Sunday, January 20, 2013

Everything is Easier

Everything is easier now. Grocery shopping, logistics, laundry, dishes, homework help. I fold four piles of laundry instead of five. The food bill is noticeably smaller. I set four places for dinner, and buy half a gallon of milk a week instead of two gallons. I don't have to stock up on frozen pizza, frozen waffles, and Log Cabin syrup every week.    

The house is exponentially quieter: the doorbell used to ring so often that we were tempted to crush it with a baseball bat. We'd open the door and inevitably it would be one of Aidan's friends from the neighborhood. "He can't come out right now," we'd tell the kid. "He'll be out in an hour." Ten minutes later the doorbell would ring again; this time it was the brother of the previous ringer, or another kid.

"He can't come out right now," we'd say--only this time, with a bit of an edge. "He'll be out in an hour. Don't ring the bell again." Five minutes later, it would ring again. "AAARRGH!" we'd all agree. Apparently, they didn't pass the word along.

Now the doorbell doesn't ring at all. (C. Peevie's friends usually just let themselves in.) And the basement is often dark and quiet--no shouting at Madden NFL, no Mario Kart races, not even much ping-pong. We don't have to navigate around six extra pairs of gym shoes when we walk in the front door. Almost every day four boys would huddle on the front stoop around stacks of Pokemon cards, analyzing, trading, and battling; now the stoop is just a stoop.

Everything is easier now. There are no middle-of-the-night conversations about death or tachycardia or the meaning of life; there is never a bony boy crammed in bed next to me, seeking comfort from a terrifying nightmare. 

I had just started to look into classes and options for the next home school semester, but now there are no home school logistics to arrange. Aidan had started to get the hang of taking CTA buses to X-Mom's house for his weekly science class with her precocious son Big L. He'd take the 86/Narragansett bus to Irving Park, and then hop the 80/Irving Park west to Pioneer Court. But his other routes gave him ulcers. He tried bravely to navigate two buses and two trains to get to his co-op classes in Skokie and Evanston--but with CTA stations closed for construction, and city streets closed for repairs, the route changed every week. He'd call or text us for technical and emotional support every time. 

Now Aidan is buried in the cemetery that stretches along that Irving Park route, right by his stop at Pioneer Court, in a section of Acacia Cemetery called West Portal. It sounds like a place he might have invented for one of his stories or fantasy card games. "This card will transport your character to West Portal, where you can visit the mage and regain your spells," he might have said.

Everything is easier now. We hardly ever see any "ologists" any more: our orthodontist and pediatrician appointments are down by a third; our dentist and optomotrist appointments down by a fifth. No cardiologist, no endocrinologist, no electrophysiologist, no neurologist. I don't remind anyone to take their meds every day; I don't make trips to Walgreens for prescription refills other than my own.

Everything is easier now. The toilets, formerly obstructed every three days with ordure of epic  proportions, never need to be plunged. There are no skinny-man boxers with skid-marks mouldering on the floor of the shower.

Everything is easier, but nothing is as it should be.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one;pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.;For nothing now can ever come to any good.                 
                      --W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues, 1938

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Texting with Aidan was always fun. He spurned text shorthand, and tried to write everything grammatically. Here's one of the last exchanges we had; I was at work, and he was traveling to his home school co-op:
Aidan: Can you look up how long you need to wait before your bladder explodes?

Me: Why?

A: I really have to go to the bathroom and Im on the train.

A: Im starting to feel like Im going to faint.

Me: Put ur head down between ur knees.

Me: Ru ok? I tried to call u.

A: Im not sure.

Me: Answer your phone.

Me: How now?

A: Im on the train. I dont want to be rude.

A: How now?

A: How do you mean, brown cow?

Me: Its not rude when ur mom is worried that ur going to faint.

A: Im feeling less of that now, but can you answer my question about bladder eruption?

Me: No I can't right now. Sorry. It is not going to explode.

A: Just you wait...

and later...

A: I need my levothyroxine, my heart beats are super uneven.

Me: Levo does not affect ur heart. It's for your thyroid.

Me: R u worried?

A: Not really.

Me: Ok. I will try to pick up ur levo on way home tonight.

A: The only thing Im worried about is your text talk.

Me: Heh. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Learning How to Breathe

Like an accident victim re-learning how to walk after months in bed, I am slowly beginning to re-learn how to breathe. 

After Aidan died--it will be two months tomorrow--I felt like I had to remind myself to breathe. I had to push each breath out deliberately, or it would lie too long in my lungs. It helped if I pushed on my chest, right in the middle, at the top of my ribcage. After the exhale, I'd wait to inhale, expecting that if I waited long enough, when I started breathing again, things would be different. Aidan would still be here. Aidan would still be breathing. 

(I have to use his real name, and not his Peevie moniker, because being whimsical just doesn't feel right any more. My whimsy is gone, at least when I'm talking about Aidan.)

