In June, roughly an hour after a brain biopsy revealed that my mother had a glioblastoma and would be lucky to live a year, she shook an IV’d hand at her handsome Bolivian neurosurgeon and said, “I know you’re married, but now this is officially serious. We need to find my daughter a husband, and we haven’t got a lot of time.”

As said daughter, I was only mildly horrified. This new persona of my mother’s had mostly to do with the steroids she was on to control the swelling in her brain, and our whole family had adjusted to the side effects. Essentially, they had turned my meditative, soft-spoken, yoga-doing mother into something of a manic, bossy chatterbox.

I did, however, wince at the handsome neurosurgeon. He laughed and said, “Well, I don’t usually cross those lines, but I’ll see what I can do.”  Then he smiled at me like he knew what it was to have a mother who loved you in this way.  My sister, lucky girl, is already married.

Pre-cancer, my mother always wanted me to meet that right person but she didn’t obsess about it, never saw it as a shortcoming of my character. That was my job and it was something I talked about almost constantly.

“Build the life you want,” she’d say when the topic came up. “Then you will attract the love you want.”

“Ok, ” I’d say. “I’ve built it. Now where the hell is he?” I said this at 19, 23, 27, 31, 34 and 36. And probably every year in-between.

“Patience,” she’d say. “It will happen when it’s right, and you will never see it coming.”

Now, it is July, and almost her birthday. It is a sunny afternoon, and we are sitting in the backyard of the house where I grew up in Portland.  I have a present for her, in the form of a possible man in my life. He has, as she promised, come out of nowhere and it seems to be impossibly right. I’m trying to figure out how to tell her in a way that will encourage her but keep her from getting too excited.  It’s so new that it’s not anything but a thought, an idea, a piece of blue sky.

She is restless, still a little amped up from the steroids. She shifts from side to side in the wheelchair she’s had to use since a massive seizure rendered her right leg useless a few weeks ago. She shifts and touches the silver chain around her neck. The spectrum of her beliefs hang there — an Om medallion, a tiny blue Mary Magdalene medal, a picture of her guru, Mahrajji, and a small icon of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh.

And then I tell her. He is a friend of a friend, I say. He is my age and he understands what’s happening better than anyone, because bizarrely,  his father died of the same brain cancer she has less than two years ago. He lives near San Francisco and this mutual friend referred him to my blog;  he read about her diagnosis and emailed me. This is about all I know, aside from the fact that he is single. We have only emailed back and forth two or three times, have never met, never spoken.   This is all the information she needs. She’s instantly convinced it is fate, karma, kismet. The stars have aligned.

“This is your guy, this Matt. Good name. He has to be your guy.  How could he not be?”

“Ma,” I say. “We don’t know anything yet. Not one thing, really.” And we don’t, but I’ve allowed myself to fantasize about it, the idea that he will comfort me and guide me through this unfathomable time.  When I can’t take it anymore, I will be able to press my face into his chest and bawl.

“I mean, can’t you see how perfect this is?” she says. “This missing piece of your life is falling into place.” I shake my head at her, knowing I can’t stop this speeding train of consciousness that she’s on. “Listen,” she says, grabbing my hand. “Right now, I’m clearer than I’ve ever been in my life and I know that he is a part of why this is all happening.” She means her cancer, and I shake my head again.

“Ma,” I say. “Let’s just see what happens next.”

“Alright,” she says. “Alright. Now you need to listen to me. I realized something yesterday and I need to tell you about it.” I lean back in my chair and take her in. “If I die quickly, I know that I’m coming back in India.  It will be a fast reincarnation.”  She tells me she will be reborn in the mountains of Kainchi, the former home of Maharjji.  She and my stepfather traveled to the ashram there last fall.  She wants my sister and I to go there after she dies, she says, and we will find her in those mountains, adopt her, bring her back here.  Her brown eyes flash and mine fill with tears. I know in part, this is the steroids talking, but the sentiment and beliefs are at the core of the mother I love with everything I have.

