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Dear Harvey,

This afternoon, Karrie rustled me out of bed and away from the TV and sent me down to the nail salon for a little TLC. I was quiet in the massage chair and just tried to feel my feet, my legs, my toes. I tried to feel comfortable. In my skin today but also in the nail salon. I know about body mechanics and always worry about these folks sitting on backless stools, hunched over, inhaling toxic chemicals day after day for not a lot of money. Working on privileged white women, for the most part, like me. I always tell them I do massage, have to so they know why I need my nails short and buffed not polished, but also because I want them to know I work, not like them, but similarly. With my body, for other people. The workers and the owners are often from Vietnam, as they are here, and I am always astonished how quietly they speak, and are heard, across the normally loud rooms. Their words ending in soft bongs that volley back and forth to each other. Occasionally laughter or knowing sighs from everyone in the room, even those certainly out of ear shot, I’d imagined.

Today, it’s just me and the two owners. The woman so tenderly massaging, scrubbing, scrapping and polishing. Laughing gently when my foot pulls away from ticklishness. Confirming the towels are not too hot around my legs, after she has softly tossed them from hand to hand because they are too hot in hers. When she’s done, she speasks to the man working there and tell me to come to his table. 

I have seen him before, older than me but with a younger person’s esthetic. A fitted red t-shirt tucked into jeans with a studded belt and white embroidery embelishments, an Abercrombie and Fitch vibe. His hair is perfectly coifed but also looks effortless, a gray splash perfectly placed for sophistication.

I’d rather stay in the massage chair with the woman doing my hands instead. I’d rather sit there because I’ve done my best to be comfortable here, and in my skin, and he feels a little to “bro” for my energy any day, but especially today. I sit, the pandemic clear plastic shield between us and he is watching Titanic 2 on the iPad propped up at his station. He begins to tell me about the plot and how it’s different from the first one and while I genuinely wonder aloud, “There’s a Titanic TWO?”, this relevation, his explanation and even his earnest attempt to draw me into this move he is clearly enjoying, sinks me a little deeper. I want to leave. I don’t want to be her anymore, my hand in his. It’s one of those days. I also almost started crying at the grocery because I couldn’t find the zucchini for close to three whole seconds. It’s your birthday and your sister is away and you died. I don’t want to pretend to care about a second movie about a ship that already sank. 

I ask anyway, “Does the main character die?” 

He smirks without looking at me, “Only the man again. The girl survives.” 

The woman is now cleaning her instruments in the sink behind him and she looks over at me with a wink and chuckle. I reciprocate. 

I don’t know how we get there, must be something about the ship, but now he is telling me about crossing the Pacific Ocean in a boat. “Fourteen by eight. 104 people,” he says. Not like it’s everyday but also, not like it’s not. “The Pacific Ocean is big,” he says, filing quickly and careful my short nails even shorter, not looking up. I want to know everything. I want to know this impossible feat of statistically improbable survival.

He was 13 or 14. Remembers every minute. The person piloting this tiny boat worked for the American navy. 103 people saw nothing on the horizon, nothing in the sky, nothing on the wind but he saw a storm coming. “There was nothing,” he said, pressing the cuticles off the half moon of my nail in swift, tiny, expert movements. “We go to Malaysia. He says: ‘We have to stop. Storm is coming’. But we see nothing,” rolling one of my fingers after the other over his hand as he works. “But, next day, we see white on the ocean. The waves, white on top. We would have died but he saved us.”

7 days and 8 nights. I don’t ask about what happened before the boat. I don’t ask what was worse.

“Do you know there are flying fish?,” I nod but wish I had pretended to not. As soon as my head is still, I know he knows far more about flying fish, and survival, then I ever will, “They have a fin on the back. They fly. Fish that fly, maybe 2 feet off the water. Thousands of them.”

“You caught them?” I ask.

“They fly into our boat. It is a miracle. They fly right into our boat. Hundreds of them. We can’t cook them in the boats so we dry them in the sun and then we eat them. That’s how we survive. 104 people when we run out of food.”

“And water?” I as. He uses a sharp tool to clip the tiniest pieces of skin away from the sides of my nails. I don’t even feel it. 

“Rain water,” he barely pauses into his next thought but I have enough time to register that he was, in fact, in a storm. More than one to survive a week with no water. I can’t imagine that rain in a tiny boat after fleeing what you are fleeing does not feel like a storm. And also a blessing. And also how you will survive. By opening your mouth and sticking out your tongue to catch some. 104 people crossing a “big” ocean, mouths open, chins up, to the sky.

“That’s how we survived. Flying fish and rain water. When I am in high school, I look in the encyclopedia and I learn that there are flying fish. And I learn all about them. I thought they were a miracle.”

“They were a miracle.” I say, quickly, without thinking. 

He laughs and nods and agrees, “They were a miracle.” Like he’s just realizing, as he oils my nail beds, but also like we’re talking about an underdog sports team coming back for the win. 

Just because a flying fish seems less mythological after he learned they exist doesn’t make them any less of a miracle. Fish that fly: miraculous. Staying alive because fish flew into your boat: also miraculous. Survival: miraculous.

