Daddy died three months ago. This morning on Facebook a memory from two years ago popped up. We were out at the Cherry Place for dinner to celebrate Dad’s birthday and my son was on Dad’s back, his arms around him, hugging him. They were both smiling.
The children’s librarian in the Mattituck-Laurel Library asked me to talk to my son about which book he’d like to dedicate in his Grandfather’s honor at the library. She said it didn’t have to be a book they had, they’d order whichever book he chose. My son initially tossed out Call of the Wild. He read it earlier in the year and had been looking forward to seeing the movie with his grandfather. I suggested he think about a Piggy and Elephant book instead. Considering the enjoyment the two of them always got reading those books together, I thought that would have more meaning, more significance. My son, who lately agrees with me about nothing, smiled at the idea. He too admitted that it was probably the most appropriate choice. He settled on Are You Ready To Play Outside? It’s the book I once recorded them reading together, a video that immortalized their enthusiasm. A video that now makes me cry every time I watch it. But if there is to be only one book to represent Dad’s joy regarding the time he spent with his grandson, that’s the book.
Last week, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I’ve never read it. But considering my interest in history and my love of the classics I figured I should acquaint myself with it. Though things have certainly changed since it was published more than one hundred years ago, the depravity of Corporate America is still evident. There may be stricter childhood labor laws and more safety laws to protect American workers. We might have a minimum wage and protections for woman against harassment. But capitalism is still destroying the people of this country. One hundred years later, America still prides itself of the bleeding of its citizen’s. America continues to bow down and pray to the golden calf, the god of cash. The economy comes first, and death is simply a byproduct of American greed. Love your money, love your own personal freedom, even if means kicking your fellow citizens in the teeth.
I’ve been reading The Week Junior with my son before bed. I wish Dad were alive. He would enjoy discussing the articles with my son. He’d enjoy listening as my son develops his own opinions on issues based on what he reads combined with his own experiences. Dad would have loved his curiosity, the questions he asks, the connections he makes.
On the way home from the beach, we passed a house that had not one, but three Trump 2020 flags hanging out front. Two were the typical Keep America Great Flags. But the more prominent screamed, “Trump 2020 the Sequel Make Liberals Cry Again.” Dad always said it was rather red out here so I figure there have to be quite a few Trumpers, but how can anyone advertise their pride in supporting such a despot. I’ve cut ties recently with people — friends — who support him. He’s been a vile president from the start, but since his failed response to the virus he’s become even more despicable. And now he has declared war on Dr. Fauci and the CDC. How can anyone stand behind a man who refuses to listen to the scientists? And the slogan, “Make Liberals Cry Again.” There are 137,000 families crying because people they loved have died. These tears are real. I know very well because I still cry far too much. So does my mother. Every day more people are dying because Trump is acting like a toddler instead trying to flatten the curve. He won’t even wear a mask — once doesn’t count. Every time people die, more tears are shed. Holes are torn in peoples’ hearts and eyes flood with tears they can’t control. And this is what Trump supporters want. This is what they are looking forward to. This is what makes them happy. You have to ask yourself, how cruel and heartless are these people? How nasty and vicious? They have no compassion, no empathy, no kindness. No, they want more people to cry. They want more people to be in pain. This is Trump’s America and it sucks.
However, what makes me laugh in all of this is the people who spew the evils of socialism the loudest are now angry that they may need to pay for their own babysitters in the fall. Isn’t that ironic, the people who don’t want you to have universal health care feel entitled to free babysitting. We are selfish. We only want things if they benefit us. We are incapable of embracing anything that might be best for society if we don’t perceive it as being best for us individually.
We spent the late afternoon at the Treasure Beach. Dad always used to like going to the beach around noon and staying until three or four. I find that I like going later and staying until five or five thirty. Coming home at cocktail hour without anyone to have a cocktail with is too depressing. Coming home and not having Dad start scrambling around in the kitchen to get appetizers ready makes the house feel empty. My son and I had a great deal of fun in the water today. He found an old tube and asked me to blow it up. Then at in the inlet he wanted me to hold it as he tried to dive through the center. He laughed and joked each time he missed. I smiled simply enjoying his company. But then we got home and I fell to pieces. Today was very hard. I was extremely emotional. Maybe it’s because Dad died three months ago and his birthday is in two days. Maybe it’s because I thought shrimp cocktail before dinner would be a good idea but it only reminded me of him. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t stop thinking of that stupid flag, and that while I’m still grieving Dad’s death, the madman in the white house is killing more people.
After dinner my son and I watched the movie Prince Caspian. We sat together on the reclining chair, relatively new furniture that Dad bought because he expected to live for several more summers.
Dad died 90 days ago. Ninety days of misery. Ninety days of missing him.
My son finished the New Jersey puzzle this morning. It is 1000 pieces and it took him three days to finish. He immediately started another 1000 piece puzzle that he found in Mom’s closet.
Every summer, since my son could read, my parents enrolled him in the Mattituck-Laurel Library summer reading program. They’d go — if possible — the day enrollment opened so that they could also sign him up for other events that happened throughout the summer, events that were often so popular they filled up quickly. The children’s librarians knew my parents well. Whenever we walked into the children’s section — and we were their frequently — my parents would chat with them. Dad often joked around like he did with everyone.
This morning, my son and I drove to the library — Mom’s library card was in my wallet so that I could take out books and movies. I haven’t stepped foot in a library in months and it felt good to stop into a building full of reading material. The moment I stepped through the door, the staff instructed me to sign-in. Only ten people at a time are allowed inside. As my son walked over to the movies, I entered the children’s library, curious as to what new middle grade books they might have. Even with my mask on, the head children’s librarian recognized me immediately. She said, “We were just talking about you and wondering where your parents have been.” And so I told her that Dad died. She was shocked and sad and she told me how much she always enjoyed his visits, the way he would joke around with her and the rest of the staff. He was gregarious and funny and a pleasure to be around. It seems everyone loved Dad, or at least enjoyed his company.
The children’s library looked so empty, the space seemingly larger. But that’s because all the toys have been put away. Due to the virus, they don’t want to encourage anyone to linger. They want you to come in, select your books, and then leave. There were plexiglass windows around the librarian and the checkout counter. Everyone wore masks.
Mom spoke to my brother about a funeral mass for Dad. He told her that he has a brief semester break in October and that he recommended we have it then. I don’t think October is wise and I said as much. A second wave was expected in the fall. Although, since the first wave appears as if it will not be ending any time soon, this expected second wave will most likely be another peak. Besides, if schools open, I can’t imagine it won’t result in another surge. More people sick. More people — the smart people — staying home. Mom argued that the second wave wasn’t due until November so my brother felt October would be fine. I disagreed, but told Mom I’d support whatever she wanted. She seems convinced that no one will show up regardless of when it is. And since she already knows I will bend my schedule as I have since the morning I got the call to take Dad to the hospital, I’ll be there whenever she schedules it. My brother has proven that unlike me he won’t drop everything. He’s been very helpful to Mom. He’s done a great deal for her, but his arrival in Glendale is always based upon what works best for him. Therefore, my guess is Mom will have the funeral mass on the day my brother picks because she will want him there and that’s the only way to ensure he’ll show up. (Yes, Kati, I’m thinking this could make for a modern retelling of The Prodigal Son.)
My plan had been to return to the Treasure Beach today, but around one o’clock, when I started to make sandwiches to take for lunch, I could thunder rumbling in the distance. As I smeared honey mustard on my son’s sandwich, the thunder boomed loudly and I could hear the rain slapping against the trees. Ten minutes later, it was pouring. Luckily, it was a typical summer storm and passed quickly. But by then it was getting late in the day and the Treasure Beach is nearly a thirty minute drive. If I didn’t have taekwondo class tonight I might have gone, but I needed to make sure we were home in time to eat before my class. Besides I wasn’t sure the rain was gone for good. I asked my son if he wanted to go to one of the more local beaches and he — surprisingly — chose Veteran’s Beach, the beach he spent the most time at with his Grandfather. It’s the first time we went there alone to swim. When we arrived there was only one person in the water and no one on the sand. We had plenty of room to ourselves. By habit, I plopped our things in the same spot Dad always chose, and my son and I went we in the water. We had fun being silly and goofy together playing with the boogie board and inflatable crocodile.
Since the clouds cleared, other people started showing up. And this is why opening schools is a bad idea. Both yesterday and today we saw large groups of teenagers hanging out with each other showing no respect for social distancing. They were congregating as people used to before the pandemic, before doing so could get someone killed. And by the time we were getting ready to leave, a group of middle school kids had shown up. They too were playing with each other as if a deadly virus were not circulating. Not only did they crowded each other, but multiple times they encroached upon my son’s space. My son, super sensitive to all things related to the virus, quickly moved away. But if this is how kids are behaving all summer, if their parents aren’t being strict with them now, come September they will laugh in the face of anyone to tries to keep them six feet apart from each other.
I did a bit of research regarding requirements for homeschooling. They vary state by state. I found that New Jersey is one of the states doesn’t seem to care what parents do. There are no guidelines or oversight. New York is one of the few states that has strict oversight. I have to do a bit more research to determine which side of the river I will declare as my base for homeschooling my son. New Jersey would be good because it would allow me to be me and work completely outside the box (while adhering to the curriculum, especially in math.) But in New York they would have a record of what I did, and therefore, it would be harder to contest what ‘grade’ my son should be in following the pandemic.
This morning was hard. I woke up early and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I had been dreaming, but I don’t remember anything specific about my dream. Only that when my eyes first opened, I thought I heard footsteps, Dad’s footsteps pounding through the house. My eyes popped open and I actually waited a few moments for him, as if I expected him to walk into my room and ask me what my son wanted for breakfast. And then I remembered, it couldn’t possibly be him. I got up to walk — as always — but my legs felt heavy. I haven’t slept much in months, but this was more than fatigue that seemed to weigh me down. When I got back to the house, I forced myself to do laundry and get breakfast ready. I even drove to the store to buy lunch, but when I got back I didn’t feel like doing anything. While my son worked on his puzzle, I curled up on my bed where I drifted in and out of sleep, my mind toggling between several unsettling dreams — again dreams I don’t remember except for one clip. My son was a toddler. I saw him as if from a distance through a pane of glass and a voice I didn’t recognize kept telling I wasted my time when my son was little. That I should have done more with him. I should have paid better attention to the little things. I woke up feeling even worse.
I didn’t want to go the Treasure Beach on the weekends. I feared it would be too crowded. But my son begged. It was the only beach he’d consider going to and I didn’t want him spending the day watching television. I also knew I needed to get out of the house. I needed to do something. So I agreed, with the caveat that if it were crowded we’d have to go elsewhere. On the wa,y we stopped at a drug store to pick up batteries for my son’s remote control boat. I paid in cash. In the summer, we always pay in cash with the money we’ve had to set aside all year since neither of us gets a pay check in July or August. We treat it like an allowance so we don’t over spend. But when I haded the woman a ten dollar bill she asked me if I had any change. Since I was in my swim suit and not my shorts, I had no coins. It was then I noticed the bright yellow sign taped to the plexiglass between me and the cashier, the sign that asked customers to please play with credit or debt cards since we are currently experience a coin shortage. Well what do you know, one more consequence of Trump’s bungling of the virus. The U.S. Mint has slowed coin production due to the virus, and with people staying home, they haven’t been spending coins which in essence has taken them out of circulation. Since there were no coins in the woman’s cash machine, she started rummaging around in her own purse. I apologized for the inconvenience I caused, but as the words were leaving my mouth, I questioned why I was apologizing. It certainly wasn’t my fault. But the woman seemed to agree. Handing me nickels and dimes she said, “Oh, it’s not you. I blame Trump.” And I smiled, as I responded, “I couldn’t agree more. It’s as if he wants the country to fall apart.”
The Treasure Beach was not as crowded as I expected but they were diligently checking cars to make sure people had stickers. They weren’t selling any day passes. And if you were from out of town then sent you home. Despite the lack of crowds, there were several large groups of people gathered closely together. It unsettled me to see. Even my son commented, “Aren’t there too many people over there. And they aren’t wearing masks. That isn’t safe.” No it wasn’t, and so we put our stuff down further away from the water than usual so as to keep more than 6 six feet away from everyone. But we only sat on our towels to eat lunch and then we dove into the water and swam across the inlet. There wasn’t anyone on the other side, so it was safer. We didn’t have to worry about anyone getting too close to us. We brought a bucket and my son brought his net. Together we fished for minnows — he used the net, I used my feet. There are many more minnows in the water than there were last month and the bucket filled up quickly. I also caught a crab with my hands. My son put it in the bucket to see if it would eat any of the fish. It did not.
While my son studied the sea life, I sat at the edge of the water and thought about Dad. He and Mom used to really enjoy bringing their pool noodles to the beach. They’d walk down the shore a bit then enter the water. They’d rest their backs against the noodles and hold on with their arms letting the current carry them. “It’s my own Lazy River,” Mom used to say, a reference to the ride at water parks. Over and over they’d drift, reach the end of the beach and repeat on warm sunny days. Dad always looked happy, relaxed, as if there was no where else in the world he wanted to be.
I also remembered the time when my son was about three. Dad was holding him in the water and he took Dad’s baseball cap off and thew it into the water. It sunk faster than I’ve ever see clothing sink and the current carried it swiftly away because even though I tried, I couldn’t recover it. It was one of only three or four times Dad every got mad at my son. But unlike when he used to get made at me when I was kid, anger that could last days, his anger at my son dissipated within seconds. He got my son to apologize — my son still feels guilty about it — and then it was over. They were friends again.
But the image of Dad drifting kept swirling through my mind for the rest of the day.
By the time we left, my son was tired. We swan back and forth across the inlet many times. It was the most exercise he had gotten in days. And when we left he told me, “When we get home I need to rest. You exhausted me today.” Once, many years ago, Dad told me if I had a kid I’d finally understand what it meant to be tired. I guess he was wrong on this one. G3 still tires out before me when it comes to physical activity. In all my life, I’ve only ever met one person whose stamina matches mine.
My son did a great deal of work on the New Jersey puzzle. When I spoke to my spouse this morning, after she read my post from yesterday, she told me that my friend is normal. Most people put puzzles together and then take them apart. It’s my son and I who are anomalies. Maybe the whole crumbling of something you spent hours on is too much of a metaphor for my life. Too often I’ve worked on things that didn’t materialize, projects or endeavors that didn’t succeed as I had hoped. As a result, I can’t bring myself to undo puzzles, a problem I suppose my son has gotten from me. Anyway, after dinner we worked on the puzzle some more. My son wanted to listen to 80’s music, songs from my childhood, songs that dredged up more memories of Dad: him parking on metro as we listed to “Faith” by George Michael, him singing along in the car to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean, him driving me home from my high school entrance exam while we listened to “Tell me Lies” from Fleetwood Mac.
It still really upsets me that I never got to say goodbye.
The churches have opened in New York City for a limited capacity. Mom has started going to church every morning. I don’t know if it really helps, but it gives her something to do. It gives her a destination, something to fill an hour of her time. Just an hour. The rest of the day she spends missing Dad, thinking about all the things they would be doing together if he were alive.
I’ve been watching the news. Watching as young people contract the virus because they thought it was a hoax, because they thought it was a joke. Thousands dead and they are going to parties mocking the disease because they think they are immune. It makes me angry. And their selfishness is going to keep me and my son locked up longer. I’m growing exceedingly resentful of the people down south who rushed to open the economy, rushed to go out to dinner, to meet friends in bar. I want my Dad back. He never would have been so foolish. But he wasn’t given a chance. No one warned him.
My son and I drove out to Mattituck this morning. We took Dad’s car since it has the necessary parking sticker for the Treasure Beach. I can’t get the sticker for my car until Mom is with me since technically she is the resident. Since Dad’s car has a CD player, my son asked me to play Billy Joel. He wanted his Greatest Hits Volume II but I suggested Volume III instead. Back at Christmas, Dad wanted to get my son a gaming system. My son spends too much time watching television so I didn’t want him to have another reason to sit around on his butt starting at a screen. I suggested a CD player and some CDs instead since my son loves music — especially from the 70s and 80s. Dad liked the idea. He asked which CDs and I suggested Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits — all the volumes — and Elton John. Dad agreed to all but Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits III. He said he had it and it was terrible. Since Dad was Billy fan I didn’t argue with him. I figured he knew best. But then Dad died and my son gobbled up his CDs. We hadn’t had a chance to listen to them until today. And I must admit, I disagree with Dad. Except for one song which I hated, and three which were only tolerable, the rest were good. But here’s the interesting thing. Volumes I & II remind me of my childhood. They remind me of Dad. Every song brings me back to his car, to vacations he took me on as a child. But Volume III — not a single song reminds me of Dad. They remind me of high school and a couple remind me of college. One reminds me of Long Island. One makes me think of Libby. They were the songs of my teen years — my early twenties. So why did the song “Leningrad” make me cry so much? Why did my tears blur my vision and pour down my face? Why did that song make me so incredibly emotional?
We stopped for lunch at Burger King. Since they have the Impossible Whopper I can actually eat there. And I like it. Eating fast food and enjoying it is such a bizarre experience for me. The dinning room was open. We didn’t have to order in the drive through. We didn’t have to get take-out, but we did, because even though it’s open for dinning doesn’t mean it is safe to dine. We ate outside at one of the tables. We were the only ones. It was hot. Everyone else opted to eat inside.
My son stayed home while I went grocery shopping. I didn’t get much, just what I needed for dinner and some ice cream. We can’t go a day in this house without ice cream. As I was paying the cashier, the next guy on line walked right up to me — and I mean right up to me — eager to get his groceries rung up. The cashier — a young girl — scolded him and told him he had to step back. He grumbled and took a step. She told him to move further back, and he snapped at her that she didn’t have any idea of what six feet means. Meanwhile, he might have been four feet away at this point. Interestingly, he wore a shirt that said USA written in the colors of the flag in big letter across his chest and a hat with USA written across it. Do with that as you wish. As I took my change, the cashier apologized to me for the rudeness of the other customer. I almost fell over. So much different than the Stop & Shop in Glendale.
We went to the sound beach. It’s a Saturday and I feared the Treasure Beach would be too crowded so we didn’t go. It’s much further away and I didn’t want to drive there only to discover there wasn’t enough space to social distance. But maybe we could have gone. It was cloudy and windy which mean the sound was relatively empty. I was surprised when we arrived by how few cars there were in the parking lot. The water was also cold. My son went swimming, but I didn’t. However, as soon as he got out of the water, he wanted to leave.
At home, all he wanted to do was watch television. I’m tired and frustrated that all he wants to do is watch TV. He refuses to read — unless it’s with me before bed. He refuses to walk. He refuses to do anything. At this point, if it were up to me, I’d throw away the television. Tonight, while I was cooking, I wanted to listen to the news and my son threw a snit because he couldn’t watch what he wanted. I was cooking dinner for him, and he seemed to think he was entitled to watch what he wanted. Then at dinner, he complained about having to sit down at the table with me. He only ate a few bites and wanted to go back to his television. I made him sit with me and he complained about how slow I eat. And then I started to cry, because if Dad were here he’d have been sitting with me. He would have rolled his eyes and joked about how slow I eat, but it would have been in jest. He would have sat with me, we would have talked about politics, and we’d have finished our wine together. But I didn’t even have wine, because it doesn’t taste right without him here.
I did manage to pull my son away from the television after dinner to work on a jigsaw puzzle. A friend of mine had bought a 1,000 piece New Jersey pandemic puzzle. After she toiled putting it together, she pulled it apart. Since she knows my son enjoys puzzles, she asked me if I wanted it for him. I looked at her horrified, “You mean you took it apart?” I didn’t think that was a thing. You put something together and then you get angry and upset if it falls apart. I had no idea people actually disassembled puzzles. After I got over my shock, I gratefully took the puzzle. It’s a picture of New Jersey. Yes, I know what you are all thinking. I hate New Jersey. That’s true, but it’s also an educational puzzle. It highlights all the historical places in New Jersey — many of which we have been to — and you know how history interests me. My son and I enjoyed working on it, and by the time he went to bed, we had most of the border and the words “New Jersey” completed.
The debate about opening schools is firing up between parents and teachers. I told my boss even if there are classes for me to teach, I can’t take them. My son’s health, his academic well-being are far more important than working. I’m not sending my kid to school if it isn’t safe, and I’m not trusting either the politicians or the administrators when it comes to what they think is safe. And remote learning isn’t good enough. I will homeschool my son. I have no idea how we will pay our bills. How we will move. How we will get by. I sure as hell know God’s not going help. He’s supposed to help those who help themselves, but that hasn’t been my case at all. I certainly don’t expect it now.
As for my spouse, she is fearful about teaching face-to-face. No, fearful is the wrong word. Fear has come to have a derogatory meaning. My spouse doesn’t want to teach face-to-face because she knows very well the strength of the virus, that it doesn’t fuck around. And while Trump and his cronies keep telling us it doesn’t affect children, camps across the south are closing because kids and counselors are getting infected. If kids are getting sick at camp, what makes anyone think they won’t get sick in school. And counselors are on average — I’m willing to bet — younger than teachers. What makes a counselor seriously ill could kill a teacher. But as my spouse keeps reminding me, even if teachers don’t die, schools will quickly run out of subs.
The death toll is rising again. Nearly a thousand people died three days in a row. The deaths had dipped. We were doing better, but we blew it.
And Trump keeps talking about opening schools but he isn’t offering any money either to help them stay safe. I’m not a numbers person. Money makes me dizzy. But it doesn’t quite make sense to me that there was enough money to give churches, billionaires, and hedge funds stimulus money, but there isn’t any for schools. What am I missing here?
The Write Life published my essay, “Treasure Beach.” It was a difficult essay to write, but one I felt compelled to get down. Many of you have read bits and pieces of it since I have spoken of the Treasure Beach here. It has been part of my ramblings but in segments. I wanted to pull it together — the past and present — into one succinct essay. I wanted to tell the story of Dad and my son at the beach, describe their relationship and the depth of my son’s grief, and recognize that while being at the beach is hard and painful, it’s also starting to heal us. It was a lot to accomplish, and when I wrote the first draft something felt off. Something wasn’t quite working the way I wanted it to work. I asked my spouse to read it and she liked it, but she’s not a writer, she couldn’t diagnose the problem. She recommended I sent it to my writing group friends. I did and their feedback was immensely helpful. The writing didn’t work where I feared it didn’t, but they were able to tell me why. It was an easy thing to revise and the revision works, I think. But I’ll let you be the judge. You can read it here: https://thebluenib.com/treasure-beach/?fbclid=IwAR03i77GTpIIKbJ-PaRY-V_B7UPiElkOe8Vpg042bmVT0CaiZxvX68EUNc8
We — my son and I — were supposed to go to Mattituck today. But the weather forecast was calling for heavy rain throughout the day. Rain and possible lightning meant no beach. It also meant hazardous driving conditions. I don’t like driving when I feel like I’m trying to push through a waterfall, so my son and I stayed an extra day with Mom. She was very happy to have the company. She seems to be getting lonelier by the day. Her grief, the emptiness she feels is even worse, I think, than my son’s. But I won’t write an essay about her — not now, not yet. Even here I won’t say too much. Unlike my son, she’d hate knowing I was writing about her. After all, she was furious when she found out I was blogging about Dad while he was dying. I did show her my “Treasure Beach” essay with a warning that it might make her cry. I advised she might not want to read it. But she did, the tears falling freely from the first sentence. When it was done she told me it was really good, that Daddy would have liked it. Then she asked me how much I got paid. The question rankles me. It also reminded me of why I often don’t share my publications with her. The question takes away from the success of the moment. It belittles it. “You should write a book,” she told me. “Gather all your essays together. It can’t be that hard.” No, that’s the easy part, the part I’ve done multiple times for several collections. The writing is not hard. the finding an interested party to publish my collections of essays or any book length work is impossible. But Mom doesn’t get it, and I’m not sure she never will.
I took Mom grocery shopping and reprimanded a man in the elevator for wearing his mask only over his mouth, his rather long nose protruding over the top. It angered me. He ignored me, but whenever he saw me in the store after that he scurried away, crashing into the bananas at one point to avoid me. For dinner, Mom needed frozen peas, but the shelves in freezer were empty. What’s up with frozen veggies? Where have they all disappeared to?
This evening my son wanted to watch a Dog’s Journey. I wasn’t up for it, but I’m tired of him complaining that I’m difficult, that I don’t like to watch normal movies. And so I sat with him and Mom. Mom said Dad had been looking forward to seeing the movie. He had told her that he planned to watch it with his grandson. Dad — who loved dogs — would have loved the movie. And it was cute. But it made me cry — hysterically. At the end when Dennis Quaid is running around in the afterlife with Bailey, I thought of Dad and Fireball. It’s an image that has popped into my head numerous times. But instead of a wide open field, Daddy and Fireball would be running on the beach. When Bailey died the first time, Mom was crying. The grandfather in the movie was holding the dog, prompting Mom to comment, “When Fireball died, she died in our arms. Your father died all alone.” That will always haunt the both of us, the image of Dad alone in his hospital bed. He died with a stranger at his bedside instead of the people who loved him most. I was already sick. Mom was already sick, but still they wouldn’t let us see him. He was one of the most social people I know and he left the world alone.
After the movie, my son and I read together and then I went down to the basement to look at the picture I took of Dad and Fireball back in college. I’ve always loved photography and took several black and white classes in college. Back then it was all film and so I learned how to develop it. Fireball was the subject of one of my projects and the pictures still hang next to Dad’s desk. I had wanted, in my junior year, to switch colleges within NYU so that I could change my major from English Literature to photography. Dad wouldn’t let me. He thought a degree in art was foolish. Art meant a life of being penniless. But if I had chased my passion instead of settling for what Dad wanted would I have been happier? Would I have been more successful? Would I have a job? Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t pursue photography. Several times I made an attempt — I even applied to and was accepted into graduate programs — but I allowed my mother to talk me out of it each time. Why? Was my self esteem really that bad? Did I believe I would fail? I don’t know. Maybe. I eventually did pursue writing (another art form) — perhaps twenty-years too late. But even now, I wonder if it’s been worth it. Which path should I have taken instead? At what point in my past should I have taken a hard right or a soft left?
Twenty-two years ago today — on July 9, 1998 — my best friend died in a car accident. I still think of Libby often. Sometimes, I even catch myself wondering what she would think about a particular event or person. I still miss her. And if I still miss her after all this time, I know I will never not miss Dad.
Today would have been my grandmother’s — Dad’s Mom’s — 102nd birthday. She lived into her nineties and Mom always thought Dad might inherit her genes and live a long life. And perhaps he might have, if Covid had killed him. Obviously we’ll never know what might have been, because all we are left with is what is.
Last year, according to my memory on Facebook, my brother was visiting and the five of us — Mom, Dad, my brother, my son, and I — went out to dinner to celebrate Dad’s 71st birthday. The celebration was a week early, but it was rare my brother visited and so we capitalized on his presence. In the pictures, Dad is smiling. He’s happy. There is no indication in those shots that it would be his last birthday, that he would never age beyond 71. Dad posted a picture of the 3 Gs. He loved those pictures. He loved knowing that his name reached down into the third generation. He also posted a picture of the five us, my son’s arm around his shoulder because of everyone in my son’s life, he felt most connected to his grandfather.
