I leave Santiago de Compostela the next morning. I am headed next to Israel via London, which is maybe a weird summer holiday destination for the waspiest WASP in Waspdom, but some friends have invited me, and off I go.

The flight from London to Tel Aviv is about the same as flying from New York to Los Angeles. It is uneventful until an older gentleman picks a fight with a flight attendant; hits him. After some screaming, they zip-tie the man’s hands together in the aisle and he quiets. A few hours later, and without further incident, we land at Ben Gurion Airport. It is already very late, and but we wait on the tarmac for the police to come escort the old man and his wife off and into the terminal.

I make it through passport control easily and into a waiting car, and we drive the hour to Jerusalem in the slightly sticky Mediterranean night. RHJ is waiting for me on the other side.

I have come to Israel to watch RHJ and Tony compete in the Maccabi Games – the Jewish Olympics – which happen every four years. I have come to sight-see, too, but mostly to watch sport. I feel conspicuous in my non-Jewishness, which is maybe the point, but sometimes I feel that way on the Upper East Side; in Scarsdale so I don’t exactly find Israelis any more intimidating than New Yorkers. But I also realise that if we were playing a game of Spot the Shiksa, I would be a low-value target, because I am so obvious.

How was the flight? RHJ asks me as I arrive at the Mount Zion Boutique Hotel, which is neither boutique nor hotel, but seemingly a former mental hospital cum motel built into a hillside.

They took some guy off in handcuffs, I say nonchalantly, pulling on my monogrammed PJs – final confirmation that the WASP has landed. He stares at me for a moment, simultaneously believing and disbelieving that we are here, together in this place. Then we shut out the lights and retreat to our pushed-together twin beds.

The next day, we are meant to go to the Opening Ceremonies of the 20th Maccabiah; the 2017 Maccabi Games. RHJ is marching in with the American delegation (which includes former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers on the over-60 ping pong team, because senior citizen table tennis is apparently A Thing at this thing) and I am meant to attend as a spectator with RHJ’s parents.

In the early evening, I get myself to Mamilla to meet RHJ’s parents and their Israeli friends in the lobby of their hotel (RHJ has left hours earlier with his team) only to find that a party bus – replete with sparkles, spangles, and poles – has been arranged for the five of us: Four septuagenarians and me. I am introduced to the parents’ friends by my name, and discover that Meredith is not a name that rolls easily off the Israeli tongue and the friends have begun calling me something that sounds very much like Murder.

We take our party bus into the stadium, where I learn that in Israel, rules are merely suggestions around which one negotiates; the loudest voice or biggest wallet wins. And once inside Teddy Stadium, we sit in the stunning summer night and we wait. And wait. There will be hours of this. I am seated between RHJ’s parents, like a naughty schoolgirl between mummy and daddy, cheering intermittently as two sexy Israeli women in black announce each country’s delegation.  So this is the Jewish Olympics.

Eventually, the tune changes and the American flag flashes on the screens and the Americans begin walking in, so we have to stand and clap and shout. But the Americans head the direction opposite of where we are sitting, so we do not get to make eye contact with RHJ and are disappointed.

By 11pm, after nearly five hours of this fanfare, the parents, the Murder Friends (whom RHJ assures me are spies) and I all want to leave the stadium. I text RHJ, who begs me to wait for him; escapes the team crush and finds us on retreat in the parking lot.

The bus drops RHJ and me off back at our hotel and we sneak out to a late dinner at the old Jerusalem train station, which has been converted into a marketplace of shops and restaurants.

You know, I say, as I tuck into my salmon with soba noodles, It’s weird that you’re so weird with me. 

What?

It’s like, we stand there, and you greet everyone else first and you treat me like a stranger.

I see his face fall, and I am having one of those moments of watching myself in slow-motion being a complete idiot, and I cannot stop myself.

I have spent twenty years, personally and professionally, separating my heart from my head – it has been self-preservation, mostly. But I don’t need to do that now. I want to feel this. And yet here I am, at midnight, in Jerusalem, beating the shit out of this wonderful man because he kissed his mother before he kissed me. How did I get here?

This is not the time for this discussion, he says, diplomatically.