He ended up in Union City, CA, near Fremont and Hayward he tells me, two towns I have heard of after living in San Francisco for close to a decade over a decade ago. He told me stories of a $300 light yellow Pinto; of cutting school, getting in fights, forging signatures on school documents because his dad and step-mom didn’t speak English; divorce and abandonment left him homeless, alone, and sleeping in that Pinto at 16; Dunkin’ Donuts for $1.20 a dozen and $.50 for bottomless coffee; a $30 monthly gym membership so he could swim and shower; garage beer parties in paper cups in case the police drove by. Friends, white friends, he was the only Asian person, he says, but the memories he shares are only fond. Stories only of shenanigans and comradery. Stories of belonging in this land that must have been only slightly less foreign than nothing but ocean for days. The hardship and heartbreak, the trauma and loss, must have been intense. But he shares with me the highlights, what got him through, his joy. 

I want to ask 1000 questions. What happened between high school and now, California and Oregon. How did you get from $3.15/hour at McDonald’s to owning your own business with your family. Who is your family now? 

We walk to the check out together. I want to blurt out, “Today is my son’s birthday and he died.” I want to say this has nothing to do with anything you have told me. These events are utterly unrelated. Mine feels small now, still signifigant, but it has some perspective now, some scale. That will change, but not right now. Now I see where I fit. My ocean is big, too, but only metaphorical and metaphorically so. I want to say “You and I have been through some shit.” Not even close to the same. But shit. Instead, he tells me the total. Back tracks to break down what each service costs. I add a big tip and they both they thank me. “Thank you for telling me your story,” I say. He laughs and says some kind of pleasantry that we are supposed to say in his second language but, for maybe the second time this whole time, he looks me in the eye and I see his whole face and he sees mine. Despite our masks.

Humans are amazing, Harvey. We survive and we don’t and we find ourselves in the same place at the same time and we share our stories and we don’t and we are less alone. We are less sad. You will always be gone and he will never forget how big the ocean is and how there are fish that fly. And, for as long as we live, it will be in astonishment. 

Happy birthday, son. I love and miss you so much that we don’t even have words for it. I love and miss you “big.”




This piece was written and included musical interludes within the text (noted below) for the 5th annual reading for Harvey. It was held on Zoom this Covid-year and the theme was “Grief To A Beat: Stories With Music That Shaped and Saved Us .” It featured four writers: Anne Gudger (accompanied on the upright bass by her husband, Scott Gudger), Kate Suddes, Meg Weber and myself. As always, even held virtually, it was one of the most meaningful days of my year. Thank you to the writers, the musicians, Chadson Barton who graciously arranged the music for my piece, my friends who gave tech support, and all who attended.

2007 – You Belong To My Heart

Save for Billy Joel, Tom Petty and old-time country, Danny and I didn’t agree on music much. His whiny, white-boy indie rock grated my nerves, especially paired with the grainy pfft, pfft, pfft of the record player he played them on. He was even less tolerant of my queer, feminist, singer-songwriters, as curved and resonant as the guitars they wielded.

When it was time to pick a song for the first dance at our wedding, I searched for weeks for something we both might like, something with the appropriate sentiment, something we could actually dance to. Billy Joel, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson yielded nothing that fit all three categories. I had love song after love song I’d love but he’d hate. Finally, on my way to work one morning, my shuffling iPod landed on a strong contender.

“How about ‘You Belong To My Heart?,” I excitedly asked that night. 

He looked up from his New Yorker, “That Old 97’s tune?”

I beamed and bounced a little on the balls of my feet.

“Yep!” He snapped his hand into a fist, pumped it in the air in the universal sign of triumph and shuffled-danced his way over to me. We had found our song. 

2012 – You Belong To Me

Our toddler dances on her squat, little legs to the music playing in the kitchen. I sway my hips and rounding belly right along with her, as I chop vegetables to roast for dinner. 

I sang to Vesta when she was in my belly. I stood in the shower, feeling its hot medicine soothe the new aches my body had from accommodating her. I wrapped my arms around the skin and muscle walls of her watery home. I sang as I swayed: “My sweet one/I call you my sweet one,/You’re my only true sweet one,” a favorite little ditty by a favorite band, Phish. 

I made fetal Vesta a playlist. As I drove to work each day, Lauryn Hill sang to us about all her love being her infant son now. The Be Good Tanyas and I assured Vesta that “the littlest bird sings the prettiest song.” But it was my beloved Ani Difranco who had the most important message for us. Me, a person who has never been too sure of this world nor my place in it, I steeled myself to show this baby that she belonged here. Hoping she could hear me despite my swooshing heartbeat and all that gooey water in her ears, Ani and I sang: “You’re going to love this world/If it’s the last thing I do. . .”

With so much more to tend to now, Baby Brother, this little guy swishing around inside me, didn’t have a playlist. He didn’t even have one song. He heard Puff The Magic Dragon and Old McDonald in the car for Vesta and the only singing was the lullabies that put her to sleep. But here in the kitchen came this song I kept hearing on the radio: “I belong to you/You belong to me/You’re my sweetheart”. 

“There it is, little guy,” I thought to him. “There’s your song. It’s sweet and it’s true. And the best I can do until you’re here.”

I didn’t hear any of the other words to The Lumineer’s Ho Hey, just the ones he and I needed, just the chorus, while chopping and dancing and growing inside me.

2013 – I Don’t Know Where I Belong 

After he died, I lay in my bed. Empty. My body so recently full of all that blood and all that baby. My arms holding tight around what was left of him: the skin and muscle of my own belly. His only home.