This morning, we were supposed to have flown home from Disney. Today was supposed to mark the end of our ten day trip. We should have been sad that the adventure was over, not devastated that it will never happen. When dad first booked the flight, I noted the date, the fact that it was the anniversary of Libby’s death. I questioned whether it would be bad luck. Dad laughed. I’m sure it’s just coincidence, but it retrospect, if the return date had been the 10th instead, or the 8th, would he have survived?
I was looking at mom’s calendar this afternoon and on July 16th — Dad’s Birthday — she had written (back in January because she always lays out her calendar early marking anniversaries and other significant dates): Please let Gary have a peaceful, joyful, healthy & stress free year. Whomever she was addressing obviously didn’t listen. Or if he did, he didn’t care. Dad’s year will definitely not be joyful and it won’t be healthy because he is dead. It still doesn’t make sense. Shitty people are alive, and Dad isn’t. This virus should have killed people who didn’t take it seriously. People who make a mockery of it. Not someone who wasn’t given sufficient information to make a smart decision.
In the morning, I took my usually walk and circled Juniper Valley Park. It was crowded. People were out biking, playing tennis, running, and walking their dogs. Some wore masks. Most didn’t. The playgrounds were open, but empty. There was traffic on the roads. Aside of the two freshly dug graves in the cemetery, one might have thought we weren’t still in the midst of a pandemic. One might have believed the world was back to normal. But the statistics tell a very different story. New York might be healing but the rest of the country is dying. The death toll now stands at 135,000. It won’t stop rising. Not until we have a vaccine or a serious president in the White House.
I went to the bank with Mom today. She had an appointment and asked me to accompany her. She’s still learning to live alone and wants to make sure she doesn’t miss anything important. After the bank, she, my son, and I played games. Visiting her in the Queens house in the summer is odd. In the summer, we alway went to the beach house. My son and I will head there tomorrow, but my brother is coming here on Saturday for a few days, so Mom can’t come with us. I’ll have to come back and pick her up after my brother leaves. We used to visit to spend time together as a family. To have fun and enjoy each other’s company. Now, it feels like we visit to pass the time, to make it less boring for my mother. To make time move faster because when we aren’t here it slows to a crawl and the emptiness engulfs and swallows her.
Sometimes, lately, I feel as if I have spent my entire life preparing for this pandemic. I studied — even earned graduate degrees — in history and creative writing, but got no where with either my diplomas or my knowledge. Yet I was poised to write an account for future historians about life in New York during the lockdown. Years of practice and toiling about on one writing project after another may not have interested an agent or a book editor, but it gave me a voice to tell Dad’s story. If I were a successful writer, I’d probably be too busy writing about things people wanted to read to bother counting fresh graves in the local cemetery. And now, with the new school year approaching and pitting parents against teachers, my son will have the opportunity to be educated at the Jaeger School. With a degree in education, three certifications, and years of experience, I am more than qualified to homeschool my son. And since I’m unemployed, it’s not like I need to pressure any one else into babysitting him for me. If I were an optimistic person, I might actually think fate had conspired to make sure I was prepared to meet the misery of 2020 with a battle axe and riot gear. But I’m not an optimist, and so, the reality is, failure in everything that ever mattered has left me with nothing better to do than write day after day, and prepare lessons for my one student school. If nothing else it will make me feel important — a nice facade, better than crying myself to sleep every night.
As for the rest of the students in America, September will be a comedy of errors — of that I am certain. Opening schools would be wonderful, but we don’t have the resources to do it safely. Nor do we as a society want to invest more money into education. Every time I think of the possibility of schools opening, I have more questions, and as the questions pile up, the doubt of being able to pull it off safely and responsibly begins to multiply. And considering Dad died of the virus, and my spouse is a teacher, my fear regarding schools is very real, but it is also grounded in personal experience.
How can we keep kids six feet apart without spreading them out into more classrooms? How can we spread them out without hiring more teachers?
How can you expect teachers to put their lives in danger when they get paid so poorly?
How can you expect other school staff who aren’t full-time —because the district is too cheap to give them benefits —to show up when they don’t even have health insurance? (Thanks for that one, Dale.)
Who will the subs be when most subs are retired teacher, you know the people most at risk? (This is my spouse’s favorite.)
How many extra sick days will teachers get if they have to stay home every time they have a headache or a cough?
Will administrators have a backbone and mandate that every child wear a mask? Will they immediately send kids home if they refuse?
Will administrators tell parents to keep their kids home if the kids are too entitled to wear a mask?
How can special ed kids be helped in the bathroom and with other necessities if six feet of distance is required?
How can you have music class when the wind instruments are certain to spread germs?
How can you have lunch in a crowded cafeteria? And if kids eat in the classroom who will supervise them?
Schools make teachers buy their own paper. Whose is going to pay for all the hand sanitizer?
Who will clean every surface of every classroom every day?
The list goes on. But won’t bore you any further.
Just remember, a teacher’s job is to educate not to babysit. Teachers taught remotely for three months. Parents are responsible for their children. If they need babysitters, those babysitters need to be paid sufficiently considering what they are up against. And if parents refuse to make their kids wear masks, I hope they don’t ever buy another teacher a plant or make them lunch on teacher appreciation day. In not making kids mask-up, parents are demonstrating that they definitely do not appreciate the teachers.
When my son was three he really wanted a scooter. We couldn’t afford the one he wanted, but Dad could. As soon as he heard my son asking for it, he ordered it online. When it arrived at his house, my son was there and he was ecstatic. I’ve rarely seen him that excited. For years, it was one of his favorite toys. I have so many memories of him riding it — memories I wouldn’t have if Dad hadn’t been so generous.
This morning, my spouse and I were cleaning out the garage. She picked up the scooter that my son has long since outgrown and wanted to throw it away. I gaped in horror. First of all, Dad bought it, and I am in no condition to get rid of anything that has any memories of Dad attached to it. Secondly, my son got so much pleasure out of it, I wanted to save it in case he has a child some day. My parents saved some of my favorite toys that they passed on to my son — toys he enjoyed. If my son has a child some day and I’m alive to know the kid, the scooter will bring back a rush of memories. It’s a small way to keep a bit of Dad alive. Maybe I’m too sentimental. I’ve been accused of that before. I have trouble throwing anything away if it can conjure even a slight happy memory. But we want to move, and my spouse sees it only as taking up space. We argued. She criticized me for getting too attached to things and then left. As she pulled out of the driveway, I cried holding the scooter and thinking about Dad — about happier times when he was still here and we could still be with him.
We had dentist appointments today — all three of us. We were supposed to go to the dentist back in May, but he shut his office due to the coronavirus. For two months, my son has been complaining about a toothache. He’s brought it up multiple times and when Mom heard him going on about how much pain he was in, she wanted to know why we didn’t take him to have it looked at. As if I had any control over the dentist’s office being open or closed. Anyway, I went into the room with him today and when the dentist asked him if he was in pain he said no. I looked at him, jaw dropping behind my mask, and said, “What?” He looked at me, then looked at the dentist and said, “Sometimes my jaw hurts, but not my teeth.” Grrrrrrrrrrr! The x-rays revealed that he was cavity free, but other marks indicate that he is possibly clenching his jaw, maybe grinding his teeth, which would explain the pain in his jaw.
When it was my turn, the dental hygienist started out being rather friendly. He made small talk asking how my summer was going. But then he started to complain that he can’t go to his friend’s restaurant for breakfast because it’s still closed for indoor dining and it’s too hot for him to sit outside. He said, “It doesn’t make sense. If it’s safe for some people to go to work, everyone should be allowed to work. I miss being able to go out to restaurants and bars.” I said nothing, gritting my teeth as he got the films ready for x-rays. I was there to have my teeth cleaned, not to get into a political argument. But then he took one step too many, “I think this virus has been exaggerated. It can’t be as bad as the news says. What do you think?” I bit my lip in an attempt to hold back the tears, “Well, my dad’s dead and my lungs are still recovering.” A long silence followed as he fiddled with his tools. But then, as he started taking the x-rays he commented about how small my mouth is. I have frequently been told I have a big mouth, both when it comes to my blatant honesty and my — pre-pandemic — voracious appetite but never have I been told my mouth is small. I guess he was trying to find something to say, something non-political, something less offensive. I’m not sure he succeeded.
When we got home, my son found my Red Recommended taekwondo belt sitting between the front doors. I was disappointed I missed my instructor when he dropped it off. I would have been nice to see him and say hello. But it’s wonderful to have earned my second pandemic belt. I am now four cycles (40 weeks barring any catastrophe, and face it, in 2020 anything is possible) away from being able to test for my black belt. After being stalled at blue for nearly two decades, it feels good to be moving forward. At time when sorrow is my closest companion, slight success — no matter how small — feels refreshing.
Also today, my essay, “Treasure Beach,” about Dad and my son was accepted for publication. When it’s published, I will be sure to share the link. It’s 7/7. 7+7=14. Dad died on the fourteenth day. Since Dad died, I have become hyper focused on numbers, something I never really paid much attention to before. I think this essay is one of best I’ve written, one of the strongest, but I’ll leave you to be the judge when you read it.
My son and I went for a short bike ride late this afternoon, once the sun wasn’t so high and the heat wasn’t too oppressive. We didn’t go far. We didn’t ride hard, but I came home breathing heavily. Proof, my lungs have not recovered. Deep breaths also aren’t as satisfying as they used to be. I wonder if I’ll ever be as I once was.
We finally finished reading Prince Caspian. It took far too long, but tonight my son admitted that he didn’t really care for it. I wasn’t surprised. We are going to halt reading C.S. Lewis until the fall. This summer — since we will be moving between states and getting as much vacation as possible — we will focus on The Weeks Junior for bedtime reading.
Daddy never liked talking or thinking about death, especially his own. In his house the topic was taboo. As a result, many things that should have been discussed never were. But I guess Dad thought he had time, as did Mom. And he should have had time, but the virus hit him out nowhere, and left us we many unasked and unanswered questions. Although the question most troubling Mom in all likelihood would never have been answered even if Dad had been willing to discuss issues regarding death: “What is the best time to have a funeral/memorial Mass? What would give Dad the most peace in the afterlife — if there is an afterlife — a Mass as early as possible even if the virus keeps people away or one that is more delayed but might draw a few friends and family beyond his immediate family?” This question is keeping Mom awake at night and causing her a great deal of anxiety during the day. If she has a Mass this summer, with the virus still surging across the country, people won’t come. Dad’s friends are his age, they won’t want to risk it. A summer Mass would likely only have Mom, my spouse, my brother, my son, and me in the pews. A summer Mass would be no different than us still around a table remembering Dad. The scientists told us the fall would bring a second wave, but considering the first wave might never subside, I assume we should just expect another peak. And the winter might still find the virus hunting us like the Grim Reaper, but it could also bring snow. After much thought, I suggested to Mom that we have the funeral/memorial Mass on the one year anniversary of Dad’s death. By the spring there might be a vaccine. We might have a new president who could bring some order to the chaos surrounding us. And rather than simply picking a random date, it seems more meaningful to pick a date that is significant. Maybe, if we don’t rush into it, a few people might show up. And Dad was a social person. He’d want people to be there — for him, for us. Mom liked the idea. She agreed it might be the best thing to do. But she also told me she wouldn’t commit to anything without speaking to my brother first. So now, she is waiting for him to call to say hello. When he does she’ll ask his opinion.
Yesterday, I had a much needed break from the confines of the lockdown. My writing group got together for the first time since February. We were conscious of the virus, and instead of the hugs we usually greeted each other with, we waved and hugged the air. But it was refreshing to see people and discuss writing. I’ve missed dissecting work, debating a line of poetry, or working out the arc of a longer piece. It was just what I needed to lift some of the fog that has obscured my thinking since April. Even better it was wonderful to be with like-minded people — so like-mind that I got a good laugh when I walked into the host’s bathroom and saw a roll of Trump toilet paper hanging by the toilet. Of course, the highlight of the day was the Korean food my friend cooked. Braving a virus was a small price to pay for bulgogi, naengmyeon, and japchae. I embarrassed myself by filling my plate and then returning for seconds, but I couldn’t resist. With food that good, I have to eat until my stomach hurts.
My son also had a blast. My friend has twin daughters who are only a couple of years younger than my son. It was the first time he had interacted with other kids since March. Before going I felt bad asking my friend how isolated they had been. I didn’t want to risk bringing my son if there was a change that he could get sick. Since they had isolated as much as we had and hadn’t been mixing with other kids I took him with me. And he needed it. He needed a day where he could be a kid and forget all the horrible things that have happened if only for a few hours. He was excited to swim in the pool and ride on the zip line. He also had fun with the Trump toilet paper, so much fun that my friend’s husband — enjoying his enthusiasm — sent him home with it. The small gift had my smiling until he feel asleep in the car on the way home.
Today, I met a friend for ice cream. We met up in Somerville and stood outside in the 90 degree heat standing six feet apart so that we could chat. I figured we would talk for an hour, maybe two, and then I glanced at my phone and realized we had been standing in the humidity for nearly three hours. But how wonderful it is to see people face-to-face. To talk without having to stare at a screen. I miss the days when that was normal.
Hamilton was fabulous! I’ve been wanting to see it since it first opened, but Broadway tickets are beyond what we can afford. Everyone I knew who had see it, loved it. I admit I’m not generally a huge fan of plays. It’s a liability of having a short attention span. I usually have trouble sitting still long enough to get through a movie, and plays are generally longer. But Hamilton is history, and since I like history, I thought maybe it might be enough to hold my interest. I expected to like it, I wasn’t expecting to thoroughly enjoy it. From the opening song, I was engaged. My son watched it begrudgingly, and he started out bored, but by intermission his interest had taken root. My spouse fell asleep. I’d watch it again, and I rarely watch anything twice. That’s how much I liked it.
But throughout the show, my thoughts kept drifting to Libby — my childhood friend who in her late teens and early twenties fell in love with Broadway — and my dad who enjoyed Broadway so much he and mom went to at least one show every year. Both of them would have been liked Hamilton. Libby often fell in love with one of the actors, and I wondered who in Hamilton would have caught her eye. Dad enjoyed musicals the most, the singing and dancing is what electrified the experience for him. But I had to wonder what he would have thought of the music in Hamilton. Would the rapping have turned him off — he was never a fan — or would the historical story have made it tolerable? I wish he were here. I wish I could call him up and say, “Next time I visit, how about we watch Hamilton?” He would have been excited. It would have made him happy. But I can only spin the narrative of what might have been, imagine how the conversation might have transpired. Because in reality, it will never happen. My son was initially troubled at the historical inaccuracy of black people playing the roles of the white Founding Fathers, but by the end he appreciated the irony. He even speculated what Jefferson might have thought about a black man playing him. I speculated about what my dad might have said to my son, the dialogue they might have shared.
It’s the 4th of July, but it feels like any other day. My brother-in-law got married this evening. We didn’t go. With a guest list of more than sixty people, and at least one person flying in from the south, we feared it might not be safe to attend. My spouse drove up to visit her brother this morning, to congratulate him, and to drop off a gift. This evening, she and my son watched the wedding via Zoom from the comfort of our living room.
This afternoon, we took our camping chairs and glasses of wine over to visit neighbors across the street. We had a lovely time. Even my son perked up when the conversation turned toward fantasy novels. I love that when we were discussing Harry Potter he had no problem disagreeing with me and arguing his point regarding the Weasleys and their relationship to money.
I am at a loss. This pandemic is destroying my son. He is a different child than he was four months ago. I know, you have children, and you have recognized a change also. Kids need friends. They need to interact with others. Being with peers is a major part of their social development. But here’s why my son has suffered in ways your child hasn’t. This pandemic robbed him of his grandfather. A man who also fulfilled the role of father. He was my son’s confidant, my son’s hero. He was the person my son probably loved most in this world. So my son is not only shut up in his house unable to do anything he enjoys, he also mourning. But I’m learning, he isn’t like me. He doesn’t cry or talk about how he feels. He keeps it all locked inside until he gets upset and then his grief explodes out of him like an earthquake. Anger is festering inside of him and he lashes out at me and my spouse frequently. No, don’t tell me he needs therapy. I already know that, but therapists aren’t seeing anyone face-to-face, and I’ve already told you he hates all things virtual. So that is currently not an option. Also, in normal times, as I’ve stated previously, kids can escape their grief. They get to go to school and interact with friends. They have after school activities. They can do things they enjoy in places not intimately connected with their loss. In the time of Covid, that isn’t possible. Grief is suffocating my son, and there is no momentary escape from it. Even when we try to provide a sense normalcy, even when we try to provide him with something fun, he lashes out.
We were supposed to be in Disney this week with Dad. When he planned the trip he called me daily making sure that my son would get to see and do everything he wanted. It started out as a seven day trip but by the time it was booked, we were going to stay in Florida for 10 days. Then Dad died, as did his dream of a fun filled family vacation. Not wanting my son to sit home all week brooding over what he didn’t have, what the pandemic had stolen from him, I suggested a camping trip. Disney it would not be, but something, I figured, had to be better than nothing. But I may have been wrong.
We planned to leave early Wednesday morning. My spouse made reservations at Raymond B. Winter State Park in Pennsylvania. It was more than a three hour drive and we hoped to get there early enough to set up and then go on a short hike. But our plans exploded when we told our son to jump in the shower. He had been working on a BB-8 lego set and the thought of setting it aside caused way too much strife. He accused us of caring only for ourselves, doing only what we wanted to do. All he wanted was to stay at home and complete the Lego set. His tantrum lasted more than an hour, and so we were delayed getting on the road.
In the car, he was cranky, but by the time we arrived at the campsite he was in a better mood. He helped us set up the tent. However, it was too late to go for a hike, and I feared that if I even suggested it, he would have launched into another verbal attack. Instead, we stayed at the campsite and played Quiddler, a new card game we had picked up in Target earlier in the week. Instead of numbers, the game challenges players to spell words. It was a refreshing break from runs and straights. And we all had fun. My son was happy and smiling.
After the rain last camping trip, my spouse bought a waterproof canopy. She didn’t ever want to be in a position — again — where we had to eat in the car if it rained. Having bought it, she was convinced that the weather would cooperate. “We have the canopy,” she said multiple times during the drive, “which means it’s not going to rain.” Since there was no rain in the forecast, we didn’t set up the canopy. My son wasn’t pleased. It was new. He wanted to try it out. He looked toward the sky and asked the clouds for rain. They complied. Half-way through our game, the sky suddenly grew very dark. We heard the rain lashing the foliage before we felt it. Immediately, my spouse ran down to the car and grabbed the canopy. I cleaned up the cards so they wouldn’t get wet. The sky opened, rained poured down. But the moment we got the canopy out, the rain stopped. The clouds cleared. The blue sky shimmered down through the trees We kept the canopy up and didn’t see another drop of rain the entire time we were there.
Yesterday, Thursday, my son and I went hiking. My spouse stayed behind at the campsite. The heat was oppressive, and she doesn’t do well in the heat. She begins to melt as soon as the thermometer climbs towards 79 degrees. Besides, she is still recovering from eye surgery so walking on uneven ground was probably not a good idea. My son informed me that he would only walk for an hour, maybe two. It was better than nothing, and I was happy to have the company, happy to spend time with him. I pushed him to go for a full two hours and he did so without complaint. In fact, he was very chatty talking about his favorite superhero — Wolverine — and the stories he wants to write someday.
After hiking he asked if he could go swimming in the lake. It was hot, so we let him, but it wasn’t that deep. And it wasn’t nearly as nice as Awosting — a lake we really like up in New York — so we didn’t stay long. Back at the campsite we played cards — Quiddler — and cooked dinner. I also practiced my round kick/side kick combination which I recently learned in taekwondo. It’s one of the moves I’ll need know this cycle. But doing it totally embarrassed my son. Apparently, practicing taekwondo is not something a mother should do in public.
This morning our plan was to go back to Pine Creek Gorge — the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania — to go hiking. Yes, my spouse was so excited about it that she was prepared to brave the 90 degree weather. But as soon as my son heard that we had to sit in the car for an hour an a half to drive there and then another four hours home he launched into another round of complaints. He didn’t want to sit in the car that long. It wasn’t fair that we expected him to waste his time in the car when he could be home doing Legos. We did our best to ignore his tantrum, hoping that once we got there, once we started hiking, he’d have a good time and forget about the long car ride. But alas, my lousy luck struck once again. The trail we intended to hike was closed. We couldn’t hike down to the gorge. We couldn’t eat lunch near the waterfall. Once again my son fell to pieces. Life is miserable. He gets nothing that he wants. We had absolutely no control over this one. But with the way he was acting, we weren’t even going to search out another trail. We weren’t going to get in the car and drive elsewhere. We gave up the idea of hike, the one thing my spouse and I were really looking forward to, and came home. The drive, in the end, being exactly as my son predicted — a waste of time.
Today was supposed to be a happy day. It’s the day we had been looking forward to back in February, back before the pandemic struck and my world spiraled out of control. This morning, we were supposed to wake up before dawn, scramble into a taxi, and catch a flight down to Orlando. Today, was supposed to be the start of our Disney adventure. Instead, Dad is dead, and even though Disney will reopen someday, Dad won’t get to go. We won’t be able to go with him. Disney will always remind me of what we have lost, what this pandemic has cost us.
My son spent the entire day yesterday putting together two Star Wars Lego sets. He had no interest in doing anything else. He did them alone for the first time —without Dad — but once the AT-At was completed he sounded happy. He explained the finished product to me and Mom with more enthusiasm than he has expressed in a really long time. Legos, though a constant reminder of his grandfather, brought him a bit of happiness, or at least contentment.
After dinner, I convinced him to try a zoom taekwondo class with me. I had hoped having someone to do the class with would give him a little more interest, a bit more motivation. But I was wrong. He did the warms-ups, but as soon as we started learning new material he walked away. “I’m bored,” he told me, and that was the end of it. He needs something. He needs to interact with other people. He needs something active to do, but with much of the world still shut down that’s not going to happen face-to-face for some time. The more he rejects interaction via a virtual world, the more I worry about him retreating too far into himself. But I won’t push taekwondo on him. I won’t push anything that’s supposed to be fun because I don’t want to turn him against something he once enjoyed. My fear though is if he stays away from it for long he won’t want to return, he will lose his interest completely. And that’s really upsetting because just before the pandemic struck he had done so well in a tournament. He had so much potential. And now, he’s bored with it because a screen isn’t the same as a studio.
What angers me is, we sat out for three months. We were told if we did our part, things would open and life could resume. But while we were doing what needed to be done, the South was mocking us and the virus. Now thanks to them, the virus is surging. The virus is winning, and a return to a world in which I could temporarily escape my grief, a world in which I could go out and explore and maybe find some happiness will be postponed indefinitely. People wanted their freedom, they wanted to return to work, they wanted believe people weren’t dying, and now the rest of us are paying because of their selfishness and stupidity. So not only did Trump kill my father, his lack of leadership skills, his incompetence, and his denial of simple science is perpetuating the hell in which my family and I have been living. If things continue with this trajectory, we may not get to Michigan this summer. And my son and I desperately need to get away.
This morning, instead of heading off to Florida for a fun family experience, we returned to New Jersey and the home I hate. Instead of flying into an adventure, I drove over two bridges sitting in awful traffic on the Major Deegan to return to a murky existence. Of course, I was home for less than two hours when the landscapers showed up, right in front of our unit. In order to dull the physical pain I had to blast music. My son was not happy. He wanted to watch a movie.
Tomorrow we will be heading into Pennsylvania for a camping trip. I am looking forward to another escape into the woods. We bought a canopy for the trip to keep us dry if it rains. But now that we have it, it will probably be sunny. That’s the way my luck seems to operate. While I packed and my spouse cooked and we got things ready for our trip, my son worked on his roller coaster k’nex kit. He put it together all by himself without any help from us. He was so excited about it that he came to get us in the kitchen — dancing and waving his arms — so that he could show us.
I have been promoted to red belt recommended in Taekwondo. It’s another bittersweet milestone, another small accomplishment I wish I could share with Dad. My son tried another zoom lesson today and he hated it, so he’s done. We had talk after the class and he told me it just isn’t any fun. He feels he’s not getting as much out of it as he did in person, which is true, but I tried to argue that something had to be better than nothing. He shook his head, sadness spilling out of his eyes, “No, I want to wait until I can go to real classes again.” Real classes! Yes, that would be wonderful, but how realistic is it to think they might start back up within a year. New York and New Jersey are better than they were three months ago, but the rest of the country is so much worse. Today alone, 2000 Americans died which brings the death toll up to roughly 128,000 people.
So while I may not be writing daily, I will still be writing. I figure the Pandemic Diaries need to continue in some form until the pandemic ends or covid kills me.
About a month or so ago, a friend of mine, the one whose dad also died from Covid-19, told me about a documentary film editor who was voluntarily making memorial videos for victims of the coronavirus. He sent me the link and I contacted the editor inquiring about a video for Dad. I’ve written about Dad, I’ve posted pictures of him, and I’ve begun a couple of photo series all in memory of Dad. But even with all that, I thought a video might be nice to have, not just for me, but for Mom and my son. The editor told me to send about twenty pictures his way and chose a song. Narrowing Dad’s life down to twenty pictures was not easy. Mom must have thirty photo albums down in the basement. Instead of overwhelming myself with hundreds of print pictures which I’d then have to scan, I opted to select the photos from those that were already digital. Most of them came from the last ten years, many of them included my son. I went through my files and I combed Dad’s facebook photos for others. As for choosing a song, I mused aloud to my spouse, “Maybe something from Billy Joel. He was Dad’s favorite.” She looked at me, eyes wide, and then she blinked, confused, “You mean you wouldn’t use ‘Wind Beneath My Wings?’” I laughed, of course she was right, how could I have even considered anything else? “Wind Beneath My Wings” was the song I insisted upon for my wedding dance with Daddy. Nothing else would suffice. Bette Midler was perfect.
After I sent the editor my pictures, he asked if I wanted to add a few words about Dad to the video. I asked my son to write them. He took a sheet of paper and pen into his room and sat on his bed while he thought about what he wanted to say. Finally, he gave me the paper on which he wrote three short sentences, “Even though Grandpa is dead, he is alive. He lives on in the hearts of his loved ones. I love you Grandpa.”
The following night, as I was working on some editing of my own, I got an email. The editor had some extra time earlier than expected so he completed the video. I clicked on the link he sent me, and as soon as the opening notes to “Wind Beneath My Wings” started, I began sobbing. I sobbed during the entire video, and then I watched it again and cried some more. I am fairly certain I will never be able to watch that video without tears. Today, I showed it to Mom and she cried even more than I did, but she liked it, she was happy to have it. If you would like to see the video, you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29jZ01EzZpI&feature=youtu.be
Yesterday, we had to run some errands and we ended up in Target. In the back of the store, an entire corner was being prepared for back to school supplies. Empty yellow bins called our attention to them, prompting my spouse to comment, “Will there be a need for back to school supplies this year?” It’s a fantastic question. Parents are antsy to get their kids back to school, they are eagerly anticipating free babysitting in September so that they can resume their own lives. But even though Murphy issued guidelines to open schools, there are no guarantees that schools will open.