He is right; I am wrong. I know I am wrong. I am fresh from this walk – this twenty year long pilgrimage – to figure out how to be a whole person; and I felt slightly estranged in that one weird moment in the parking lot so I saw something and said something just like has been ingrained in every New Yorker, and sometimes, saying something is the wrong thing (which the signs in the subway DO NOT tell you, by the way). As we walk back to the Mount Zion Boutique Hotel and Mental Hospital in furious silence, I realise that despite my walk, my idiot head still hasn’t caught up with my heart.

I do not like birds, but they have become a part of my consciousness lately.

I do not care for birds because when I was growing up, my mother one day brought home a pet cockatiel. My mother, like her father before her, was once famous for randomly acquiring pets; is still the kind of woman who takes photographs of herself holding exotic animals all over the world. The pictures in question used to be displayed in my parents’ den, all in a row, on top of the big oak desk: My mother posing with koalas; Boa Constrictors; ridiculous Macaws or Cockatoos, one on each arm. I think there was even one of her holding a monkey.

I am not sure why my mother got the cockatiel, other than it being a natural outcropping of her Exotic Animal Thing. For her part, this fetish was less toxic than her father’s, because as the story goes, Bop once brought home a baby alligator, which he raised in their basement until he (the alligator) met his untimely end at on the broadside of a neighbour’s shovel. For the cockatiel’s part, though, the bird survived for a few years to holler his name (Murphy!!!!!!) into the high-ceiling’d abyss of parents’ family room, until he one day just dropped dead, either from the futility of it all, or the intemperateness of the room.

Secretly, I was glad, because, see above.

So over the last six months, I have noticed birds more; I am living out some winged metaphor, but I do not like them any better. I have become convinced they are a sign of something, but I cannot make sense of exactly what.

Perhaps this is grief. Perhaps I am just going insane.

With this background in mind, as I walked to the office the other day, I observed a bright red bird flit about from around the street trees, and then suddenly alight on my shoulder. I felt ridiculous. I kept walking, in hopes that the damn thing would startle off. But it did not. I felt like a Disney princess, except weirder.

When I arrived at the office, I quickly googled what is a cardinal a symbol of? But I didn’t know the bird was a cardinal at the time, so I was googling “robin,” until I realised what had landed on me was actually a cardinal.

…What is a cardinal a symbol of?

Would it not perhaps have been better to google, Why am I looking for symbolism in Disney Princess moments and in all of these chance encounters with birds?

The first hit was a page from California Psychics and it was then that I realised I was losing it. I had had a bird land on me and I was searching the internet for wisdom from California Psychics. Worse, this was on my work computer, so these searches were being saved to our back-end compliance system. The second hit was what looked like an early 00’s Geocities page featuring a woman in a Blossom hat, with extensive content about What Cardinal Sightings Mean In The Afterlife.

What am I searching for?

It seems like we are coping well in this era of second divorces, and widowhood, and beginning again, until these crystal clear moments of frantically searching the internet happen and I realise we are Obviously Not. I realise this is normal. I type it into that empty google search box until my browser is filled with pictures of birds.

I keep the bird stuff to myself, mostly. Because it’s weird. But it’s happening to all of us.

The week before Father’s Day, Dorota and Michael and Lady H and JRA and I decide to ride bikes along the Bronx River Parkway, which we do for hours, until I need to get back to the city for late drinks with RHJ.

As we begin our ride, there is a bird standing at the mouth of the bike trail, staring at me like the blue heron was back in January, and I want to scream What do you birds want from me? What are you trying to say?! But I don’t because that’s also weird and I have already spent an hour this week on the California Psychics webpage trying to decipher one close encounter.

But we get back to JRA’s house, and she mentions the bird, quietly at first, then she says she saw a dog she liked at a North Shore Animal League travelling event. I laugh, because she is So Not a Dog Person, then it dawns on me that when Bop died, we found piles of North Shore Animal League freebies in his things – he must have donated money – and that these animals and things have all had a message that maybe are connected and have nothing to do with some Geocities site and suddenly I say, Okay, so let’s go to the shelter event they’re hosting today!

We arrive at the parking lot event moments before it closes down for the day. JRA does not get a dog that day, but the next day she drives out to the north shore of Long Island, where the Animal League is headquartered, and comes home with the dog.

Am I a Disney Princess, I wonder? The evidence is clear: My long, blonde braid. Talking to the two dead guys I love through animals. No. It’s not that. I was convinced I was this logical lawyer, but what I realise now is that despite our best efforts, sooner or later we all turn into our mothers.