My new friends, mother’s whose babies had also died, sent me songs that had brought them some comfort. Songs about absence and starlight. Songs with an endless ache. 

Willie Nelson and I sang Eddie Veder’s “Just Breathe”: “Did I say that I want you?/Did I say that I need you?/Stay with me/Let’s just breathe.” My baby never took a breath on his own. Never cried or cooed. His silent soul cocooned in his failing flesh. Perfect on the outside, ravaged on the inside. I needed a reminder to breathe.

My uterus had torn open when he was being born. Blood uselessly spilled into my abdomen and away from the placenta, the cord, his body, his brain. Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy. There are no songs about that. No songs about wasted blood and birth accidents. No words to be put to this particular music. 

2013 – You Don’t Belong To Me

On Independence Day, two months after my son died, I drove downtown for a class at the dance studio that was a second home. Autopilot and rote, it was a place I could take the things I didn’t know what to do with: my body and my grief and the way it was slowly and excruciatingly smoldering inside me.

The instructor told us that the theme for today’s class was Freedom, of course. I stood in the shaky shell of my body and stayed on the outside of everything, where I lived now. On the outside of the joy I saw so clearly beaming from the other dancer’s faces, from the enthusiasm of their movements, from the way they sang out loud to the songs the teacher played.

At the height of class’ playlist, George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90” came on, loud and in all its pop-anthem glory: “All we have to do now!” George and the teacher and some of the other dancers belted out, “Is take these lies and make them true!”

“All we have to seeeeeeeee!,” My eyelids heavy from weeks of crying, my zombie-body making the steps the teacher made, my lips forming silent words: “Is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong me! Yeah yeah!”

My boney scaffolding collapsed. I hit the wooden floor boards in a crumpled child’s pose. He didn’t belong to me. Not ever. He was not mine to keep, not the corporeal guarantee I thought myself entitled to. I began to loosen my grip on the filaments of ownership that I thought were cement. I began to let my son go.  I howled my prayer from the floor, in tune with the chorus: “FREEDOM! FREEDOM! FREEDOM!”

2014 – You Don’t Belong To Me – Part 2

Maybe it’s hindsight or maybe my memory serves and the way her name leaving his lips sounding like wind chimes on a warm spring afternoon, really did betray him. Or maybe I was listening for it. Listening so closely now to the way he formed his words, each lilt and tone, the way one becomes vigilant for deceit after betrayal. After the betrayal unfolds itself in front of you like a cartoon shopping list, page after page, comically slapping to the floor.

I stood there, suspended in time, her name still quaking the air between us and I knew. In that moment, I saw the exact contours of this new, next woman. The way she would fit snuggly between us. The way, whether or not she was a perfect fit, he would leave this life we had forced our malformed selves into. And, one year and one month after our son died, he did. 

Because I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me, yeah yeah.

2015 – I Belong To You

I didn’t believe in love anymore, not until the whole world tornadoed into my body the first time I saw the woman who soon would become the love of my life.

It wasn’t so much a courtship as it was a remembering. As it was a catching up, as if we had always known each other but had just been out of touch our whole lives. It was a rediscovery of a deep belief in a true and lasting love we had each longed for and, eventually, given up on, figuring it a childish fairytale and settling into first marriages that matched us good enough but not very well.  

Not very long after we started kissing, we started kissing with our eyes open. Relief waterfalled down the front of me. Seeing her up close, finally. Feeling her soft lips puzzle piecing mine, I felt whole again. I felt whole for the first time. 

Cocooned in my room, glowing golden by the shaded lamp, we lay nearly nose to nose, quiet and listening to the playlist she created and continually evolved for us. Quiet and listening to the stories of each others lives told only through our eyes. Breathing and breathless. Our bodies, snug. Curved and resonating in perfect harmony.

In that moment, the song we were quite sure Brandi Carlisle had written just for us shuffled its way into the room. Without a plan, we both began to sing to each other, right there next to each other, up close, and also across all time and space. Across heartbreak and loss and betrayal. Into the now. Into allowing. Into love. We sang:

“If I had all my yesterdays I’d give ’em to you too

I belong to you now

I belong to you”

Musical annotation:

1. You Belong to my Heart by the Old 97s —— :09-:22

2. My Sweet One by Phish —— :47-:53

3. The Littlest Bird by The Be Good Tanyas —— :53-:57

4. Landing Gear by Ani Difranco ——— 1:09-1:17

5. Ho Hey by The Lumineers ———— :53-59

6. Just Breathe by Willie Nelson (ft. Lukas Nelson) —— :57-1:05

7. Ho Hey by The Lumineers ———— :36-:52 

8. Freedom! ’90- remastered by George Michael —— 3:39-4:07

9. I belong to you by Brandi Carlisle——- 4:14-4:30


This week, I got to visit with my grandmother. And by “got to”, I mean “Got To”. Like I’m going to be 42 in a few weeks and she turned 94 in November. I mean Got To like not one second of it did I take for granted. I mean I get that I am beyond lucky to have this woman in my life, for my whole life so far. Like I get that I have been able to take her presence for granted. For years.

But not this week. Not this week, when I tried to pawn my daughter, Vesta, off on my parents and see her alone. Logistically, that didn’t work out so I brought a brand new book for my 10-year-old. I brought the knowing that she’d have one of my Grandmother’s search-a-word activity books to keep her occupied. I brought my daughter, knowing that she’d hear every word spoken between granddaughter and grandmother, even though she’d be occupied with a brand new book and her great-grandmother’s puzzles. Knowing that she’d hear whatever we talked about like only a 10-year-old can hear it.

