Showing posts with label grief. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grief. Show all posts

some small attempt

Many thanks to those of you that have sent messages of condolences about Chaucer.

It's been three months and I still don't really know how to talk about him. What he meant to me and the ways in which he truly saved my life. I originally had this idea that I would create something about him, write a story or make a video or something--anything that would get all of my feelings funneled into one place so that I could let go and move on.

But I know now that's impossible. I'll always have more to say and think and feel about him.

The visuals have been the hardest; it took me ages to sit down and attempt even this short video. And it could have been an hour long, easily. But it's something. Some small attempt at cathartic expression.

I can't tell you how much it has meant to me to share his funny, sweet, goofy, amazingly loving self with you, all these years. Thank you.


Our first Saturday together in seven months, the rain gets the better of us.

We drive to the forest, listening to music that satisfies both our tastes. Paul Kalkbrenner, CRO, Ben Howard. We joke nervously about all the defeated looking, soaked-to-the-bone hikers we see on the way up the mountain. Buy a day pass for the park. Layer on hoodies and jackets, gamely set out on the trail. But it's too wet and too cold, and the loop we have in mind is three hours long. We'd be asking for colds. We'd be stupid. So we pivot. Decide to hit one of the beach cities neither of us have ever really explored.

We stop back at my place first, to change into dry clothes. In a stroke of good luck, we snag a parking spot in front of my building. I slip my debit card into the meter, which automatically cues up two hours' worth of time. Timo punches the timer down to 45 minutes, then 30, and I laugh. "How quick are you going to be?" I tease. It's been a few days. Changing into dry clothes is only the cover story.

His dimple comes out at this--the one that deepens when he's trying to suppress a smile. The one that owns me, completely. "That's up to you," he shoots back, looking me square in the eye. He dials the meter back up to an hour, puts his hand on the back of my neck, and walks me this way inside to my apartment.


On the way to the coast, he calls home. An official, meet-the-parents Skype had been tentatively planned anyway, and doing it now there's less pressure. Two birds, or something. I listen to the conversation through the car's speakers, deducing enough from the occasional bit of English what they're talking about. There's a lot of laughter. Timo and his mother both laugh easily, and often. I can hear them in one another, even when I don't understand a word. She is energetic, full of plans and ideas and questions. His dad is quieter, chiming in when he wants something clarified. Something tells me he's the one I'll seek out someday, during some future visit, when the foreign, mirthful house full of siblings and cousins and babies overwhelms me.

Timo stops to explain or translate now and again, so I don't feel totally excluded. I catch some German words related to work that are identical to their English counterparts, and when I look at him pointedly he says, "Yeah that's right, I'm talking about you."

His mother asks whether we'll be coming to Germany soon, to celebrate some of the good news Timo has just shared, and I jump in. "We talked about maybe coming later this summer...?" I direct my words to them, but I'm looking at their son. He says in German then translates, smiling at me: "It's in the plan but not on the calendar."

And then we're in Long Beach.

Neither of us is crazy about the admission prices of the aquarium (which I've been to before) or the Queen Mary (which we've both been to), so we opt for aimless wandering. It's cool and windy, and downtown is more or less deserted. The streets are wide and empty, the fresh air and ample space invigorating. We walk and talk and look, admiring some of the older architecture and flat out hating on some of the new.

Massive cranes towering up from the loading docks remind Timo of the Port of Hamburg, and the nostalgia in his voice makes me jealous. Little gets closer to someone's heart than the landmarks of childhood. When we stroll past the hands-on tide pool outside the aquarium, I'm tempted to spring for the $30 ticket; I've always loved these sorts of mini aquatic petting zoos. Plunging my arms into the icy water. Carefully prying starfish from rocks. Pressing my flattened palms against the needle tips of sea urchins. 

The grassy area surrounding the lighthouse is closed off for a wedding; bridesmaids in navy blue chiffon form ranks around a bride in white satin. A photographer stations the party in front of gently bobbing boats, and it's picturesque enough, but in that casual, sunny way of California harbors. East coast harbors just feel more authentically naval to me. Saltier. Tougher.