We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination 
– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It is Holy Week, and we are changing form.

The daffodils and other flowers have begun peeking through, which eee documents obsessively. We have all suffered precious, maddening losses this Winter, and are coping in different ways as we charge into Spring. For me, it has meant a kind of forward motion at all cost; for JRA it has meant one step forward, two steps back; for eee, it has meant an effort to preserve the fleeting beauty as it emerges.

Just let me know when it gets to be a bit too…Georgia O’Keefe, she chuckles.

I had not contemplated the Enormity of Grief before this year. As a postmodern intellectual Christian, I had read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed as a guide to the journey each time I’d encountered it, but I did not know – really know – that “grief felt so like fear” until now.

On Palm Sunday, I ask eee and Dorota to come with me to Trinity Downtown to the music service. We meet in a bar beforehand, which seems appropriate, because our group of friends was originally called “Winesday.” Conceived of in the end of 2009 as a way to decompress as we trained to volunteer as overnight social workers in the NY Presbyterian Hospital Emergency Department, we would meet every Wednesday and drink wine. The group grew and changed over the years, but the spirit remained the same.

We are different people now, but we still like to drink, I guess.

The music at Trinity is beautiful and the service is almost Humanist in form, and I feel at home again. In the years I was with Paul, he was deeply anti-religious, but culturally Catholic. I had converted to Catholicism to be with Andrew, but as a divorcee, went back to my non-Papist native form.

However, I hadn’t contemplated the complexities of being an Anglican married to an Irishman. In my American ignorance, I didn’t realise That Was a Thing, until it Was. We would find ourselves in baffling knock-down, drag-outs about Jesus, the Pope, and Santa Claus, and somehow I became a proxy for hundreds of years of Irish oppressors. It was…exhausting. I wasn’t even English.

I wouldn’t say it was our undoing, but it certainly didn’t help.

Later that week, we celebrate Passover at JRA’s house, which is different than last year.  The prior year’s Seder had been a cacophony of children and families, and this year our gathering is late and just grown-ups. We sit and we eat and we talk and we pray, and it is different and it is good, and I pop a bottle of expensive wedding-gift champagne and say drily, After all, you only get divorced for the second time once.

We finish our dinner and we search for the afikoman, which is typically an activity for the children, but which the group does with enthusiasm. I stand back and watch, marvelling at how different my life has become over the course of a year. At what we have gained; what we have lost; who we have become.

Then we sit and talk about Other Things – at which point someone suggests we should have a Group Costume for Halloween, because it is April, and there is no better time to discuss October. We bat around Group Costume Ideas. Disney Princes and Princesses? Maybe. Famous Couples? Nah. Nothing seems cohesive enough. The only way forward is as the von Trapp family, I finally declare.

Then we clean the kitchen and drive back to the city and are home before ten o’clock, and again, I marvel at the difference.

Days later, it is Easter, which I am hosting, and for which I cannot rally. Ordinarily, I love to host. But for this Easter, I cannot seem to plan the menu or cook the foods. Instead, I buy everything pre-prepared. It does not occur to me in these barren moments that this is what grief feels like – that grief is not a missing or a loss, but sometimes it is fear.

It is not that I miss Paul, but as I set out the Easter Things, I think about the table that I prepared a few years back, before we were married, when we gathered with my parents and our friends to celebrate in this same house. I think about the things we had together and the things we will never have.

It all feels…Enormous, and I am afraid. I am afraid I will never have a family; I am afraid it will always just be me and the dog; I am afraid I will continue the family tradition of being The One Old Maid in every generation which is a perfectly fine thing but it’s not the thing I want; I am afraid I will be stuck and I don’t want to be stuck.

After a celebration that takes us through the afternoon and evening, night falls, and guests begin to leave. As Dorota and Michael stand to head out, Michael recalls our discussion at the Seder and reminds us that we have promised to go as the von Trapp family for Halloween. They approach the door, and he bursts into So Long, Farewell. Soon after, Zac joins. Then, the whole room erupts into song, singing them out the door.

And I laugh, almost until I cry, because that painful, fearful place in my heart has opened up again, like a window. And every time I think I have mastered the form of this season, it changes again; grows wings; bursts out like a demented cuckoo clock; singing; rejoicing; fearless; and still, somehow, terrifying.

In my grief, I have gotten nothing I hadn’t bargained for, and also, everything, it seems.

