Dear Harvey,

Whew. It’s been a week. I have been an anxious mess. Cast backwards, it feels. It’s excrutiating, gettign through these kinds of days. I do comfort myself in moments with the thought that it’s been worse, I’ve been worse, I’ve gotten through worse. That’s a backwards gift I’ve gotten for you: nothing, outside of your sister’s untimely death, will be as hard as what I’ve already been through. I’ve been through the worst but it rarely makes the moments of anxiety, fear, confusion, anger, guilt, and grappling any easier. And this week was no exception. I’m having my second and, God-willing, last surgery related to your birth and death this week. Your dad, and I to some extent, have made some decisions, and have had some conversations that have proven to be incredibly challenging for me, though they are pushing us in the direction we are inevitanbly headed. It’s all mixed up and crazy inside of me. I have a numbness that I want to pull away like bed covers to see what’s under there. I feel like I am standing in the rubble of my life, what was once our life, and he has seamlessly moved into his new life, as if nothing happened, as if he gets a do over. And I’m having my tubes removed, scrambling to get Vesta’s health insurance in order and a million other thigns all while I feeling like I’m drowning again. There is a lot of gratitude and ease I have in my life because our marriage ended but this one, this particular week, threw me for a loop. A big, anxious, desperate loop.

And then there is Michael, the brother I chose and your uncle. Happily, he was free on Friday night and we went to the movies. He took me to the movies. He picked me up and I started right in and he held my hand tight like he does and he said, “I’ve watched you do this over and over again for 15 years. You figure it out. You make things happen. I just want you to see what I see. Everything’s going to be okay.” I vried and said I don’t even know that means and he squeezed my hand harder and he cried a little, too. “None of us know your pain”, he said, “but we’re right here with you.” I told him how uncomfortable I feel and how I don’t know how I’d make it through this without him and Jenn and Larissa. These people who have known me my whole life and my whole adult life.These people with whom I am comfortable, these people who are my home, walking around in flesh and blood. I eek out comfort from them. My grief family does the same in a different way because they know nearly my exact pain. And then I can go home to loves who have known me forever. “We are all just walking each other home”, incarnate.

We had a drink before the movie started in one of Portland’s cozy theater pubs and he listened to me. I put my anger and fear and pain out there between us and he shook his head with me and he asked me questions and we pretended we could figure this shit out. And we laughed at ourselves. Who we were and who we are and whoever we will become. We saw an amazing movie called Birdman, which I felt like was made just for me. It was compelling and unpredicatble. The characters had strong opinions and feelings. They did amazing, beautiful things and they did thoughtless, terrible, selfish things. I watched, jaw agape, at everything I have been grappling with about being alive, about being human, this existential crisis I have been thrown into since you died. I got lost in this movie. Everything made sense and yet nothing made sense and there was magic. There was pain and confusion and art and laughter and fear and truth and lies and people, one right next to the other, just trying to figure it all out. People telling each other their truths, people projecting their shit onto each other, people doing the best they could with everything so messed up inside. I watched and I thought. “yes. am I falling…or am I flying?”. It was an antedote. It was a healing. It was good to feel meaning again. To be moved by art. To feel like a normal human. I’ve had several of these moments since December and I absolutely cherish them. It gives me hope that I will rejoin the humans. That the spaces inbetween loss and meaninglessness will get further apart and will be more frequently peppered with the tragic beauty of being alive.