My mother is 63 and I am 36 and from start to finish, everything that has happened since her first seizure less than two months ago (a shaking in her leg that she said felt like a stroke that went as fast as it came) has been so surreal that I find myself thinking, yes, yes, this is fantastic plan. She can die and  just like that, she will be back in our lives as a beautiful black-haired Indian child that my sister or I will raise.

~

“Hold on to hope until it’s taken away,” Matt says to me the first time we talk on the phone. And that’s the moment it happens, the moment I start to fall in love with him and my mother is right along side me, falling just as hard. She cannot believe he is real either, from his love of Kerouac and Ginsberg, to the typed letters he sends that have been banged out on his Underwood. When she meets him for the first time, only a few hours after I have, she squeezes my hand and shakes her head in wonder. “I love him,” she says. “I just love him.”

By winter, we have seen each other three times and are in love. I find myself doing something slightly disturbing – referring to him as my soul mate, a term I’ve always thought was kind of a crock of shit. But the rub is, he’s exactly that. From his sweet face to the sound of his voice to the way he talks about writing, books and family; the way he makes me laugh.  Then there is the way he and my mother are so alike  in so many ways:  loving, kind, sensitive, both  possessing an uncanny, innate understanding of me.

He is also the only person I can really talk to about what it will be like when she dies. She will be here one day and gone the next, I tell him. And that will be it. He says it will be different than that, it will be something you will help her do and in the end, something she achieves. Being with her through it will change your life and although you won’t be ready, you will let her go.  It will be the hardest and most beautiful time, he says.  I know he is right, but then there is the question that no one can answer:  How will I continue to exist in a world without her in it?

In the early fall, a grand mal seizure lands my mother in the ICU for two days. When she comes back to us, she opts to have surgery in the hopes of ending the seizures and buying some time.  She comes through it all beautifully and in the months after, her mania fades without explanation. We tease her about it, her excessive demands for scotch tape, the constant rearranging of the living room. Some things she remembers doing or saying, some she doesn’t, but she never waivers about Matt.

“You’ve found him and that’s all that matters. It makes all of this worth it,” she says. This is the one thing I can’t abide her.  No matter how much I love Matt, I could never make that trade.  Some days, though, I feel like this is exactly what I’m doing.  When I tell her this, she has a ready answer. “Don’t you see?” she says. “It may not be how we would want it, but it’s all entirely perfect. Everything  is happening just the way it should.”  She should die 20 or 30 years before her time? How in the fuck is that perfect? “In Hinduism there is the belief that each death happens not one minute too early or one minute too late,” she tells me. To that, I have no response.

Soon, it is the day before Thanksgiving and I am flying to San Francisco to spend it with Matt. He cannot get the time off work and although she understands, he feels guilty for taking me away from her on the holiday.  My mother, however, is thrilled that the two of us are spending it together. A few days before I leave, we go over the dishes Matt and I plan to make. She has been teaching me to cook since her diagnosis (I’ve  always just been a baker) so she was particularly invested. I told her there would be apple pancetta stuffing, Parmesan mashed potatoes, spinach with crispy shallots and sage butter for the turkey.  As we talked and laughed, and she oohed and ahhed over my choices, I was suddenly struck anew by the fact that she won’t be here next year or the year after that, or any year in the future.  She won’t see me get married or kiss my children. Thinking about all of this, I asked her something I’d been wondering about since our conversation in July.

“Ma,” I said. “Do you really think you’re coming back in India?”

“Oh,” she said. “Well, that could have been the mania. But you never know.  Could be India, or – who knows? I could come back as one of your babies.”

I take off for California, a pecan pie at my feet, baked in my mother’s kitchen for Matt as a surprise. I wonder how it is that this has become my existence, living between the two loves of my life, having to leave one to be with the other.  As I fly away from her, what she has said soothes me. Not that I necessarily believe she will come back as my child or that we will find her reincarnated in an Indian village.  It is moreover, the feeling that there is a seamlessness and continuity to what is happening, from the unconditional love she’s given me all my life to Matt’s love coming along just in time.  It is this love, her love,  that will continue on. In this way, she will never really be gone.

