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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Grief. An Anniversary.

Joe, Antoinette, Mike, Diane. Penistone Crag.
Diane, I think, Antoinette, Gregory. I remember the fun we had with that picnic table.
If it had been an actual magic carpet we would not have had more fun. 
One year.

Yes I have been counting the days.

Yes, I have been saying, "It's been a week. At some point it will have been a year. It's been a month. At some point it will have been a year. It's been a season. At some point it will have been a year."

I have been saying, "This is the first summer. This is the first fall. This is the first winter. This is the first birthday. My birthday. Your birthday. The first Thanksgiving. The first Christmas."

365 days of thinking of you last thing before going to sleep at night. 365 days of wanting to throw something, to make it not happen, to not have happened. 365 days of grim resignation and anger at God.

And yes I did remember, on every day, each of the 365 days, that you would not count the days if it had been me.

And you told me as much.

And that you and I never spent holidays together. And the few times you sent me a birthday card, it was always late.

No, we almost never spent holidays together. And yet I always knew you were out there. When the first warm winds melted snow, and the days lengthened and Easter approached, I tasted mak, I knew that you were out there, and you were tasting mak too. When the year fell down the hole, and if you blinked you'd miss the sun in the day, I remembered the Salvation Army Santa Claus coming to the house, and the Slovak Christmas Eve ritual at Aunt Phyllis' house, I knew that you were out there, and you remembered those things, too. The Chatty Cathy doll. Greg getting a stuffed Bugs Bunny that was almost as big as he was. Midnight Mass and the line from Isaiah about the "pole on their shoulder." We'd giggle. You were out there, and you remembered.

Not any more.

I don't remember what date daddy died. I know it was in fall, but that's all I've got. I don't remember mommy, though I was holding her in my arms as it happened. That was summer. Mike. I think Mike died near Thanksgiving. I remember Phil because he died on my birthday. And you I remember.

I have cried every day.

It has felt like an amputation. Something vital and huge was taken out of me and I'll be lacking that for the rest of my life. Limping around, lighter. Hollowed. Lacking. Missing. Incomplete.

And you wouldn't feel that way. I know it.

I miss you so much. I miss you throughout the day.

You were a bitch. You didn't like me, and you didn't care about me. But life threw us in the same bathtub, the same bed, the same kitchen, streets, woods, school, church, library, car driving down the shore, stocked with bologna sandwiches on rye bread, for the first decade of my life, at least. You were funny, smart, and curious. I will never again have anyone I can talk to as I could talk to you.

Footnotes were not necessary. When talking to you, I never had to stop in the middle of what I was saying and explain what I was saying. You think, for deity's sake. You think.

Why do so few people think.

"People are stupid, Diane. Never forget that." How many times did you tell me that? One of your pearls of wisdom. Along with "Buy when there's blood on the streets" and "Ten o'clock and two o'clock" and "Egg whites should be room temperature; cream should be cold." You were older. You arrived at life before I did and sent back reports.

You knew movies. You knew politics. You knew sports. You knew nature. You knew human psychology. You knew current events.

Snapping turtles, schistosomes, British Invasion rock 'n roll, stockinette stitches, soil alkalinity, back roads shortcuts, women of the Revolutionary War, quantum theory, Beat Poetry. You knew. No need to stop in the middle of a sentence and say, "Brian Greene is … " You knew Brian Greene and Sappho and Pierre Trudeau.

We loved Sam Goldwyn's 1939 Wuthering Heights. In that film, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) asks his wife Isabella Linton (Geraldine Fitzgerald), "Why does your hair not smell of heather?"

There's a reason those Golden Age Hollywood movies were so powerful. I tried to read Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte's novel. What a bungle. Three hundred pages of train wreck. Make up your mind, lady. What are you writing? Give me the movie.

"Why does your hair not smell of heather?"

That's it. Right there. Emily could have skipped the three hundred pages. That line is not in the book. Hollywood distilled the classic novel into one line.

Heathcliff is yearning for the love of his life, Cathy Earnshaw (Merle Oberon). Cathy was a bitch. She had slapped Heathcliff, telling him not to touch her with his dirty hands. So he left, never looked back, made lots of money, returned, and, out of spite, married Cathy's sister-in-law.

Given all that meanness and cruelty and life-destroying bitchiness, why does Heathcliff yearn for Cathy? Why does he think of Cathy every time he is close to his loving, psychologically normal wife Isabella?

