turns on the slide

This past Wednesday, I celebrated the day I was born 54 years ago in Booth Memorial Hospital, Queens. That actually happened. Then, this coming Tuesday, I’ll mark the sixth anniversary of my husband’s death (more accurately, it will mark me).  That happened, too. What also happened: I grew up in a singular family, married a singular man, buried my parents, buried my sister, had three babies, bought a house, kissed my children on their first days of school, watched them grow up and up and up and up, wrote books, wrote for newspapers, loved my husband, grieved my husband, wrote another book and kept on living.

And it’s all a blur. I never expected it to be a blur, but who does? Long, long ago, while chatting with an older, wiser colleague in the hallway, she shot me a comprehending glance and said: “You’re at such happy stage in your life. You have a wonderful husband, and your kids are small. Enjoy this.” I thanked her, assured her, then walked away thinking: ‘Stage’? You mean, this moment in my life won’t go on forever? 

Of course I knew it wasn’t permanent. Of course I knew my kids would grow, and I knew that either my husband or I would weep at the other’s grave. But now that I’ve wept at his, I can’t help but look back with shock at the abruptness of the change from then to now, the lickety-splitness of it all, the belated comprehension that even a marathon will feel like a sprint in hindsight.

But still. It was real. It is real. Every inch of it. The fact that something or someone’s behind me doesn’t diminish its presence or lessen its impact; it doesn’t make anything any less treasured or miraculous or true. My husband is real. Our wedding is real. Those nights at home when he wrestled on the floor with our kids: real. The love we felt and made: real. Those trips to Cape Cod, freezing our bodily bits and pieces in the ocean at Coast Guard Beach: real.

Everyone I’ve ever loved, whether they’re alive or dead, in my life or not: real. My best friend from college, her insight, her humor, her calm, all gifts to the world until it lost her: real. Every laugh I’ve shared with a friend: real. Every late-night conversation that bled into dawn: real. Every kiss I’ve kissed, every blush I’ve blushed: real. Every embrace that felt like eternity: real.

The days I shared with my parents and sister: real. The Scrabble we played by the fireplace, the fireflies we chased by the lake: real. The Chopin my sister played at the piano: real. The Bach my mother played on the violin: real. The Franck they performed together, with little bumbling Amy turning pages: real.

That fat Maine coon I had as a kid: real. The purple banana bike: real. That time I went sledding on ice and crashed and flipped and landed on my head and didn’t die and didn’t tell my parents, oh good God, no: real. The boy I had a crush on whose paintbox I smeared: real. The other boy I had a crush on whose stomach I punched: real. The best friend from grade school with the big barn and the big heart and the big hands: real.

That long, steel slide I rode on the playground in first grade, then stood in line and rode again, then again, then again, because I never wanted it to end, not even in January, not even when the air pinched my chest and the metal bit my butt: real.

Every turn on the slide is real. Every moment now past. Every job I held. Ever book I wrote and re-wrote and re-re-re-wrote. This moment right now, as I bang out a fresh sentence in a blog post? A turn on the slide, and look, it’s over now. Every blip and burp in life, whether a brief interlude or a lengthy stage, is a turn on the slide. My two-decade marriage was a turn on the slide. Our years as a young family of five were a turn on the slide. The phase I’m in right now, a late middle age filled friends and family and music and beautiful, striving, impossibly spirited older children, is yet another turn on the slide. Every tune I scratch out on my fiddle with pals is a turn on the slide, each one a little swinging morsel of forever.

Everything is. Every breath, every laugh, every moment spent learning at work or at home. If I’m lucky, and all my bodily bits and pieces continue to function properly, I’ll take many more turns on the slide before the cosmic kitchen timer rings for me. I have no idea how many, or what sort, or where they’ll take me. My only plan is to savor them.



the stronger sex

I was helping a stranger push a pallet of really heavy shit through a door a while back. He was inside, I was outside, and he couldn’t see me. I wasn’t saying anything, just lifting here and shoving there, but after the two of us managed to wedge the shit all the way through, he caught a glimpse of me and blanched.