 

When I was obsessing about a dog, I was concerned about my son being a singleton. I wondered if perhaps being alone with parents wasn’t such a great thing, that he needed a buffer–someone with whom he could conspire, even if the conspiracies were fantastical and impotent. Someone playful, didn’t nag. Liked to chase small objects endlessly, joyfully, unlike me.

Somehow, I’m still expecting that, in another six months, year tops, I’ll be able to preorder the next Amy Winehouse album. Somehow, I’m still expecting word that she’s joined the 27 Club to be just a rumor, like the sudden death of Zach Braff that bobs through the tide of Internet grotesquery about once a year.As news outlet after news outlet confirmed the countless Facebook statuses I’d seen to be factually true, I still found myself, if not surprised (not exactly), then in shock.

Greetings, TNB readers and Book Club members!

This month’s TNB Book Club selection is Diana Spechler’s second novel, Skinny.


There are any number of reasons to refuse friendship to someone.

They range from the practical to the personal and will certainly vary by individual.  Here are some examples:

Lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, cursing, getting too drunk, not getting drunk enough, being obnoxious, being dull, being too smart, being too stupid, being heartless, being homeless, farting in public, flirting in public, grabbing your ass, grabbing other people’s asses, being a junkie, being a jerk, getting you in trouble, getting other people in trouble, being unpopular with your girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father/friends, running with shady characters, running with the Rainbow Family of Living Light, being too dangerous, playing too safe, breaking your shit, taking your shit, giving you shit, talking shit, involvement in domestic spying for a barbaric totalitarian communist regime…

The list goes on.

For me, personally, most of these are not reasons, categorically, to not be friends with someone. Some are.  I do my best to be flexible, but I try to steer clear of any murderers or potential murderers who aren’t state-sanctioned, for example.

I’ll be friends with an army sniper, but I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Maybe that’s hypocrisy.

Or maybe it’s just a strict anti-cannibalism or anti-dead-person policy.

The following story struck me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that literature, as a scene, does not usually involve high international drama and espionage of this obvious a nature:

Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller recently went public with the revelation that the real-life inspiration for Atemschaukel, her latest anti-totalitarian novel about a homosexual man who is held captive in a Soviet gulag, turned out to be, in fact, an informant for the totalitarians.

No one was so shocked as Mueller.  Apparently she had no idea.  He was a man with whom she had become dear friends as they worked closely during her time writing the fictionalized account of his story.

From what I can tell, this man–his name was Oskar Pastior (he died in 2006)–had been granted some kind of amnesty when he defected–or was seized–to the west.

From what little I’ve read, it’s not clear whether or not he was in fact a communist sympathizer or whether he had no choice but to do what he did, but he is listed as a Securitate informant in dossiers and other corroborating documents.

“Over the years [Mueller] has clashed with Romania’s post-communist intellectuals with her remorseless campaign against former Securitate informers, demanding that writers and theatre people who were on the police payroll be unmasked and punished.”

DAMN.

This means that Oskar, at some point, was watching his friend–in whom he had confided the details of, potentially, the most difficult time in his life and who was writing a book about him and his heroic ordeal–call for his public revelation, humiliation, and eventual punishment (of what type, I don’t know).

Or, not his, really, since she didn’t know he was one of them.  She was calling for these things, but she thought she was doing it, in part, in his defense and for restoration of justice to people like him (including herself).

But he certainly must have known that had he told her the truth, she would have probably ended their friendship, certainly would not have finished the book (or at least not as planned), and may, potentially, have publicly outed him and destroyed whatever life he’d made for himself since leaving the world of political intrigue and espionage.