I'm thinking about my dad today, finding excuses to bring him up. He was a sailor, having joined the Navy at sixteen. Somewhere I've got a handful of black and white snapshots of him in his crisp whites, some local doll on his arm. Cocky and grinning despite his age. April 30th marked five years ago that he died. I celebrated, in a gesture that only those who really know me would understand, by going to a Deadmau5 show. Getting high while listening to live music, and the feelings of love and gratitude that doing so always leads me to.

We sit and gaze across the water at the Queen Mary: massive, immobile, timeless. Timo reads aloud from the ship's Wikipedia page - our own DIY historical tour. We take a pic that I'll later delete, because it is awful. I do this guiltily, because more frequent documentation of our time together is a mission we have vowed to undertake. It's something I have to admit I miss about my last relationship, as annoying as it occasionally was.

Hungry, we Yelp, choosing a seafood restaurant nearby. Picking a new place for date nights, or on day trips, or even while traveling always stresses me out. It feels like such a gamble, and such a shame when it's not good. But the place we find is perfect for our mood and our appetites. On barstools at a table facing the street, we share clam chowder, ceviche, grilled yellowtail. I get buzzed and chatty on pineapple cider, flirting with my boyfriend of ten months.

Serious-faced little dogs trot past the window, leading their humans, and I laugh. "Is there any kind of dog you don't like?" Timo asks, amused, I guess, at the ease by which I am delighted.

"Sure. I can't stand Chow Chows and Shar Peis. And Cocker Spaniels. And Dalmations." This last surprises him.

"They're mean," I explain. "Inbred and blind, mostly, so they're very aggressive." Timo nods, and I go on, watching his face. "And though I really like their faces and coloring and personalities, I don't love how German Shepherds look." Surprise again. "The hunched-over legs," I say. "That skulking way they walk. And did you know that their actual name is 'German Shepherd Dog'? So dumb. Like 'PIN number.'"

"That's because in German, their name means 'the shepherd's dog'". My jaw drops, genuinely gobsmacked. I'd never realized. I make a gesture that mimes my head exploding.

Tipsy, I announce that were I to live in another century, I'd be a shepherdess. "What a gig. Just take the sheep out, chill all day reading under a tree, take them back home." Knowing pointless thought exercises like this aren't his thing, I ask anyway: "What would you want to be, if you were born in another century?"

"A rockstar in the sixties." I object, having of course meant pre-1900, but he just laughs. "That was another century."

I'm curious though. It's about the last answer I'd expect of him, and I ask: "Would you really want to be a rockstar?" I've dated a few wanna-be rockstars in my day. Timo is nothing like a wanna-be rockstar.

"No. Not really at all, actually." And I believe him.

"I read a quote from Alain de Botton the other day. 'Proof of good parenting is that your child doesn't want to be famous.'"

"What, because they'll have gotten enough attention growing up?"

"Exactly." Without saying it explicitly, I know we both agree with the theory, and that feels important for some reason.

The whole evening still open to us, we decide to catch a movie. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (we both loved the first). On the walk over to the theatre, on the pedestrian overpass bridging an outdoor mall, Timo playfully races a toddler pushing his little sister's stroller. When the boy suddenly leaves off and stumbles in another direction, Timo sets off immediately after him, until the kid's dad calls him back. It takes me a second to understand: the little boy was headed towards some stairs. I stare hard at my boyfriend's profile as we continue on, but he just keeps his eyes straight ahead, refusing to take in my wordless praise.

On the front steps of the Performing Arts Center, we come across a man walking his Golden Retriever puppy. I gasp; the dog is utterly gorgeous. The man sees my face and before I can even get out the words May I pet your... he's whirled himself and the pup around so I can kneel down and say hello. The puppy gives me a quick kiss on the face, then seats himself calmly without even having to be asked. I stroke his neck and back, stunned nearly speechless by his sweet brown eyes.

"How old?" My heart is pounding.

"Ten months." I nod, then shake my head. "He's amazing." It's all I can say. Even Timo is impressed, chiming in, "Beautiful."

Then they're gone. Ten seconds' worth of interaction at most, but I'm destroyed. Timo sees me turn away, tears forming, and pulls me into a hug. "That was stupid," I say to his chest. "I don't know why I do that to myself."

