I couldn’t get a Christmas Card with news - or even a photo- together.
First year without Andrew grinning widely, holding Oreo.
I’ve been keeping grief’s devastation at bay over Christmas.
I try to honor the grief -
“Grief must be respected.”
That struck me.
I thought about that.
Grief demands respect.
It’s immovable, loud, resounding.
Like the stark slant rectangle of January afternoon sun
on the cold granite of the building at the end of 116th Street.
So, so permanent
what’s left behind in winter.
Grief must be acknowledged. Validated.
Or she’ll give you stomach ulcers. Insomnia. Thinning hair. Ground down molars.
That happens regardless whether you give her attention or not.
She has her ways to make sure you notice.
We vacillate, between the grief over here in one column, and our daily activity in another.
Don’t spend too much time in either column.
I suppose I’m healthy? Because I don’t seem to, naturally
insist on one or the other.
My body and mind seem to regulate between the two without my instruction.
Every day the realization of Andy’s vanishing is so massive, so great-
I need breaks. From awareness of it.
I compare this year with every other prior year - now I know what it is to live in the past -
I can just go on a memory trip for a good chunk of time, and, coming to
having stood in the same place, having gone nowhere with anyone except myself.
Truthfully, it’s not just the holidays that are hard for me - except the new not knowing
what to do with them,
where to go for them,
whom to be with them.
Every day is full of hard, of his absence.
This is happening-
I’ve been feeling more grounded in my feet, and clear in my head.
I know what has happened.
Even asleep, I know.
Not feeling so tremulous,
so half-stepping in my movements.
Less of a shadow walking through the world.
And the inability to select photos from this year for a Christmas Card update-
was more clearly,
Can't. Not this year. No.
And it felt good, the clarity of No.
I was worried
Christmas would feel so so painful,
I couldn’t take it,
that Christmas itself was going to be a much fouler, much bigger spoonful of sorrow and hurt and confusion than I’ve swallowed up to now.
All I’ve choked down this year?
Spreading Andy’s ashes under a tree.
Visiting where we got married- to find it utterly transformed.
Getting the car in my name. My own return mail stamp -just me.
Solo parent visits to high schools. Rehearsing show in a studio named after him. Memorials. Toasts. Social security.
Walking away from him in the hospital. Forever.
You’ve read about some of those spoonfuls here.
But Christmas was going to be - - of course. The anniversary.
They say deathaversary. Wasn’t sure how it would feel.
How I ought to prepare or anything…
Last Christmas was our last full, happy day together, as a sweet little family;
We have the photo to prove it. Was to be last year’s New Year’s Card.
(I’m never on time with these things - if you miss Christmas, you get New Year’s - that hasn’t changed.)
I made us all pose In front of a fire, Oreo on Andrew’s lap, Abadi between us; I’m smiling.
Our stockings hung above us, we’d just opened gifts.
Abadi had Steelers swag from his dad, Yankees tickets,
Andrew is wearing a new Yankees cap to wear to Spring Training with Abadi,
for Abadi’s upcoming 13th birthday in April -
plans soon to be engulfed by the Tsunami that was coming; the calm before the crushing wave.
Well, you know.
We buried him in that cap a month and a half later.
Andy had bought me a new MacBook Air;
It took me 11 months to open the box. I’m typing on it now.
I have come this far along in grief - some practicality has emerged:
Why’d you leave it in the box so long? Your old computer is ready for a dumpster fire.
I got him a rechargeable battery charger for the car;
I used it in February, a week after he’d passed, my first jumpstart.
It was ready because he’d immediately plugged it in.
He also got me a new moleskin journal
I used it this past year to write letters to him, ones he’ll never read-
I’ve only written a few. It’s more for me than for him, I know this.
Still, I wonder:
what if he doesn’t know this information?
I used to tell him everything, nonstop, everything…a letter feels so ridiculously formal.
It turned out to be the kind of letter you’d write from camp.
How tall Abadi is now. Who got traded to the Yankees. How Dig went. What show I’m doing next. How my blood sugar levels are. What I’ve done with our bills, our house, our car, what decisions I do or don’t feel good about… the water tank needing to be replaced.
Abadi insisted we get a tree, from the same modest Vermont tree farm we three went last year, and the year before that-you can chop one down yourself.
Now, as we drive up, I notice -
they all look the same.
I mean really,
when you get one inside and decorate a fresh tree, any tree
Do you ever go,
“Oh man, we really should take it back? There are uneven branches near the top. That gaping space on the side is unacceptable.”
No, you make it work, you shove it around so the hole is at the back,
You wrangle that star on top and step back with an
Ah. Perfect. Let’s see it with all those years of ornaments, each with its own little time stamp, when you got it, the history of your life together…
I pulled into the dirt lot at the end of the field
How the hell am I gonna do this by myself? I’ve never sawed a tree down. Never wanted to. Still don’t.
I want a thin, not too-tall tree I can lift by myself.
Need to be able to do it. By myself.
Like everything else this year.
Last year, and all the years before - I haven’t gotten a tree by myself EVER!
Ever. Never. Whoa…
Last year I’d walked around the entire lot, taking my time, found one way in the back field, Oreo tearing around in the snow - made Andrew move the car twice to get to me, getting a little impatient.
He got really wet, kneeling in the snow, his strong hands, bracing the trunk,
I just stood to the side, a little useless, instructing in a nonhelpful way. Should’ve taken notes.
He hacked off the lower branches.
Strapped it on the roof, throwing that twine effortlessly, with ease he’d learned tying flies, heaving flats...
He’d propped it on the porch to let it “breathe” like wine…must remember that step.
Abadi and I surveyed the unclaimed, still-planted trees,
I noticed on the side, a sign
Black paint on a wooden plank:
The S was backward.
And a perfectly good tree, lying down.
I held it up by myself! It was light, 6 feet, no holes…
Guy came out,
Abadi protested a bit but saw I was immovable.
Asked the guy to wrap it, and could he cut off all those branches while he was at it?
And cut the stump so all I had to do was plop it in the stand, all ready to go?
He even strapped it to my car.
I looked at it, marveling. I got a tree for us. I did it.
Maybe Christmas wouldn't be so bad after all.