Or wouldn’t she have?  After all, what kind of friend would do that?  What kind of monstrous person would offer up her own friend for filleting at the hands of the post-communist public?  How blind must you be to basic interpersonal loyalties and friendship to serve up some one you care about, ostensibly, in the service of state and other relative strangers?

I mention Herta first only because the next consideration is much more obvious:  Were Oskar alive, we could–and should–ask him a series of nearly identical questions surrounding his time as an informant.

And I was thinking about it, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, sort out who was guilty of wrong-doing in that friendship scenario or if both were or if anyone was guilty at all.

What a clusterfuck.

Poor Herta for not being able to confront Oskar.  Poor Oskar, who will never have the chance to explain himself to Herta.

And it suggests a mundane question in fairly dramatic fashion:  To what extent do or should one’s political inclinations or political behaviors, past or present, affect whether or not we choose to be friends with them, interact with them, date them, or consider their experiences and their general presence valuable?  At what point do beliefs and behaviors nullify relationships?

We ask these types of questions with regard to people’s overall past and habits in a very general way, but I don’t hear people talk about them much in a political way.

This question is constantly at the fore of my mind.  I live, basically, in a liberal world.  Because of where I work, because I like to write, because I have what are likely academic ambitions, I am mostly surrounded by leftward-leaning people.

I don’t consider myself a victim by any means.  I interact with the people I interact with by choice and, I think, to my benefit.  This isn’t a complaint lodged against liberalism in the arts, and I don’t consider myself persecuted.

Nevertheless, it is something that I am aware of.  Just all of the time.  Whether or not and when it is advisable to reveal my political leanings, what the consequences might be, etc.

About 16 months ago, a meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin noted that people actively seek out information that agrees with them.  That is to say, they don’t necessarily fail to be exposed to different points of view just because they’re surrounded by like-minded people or because the information available is necessarily skewed.  People are not passive in maintaining and honing their views; they actively go looking for information and perspectives that allow them to go on “living the lives they’re living.”

And it appears to be true for liberals and conservatives alike.

The consensus seems to be that on items of political import, morality, and values, 70% of the time, most people will choose to hear views that agree with them.

Those most likely to seek out opposing views tend to be a) the most confident in their own views and/or b) in need of awareness of opposing views in order to defend against objections to public declarations of their own views (politicians, media personalities, etc.).

In turn, the people least likely to seek opposing viewpoints tend to also be the least confident in their own views.

None of this is altogether shocking.

But more to the point of Herta and Oskar, I have noticed–though few people are willing to state it explicitly–that there is at least some indication that a political lean may be, for many, among the friendship deal-breakers listed above.  That is, people actively search for and/or exclude others from their social circles based on whether or not those people agree with them, just like they seek out agreeable news stories and other types of information resources.  Strictly from my perspective, such sentiments appear to be on the rise.  Or they appear to be more firmly and less self-critically held.

If my impressions are correct–if they are true at all–I’m sure they’re true straight across the political spectrum.  Basic political behaviors, if not the politics themselves, tend to be fairly uniform across humanity, whether people care to admit it or not.

The conundrum is complex:  At what point do a person’s politics and ideology reveal in them some other, fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?  On the other hand, at what point does a person’s exclusion of others from their sphere of awareness based on politics and ideology reveal in them a fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?

Where is the line, exactly, between the personal and political, and what are the implications?

For example:  How has the value of a fictional account of Oskar’s story changed, given Herta’s revelation?  How has the value of his real-life story changed because of it?  And most importantly, is their friendship–Oskar’s death notwithstanding–invalidated?

On the topic, Herta hasn’t said much except that she felt slapped in the face and that she is now in a period of mourning.  This suggests to me that she has left or lost something some way or another, but only Herta can say what.

Last but not least, had Oskar been forthcoming with the information from the outset, would there even have been a book?  A friendship?

If an ideology is willful and can be synonymous with a character flaw, then does that mean an ideology IS a willful character flaw, and if so, what then? What might we do with such people?