Granted, things are looking better here in New York and New Jersey, but the virus is spreading rapidly in the South. It is entirely possible we will get hit hard again. Our states’ borders are too porous. It’s too easy for infected people to enter states in which the virus is on the decline. And people are being careless. People are taking chances. My brother-in-law is getting married on Saturday. The wedding will be outdoors, but the guest list is climbing toward 60, some of whom do not live locally. All it will take is one infected person to show up and the virus will feast on new flesh.
And while more people die, while hospitals fill to capacity, and the Texas governor admits to opening too soon, what is our brilliant and compassionate president doing? He is playing golf. Americans are losing their lives, and the president doesn’t give a shit. Europe has recently issued a list of who can enter this summer, and not surprisingly, the United States is not on it. We are too much of a risk because our idiot president has made more of an effort to rescue confederate statues from being toppled than he has to contain the virus. If only statues were vulnerable to the Coronavirus, he might have issued a national mandate requiring everyone to wear masks. But no, he just pretends that life is grand, because for him it is.
I am back in Queens. Mom is very lonely so my son and I came for a visit. We spent the afternoon playing games. I haven’t played so many games with Mom since Dad was in the hospital. But I think she enjoyed it. She definitely enjoyed us being here. Without Dad the house seems so big and too quiet. And today, the doors on one of the kitchen cabinets aren’t closing properly. It’s uncanny how things are falling apart without Dad here. I’m beginning to wonder if he somehow really does have a hand in breaking things. Is he trying to convey a message to Mom? Is he trying to tell her she should move closer to me? Or is he angry that he died? Does he somehow blame us?
Why are flip-flops so difficult to find this year. My son needs new ones. The old ones no longer fit, but we can’t find them anywhere and we’ve gone to several stores. Even today, we struck out. More stores in the mall behind my Mom’s house will be opening tomorrow. We’ll have to walk up there and see if they have any. Either they’ll have new inventory and we’ll get first crack at it, or they’ll still be trying to get rid of clothes from March. If that’s the case, the odds of them having what we need are slim.
My son found a Lego Star Wars set in his room. It was a set that Dad had bought him for Christmas, a set my son brought here months ago with the intention of putting it together with his Grandfather. While Mom and I were making dinner — Mom tending to the vegetables and me tending to the grill — my son went up to his room and opened the box of Legos. When dinner was ready, I went upstairs to get my son and I found him on the floor of his room crying, the Legos in his hand as he tried to undo a mistake he had made. I offered to help, but he pushed me away, “You’re not Grandpa. Grandpa has to help me. Grandpa has patience and you don’t. Leave me alone.” I tried again to help, but he pushed me harder, “I don’t want you. I need Grandpa.” We all do. We all need him. We’d all be happier if he were here. But he’s not. Eventually, my son was able to fix his mistake, but it wasn’t the same. If Grandpa had been here, no mistake would have been made, because Grandpa always kept a close watch over what my son did. He always checked every step.
You know my son, you know how he is when it comes to fashion. He is by far the best dressed ten-year-old I know. Which translates into very long shopping excursions when we are trying to buy him clothes. He will spend ages looking at shirts, holding them up to pants, and trying to find things that match just right — according his specifications, which can be very different from yours or mine or society’s in general. There had been times in the past when we he insisted on a combination that we weren’t quite sure would go and so I would text a picture of the clothing in question to my Dad to get his input. Dad always enjoyed being part of the conversation when it comes to my son’s fashion tastes. On Wednesday, we were out shopping and my son asked if we could please buy him a new bathing suit. The one he had is too kid-ish and he wanted something for a bigger kid. I had no idea selecting a swim shirt and swim trunks could take so freaking long. He had to find what he liked and then compare various shirts to various trunks to see what matched best. And when he wasn’t sure and started to get anxious about what the best options were, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and just stared at the blank screen, wishing I could take pictures and send them to Dad. I’d have loved to know what he thought. But Dad’s not here anymore. We are on our own and so I put the phone away. My son narrowed down the swim shirts to a neon green and blue one. He was struggling to make a final decision until my spouse said, “You know, if you go with the green one you’ll be able to wander further away from us at the beach since we can see you better.” He smiled, and then handed me the blue one to return to the rack.
Mom called. She had no hot water last night when she took her shower. This morning the plumber came and told her she needed a new hot water heater. With everything else, this really is the last thing she needed. And of course, the top of the line model that she wanted to get is out of stock since the company cut down production during the pandemic. Therefore, she has to get the second best model which my father never would have done. He always bought the best. Mom does seem to be right, ever since Dad died, everything seems to be falling apart or breaking. And Mom is super lonely. I wasn’t going to return to New York until next month, but Mom sounds so sad every time I talk to her that I told her I’d come for a visit on Sunday. In all her life, she has never lived alone, and she lived with my Dad for 48 years.
This afternoon, Governor Murphy issued guidelines for schools planning to reopen their doors in September. The guidelines require all teachers and staff to wear masks, but they will only be mandatory for students if they can’t social distance. If students keep six feet between themselves and others, mask are only recommended. This infuriates me. Masks should be mandatory for students all day every day. According to the scientists, it’s only when two people wear a mask that they are truly efficient. During this time of Covid, wearing a mask is a sign of respect. Students should be taught respect for others, including teachers and fellow classmates.
If not all students are required to wear a mask, then those that do wear them will get bullied by those who don’t. They will be taunted for being germaphobes. They will be laughed at for looking silly. And the really bad kids will pretend to cough of on others and mock them for taking things seriously. Kids will mimic their parents. If parents aren’t setting a good example, if they are ridiculing masks, then kids will repeat what the hear at home. Good kids, kids who’ve been taught to respect others, and kids who have already suffered great loss during the pandemic will become a target. And one of the arguments to reopen schools is that kids need to socialize. If they are going to be talking to each other, they should be covered up. It’s kindness. It’s curtesy. It’s selflessness.
Also, let’s not forget about the teachers. Their health should be a main priority. If teachers get sick, who will do the teaching? If you have to wear mask to go into a store, or a bank, or any other business, then schools should not exempt anyone. Why do you want to protect grocery story workers but not teachers? Teachers will be facing a classroom of twenty-five kids or more. That’s twenty-five people breathing, coughing, and talking in their direction. Aren’t teachers supposed to walk around the classroom, and help students individually? Well, how do you expect that to happen if the students aren’t wearing masks. The fact that masks will not be required by the state is just proof that teachers are not respected. If my child is required to get vaccinated to attend a public school, well then your child should be required to wear a mask.
Because here’s the deal, my family has already suffered. My dad died. My son is still grieving the loss of his grandfather. My lungs still have not completely recovered from my battle with Covid. I don’t want my spouse exposed. I don’t want asymptomatic kids infecting her. I don’t want it my house again because of someone else’s selfishness or sense of entitlement. My spouse isn’t elderly, but she isn’t thirty-five either. If she gets sick it could be bad. I’m not willing to deal with that because someone’s child feels privileged or because they are uncomfortable wearing a mask. Because you know what is more uncomfortable than mask — death. Living with the death of a loved one, especially when their death should have been prevented, is far worse than wearing a mask. Death is permanent. A mask — if everyone does their part — is only temporary.
Interestingly enough, while Murphy was declaring masks necessary for teachers but not students, Texas and Florida slammed the brakes on their reopening, going as far as shutting down bars once again. The Covid cases in both states are flying out of control. The hospitals are now more popular than Disney. But people didn’t listen. They didn’t heed the warning coming out of New York. They wanted to rescue the economy instead of the people. And they refused to wear a fucking mask. I am so fed up with Americans. I am tired of the bullshit way they have twisted what it means to be free. And I am disgusted with their lack of consideration for anyone but themselves.
On another note, New Feathers Anthology accepted two photos from my “Abandoned” series for their upcoming issue. It’s the first time (after much rejection) I’ve had my art accepted for publication. Again, I wish Dad were here so I could share the good news with him. I wish he were here to tell me, “Very nice.”
I’m back in New Jersey. I’m sitting in the same place I sat when I started this blog. Mom and Dad were on their way home, I was getting reading to hunker down for long spell of distance learning, no taekwondo, no writing group. Simple isolation in Long Island with the people who meant the most to me. I sat down that day at my desk because I thought in twenty years it might be interesting to look back and see the contrast between my perspective of the pandemic and my son’s perspective. I hoped it would make us laugh in retrospect. That lasted a week. On day 8 Dad got sick and in the days that followed I cried more on this keyboard than I ever had before. My blog will still serve as a historical record of the pandemic, but not quite in the way I had imagined. In twenty years, if my son or I revisited these pages, it will be with tears not laughter.
The pandemic is far from over. The virus is still spreading, people are still dying. But in New York and New Jersey there are less cases, less fear. Tomorrow, I will have my first live taekwondo class in more than three months. Yes, it will be outside, and we will have to keep our distance from each other and wear masks, but I will see my instructor face to face instead of on a screen. This morning my spouse went in for cataract surgery, a surgery that had been postponed for three months when there was a hold on elective and non-life threatening surgeries. The library is open for curbside pick-up — and I finally returned all the books I checked out back in March. The world is opening. We are still mourning.
I spent a good part of this afternoon doing some research for a possible summer vacation to Michigan. My son has lost the beach with his grandfather, Disney, Universal, and Cub Scout camp this summer. We are going to do what we can to try and salvage some fun. We will go camping for a few days next week. My brother will let us stay at his condo in Cape Cod for a week. We’ll go back to Mattituck with Mom. And then, hopefully, we’ll be able to do at least part of the road trip we intended. Obviously, Canada is out since the border is closed to casual tourists. Niagara Falls will have to wait for another time. But the cases of Covid in Michigan seem to be decreasing and so if hotels are open, we will go see the Great Lakes and National Parks. Of course, I’m worried about money, since it doesn’t seem like I’ll have any work in the fall. When I mentioned my concerns to my spouse, she said, “We have to go. It’s the best way I can think of to honor your father. He always considered these summer experiences important for our son. He’d want us to go.” And she’s right. He’d want us to go and have the best time possible, to form as many fun memories as we can, and show our son a little more of the world.
This is my 100th day of writing. One hundred so often represents a time to celebrate: a baby’s first hundred days, the first hundred days of school. But for me, there is nothing to celebrate here. At the end of these hundred days, there is an emptiness that I will carry with me for the rest of my life
Daddy died 10 weeks ago. Yet, there are times it still feels like yesterday. I have cried every day since he died, every day since I brought him to the hospital. I’m sure there will come a day when I can make it from sun up to sun down without tears, but I suspect it’s still quite a ways in the future.
More than 122,000 Americans have been killed (by the virus, but a strong, honest, and compassionate President would have saved many of them.) But we live in society that values money over life and that’s not going to change, even if we elect someone new in November.
I’ve written 130,000 words. It’s longer than any novel or memoir or collection of essays I’ve written previously. But it’s not just words, it’s my deepest pain woven into sentences.
I will forever miss my father. My son will forever miss his grandfather. We miss his voice, his hugs, his laugh, his love. The world is a colder and sadder place without him in it.
Today, I end my daily posts. However, if something striking or exciting happens you’ll hear from me. I’m a writer after all, writing is what I do.
I was young, somewhere in elementary school, when Daddy decided he really wanted a cross to wear around his neck. Because I was little, I couldn’t stay home alone, and so my parents dragged me to jewelry stores with them for Dad to find the just the right cross and gold chain. His excitement was infectious. He was so giddy when he selected the cross and found the right chain. He wore that cross every day, except when he was at the beach. Always, he took it off before going into the water, so that it wouldn’t get lost or ruined by the salt.
Today, we left Mattituck. My spouse is having eye surgery tomorrow and I needed to get back to Jersey so that I could drive her in the morning. My son and I stopped in Queens so that I could take my mom to the bank and grocery shopping. While we were there, Mom asked me if there was any of Dad’s jewelry that I wanted. I told her I’d really like it if she could hold onto Dad’s cross for my son. He’s too young to wear it now. I wouldn’t want him to lose it. But when he get’s older, he might like to wear it, not so much for its religious significance but because it once meant so much to Dad.
As I was looking at Dad’s things, I came across a ring with a G on it. I asked Mom if my brother wanted it, and she said no. So I asked her to hold onto that for my son as well. Someday, when his fingers grow a little fatter, he might like it. He’s always been proud of the fact that he has Dad’s name.
I wanted Dad’s ruby ring. I don’t remember the story behind it. I think the ruby came from a ring that belonged to my grandmother. I’ll have to get the story from Mom when her mind clears a little. I do know that Dad did have the ruby reset into a man’s ring. Of course, it’s too big for me to wear on the finger it was meant for, but it fits my thumb. I took his replacement wedding ring as well, which also sort of fits my thumb. Mom said that his finger got thicker as he got older and his original ring didn’t fit him any more, so he got a second ring that he could wear. The ring that no longer fit him, now fits mom, and that’s the ring she’s been wearing. I don’t think she’ll ever take it off.
My son enjoyed the stop over in Queens since we arrived just before my brother left. That meant he got to spend a little more time hanging out with the dogs.
On the journey back to Bedminster, I hit lots of traffic. I think people have forgotten how to drive with others on the road. During the pandemic, people became so accustomed to empty roads they started to drive too fast. Now that the world is opening up, and more people are going out, they have to share the highway, and the result is quite a few car accidents.
New York City entered phase two of opening up today, which means kids can visit playgrounds, restaurants can open for outdoor dining, and people can finally get their hair cut. I’m not thrilled about the playgrounds being open. I’ve been to city playgrounds, they get mobbed — a petri dish of germs as kids touch everything and play super close to each other. I understand that kids are restless, but city playgrounds, I fear, can still be dangerous. Meanwhile, Covid is on the rise in many states, especially red states down south. It angers me. They saw what happened in New York. The horror stories were on the news, and instead of listening, instead of heeding the warning, the governors decided that business was more important than life. The states opened up, people listened to the science-denying president who called it hoax, and now the hospitals are filling up. The cemeteries won’t be far behind. How stupid can people be? Unlike New York, which got blindsided due to the traffic coming through the airports, these other states had the knowledge and information to avoid mass death, and they ignored it. People keep talking about a second wave. You can’t have a second wave if the first one never ends. Can you?
The night before Father’s Day Dad always asked with a shy smile, “Are you making me waffles tomorrow?” And when I said yes, he took out the waffle iron, the mixing bowl, and a measuring cup so that when I got up everything was ready for me to start cooking. This morning, the counter was empty. There will be no waffles. No Dad. I miss him so much.
Last night may have been my worst night of sleep since Dad died. I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned trying to figure out how we ended up in this awful reality. I don’t think I dozed off until nearly four o’clock, and then I had a short but awful dream. Dad was sitting at the edge of my bed, and when my eyes blinked open, he smiled and said, “I had to go. If I hadn’t you wouldn’t be able to move on. You wouldn’t find what you need.” How terrible is that? I would have done anything to keep him here with me, with my son. Why would he say that, even in a dream?
This morning I called Mom to see how she is holding up. She’s very sad. Time is supposed heal. Time is supposed to give people strength. But over time Mom seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into depression and anxiety. My brother is with her, but he’ll be leaving early tomorrow to head up to Cape Cod. She desperately wants me to move in with her, but a move to Queens just isn’t possible, not full time. I’ve begged her to move to New Jersey, to be close to me so that I can take better care of her, but she feels that moving out of her city house would be a betrayal of Dad. I don’t think it would be. I think Dad would want her to move closer to me. He’d want her to be closer to her grandson. But every time I bring it up she says, “We never talked about what we should do if he died. It happened so fast. He thought he’d be here a lot longer.” We all did.
My plan for today was to go to the beach early so that we could leave early and head into Greenport. I thought it would be nice to take my son out to dinner. He was excited about the idea, until we got to the beach and he was having such a good time he asked if we could stay longer. I said we could, but then it would get too late to go out for dinner. He smiled, and said, “That’s okay. We can get McDonalds instead. I think Grandpa would like that. He’d be happy if you got me McDonalds to remember him.” How could I say no? Especially since he was probably right.
We went to the treasure beach again. It’s the only beach my son now wants to go to. It’s my favorite beach on the North Fork. I think it was Dad’s as well, so I’m happy to take my son. We had fun catching minnows together. I am seriously surprised that at my age I’m still agile and quick enough to do it. I’m also surprised at how much enjoyment my son gets out of studying the sea life. Yesterday, when he got home, he took out his tablet and googled various things we saw at the beach. Who needs school when there is a world to explore and your mother and google to answer all your questions?
We were across the inlet when my son’s ears picked up the sound of the ice cream truck. He dove into the water and swam furiously to the other side. I followed. I wasn’t going to say no to ice cream. I wanted it as badly as my son did. We each got a chocolate shake, and we sat in the shade of the umbrella while we drank them. It was the only time all day, we sat where we set up.
The beach was crowded, but not so much so that social distancing was impossible. However, in another week or two that might be the case. There were a few large groups of people that sat together, and it was obvious they weren’t from the same household. I guess when you haven’t lost someone you love, and you haven’t witnessed the horrible effects of the virus you’re more willing to take risks. If you haven’t lived it, you don’t get how absolutely devastating and life altering it can be.
The first dozen times or so that I got something published and I told Dad, he responded, “Very nice. Did you get paid?” Time and again, I explained writing is a labor of love. You write and publish in online and print journals in hopes that someday someone will notice you and want to publish something more lengthy — a novel or memoir. Some people get lucky. Some don’t. I told him that repeatedly, but still he asked about payment, until I asked him not to. I wanted to focus on being happy that someone selected my work out of the slush pile. I didn’t want to be weighted down by depression, sad that sometimes it seemed I worked a full time job but got paid nothing. Today, for the first time ever (I’m not counting book reviews), I got paid for my work. I mean it’s not going to change my over all fortune. Not even a little. There won’t be any big splurges. It was a small fee, but it was something. Finally, I could happily answer the question I asked Dad to stop asking, but he wasn’t here to ask it. So I called my spouse, and started to cry, because I wanted to be telling Dad. I wanted to share the good news with him. I wanted him to know. But he won’t ever know anything again.
It’s the Saturday before Father’s Day. Mattituck is supposed to be hosting the Strawberry Festival. Dad’s supposed to be taking us. We missed Father’s Day last year. No, we didn’t miss it, Dad had other plans. It fell early and when Dad booked his trip to Egypt, he didn’t realize that he’d be flying home the day before Father’s Day. When I told him, he said, “There’s always next year. We’ll do the Strawberry Festival again, then.” No, there isn’t always next year. The virus proved that. Last year was Dad’s last Father’s Day and we didn’t spend it with him.
It was bad enough that we couldn’t see Dad on Father’s Day, but he felt terrible when he found out my son would be testing for his black belt at the same time he’d be flying home across the Atlantic. He would have liked to have been there, watching, cheering him on, going out to celebrate afterwards. But the cruise had been booked way before we knew my son would be testing. Dad promised my son he’d be there when he tested for second degree. And I’m sure he’d have kept that promise, if he had lived.
120,000! That is current the death count. 120,000! And our insensitive, rude, nasty president is having a campaign rally in Tulsa. The rally is set to be indoors, there will be no social distancing, and masks will be completely optional. Trump himself is refusing to set a good example by wearing one. The entire event is in violation of the CDC guidelines. And what’s worse, his idiot supports are going to show up, probably without masks, and they are going to spread the virus. Some may catch it. Some may die. But what really sucks is that they are going to leave the rally carrying the infection. Then they will spread it to others who very well may not survive. More people are going to die because of Trump. He’s already responsible for 120,000 deaths (which, by the way, has surpassed the American death toll of World War I). How many more people does he intend to kill? Seriously, if you go to these rallies where the CDC has warned the spread is inevitable and you end up infecting someone else who dies, you are personally responsible for their death. But Trump and his supports don’t give a shit about other people. Freedom to them is the right to harm whomever they please.
My son is exceptionally mopey this morning. He’s been that way since last night when he came to me asking for hugs, which is out of character for my tween. This morning when he woke up, he called me said he didn’t want to get up, “I just want to cuddle.” I can guess he’s still sad about his grandfather, but I can’t get him to talk about it. Every time I try, he shuts me down.
I spoke to Mom this morning. My brother still has not arrived in New York. I’m not sure why. All I could get out of Mom was that he ran into a storm yesterday and decided to stop. I guess I didn’t need to rush her home on Thursday.
We had a wonderful time at the Treasure Beach today. My son didn’t even bother to look for pirate treasure. He even left his shovel behind. Instead, when we swam across the inlet he set out to discover what life he could find. The small periwinkles captured his attention. Plucking them out of the water, he examined them, watching how they moved, how they reacted. He put one on its back in a clamshell filled with water, to see if could flip itself over. It did. So he tossed it back into the water and picked up another one, repeating the process. When I questioned why he was doing it again, he explained, “It’s the scientific process. Anything can happen once. So you need to do the experiment several times and only if it turns out the same way can you know something is right.”
My son was very proud of himself when he kicked a minnow out of the water for the first time. “I don’t need you any more,” he told me. “I can do it myself now.” I was thrilled, genuinely excited for him, but also a tad bit sad. He doesn’t need me anymore. But still I had fun watching him explore the beach. He kicked a total of four minnows out of the water, returning each one after he caught it flapping around on the sand. We took turns sitting on the alligator and pushing each other back and forth across the inlet. Half-way across the first time, as I kicked and he held on, he turned toward me and said, “It’s embarrassing to be with my mother. But you are fun.” I laughed. When there are no other kids to play with, there’s always me — a kid who has never really been able to grow up, despite the white hair.
Trump had many empty seats at his rally. With 120,000 dead from Covid-19 he should have opted for a seance instead. Then he could have packed the venue. Ah…the dead and Trump, what would they do? I wish I could draw. That would be a fun one to depict. While talking to his supporters, Trump had the audacity to joke about slowing down the rate of testing. If you don’t test, your numbers won’t be so high. What a freaking idiot? I guess cancer will disappear also if doctors stopped testing for it. I marvel that anyone could support him.
This evening, my son wanted to watch a movie. He picked Malibu rescue, a Netflix original. It was stupid, but funny in parts and it was definitely schmaltzy. Dad would have enjoyed it.
My brother did eventually arrive safely in Queens.
A chapter from one of my novels-in-progress (the working title is Coming Home) has been published in Newtown Literary, another print journal. The chapter was published as a short story titled, “The Treehouse.” It is about an alcoholic mother who get’s banished from her home. Her spouse worries that if she doesn’t stop drinking, she might hurt one of their children. The story takes place in India where the woman attempts to drown her misery in more alcohol. Then one night, drinking copiously with a friend, she recounts the previous summer when she built a tree house for her eldest daughter.
Newtown Literary publishes authors with a connection to Queens, New York. I may not live there anymore, but I’ll always be a New Yorker, no matter how long I live in New Jersey. I got the acceptance email months ago, way before Dad got sick. I had been excited at the prospect of possibly participating in a reading in Queens. How cool would that have been, a nice easy drive for my parents to come and see me. But alas the pandemic came and took my father and shut down the world. So there will be no reading, and this will be another piece of mine Dad will never read.
Yesterday, driving back from the city, it was obvious that the world is waking up. The traffic was still no match for pre-pandemic days, but I did hit a few spots where the back-up was more than a few minutes. A drive that took me only 80 minutes a month ago took 100 minutes last night.
I woke this morning to a misty fog. As I was walking and reading the Phantom Tollbooth (how is it I only discovered that book now) a man stepped out of his house and as he opened his car door he called me to, “Hey! It’s great to see you reading a book.” Is reading really that scarce now that I call attention to myself doing it? Or is reading while walking just such a bizarre combination of activities that people can’t help noticing?
My hair was getting shaggy, and I don’t want to go to a barber. I know they are opening up, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. So I asked my son to cut my hair. I was surprised at how quickly he agreed, not a single word of complaint. I handed him Dad’s clippers and he went to work with a smile. A few times it felt like he was ripping the hair out of my head, but mostly he did well, especially since it was his first time using clippers. I’m sure Mom will be angry that I asked him to shave my head, but I can’t keep it long just because she thinks it’s wrong for me to wear it so short.
Today, I saw a glimpse of the boy my son used to be at the beach, the joy he always experienced when his grandfather was with him. He asked if we could please go to the Treasure Beach in Peconic. I was happy to take him. Unlike the bay at Veterans’ Beach, the beach in Peconic is right on the inlet and so the water is deep. It’s also exceptionally scenic. My son used to like helping Dad set up the beach umbrellas. This afternoon, he took the umbrella from me (I finally remembered to pack it) and declared the job was now his. As soon as the umbrella was up, he dove into the water and swam across the inlet in search of treasure. A man fishing on the beach turned to me said, “He swims really well. It’s so good to see a kid that good.” I thanked him, although I was a bit surprised. My son can get around and he can stay afloat for some time, but his strokes aren’t exactly pretty. Mine never were either. But perhaps it was more my son’s confidence that made him look good.
Obviously, he didn’t find any treasure, not the coins and jewels he had come to expect. When he returned to me he accused, “It was you, wasn’t it? You used to hide the treasure?” But he didn’t wait around for an answer. After I ate my lunch, I went into the water with him. He asked me to push him across the inlet on his alligator and I did. On the opposite shore, I kicked minnows out of the water — returning each one before it died. My son tried but quickly gave up. When I was a year or two younger than him, I spent hours at the beach “fishing.” Every day, I challenged myself to see if I could catch more minnows than the day before. I was never bored at the beach. But my son is different.We walked along the water to where the shore was teeming with sand crabs, scuttling away from us to scurry into their holes. I caught one, to show my son. And then he got one. He also found whelks washed up on the beach but still slithering in their shells. Not wanting them to die, my son tossed them back into the sea. So he may not have found the treasure he was looking for, but it would be inaccurate to say he found no treasure at all. He enjoyed studying the seal life.
Back in the water, he wanted me to tip him off the alligator again and again. I was happy to hear him laughing. As he swam to the surface one time, he looked out over the sand and caught a glimpse of the back of an old man wearing a reddish-pink shirt, the same color as Dad’s Assateague’s tee shirt, a shirt he often wore to the beach. The man also wore a gray baseball cap, so much like Dad’s, that my son commented, “That looks like Grandpa.” I started to speak, but he cut me off, “Don’t say anything. Let me pretend, just for a minute. Okay?”
Around one o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, my brother texted my mom to say that he’d be leaving Nashville early on Thursday morning, which meant he’d be arriving late Thursday night. Mom saw the text when she woke up. He gave us only a day’s notice that Mom would have to leave Long Island to go back to Queens. Of course, I had to drive her. But I’m not even close to being ready to go back to New Jersey. I’d stay away forever if I could. So I told her we’d all drive into the city and then I’d turn around and come back here. However, I can only stay a bit longer since I have to be home by Monday. I have to take my spouse to have eye surgery on Tuesday morning. Anyway, a day’s notice from my brother meant we had to scramble to change our plans and reorganize things.