Heathcliff and Cathy had grown up together. They were poor. Their childhood was unhappy. The drunken and depressed man of the house beat and humiliated Heathcliff. Cathy watched helplessly. Heathcliff and Cathy, whenever they could, would escape to wild nature. They used to play on a rocky outcropping, Penistone Crag. They played in the heather, a plant associated with rural poverty. Their imaginations transformed the rocks and the weeds into a castle and roses and, in their imaginations, they became a king and a queen. They would sometimes visit the homes of wealthy people and watch from a distance, their noses pressed to the glass, outside looking in. They yearned to live the lives of comfortable, happy people.

Later, Heathcliff and Cathy became rich. They both lived the lives of wealth. They became the kind of people they used to gaze at when they were young and poor. But neither is happy. Both yearn for their childhoods spent in poverty, spent playing in heather. Even though they made each other miserable, they yearn for each other.

"Why does your hair not smell of heather?"

Heathcliff has everything a poor boy might want. He is rich. He married an upper class girl who loves him. But her hair does not smell of heather. Heather, the ratty, country weed, the sign of rural poverty. Cathy smelled of heather, and Cathy was a bitch to him. But every time he is close to his prized and loving wife, all he can think is, "Why does your hair not smell of heather?"

You know, I recently watched a couple of movies, Sweet Home Alabama and My Sweet Charlie. There are not-great movies. And I wanted to talk about them.


Talk doesn't mean, "I liked that movie!" "Yeah, I liked it, too!" and then moving on.

How many hours did you and I talk about Lawrence of Arabia or Gone with the Wind?

Not hours. Years. And we'd talk like that about not-great movies, too. Elmer Gantry, The Hasty Heart and The Art of Love.

"What was his motivation? Why did she love him? What if they had been the same people but ten years older? What if she had had the same heart and soul but she had been ugly? Is what she did cruel or kind? What if the entire plot had taken place on Mars, and they all had to be wearing oxygen masks? If you could re-do the ending, how would you and why?"

I'll never have those conversations again.

A couple of things:

I have no idea what this is. This – your death and my mourning.

I look at photos of you, I think of you, and I think of losing you, and I just feel that I'm in the middle of some large blackness, without landmarks or vocabulary. I don't really get it. That sounds so … amorphous. Heck, it sounds so stupid.

Second thing. As I mourned you, I kept reminding myself, "She would not mourn you. You were nothing to her." At first, that made no difference in my sadness. Around autumn, time for your birthday and mine, it finally began to sink in. And I am no longer as sad as I once was.

But this is also true. Your death savaged me as nothing else has. And I've been through a lot. I don't think I'll ever see another sunny day. I will always see the shadow, even at high noon. I think I'll never experience another summer. I think it will always, from here on out, be dusk in my life. I think I'll always be approaching the closing of the coffin, the falling of night. I don't know if yellow or orange are still in my box of colors. I don't know that I'll ever hear laughter without hearing keening in the background.

And here's another thing. I miss you ravenously. I want to sink my teeth into your essence. That's an attempt at a metaphor. I miss your physicality with my physicality. We were so on top of each other in that tiny little house we grew up in, that small town, that you are stamped on my brain, on all my senses. Without trying, I can hear you, touch you, see you, smell you – you always smelled burnt umber to me – you taught me the word "synesthesia" – before that I didn't know that my brain worked differently in that way. As adults, because of your bitchery, we spent years not talking to each other. And I could summon you – heck I could not avoid summoning you. Dreams, nightmares, aphorisms, reading books you read first, driving and cooking and grooming as you taught me.

But I really wish I could pull you back into life.

And one more thing.

Antoinette, you blew it. You know you did. No need to rehash the details.

I loved you so much. You shouldn't have done the things you did.

When we were experiencing whatever this is – this life – we should have had more time together, and more good time.

That we did not is all on you.

Forgive you? Dunno.

Miss you insanely?

Every day.


  1. Wow. So much pain. So much love. So much loss. So much elegance in the telling.

  2. It seems to me that your sister was more essential in your life than any of the rest of your family. She was your teacher. You looked up to her as all younger siblings look up those who have the most impact on them. The pain in the telling of your story is palpable and hurts the reader in that secret area we keep hidden from the world. Thank you for sharing your story, and, in so doing, making your readers evaluate what is important in their lives