As a side note, I also say  “visit” because that’s what my Grandma Vesta says. That’s what she said about her best friend of 82 years who died a couple of weeks ago: “I’d go over there every Tuesday, she’d make tea and we’d sit and visit.” She talked about how they talked every week on the phone since my Gram moved into the “assistant” living, as she called it for longer than she probably should have. The day before, when my father had been there with us, he’d lovingly scoffed at that admonition: “More like every day. You talked to Shirley every day, Mom.” She shrugged him off. Like she does. When he corrects her. Like he does.

On that day, when Daughter Vesta and I were fresh off a red-eye and we all crowded into her room, me, Vesta, my dad and step-mother, at the assisted living facility she’s been in for half of a decade, Gram off-handedly mentioned that she Had To See A Psychiatrist. “Yes,” my dad said sheepishly. Like he should have told me. Like we should be in better touch. Like we don’t communicate like we used to.  Like I should already know this, it was significant enough. “She had a rough time for awhile there.”

“Yes.” Grandma Vesta says. “I couldn’t stop crying for awhile there. And I didn’t know why. It was since…like…Veteran’s Day or something.” She swiped her hand like she couldn’t remember exactly. Like it was nothing. Like the significance of the date, and the crying had no real meaning. No weight.

Then, the conversation quickly turned into how she got to know The Psychiatrist better than he got to know her. Like we do. And, it was true. My dad joked about it but then my Gram rattled off where he grew up, where he went to school, how many kids he had. I almost dismissed it. Like the way they dismissed it. Like we do.

But “alone” with my Grandma Vesta (and my Daughter Vesta) she told me again about The Psychiatrist. She told me that, during this year, there was a time that she couldn’t stop crying. For months. And so, she told her aid that she thought she needed to talk to someone. And the aid said, “Well, A Psychiatrist comes here every Tuesday. You can talk to him.”

She looks at me sideways and whispers from behind her teeth, perhaps so my daughter, whos’ been to a psychiatrist after her brother died and her parents broke up, won’t hear, as if, I, who has had multiple psychiatrists over the past 30 years and even spent some time in a psychiatric hospital couldn’t hear,  “A psychiatrist. In my day . . . if you had to talk to a psychiatrist . . . you were, you know . . . something was really wrong with you.”

I nodded and didn’t wince. “In her day.”

So, she tells me, he showed up at her door. And he came in, sat down and they talked. Visited, one might say. And, as the story goes in my family, she learned more about him than he learned about her. As the story goes: She’s too interested in others. She learns too much unnecessary information about relative strangers. It takes her not 10-15 minutes to get people to tell her their life story.

But he came back the next week.

“It was veterans day,” she tells me. “And we had a service in the auditorium and I don’t know why but I just told my story. I just told the whole thing. And afterward, two men came up to me- veterans- and you know what? They thanked me. They thanked me for telling my story.”

My father is a Junior. His father died in World War II. Just after, really. He was in Alabama after the war ended. They were testing planes and a propeller broke off. It sliced through the plane and killed him. Just him. No one else on the plane. Just Richard Dale Welty, Sr. died: his son just 18 months old, his widow not very far from 18 years, herself. I can’t verify these details. I haven’t heard the story in years, decades. And when I did, it was from my dad. Not from my grandma. I didn’t ask her to recount what she said on Veterans Day 2019. I don’t know what she said at that gathered group of old folks. That room full of people ravaged by war. Those survivors, those veterans, their wives. Not one of them in that room unscathed.

I don’t know what she said but I know that she couldn’t stop crying after she told her story of World War II. Just for clarity, I searched for the name that my biological grandfather went by, the grandfather I never knew, the father my father never knew. Richard? Rick? Dick. “About Dick?” I say, when I land on it. “You told Dick’s story?”

“Yes,” she nods and looks at me like she’s always looked at me. Like she’s always looked at me since I was even close to an adult, since I was a teenager. Since her dining room table with her hands around a mug of tea was this island I could land on, in this sea of chaos that I swam in. Since she was younger and I was young and she made me feel like some sense could be made of this world. Since, what I experienced as wisdom and confidence but was really just her processing and trying to figuring out wherever she was going through nearly 40 years ahead of me, made me feel like I, too, could get my ducks in a row. Like there was a home for me here and somewhere else too. Like I belonged. Like she treated me with equality and value. As a young person who so often felt unmoored, my Gram, her hands around her mug at her table, told me by telling her stories,  that I would be okay. That we were okay. That, no matter what, it’s going to be okay.

“Yes,” she nods and looks at me like she always looked at me since I’ve resembled an adult and I realized what she was saying. I realized that she couldn’t stop crying for months. Since Veteran’s Day. Since she told her story. I realized my 94-year-old grandmother was grieving.  Grieving the loss of her first husband. Grieving, fully and possibly for the first time, a loss that happened 74 years ago. Grieving and not knowing why. Or not able to admit it to me or herself or anyone. Except maybe The Psychiatrist. Certainly not to my daughter Vesta, there on the other side of the room. Who I suddenly realize is listening. Who I instantly remember needs her own feelings of grief validated. Heard. Normalized.