And he said, speaking in the all-caps utterances of undiluted shock: OH MY GOD I THOUGHT YOU WERE A MAN.

I replied: Ha ha ha.


And I said: Well, I do have arms and legs, ha ha ha.

And he said: APPARENTLY.

And I said: Ha ha ha.


And I said: Ha ha ha.

I felt a little sorry for the guy. He was kind of adorbs in his astonishment, like a kid at the zoo who sees a giraffe up close for the first time and can’t believe how long its neck is. And it occurred to me that even now, after decades of advances for women and wide-reaching societal changes regarding what we can and can’t accomplish, there is still this inexplicable, old-fashioned and ultimately nonsensical insistence on casting us as the weaker sex. I was reminded of this recently by the noodlehead on Twitter who retweeted that heartbreakingly beautiful Harvey image of a young man carrying a woman holding a baby, along with the comment: “This is how it ought to be, despite what your gender studies professor says.”

To which my response was: Huuuuuh? Men ought to carry women? Like, all the time? Who says so? What if a strong woman were to stumble across a weak and wounded man in a storm, and she had muscles enough to bear him to safety? She shouldn’t?

Screw that. I’d carry him.

And you know what else? I hate to point out the obvious, but what the hell, it’s worth reminding anyone who might have forgotten that WOMEN ROUTINELY CARRY HUMAN BEINGS INSIDE THEM FOR NINE WHOLE MONTHS AT A STRETCH, then sustain them WITH FOOD FROM THEIR OWN BODIES for months or even years. Yes! It’s true! It happens regularly! I’ve done it myself three times!

Whatever God this guy believes in —  if he does, I’m assuming it’s the same one I do — entrusted one sex in particular with the task of nurturing and hauling around the future of the race, and it wasn’t men. Women carry people. We carry people in our wombs; we carry people after they’re born, juggling a kid in each arm while making meals and tending to our spouses and our jobs; we carry our family, our friends, our dreams, our homes, bustling through life with industry and hope as we muscle past the problems of each day. We do this despite inadequate pay, lingering misogyny, still-endemic sexual aggression and, apparently, the idiotic, insistent machismo of a few men still harboring the misconception that they’re stronger.

They’re not. Sure, most of them have taller frames and bigger muscles, but size isn’t everything. (And do we need to tell them that?)  Mine function nicely, and they’ve served me well over the years. So why is it that Piers Morgan, another noodleheaded Twitter presence, bragged about heading to work with broken ribs and then felt compelled to call this “manning up”? Is there any sillier expression? Dude, I’d love to see you “woman up” sometime. DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT TOUGHNESS UNTIL YOUR JUNK’S BEEN RIPPED ASUNDER BY THE VIOLENCE OF CHILDBIRTH.

Also, I’d like to take this moment to point out that men have nipples. I repeat, MEN HAVE NIPPLES. Which means the woman’s body is the template for the man’s. Think about that. Now think about it some more. Carry on.

Sorry, am I popping off? I am. I think it’s been piling up inside me. I’ve always been rather mulish when it comes to carrying my own shit, but after my husband’s suicide the mulishness became a matter of practicality. I understood from the get-go that I could no longer count on a muscled masculine specimen to help me in my daily shit-carrying, and so I vowed that forever after I would no longer pack a bag that I couldn’t carry alone. I wrote about this in my memoir, and I’ve lived it every day since Chris’s death. I do my best to stay in shape A) because my kids need me to hang around on this planet as long as possible, B) because exercise is a mighty fine mood elevator and C) I want to feel strong.

Who doesn’t, after all? And what’s so strange, after all, about a woman helping a man? That’s not how it ought to be; that’s how it already is, baby. You got a problem with it, you’ll have to take it up with the widow.