"Why wouldn't you?" he says sharply. "The dog was beautiful." I know the impatience in his voice, and what it means. It means, No, Ellie, you're not giving up on anything you love in this world, just because it sometimes hurts. It's a sentiment I've needed to hear before. It's one he's willing to offer up again and again, until I get it.

Before the movie we get ice cream. Cold Stone Creamery. He's never been. I excitedly point out the frozen slab of marble, explain the process. "You can get as many different things as you want. They'll smash it all up and mix it in." Our eyes are already bigger than our stomachs, but the portions are enormous regardless. We sit and scoop our indulgence on a bench outside the creamery, the setting sun streaking the plaza in ribbons of cold white light.

"This is obscene," he criticizes happily. "In Germany this would be a third as big."

"That's so there's room to put the sauerkraut on top." I am leveled by my own joke, and howl with laughter.

"Think you're clever much, do you?" The dimple reappears.


On the way home, I lean across the console, turning my face into his arm. He's wearing one of my favorite sweaters. Lightweight, loose knit, wheat-colored. I breathe in the smell of him and sigh. When I pull away so he can more easily change lanes, he objects. "No no, come back." Lays his arm over my shoulders. Strokes my elbow softly. It's gotten late and we're both tired, but the drive home goes quickly.

It's just Long Beach. Just a walk around the waterfront, some lunch, a movie, and ice cream. But holy fuck is it more than enough for me.

house grief

When your dog dies, you will find yourself hating your home. There is nothing emptier than a house that has lost a dog. Nothing in the world as quiet, as lacking in joy. You won't want to be anywhere near it. You certainly won't want to be alone with it.

But if you can, spare a thought for that house. You think you miss your dog? How do you think the house feels? At least you get to leave each morning, be out and about in the world. Your poor house just has to sit there by itself, having lost the best friend it has ever known, wondering if it will ever have another.

Spare a thought for the walls, which kept him safe while every day he waited for you.
Spare a thought for the floor, warmed by his body and tickled by his fur.
Spare a thought for the fridge, and all the mischief the two of them caused.
Spare a thought for the bed, cold now, and entirely too clean.
Spare a thought for the bath, and all it endured for the sake of the house.
Spare a thought for the table, who taught your dog to sit as much as you did.
Spare a thought for the yard, the grass and trees and flowers who've lost a playmate.

Spare a thought for the vacuum, who probably feels really fucking shitty right about now.


A funny thing happened when my dad died: I started becoming him. It was subtle at first. I began using words and phrases he favored - even ones that had always annoyed me. Then it was body language. I'd catch myself making gestures or even facial expressions that were very him. It amused me, and made me a little sad that there wasn't anyone else around who would recognize it, and be equally amused.

Then it got more serious. It's unavoidable that we internalize our parents' personalities to some degree, and I had always looked at the world through my father's (cynical, skeptical, but generally appreciative) eyes. But all of a sudden I realized I'd gone beyond just thinking about life with my dad's values in mind and had started reacting to it in ways that he would. Even in those instances where, at earlier points in my life, I would have acted completely differently - more like me. Holy shit, I thought. I'm turning into my father. 

Weirder still: I liked that it was happening. I felt strangely proud of it. Even when it was nothing to be particularly proud of. I loved my dad, he was an amazing person in so many ways and sometimes I miss him so much I can't breathe - but he could be such an asshole. Stubborn, negative, anti-social, inflexible, and critical. But when I felt those qualities bubbling up through me, rather than stuff them back down I thought No. It's okay to be like this. Dad was like this. And he was perfectly happy.

The thing being, though, that he wasn't always. Perfectly happy, that is. Or perfect. And of course I know that but to admit it, to voice it, is to recognize that I might have some work to do myself. I might have to examine these pieces of my father that I cherish if only for the fact that all pieces, now gone, are to be cherished, and say Hmm yeah, probably don't need to keep that one alive. Because that's what I'm doing, by acting like him: keeping him alive.