“You know, Gram,” I say. “Vesta and I were just talking about this the other night…” Because we were. Well past bedtime and way too tired, my daughter needed to talk to me. With the earnestness and sincerity, reserved only for the young, the not-quite teenager, the not-yet resembling an adult, she shared with me the latest iteration of her grief. The “who is it safe to share it with now that I am older” grief. The “how do I build trust with others so I can tell them what’s happened to me” grief. The “will anyone ever understand me” grief.

I have been afraid, terrified, that I have given my child my grief to carry as her own. And maybe I have. Maybe her yearning for her brother, for a biological sibling, is my fault. Maybe her twice-monthly attendance at a support group for kids who have lost siblings is of my own doing. I was devastated when her brother died and, in a lot of ways, remain so. And in a lot of ways, can’t grieve with her in the way she needs me to. Her family remembers him. Our friends remember me. Her brother is a presence in her life. At once a mystery and a solid loss. There and not there. Like he is for me. Like maybe we both feel the shame of that. Grieving for someone we never knew. Grieving for too long. Grief that evolves. Grieving.

Because I know she is listening. Because I know she is grieving, Because I see my grandmother before me, so recently morphed into looking like an old lady since she entered her 90s, so recently graying and thinning and slowing.  I open my arm up towards my daughter Vesta, to include her in this moment, lost or distracted in her book of scary stories or absolutely present in listening while pretending not to, as only a not-yet teen can be, I say, “Ya know, Gram, Vesta and I were just talking about this the other night…”

Dauther Vesta looks up at me. Grandma Vesta keens her ears towards me. “When we are grieving, there are other people who are going through what we are going through. Like those men. They have a different story, but they understand. Because you are grieving the same event. And yet, you are always alone in your grief. Like the details of what happened to you are only yours. And you have to mourn those alone, even as you do it with others.”

Daughter Vesta half nods at me at the mention of her name and then looks back to her book. Hearing me or not hearing me. Grandma Vesta says, “That’s right. You know, That Psychiatrist said he’d heard a lot of stories from my generation, but none quite like mine.” She rests her hands on her corduroyed knees and leans towards me, “And do you know? He came back here the next week to check on me.” She leans back and smiles proudly, having made her point. Like she does.

I smile back at her and we move on to the next thing, whatever it was. But, I sit there, between my Vestas, a griever in the middle of generations of grief and I hope. I hope against hope that my daughter grieving now spares her from grieving this loss 74 years in the future. I hope that my grandmother telling her story and then crying for months and then doing what was once shameful and repugnant opens up some new space  inside her. Let’s off some steam. Gives her some relief.

I don’t know how to grieve. Or how to help my daughter or my grandmother to grieve. I just know that we grieve. And that, when we do it together, even in our aloneness, it’s better.


For the reading on the occasion of Harvey’s 6th birthday: Who Are You Becoming: Stories about grief over time.

This week, at six years, all the days of the week line up. Like he was born on Saturday and he died on Sunday. Like today is his birthday and tomorrow is his death day. Saturday. Sunday. 27. 28. This year. That year. Six years.

My cells remember. They remind me. Each year, early March, I wake up in a panic. Each year it takes me 3-4 days to realize what’s happening. That impending doom I suddenly feel about the upcoming weekend getaway I’ve been looking forward to for months? The way my heart accelerates and my palms sweat even before I open my eyes each morning? Oh, right. Grief Season. Early march-mid May. The Neanderthalean preservation mechanism in my helixes alights, warns me off. Impending doom, it says. It’s coming, it says. It sure was, I say back.

My cells remember. They prepared for a new baby: extra stores, milk production, bonding hormones. They didn’t stop preparing even though he never nursed or cried or opened his eyes or came home. Postpartum is one of the most intense physiological experiences in a mother’s life. So is bereavement. Put them together? My cells remember.

This year, this week, each cell filled to capacity. Each one. Stem, marrow, bone, neuron, fat, skin. They puffed me out from the inside. Saturated. Swollen. Ready to burst. But they didn’t. I couldn’t. They wouldn’t leak like my eyes did for a year after. Seeping for a year or more. Now I was full to the gills saturated. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to go but through, I used to tell myself. 

In the first year, each cell burned. Each one. Once, I was in Mexico, just about 20 years ago now and I ran barefoot into the ocean, mango juice sticky down my fingers and forearms. Mala agua. Bad water. My cousin and I dove and swam and frolicked until we stung all over. The entire surface area of our bodies. Tiny, little jelly fish? That was the best we could decipher from the locals. In the first year of grief, mala agua in each one of my cells. Stinging, invisible tentacles inside. Waves of it hitting me from behind. And also fire ants of anxiety: tiny, hot legs puckering the entire surface of my skin as they skitter. And also toxic blood. Poison coursing through the canals of my body. To the rhythm of my heart. Broken but very much alive.  

I was starving then, no matter how much I ate. Hollow. Deep down in my belly.  Aching. Longing.  The definition of need. His body. Tiny and warm and newborn and alive. Need. After awhile, it faded to “any baby”. After awhile, I stepped onto the spectrum of women who steal babies, women who lose all sense and sustenance and carry a baby doll through the park on their hip, cradle it in a baby blanket in their arms on the bench. Crazy. Like me. Like: there but for the grace, go I.

This year? Longing. Aching. Again. Renewed. For a six year old body. For sturdy. For solid.  For kindergarten. For crashing into my legs before thrusting his arms around them. For Harvey. For here instead of there. For here instead of wherever.