My feeling is that otherizing–the act of identifying and alleging a dichotomy between “us” and “them” –is at the very heart of how Herta and Oskar ever even found themselves in the predicament they did.  It may, by some leaps (great or small, take your pick), be at the heart of the very existence of the USSR.  Between Herta’s otherizing and Oskar’s participation in Securitate otherizing, the stage was set for a karmic kill-strike of dazzling irony.

Maybe, in a way, they deserved the fate that befell their friendship.  Both of them.  Or maybe neither of them did.  Maybe they were both victims of something well beyond their control.

At any rate, it appears that the two of them, both separately and in their joint war against ‘the other,’ were eachother’s ‘other’ and eachother all along.


This essay used to end here.

I didn’t like it ending here because I didn’t think I’d made my point, but I wasn’t sure what else to say.

Then John Cusack posted a tweet leading to this article. He called it “strong, clear thinking.”

“We have to build that independent left. It has to be so strong and so radical and so militant and so powerful that it becomes irresistible.”

Militant, radical, powerful, irresistible.  “Left” is not the word that worries me here.

And just last week, at the dentist’s office, I picked up a recent issue of Time magazine with a cover story about the Tea Party’s rattling of the conservative establishment (and the political establishment, period).

There’s nothing too fascinating or groundbreaking in the article save one thing, and it is unfortunately treated as minor–a passing thought–by the article’s author:  The suggestion that the solution to extreme, reactionary conservative politics may be for liberals to create their own extreme, reactionary politics with the expressed intent of doing battle with the conservatives of a similarly pissed-off, bloodthirsty, and unthinking sort.

I find this progression troubling.  I find it troubling that some people believe and are increasingly fervent that the answer to extremism and reactionism is more of the same.  Escalation, basically.  A call to balkanization.  I find it wrong-headed and obviously so under almost any circumstances. I think most people–certainly most liberals and conservatives, asked independently of a discourse on politics–would find it wrong-headed as well.

But here we are.


I suspect that there will be no call for radical moderation. I just hope we can all still be friends.


“Time must have become a very odd kind of mirror-maze for her now; and mazes can change at any instant from being funny to being frightening.”–Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

“Pope Benjamin just announced ordaining women is like pedophilia. So that means he’s okay with it?” I consider then reject this as a possible ice-breaker at my Catholic high school’s 25-year reunion tonight. The event was announced months prior and I’ve received several Facebook reminders, but I only confirmed three days ago, after nudging from my mom and aunt, who pointed out I’ll enjoy seeing those I loved and in some cases still do, that my career is going well and that I’m frequently mistaken for being younger than I am. (It’s ridiculous to glorify youth but I’m not above being flattered when associated with it.) A kind pal, Marley, volunteered to drive and says we’ll bail after an hour if it’s lame. With good humor, I agreed to go. I’m touched they care whether I attend but mostly that they don’t see me as I’ve seen myself the past nine plus months: shrouded in grief, a facsimile of who I was before TJ undertook what would be his final climb the first week of October.

1984

Do not let the wheat and umber curtains fool you. This picture was not taken in the 1970s. It was taken in 1984. I know this not because I can see the time stamp on the back of this Kodak moment – all I have is the .jpeg my cousin, the blond-haired baby on the left, now a grown man, just sent me – but because I have deduced its age by observation. My cousin looks barely one; my brother looks about four; my sister, about two. Any earlier, and I would’ve been wearing the eye patch I wore to correct my lazy eye all of 1983. Any later, and I would’ve had teeth missing. I’m the oldest. The four-eyed girl clutching Grover and a picture book at the center.  

We really were that happy.

Suicide and I have a relationship.

I would not say we are friends, but we go way back.

Way back to that day in 1975 when I was four years old and my father took the rope of a robe and tied it around his neck.

It’s the relationship I just can’t shake. It’s always there.

It was there when my mother moved us, not just from the house he died in, but the state.

It was there when I slept in my mother’s bed next to her for several years. She would buy me colorful new bedding hoping to lure me back to my room, but the sheets went unused.