This morning my son was mopey because he didn’t want to say goodbye to the dogs. Mom was mopey because she didn’t want to leave. As I was packing up the car for her she said, “I’m sad when I get here. I’m sad when I have to go. It’s like I’m living in an imaginary world. God just didn’t want me to be happy.” I know how she feels.
On the way home we stopped in Riverhead. Mom wanted to buy more dog food and she needed to replace the curtain rod that Dad knocked down the other day. While Mom and my son went into the stores, I stayed in the car with the dogs. While we were parked, they wiggled their way out of the carrying crates. Emma jumped into shotgun and Lily sat on my lap.
Back in New York, we discovered the television is broken. The color looks like some crazy psychedelic trip. It’s hard to pay attention to what you are watching when the contrast seems to be turned on too high and the colors seem to be expressing themselves as their opposites on the color wheel. Yesterday, the vacuum cleaner broke. As I was driving Mom to Stop and Shop she kept saying, “Why is everything falling apart? Why can’t anything go well.” The stress and anxiety combined with her grief is making sleep impossible. She sleeps less than I do. “Why did your father have to die?” I ask the same question on repeat every day. I have no answers, but I suggested, “Maybe Daddy’s breaking everything. Maybe it’s his way of telling you it’s okay to sell the house and move closer to me. If you lived near me, I could help you more easily.” She sighed. That wasn’t the answer she wanted. I’m not even sure it was the truth. But I didn’t know what else to say. I’m pissed off at God — if there even is God — too.
By the time we left Stop and Shop I was fuming. Many of the cashiers wore masks pulled down under their noses. What’s the point of a mask if it isn’t covering your mouth and your nose. Several customers weren’t wearing masks either. One man pulled down his mask so he could have a loud conversation on the phone. I complained to an employee. She walked away but didn’t do anything. Then after Mom put the food on the belt, I noticed that the cashier not only wasn’t wearing his mask properly, he was wiping his nose with his hand as he rung up the groceries. At any time that would be completely disgusting, but now in the midst of a pandemic that’s killing thousands of Americans, it’s despicable. It’s unprofessional. It can be deadly. If the staff can’t be clean, they shouldn’t be working. Their actions are putting others at risk.
On a good note, after weeks of not being able to find Aunt Jemima pancake mix for my son, there was one box on the shelf. I bought it. I had to. I know, maybe it wasn’t best move politically, but if Dad were alive he would have bought it. He would have felt compelled since the name is changing. And so I bought for him, and also for my son. Because those were the pancakes Grandpa always made for him.
I was very excited to get another book in the mail. One of my writing friends sent her book, The Whole Truth, which was published last year. She sent it to me shortly after Dad went into the hospital. It took the post office more than two months to get it to me. When I texted my friend to thank her, she was floored that it took so long. Once upon time, I sent things via sea mail from Korea. They reached New York in a shorter span of time.
My son is distraught. When we left Mom’s he said goodbye to the dogs and he was crying hysterically. He didn’t want to go. He wanted to stay with them. In the car, he cried “Why do they have to go?” “I just want five more minutes with them.” “Emma is old. She could die. And I’ll never see her again.” “I didn’t have enough time with them.” “Maybe it was better if didn’t spend any time with them at all. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sad.” He cried until we reached the Long Island Expressway and then he fell asleep. But the moment we got here and I woke him up, he started in again, “The dogs should be here, begging for food.” “The house is so quiet without the dogs.” “It was only this morning we cuddled on the couch together.”
I can understand him being sad that the dogs have to go back with my brother, but his reaction seems extreme. I wonder, is this some form of transference. Is it easier for him to mourn the dogs leaving than it is for him to mourn his grandfather’s death.” He cried more over the dogs than his grandfather. And the words he was saying, the phrases he used, seem more appropriate for someone who died, not someone — or someones — who is going home.
After dinner, my son connected via messenger kids with a friend he met up in Cape Cod three years ago. I’m not sure who called who, but in the middle of my taekwondo lesson I heard them chatting. My son was laughing. I’m glad his friend was able to make him smile. I’m glad he was able to set aside his sadness for a little while.
My dream last night was disturbing. I was at my mom’s city house, only it wasn’t the house I recognized. It had green walls and a blue rug — a combo my mother would never approve. When I woke up — in my dream — I immediately knew something was wrong. In the living room, everything was a mess. The entire place had been ransacked. Dad’s computer was broken. Mine was missing. But oddly, in the dream I was very cognizant of where my back files were all located and so I didn’t panic. Until I went out back and saw that both my car and Dad’s had been stolen. In place of Dad’s car in the garage was a grey pick-up truck with a Trump 2020 Keep America Great bumper sticker. My mother wasn’t home. So I called my spouse who arrived in less than five minutes. Impossible! Even with no traffic. She told me to call the police. I laughed at her asking what good that would do. So she called them and I heard her speaking amicably until she started shouting, “I didn’t call to chit chat. I called because we were robbed.” There was a pause, and then she slammed down the phone. “They aren’t coming,” she informed me. “You should call your mom.” But when I tried, the phone died. And then I woke up.
My distrust of the police started when I was in middle school. I came home from school one day to find a police car sitting out front. When I walked into the house, I saw the house had been robbed. My jewelry box smashed open. An heirloom from my grandmother gone. What did the police do? Absolutely nothing. They wrote up a police report and that was it. We were robbed in broad day light and they didn’t even bother to knock on doors or ask the neighbors any questions. We were robbed. The police did nothing. They claimed they were too busy. There wasn’t enough evidence. Maybe there would have been if they bothered to look. I’ve never gotten over the fact that a criminal came into our home and the cops did nothing. Every time a cop is in the news for killing someone, I think back to that day. Hundreds of dollars worth of stuff had been stolen and the cops did nothing to locate the criminal. But a black man is in possession of a counterfeit $20 and they kill him. Or he’s stopped for a traffic violation and is shot
Yesterday morning, my son had a Zoom meeting with his Spanish teacher. He had missed work the week Dad died and she wanted him to make it up. Or he could meet with her one-on-one virtually. My son hates all things virtual, but it was the lesser of two evils and so he consented to it. He sat in the recliner, one dog on either side of him and he answered the teacher’s questions in a string of mumbles. At one point I whispered to Mom, “Apparently, he’s got Dad’s knack for languages.” She laughed. I have Dad’s knack too, which means I can say hello in a half a dozen languages in accents that no on can understand, but beyond that I’m hopeless.
The school year is over. Remote learning is in the past. Usually, the end of the year brings laughter and smilies, giddiness and excitement. This year, it brings a reminder that our lives are changed forever and the things we looked forward to most, the man we couldn’t wait to see, is no more. This year, for the first time ever, summer starts with sadness.
Mom has quit her driving lessons. She might get comfortable enough to drive the four miles from our house to the grocery store. But she’d never be able to handle the highway or the city. She’d never get to the point where she could come and go — country to city, city to country — at will. So she will sell the car as she originally planned. And then, maybe the house as well, if I can’t get out here enough.
Dad’s favorite pancake mix was Aunt Jemima. He also preferred the Aunt Jemima fake syrup over the much tastier real maple syrup. I grew up with the fake stuff and I never liked it. I never cared for pancakes in general. It was my spouse who introduced me to the real maple syrup back when we were just friends. I liked it so much better that I even ate pancakes (Bisquick) with her. I then introduced my mother to it and she too preferred it as well. But not Dad. He grew up with Aunt Jemima and wouldn’t eat anything else. At home, my son liked the real stuff, but with Grandpa he used to mix the two whenever they ate waffles or pancakes together. Dad called maple syrup liquid gold because it’s so bloody expensive, but he never minded spending the money, and he always made sure there was a backup bottle in the cabinet. This morning, Quaker Oats announced that it is going to rebrand Aunt Jemima. On the heels of all the protests, they are finally acknowledging the racist trademark and changing it. Upon hearing the news, my son marched into the kitchen and pulled out the box of pancake mix. Holding it up, he announced, “We need to save the box.” Then he paused, looked sadly at Aunt Jemima and said, “They died the same year. She couldn’t go on without Grandpa.” Then he did a little mournful tap dance, and a cloud of pancake mix covered him in white powder before drifting to the floor.
My son and I went to the beach. We brought lunch but it was chilly, too chilly to take off our sweatshirts, so after we ate my son wanted to leave. At home we played Clue. Mom won.
I’m seriously having trouble functioning throughout the days. My inability to sleep is starting to make it difficult to do anything. I manage to get through my blog posts, but my brain is too fuzzy, my eyes too heavy to work on anything else. Reading is becoming a challenge again. My concentration comes and goes, like the reception on the old school TV’s. I wiggle the rabbit ears and things are clear for a page or two, but then my mind starts wandering. Half my energy is spent simply trying to keep my eyes open while I read. But I lose that battle too often. I can’t keep my eyes alert, and I can’t force my brain to shut down enough to sleep. I wish I could sleep more than a few hours every night. I wish my mind didn’t keep reminding me about how much I miss Dad or replay his death over an over. And I wish these bizarre dreams didn’t keep waking me up, when I finally do fall asleep. How much longer can I go on like a zombie?
We went back to the beach to watch the sunset. But clouds covered the sky, leaving not a single window for any color to peek through.
I have been interviewed, in regards to my writing, for the first time. It feels huge, as if I’ve taken another step — albeit a small one — in my literary career. It’s exciting. But sad because Dad isn’t here to celebrate this milestone with me. If he were here, when I woke up this morning and saw that my interview had been published on Capsule Stories’s website, I’d have immediately walked over to him, waving my hand, my phone displaying the screen. He’d have smiled, reached for my phone, adjusted his glasses and read it. “Very nice,” he would have said as he handed it back to me. Since I obviously can’t share this happy news with him, I will share it with you. As you know, Capsule Stories released their latest print magazine yesterday, which included my essay “Honeymoon.” In the interview with them, I speak about my process in writing the essay. How it started out as a cast-off segment of a different essay, one I wrote about my disastrous trip to Brazil. I also touch upon my most recent writing project which you’ve been following for the past three months. (If you’d like to read the interview, you can find it here: https://capsulestories.com/capsule-collective-elizabeth-jaeger/ )
The house is so quiet without Dad. He used to be so loud at times, especially in the mornings. I’ve never been a late sleeper, but on the days Dad woke up before me, he’d start moving about the house, putting dishes away or opening doors, his heavy tread shaking the house, his slippers scrapping across the floor. The noise would wake me and I’d be cranky. What I wouldn’t give to be woken up by him now. If he were here, I’d probably be able to sleep. I’d welcome the annoying sound of his slippers. I hate the silence he left behind.
I’m also realizing the little things he did that I never noticed. Things that don’t seem important but speak to his absence. He was always the one to lock the back door and pull down the shade. The first few times I passed by the door late at night on the way to the bathroom, I was struck by the naked glass. Now, before bed, I make sure the doors are locked and shades drawn.
He also made sure we had everything we needed and when we ran out, he went to buy more. Yesterday, Mom complained, “We’re low on toothpaste. How come you didn’t tell me.” I didn’t tell her, because it didn’t occur to me that I should. In my own home, I take note of things that need to be bought, but not here. It used to be a different mindset. When we ran out of something, Dad replaced. Now, I need to pay attention, because I’m the one who has to drive to the store.
My son asked if we could go to Greenport again. Yesterday, he got the taco duckie, but it turns out there were four food — taco, french fries, hot dog, and burger — duckies altogether. “I need to get the other food ones,” he informed me. Greenport two days in a row was a bit much but he was actually asking to do something, it wasn’t television, and Dad would definitely have wanted him to have the ducks. And so we went. Mom came with us. Since Mom was coming we had lunch out. We picked up Mexican food — Mom and I had shrimp burritos and my son had a chicken quesadilla — at Luncharitos. We were disappointed in the food. It did not taste good. None of us have any desire to go back. However, sitting by the water was scenic and peaceful, except for the dogs who kept begging for scraps. After we ate, we took a walk. Each step seemed painful for Mom. It’s almost like I could see her carrying the memories of my Dad, all the times we were there with him. And each memory made her shoulders hunch a little more. “Your father would have enjoyed being here so much today,” she said, as she walked passed the carousel. “He would have liked the fact that there aren’t many people around. He would have liked this day with his grandson.” Her thoughts were practically a mirror of my own.
Like yesterday, we got ducks and ice and then we came home.
By the time we got back, I was so tired I had to close my eyes for a little bit. I’ve never been much of a napper, but between not sleeping much and the sadness, I’m often lethargic and tired and if I didn’t give in to sleep, I’d have pass out.
Mom was extra mopey for the rest of the day. Being in places saturated with my father hurts her more than it heals. She misses him and the missing seems to grow more acute each day. Sitting on the couch, petting Emma, she asked me, “If I sell the house do you want the furniture?” Being here is just too hard on her. The memories of my father and happier times are crushing. How can you be happy in a place that constantly reminds you of all you have lost? How can you smile, when you keep waiting for footsteps you’ll never hear?
For dinner, Mom and I made zucchini parm and then my son and I went to watch the sunset with Lily. Emma didn’t want to move. She was curled up next to Mom, her eyes sad. She’s old and we don’t think she’s been feeling very well. Her energy level is really low. At the beach, my son and I sat down to watch the sun sink, but an army of sand fleas attacked, and so we had to stand. But my son wouldn’t stand too close to me, because apparently, being out with your mother isn’t cool.
Damn! What a wacky dream I had last night. And I swear, I went to bed sober. I was driving somewhere that in my dream was familiar, but upon waking, I couldn’t place it. I needed to park because I was late for an important appointment. But every time I tried to park, my dad’s former email address keep thwarting me. The address was in the shape of a giant (and I mean giant as in the size of a pick-up truck but it could fly) mosquito, the letters linking to form its body. It used its wings to block me and to shove my car aside every time I tried to pull into a spot. I was getting angry because I was late. I hate being late. But the harder I tried to park, the more aggressive the email-mosquito became. And the print of the email address became darker and thicker. So I reversed and then jammed my foot down on the gas. As I slammed into the bug, I jolted awake.
Daddy liked taking us to eat at Crabby Jerry’s in Greenport. Sometimes on rainy or cloudy days he’d take us for lunch. Other times, like last August after a game of mini-golf, we’d go for dinner. One year, when my son was six or seven, we went there for Dad’s birthday. He said it was one of his best birthdays ever because he got to spend it with his grandson. Almost every time we went we’d all order New England Clam chowder and fried clams. Even my picky-eater son, enjoyed the clams.
Capsule Stories Literary Magazine released their Summer Stories Edition today (https://capsulestories.com/summer-2020-edition/). The edition includes my essay, “Honeymoon,” which details my trip to Costa Rica with my spouse fifteen years ago. The essay is written in a series of vignettes, a style I embraced several years ago after attending a writing workshop that helped me pull together broken fragments of my memories into a cohesive story. The essay ended up reading like a photo album, with snippets, micro essays strung together to give the reader a sense of our adventure.
The breaking news today is that the Food and Drug Administration pulled back it’s emergency use authorization for hydroxycloroquine to treat patients suffering from Covid-19. Apparently, the risk far out weighs the benefits. Hydroxycloroquine is the only drug the doctors gave Dad when he was in the hospital. My Dad’s heart started to fail shortly after he they gave it to him. Now my mother wonders if the outcome might have been different if they hadn’t given it to him. Probably not. But one has to wonder about a world in which patients are made guinea pigs on the whim of an idiotic president.
It was a bit chilly for the beach today, and since my son has complained of boredom the last few days that we went, I suggested a drive out to Greenport. He used to love going there with his grandfather. I knew going with me wouldn’t be the same, but it was something to get him out of the house,] and away from the TV. When I first suggested it, he sulked. “I want to go with Grandpa.” Yeah, well so did I. So I tried the next best thing, “If you come I’ll buy you ice cream and duckies.” I would have added the carousel — to include all the activities he used to do with Dad — but I suspected it would be closed to do the pandemic and I was right. “Can we take the dogs?” He asked. Initially, I said no, but then he presented his case as to why they should come and why it wouldn’t be a problem in such a mature manner, I couldn’t say no.
We had a nice time — yes, nice is a bland adjective. But it wasn’t bad and since we spent the whole time talking about what Dad would be doing if he had lived, it wasn’t exactly good. So nice will have to suffice. The temperature was perfect to walk with the dogs. A light breeze coming off the harbor kept them from panting too much. We stopped for an ice (my son chose the ice store instead if the ice cream shop we usually went to with dad) and then we walked the route we always walked we Dad. We pointed out the benches he often sat at, the restaurant we ate in, but both of us seemed to silently agree that calling attention to the carousel would be too much. So we walked passed it without saying a world.
Lily was funny. She did not like walking on the dock. The space between boards freaked her out. My son took Emma down to the end of one dock while I stayed back with Lily. The second dock my son was able to coax Lily to the end, but then she dug her claws into the wood so stubbornly I had to carry her back to the sidewalk. Before returning to the car, my son stepped into the toy store to pick out two rubber duckies. He opted for a taco shaped duck and a tucan duck. When he walked out of the store he held them up with a chuckle and said, “Look, Taco Tucan!”
The harbor in Greenport was practically deserted. I’ve never seen it with such few boats moored at the docks. The harbor front was also void of the crowds that usually congregate in the summer. There were a few shops open on the main street, and if you didn’t look too closely, you might have thought things were back to normal. But they weren’t. Shops were open, but few people were shopping. There were signs strewn about — on the streets, along the water — informing people that they must wear a mask, even outdoors. Few people had them when they were sitting alone or walking down empty streets, but they were quick to put them on when they passed a crowd.
This evening I had a Zoom taekwondo class. I know my form well enough to be able to graduate to the next level a week from Saturday — June 27. It seems like only yesterday I asked my instructor when graduation would be so that we could plan our Disney trip around it. My promotion to red belt was supposed to kick off a summer of non-stop fun for my son. Instead it will mark ten weeks since Dad died. Ten weeks since our plans blew up leaving our excitement and anticipation, our longing to be with Dad, smoldering at our feet.
After we finished reading a chapter in Prince Caspian before bed, my son said, “I had fun in Greenport. But I miss eating in that restaurant. The one we ate in with Grandpa. The one with the really good calm chowder.” The restaurant was closed. But even if it had been open, I’m not sure I’d have been ready to eat there, not without Dad.
By the time my younger brother got to middle school, my mother was fed up and disgusted with the teachers and principal of Sacred Heart School. The teachers were not great and the principal permitted me to get bullied for far too long. As my brother’s years at SHS drew to a close, Mom would say, “When your brother graduates, I’m going to hang out the flag.” As fate would have it, my brother graduated on Flag Day, one of those days that everyone feels patriotic and hangs out a flag. It’s the thing to do. An obligation. Therefore, the gesture lost some of its symbolism for Mom.
Twenty-nine years later, our vile president celebrates another birthday, a privilege that will be denied my father because, as you already know, Trump killed him. It doesn’t seem fair that an evil human being, a man who has caused so much death and suffering gets to be blessed with another year, while my father was denied more time with his family. Dad died two months ago. His life was cut short, and yet people who bow down to Trump, people who have been brainwashed by Fox news, mock his death by calling people who insist on others wearing masks “germaphobes.” Just so you are aware, when you say, I don’t need to wear a mask, the virus is not that bad, you are spitting on me and my pain. When you say, no one should force me to wear something against my will, you are really saying I am a selfish human being who doesn’t give a shit about anyone else. Why aren’t they the ones suffering? Why are the people who are so cavalier and critical of science not the ones burying their parents? Why aren’t they the one’s experiencing death? It makes me question the existence of a god. Why did Dad die while arrogant Trump supporters live?
I read a poem today by Andrea Gibson titled, “Dear Trump Voter.” The poem compares Trump to Hitler and the nazi officers to Trump’s supporters. It makes a powerful statement regarding the political climate in America, and ends by stating, “In the history of the US it was never more clear that a vote would be a bullet. There is no distance between you and the blood. The truth will not give you an inch to the lie of innocence, to the governable denial of everyone who continues to aim for the head while calling it making something great again.” The book was published in 2018, two years ago, two years before the death toll in the United States surged beyond 115,000. But any smart person saw it coming way before. Those of who didn’t vote for him, foresaw the shit show we’d experience if Trump where in office. We knew people would suffer. We knew Trump would hurt the poor, the minorities, the queers. But I never expected my father to die. I never fathomed that he — a middle class, straight, white man — could become one of Trump’s victims. But he did. Because Trump lied. Because Trump doesn’t care about anyone but himself — not even his base, the deplorable who have kept him where he is. And those who elected him are just as responsible for the carnage. Every man and woman who voted for Trump helped killed those who died from the virus, They encouraged his lies and his preference for Wall Street over compassion for the elderly. Every Trump voter killed every child who died in a cage at our border. Every Trump voter massacred every black man slaughtered like a beast by cops in the last four years. And every LGBT person who will now die due to insufficient health coverage was murdered by those who support Trump. The bullets flew in 2016 but some of them took 4 years to find their mark. Sadly, the majority of Americans knew Trump was a depraved soul incompetent of ethical leadership. They knew his narcissism would destroy our country, but the electoral college elected him anyway. And so we can only hope Biden wins enough votes in November so that the bullets cast for Trump in 2020 fail before they can kill any one else. Trump wants to Keep America Great. How do his supporters not question his slogan, his morals, and his motives. Or have they questioned his motives and found nothing wrong with them. If so, I believe that’s even worse. That only increases their culpability.
Mom came to the beach today. My son asked her to please join us. She agreed since we were going to the sound and not the bay. Like my son, she said it’s less painful. There are less memories. Less to miss. But still, the entire time she sat there she thought of Dad and how much he loved the beach. “Look at the clouds,” she told me. “Look at the way they trace the shore line. Your father would have enjoyed seeing that.” We brought games to occupy us — Yahtzee and Uno. Mom won Yahtzee and we all won a round of Uno. We never brought games to the beach with Dad. There were always so many other things to do. Or maybe we were just happy doing less. Because he was there. When my spouse and I take my son to the ocean we always bring games, especially when we are out in Cape Cod. I find I’ve been falling back on what the three of us do often, instead of what we used to do with Dad. Maybe it’s because it’s what I’m used to when I’m the adult — one of two — in charge. Maybe because it’s easier than trying to remember every little thing Dad did, because if I miss something I’ll feel I somehow slighted him. That’s why my son and I sat on towels instead of chairs. Daddy always brought chairs. We sit on the sand. Mom looked lost on her chair. How do you go to your husband’s favorite place without him and not feel anything but emptiness and loss?
This evening my son wanted to watch Knives Out. We saw it after Christmas, and used the movie passes that had been a holiday gift from my spouse’s colleague to my son. We all really enjoyed the movie. My son thought it was one of the best he’d ever seen. December wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like an eternity.
When I was little, and Mom and Dad used to rent a house in Mattituck (or Cutchogue) for a month every summer. The first year, Dad bought a big two person inflatable boat — blue and yellow. But the oars never worked well, and so Mom and me and my brother would sit in the boat and Dad would push us for what seemed forever. My brother, the first couple of years, was just a toddler and so he’d sit with Mom at one end. She’d hold him and sometimes he’d fall asleep in her arms. I’d sit at the other end. Always restless, I’d jump in and out of the boat, never resting for long. Crabs bit Dad’s toes and jelly fish stung his legs, but still he kept pushing. He kept us afloat and moving forward.
Trump is in Bedminster, and the People’s Motorcade resumed their standing protests last night. My spouse deemed it her civic duty to participate. If I had been home I definitely would have joined her. She covered her car with sign’s protesting Trump’s immorality and his incompetence — that fact that he is unfit to lead our nation. For me, she made a colorful sign that said, “Trump’s Lies Killed My Dad.” To fill in the white space she drew the coronavirus. She also had a BLM sign and another questioning, “How many more people have to die?” The question encompasses the virus, police brutality, gun violence and lack of health coverage. The parade of cars — all covered in signs — lined up by the library and then drove passed Trump’s golf course multiple times.
Today is the 90th day of my blog, sixty days since Dad died. I still can’t sleep. I lay in bed, my eyes too heavy to read or write or do anything productive, but my mind is unable to let go of consciousness. All I can think about is what Dad is missing, what the rest of us have lost. My anger doesn’t help the sleeplessness either. If Dad had died of cancer or a stroke or a dozen other health reasons I’d still be sad but my anger wouldn’t be as great. If someone killed someone in your family, you wouldn’t rest until the murderer was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I don’t have that luxury. Trump killed my father with lies and inaction. No law was broken, but he is just as culpable. Before you argue with me, think about Hitler. How many Jews did he actually kill with his own hands? Yet how many deaths do we hold him responsible for? Hitler died in disgrace, condemned by the moral world. I can only hope for the same end for Trump. That he will be condemned for the callous way he dealt with the virus, his racist and homophobic views and the laws he passed that encouraged strife among Americans. I also hope history will remember his supporters as Clinton dubbed them four years ago. They stood by applauding and cheering him on as he enabled the killing to continue.
Mom and I drove to a local farm to get some strawberries. A sign told customers they were required to wear face masks. Many did. But not all. Plenty of people were milling about, picking berries, or standing in line with their faces bare, or the masks pulled down on their chins. There wasn’t much social distancing being practiced either. The crowd was too thick. It engaged me. Kids were the worst. So many of them did not have their mouths and noses covered. And this is one of my great concerns for the fall. If schools open their doors, will the kids comply and wear masks? If not, will the administrators have the gumption to immediately send them home? I doubt it. Schools will pander to the parents who demand babysitters. Keeping parents mollified will be a higher priority than keeping teachers safe.
The beach was chilly today. My son complained the entire time he was there. All he wants to do is watch televisions. When Dad died I allowed it. He needed to melt into the couch and forget his misery. But now, I refuse to allow him to spend hours upon hours staring at a screen, and so I listen to him complain instead. I listen to what a horrible mother I am, and that I care only about myself because I’m forcing him to spend time with me.
When Dad died, a friend of mine — and fellow writer — sent me Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson. Writers send words — it is one way we heal, by reading work that resonates with us. That’s why art, including literature, is so important. It speaks to the heart, to experiences we share. Art sheds light where there is only darkness. But for weeks I was in too much of fog to be able to appreciate poetry, and so waited into I felt I could better appreciate it. Gibson’s poems are political and powerful, sorrowful and thought provoking. I can relate on more levels than I might have guessed. Her anger almost calms me, vindicates how I feel. Our country is far from perfect, and we seriously need to examine our priorities.
Sunset tonight was beautiful, though there was a fire in the distance, the smoke rising up and drifting across the sun. My son enjoys these nightly walks on the beach with the dogs. But it is impossible not to think of Dad every time we go, and the last sunset we watched as a family.