Ash? Stardust? Carbon? Magnesium in someone else’s cells? Where did he go? I don’t know. But he’s gone. And six years later, impossibly, unbelievably: that’s okay. I accept that. But not my cells. Not in grief season. Not early March-Mid May. Not year six when the days line up. Not this week. Not okay.

But most days: okay. Most days: my cells obey. They forget. The alarm inside goes dormant. I go to work. I cook food for my family. I write stories. I track expenses. I make love to my love. I worry about things that don’t matter. You guys, I smile and I laugh and I find leagues of meaning and I sit with the suffering and and and. Most days: That’s okay. Almost all the days now: I’m okay. 

They have found the DNA of each of the babies a woman carries still inside her body. Long after they have been birthed. Long after he died. It is a haunting. It is a thread. It is, as my friend told me 20 years ago, what it is. He is in me. Still. Always. Now. Then. First and six and forever.

I thought to myself that first year: this is what’s going to kill me. I didn’t think it through all the way but I meant cellularly. Grief. Genetic mutation. Stress hormones and too much booze in the years that follow. Cigarettes even. But even just grief itself. It changes us. It kills us. Even as we thrive. Even as we live. A wound that won’t heal.

They say that all of the cells in the human body are renewed every 7 years. Next year, no cell of mine will have been here with you. Put they will pass you down. They will replicate and remember. And maybe that’s part of the myth or ethos of “Time heals all wounds”. Maybe the message decreases overtime. Maybe the vibration of trauma slows in the reproduction. Maybe some of the new cells forget.

As evidenced this week: My cells forget. Except when they don’t. Then watch out. Then cancel plans. Like for writing a piece for your son’s reading. Like for doing the dishes or staying awake or not crying. Then keep your plans. But hide tears from massage clients on the table. But hide tears from happy third graders in the back seat in the last days of playing with dolls.

And then clear as a clear day. Clear as yesterday, to be exact: Return. Renewed. Through another level. Through another layer. Leaning against the flag of the newest mile marker, out of breath and relieved. This year, this week, my grief was pure. It was quiet and it was tired. I was just sad. Just sad that my baby died. That makes sense in this loss that makes none. Nothing else. Not anger or rage. Not resentment or shame. Not jealousy or fear. Just me and Harvey. Like when I look at my daughter when she’s not looking and I might die from pride and love. Like I love her like no other love in the known universe. Like there is no other love like Vesta’s and mine. Just like that. There is no squishy newborn body or sturdy now body or a body in between but there is grief for its endless absence. And there is love for its coming into being. For it being here. For this day and the next day. For Saturday and Sunday. For first and six and forever.

Earthquakes and other things.

My heart is with the United States of Mexico today. Especially the state of Chiapas, with it’s jungle hills that echoed gunshots all through the night. The kind, round faces of ex-pat German family that took us in. We played Boggle in Spanish and my aunt frowned at the lyrics to a favorite pop song. I had never heard it that way and she was right. The Amber everywhere, rub it on a soft cloth to see if it’s real. The sarcophagus of the ancient beetle, perfectly preserved. The hippie vendors at the artisan market, creations spread across colorful cloth, chicken English to my pigeon Spanish, we just smiled at each other and I wanted to stay with them, here, in the dusty heat. I widened my eyes in admiration so they knew it.  The mayan women’s cooperative: A woman begins to wrap my aunt in the traditional waist sash and mutters,”oh! muy gorda. muy, muy gorda” My aunt chuckles and speaks and they laugh knowingly together, these two señoras, these old friends. She sees my horror and embarrassment and tells me “No, no, mi hija. It’s not like that here.”

The United States of Mexico where I saw my mother everywhere. Where I understood her in a new way just but being saturated in the air and the earth and the people and the food and the smells and  the languages and the ghosts. The layers and layers, decades and centuries and millennia of ghosts. All there. The dullest, grayest, dirtiest areas lit up by the brightest reds and blues and yellows and greens and whites all woven tightly together in geometric patterns and draped and wrapped and tucked.

We would drove through the mountains, no guardrails, no signs explaining “peligro!” because it was obvious, your imminent death just feet away, down the precipice, into the canyon as the mountians rise above you. No “cuidado”, one lane used as two, lights off at night so they can better see a car coming towards them. We drove only during the day. . Our little Honda, laden with bodies and suitcases and worn out shocks, we would come to “topes” or giant speed bumps at the border of each small village. All but the driver would haul out of the car so it make it over the hump. We’d load back in and rumble down the road until we came to the other end of town and perform our ritual again. Once, a boy came running up a hill toward the road yelling “Mida, Papi, mida! Gringos! Gringos!” We laughed and waved at the spectacle of us. We drove through those mountains, our eyes searching for and finding the right angles and clear lines of yet to be excavated ruins at their peaks and edges. Yet to be excavated ruins. Mexico quaked and crumbled and fell yesterday. People are lost and trapped and shocked and scared. And this heart of mine, that is with them, it knows how they especially will come together. with next to nothing and with everything. Fuerte.