It was there as I sat in our back room watching videos of my father over and over until the tape wore out and his image went missing.

It was there when each new school year I secretly hoped he hadn’t really died and had just lost his memory roaming the world aimlessly. He’d be my new math teacher and during attendance he’d see me and snap out of it.

It was there when my mother made me take down a photograph of him from my bedroom. And wouldn’t explain why.

It was there when I looked in the mirror and saw my father’s features. And there when my mother would tell me to stop making a certain face, so closely resembling him in that moment, upsetting her with just my smile.

It was there as I saw her huddled on our couch reading, alone.

It was there as I asked my friends each night on the phone if they were really my friends. Did they think I was funny? Pretty? Smart?

It was there when as I grew older I kissed more boys than I should have. And there when I excused those boys who turned out to be liars or cheats, and let them back into my bed.

It was there when I worried, at the end of my own rope, if it was my time now. The words would whisper from deep within and I knew that these same words spoke to him. I thought about following the sounds.

It was there when my grandfather after a few Grey Goose and tonics would grow quiet and sigh, “stupid kid” under his breath, but loud enough for me feel each word.

It was there as I traveled from place to place seeking out information. I went looking for his thesis at his college, now my college. I got his autopsy report and held it in my hands. I had dinner with his friend and felt jealous at his memories of him.

It was there when I got married and he didn’t walk me down the aisle.

It was there when I made my husband promise that if we had a son we would not name him after him. I did not want to chance being sad each and every time I called after my child.

It was there as thirty years later I found myself in a Survivors After Suicide group therapy meeting pleading and hoping to no longer be so burdened by his action.

It was there when I swore I did not want it to be there any more.

I was more than just the girl whose father killed himself.

It was there when determined to do good work I signed up to be a grief counselor. I cried as I toured the facility for the little four year old girl that I was that did not have a place like that. And it was there when I sat during the first day’s training and knew I would quit. I had a secret. I was two months pregnant and there in that moment I realized I was no longer interested in being so enmeshed with death, with suicide. I wanted to concentrate on this new life, not the one that I had never really known.

It was there when my son was born in an emergency, dire situation. “No. Why me?” I thought. “I have already had my tragedy.”

It was there when as my son got stronger, I realized I too had great strength from many years of practice.

It was there when we named our son after each of our grandfathers. And it was there, but by my invitation, when we gave him my father’s Hebrew name, needing to connect them. I needed to honor him.

I am determined to share with my son how my father lived. That includes how he died. But it will no longer be the first and only information about him.

My father was charming.

He made people laugh for a living.

He proposed to my mother in Italy.

He struggled with his weight.

And he killed himself.

My son will know these things.

My father’s baby picture hangs on my son’s bedroom wall along with all of his other grandparents’ baby pictures. Each night, I tell my son how much they love him. I have come to refer to my father as Grandpa Daddy. He holds equal weight each night with the other grandparents. But when I scan the pictures, it is Grandpa Daddy who my son most resembles.

Sometimes I get sad as I say our goodnights and place my son in his crib.

I am sad that they will not know each other. Sad that he is just a photograph to him.

I am sad that I never really got to know him, except through other people’s memories.

I am sad that he died, but not as sad for how he died.

There in that moment, after thirty years of hard work, how he died does not seem as important.

It does not go away. It is always there.

But now more like just a little bit over there.

Not right here.

I got my hair cut and then my grandfather died. 

I knew one had nothing to do with the other, but for some reason, for months after, I was unable to cut my hair.  I wore my hair mostly in a ponytail or crumpled atop my head, but there was no hiding the split ends, its drab dullness.  Sometimes I just let it fall where it may, flapping and resting wildly on my shoulders. 

