life is huge

So, yesterday would have been my late husband’s 62nd birthday. Isn’t that strange? Also strange: Chris died at 55, and here I am, facing that double-nickel number in September. I remember the surrealism of turning 32 four years after my sister Lucy died at 31. It felt like a breach in the space-time continuum: This things are not supposed to happen. We are not supposed to be older than our older sisters. We are not supposed to lose the people we love, bury them, mourn them and miss them, yet keep on living and growing and laughing and loving and sprouting fresh-baked wrinkles on our faces, all while our absent dear ones remain fixed at the age they died. 

Except we are. Of course we are. How else are life and death supposed to function? When I had my first colonoscopy at age 50, I worked hard to celebrate it as a marker Lucy never reached. As positive spin goes, this was a stretch, I know. But I’m here. She’s not. And when I live with gratitude, I feel hers, too.

Last night, as I often do these days, I made music with friends: joyous, upbeat, swinging, infectious gypsy jazz. I’d spent the day engaged in the tasks at hand, working, chatting, laughing, always with Chris on my mind. I kept snatching glimpses at his photos, marveling at his handsome and impish mug, trying to picture him six years on. I kept wondering what he might think of me now — a little older, my hair a little whiter and longer, my language a little more profane. I kept thanking God and Chris for our 20 years of  marriage and the three astonishing children we brought into the world. I kept dwelling on all of his gifts — his constancy, decency, intellect, compassion, his deep and unswerving well of love. And I kept thinking, well, what if he’d never been born? Impossible to imagine.

And then, sawing away at my violin with my buddies, I pictured him there. Listen to this awesome music, I told him. Look at these awesome friends of mine. I’d become obsessed with jazz after his suicide. Took up lessons. Started playing gypsy swing two years ago. All of this happened without him. None of it might have happened had he not died, a head-exploding conundrum I won’t ever unpack, but it’s true. And as I made music last night, the joy of the moment and the memory of Chris twined into one continuous, light-dark, life-death, love-loss, yin-yang cause for gratitude. I was living, and he was gone, but that didn’t make the present any less miraculous. To the contrary: more so.

At the end of the night, as I loosened my bow and packed up my fiddle, I felt at peace. And I thought: Life is huge. Happy Birthday, honey.


happy new year, fellow klutzes

Happy 2018, everyone! To celebrate, and to reward you for having survived the monumentally weird alter-verse that was 2017, I here present a photo of me with frozen corn on my head from last night’s revelry.

Why am I wearing frozen corn on my head, you may ask. Well, you see, I smacked the bejeezus (which AutoCorrect just tried to render “Venezuelan”) out of it when I leaned over to chase one of my cats and instead rammed my skull into the corner of a kitchen cabinet. It was a bit after 11 p.m., and some neighborhood pals were over for a relaxed blast of music-making and modest tippling to mark the turn of the year. We’d just played a few tunes when I had my violent li’l run-in with the cabinet, which prompted me to yell AHHHHH or possibly RRRRRLLLLLLGGG or maybe HOLY (INSERT PROFANE QUALIFIER) SHIT, I honestly don’t remember which. But whatever I said, it was loud, principally because it hurt like hell but also because the impact on my scalp made a horrific crunching noise, something like that first spoonful of granola in the morning, which echoed through my braincase and told me that whatever I’d just done, it wasn’t good. I immediately started rubbing it, hard.

My friend Kathy, a physician’s assistant, raced to my side and asked me if I was bleeding. Lemme see, I said, and pulled down my hand to find it coated in blood. Fun times! Hurray! This dear friend immediately took me to the sink, washed out my wound and urged me to cap it with an ice pack. Opting for the frozen corn instead, I then posed for the obligatory glamorous photo in the expectation it will run in an upcoming issue of the American Medical Journal of Extremely Dumb-Ass Injuries.

They could easily devote a whole issue to me. I am a World-Class Dumb-Ass, a Virtuoso of Mishaps and a Peerless Klutz Par Excellence. The particular idiosyncrasy defining my klutziness is its pairing with exceptionally fast reflexes, which means that my recovery from accidents is almost as notable as the disaster-prone nature that got me there. As a soccer player in high school and college, I was equally adept at falling down and bouncing back up. As a so-called adult in lo, these many years since, I have distinguished myself by my capacity to knock over alcoholic beverages with startling grace and ease; I once wowed my dinner mates at a posh Chicago restaurant by smacking over a glass of wine and then, darting my hand across the table at superhuman speed, catching it before it spilled. I’m not kidding. I’m not even exaggerating. No, seriously, I’m not.

And just to be clear: These things never happen because I’m drinking heavily, because I never drink heavily, because my tolerance for alcohol doesn’t allow me to imbibe more a drink or two without falling asleep. In the run-up to the Cabinet Incident, I’d consumed half a bottle of Guinness. Alcohol has nothing to do with my klutziness. Not all those times I slammed my forehead into a different kitchen corner, prompting my late husband to pad it with a tennis ball that’s still in place, and not that time in 1989 when I whacked my head into the gorgon sculpture at a gift shop in Salem, Mass., prompting the Very Rational German Friend who was with me at the time to object thusly: BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND. HOW DID YOU DO THAT? DID YOU NOT SEE IT WHEN YOU LEANED OVER? SHOUDLN’T YOUR PERIPHERAL VISION HAVE PREVENTED YOU FROM HITTING IT?

I had no answer for him.

My whole life has been screwing up and recovering, falling down and getting up, knocking shit over and picking shit up, slamming my head and rubbing it hard, klutzing out mightily and then carrying the heck on, anyway. But isn’t that everyone’s life? I mean, minus the frozen vegetables. Last night, wearing the corn on my head under a cute knit hat with pom-poms, I snarfed back ibuprofen and returned to fiddling with my pals. At midnight we watched the ball drop, toasted each other, hugged each other and went back to playing. I spilled my champagne. I mean, OF COURSE I spilled my champagne. But it didn’t matter. It never matters. The falling is never what counts.

Like everyone else on this planet, I’ve had my bonks on the head. My husband’s suicide six years ago, and some losses and heartache since, left me a little wary of any future run-ins with the sharper corners of fate and human frailty. I don’t much like getting hurt. But here I am, facing another year with hope and love, and there I go into the breach  — buoyed by those who catch me when I fall, help me when I hurt and mop the blood off my scalp when I’m bleeding.  That’s all I ask of 2018, and all I ask of life.