In Mexico City, pronounced “day effay”, D.F. Districto Federal , the federal district, we walked only during the day, especially my young cousin, La Rubia. We ate chilaquiles, last night’s tortillas drenched in salsa verde and queso fresco and crema and scrambled egg and I found heaven in this little diner in the middle of this huge city. That golden angel, towering in the middle of the main road other perch (I saw it swaying n a video yesterday as the earth quaked) with cars speeding to fast around and underneath her. She watches over. They drive fast and make their way any way they can. Once we were stopped on a wide highway in rows of traffic for construction. Soon, the cars were flying past us on the shoulder, in the median, in the (mostly) empty opposite lanes. All to get to the work being done and create a wider traffic jam, with nowhere to go. And yet, we all got to where we were going. In the chaos, in the rule breaking, in the disorder. Along we went.

I thought I might die form the humidity along the gulf coast. Dripping and drenched anon air conditioning in the sand colored Civic. We listened to cassettes and Marko, a musician of many talents, told me he didn’t like Sean Colvin’s voice and I didn’t even know that was a possibility. I pushed in the black fast forward button. On to the next.

Pan dulce. Paletta. Penafiel. Helado. Hielo. Tortas. Corn on the cob on the side of the road: grilled in the husk. Open it up and squeeze the lime, grind the pepper, crumble the cheese. More heaven. And the woman selling it in the middle of nowhere smiles so kind and proud. I want to take her with us.

Mary, Mother, La Virgen, Maria, Madre. In huge city Basillicas and tiny village churches, we prayed to her. None of us believers, except there, because it was infectious. Because we believe in motherhood and women and sacrifice and loss and persistence. We bought candles and rosaries and oval shaped charms bearing her image. She was everywhere, always with us. Years later, she would visit me in a hallway, sharing my grief, she and I, the bereaved mothers. She and I would later come to understand each other. The Great Mother. In the Mexica style, I tattooed her image in the crook of my elbow, where my baby’s head was when he died. This is sacred space. She stood at her son’s feet and bolsters an entire country. Generations of the living and the dead. La Madre, te agradecemos, we thank you. One of the three: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I think somehow you got lost in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But we’ve got the first two covered, so that just leaves you, there you are: The Great Mother. The Holy Spirit. La Señora, oiga nuestra oracion, hear our prayers.

All of Mexico calls to you tonight (Even the Mayans. They call you by a different name.). Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco. It’s good thing my heart is broken, so that it can be scattered around this North America: on fire, under water, blown apart, shook down bricks and rubble.

These United States. My heart is with you.


Dear Harvey,

Early this morning, your great-uncle was on the radio. he is your dad’s uncle by marriage and I always loved the dinners we had when they were in town from DC and we lived in San Francisco. I always say, “Hi Ron!” when he makes an appearance and I tell Vesta that he is her dad”s uncle and she says “That guy talking on the radio knows me?!”

He is the political editor of National Public Radio and today was giving somewhat of a summary of this week’s crazy, terrifying, devastating and confusing events. And he said your name, thanks to the hurricane that hit Texas last week. Simultaneously, I thought “I wonder if Ron thought of our Harvey in all of the news reading, sorting, editing that he does everyday” and I felt such a surge of love in my heart to hear a family member say your name, on national news no less and despite that it wasn’t even about you. But we have so little of you on this Earth so I grasp for straws sometimes and love when I reach one, now and then, like this morning.

He is distant to me now but I have seen how much he loves Vesta when he interacts with her and I know how much he would love you if you were here to play with, too. “Harvey”, he said, leaving off the “Hurricane” part and amidst the destruction and chaos and loss of that storm, my small corner of the world got to feel a little deeper, a little more connected, a little more held.

There are small miracles everywhere, son. And you are one. And the way your family, near and far, together and apart, new and old, love you is another.

I love you, buddy.



Dear Harvey, 

When I was a newly minted massage therapist in San Francisco, my friend called me to book a massage for clients of her’s whose baby had just died. He was a twin and while I remember next to no detail, I do believe he was only weeks old, was mistakenly dropped and was fine and then all the sudden wasn’t and died. 

I wasn’t yet thirty and I drove my table and supplies to their house and hauled it up a million stairs, as one does in San Francisco. I remember the husband sitting on the couch, the living twin being rocked in an infant car seat by his dad’s foot and a second, empty car seat sitting where the living room wall met the hallway.

I went into the bedroom and set my table up. The mom sat at the end of her bed and stared down at nothing. I did my best to match the somber, quiet, heavy tone of the apartment but I imagine I asked the questions I always asked of my clients, none of which would have applied here. I didn’t know this yet but this woman needed me to shut the fuck up and let her lay face down on the table and feel something else for an hour or so. I cringe at the thought that I might have asked them to fill out intake forms, that I might have asked if anything in their body was hurting, was there something they wanted to focus on. 

In a response that was unrelated to whatever my question was, the mom said, without lifting her eyes, “The worst thing has happened.” It was spoken as her truth, one that she didn’t quite believe and was trying out for size but that was ultimately and unforgivingly true nonetheless. A truth she hadn’t caught up to yet but also knew in her bones. I thought inside my head, and by the grace of god or some other small miracle, I didn’t say “well, it’s not the worst thing that could happen. You still have another baby.” (I now endearingly call this the “goldfish mentality”: the “at least you still have your other children” and the “you can always have another baby” comments that essentially equate another human, born from your very body to a flushed, forgotten and replaced goldfish.)

I got in my car after I gave them each a massage and charged them full price (cringe again) and I cried. I cried for them and for their baby and for their baby’s brother. I cried for myself because it was hard to be around them, in their apartment, touching their mourning bodies. I callled my mom and told her all about it and what a hard job it was for me and what a crazy life this is when terrible things like that can happen. And then we talked about other things as I drove across town to my own, as yet, dead-baby free apartment. 