When I was younger and Dad would take us out to dinner, he and I would often order ice cream for dessert. One of us would order vanilla. The other would order chocolate. Then we’d each give each other half. Dad always had to have an equal amount of vanilla and chocolate on each spoonful. The same went for black and white cookies — a nibble of black and a nibble of white. He’d never eat one side and then the other.
I hate people. And Dad would agree. He hated people, too. Which is why he loved animals. Compared to people, animals are compassionate and kind. Humans just suck. Okay, not you guys. My friends don’t suck, but other humans do. Mom has not yet gotten her stimulus check — you know that money that Trump thought would made everyone bow to him. The money that in reality would cover neither a month of rent nor a mortgage payment. But Mom wants it. I can’t blame her. Trump screwed us over, she deserves something. Anyway, we checked on line to find out why she hadn’t gotten it, but the IRS didn’t recognize her social security number. So she called. The man she spoke to was a complete asshole. Instead of answering her questions, the minute he found out that Dad died, he wanted to make sure we knew how to return Dad’s money to the government. Money he hadn’t even gotten. I completely lost my temper. Trump’s callousness, his selfishness, his lies, his narcissism, and his utter incompetence killed my Dad. And now the government, instead of helping my mother claim the money she is entitled to, wanted to make sure they could get their grubby hands on the money that might be sent to the man Trump killed. Oh, I was livid. Mom had to take the phone away from me because I started to shred the government representative on the other end.
And then, I got an email from my son’s Spanish teacher telling me he had to make up four assignments from the week of April 13th. I nearly punched a hole in the wall. Seriously, I emailed my son’s general teacher after Dad died (on April 14th) asking for him to be excused from all work that was to be done that week. She was very understanding and told us not to worry about school. Now, nearly two months later, I’m getting an email saying my son needs to do that work. I sent the Spanish teacher an email explaining that he had been excused for work that week. She insisted that he had to complete two assignments. UGH! Well, I wasn’t having it, so we compromised with a zoom conference — her and my son on Tuesday. One conference, she’ll review all the material, and then he doesn’t have to complete the work. And why is she waiting until the last minute to contact me? I used to be a teacher. None of my administrators would have tolerated me waiting until the last minute to contact parents.
After lunch, I took my son to the sound. We weren’t there very long when he started begging me to go home. “I’m bored,” he kept repeating as if it were a mantra. I didn’t want to go home. At home he’d want to sit on his tablet and I’m not a fan of him spending his life on a device, so I said, “You used to love the beach. What can I do to make it less boring for you.” His response broke my heart, “Bring back Grandpa.” I turned away to wipe my tears. I wish I could bring him back for him, for Mom, for me, but he’s dead, and the dead only come back to life in crappy TV shows.
When we got home, Mom wanted a driving lesson. She has a license. She’s had it for more than fifty years. But she doesn’t drive. Just the thought of driving scares her. The last time she drove was forty years ago when I was a kid and we came out here for a month. The week Dad returned to the city to work, he left Mom the car. She drove one day. She barely made it to the beach and it started to rain. With anxiety ripping her apart, she turned around, went back to the house they had rented, parked the car, and never drove again. Until today. She nearly killed me reversing. Instead of hitting the break, she slammed on the gas and nearly hit a tree. I took a deep breath and patiently calmed her down, got her to relax, and then to move forward. She drove slowly. But she managed to go three miles. I was proud of her for trying.
At dinner, as we were discussing Black Lives Matter and the current call to defund the police, my son explained to Mom how easy it is to kill someone with a choke hold. He explained — very meticulously — the proper way to choke someone out. He learned how to do it from his taekwondo instructor during a self defense lesson. He went on to say, “But you have to be careful. Even a ten year old can kill an adult. So if a ten year old can kill an adult imagine what a cop can do. It shouldn’t be allowed. At taekwondo, I learned that I should only do it if it’s my life or someone else’s. I think cops should get trained as well as I do? If they had my instructor, maybe they’d be better prepared.”
Tonight we watched “Race to Witch Mountain.” Halfway through the movie we paused it so that I could scoop out some ice cream — vanilla and chocolate — for all of us. I sat down with my bowl of ice cream and commented, “Dad would have liked this movie. He never needed a good plot, as long as there was lots of action.” No sooner did I say that, then the curtain rod fell off the window and landed on me and my son. It was as if Dad’s spirit was playfully punishing me for mocking his taste in movies.
Four years ago, my son wanted a president’s theme for his half birthday party. My spouse asked a colleague to make a huge laminated sign advertising his run for president. Proudly, he held it and smiled. He was six. But even at that young age, he’d have made a better president than the man now defiling the White House and the office of the president.
It’s is a cloudy and windy day. I’m sitting on the porch and the wind is cutting through me. It’s supposed to rain, but so far, only a few drops have fallen. Mom is in a funk, as she has been for the last 58 days. Dreary days are the hardest. They make her miss Dad even more. “Life sucks and then you die. Your father used to say that all the time,” she tells me over an over again. “But I didn’t expect him to go so soon.”
I made some calls for her this morning. The credit card company is giving her a hard time about the negative balance on Dad’s card. And they won’t talk to me. They insist on speaking to her. Next time, I’m going to lie. I’m going to say that I’m her. It’ll be easier for me and less emotional for my mother. In cases like this, honesty is definitely not the best policy. I don’t understand why getting the money from Dad’s card is so difficult. If Dad had died in the red, the ywould have demanded every cent and they would have wanted it yesterday. But when the money is owed, they take their time. I’m guessing they are intentionally making it difficult so that we give up and they get to keep the money.
While I was helping Mom navigate her way around her new computer, she sighed in frustration, pushed the computer aside and asked, “How many other people on our Viking vacation do you think got sick? How many others died?” I shrugged. I have no way of knowing, and I doubt I’d ever be able to find out. Though I’ve been curious myself. Honestly, I’ve put so much blame on Trump, who should have been honest from the beginning, but now I wonder, should I spread the blame around? Is Viking responsible? How much did Viking know before my parents’ cruise commenced? Were they aware that the virus was lurking, that we were heading into a dangerous time? Did they ignore the intel they had — much like Trump — because acting on it would have meant canceling cruises, and canceled cruises would have meant no money coming in (or rather, lots of money going out, back to the people who booked their trips)? Did they, like Trump, put cash before morality, before ethics? Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d like to know what they knew before Mom and Dad’s ship departed? They took the temperature of passengers every day. So they must have known there was a potential for spread on the boat. Did they identify anyone who was sick? What were the lies, the cover-ups, the special interests that allowed them to keep working while people like my Dad got sick and died? Of course, I have no proof that he got sick on the ship, but the timeline indicates that Viking is responsible. They got rich, they filled their pockets, and they left my family with a huge gaping hole. But money is apparently all that matters. It always wins out. Always.
My son finally submitted his Spanish project. It was late, but he did it. He had to do a poster about a famous person who came from a Spanish-speaking Latin American country. His chose Neruda, because Neruda was Chilean and he had a house in Valparaiso, a city my parents visited during the cruise that killed Dad. My son chose Neruda after one of the last Facetime calls he ever had with his grandfather.
I sent out a few more query letters this afternoon. From one agency, I got a rejection letter 13 minutes after sending it. They told me after careful consideration they decided it wasn’t for them. What kind of careful consideration can you give something in 13 minutes? From another agency, I got an automated response saying they were in receipt of my query and that they aimed to read it, but to due the high volume of submissions, they may not have time. I laughed. So many agents don’t even bother with rejection letters. Now I have to wonder, how many of them actually read what I send. At least this agency was honest. But seriously, how do I catch someone’s attention if there’s a chance no one is reading my letters to begin with? My son once asked me, if I could have one super power what would it be. I foolishly answered: invisibility. Apparently, I already have that superpower and it’s far more of a liability than an asset. Please, someone tell me, how do I get noticed?
It’s too cold and cloudy for the beach, and so we played cards — Phase10. When I took the cards out of the box, the old score sheet fell out, the last scoresheet Dad will ever be a part of.
After dinners, Dad and I used to linger at the table to finish our wine. Sometimes, we’d pour more so as not to break the spell, so that we could spend more time with each other. Some nights we talked about current events, or made plans for the following day. Other nights, we simply sat in silence, enjoying each other’s company. I miss that more than I ever would have imagined possible.
Dad never went directly into the water. He always need to let his body adjust slowly to the temperature. He’d walk up to the edge and stick his feet in. Then he’d inch his way into the bay, until he got about waist high. He’d lean back, fall into the water’s chilly embrace, and let it wash over him.
Last night, I didn’t dream about Dad. I dreamt about Libby. She died twenty-two years ago, and it was only the third time she appeared in a dream. We were rooming together in New York City (not a surprise since we were roommates for two years at NYU). But I hadn’t been to the room in a long time and I had forgotten which room was ours. As I approached the building (it wasn’t the dorm we actually lived in but a more modern structure) I started to panic. I should know where I lived, but I didn’t. So I called Libby on my smartphone (which should have been weird considering she died before either of us every had a cell phone, but in the dream it felt totally natural) but she didn’t answer. I called several times, each time the call ended without anyone picking up, not even the voicemail. In frustration, I sent her a text asking where I was supposed to go. The response came immediately — 720. The dream then shifted. I walked into the lobby and it was huge, and completely made of glass. There were windows and mirrors everywhere. My son’s Cub Scout Den was there and they were participating in some sort of lesson. There was broken glass all around. Somehow, I got a splinter of glass in my lip. I pulled it out and woke up.
I spent the entire morning mowing the grass. Mom won’t get me a push mower. And she told me I’m not allowed to get one for myself. It would take up too much room. I argued that I’d get rid of the other mower, but she won’t have it. She says a push mower would be more work. I’m totally fine with that. I’d rather have to work harder and be able to labor is silence. She ended the debate with “Your father wanted this mower, and this is the mower we have. He didn’t want a push mower.” I wanted to point out that he’s not here which is why the work fell to me, and since I was doing it happily, I should be able to choose my own tools, but I knew better. It would have made her sad. And so I suffered through the noise, though by the time I was done, I was shaking from it.
After the lawn, I had to call the wineries to cancel Dad’s wine club memberships. Calling Osprey was the hardest. He loved going there around his birthday to buy wine with his birthday discount. He’d walk out of the tasting room with three, four, sometimes five cases of wine. And he’d always buy a few bottles for me to take up to Cape Cod. It made him so excited, stocking up for the year. Remembering his excitement made me cry.
Mom won’t go to the beach. It’s too sad being there without Dad. My son and I went to the sound, but ten minutes after we got there he told me he was bored. He didn’t like reading on the beach any more. The water was too cold to swim. And “I’m getting too old to have fun with you. I’m at that age where I just want to be with my friends.” Oh well! It was fun while it lasted.
For dinner we had one of Dad’s favorite meals — marinated shrimp on the barbecue. It’s one of my favorite meals, too. And I ate enough for me and Dad. Considering, I’m the one who did the grilling this time, the food came out pretty good. But without Dad sitting with us, it just didn’t taste right. Mom keeps pulling four dishes out of the cabinet every time she goest to set the table. It’s hard, after years of conditioning, to realize you need one less.
After we ate, my son wanted to take the dogs for a sunset walk on the beach. It was cloudy, so it wasn’t one of the more picturesque sunsets I’ve seen. But I did enjoy the time with my son, especially since he told me earlier he was getting too old for me.
When I was in middle school, my parents took us to Busch Gardens down in Virginia. While there, we took a wagon ride. The wagon was pulled by the famous clydesdale horses. During the ride, Mom asked Dad, “If I were a horse, what kind of horse would I be?” Dad immediately answered, “A clydesdale.” He honestly thought he was complimenting Mom by observing the fact that she worked hard. Needless to say, Mom was thoroughly insulted, because he called her a work horse. She never let Dad live it down, none of us ever did.
Dad died eight weeks ago and I’m still not sleeping well. Last night, my allergies were so bad I took allergy medicine which, as always, knocked me out. I finally fell into a deep enough sleep that I dreamed. Dad walked into my room and stood next to my bed. He looked down at me asked, “Why did you let them kill me? Why didn’t you tell them to wait? I could have come home if only you waited.” I immediately woke up and bolted upright, but of course he wasn’t there. The room was dark. I was alone, but never did fall back to sleep.
This morning, while my son did his school work (there wasn’t much because the school year is winding down) I helped Mom do more cleaning. The roof of the house was covered in debris (branches and leaves). I said I was going up to sweep it off. Mom argued with me. She didn’t want me to get hurt. “But I’ve done it for the last couple of years,” I pointed out. “Ever since Dad thought he was too old and said my bones would heal quicker than his if I fell.” Of course she responded, “I don’t want you to fall.” Dad didn’t either. It was joke. It used to be funny, but I guess without Dad things that used to make him laugh now make the rest of us want to cry. Despite Mom’s fears, I got the ladder out of the shed and climbed up onto the roof.
For social studies class, my son had to watch a live youtube program with a New Jersey historian. I thought it was a great idea and so I sat and watched the program with him. We learned a few new things, like the fact that New Jersey was named after old Jersey because George Carteret lived in Jersey and he once let King Charles II stay at his house. My son was excited to hear that King Charles II had a cavalier King Charles dog, because Emma and Lily (his uncles’ dogs) are that breed. I mean it makes sense, the dog was named after the king. Mostly, the historian reviewed things my son already knew. Multiple times, when the historian mentioned a landmark, he turned to me and said, “We’ve been there.” For someone who dislikes living in New Jersey, I guess I did an exceptional job teaching my kid the state’s history. We haven’t gone to visit Lucy the Elephant. Nor have we visited Cape May. So when the historian talked about them, my son nudged me and said, “Tell Mommy to get right on it.” Yes, I’m sure neither trip with change my opinion of where I live, but I’d like to see both places as well.
My son refused to go to “Grandpa’s Beach” (Veteran’s Beach). But it was a beautiful beach day. I know Dad would have wanted him to enjoy the day, so I kept insisting that we go. Eventually my son compromised, “Okay, but we’re going to the sound.” We have less memories of Daddy there. At the sound, I took advantage of the space and time to practice my taekwondo form in it’s entirety. My son was mortified. He came racing over to me and tried to knock me over. “You’re embarrassing me,” he shouted. “Do you have any idea how weird you look?” But I needed to practice and I sensed I was turning in the wrong direction after one of the moves. I wanted to ask my instructor where I was going wrong so that he could correct me. And so I said to my son, “I’ll pay you a dollar if you take a video of me.” He agreed with a smile. How quickly one can overcome embarrassment if the pay-off is cash.
Also while at the beach, a crazy idea popped into my head for a kid’s book. I’m not sure if it’s a picture book or chapter book. But the characters are clear, as is the concept. It’s just a matter developing the plot.
As we were driving home, my son said,” I am sensing a disparity. If you read my messages, I should be allowed to read your text messages.” I responded, “But I am the parent and you are the child. I have to make sure you aren’t sending anything inappropriate.” He wasn’t having it, and so he argued back, “And I need to make sure you aren’t cheating on Mommy or doing drugs.”
Almost three months ago (88 days to be exact) on pi day, March 14, before my world was shattered, before Mom and Dad came home, before I knew that Dad would die, we had picture day at taekwondo. I was all excited to take a family photo. I was excited for my son’s first black belt photos. I couldn’t wait to give the pictures to my Dad. But two days after the shoot, the state shut down. Yesterday, my spouse went to pick up the pictures because they were finally in. It was finally safe to get them. But seeing the pictures are bitter sweet. I’m happy to have my son’s black belt pictures, but I’m incredibly sad that Dad will never see them.
Being out here in Long Island is hard. None of us are happy. Perhaps mopey would be the best adjective to describe us collectively. Mostly though, Mom is really sad. She cries all the time. She’ll be cleaning or cooking and she looks okay, but then her shoulders hunch, her body shakes, and the tears fall. The dogs make my son happy, he enjoys vegging on the couch with them and taking them for short walks, but otherwise, he has little interest in doing anything. This afternoon, I wanted to take him to the beach and he didn’t want to go. In fact, he refused. Mom doesn’t want to go to the beach either. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t prefer New Jersey. I’m downright suicidal in that condo. Out here at least there is a yard and space to breathe, but it’s not the same place it used to be. Not even close. What made it special was Dad.
I spent much of the day doing spring cleaning with Mom. We scrubbed the porch from top to bottom. It’s a job Daddy used to do. My son wanted to know why I was working instead of sitting with him while he did his school work. I explained that the work was too much for Nonna to do alone. “So are you going to work every time we visit?” He asked. I nodded. Mom won’t be able to get here without me. And who knows how often I’ll be able to make the trip, especially once the pandemic ends. “Yeah, Nona won’t be able to do it on her own,” I explained. He looked away, pretending to turn his attention to school work. “Being here used to be fun.”
Pollen was thick on the ground of the porch and it covered the walls and screens. By the time we finished, it was far more inhabitable, but my allergies are awful. I’ve been sneezing all day. Inhaling all that pollen definitely wasn’t a good a thing.
When we finished, I wanted to spend some time with my son, but he didn’t want to go to the beach. We played one round of dominoes but he quickly grew bored. Three games of Uno also ended is boredom. Even catch didn’t hold his attention. All I want to do is sleep. I’m so tired, my eyes lids feel like bricks. But I know even if I tried to take a nap, sleep would elude me. I’d lay down and thoughts of Dad would make me feel even worse.
Even writing is a challenge. Trying to put words down and formulate sentences is taking more effort than it should. It doesn’t help that I was greeted this morning with two agent rejections in my inbox — one for the Pandemic Diaries and one for my middle grade light fantasy novel. However, an excerpt from the diaries was accepted by an online literary journal. It will be out next month. Maybe I’m simply fated only to be a small time writer. To hit the bit time, to catch the interest of an agent, I guess you need the stars to line up accordingly, and when it comes to me, they are always out to lunch. Or you need to be liked, and getting people to like me has never been a talent of mine. Dad was always quick to point that out. People skills I have not.
Summer is usually my time to reset and find some happiness. But my summer plans were put on hold with the pandemic and then shattered when Dad died. How will I face the fall without the much needed escape that summer usually provides? How will I face the fall in condo that’s killing me? How will I face yet another fall when I have no job, no income, no light at the end of this very bleak tunnel? And let’s not forget, no Dad to conjure an illusion that things might actually improve. No Dad, to call for a conversation that might cheer me. No Dad, to offer a bit of happiness in otherwise disappointing world.
Here’s what’s really hurting. The world is opening up. In every state business are opening and people are starting to get excited. Soon they can go out to eat, they can go to the gym and the nail saloon. They can hang with friends at a bar. They can return to work, see colleagues, and resume cashing a pay check. People are happy, because they are getting back the things they lost. They see the end of their misery. They can come out of hibernation. But not me. I will never get my father back. He is gone forever. The pandemic is ending, and amidst all this giddiness, I have nothing but sadness, emptiness, and loss. I have nothing to look forward to. No reunion with the man I loved. All I can return to is a state that depresses me, a string of broken dreams, and a life that hasn’t made me happy in forever.
I think Mom is going to sell the Mattituck house. She said she’ll wait a year to decide, but too many times today she’s commented that there’s too much to do, too many things to take care of now that Dad is no longer here. So I will lose my sanctuary — a sad sanctuary it might be — but still a safe place with grass and trees and the beach.
Tonight I struggled through another zoom taekwondo class. I’ve really little desire to do anything, since nothing seems to matter any more. And it’s not just taekwondo. Even talking to friends is too much. I don’t want to pull people down any more. My sadness is too heavy. I always knew Dad would die someday, but this wasn’t a normal death. It could have been prevented. It should have been prevented. But it wasn’t.
Daddy is dead. How did this happen? Why did it happen to Dad? Why did it happen to my family? I know I have shitty luck, but this goes beyond my usual bouts with bad luck. Daddy was one of the few good things I had going for me. I can’t catch a break with anything. Nothing. I’ve slammed into dead ends and rejections so many times my head hurts. It was bad enough that I couldn’t break out of the doldrums before, why did fate have to go and kill Dad? Sometimes I wonder, what horrible things did I do in my past lives to collect such awful karma?
Between my allergies and all the crying, I’m afraid my eyes might float away.
The world can be divided into two factions: those who have experienced the coronavirus first hand and those who have not. Those of us who have experienced it, those of us still living the nightmare, have developed a much different perspective on life in America these last three months that those who haven’t. We are grieving, we are angry, and we understand things differently than those who don’t have a clue what’s like to have a loved one killed by Covid. We are tinderboxes ready to explode at the least provocation. Piss us off and we will roar.
Today was hard. For breakfast, Mom suggested that we get bagels and then head over to the beach to eat. But it’s now (unofficial) summer, the in season for swimming, and so to park at the beach we needed a pass. Passes are easy enough to acquire if you are a resident with a driver’s licenses and registration that matches the address on a tax bill. But I am not a resident and my mother doesn’t drive. We had to appeal so that I could get a pass for my car. We walked up to the window at the beach office but as soon as Mom started to talk, the tears followed. I had to finished her words, the explanation of Dad’s death. The kids behind the counter were compassionate and sweet. They didn’t challenge us and they were very happy to help. Mom couldn’t fill out the application. She was crying and shaking too hard. So I filled it out, tears in my own eyes, because it should have been Dad filling it out. He should have been getting the pass for his car so that could spend another summer on the beach with his grandson.
With passes in hand, we walked over to the bench where Mom and Dad ate countless breakfasts together. Mom’s tears were endless, her bagel tasteless. “I miss your father,” she explained. “He loved sitting here. He enjoyed looking at the water. He got a dirty deal.” Will the pain ever end?
After breakfast, we drove to Costco. When we finished shopping, Mom decided she wanted to add me to her membership. My son babysat the cart with all the food while we waited on the customer service line. As we waited, I glanced at Facebook and saw a post from a friend of mine, the friend whose father died of Covid last month. In the post, he explained that he had walked into a small local business to pick up breakfast for his mother. While he was in the store, two men started talking about how the virus was a hoax and they were pissed off because they wanted to be able to play gold. Their words were offensive and hurtful to my friend who know’s damn well it wasn’t a hoax. Anger surged, and he unleashed his fury on the men. As I read, tears streamed down my cheeks. Alarmed, Mom asked me what was wrong. I told her about what happened and she too was hurt that people could be so cruel, so insensitive. But she applauded my friend for sticking up for those of us who have suffered. Those of us who know the truth. What I don’t understand is, those men live in New York City. How could they think it was a hoax. I lived in NYC during the worst of it. The sirens were endless. The gravediggers worked all hours. Were the men blind and deaf or just stupid? Did they watch too much Fox News and neglect to look out their windows?
When it was our turn on line, Mom again started to explain what brought us there, but she couldn’t get passed the words, “My husband died of the Covid,” before sobs coked her. The woman behind the counter asked if I lived with my mother. I said yes. She asked if my license would prove it. I said no. But she looked at my mother, and something in her own eyes shifted, “Forget it, she said. I’ll add you anyway.” Another kind compassionate soul.
I was still reeling about my friend’s experience when — about two hours later — I stopped into McDonalds to pick up lunch for my son. The minute I walked in, an older man, maybe in his sixes, was shouting at the young woman behind the counter, “Fine, then I’ll piss on the building. If you’re not going to let me use the bathroom, I have to go somewhere. I’ll piss on the building. You think I’m kidding.” As he was ranting, his wife started to tear apart the caution tape blocking the way to the restroom. I turned to her and said, “What the hell are you doing? You were clearly told that the bathrooms are closed.” Her husband lost it. he stomped over to me so that he was inches from my face and told me to mind my own “fucking business.” The rules he told me were “bullshit” and he if he wanted to used the bathroom that was his “goddamn right.” Of course I argued back that the rules were in place for a reason, to keep him and everyone else safe from contracting the virus. He stormed that he didn’t see any virus and it was all stupid paranoia. I scoffed at him. That enraged him further, and he threatened to beat the shit out of me, adding, “I’m from Brooklyn where we take care of dykes like you.” So, I pulled out my phone with the intention of recording him and said, “Go for it.” He stepped towards me, threatened to spit on me, and then his wife grabbed his arm and dragged him out of McDonalds without their food. The young men and woman behind the counter apologized to me and thanked me. Seriously, they are young adults, making minimum wage. They don’t need to be harassed by assholes who are so blind by their sense of privilege they feel entitled to break the rules during a pandemic. If they needed to pee so desperately, skip the food and go straight home. I hate people. I’m still shaking from the experience.
I took my son to the beach this afternoon, but he didn’t want to be there. He complained that it was too crowded. People were sitting too close together. He couldn’t play catch. And “what’s the point of being here without Grandpa.” Yeah, it was one thing to go to the beach when it was empty to play baseball. But it was quite another to be there in a setting that reminds him of what he has lost. Being at Grandpa’s beach without Grandpa is like eating an ice cream sundae without ice cream.
After dinner, my son wanted to take the dogs for a walk on the beach so we drove over to the sound. When we arrived, the sky looked as if it was on fire, the horizon was orange, the sun slipping towards the water. My son led the dogs down to the sound but just before he got to the edge of the surf he turned toward me and remembered, “The last time I saw the sunset here I was with Grandpa.” Yep, the four of us were there last August. The sun blazed brilliantly then too as we watched it get swallowed by the sea.
My spouse drove my son to Queens this morning. We all had lunch together and then my spouse returned home. After driving Mom to a doctor’s appointment, we — Mom, my son, the dogs, and me — came out to Long Island. We got here too late to go to the beach. But early enough that we could sit out back for awhile before dinner. I tried to read out on the deck, but I was too tired. I’m still not sleeping well at night, which means I’m tired for much of the day. Keeping my eyes open while reading — if I’m sedentary — is a challenge. Giving up, I put the book behind my head — books double very comfortably as travel pillows — and closed my eyes. In the distance, I could hear the rumble of thunder. I inhaled the clean country air, and let my thoughts drift to Dad. It was almost five o’clock. If Dad were alive he’d have been making himself a manhattan. He’d have come out onto the deck to sit with me — his drink in one hand, a book in the other. We’d have sat quietly reading together, occasionally pausing to exchange a few words. Quiet isn’t the same, when you’re alone.
Mom sat in the living room going through a box of Dad’s keepsakes. She found a felt bookmark shaped like a baseball bat that I made Dad eons ago. The Mets orange and blue bandanna Dad got last year when he took my son to the game. Hat pins that for some reason never made it into one of the many frames that hold his hat pin collection. And so many other things. I couldn’t watch. It made me cry. But not Mom. She lovingly organized everything and then returned the box to Dad’s drawer.
We ate Chinese food for dinner. Dad ate at the Chinese restaurant often. He’d see the owner at the beach or the library and he’d alway stop to say hello. The owner knew Dad. He knew I belonged to my Dad and so today, when I picked up the food, he asked me how my mom and dad were. I told him Dad died. That the covid killed him. He punched the wall and screamed, “No.” Then he looked at me, tears in his eyes, and offered his condolences. For a man who really only knew Dad in passing, I was surprised by how stricken he looked.