My grandfather would never have let his hair get into such a state.  He was a classy guy.  Always impeccably groomed.  He could pair stripes and plaid and pull it off with grand ease.  Sometimes he wore funny ties, ladies lounging in martini glasses and that kind of thing, but it was never cheesy – just pure sass.  Even in the hospital when he had been ill a couple of years ago, hooked up to machines, stripped of his beautiful clothes, his only wardrobe a hospital gown and sheet, I couldn’t help but notice that his nails were perfectly manicured, freshly buffed.  He was sleek and elegant, unique but classy.  He had been in retail, head of Gimbels, back in the day when Gimbels meant something.  So he knew about appearance. 

I have never been that way.  Askew is a word my friends would use to describe my style.  Cute, funky, but never completely without a wrinkle or a rip.  I do what I can to not be a walking disaster.  My hair is usually something that while not blown, curled, teased, set or held together by product, is usually trimmed and neat.  That much I have been able to do.  But since that Sunday, many months before, the color was fading, the gray was showing and my hair bands were snapping at all the extra use.

Before that last haircut, my hair was finally getting longer, growing out after I had chopped it one day.  But it was just kind of falling there.  My baby fine hair didn’t swing and flow as I wished it would.  So I called up my stylist, Moses, to see if he could fit me in.  It would be layers.  All over.  They would add depth, movement.  Drama.  I loved it.  And so did the people I saw that night.  “Best haircut you’ve ever had,” I recall someone saying.

Then my Aunt called.  My grandfather was in the hospital.  Something had happened the night before.  I was assured I didn’t need to rush home.  I live in Los Angeles.  He was in New Jersey.  I asked my Aunt to tell him that I loved him.

I get the sequence wrong, but he fell into a coma, I was looking into flights and then the phone rang.  I didn’t answer it.  I made my husband get it.  I knew.  A moment earlier I had felt it pass through me.  Jay handed me the phone and I heard my Aunt say, “This is the phone call.”  I had dreaded this moment, but had been anticipating it.  He was in his nineties.  He’d been in the hospital before.  But he had always pulled through.  I didn’t really believe the call would ever come.

I fell deep into the couch, heaving and suffering, digging into its yellow color as if bad news did not exist within its cushions. 

We went to New Jersey, to the funeral.  I shook as we approached the cemetery, then stood frozen.  Two graves I could handle, but this now made it three.  I made it into the building with my family, his friends.  I actually felt pretty in my black wrap dress and new haircut as I greeted my family.  The prettiness provided me with a strength. 

There is something about funerals.  Something about the ritual and the routine.  There is a reason we travel 3,000 miles to hug our family and eat food together.  There is a reason.

Later, in the confines of my bedroom in my mother’s house, I turned to my husband as we prepared for bed.  “Let’s make a baby,” I whispered to him.  It felt mostly like a plea.  “Let’s make a baby,” I said again.  “And name it Bernie, boy or girl, okay?”

He took me in his arms and took me to bed and agreed, never divulging the truth that we both knew, that I was on the pill and baby making would not be easy.  But I needed to believe that in that instant I could create life on a wish and a demand.

I returned home and went about my routine.  I was in a fog but no one would know unless they asked.  I hid it well.  And fairly soon after my return, they stopped asking. 

There is a certain amount of grieving to be done for grandparents.  They were old.  It was expected.  Glad to have known him so long.  It wasn’t a parent.  I repeated these beliefs over and over until I myself started to spout their truths.  And then eventually I just stopped talking about it.  But in my car alone, I cried.  The streets would just pass by me as I drove, bright lights and other people going about their days.  And then I would arrive at others’ doors and I was fine.  See, I thought I knew about grief.  I was a child of death, after my father died when I was four.  I should know how to handle this.  My grandfather’s death had halted me but I felt I could not show it, so it showed in my hair.

My hair.  My wild mane defied how I seemed: together, rigid almost.  But my unkempt disarray actually defined how I felt: distressed, discouraged, stalled.  The mirror spoke a truth only I knew.  I felt I carried a secret everyone around me should know, but one I felt compelled to keep to myself.  Or maybe they all knew.  I did look a mess.  And yet I was unable to do anything about it.  Whenever I called Moses he was never there and I took that as a sign that I should not get my hair cut.  My grandfather’s death had stalled me so that I could not even make an appointment for the future.  If Moses was not there right then, there would be no haircut.