As far as I can remember, Kira just showed up at our back door and set up her table in our basement and gave us both massages in the early weeks after you died. (She did not ask us to fill out forms or what we might want to focus on in ourbodies or even to pay. She cried with us and talked with us and was quiet with us and gave us 90 minutes or probably more of whatever “respite” is to the newly bereaved parent.) The first time she came,  I remember walking down into the basement and realizing that I was now that mother. I was now that mother. I was the mother who sat at the end of the bed in numbed shock and grief and told a twenty-nothing my truth that I couldn’t even begin comprehend and whose sacredness she certainly couldn’t be trusted with. I hadn’t thought of her in ages but every step I took down those stairs, the table coming into view from behind the angle of the stairwell wall, that whole afternoon she in the Mission district of San Francisco came back to me. I relived it and cringed and hoped I hadn’t made it worse for them and sent a silent message to her through the ether that I had now joined her tribe. As my heavy feet, body heart and mind descended, I thought: how could this be? How could it be me now? Why did I have to learn that the worst has, in fact, happened?

I miss you like crazy,



Dear Harvey,

Sometimes I ask parents how old their kids are (because I have come that far in my grief journey) and sometimes they say “he is four”. Inevitably, I stop myself from saying, “My son is four, too!” because, of course, I must quickly follow that with “but he died” and people aren’t used to that. So I say “How nice.” or “What a fun age!” and we smile or chuckle together. Sometimes, I entertain the possibility of talking about you like you are alive. Pretending you didn’t die. How amazing for you to be alive like that, in someone’s mind.

Sometimes I am talking about something your sister is able or allowed to do and I stop myself from saying “But if it was Harvey, that would be a different story.” This impulse feels stranger to me than the first though it occurs to me in exactly the same fashion, easy and natural, unconscious almost. Like somehow I “know” you would be rambunctious or unable to be left alone to entertain yourself or not be as confident in your body as she is. Do I know something about you innately? Those cells of your floating, as they are, in my brain, whispering your secrets to my semi-consciousness. Maybe it is a mother’s wisdom? That inner, intuitive and mysterious connection we have with our children, knowing on some level what they need as individuals, what will work and not for them, how to best tend to them, maybe even the dead ones? Maybe I just imagine you’d be a rascal, energetic, mischevious because that’s how I think of little boys? Maybe it’s just purely nurture: what I have learned, a trick of the mind rather than a gift from it’s deepest recesses.

I don’t know. But I think of you and I imagine you and maybe you are here somewhere, more than just in my mind and heart and brain, more than just the tin of ashes on my closet shelf, what is left of your cells, save the corneas, heart valves and those you left inside me. Maybe you are somewhere. Maybe, as we talked about with the chaplain as we prepared for your funeral, energy just changes shape and you are showing up here in ways we don’t recognize. Or do, but just barely.

I love you, son. I am always here if you ever want to come back.




I nestle my metal bowls into her metal bowls. The ones she brought and the ones I brought, layered together. Her glass containers are round and my glass containers are rectangular and they are tucked neatly into a drawer together. I sort laundry, now, by darks and lights, like my mom taught me to do 28 years ago. I learn her ways of doing things, most better than my own: orderly, efficient, thoughtful.

It was when Vesta was born or maybe when we moved back to Portland or maybe finding a home for my work at Ethereal or maybe announcing Harvey’s pregnancy, the last time I truly felt so blessed and happy and grateful as I do now. When I smiled so widely because I had paid my dues and everything was coming up roses for me. So many lifetimes ago. So many versions of myself ago. It isn’t just that I didn’t think I would ever feel like this again, it was that I thought I lost my ability to. I thought I was no longer capable. I was sure of it.

But my life has begun again last week and a year a half ago and during a million moments in between. I am happy and I am grateful and I am blessed. And I no longer expect it or feel entitled to it, so it is sweeter, deeper, and fuller. Better than I imagined before it all fell apart.

We layer and tuck and sort our lives into one another. And I am home. Fully and finally, I am at the home I have been yearning for my whole life. Knowing this could also disappear, implode, explode also makes it sweeter, deeper, fuller because I have it now. I suffered through excruciating moments and now I languish in these full of love and bliss, ease and joy. At home, fully and finally. For now.


Dear Harvey, 

The other day we were driving in the car and Vesta was talking about something she’d done. Referring to herself she ended,” …and that’s a pretty cool thing for a big sister”. And my heart broke. And my heart soared.

She and her best friend have marked this moving in together as the moment that their sisterhood begins. They have been waiting, with excitement and some trepidation, for this new iteration of their family to begin and the physical move into our new home was their threshold.

 Vesta is a foot shorter and six months older than O, so she is technically the “big” sister. Yours and hers. She comes into this identity for herself only with another living child. And the delay of that, because she has been a big sister for 4 years and because you are dead, breaks my heart all over again. And this pronouncement and whatever their whispered, private conversations that brought them to the choosing the day sounded like, caulked that very crack.

Just like so many (all?) circumstances in our lives, she has what I wanted for her but in completely different, un-imagined form. Made even more beautiful and precious for its unplannedness. A sister. Two sisters. A family.

We miss you like crazy. And, of its even possible, love you even more.