It’s night. Mom is sleeping. She doesn’t sleep well but she does snatch a few moments of slumber here and there. My son is in his room, rebelling as always against going to sleep. At least tonight the rebellion is a silent one and he is in his bed. The dogs are with mom and my son is jealous. He’s hoping one will wander into his room. Through my window drifts the scent of burning wood. Somewhere, someone has a fire. There is a cool breeze so that I feel a slight chill and I can hear the leaves rustling on the trees. Soon I will walk the dogs and then I too can attempt to go to sleep.
On my wall, beside my bed, is the parchment painting my parents bought me last year when they went to Egypt. My name is written in hieroglyphics and next to my name is a picture of an Egyptian man and an Egyptian woman. The colors — blues, reds, and yellows — are bright and vivid. Daddy was so excited last year when he gave me the painting. It wasn’t even a full year ago. They got home from their trip in late June, and we came to visit them the day after my son finished third grade. Less than a year. He was so happy, so full of life.
My son has been extremely excited to be with his uncle’s dogs. He was much more excited to see them than he was to see me or my Mom. He loves the dogs, but he overwhelms them. When he sits on the couch, he wants them to cuddle with him, but they are used to my mom and keep drifting back to her. It frustrates my son. In an attempt to keep the dogs close to my son so that he could pet them without having to chase them, Mom sat next to him. Content with her close-by, they let my son pet them.
My mother spent the day trying to organize my dad’s junk drawer down in the basement. She spent hours sorting nails, and separating them based on size. “You’re dad would never have done this,” she announced to me when I went downstairs to check on her. She’s probably right. There is one jumble of nails and that worked for him, so why would he have bothered to organize it? Perhaps the better question is, why is mom trying to organize it? I can’t envision her selecting nails and hammering something into the wall. There’s nothing to hang. And if there was, it wouldn’t take but a few seconds to find the appropriate nail. But maybe the organizing calms her. The shifting through metal puts her mind at ease.
While mom labored with nails in the basement, I visited with the oversized plastic box that contains Dad’s ashes. Attached to the box is a card that reads, “The Cremated Remains of Gary A. Jaeger.” But mostly, the box is filled with the remains of the simple pine coffin they used to transport his body. What I want to do is pour the ashes onto the floor and sift through them, separate that which was once Dad from that which was once wood. It would be a morbid endeavor, but somehow the pine seems a violation. As if it is soiling my father.
Perhaps I return to the ashes to remind myself that Dad is really dead. The days go on. The sun rises and sets. Everything is the same, except for Dad’s absence. While we were eating lunch mom said, “It doesn’t seem real. You father planned to do so many things. We were supposed to get a new door this year.” Such a small thing. We were supposed get a new door. The we in Mom’s life has become an I. Just like that, after 48 years of marriage, she’s become singular.
Last week, my spouse commented, “What is our son going to do for Father’s Day in the future? In school, he always made things for your dad. Who will fill that role now?” The honest answer — no one. No one will ever be able to fill Dad’s role. Yeah, he might find other male role models, but it will never be the same.
And now there is this bullshit poem going around on Facebook that starts off, “What if 2020 isn’t canceled?” That’s the sort of elitist bullshit that can only be penned by someone who hasn’t experienced the death of a loved one. Fuck, if 2020 were only canceled, when it was over perhaps I could apply to get my dad back. But ask anyone who’s parent, spouse, grandparent, or child died and I bet they won’t look at this as a canceled year. Canceled are the proms and graduations. Sporting events and recitals. If that is your only loss, you haven’t suffered, not really. You’ve only experienced an inconvenience. The poem goes on to state, “What if 2020 was the year we’ve been waiting for?” Well isn’t that a punch in the gut to 110,000 people who have died. They didn’t spend their lives waiting for death. Do not make a mockery of the misery in which they were killed. No one waits to die, especially not alone. “2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.” Sorry, but the year my father died isn’t the most important. It is the most tragic. Calling attention to things being canceled and not attention to the death toll shows the shallowness of the author. Things in my life haven’t been canceled. They’ve been terminated. To hell with people complaining about having to put their lives on hold. Their worlds will resume soon enough. But death is permanent.
It has been dreary day. Cloudy all morning and then raining in the later part of the afternoon. The rain, the clouds, the gloom exacerbate my loneliness. Compound my sorrow. Shitty people have been left untouched by the virus. It’s so unfair. My son needs his grandfather. I need my dad.
My son lost televisions privileges. Stuck in he house, he is bored, and so he took it upon himself to clean the bathroom. I suppose it’s worthwhile endeavor. It’s better than sitting in his room complaining he has nothing to do.
“If the house number wasn’t 13, do you think your father would have died?” My mom asked me as we were getting ready to take the dogs out for a walk.
“I don’t know.” The question caught me completely by surprise. After all these years — and this address was mine for decades — it never occurred to me that the house could be cursed because of our address. I knew the house number was 13. I knew 13 was an unlucky number. But I never put two and two together to wonder if this is why I’ve lived a luckless life. Now, however, it seems to make so much sense. “Did you often wonder if the 13 brought you bad luck?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “It’s always bothered me. Especially now. If we lived in a different house, maybe he wouldn’t have died.”
I’ve been going over numbers so much lately. It’s hard to turn away from superstition. And as we walked passed the house of another victim, I couldn’t help but notice the 13 in his address as well. In Dad’s death, the unlucky Asian 4 collided with the unlucky American 13. Luck has never been in my corner. Now, I feel the curse burning even hotter all around me.
I saw a Father’s Day commercial, the first I’ve seen this year, and I started to cry. Father’s Day used to be one the happiest days of the year. This year, I dread it. I’m not looking forward to the day where we honor fathers, when I no longer have one.
Mom is working hard to understand how to use her computer. Things even I — who struggle with technology — find intuitive, she struggles with. But she takes notes diligently, determined to earn a place in the 21st century. We spent a great deal of time going over some of the basics: how to send an email, how to do an internet search, how to file documents into differs folders. She’s getting it. Slowly, it’s starting to make sense for her.
It’s still hard being in this house. I miss Dad so much. I go into his room and sit on the bed and look at his things, the things he was supposed to come home to and I just cry. His ties hung neatly in his closet. The picture of him and my son. His jewelry box. He wasn’t supposed to die. Not now. Not yet. Why did this virus have to take him away?
The death toll hit 110,000 today, but news of the virus has been ignored in the wake of the recent protests. With the lack of reporting regarding the virus, one might think Trump was right, that like a miracle it simply disappeared. No one is talking about it. Everyone is focused on George Floyd and the need to end police brutality. Why aren’t reporters better at multitasking? Why do they always hyper focus on only one event. And these protests are going to set off anther spike in cases. I don’t see how the can’t. With thousands of people taking to the streets, the virus is bound to spread and infect more people. Why aren’t we talking about it any more?
I miss my son. I’m looking forward to Saturday when I will see him. He’s looking forward to Saturday when he will see the dogs.
Forty times two. That’s where I am. My period of being tested has doubled, but it doesn’t matter if I pass, because survival won’t bring back my dad. According to the Biblical stories, after forty days you either pass or fail, but the testing ends. Not for me. Daddy’s dead. The pandemic rages on. I continue to drift aimlessly on an indifferent current uncertain if the rain will stop, if a rainbow will appear, and if I’ll ever reach a destination I desire.
This morning, I was out walking and reading Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. I’ve enjoyed her work ever since reading The Poisonwood Bible. The book is well written and engaging, and after months of being in a brain fog, I find I can read more than a few pages at a time. In fact, this morning I was so engrossed in the story, I hadn’t picked my head up for a few blocks, when suddenly the sound of heavy machinery yanked my head to the side and pulled my eyes away from the page. The gravediggers were back digging a new hole, with two other fresh graves not too far in the distance. Yes, the wave is receding, but apparently, people are still dying. Families still grieving.
My son is in rare form today. His anger is multiplying. A grief counselor would be wonderful, but it won’t work for a kid opposed to all things virtual. Not until the world opens up. Not until he can actually talk to someone face to face. He is giving my spouse an insanely difficult time. But he needs to finish his project for Spanish class. His project about Pablo Neruda. The poet my son chose after a FaceTime conversation with my parents while they were still down in Chile. On the vacation that ultimately killed my dad.
I decided to compile my blog entries (only up through Day 60) into a manuscript. Friends helped me with a query letter. I’m used to agent rejections. I’m also used to being ignored by agents. Usually though, if they do respond, they tell me memoirs are hard to sell unless the person writing them is well known in their field. Obviously I’m not. They also tell me that for an agent to be interested, the material must be current. Today, I got my first rejection for the Pandemic Diaries. In the letter, the agent said that due to the high number of memoir manuscripts they need to be selective. They can only take on work that would resonate with enough people to make it worth their time. They don’t consider obscure topics. Now I wonder. Did the agent even read my letter? Covid-19 is not obscure. The coronavirus has been in the news for months. One hundred thousand people have died. Almost two million Americans have tested positive. But still the topic isn’t current enough? It wouldn’t speak to enough people? I bet if Beyonce or Tom Brady wrote my story the agents would fight over it. I guess regular people don’t count for much. Our stories don’t matter.
And now the hospital bills have started to roll in. How is it ethical for doctors to charge $1000 dollars for 30 minutes? I’m not saying they shouldn’t get paid well. But that seems excessive. I mean they aren’t god. They’re not that good. If they were, they’d have been able to save my dad. The fact that they couldn’t proves they are just mortals doing their jobs. Why are they entitled to $1000 dollars for 30 minutes when teachers get paid shit. There wouldn’t be any doctors, if there weren’t any teachers. How is it okay to pay teachers a measly $5000 a month when doctors can charge that same amount for two and a half hours? Does that seem even remotely fair? But whoever said life is fair? Life sucks. You work your entire life. Most people doing the best they can to get by. They finally reach a point in their lives where they are happy. Where they are doing things they enjoy. Then a pandemic sweeps through town and kills them. No, life isn’t fair. It’s miserable. And then you die. In the end, what’s the point? Why bother? You work so someone else can kick back, relax, and live an extravagant life-style while you cut corners, wondering when your luck is going to change. Never. That’s the answer. It will never change. Tomorrow will not be better than today. Tomorrow the doctors will be richer and the teacher will be poorer. And me, I’ll still be wasting my time chasing dreams that turned to dust years ago.
Daddy died seven weeks ago. I keep returning to Dad’s death certificate. It’s as if my mind refuses to believe it really belongs to him. I read it over and over again and I can’t pull myself away. But I had been wondering if it would note Covid-19 as the cause of our misery. It did.
The official cause of death: Cardiopulmonary arrest due to Covid-19 pulmonary infection.
The contributing cause of death: Respiratory failure due to Covid-19 pulmonary infection.
And now the wave is ebbing. I heard ambulance sirens only twice today. Mom and I went for a walk and people are out socializing with each other. No masks. No fears. No sorrow. It is as if a tsunami swept through town, washed away several thousand people, and now that the waters are retreating fear is dissipating. People are happy. They are alive. The world is renewing itself. But for dead, there is no rebirth. No revival. And for those of us who watched the wave carry our loved ones away, there are only tears. I walk around this neighborhood in which I grew up, and the ghost of my father follows me. There is no street that doesn’t remind me of him, no store that doesn’t carry at least one memory. I walk and I cry. How could God be so cruel?
This evening, Mom and I were walking my brother’s dogs. He left them here for her until he returns — which will be in about two weeks — because they’ve been good for her. Therapy dogs. They cuddle with her. They sleep curled beside her. And taking care of them gives her someone to dote on. Anyway, while we were walking, we saw a Trump banner flying in front of someone’s house. “Trump 2020 No More Bullshit.” The banner upset my mother so much it made her cry. It angered me. Seriously, why is that bastard still alive, but my father is dead. The world is unfair. How can anyone put the words “Trump” and “No More Bullshit” in the same space. The man is incapable of telling the truth. The only thing that flies out of his mouth is bullshit. Lies, bullshit, and insults. And while he sits in the White House, hiding like a petrified child from protesters, our country, our citizens are suffering. Pestilence. Protests. Poverty. This is what he has given us. And instead of trying to make any of it better, he’s threatening citizens with military action. What have we as nation become? How can anyone with a moral compass even slightly intact continue to support him? How can anyone who claims to be a Christian applaud him? How can anyone with any decency at all even contemplate voting for him?
It has been a long day of running errands. Mom is exhausted. She is cuddled up on Dad’s recliner with the dogs. It’s the only thing that seems to bring her a little peace. A little comfort. Dad left behind so much emptiness. I don’t think my heart will ever heal.
I am back in Queens. My brother went home to Nashville, but mom still needs help. My brother got her a computer and an iPhone. She last felt comfortable using modern technology sometime in the 1970s. Leapfrogging fifty years is proving to be a challenge. However, my brother sat with her to give her many tutorials, and now I’m here to reteach and reinforce. Those of you who know how bad I am when it comest to technology are probably laughing. But I at least know enough to get her comfortable with the basics.
My son is not happy about doing a graphic novel unit in school. He complained about the prospect of having to read a graphic novel until I convinced him that Wimpy Kid is a graphic novel of sorts. He used to like Wimpy Kid so the prospect of rereading one of the books was not terrible. But now he has to write a graphic novel and he’s flipping out over the fact that he has to draw. I can’t blame him. I never liked to draw in class either. My spouse managed to get him to draft a summary of a story. But that’s all he’d do today. Something on paper is better than nothing. Hopefully tomorrow he’ll be up for expanding the plot. I’m not going to worry too much about the pictures just yet — I figure for a writing class, the emphasis should be on writing anyway.
This morning, before I left for New York, my son and I went to play tennis. While walking to the courts he said, “I’m going to have a lot to tell my kids, if I ever have them, about this year. Think about it, Mama. I’m only ten and I’m living through a deadly virus, a crashing economy, and another Martin Luther King era. And Grandpa died. That’s a lot for a kid.”
His accomplishment of the day was another painted rock — the German flag. Because Grandpa was German.
New York City had changed since I was last here. There are more people out and about walking around. And I haven’t heard a single ambulance siren since I arrived. I walked to the store for Mom and on the way I walked past the cemetery. There was only one new grave.
Without Dad, this house feels wrong. Empty. I miss him so much more when I’m here. Mom said things are starting to randomly fall apart. One of Dad’s desk drawers broke. My bed broke. It’s as if even the house is angry that Dad died.
I’ve been looking closely at numbers related to Dad’s death and here’s an interesting fact I realized regarding his siblings: My uncle died in the 12th month (he was the oldest), my aunt died in the 8th month (the middle child), and Dad died in the 4th month (the youngest).
There was a time I felt only excitement when I got something published. But it’s hard to feel completely excited when the content of my story is Dad’s death. Clare Morris published my essay “When Daddy Died” in the Writer Life section of The Blue Nib. (You can read it here: https://thebluenib.com/when-daddy-died/). The essay is a modified version of Mama – Day 31 from these Pandemic Diaries. It recounts the day after Dad died, the day I was reunited with my son after my own bout with Covid-19.
My son is still sleeping. It’s 11:30. He never sleeps this late. Maybe being tired is a contributing factor to his crankiness. He hasn’t been sleeping right since the pandemic shut everything down, since Dad got sick and then died. I can’t blame him. I haven’t been sleeping either.
I spoke to Mom this afternoon. My brother left yesterday to return to Nashville and Mom is feeling lonely and sad. I miss Dad terribly. I can only imagine how much harder it is on her. While my brother was with her, he helped her a great deal. He sorted out her benefits and other paperwork that I would have struggled with. Finance is not something I understand as well as I should.
On the phone, Mom told me that Daddy died at 4:14 pm. That means he died at 4:14 on 4/14. When I was child, I considered 4 to be my lucky number. I wore number 4 for years playing both softball and basketball. One year, during college, I wanted number four for one of my summer leagues, but my friend beat me to it. Since it was a summer league, a league to play in just for fun, they let me be -4. I played shortstop. My friend played second. Standing together, we were 0 which won us many laughs. But then I moved to Korea, where I learned 4 was the unluckiest number of all. In Asia, they regard number 4 the way we regard 13. Four is unlucky because the pronunciation of the number is similar to the pronunciation of ‘death’ in Chinese. When a Korean friend first explained this to me, I laughed. It seemed so silly. But now, well, what else could 4 possibly represent. Daddy died on the fourth hour in the afternoon of the fourth month.
We bought chocolate croissants at Costco. My spouse saw them and suggested we get them since our son loves them. I was concerned they wouldn’t taste good. Most packaged croissants don’t. But my spouse suggested they might not be so bad if we put them in the toaster oven. She was right. The crispy flakey bread and the melted chocolate — they weren’t bad. When my son tried it he said, “They’re good, but not as good as the chocolate croissants Grandpa got us in Disney.” I laughed. Every time my son eats a chocolate croissant he thinks of Grandpa and the first one he ever ate down in Florida when he was four. I think of Dad, also, every time I eat one, because my introduction to them was in Quebec the year we went there for summer vacation. We ate croissants every day. The chocolate were my favorite, but Dad’s favorite were the almond ones.
In an attempt to keep himself from getting bored, my son has been collecting big rocks and painting them. Some of them have come out pretty good. The drippy rainbow one is my favorite.
I had been looking forward to a family day. A day away from this condo, across state lines, doing something fun. But when you have a kid, things don’t always go according to plan. We crossed into Pennsylvania with the intention of hiking at Ralph Stover State Park. However, from the moment we stepped out of the car, my son made it clear that he did NOT want to go hiking. He complained about being there, he complained that he couldn’t have a rest day — almost every day, for the last 76 days, has been a rest day — he complained that he always had to do what we told him to o, he complained that he was too old to be treated like a child. I hoped that once we started to walk, once we were in motion, he’d settle down a bit. He didn’t. At a crossroads, we let him choose which way to go, but that wasn’t enough. He then wanted to hike down a precarious slope. It was not the safest route. We said no, and the storm of his anger rumbled around us. If you’re going to make me hike you could at least like me walk where I want. I don’t even want to be here. I’m too old for family days. I’m growing up. I’m not a kid. I need my independence. I want time to myself.
We hadn’t even walked a quarter of a mile and my anger was rising to meet his. I look at him and said, “We’re going home. Let’s go. And you can have all the time you want to yourself. But no television. None for the rest of the day.”
Defiantly, he crossed his arms, “I don’t care.” And so he lost television for tomorrow too.
Less than fifteen minutes after we got out of the car, we were back on the road heading back home. I was silently fuming until my son fell asleep. I have no idea what set him off. I’m sure Dad’s death is playing into the equation. Dad dying is probably the worst thing that could have happened in his young life, especially at a time when the world feels like it’s falling apart. At time when he is cut off from friends and all of his activities. Back in the life we were living before the pandemic shut everything down, today would have been the district championships for taekwondo. Before my parents left for their cruise down in Patagonia, my son asked Dad if he would come to the tournament which was scheduled to take place in Lancaster. Dad promised he’d be there. But there was no tournament. And Dad will never go to anything again. My son lost his number one fan. And I wondered aloud to my spouse, “Do you think he’s suddenly trying act grown up because he feels that if he’s not a little kid he won’t need his grandfather as much. Do you think it’s an attempt to compensate for his pain.” She shrugged, and said, “That’s possible. I hadn’t even thought of that, but yeah.”
There was no television for the day which meant no movie. But no movie is impossible because we know our son would simply protest and refuse to go to bed which meant that we wouldn’t get a movie either. Our tactic — which we’ve employed before — is to have a moms movie night which means we get to choose the movie, and our son gets to chose whether he’d rather go to bed or be bored by our pick. He always chooses the movie. In the wake of Floyd’s murder and the protests, my spouse wanted to watch a movie that would speak to the current events. I suggested American History X — one of my favorite movies. We were all set to watch it too, until I asked for recommendations on Facebook for movies that deal with racism. One friend recommended, The Hate U Give. Watching the preview, my spouse decided we’d watch that one instead. It seemed the most relevant to today’s events.
About twenty minutes into the movie, my son asked, “Is this real?” And suddenly we were thrust back ten weeks, to the beginning of the pandemic, when we decided to watch Contagion. While watching that movie, we had to keep reminding our son that it was fictional since there were moments it seemed like we were watching CNN. Tonight, was similar. I answered, “No.” But then I explained that the story is fictional, the characters are made up, but the plot is real. White cop killing black boy. We see it all the time. And then the protests and riots that followed — when the movie ended and we turned on CNN, it’s like we were watching the same show. And yet, nothing ever changes.
Except now our watchlist is filled with movies recommended by friends. Movies we can use as a tool to discuss racism with our son.
2011-2016: Mom enjoyed buying my son clothes. Twice a year — usually Labor Day weekend, and Easter week — Mom and Dad would take us shopping at the Tanger Outlets in Riverhead. My son, like most little kids, hated to shop. So while Mom and I looked around and picked out the clothes we liked, Dad would take his grandson out to sit on the quarter rides that were strategically placed around the outlets. He loved those rides. Dad must have spent a small fortune on them through the years, but he enjoyed watching his grandson have fun.
Another black man killed by a cop. Riots in Minneapolis. A burning police station. Trump’s escalating twitter war. Trump’s abandonment in WHO in the middle of pandemic that has killed 103,000 Americans. In the last 48 hours, there have been at least two dozen messages I’ve wanted to send Dad. I’ve wanted to tag him in posts and articles. And I wanted to call him to discuss the awful political events that are gripping out country. But I can’t because one of the horrible events killed him. Dad despised Trump. He’d have had many choice words for his behavior over the last couple of days. I can hear his anger in my head — but it’s only an echo.
While watching the news, my son commented,“If you think about it, it makes sense that the protesters used violence. If the police use violence why shouldn’t regular people. Remember the police set the dogs on Martin Luther King and he was peaceful.” Damn! He’s perceptive for a kid. And it’s true. How do I impress upon him that violence is wrong, when peaceful protests are silenced or ignored or attacked?
At the moment, this is my fear: We have Trump at the helm. In a tweet he called the protesters thugs. A president should not be using divisive language — at all. Especially now. But we all know it’s one of his specialities. One of his weapons. However, he didn’t stop there, he went on to promise the Governor of Minnesota that he’d have the backing of the US Military if he wanted it. This is extremely disconcerting. I don’t trust Trump. He would turn military style weapons on Democrats and liberals and go golfing while they bled in the streets. He’s already responsible for so many deaths, what are a few thousand more. There is also something very wrong when cops can kill black people without consequence and then they are the ones called upon to keep angry black men and women in check. They have already proven that they abuse their power. And so we give them more power so that the cycle of abuse will continue. But the cop who killed Floyd was finally arrested. He’s in custody. But is he being treated like a criminal or a cop? Maybe the better question is, will the charges stick? Will he be convicted?
Trump, in his brilliantly cruel and historically ignorant way, also tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” For this, Twitter censored him. How absolutely deplorable to have a president who is inciting violence. A president who essentially gave cops the green light to shoot more black people. In short, our president is attempting to start a race war — in the midst of a pandemic.
Yes, let’s not forget the pandemic. People have been warned to social distance, and now they are mingling on the street, not caring about six feet. Some are wearing masks, but not everyone. But these men and women hitting the streets aren’t looking to get a haircut or eat in a restaurant or even go to a gym. They are the ones who are legitimately standing up for their rights. Their freedom. But in standing up against police brutality. In protesting their right to be equal, to be treated humanely, to not die, they may die in greater numbers due to the coronavirus. Remember, it’s hitting the African-American community harder than the white community. It’s hard to believe that numbers won’t spike. And again, this is where the president is failing. I blame him. He should be trying to unite Americans in an effort to keep everyone safe — from violence and from the virus. But he’s only capable of riling up his base. Americans are dying. And while America burns he twiddles his thumbs, spewing hate on social media.
And my neighbors are Trumpers. They have to be. White privileged middle class people who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. Again, they set themselves out in front of their condo unit this evening — only four of them this time. But no masks. No respect. They spread their chairs across the communal walkway. To get to the mailbox, to pick up my mail, I had nowhere to walk, except on the flowers planted between their chairs and the fence. They cursed me out for crushing the flowers. But why do they need to sit on the walkway when they have a patio? When my spouse came home. She made them move to let her pass. But still, we both had to walk through the germs they emitted into the air. The condo association should not permit such gatherings at time like this. If our neighbors don’t care enough about their own health that’s one thing, but their actions could lead to infecting — possibly killing — others in the development, and that is unacceptable.
2015: Shortly after I had gotten married, I had gone to visit my parents — just me. My spouse had stayed home. After dinner, Dad and I lingered at the table, finishing our glasses of wine. I always enjoyed those few extra moments. Dad took a sip of wine, and held the glass in his hand, staring at the liquid as he confessed, “I think I’m more surprised that you married someone white, than that you married a woman.” His words caught me by surprise. They weren’t at all what I had expected. “Why do you say that?” And he laughed, “It’s a stereotype, I know, but all those years of basketball. I was prepared to have a mixed race grandchild. Now, if you have a kid, two moms, that might take a bit to get used to.” But his eyes were laughing, and so I knew he was joking.
The landscapers were out in full force again today. I am in pain. I am miserable. My spouse once told me that she would move to another state provided I found a job. We couldn’t move if we didn’t have money. Last spring, I was desperate to get out of this condo in order to salvage my mental heath. Desperation drove me to applying for a job in Baltimore. I figured why not. I couldn’t find a job in Jersey. But I rocked several interviews in Baltimore. As a result, I was offered a job. A full time teaching position. I was ecstatic. Finally, I could see the light. But then my spouse informed me that I could move to Baltimore, but she was keeping my son in New Jersey. If she found a job, they would join me. IF. That meant if she didn’t find a job, I’d be surrendering my child. That was not an option. After years of searching for a job and not finding one in Jersey, I finally had a chance to earn my own money. But I had to decline the offer. Given the choice, gainful employment or my son — well, it wasn’t really a choice, was it? And so I fell into a deeper depression. For me there was no out. No escape from this condo. No job, no paycheck of my own. And the noise still tortures me — the pain gets worse every day. Now do you understand why I feel imprisoned?
Because of the noise that lasted many hours — it is 5:30 and there are still landscapers out and about — I had a very unproductive day. But my son and I did enjoy playing tennis — in the rain. Which he said was great because it cooled him off.
We were watching the news this evening as I made dinner. I listened as they spoke about the riots last night in Minnesota. While I don’t believe the violence was right, I certainly understand it. Cops continuously get a way with murder — literally. And the one cop, the cop that pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck, it’s not the first time he was involved in such a brutal and racist act. Yet, he kept getting a pat on the back. I keep hearing people say there are good cops. Where are they? Why aren’t they speaking out against these acts of violence? Good guys don’t stay silent while crimes are being committed. But cops have this brotherhood. They protect each other. They won’t even give each other a speeding ticket. If they are permitted to break the law time and time again on the road, well, why do we expect them to uphold other laws? We need to hold them accountable to the same laws — across the board — as every other citizen.
