person herself, was something to behold.

Finally, as a friend, Pete never failed to be present. Whether it was for game night – where he was a wicked contender – or coming to the city to watch me run yet another ill-advised race, Pete was in.  In November, Pete came to watch me run my last marathon – knowing the significance of the feat of running on two reconstructed hips and a new knee. It took me longer than it’s ever taken me to run before, and I was so happy to see Pete, and Jess, and Helen at the end. 

I think it’s easy to forget to see people. You see them for what you want to see them as, or for the role they play in your life. You can see the contraptions they carry around with them, but you can fail to see the person sitting right there in front of you.  I’m so grateful to Peter for our years of friendship, and for helping me to see not just him, but myself, too. 

(These remarks have been condensed and lightly edited from the original).

(This is the fifth in a short series of posts)

I make phone calls all morning, and finally, I reach my first husband at his office.

Hello, darling, I say. He understands instantly why I have called.

Andrew and I always had a plan. We would stay up late at night in bed, laughing, devising ways to escape the city in the event of an attack by Godzilla or Mothra. We had our future mapped to the moment; we anticipated every contingency and had more insurance than any two young people should have had. And even now, as we talk, our voices betray that intimacy of a first marriage – where you have been young together, and loved each other in a way that you make up as you go along, and you have listened to each other throwing up in foreign hotel rooms, and have been so irrationally mad at each other that you once cancelled the other person’s credit card mid-business trip.

But my voice catches, and I cannot ask him: How did I get here? Tell me, darling, what comes next?

What comes next is that JRA plans and hosts an abbreviated shiva, but I cannot make a shiva call because I have out-of-town commitments that I must keep, and anyway I am struggling mightily with this new vocabulary of tangential Jewishness.

Arrangements are made, and dates are set, and time begins to move very fast indeed.

I drive to Scarsdale one Sunday to ride bikes with Lady H and she takes off down the Bronx River Trail like a bat out of hell, leading me and JRA on the ride in the cold, pale January afternoon. She struggles on the hills but conquers them, a far cry from a few months earlier, when even the slightest incline terrified her. As the day grows smaller, we head back down the trail, along the river, and a large, blue heron stands silently in the water, staring at me as I ride.

H! H! I holler to my budding ornithologist companion, What kind of bird is this? But she has ridden too far ahead to hear me.

JRA pulls her bike up beside me to look. It’s funny because the one person who would know isn’t here to identify it, she says with a small smile. Pete had been a lover of nature and an avid watcher of birds, and I feel a wide, dull ache in my chest flap brokenly.

The heron is still staring at me as we ride away.

The first of two services for Pete is planned for the end of January, and Andrew tells me that he and his wife will be there. He and I talk a few times before the day-of – about love, and life, and loss, and interfaith relationships. His wife is a professor of Jewish Studies, and he is a lapsed Catholic; they are raising their children Jewish. It all sounds very complex, and it reminds me of when I had to convert to Catholicism in order to marry Andrew – the Bishop came to a church in suburban Maryland to perform my confirmation – and Andrew’s parents had flown in from Connecticut in support, but to this day I believe it was to ensure that I actually went through with the whole thing.

On the day of the service at the JCC, we all drive out from the city to Westchester in a car filled with flowers and food and wine to remember and to celebrate Pete. JRA and I go to the JCC ahead of the crowd to begin setting up for the service, and for one brief moment, we are alone in a room, just the two of us – no parents, no friends, no Lady H. We have been in this sort of waiting room prior to events before but they have always been happy occasions – my weddings; her wedding; just before Lady H was born – and now, here we are, preparing to celebrate the end of the beginning.

Friends begin arriving, and the service begins, and it is beautiful. It is mostly people I haven’t seen since my first wedding, or since JRA’s. People tell stories and share memories, and Dorota reads the Horace ode in Latin that a friend read when JRA and Pete got married. And because Pete had been an avid singer before muscular dystrophy had restricted his voice, his college acapella group, the Pirates, sing a sea shanty.

As the Pirates launch into the Mingulay Boat Song, my eyes scan the crowd for Andrew, who is a few rows ahead of me, sitting with his wife. I think back to that October day, ten years earlier, when JRA and Pete were married in Boston, and she and I had shared the same wedding veil, and she had floated down the stairs wearing it as the Pirates serenaded them. I watch Andrew’s wife dab her eyes with his handkerchief, and I watch him put his arm around her and draw her close, just as he had done to me a decade before on the opposite occasion.

The next day, JRA sends me a photo taken from her front porch – it is of a murmuration of starlings; hundreds of them. They have inexplicably descended upon her street – swooping down upon her yard and doing loops over the wheelchair ramp on her lawn.

If I were the type of person who believed in signs, she says, trailing off.

And for the first time in many weeks, I feel the ache in my chest flutter a little, and start to grow wings.