After the movie, we sat and watched all of the credits roll by, soaking in what we just saw. We crossed the street for a night cap and saddled up to the bar and next to a man sitting by himself. We struck up a conversation with him. He was funny and charismatic and insightful. We laughed and laughed and joked about starting a little stand-up, or sit-down as the case may be, comedy troupe. He introduced himself: Michael. Well, that will be easy to remember, we laighed the three M’s sit-down comedy sensation. He told us about his children. His oldest daughter and her new baby, his middle son who died as an adult from an undetected heart condition he had since birth, and his youngest son living in the south near his mother. He spoke about the death of his son with such ease, with a notable lack of discomfort in the telling, barely pausing in his telling so as to masterfully both avoid our probably awkwardness and tell the truth about his family. We quickly moved on to other topics but I, of course, was stuck on the dead son. I have a dead son, too. I had mentioned my 5 year old so when he inquired about her whereabouts I answered him and I, much more awkwardly told him that I, too, had lost a son. “It’s like nothing else” he said. It never goes away. It’s inked on our very souls, he said. He said he buried his parents and his son in a five year’s time. He said, there is nothing like burying a child. And I asked him questions like I didn’t already know the answers because I wanted to hear him tell me. He has a fancy job, a beautiful apartment, a one month old grandson and he’s sitting here at this bar, content as can be, laughing with strangers. I asked him questions I know the answers too because I wanted to hear him tell me, from seven years out, with the world at his fingertips. I wanted him to show me that we can bear this weight, that we can live with this heaviness, that I might someday know whether I am falling or flying or maybe jsut stop asking and enjoy the wind in my hair. Later he said “What are the odds. There is probably nobody else in a six block radius who has lost a child and here we sit together.”

As we finished our drinks, we three told each other what a wonderful night we had. How glad we were to meet on this night, at this bar and fill it with laughter and with truth. And that was the truth. It was magic and my body reset itself. I told my Michael on the car ride home that, even though it’s impossible to see when I’m deep down in it, these waves that keep knocking me over, they actually come to lift me up on their crests. To allow me to see more, to feel more, to understand more, to keep moving back toward the shore. I know their depth and their height will become less. They will come for the rest of me life but they will slow and they will shallow and I will rejoin the humans, just as the new Michael has, as much as he has, as much as any of us living on without our child are able. And that is enough. It has to be.

There was another Michael, once. My grandpa and your great grandpa. I used to head back to the office after a long day of work at the dry cleaners he owned, in the hopes of getting him to close up on time so we could all go home. Inevitably, it would end up being our few times alone together. he would tell me stories about his time in the Navy or about my grandma when she was young. I’d tell him something that was annoying or upsetting to me and he’d put his gnarled hand on my shoulder and say “Won’t mean a thing in a hundred years, Monica. Now, I gotta get home for dinner or your grandma’s gonna kill me.” and I’d go out front and sit with him while he counted the till and we’d lock up together and go home, me to my dad and he to his wife. after you died, I have thought about him saying that to me time and time again, how it was oddly comforting, how it put things in my teenage mind when everything feels so immensely important, into some perspective. I have thought how your death could not be answered with his frequent answer to my woes. How your life and death will always and forever mean something to me, even when I’m gone too. Last night, I thought again about him saying that to me. I could almost feel his hand on my shoulder and I thought, “You’re right, this time, Mike. You’re right every time except once.” All of this with your dad, all the challenges we’ve faced at the end of our marriage, those we will continue to face together as we parent our daughter into our new lives, they won’t mean anything in a hundred years. Time will takes us into our futures and we’ll forget the details, the harsh words, the difficult discussions, the words never spoken and what will remain is what we share: the love of our two, beautiful children. It won’t mean a thing in a hundred years, Harv. Not a thing. And so I go on into my new life that looks nothing like I planned, nothing like I expected, the blank canvas of who I’ll be next. And so, I go on. And so do you, for centuries. Always apart and close together.

1 thought on “Michaels.

  1. There is a lot held in the name Michael (my dad’s name, too). Its meaning, according to the internet, is a rhetorical question: who is like God – rhetorical because no one is like God. I read on one site that, “Michael’s main mission is perhaps to inspire humans into seeking the identity of God,” with God, of course, being identified and defined differently by each of us. So perhaps the name doesn’t hold so much as it allows. Michaels support our attempts to connect with that which is bigger than ourselves. In the Bible, Michael is an archangel; in life, it seems, your Michaels are as well 🙂

    I am thinking of you, as always, and sending lots of love, as always.

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