But I suppose one thing Americans are great at is not obeying laws, rules, advice, or anything else they perceive as making their own lives a bit more challenging. We are a selfish nation. At this point, if people refuse to wear a mask, if they flout social distancing regulations, they deserve to get sick and suffer serious debilitating problems for the rest of their life. This evening, my rude neighbors, had friends over. There were at least eight of them sitting around a tight circle outside — not nearly six feet apart from each other — and not a single one of them was wearing a mask. The condo units are squished together, so some of them were barely six feet away from me. I wish I was still sick. I would have enjoyed infecting all of them, since they seem to have no regard for anyone else — including my family. While they were talking, I overheard them complaining about rules and regulations in stores and how they are tired of being inconvenienced. It’s not right that they have to wait on lines and it’s crazy that they make you walk certain ways in the store. And it’s time more business open. Things have been closed long enough. My dad is dead, and these assholes are bitching about laws that are meant to help keep them alive. Perhaps I should mention, the lovely hosts of the gathering are not spring chickens. Why aren’t they the ones suffering?
I am fed up. Disgusted with everyone. All I want is a quiet little retreat. A house in the middle of nowhere where I can live without people — except of course my son. He’d have to be there with me. I’d want to hear nothing but running water and birds, cicadas and frogs. Nature. I want to be surrounded by nature. This blog already witnessed my dad’s physical decline. His death. I fear you are all about to witness my mental decline next if I don’t get to move ASAP.
It took all day, but I finally had a moment of peace, an hour, cuddled up with my son to read. Dad’s cousin sent my son a subscription to The Week Junior, and awesome magazine that has sparked some really good conversations between me and my son. We also read a few pages in Prince Caspian.
1977-ish: Dad took us to Lum’s (it no longer exists, but I believe it used to be somewhere on Northern Boulevard) for dinner. It was his favorite Chinese restaurant. I was little, but I always enjoyed eating out. And according to my parents, I always ate well. Since we were going out to dinner, my parents dressed me up and I took my little red Mickey Mouse — or maybe it was Minnie Mouse — purse. (I will pause for a moment so you can all chuckle at the image of me looking like a girl.) After dinner, I reached into my purse, pulled out three pennies — it was all I had — and told Dad that I’d leave the tip. He smiled and thanked me. Of course, he left a real tip as well, but he let me feel as if I were helping him pay. As if I were a grown-up and not just a little kid.
Last night, my spouse and I were watching the news and we learned about George Floyd’s murder — another black man killed by a cop. My spouse commented, “Every time I see this happen I think about E, S, and C. I can’t imagine how awful and fearful they feel.” I agreed. There is so much we as parents worry about. Anxiety comes naturally to any parent who loves their kid. We want to help navigate our children safely through the world. But one thing I don’t have to worry about is my son being brutally murdered by a cop because of the color of his skin. It’s not fair that our friends’s boys have to play by different rules. It’s not right that racism still has such revered place in our society and that the people we pay to uphold the law are permitted — again and again — to break it.
While the news was on, the anchor told the audience that the video he was about to show might be too violent for children. Maybe it is for little ones. But children my son’s age, especially white children, need to see it. They need to observe the truth. They need to know that police are not always the good guys. They have to witness racism because if they don’t, they won’t realize it’s there, and you can’t work to eradicate something you don’t see.
Last fall, in one of my writing classes, we had read an essay about black parenting. A discussion regarding racism followed and my favorite student — a young black man — asked me, “I think the difficulties of black parents are almost too obvious. You only have to turn on the television to see it. But if you don’t mind sharing, please tell me what you see as some of the difficulties of white parenting?” At first, I was a bit taken aback. And I’m not always good at thinking and processing quickly, which is why I write much better than I speak. But I said, “One of the hardest things is raising my son to be race conscious in a sensitive and sympathetic way. I’m not always sure what is age appropriate. Nor am I always confident that what I say is correct.” And it’s true. As you know, I read an awful lot, but sometimes the material I read regarding race is conflicting. And when I talk to minority friends, even they disagree. But every time I read or hear about another black man being murdered, my student’s question comes back to me. And I wonder, in regards to race am I doing enough? What more can I do?
Personally, I do not understand this irrational fear of black men. I’ve had numerous high school and college students who are black, and I’ve never been afraid of any of them, even the ones who could easily bench press me with one arm. I’ve traveled through parts of Africa — a woman alone — and I wasn’t afraid. I’ve hugged black men and their hugs are no different than white men. Black men have held my child and I’ve never worried they would cause him harm. Twice in my life I have been physically attacked. Twice I’ve had to defend myself. Neither time was my attacker black.
Today, we have reached 100,000 Americans dead from the Coronavirus. However, Floyd’s murder overshadows that huge milestone. My life has been terribly altered by the virus. It killed the man I loved most. But today, my tears are also for a man I never met. They are for all the young black men I know, and those I don’t. My tears are for the parents of black children who have to raise their children in a world where cops continuously kill them so callously. Science is working to find a vaccine for the virus. They are researching ways to cure it. What are we doing to prevent another brutal act by police? The virus has killed 100,000 Americans. When you look back over the course of our history, I’m fairly certain cops — or men empowered by the law — have killed more than 100,000 black men. Each of whom had a life. A family who loved him. A future stolen.
In other news, Disney has set a date to begin phasing open its parks — July 11. This summer, as you know, Dad wanted to take his grandson to Disney and Universal. We were set to depart on June 30 and we were due to return on July 10. Disney is opening the day after we were to leave. The dates are still marked on my calendar, written in happier time. It was to be the start of a fantastic fun filled summer. Now, nothing fun remains. Dad’s death made sure of that. But at least the park won’t be open until after we were supposed to be there. It doesn’t minimize the pain, but it takes away a bit of the sting. Even if Dad hadn’t died, our plans would have been foiled.
My son’s school work is taking forever to complete today. I don’t think he has more than usual. He’s just moving in slow motion. Maybe it’s the heat. Or more likely, lethargy. He’s bored of the same sort of assignments over and over. The endless staring at a computer screen. It’s no way to learn, especially not for children.
When his work was done we went to play tennis. My son has reached the age where a compliment in public from me — his mom — is the equivalent of public shaming. He’s improved a great deal from when we started playing last summer (I just wish I was a better tennis coach). While we were playing, I told him that he was doing much better and that I was proud of him. Immediately, his nostrils flared, his brow crinkled, and he whisper screamed for me to “stop it or I’m going home.” I made the mistake of asking him what was wrong. He shot a glance at the people on the other court, rolled his eyes, and answered, “You’re embarrassing me.”
At home — after another half hour of tennis — I asked him if he wanted to play cards. He didn’t. Instead, he wanted me to watch him construct a boat, one he designed himself using paper. He then cut cork and glued it to the bottom so that it would float. It was a cute project. And when it was time to take a bath, he let one of his rubber ducks ride in his boat.
Some of you have suggested that I try to publish the early entries of my Pandemic Diaries. I’m considering it. Finding an agent will be the tricky part. In prior attempts to find an agent, I’ve been told that memoir really only sells if the author is well known. I am not. There are so many voices already out there speaking about the virus, I’m not sure anyone would care to add mine to the mix. However, I’ve begun to go back to the beginning in an attempt to clean up my typos. Writing while crying made for some interesting mistakes. But the reading is slow and challenging. Living through it all once was hard enough. I’ve also written my query letter. Perhaps I should start researching agents.
2017: Every summer, my brother is kind enough to let us stay in his condo up in P-Town (Cape Cod) for a week. It’s a wonderful gift for all of us, especially my son. We go during Family Week, the largest international gathering of Queer families. It was there that my son met LC — a black boy with two dads. The boys connected almost immediately and they got along remarkably well. One night, we were hanging out with LC’s family. It was probably one of our most enjoyable evenings in P-Town, but what made it so enjoyable was watching the kids interact. Joking. Telling stories. Being silly. At one point, they wrapped their arms around each other while walking. Happy, simply to be in each other’s company.
The tennis courts in our condo development are once again open. My son and I played this afternoon. We had fun, but while we were out, I was dismayed by how many teenagers were congregating in large groups. It’s as if things are back to normal and fraternizing is no longer a problem. None of them were wearing masks and they were standing awfully close to each other. I don’t understand why people are not taking the virus more seriously. On the news, they showed clips of crowed beaches and lakes from Memorial Day weekend. Are people not watching the news? Are they unaware that 99,000 Americans have already died? Maybe they think they are invincible. But at this point, the data is out there. Science has spoken. If you refuse to listen, if you refuse to be cautious, shouldn’t there be consequences when your actions make some one else ill, or worse, kill them?
I need to get out of this condo. The landscapers are out this afternoon and the noise is awful. Painful. As soon as the motors start, I begin shaking uncontrollably, and I feel as though my insides are being sliced to pieces. My mental health was shaky at the beginning of this pandemic. Now, after the last two months, I’m worse, not better. I won’t survive living here with this noise. I am a happier person in New York. I am a happier person just about anywhere.
A friend of mine commented about how I could be kinder in my view of New Jersey. Here’s the problem. I moved here for the wrong reasons. I moved here because I got married. Not because I fell in love with New Jersey. Not because I was offered a dream job. The original agreement was that we’d start out here, but move to New England. My spouse had just graduated with a MBA and planned to look for a job further north. But then, once we were married, she decided to became a teacher. Our plans to move disintegrated. Instead of moving, we bought a condo and had a child which I was too naive at the time to realize was condemning me to a longer life in New Jersey. And now, I feel stuck. There was nothing inherent about the state that drew me. It’s crowed. The taxes are high. It’s not even pretty. And even the hiking is mediocre. Worst of all, I can’t find a full time job. Not here. Not anywhere in New Jersey. So what is there to be happy about. It’s a place I moved to because I had dreams of something better and I thought this would be a stepping stone, not a death trap. But dreams — like always, in my case — turned to ash. And here I am. This condo has only exacerbated my dislike of the state. The noise has driven me mad. It’s hard to love something when you feel it has sucked your soul dry. When you feel escape is impossible. There is nothing for me in New Jersey, nothing except disappointment, unemployment, poverty, and misery. I do not foresee ever finding happiness unless I can move elsewhere.
And now, when I’m miserable, I can’t even call Dad. He was the only one who could make me feel better. The only one who knew how to navigate my emotions. One of the few people who seemed to understand me. When Dad died, I not only lost a father. I lost my best friend. So here I am, one of the worst days I’ve had since his death, and I have no one to call, no one to help. But as I sit here on the couch writing and crying, my son sat next to me and wrapped his arms around me. At least I have him.
Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s: I couldn’t sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night scared that the house would catch fire and that we’d all die. It wasn’t a usual fear and I have no idea what prompted it that specific night. But I woke Dad and told him that I was worried. He didn’t get made that I woke him up — which was unusual, Dad always got grumpy if woken up. Instead, he took my hand in his and guided me through the house. Together we searched every corner, every possible place a fire might start so that he could assure me that everything was fine. That we were safe. When the entire house had been examined, he brought me back to my room, tucked me back into bed, and sat on the edge of my bed until I fell asleep. Only with him there, only with him watching over me and promising to wake me if a fire started, could I fall back to sleep. Daddy always protected me.
In our brief absence, ants colonized our condo. I got back from my walk this morning to find my spouse in battle gear, a paper towel roll in one hand, and a sheet in the other. Her eyes were wide and vigilant. Each time an ant moved, she launched an attack. Smashing them, sprinting into the bathroom, and flushing them down the toilet. She hates ants and they were everywhere in the kitchen. She has since gone out to Home Depot to buy ant traps. In the meantime, I’m avoiding the kitchen so that I don’t have to get bloody.
It turns out, the Amish were not as isolated from the virus and knowledge of its existence as we thought they may have been. After reading yesterday’s post, my cousin sent me link to a CNN article from April 7. At the time, Dad was still in the hospital and I was avoiding all news, fearful that the news stories might destroy what little hope I was clinging to. According to the article, one clinic in Pennsylvania did set up a drive through testing site designed specifically for horses and buggies.
Now that I’m home from camping the reality of the weekend has set in and I’m missing Dad all over again. There were many Memorial Day Weekends when my son and I would drive out to Long Island to ring in the summer with a few beach days. It is the unofficial start to summer, and the only beach we ever went to was Veterans Beach. All others — especially ocean beaches — were way too crowded and I was never willing to sit in unbearable traffic if I didn’t have to. But even when we had other plans, Dad didn’t. He and Mom always spent this weekend in Mattituck. They always went to the beach, even if it was too cold to go swimming. But not this year. Dad will never go to the beach again. And my brother has decided to extend his stay in New York, but he never liked the house out on Long Island, so he and Mom are staying in the city.
We didn’t have any plans, but I suggested a social distancing cocktail hour with the only neighbors I like. They aren’t in our condo complex. They live down the road and across the street from us. We carried our camping chairs over and sat in their driveway, at least ten feet away from them. It was a very pleasant afternoon. It was enjoyable to actually have a conversation with other people — face to face. My son joined us for a little while. He spent some time writing a story on his chrome book, but he quickly got bored — too many adults — and went home.
Our conversation covered a great deal of ground, from education to television and politics to literature. It’s impossible to avoid discussions of politics, especially with people as politically conscious and concerned as you are. At one point, we discussed November and what will happen if Trumps loses. Will he vacate the White House peacefully as all his predecessors have done, or will he refuse to leave? He is a grown man prone to explosive temper tantrums, if he loses in the midst of a second wave of the coronavirus, will he intentionally kill more Americans — revenge against those who voted for Biden? But perhaps the biggest concern is his base. How will they react if he loses? Will there be riots? If so, how bloody will they be? As my spouse observed, it’s his people, his base who are the gun nuts, the people adamant that they need military style rifles in order to protect themselves. Will they turn those guns on their fellow Americans? I wish I could say that such a thought was far fetched and unlikely. But I can’t. Mostly, though, I wish I could call Dad up to discuss the possibility of chaos with him. I miss asking his opinion. I miss his input, his ideas, his voice.
2013: My parents went one a Viking cruise to Scandinavia — one of their first cruises. At the time, my son was three and he was struggling to speak. He called all cookies, cakes, chips, and ice-cream treats. Only he pronounced treats as “deets.” My mother had wanted to be called Nonna, and while we kept reinforcing it, my son persisted in calling her Deet-Deet. Since she was always spoiling him with treats, we translated his name for her as “The Treat Lady.” It seemed nothing we did would change his name for her. Then, my parents headed off to Scandinavia. When they returned nearly three weeks later, my son suddenly started calling his grandmother, Nonna. We have no idea why or what prompted the change. But I always joked, Deet-Deet went to Denmark but Nonna came home.
My spouse knew my son and I needed to get away. Yes, Long Island was wonderful, but we needed to really escape to a place that wasn’t saturated with memories of Dad. Besides, this remote learning has taken a toll on her and she needed a mini-vacation as well. Therefore, she booked a camping trip for us — this weekend, the first that Pennsylvania campsites were open. We crossed the boarder — it was mandatory. My first rule in camping, I will go anywhere, as long as it is not in New Jersey. (Of course Cub Scout camping trips used to be the exception to that rule.) Several years ago, we had gone to Reed’s Gap in Lancaster County. We really enjoyed it. The campsite was relatively remote, and there are only 14 sites in the entire campground. It seemed the perfect place to go and yet still be able to practice social distancing.
We got up early on Friday, but the weather forecast kept us from rushing out the door. Rain all day. Ugh! Not what you want to see on your weather app just before camping. But it’s me, and we are used to living under my dark cloud. Even more, we are accustomed to camping in a torrential downpour. And honestly, this won’t surprise you, I would chose camping in a hurricane over spending a night in this condo.
Packing the car always falls to me. I may not have many skills in life, but when it comes to packing lots of gear into a limited amount of space, I am a superstar. If only that skill were marketable, I’d be a millionaire. Looking at the pile of bags in the living room that needed to fit into the car, and the pile in the garage — not to mention all the firewood — my spouse and I had our doubts. But I do enjoy the challenge, the adrenaline rush. It’s like an advanced game of Tetris, and by the time I am finished, there is not a centimeter of unused space anywhere.
Of course, my son complained that he didn’t have enough room, but the sleeping bags and bags full of clothing in the back seat made excellent pillows when he napped. And we love it when he naps, because it means silence — no complaining.
The drive was about three hours west, and we weren’t on the road long when the forecast proved accurate. The first of many raindrops splashed onto the windshield, and we groaned at the prospect of setting up the tent in the rain. We had a few stretches when the clouds lightened and we thought maybe we’d get lucky, but luck is never anything that is on my side. About an hour away from our destination, my son and spouse were hungry. They suggested we stop at Burger King. I objected, claiming there wasn’t anything there I’d eat. I wasn’t terribly hungry, but I didn’t want to sit in the car and watch them eat either. My son informed me that I was wrong. “You can have the Impossible Whopper,” he told me. “The Impossible what? What is that?” And he explained that it was a plant based burger. I was shocked that he knew about it, but I shouldn’t have been. He likes watching commercials almost as much as he enjoys sitcoms.
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at the campsite, rain dripping down on the car. There are worse things than rain, but the one thing I really hate doing in the rain is setting up a tent. You have to move at lightening speed. If you don’t, the inside of the tent gets wet, and that only makes for a miserable sleeping experience. But we managed fairly well, and once it was up, my spouse wanted to cook. None of us were hungry, but the heaviest rains were still to come — according to the forecast — and she wanted avoid barbecuing during the worst of it. I got the coals, poured them into the fire ring, doused them with lighter fluid, and set them on fire. To keep the coals protected and dry, my spouse stood over them with an umbrella. I tried to take a turn, but my lungs still have not completely recovered from the virus and the smoke hurt. We managed to get the food cooked, and then scuttled into the car to eat. It wasn’t the most comfortable meal, but we managed.
My son was upset that we couldn’t have a fire. He wanted to toast marshmallows. But it was too wet. By six o’clock the rain was coming down harder. We retreated into the tent where it was dry, to play Phase Ten — a card came. My son didn’t start well. He quickly fell behind and the further behind he fell the crankier he became, until my spouse and I started to cheat a little here and there so that he could catch-up. But not only did he catch up, he then surged ahead in the last round and pulled off a victory.
Our site was next to a stream, so between the rain tapping down on the tent and the stream rushing over rocks, I slept better than I had in a really long time. Although I still woke up in the middle of night thinking about Dad and feeling sad, but the water eventually lulled me back to sleep.
Saturday morning, we woke up to the sound of birds singing. I made egg sandwiches and hot chocolate at the camp site for breakfast. We then took a ride into the closest town to get ice. On the way, we saw a few Amish buggies. (After all, we were in Lancaster country.) My son asked, if the Amish — considering what an isolated existence the live — know about the virus and the government’s reaction to it. It was a fantastic question, but I didn’t have an answer. We then speculated whether their lack of contact with the outside world would be a benefit or a liability. They may not know of the virus. They may not have clue that the rest of the country was in various stages of lockdown. But maybe, their lack of interaction would have kept them safe. I haven’t read anything about the Amish in regards the the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything written or reported.
When we returned, we took hike, which was more like a walk in the woods. The trail was rather flat, and not at all strenuous, but we had a pleasant time. My son, whose eyes are younger and sharper than ours, spotted a tiny pink salamander on the trail as well as toad. He insisted I take picture of them, which I did.
Back at the campsite, my son and spouse whittled, and I read National Geographic — I’m three months behind. My son also had fun hanging out by the stream, wading in up to his knees and tossing rocks. He’s always enjoyed throwing rocks and watching the splash.
There was no rain in the forecast, none at all, but that didn’t matter. I’ve told you I carry my own dark cloud with me. The moment I put the coals on, the second they caught fire, rain beat down upon us. Once again, we had to cook in the rain, but at least it didn’t last. By the time we were ready to eat, the rain stopped, enabling us to eat at the picnic table — although we had to stand, it was too wet to sit.
More importantly, from my son’s perspective, the fact that the rain stopped meant that we could have a campfire, and he could toast marshmallows. He decided, before slipping the marshmallow onto a stick, he’d stuffed it with an M&M. He made one for me. It was good, the melted chocolate added to the marshmallow experience. It was a graham crakerless s’mores. And since I don’t like graham crackers, it was perfect for me. While we sat around the fire we talked about Dad. In fact, we spent much of the day talking about him and telling stories. It all still seems so surreal. I hated not being able to text him pictures of my son. I hated even more knowing that when I got home, I wouldn’t be able to call him up and tell him about our trip. And when I or my spouse posts pictures, he won’t see them. He won’t be able to give them a heart or thumb-up.
Before bed, we took a family hike up to the bathroom. While my spouse waited for our son, she discovered how to make really cool shadow puppets with her flashlight and cell phone. The discovery mesmerized her. She took at least a dozen pictures of her shadows, completely awed by each of them. I think it may have been the highlight of her day.
This morning, we ate breakfast — egg sandwiches and hot chocolate — and then broke camp. But we didn’t want to head home. Not yet. It was still too early. And so we headed north to Pine Creek Gorge. Last fall, my spouse’s brother told her that it is absolutely gorgeous and that we should go hiking there some time. He told her it was considered to be the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. We initially planned to detour there after the taekwondo tournament in Pittsburg back in March, but that was canceled shortly after the reality of the virus struck.
While we drove on Pennsylvania’s back roads we saw many Trump Pence 2020 signs dotting lawns. I pointed them all out, disturbed that after nearly 100,000 people have died due to his incompetence people still like him. They still think he’s doing a good job. I’m sorry, but 100,000 people dead, one of whom is my father, is not evidence of job well done. And it may be coincidence, but as the signs multiplied people showed no consideration for others regarding the virus. We stopped in road side convenience stores twice. Both times, we were the only ones wearing masks.
The drive to Pine Creek Gorge was only an hour and half. I was curious what a Pennsylvania Grand Canyon would look like. I visited the Grand Canyon twenty-five years ago. I wasn’t impressed. Maybe I had seen it too many times on television, or heard people talking about it too often. Whatever the reason, I can’t even list it as one the top ten awe-inspiring places I’ve ever been to. It might not even make the top 20. However, if the Grand Canyon was underwhelming Pine Creek Gorge was disappointing. But maybe that’s because we didn’t do our research before showing up. We got there and we weren’t even sure where to park. The GPS said we had arrived, but there was no where to pull over or park. So we drove a bit longer until we found a tiny parking lot, so small there were no spots left. We ended up parking along the side of the road and then following others onto a carriage way and over a bridge. From the carriage way, we did see a trail head off into the woods and up the mountain and so we followed it. At every crossroads, we let our son choose which direction to go, and he chose the steepest path each time. And when I say steep, I mean at times if felt almost vertical. Unlike yesterday, this trail was physically challenging. Every time my son announced that we were almost at the top, we’d get there, only realize around another bend we needed to keep climbing. We walked for an hour an a half — and that included lengthy breaks for water and trail mix — until the path finally seemed to level off. My spouse was so hot that she complained she was sweating in places she didn’t even know existed. At this, my son laughed. Since we didn’t have a map, and therefore, didn’t know how long the trail was or if it even looped back to where we started, we turned around. I wanted to make sure my son and spouse would have enough stamina to make it back to the car. They are both too heavy to carry.
Nothing we saw, not a single thing, even remotely reminded me of the Grand Canyon. We saw trees, lots and lots of trees, a few rocks, and occasionally we caught glimpses of the road and the river below. But that was it. Perhaps we were just in the wrong place. Most likely, we missed the right trail. Next time we go back, and I’m sure we will, we will go armed with a trail map and I will make sure we do a bit more research on the best place to park.
Back at the car we ate a late lunch — sandwiches — along the side of the road. My son observed that he felt like he was poor and living out of his car, and wondered what other people thought as they passed by and saw us eating there.
Since we ate a late lunch, when we got back to New Jersey, we stopped for ice cream for dinner. But my son and I had wet walnuts as our topping, and considering the portion of protein, I argued that it wasn’t completely unhealthy.
Sometime in the early 1990s: My brother threw the cards. Every one remembers that he was the one who threw them, but somehow when referencing the incident, my father almost always commented, “And then Liz threw the cards.” Because it fit my personality, not my brother’s.
We had been playing Hearts. It was one of Dad’s favorite card games, one he almost always won. At night, out on Long Island, we would sometimes play. It was always a fun family game night. But on that one particular occasion, something pissed-off my brother. None of us remember what, but for him to threw the cards it had to have been a big deal. All I remember is the cards hitting me — they may have hit the wall — but my memory has them hitting me.
And in the following years, Dad liked to laugh as he infuriated me by saying, “Remember when Liz threw the cards.”
Last night, when I got home my spouse asked me how I was doing. I sighed, “I still miss him.” She hugged me and said, “You will miss him for the rest of your life.” Then I made the mistake of looking at our wall calendar and taking note of all the things we were supposed to do this spring and summer. Yeah, you all have events on your calendar that have been canceled due to the pandemic, but once the pandemic is over you’ll be able to reschedule. Your lives will resume. But for me, for my friend, and for others who have experienced the death of a loved one, there is no rescheduling, no resuming. The things that we were supposed to do will never happen. As for the moment, you all at least have the option to do some things virtually. There is no way to communicate, via zoom, with the dead.
Simply waking up in New Jersey, in this condo, is enough to put me in a bad mood. Buying this condo was the biggest mistake of my life. This morning I took my daily walk and instead of roosters cock-a-doodle-doing, there were landscapers everywhere. The noise was painful and unending. I already miss the solace of the beach.
The most enjoyable part of the afternoon was a brief bike ride with my son — brief because he didn’t have the desire to go far. But at least I got him out for a bit of exercise. My lungs, however, have not completely recovered from the virus. It doesn’t take much for me to become winded. And I can’t inhale as deeply as I once could. Hopefully, someday, my lungs will heal.
We have spent the day shopping, packing, and prepping for our camping trip. For the first time in weeks, I went to a grocery store in Jersey — Shoprite in Somerville — and I was appalled at how there appeared to be no social distancing guidelines in place, or if there were, they certainly weren’t enforced. In the grocery stores I went to in NY, there were arrows on the floor indicating which aisles you could go up and which you could go down. But in Somerville everyone walked anywhere they wanted, and most shoppers had little regard for the other people in the store. One guy wore a mask that hung loosely around his mouth but it didn’t even cover his nose. People stopped in the middle of aisles and made no effort to move out of your way. I won’t go there again, not until the world is a safer place.
Getting ready to camp is always an elaborate ritual. My spouse loves camping food and spends hours preparing the food. The marinated roasted potatoes and mac and cheese we cook on the grill take forever to assemble. But she enjoys dinner at a campsite more than a gourmet meal at an expensive restaurant. As we were working together in the kitchen she observed, “As awful as things have been — here and everywhere else — it’s really nice to be doing something normal. Something that we always do.” At which point I started to cry, because now even normal for me means different. The night before a camping trip — any trip — I would message Dad to let he know when we were leaving. I’d let him know if we were going to be in place without cell service and that if he didn’t hear from us he shouldn’t worry. And then when we were away, I’d take picture of my son — at least one a day — and text to it him. To let him know we were thinking about him. To let him see the fun my son was having. But there won’t be any texts this time around, no more correspondence, because Dad is dead and my life has lost a bit of its sparkle.