I have made progress in the breathing department, but I am still lost and confused and empty with regard to every other aspect of life. How do I go back to work? How do I read books about anything other than grief and loss? How do I tell jokes, and laugh, and find beauty in the world? 

Maybe it's too soon for any of these things.

How do I answer when someone asks me how I'm doing? It's a normal question. It's not wrong that people ask me; in fact, I understand that they say it to be encouraging, to express love and support.

How am I doing? Here are my answers: Nothing is as it should be. Shitty. Empty. Sad. Bereft. I finally started to cry, after four weeks of wondering where my tears were.Like a blanket of fog is hanging low over the architecture of my life, touching and obscuring everything, dampening or deadening all pleasure and enjoyment.

I'm reading (and re-reading) everything I can about grief and loss. So far I've read Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff; The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis; and I'm halfway through a collection of essays called Be Still My Soul, edited by Nancy Guthrie.

I still want to talk about Aidan all the time, remember him, have people remember him to me. I don't really want to talk about books or movies or politics or celebrity gossip or anything that doesn't directly connect to Aidan. I remember this feeling after Caitlin died. I remember that for a year after we lost her, our first child, born prematurely and living only two hours, the most important thing you could know about me was that we had a baby and she died.

And now this is The Thing that defines me: the lack of Aidan. There is no Aidan--at least, not on this earth.

I am clinging to Aidan's things in his room, to Manny, his stuffed manatee, to his poems, to photos of Aidan sitting on the beach writing in his journal, goofing around with his friends or siblings, smiling into the camera with his gentle, sweet grin.

And with feeble faith, I cling also to the hope of the resurrection, and to God's promise:

We believe that Jesus died and rose again; and so it will be for those who have died in Christ. God will raise them to be with the Lord forever. Comfort one another with these words. --I Thessalonians 4:14, 17-18

Monday, January 7, 2013

Urban Anthropology

The Internet has not reached everyone in the United States yet. And when a citizen encounters The Web for the first time, it's like a toddler in a toy store.

Yesterday we visited with my dad's old buddy from WWII days, Sahib. (He and dad were in India together.) He's 95. He's a bit frail, but he makes good time zooming around the halls of the retirement village on his walker. He is mentally as sharp as a hangnail, remembering the distant past and yesterday with clarity and humor.

Sahib is a bit of a Luddite: he eschews cell phones and computers, and relies on his cradle phone from the 1980s and good old-fashioned snail mail to communicate with his 11 god-children and countless cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends.

He had kept in touch with most of his band of brothers from the war; but he'd lost track of one or two. He remembered my dad fondly, and told us stories spanning their 70-year friendship. 

"Al was in charge of scheduling shifts to man the radio 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Sahib told me. "He'd make sure the shifts were covered, every leave accommodated, and each man given an equal assignment--and he made it seem easy."

Sahib named the seven or eight men who served in the same [unit] with him (or some other army word), including my dad, who died this past June. "I might be the last one left," he said. "I know most of them have passed--but I'm not sure about Frank."

"Well, then," I said, whipping out my trusty I-Phone. "Maybe we can find out. What's his last name? Do you know where he lived?" I googled Frank with his last name and nickname, in Louisville, Kentucky, and up popped his phone number and address. I showed it to Sahib, who practically fell off his leather easy chair.

"Oh!" he said. "Oh my. Oh. My. God. Omigod."

Then he continued, eloquently: "How...who...what...? How do they get that in there? Who puts it in there?" I think he wasn't even sure what question to ask, or what exactly he meant by "in there." 

"They must have so many people getting that information and putting it in there," he observed, probably imagining thousands of re-purposed Lollipop Guild munchkins poring over phone books and madly typing in names and numbers. 

Then he got even more excited. "Am I in there? What happens if you put my name in?"--like it was a magic trick, and if I waved my hands I could make a king of hearts appear with his name on it.I googled Sahib's full name, and his White Pages information came up, along with 2.7 million additional hits. (Sahib was a smidge miffed at this affront; he said, "I thought I was an original!")

"Oh my God!" he said, over and over. "I can't believe this. Can you put in my brother's name? He was a cop who investigated an infamous triple homicide." Sure enough, the obituary for Sahib's brother popped up, mentioning the case and quoting the Sahib himself.

"What's this...this thing called?" he asked. "How much information is out there? Who puts it there?"

"It's called the Internet, Sahib," I said. "It's like an information library, but it's all electronic."

He asked more questions, as animated as a kid getting to know his brand new puppy; and when I told him about I-Pads, he hopped right on board. 

"I'm gonna get one of those things," he said. "And I'm gonna learn how to use it, too!" His slightly younger cousin has a laptop which sits, unused, in her apartment. Just like Sahib's cell phone, which, he said, he "never could figure out how to use."

We left him with the promise that we'd be back soon to play on the Internet some more with him; and I felt glee at having had the rare experience of introducing my friend to this brand new world of the Information Superhighway. I felt like an anthropologist visiting an undiscovered people group and introducing them to Doritos for the very first time.