So here I have this very odd conflation of love and respect for my father and a desire to not manifest his worser traits. It feels wrong - to reject any part of him, now that he's gone. It feels unfair and pointless. Respect and celebrate the dead and all that. And it's painful, because what no one told me is that grief, if you want it to be, can be a magical cloak to guard you against ugly, hard realities. It can protect you from your past and it can protect you from your present. In my case it's protected me against having to acknowledge - remember, really - that my dad and I actually had a difficult relationship marked by many hurtful conflicts. By lionizing him, by keeping the grief cloak wrapped tight around me, I can lie to myself about...well, anything having to do with him.

But the dead don't seek our forgiveness, they don't care how we judge them, and they don't know anything about the lies we tell. Lucky fucking bastards.

no idea

Two stories, then some music.


The first music festival I ever went to was Bonnaroo, in 2012. My boyfriend at the time had gotten two tickets and planned the trip, for himself and an as-yet unchosen guest, before we'd even met. He'd been wanting to go for years and so had decided to go ahead and get two passes, and worry later about who he'd take. When things started to get serious between us, he invited me to join him.  "What's Bonnaroo?" I remember asking. I'd had no idea. 

Not long after I accepted his invitation, my dad got sick, then quickly died, and everything sort of went belly-up. I was a mess, handling everything on my own, alone in suburban Florida with nary a clue how to deal with the complicated estate that had been dropped into my lap. 

Those first two months were an emotional hell for me, overwhelming to the point of suffocation. And one of the things that kept me going was the thought of Bonnaroo. I was too busy with the estate to research the festival, to try and figure out what I was in for. But it loomed on the horizon like a promise, like oxygen to a drowning person. 

In terms of attendance, Bonnaroo is pretty big, with some 80k people attending. (Big, that is, relative to US festivals: UK's Glastonbury Festival gets around 175k.) Those that attend, particularly those that attend repeatedly, are less music fans than pilgrims making a sacred, yearly journey to their happiest place on Earth. I didn't realize how big a deal Bonnaroo was until I was smack in the middle of a 700-acre farm, surrounded by swarms of sweaty, ecstatic music lovers, plunged headlong into four straight 15 hour days of - well, of everything that a music festival is. Talk about baptism by fire.  

On the very first morning, on the shuttle ride from the hotel to the festival, we chatted up a pair of girls seated behind us. They were impossibly young, and positively buzzing with excitement. At nineteen years old, they were already Bonnaroo veterans. And they were music fans of a caliber that puts most of the 40-somethings I know to shame. They knew their shit. 

One of the girls was a massive Red Hot Chili Peppers devotee, which when I heard I sort of inwardly scoffed at, thinking she was much too young to know them that well. But no. It was soon obvious from the one-upping between her and my boyfriend (another big RHCP fan) that she was legit. Encyclopedic knowledge of the band, their repertoire, their instruments, and their personal lives type legit.  

The girls left a huge impression on me and not just because of their musical prowess. There was something about them that, at first glance, suggested mismatch (one was extremely pretty, perfectly made up, and outfitted in her closet's skimpiest offerings while the other, a plain girl, was comfortably chill in old clothes and not a drop of makeup) - but anyone could see how tight they were. I got the impression they'd been besties from grade school, and Bonnaroo was an experience they continued to commit to together despite the different paths they'd taken up. I envied and admired their connection. 

To this day I can see their faces clearly. Absolutely aglow with anticipation. Their energy infected me in the best way, setting me up with expectations so high only Bonnaroo could meet them. Because it does. And it did. 

In a funny quirk of fate, we happened to ride on the shuttle home with those same girls, the last night of the festival. We quickly fell to sharing stories and comparing notes on performances, and my boyfriend asked the Chili Peppers fan what she'd thought of the show. The other girl laughed, knowing what her best friend was about to say, which was what she'd probably been saying nonstop for the two days prior. 

"I can't," said the girl, her face suddenly serious. She shook her head at my boyfriend, putting up a hand as if to defend herself against too much emotion. "I'm not ready to talk about it." 

We laughed at her dramatic reply, but there was something in her expression that intrigued me, something deeper and more knowing than could be touched by our teasing. It was as if she'd tasted something none of us had, and she couldn't begin to explain what it had been like. 

A few months later, watching Explosions In The Sky perform at Outside Lands, alone and enraptured in a way I'd never felt in my life, I understood exactly what that girl had meant. 