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.

You are Helen,
And charming,
And a paragon of what a woman
Should be.
Locked up in your ivory tower,
Lost without your worldly power,
Continue on your odyssey.

Odyssey—
Keep going.
You can never go home once
You’ve gone.
Sinking in your self-restraint,
You nurse your wounds without complaint,
And sing your silly siren song.

You are virtue,
And wonder,
And the girl you always wished
You’d be.
Would he love you violated,
How he loves the things you’ve hated;
You’re drowning in tranquility.

(May, 2006)

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)

SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Travel // Where did you go this year?  What was your favourite?  Where do you plan to or want to go next year?

It wasn’t The Cake that put us over the edge.

The melodrama of How We Got Here played out over many hotel rooms and many arguments over the course of the Spring, Summer, and early Fall; many long waits at Passport Control on both sides of the Atlantic.

There is no One Way things play out the way that they do.  But this is what I know:

When I was a little girl, my father would only let us bring along what we could carry. My father – famous for his Life Lessons – would tell me that someday, I’d be on my own and I’d be travelling Do you want to bring more than you can handle – Meredith Ann, you have to carry it yourself – never bring more than you can lift.

The lesson stuck.

As an adult, I am (in)famous for travelling across timezones, climates and continents with only a carryon suitcase. Notably, I once went from a nine day holiday in India, to five more days of business in London and Amsterdam, and only brought a cabin bag and a backpack – slipping a packable shoulder bag inside the carryon for the business portion of the trip. My colleagues didn’t know whether to be impressed by or suspicious of me.

But this is relevant to the problems in my marriage, I promise, which is the subject I am still discussing – which is to say, the subject of Having Children or Not – albeit in a tangential way.

I’m not going to lie: Anyone who has ever met me, ever, could tell you that while I love kids, and I’m a nurturing person, I’m probably not motherhood material. When I was a little girl, I never really had barbies or dolls – maybe She-Ra action figures, and a few Cabbage Patch kids that I played school, and realty office, and corporation with. For a long time, even into my early twenties, I never thought I’d get married, and it certainly never crossed my mind to even consider having kids.

When you’re a kid and you say things like, I don’t think I’m ever going to be a parent, people assure you that you’ll grow out of it; that it’s a phase, that you have no idea what you’re talking about. At the time I was saying it, I didn’t know what monsters were lurking in my genes. But even as a young woman, I knew that I always wanted to be alone in my own head. When you have a child, as I understand it, even if you are physically separated from your kid, you are never alone from the thinking and the worry and the concern. I was never sure I wanted someone else in my head all the time.

I was at lunch the other day with a friend/colleague who was asking me about the kids thing and I said, without going into detail of the drama of the past six, nine months; without saying anything about grim waiting rooms or not being able to commit to uncertain years of injections, and those horrendous kinds of ultrasounds where they put a condom on the wand then stick it inside of your body like its not the most violating thing in the world, and endless genetic testing and all of that bullshit: No kids right now. I just wanted to be alone in my own head for a while longer.

She agreed, saying I’ve never met a man who understands that.

We nodded at each other, and ate our sushi, and talked about Lighter Things, and that was that.

And it’s funny, because the lightest I ever feel is when I am playing with my nieces and nephews or my fairy goddaughter, Lady H, with whom I spend an inordinate amount of time; or when I am holding the perfect form of one of my friends’ new babies. I speak fluent infant; one friend used to call me the Baby Whisperer for my uncanny ability to get her kid to sleep. My friend JRA often remarks how popular I am with the under-10 set.

But I also know this: Last summer, things just got too heavy. I couldn’t stand the prospect of needles anymore after I’d finally gotten permission to chuck the sharps container that had been on my counter for a decade from the endless injections of Rheumatoid Arthritis meds where the disclaimers on TV tell you they’re not certain of the mechanism by which it works. I couldn’t fathom sitting in those segregated fertility clinic waiting rooms for the next three months, or three years, hoping for something to work out, and pinning the future of my marriage on Just That Thing.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I am the kind of girl who is always going to be able to live lightly; who packs a carryon suitcase. I love children; but I didn’t love the prospect of the unknown more than I loved what I had, and I hated that my spouse was hovering over me, shouting in my ear that it was now or never. Because it wasn’t; it isn’t. In the end, I couldn’t do it – I simply wasn’t prepared to carry more than I could lift.