Today, Trump visited a Ford plant in Michigan and despite state law, despite company rules, he refused to wear a mask. He believes he is above the law. He believes that rules don’t apply to him. He is a despicable person. There are no other words to describe him. Except maybe deplorable. Hillary Clinton got that right four years ago. Anyway, his defiance mocks the 95,000 Americans who have died. It disrespects the health care workers who are risking their own lives every day. And it demonstrates his depravity, that fact that he has no qualms about possibly infecting — and killing — someone else. Just because he gets tested every day, doesn’t mean he won’t get infected. And considering the man’s aversion to telling the truth, how do we know for certain he gets tested as frequently as he claims? How do we trust that even if he is tested, that he hasn’t tested positive? Maybe a better question is, considering how he so brazenly exposes himself to the virus, why hasn’t he gotten infected? Is it possible that he’s just so reprehensible the virus wants no part of him?
One of the biggest questions looming over the entire nation is: Will schools resume, in person, in September? CDC guidelines include wearing masks. But when the president refuses to wear one, he is setting a horrible example for millions of students around the country. I guarantee my son isn’t the only sassy child out there. On the first day of school, how many kids will show up and claim they don’t need to wear a mask because the president doesn’t wear one? (My son is sassy, but he’s also intelligent, and he completely grasps the fact that a cockroach has more intelligence and dignity than Trump. He also witnessed first hand how deadly this virus can be.) The president is teaching the youth of this country that it is okay to break the law, be disrespectful, and ridicule those who are smarter. Trump is everything I want my kid not to be.
The campsite we are heading to is in a remote location and the last time we were there we had no phone or internet service. Therefore, I will be unable to update my blog until I return. But please tune in again on Monday night (or Tuesday morning) and I will share our weekend adventure.
Early 1980s: As a child, I enjoyed riding my bicycle. My parents, because I was a girl, bought me a pink bike with a banana seat. Shortly after I learned how to ride a two wheeler, Mom and Dad bought a bike that they could take turns using so that they could accompany me. I liked going out with Daddy because he’d take me on longer rides up through Forest Park. One Saturday afternoon, as we were peddling along Forest Park Drive, a car sped passed us and its hub cap flew off the wheel. It came close to hitting us, but we were lucky. It missed. That day, as Mom, so often commented, our guardian angels were watching over us, protecting us. They kept us safe. But two months ago, I guess Daddy’s guardian angel decided to take a vacation. Either that or the virus was just too small for even an angel to see and protect against.
Mom and my brother left Cape Cod last night and got back to Queens rather late. When they got home, Mom found that Dad’s death certificate had finally been sent to her. But she is angry. They spelled my grandmother’s maiden name incorrectly. I was there when Mom was giving the funeral home the information. She asked me how the name was spelled. I told her and she spelled it to the person on the other end of the line — twice. And now she needs to contact them again and have a new death certificate issued.
I had another terrible night of sleep — or rather lack of sleep. The problem is I wake up around one and then, as I try to fall back to sleep, in my head, in a continuous loop, I hear the doctor who called us every day for the last two weeks Dad was in the hospital. His voice is clear and sharp like a needle: “Gary is critically Ill,” “Not one doctor sees a path forward,” “Gary passed.” These words over and over, haunting and final. Nothing I do silences them. I wake up tired and sad, still shocked it happened to him, that it happened so quickly.
The birds are loud this morning, but I enjoy listening to them as I sit outside and drink my coffee. (Yes, espresso finally tastes good again, but I can’t drink it with milk. I’ve taken to drinking it black — like my grandfather used to). It’s peaceful here, the complete opposite of home where I am angry, anxious, and miserable. I don’t want to go back to New Jersey, but we will be leaving this afternoon. As of this morning, the campsite where we made reservations appears to be set to open this weekend. Which means I’ll have to spend tomorrow digging out our camping gear and packing to go. Camping is always fun, it’s the brief stop in Jersey that won’t be.
After my son finished his school work — which could have been done more quickly if he complained a little less — we played catch for bit and then packed up the car. As I was locking up the house my son stood on the stoop and asked, “Why do they even have a porch? No one ever sit on it?”
“I sit on it all the time,” I reminded him. “When it’s warm enough I always write on the porch.”
“Yeah, but no one else ever does.”
I was about to agree with him, until my mind flashed back six years ago. I could almost see me and Dad sitting there, each of us sipping a margarita after the beach, and discussing which rides we thought my son would most want to go on at Disney. I bit my lip in an attempt to hold back the tears. “That’s where Grandpa and I planned your first trip to Disney.”
The world must be opening up. Gas at Costco was $1.69 which was up eight cents from a week ago. And there was traffic going over the George Washington Bridge. Okay, maybe it wasn’t traffic, perhaps congestion is a more accurate word. It only lasted five minutes and I never actually stopped, though I didn’t get out of second gear for those five minutes. It still doesn’t come close to pre-pandemic levels — especially since I got to the bridge during what used to be rush hour.
Back at home, a neighbor invited me and my son over to borrow some books. She put a box of middle grade novels out in front of her house so we could take what interested us. My son was in a mood and refused to take the walk over, but since I’m always looking for something new to read, I went. Not surprisingly, I left with my arms full. The reading should keep me busy for at least another month or more if the the libraries don’t open up.
1985: Daddy missed my first home run. It wasn’t a real home run — I can say that now as an adult looking back on the foolishness of youth. It was more of series of bobbles and mis-throws combined with some speed on my part. But to a ten year old, it felt real. It felt official. And scorekeeper had marked it as such.
Perhaps, I should back up a bit. The game was scheduled the same day as my brother’s First Holy Communion. Those of you who are Catholic know what a big deal that is. The church ceremony was in the morning, but afterward my parents were having a party for my brother to celebrate this religious milestone. I didn’t want to miss a game and Dad understood this, so he made arrangements for someone else to pick me up and drive me to the field. No one expected me to have a milestone of my own that day. But I still remember the crack of the bat, and watching as the ball flew over the second baseman’s head — I never did pull the ball very well. I ran and as I rounded second, I got it into my head that I was going home. And I did.
Dad showed up in time for the last inning, and the minute I saw him, I ran over shouting, “You missed it. You missed it.” And I never let him live it down, though I wish I had. He let me go to the game, I should have been grateful about that.
Five weeks ago, Daddy died. I’m sure there will come a time when the weeks pass and every Tuesday doesn’t depress me, but I’m not there yet.
Libby was my best friend growing up. She spent lots of time at my house, but she would never eat there. Dad could be very intimidating, and I think she was a bit afraid of him. Whenever Mom asked her if she’d like to stay for dinner, she always had a reason as to why she had to run home. Then one time Dad offered her an apple and she accepted it. It was an important moment in our friendship. Shortly after that, Mom and Dad had come home from somewhere with a pizza for lunch. When they asked Libby to stay, she did. It seemed her unspoken rule about eating with us had finally been broken. But Dad always ribbed her about not wanting to eat his food. As she grew more comfortable around him, less timid, she’d laugh more at his jokes.
One summer during college, she came out to Mattituck for a week. By then she was comfortable enough eating with us. She had come here so that we could spend some time together on the beach, but it rained the entire time she was here. We went to the movies every day — even the days I wasn’t working — because there wasn’t much else to do. By the last day of her stay, the rain still showed no sign of stopping, but she was bored of movies. Instead of coming to work with me, she stayed in the house and played board games with my parents. Every rainy summer day after that, Mom or Dad would comment, “Remember the time Libby was here and the rain was endless?” Twenty years after she died, they were still reminiscing about her visit. Now, I guess she and Dad can reminisce together.
Last night, I got an email from the editor of Capsule Stories Magazine, the editor who accepted my essay “Honeymoon” for their upcoming issue. She asked me if I would be up for an interview which would be posted on their blog sometime this summer. It’s ridiculous how excited this made me. Never before had anyone asked me if I’d like to be interviewed — for anything. Of course I said yes. I only wish Dad were here to read it when it gets published. He’d have enjoyed it. And he’d have liked knowing that someone cared enough to interview me. I hate that there are still firsts to be had and that I will no longer be able to share them with Dad.
I spent the morning cleaning the house, especially the kitchen and bathroom. I want to leave it as clean as I found it. After scrubbing all day with Clorox and breathing in the fumes I feel magically protected from the coronavirus. Like a miracle, I am certain that it won’t touch me now. I still can’t comprehend how anyone can support or defend such a wack-a-doodle. It is incomprehensible to me that people so willingly embrace stupidity. And Trump’s knack for being stupid, insensitive, and ludicrous intensifies daily.
Yesterday, at his daily press conference, he announced that he now takes hydroxychloroquine daily to prevent himself from getting the coronavirus. The FDA warned against using the drug since it has not proven to be effective and it can be dangerous. But Trump does what he wants. Seriously, at this point, I know he is an idiot. He can stop trying to prove it me and other sane Americans. What I don’t get are all the Americans who still thinks he is a just, moral, competent, and intelligent leader. Although death by another means is definitely one way to prevent getting infected with the coronavirus. If Trump encourages people to drink Clorox or to taking medicine against the advice of doctors, well I suppose, maybe in this case he isn’t completely lying to you. You will definitely not get Covid-19 if you are already dead.
And why is he so freaking confident about a vaccine. Here’s my question. I’m not scientist, but I like to think of myself as a fairly logical person. Vaccines work the same way an infection does. They build antibodies in your blood so that you can fight future infections. But from what I have read, just because you’ve had and recovered from the coronavirus doesn’t mean that you can’t get sick from it again. (There is some indication that this may be the case, but as far as I know it is not definitive.) If reinfection is at all possible, how effective can a vaccine be? I asked a scientist friend of mine and he confirmed that there is no guarantee that a vaccine is possible. He reminded me that after more than 30 years science still has not developed a vaccine for HIV. And he told me that scientists have not been able to develop a vaccine for other coronaviruses. Now my question is, why isn’t this reality part of the dialogue? Shouldn’t the president be honest with the people and let them know that we might need a plan B. When I said this to my spouse she chuckled, “But it’s Trump. Why would you ever expect him to be honest about anything? He lies about everything.” True, he does. Five months ago, he lied about the virus being under control. Why should he start being honest and transparent now, especially if it works against his personal ambitions?
The beach was super windy today. Waves crashed and the spray reached us on the sand. It was too windy and cold to stick around and so we returned home to play catch in the yard. I’m impressed with how much my son has improved. He’s been more successful in gym than any other class this pandemic season. It’s a good thing he’s had a such a fabulous gym teacher.
My son was watching television and one of the kids on the show had to write an essay about a life changing experience. My son looked at me and said, “I could do that. I’ve had a life changing experience.” Without thinking I responded, “You have?” He nodded sadly, “Yeah, Grandpa died. My life will never be the same.”
1983: That summer, my parents rented a house in Cutchogue — one town over, further east, from Mattituck. Of the five summers they rented out here, that was their favorite house. It was within walking distance of the water. And sometimes at night, after we had showered and finished eating dinner, the four of us — Mom, Dad, me, and my brother — would stroll down to the inlet to look for the swans. We’d walk up to the edge of the water, cup our hands our our mouths and call, “Swans. Swans. Swans.” Looking back it seems so silly. What bird answers the call of humans? But sometimes they did. I’m sure it was pure coincidence, but on occasion, after we shouted for them, we’d see them in the distance floating majestically in a line toward us. A white regal adult in the front, three or four grey babies in the middle and another adult guarding the rear. I loved watching them sail across the water. Those nights were among my favorite. I loved the quiet, the salty smell of the sea, and the feeling that for a brief moment we were alone in the world.
Daddy loved the swans too, and every time I see swans I think of him. Even when I was in Copenhagen, whenever I saw a swan, I would think first about Dad and then about Hans Christian Andersen.
I had a horrible dream last night. My website needed work and I was trying to troubleshoot a problem. I was on the phone with someone — a familiar voice though I couldn’t place who it belonged to. The room in which I sat was dark and empty. It wasn’t anywhere familiar to me. During the conversation, breathing became difficult, as if I were drowning. Suddenly, the scene shifted and I was underwater. Frantically, I looked for a way to escape but I couldn’t find one. I couldn’t breath at all and I started to panic. My eyes snapped open and I sat up in bed gasping for air. My heart racing. And then I started to cry. Because that’s how Dad died. He’s lungs filled with water and he could no longer breath.
My spouse left last night. Before she left, she filled her trunk with some of the wood from Dad’s woodpile. We are hoping to go camping next weekend, if the campsite opens. The campsite is in a remote location with very few sites. We would easily be able to remain isolated from others. Anyway, my spouse was concerned about getting firewood. With so many places closed, finding wood might have been difficult. When she mentioned her concern, I happened to be standing on the deck staring at the woodpile. Problem solved. There was a time Dad liked using the fireplace in the winter, but he hadn’t used it in several years. The wood out back had been left over from his last delivery. Why not use it? I called Mom to ask it would be okay if we took some. She thought it was a great idea.
When Dad actively used the fireplace, he’d have a cord of wood delivered every Labor Day weekend. It was the end of the summer, which meant I’d be home from backpacking and could help him neatly stack the wood. I enjoyed the work. Filling the wheelbarrow, pushing it to the back edge of the property and then setting down the wood according to Dad’s very particular specifications. We worked together, and when it was done, we’d go to the beach. Labor Day weekend was also when he’d take me out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. The only year I didn’t help with the wood was the summer I was pregnant. He wouldn’t allow me to lift or cart anything. I lifted weights right up to the day my son was born, but Dad feared that strenuous activity might harm me or the baby and so that year, he insisted on stacking the wood himself.
Today, my challenge was hanging sheets on the clothesline without letting them touch the ground. I’ve hung laundry before, but never sheets. At one point one of the corners nearly scraped the ground, but I rescued it before it could get dirty. Next time it should be a little easier.
It’s been another difficult day of getting my son to do school work. In one breath, he complains that I only care about myself and that I never put down my computer. And then complains that he’s tired of me looming over him and he’d work better if I left him alone. UGH! It got to the point where I had to walk away and let him vent and eventually calm down on his own before I could work with him and help him.
Of course, peace returned once he completed all the school work and we got to the beach. No one else was there so we had plenty of room to play ball. He practiced batting and we had a catch. He also ran sprints for fun, asking me to time him again and again as he tried to beat himself. There was a slight breeze coming off the bay and the only sound surrounding us was the rippling waves rolling onto the sand — rhythmic, hypnotic, calming. I am dreading the fact that I will need to return to New Jersey before the week is over.
Since being out here, my son and I have gotten back into the habit of reading before bed. We are currently reading Prince Caspian. With the way the world is lately, it’s just the sort of escape we need. And I enjoy ending the day cuddled up with my son and sharing a good story. It’s the perfect way to decompress and relax before going to sleep.
Sometime in the early 1980s: Dad had a loud sneeze. So loud that Mom would often complain that he was going to make her deaf. It’s a family trait. My grandmother’s sneeze was so loud she could have stopped traffic with it. I’ve inherited this annoying inability to sneeze quietly. My son yells at me daily during allergy season, and my spouse has reprimanded me for not being more restrained. But sometimes the sneeze sneaks up on me and it’s rattling the house before I have time to muffle it.
One Sunday, while we were in church and the priest was in the middle of the Homily a sneeze exploded out of Dad’s nose. The noise echoed off the walls and rattled the stain glass windows. The priest paused in mid sentence, turned toward Dad, and said, “God bless you.”
My son wanted his hair trimmed. Since my spouse is more patient than I, and tends to cut in a straighter line, the job fell to her. After breakfast, we went out onto the deck — the makeshift barber shop. It’s where Dad used to cut my son’s hair when he was a toddler. Back when I still had a say over how he kept his hair, I used to like it buzzed in the summer. It’s how I prefer to keep my own hair in the warm months. It’s too hot otherwise, especially since I’m very strict about wearing hats in the sun. When my son was littler, on our first trip to Mattituck for the summer season, Dad would take out his clippers and shave his head. Once, when he was about three — a restless toddler — Dad accidentally nicked his ear. Oh the howls and screams. You’d have thought Dad sliced off the entire ear. But that was it, my son was scarred — far more emotionally than physically. From that point forward, Nonna or I had to cut his hair. He wouldn’t let grandpa get close to him with the clippers ever again. But now his hair is long and tangly, and he complains daily when I comb it because he claims I’m not gentle enough. I try. But there’s a reason my own hair is kept so short.
No bathing suit. No shorts. In an attempt to avoid another breakdown like yesterday, I suggested cutting the legs off of an old pair of sweat pants. He can wear them as shorts, and if he feels drawn to the bay, like yesterday, they can double as a bathing suit. When my spouse cut off the legs, he slipped them over his arms — the ankle elastics around his wrists — and announced, “Look, napkin-sleeves.” And he demonstrated how they could be recycled into another use.
The beach was better today. Or I should say my son’s behavior was better. It was colder. Too cold to go swimming which meant that even though he was wearing the cool cutoff shorts, he didn’t want to go into the water. We played catch until we heard the ice cream truck. Both our ears picked up on the musical notes simultaneously, our heads swirled to where the truck usually parks, and catching sight of it, my son ran towards it. He didn’t ask if he could have ice cream. Grandpa always said yes, and he knew I wouldn’t be able to say no. Dad would have been disappointed in me if I denied my son ice cream at his beach. So I pulled out Dad’s wallet — when he died, I took his wallet because I needed a new one and his was in much better condition than mine, besides it was a way to keep him close to me — and got in line with my son. My son opted for an ice cream that had a gum ball at the bottom of the container. When he finished eating the ice cream and started chewing the gum he smiled, “Gum always reminds me of Grandpa because you only let me have it on an airplane.” I finished my cone and said, “But Nonna’s the one who always bought you the gum.” He laughed, “Yes, but Grandpa took us to Disney. He took me on the plane. So that’s why I think of Grandpa.”
For dinner, we got Chinese food. My spouse’s fortune in her cookie read, “You can’t possibly live long enough to make all of them yourself.” I have no idea what that means, but during the time of a pandemic when 90,000 Americans have already died, anything that begins with, “You can’t possibly live long enough,” is disconcerting.
Apparently, my son wasn’t just joking this morning when he called the cutoff bottoms of his pants “napkin-sleeves.” When he sat down to eat, he slipped them onto his arms before digging into his spareribs. As he lifted his arm to his mouth and wiped the duck sauce off his face, I asked him if he intended to throw them away. “Oh no,” he said. “You wash our napkins at home. You can wash these too.”
After he finished eating, he reached for a fortune cookie and declared, “I’m eating a cookie now, but I can still have a treat later.”
“Um, no,” I said. “That was Grandpa’s rule, not mine.”
“Well, you said Grandpa will always be with me,” he argued. “Therefore, it’s okay to eat the cookie.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant when I said he’d always be with you.”
“Oh, I know. But still…” and without completing the sentence he bit into the cookie.
Sometime in the early 2000s: Since childhood, Daddy always went to the same place — Parkway Barber Shop— to get a haircut. But then he lost all of his hair. Okay, not all of it, but most of it. It was no longer worth paying someone to cut what little remained, and so he bought himself clippers. Periodically, Mom would shave his head to keep the few hairs he had neat and even.
After college, when I started to spend my summers traveling, I got into the habit of shaving my head before going away. Yep, that’s the kind of girl I am. One who’d rather avoid carrying a comb and shampoo when backpacking. The lighter the rucksack the better. Anyway, since Dad had clippers I would ask him to cut my hair. One year, it may have been before I took off to meet my girlfriend in Germany — but I’m not entirely sure, it could have been a different trip — I handed dad the clippers and asked him to cut my hair with the #1 setting. He plugged the clippers into the socket and I sat down on a deck chair, enjoying the pseudo scalp massage. Halfway through, Mom came outside and her anguished exclamation jolted me to attention, “What have you done!” Dad’s hand froze, the clippers no longer snipping my hair. “What?” I asked, looking from Mom to Dad. But it was Dad who answered, “I forgot the attachment. It’s shorter than you wanted.” I laughed. I didn’t care. It would simply take longer to grow back. No big deal. But mom was angry. She didn’t like me having a shaved head to begin with. It was unlady-like. After that, she forbade Dad from ever cutting my hair again.
When Dad died, one of my spouse’s cousins sent our son a boxset of Sherlock Holmes stories. She knows he likes to read and that we had just finished reading Hound of the Baskervilles. She thought books, an avenue of escape, a diversion into another world, might bring some comfort to my son. It’s how we literary minds think. Most people sent flowers, we send words. I have long since finished all the library books I took out before the pandemic struck. Since I finished The Blood of Olympus last night, I needed something to read on my walk this morning. Ordering books on Amazon would be expensive — and I can’t do ebooks, I need the real deal in my hands — but my son has many books I haven’t yet read and so I turned to his bookshelf. I too enjoyed the Holmes book we read together. Therefore, I decided on A Study in Scarlet from the collection he’d gotten from his cousin.
In 1918, the Spanish Flu killed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adult son. Experiencing the death of child, I’m certain, is even worse than suffering the death of a parent, but grief, born out of a pandemic, connects myself to Doyle. However, Doyle, distraught by his son’s death turned to Spiritualism, a belief that the living can commune with the dead. (See Pale Rider, page 237.) So driven did he become by this desire to speak to his child that he devoted the rest of his life to it, turning away from the fiction that made him famous. Never again would he pen another Sherlock Holmes story. I don’t know if I will ever see Dad again, either in an afterlife or in a reincarnated one, but in writing I have managed to continue some sort of relationship with him. My words keep him alive — at least my memories of him.
When I was twenty-three, my best friend died in a car accident. For many years, she wasn’t only my best friend, she had been my only friend. Without her, my high school years would have been extremely lonely. After she died, I couldn’t let go, not completely. For years afterward, whenever I traveled, I always sent her a postcard, addressed to her grave. I don’t really know why I was so compelled to write to her. Perhaps it was because I felt, in the brief time it took me pen a few sentences, that I could still talk to her. That she might still be able to read my words. Writing to her was no different than writing to anyone else, and for a moment I could pretend she was still alive. Almost every time I mailed her a postcard, a kind cemetery employee delivered it to her. I know this because one time I ran into her mother, and she thanked me for still caring, for still taking the time to talk to her daughter.
A year ago today, I published my first poem. I know this because facebook reminded me. It called up as a memory the picture I posted to accompany my announcement. On the picture, I added a quote from my poem, “I weep like warming ice/though for me springs seems forever lost.” It’s as if I had looked into the future and caught a glimpse of how in a year’s time my thoughts about spring would be forever tarnished. When Hamline Lit Link accepted my poem for publication I was astounded. For years, I hated poetry. I didn’t understand it. It made no sense to me. I blamed my teachers who for so long told me poetry had a tangible meaning and if I didn’t understand it, then I was missing something. Getting into poets’s heads was too hard. My interpretation rarely matched my teachers’. And so I stopped reading it. Then I landed in an MFA program where I met some talented poets and encouraging mentors. I overcame my resistance enough to attempt reading and then writing poetry. I was pleased with that. I certainly never expected anyone to actually like what I wrote. So it was a bit of surprise to get something other than a rejection email when I submitted it. When I told Dad, he said, “I don’t understand it. I have never understood the point of poetry. But I’m proud of you.” He didn’t need to understand it. He just had to read it. That made me happy. I’ve since published a couple of other poems, though it has been awhile since I’ve felt inspired to write. Unlike my son, who only seems to be able to write poetry while grieving, my brain has constructed a wall between me and creativity.
My spouse drove out this morning to spend the weekend with us. My son has been cranky since the moment she arrived. She forgot to pack his bathing suit. An honest mistake but he won’t move on from it. When we got to the beach, the water was no warmer than yesterday. And yesterday he ran in then out again saying it was too cold to swim. But today he threw a fit because he didn’t have a suit. He was also grumpy that there were other people on the beach which meant that he couldn’t practice batting. I warned him that would most likely be the case but the warning didn’t cushion the blow. My spouse had suggested we bring the beach paddles — a game I used to love playing with Dad when I was a kid, a game that in recent years my son started to enjoy playing with his grandfather. But today, no matter how I hit the ball it upset him. Every ball I hit was too hard, or not hard enough or too close to his face or too high for him to reach. He complained so much I stopped playing. It wasn’t any fun. We then tried having a catch but this afternoon his glove was bothering his hand. He was upset that he didn’t have a better mitt and he reprimanded me for not buying him one. However, he does have a better glove. But it’s at home, in Jersey, because until last week he didn’t have any interest in baseball — none.
Since my spouse was here, and I expected an afternoon of something other than baseball, we packed the beach gear. Going into the shed, I struggled to hold back my tears. Dad was the last person to put the chairs away. He put them in the shed for the last time at the end of last summer. When he did so, he — and the rest of us — certainly expected that he’d be the one to take them out again. It was one thing to go to the beach to take a walk and play baseball without Dad. It was something quite different to go with the intention of spending the whole afternoon. Sitting where we used to sit as a family, where Dad used to set up the umbrellas, where Dad used to sit to eat his lunch, where Dad used to listen to his ball games was difficult. His absence pressed heavily against me, making it difficult at times to breathe. When we arrived at the beach, my son instead on sitting in Dad’s chair. But what we expected to be a longer stay was cut short by my son’s behavior. Not long after we got there, he went into my spouses car and refused to come out. He didn’t have a bathing suit and he couldn’t bat, so he didn’t feel like doing anything. He wanted to go home. So we left.
At home, my spouse and I set dominos up on the screened in porch. We asked our son to join us. We wanted it to be a family game since we’ve had such little family time in the last two months, but after one round he was done. He didn’t want to play with us. So he disappeared into the house.
I opened one of Dad’s bottles of wine to drink while we played. After I poured the wine, she held up her glass and said, “A toast to your dad.” He always enjoyed playing dominoes. Sometimes we’d get home from the beach and sit out on the deck with our cocktails and play — him, me, and Mom. On occasion my son would join in, but usually he just wanted to watch television. I miss playing games with Dad. I miss sharing a bottle of wine with him. Mostly, I just miss him.
1980: At the start of first grade, Sister Lucille kept correcting the spelling of my last name. I’d hand in work, and she’d cross out my name and spell it ‘correctly.’ Only there was nothing to correct. At six years old, I knew very well how to spell my name. It infuriated my father who repeatedly signed my homework with a brief note explaining that his daughter wrote her name just fine. She didn’t listen. I don’t know why. Perhaps she had some divine experience that set her off on a crusade against spellings that didn’t appeal to her. Anyway, on Back to School night, both of my parents went up to meet her. They always went. I’m not sure you’d find parents more actively engaged in their child’s education. While Sr. Lucille was introducing herself to the parents, she told them she was a fantastic speller. She never spelled anything wrong. Well, my father accepted that challenge. After her lecture, as the parents were wandering around the classroom and looking at student work, my father said to her, “If you can spell so wonderfully, why is excellent spelled incorrectly here, and here, and here.” To punctuate his words, he flicked the papers upon which she had misspelled excellant. “Also, Elizabeth knows how to spell her own name. Stop confusing her.”
Sr. Lucille never liked me much after that. And to this day, I can’t spell excellent right unless I look in a dictionary or rely on spell check. Come to think of it, there is very little I can spell properly without some sort of assistance.