To this day I can't talk about that performance without shaking my head, getting the chills, and being close to tears. I could write volumes about why it was such an intense experience for me, but here are the broad strokes: my dad had just died. my boyfriend and I had broken up. I was jobless and parentless and more lost than I'd ever imagined I could be...but listening to Explosions play feet from where I stood, I knew I was going to be okay. I believed in myself. I felt the full weight of my potential and independence and self-love, and I knew, despite everything I'd gone through, that I was going to be okay

Every time I hear Explosions now, I'm instantly transported back to that place - which isn't necessarily a good thing. That's a lot of feeling for, say, a Sunday run. Thanks to how incredibly affected I was by seeing them live, I now have to designate special times to listen to my favorite band. I know. Fucking weird. Listening to them is like drinking the strongest wine in the world - intoxicating and dangerous. Small sips are better.


Last month at a party I fell into conversation with a woman about music, politics, social media, and books. When I asked who her favorite author was, she paused, took a breath, and cocked her head at me as if deciding something. "Well," she started slowly, "It's Charles Dickens." 

"Nice!" I exclaimed, partly because I was impressed at how heavy a name she'd dropped, and partly to smoke-bomb my own ignorance, since I am so embarrassingly unfamiliar with his work. "What are the best three of his books to read?" I asked.

The woman smiled sort of sheepishly. "That's the thing. I've only read two of his novels. I'm saving the rest."

"What, you mean like...rationing them?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "Exactly. Crazy huh. I only read one every five years."

"No," I said. "I think that's actually sort of brilliant." We were interrupted by someone then and the subject got dropped, but I couldn't stop thinking about what she'd said, and how when I was younger I had a similar inclination towards John Irving and Margaret Atwood. Fear of consuming the best stuff too quickly, and being left hungry for a long time afterward.

A few days after the party, I was messing around on Spotify and came across a playlist with a number of tracks from an interestingly-titled band. Curious, I clicked play. Five seconds into the song, my jaw dropped. Ten seconds in, I clicked on the band's bio, frowning in confusion. Thirty seconds in, I clicked the pause button and sat back in my chair, rattled.

The music I'd started listening to and stopped so abruptly was so similar to Explosions In The Sky that at first I thought I'd misread something, or had stumbled upon a track of theirs that I didn't know. But no. I wasn't listening to EITS. It was another band, guitar-heavy, epic, swelling, instrumental music like EITS's - but not EITS.

I Googled them, needing to know immediately whether they were still actively producing. And touring. And if so, when I could see them. That's what thirty seconds of their music had done to me: made me frantic, excited to hear more but terrified to fall in love with something unattainable. 

They are an actively producing band. They are touring. They are accessible. Like EITS, they are a post-rock group from Texas (yr blogmistress, who prides herself on a decent bit of music knowledge, hadn't even realized post-rock as a genre existed), and they are my Christmas present from the universe.

And I am rationing them, because simple pleasures. One song at a time, soaked up and digested like something rare and exquisite, all the while anticipating the experience of seeing them live and feeling the indescribable joy I felt two and a half years ago in a park in San Francisco. Because apparently, post-rock is my jam.

I'd had no idea. 


On Friday afternoon, I FedExed a package containing two checks - the sending of which concludes, at long last, the execution of my dad's estate. I finally finished. The process took much, much longer than it should have, and that's entirely my fault. Somewhere along the way (towards the beginning), I froze. Each step - each document to be signed, call to be made, account to be settled - seemed insurmountable. A towering wall I couldn't even fathom trying to climb. It got so bad that I would have panic attacks when faced with even the simplest task, like responding to a quick email from my attorney. If Terence hadn't helped me with the last few exchanges, I don't know how I would have gotten through.

The emotions stirred up by the whole process were crippling. I felt resentment at having to handle the whole massive financial affair by myself, me who can barely manage my checkbook. I felt anger at my father for the way he'd set things up, obligating me to make distributions to my estranged older brother (not a particularly complicated process, but one fraught with all kinds of deep-seated familial issues). And I felt terror at the thought of doing things wrong. But rather than plow through quickly to get all this negativity behind me as soon as possible, I self-sabotaged and moved excruciatingly slow. It wasn't until I was near the end that I realized why: when it was over, when everything was wrapped up, filed, disbursed, and done - that would mean, undeniably, that he was really gone.