I have never taken hair that seriously.  I was never locked into a look.  I’d cut bangs on a whim, highlight with no worries or chop off my hair when a boy had made me cry.  There was a certain freedom to changing it up.  What’s the harm?  It’ll grow back.  It’s just hair, I reasoned.  Hair bounces back.  It is the only part of your body that you can change without any serious consequences.  It was something I knew completely.  But then at that moment, I knew nothing.

What is it that I fear will happen?  Will someone else die?  I don’t have that much power I remind myself.  If I go for a hair cut my mother’s plane will not crash, my grandmother will not die.  I know that rationally.  But what if I did have that kind of power?  What if this was the time my powers were turned on.  One action causes another action.  Coincidence is actually consequence.  Or what if it were pure coincidence and it happened again? 

But separate from that, hair carries our past.  My grandfather’s in there.  He’s in my DNA.  I had this hair when I knew him.  The hair on my head was created by his side.  And I am not ready to part with it.  It is my tangible access.  At times I just want to shave it all off, be done with it.  But mostly I just want to keep as much of it with me for as long as I can.

I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror.  Staring back at me with my hair falling where it may, I saw a different girl.  My hair had reached a certain length and wave at that moment that I looked earthy.  It struck me.  It was the first time for a while that I could remember thinking I was pretty.  And it had nothing to do with the mop on my head.  Possibly it wasn’t my hair that had been weighing me down, but me.  And maybe just maybe, that part of me was waking up.

I went to see Moses. 

I told him straight away about my hair, my grandfather and my phobia.  He greeted me with a sound in his voice of someone else who had gone through a recent loss.  I knew his grandmother had recently died.  He got it.  He did not judge.  It was perfectly reasonable to think if you cut your hair someone would die.

He wouldn’t cut much off he assured me.  Just clean it up, make me presentable.  Maybe fiddle with the color a little?

“Okay,” I said.  I needed to trust him.  I needed to just follow along.  I needed to know that I could do this.  The Police’s King Of Pain played above.

Then, he asked how he died.  That surprised me.  To tell the story.  Most people hear grandfather.  92.  Dead.  And they don’t need to know how.  It was hard to tell.  “Dehydrated…coma…cardiac arrest.”  I was unsure I even had it right.  But it also felt good.  Real.  I don’t know if I thanked him for asking but I meant to.

He continued to cut my hair, layers around my face. 

The world did not end.                                                       

My cell phone did not blare with bad news. 

He colored it to give the brown some unity and then lightened the top pieces that fell by my eyes.  He said he wouldn’t even charge me for the highlights. 

I made it through this part.  I took a deep breath as he twirled me into the mirror’s view.  My hair rested on the floor.  I rose up in the seat, lighter, as he revealed the streaks of blond racing across my head. 

That’s better.

I thought the story would end when he started cutting.  I wanted to feel all better.  I wanted it all to lift up and be done with.  I wanted to leave it on the floor with the hair being swept away.  As I looked in the mirror, I knew that was not the case.  The grief and the hair were two different things.  But I also knew as I gazed upon myself, with my new lovely hair that brought out my eyes, that I was in there somewhere.

 

I confronted eschatology too young. Although benign compared to some beliefs, my Catholic upbringing placed me at the sidelines of Armageddon—strange references to a kingdom come, the Second Coming, Judgment Day. I got queasy at the mention of the Book of Revelations. Sermons and syntactically-strained Bible readings led me to infer a tremendous destructive end to all life, human, animal, insect, plant. There were drawings in books, filled with fire, angels and demons, a sea of the damned. For a child, it’s impossible to reconcile a loving Father with one who will kill every one of his children with wanton violence. Children also don’t grasp metaphor.