He's been dead for two and a half years, of course. He's been gone for a while.

But while the estate was open, while responsibilities pertaining to my dad remained, some part of him still felt present. As if he was sitting quietly on my shoulder, overseeing. If not guiding, waiting. Expecting. Whether he approved of my choices or not didn't matter. He was with me.

To dot the last i and cross the last t is to set him free.

The swell of relief I anticipated feeling when I finished hasn't come. There's just a matter-of-fact emptiness. Well, that's that I guess. So I'm trying to just enjoy that quietude, the absence of buzzing tension I've lived with since he died. Though on Friday night Terence and I did go to Peking Tavern for some celebratory fried chicken and pot stickers, and that was nice.

Just us two.

the last thing to go

A few minutes ago, I carried an industrial-sized bucket full of sopping wet towels and clothing two flights of stairs up to my building's laundry room, since this morning, my Eurotrash combination washer/dryer choked on the nickel I accidentally left in the pocket of my jeans, flooding half my apartment. It was a 3/10 on the scale of Things That Suck, a notable improvement over the 6/10 I'd been engaged in a few minutes prior: sitting on the couch, crying, and missing my parents.

Today wasn't horrible by any stretch. Worse things. There are always worse things. It was just one of those days when a few key details go wrong, and you're too tired to shake it off like a normal adult does, and instead you slowly give in to inertia and self-pity, until eventually you find yourself in a mental fetal position where all you want to hear is the uniquely comforting sound of your mom or your dad saying simply, sympathetically, Oh, sweetie.

Some days you just need an Oh, sweetie. And the fact that you can't have one becomes this deliciously self-indulgent shroud of melancholia with which to wrap up and keep warm. So picture me in one of those right now. It looks like a Snuggie, but less dignified.

My friend Tricia, who has experienced grief both of a kind I can understand and that which I never will, once gave me some great advice about how to handle losing my dad. Keep him alive, she said, in the details. The sensory impressions. Butter melting on bagels. The smell of a Sharpie. What made him him.

No butter or Sharpies today. Instead, a dose of my dad's uniquely dry, pragmatic humor. Not for the faint of heart, probably, but what the fuck. I'll keep him around any way I can.


When my dad got sick, everything happened mercifully quickly. He lost basic functionality over a matter of days. And wow was that a fun sentence to write, as if he was a fucking toaster, but I don't know how else to put it. First he had trouble walking. Then he had difficulty even balancing himself while sitting. Then he lost speech…and other powers. After that, I assume he started slipping into a state of total disorientation. I assume, that is, because he couldn't tell us. But the way he looked around in bewilderment and fear suggested as much.

Are we having fun yet? Excellent. It gets better.

By the time A., my boyfriend at the time, jumped on a plane to come help out, my dad was still able to speak, still had mental clarity - but bodily, he was falling apart. Those were some of the worst days for me, since, lacking the physical strength to support him, the helplessness I felt was infuriating. He hated using the walker I'd gotten him, even after, desperate to make the house safer and more navigable, I had a late night Craiglist furniture fire sale, just to get some of his bookcases out of the fucking way. He was restless and scared, and kept himself distracted from what was happening by moving around constantly. He'd sit in one chair for ten minutes before insisting I help him move to another. I was always terrified one or both of us would go down as we shuffled along, inch by inch, on the cold Spanish tile. I'm sure he was, too.

The day A. arrived was especially bad for my dad. He was more or less bound to the hospital bed hospice had set up in the middle of the living room, because there hadn't been time to disassemble his own bed yet. He could no longer get up without help, and, due to his size and lack of balance, it became a massive ordeal for him just to go to the bathroom. And on this particular day, whether due to exhaustion or apathy, my dad decided to forgo the hassle and formality of pants.

Honestly, who the fuck could blame him?

Two things happened within seconds of one another: A. pulled up in a taxi, armed with his indefatigable grin and a battery-operated, barking toy dog on the box of which he'd written Chaucer - and my dad realized he needed to use the bathroom.

My dad had never met A. Never lain eyes on him or spoken to him. Knew him only by my description, and barely at that, since we hadn't been dating long. For his part, A. had just stepped off a trans-continental flight minutes before. We barely had a chance to greet one another on the driveway before I heard my dad calling for me from inside.

A. didn't blink, when he saw what was happening. In an instant, he was at my dad's side, helping me help him stand - discombobulated, weak, needing to pee. And completely naked from the waist down. Really, if you want to see what your boyfriend is made of, throw your pantless, dying father at him and see how he fares.

But this isn't A.'s story. It's my dad's. And do you know what the first words out of my father's mouth were, to his adult daughter's new beau? The very first words he uttered, standing there shakily between us, clutching both of our arms, and in the sort of exposed, heartbreakingly vulnerable state that nightmares are made of?

"Welcome to Apollo Beach."

Because what else was there to say? Manners are manners, whether your guest is living or Death or both, and my dad was fucked if cancer was going to touch his sense of humor just yet. So help him god, that would be the last thing to go.

in the door

Well fuck you, then, because really I was just sitting here minding my own business, feeling pretty good in fact, for reasons you wouldn't understand, because it's your job to make people miserable.

It's a box. It's just a stupid pink box, sitting on my kitchen island. I didn't look through it. I'm not a fool. It's way too close to Thanksgiving. I only took it down last night because someone who is still here and alive and with me wanted to see what I looked like as a kid. That's the only reason the box is out.

So I showed him. And he smiled. And I saw that smile, alive and warm on his face right next to me on the couch. Did I mention the alive part? And I leafed right past all the other pictures, I didn't even glance at them. It's November 7th.

But they're there in the pink box, which is still sitting on the counter, right in my line of sight, and that's enough. That's all it takes, for you to get your foot in the door, isn't it? You sneaky fucking bastard.

Fuck you, I'm going to bed. 

five more minutes

One of the things I've learned about grief is that some of the pain of it is lessened by just talking about the person who's died: what they were like, what their interests were, what made them flawed or amazing. That's why this moment meant so much to me, and why I wrote up this list. Sharing who my dad was with people who never knew him helps keeps him alive, in some small way, if only for the few minutes spent talking about him.

I don't know anything about the man in the video below, other than the fact that, before he died last year, he was the good friend of a friend of mine.

What was he like? I asked my friend, who messaged me late last night to let me know that he, too, was feeling a bit twisted; that he, too, was missing the people he'd lost.

Beautiful, he replied, and he sent me a link to a YouTube video featuring the singer/songwriter. I can't watch this, but you can. So I did. And now one more person can testify to the talent of his friend.

I was going to embed that video to share it with you guys, but I think the one below features a song that's even prettier. Like I say, I never knew him, and chances are slim any of you did, either. But if you've ever lost someone and you understand that impulse to share with the world something about him or her, please take five minutes to watch this. I have a friend who I think would be happy to know that even a few more people got to witness part of what made his friend special.

His name was Joseph Tobin, and wow, is my friend right. Beautiful indeed.

a handful of impressions: bonnaroo 2013

In no particular order, other than that in which I wrote them.


Sunday, early afternoon, still at the hotel. I'm in a state. I've barely slept the past three nights. I've taken loads of drugs. I've hardly eaten a thing in four days. I'm depleted, exhausted, starving, and dehydrated. I've sent David* on ahead of me since a) my stomach is threatening revolt and b) I'm feeling like I need some time alone to get emotionally centered for the day. It's the second Father's Day since my dad died. Normally I'd not let myself sink into that hole, but my body is pissed at what I've been doing to it, and has nothing extra to give me, to keep me afloat.

On the shuttle to the festival, I send text messages to all my friends who are dads. I text David to remind him to call his father. He answers almost immediately. Sent him the sweetest text in history. An ugly, ungenerous part of me responds back in my head. Must be nice. At the fest, I spend the first hour struggling to dial into a happy spot. I watch The Mowgli's, the most upbeat of bands, from the back of the tent, leaning my face against the poles of a raised lounge area. I cling to the posts and mouth the words as I listen to The Great Divide and San Francisco, tracks I've been looping for weeks back at home. I can't sing, because my lips are inches from the ear of a guy reclined on a sofa in front of me. Instead I just press my forehead to the bars like a prisoner, close my eyes, and will myself to count the blessings of the moment until genuine gratitude takes hold. But my throat is tight with grief, and I miss him with an inexplicable fierceness. I wish I could tell him about it, all of it, even the drugs. He'd shake his head and chastise me, but half-heartedly. He'd get it. And he'd delight in my delight. I miss him.

The Mowgli's = very happy, but Ellie = very sad. Worst festival math evar.


Two a.m. Sunday morning. That Tent. Billy Idol has just finished playing. Most of the crowd is staying exactly where they are, holding fast to their good spots. It's been a strange Saturday evening. The cancellation of Mumford and Sons cast a bit of a pall on the festival, which, by and large, is vocal about its dissatisfaction with the replacement act of Jack Johnson. Lots of bitter, sarcastic jokes being cracked. Lots of disappointed Mumford fans. There's been a weird hole in the evening where the much-anticipated headliner should have been. People have been wandering, ambivalent about what they wanted to do or see instead. Energy has been low for a couple of hours, as clusters of bummed out fans trickle around the festival grounds in search of something to keep them going. But now the buzz and hum are starting to build again. Empire of the Sun is about to start, and the crowd is fidgety with excitement, despite the late hour, and despite the fact that they're going on nearly half an hour late.

And then they do start. And the roar of the crowd ripples out from in front of the stage, back through and over us, and electrifies several thousand people, all eager to be recharged for the late-late shift. They sound absolutely amazing live, and I'm instantly transported. Everything is blue lights, lasers, and fog. The Australian duo are outfitted in psychedelic costumes, with LED lights lining their instruments. It feels like being in a video. We've somehow, miraculously managed to carve out enough room to dance, cornered against a railing near the back of the tent. While we're not close enough to make out all of the action on stage, we've got a decent view and incredible sound, and I'm beyond thrilled to be able to move and jump like a maniac when Alive comes on. Everyone who knows the words is throwing his or her head back and belting them out. I'm turned around, facing David, dancing with him, singing to him again, smiling and laughing and out of my head with joy.

Some form of pre-performance prayer, I think.

It doesn't look like we had a good spot, but trust, it was amazing.


It's the Saturday night hole. The empty place where Mumford and Sons should have been. We've just left The Lumineers, but we don't know what we want to do until Billy Idol, at midnight. There aren't any shows going at the moment that are particularly compelling to us. Neither of us is interested in Jack Johnson; in fact, I'm terrified that watching him will actually bring me further down and put me to sleep. We briefly consider the Ferris wheel, but the line is outrageous. Should we take a pill? he asks. I'm unsure about starting on ecstasy this early. It's only a bit after nine, and I'm planning on going all the way until morning. Pretty Lights played until sunrise the night before, so I'm guessing Empire of the Sun and Boyz Noise will go just as late. I want to time my high to maximize on those shows. We could just get high and hang out in the Christmas barn, he suggests. Fuck it, I say, realizing there's nothing else to do. But two caveats, I say. If we start now, it'll be a two pill night for me. He nods. And the other? I reach into my bag, pulling out the tiny baggy from my coin purse. I'm a handful on two pills. Like, I will need to dance. And I might disappear to go do just that, no matter what's on. 

We place the capsules on one another's tongues and toast with our water. See ya later, I say, like always.

The Christmas barn is going strong, and we hang out there for a bit, bobbing to the beat and smiling at all the weirdness of it. It's a barn, in the middle of a farm in Tennessee, in June, decked out like the North Pole, and filled with ravers. It's spectacularly bizarre.

Christmas barn, covered in Christmas lights. Just the right amount of weird.

They weren't really this grumpy, I promise. That was just their schtick for photos.

I know the moon rocks have kicked in when I start to obsess about the Silent Disco. Jared Dietch is starting at eleven, and I want to catch as much of his set as possible before Billy Idol. I caught some of his set the night before and it was a blast. But I know that with the fest crowd largely disbanded by the cancellation, there'll probably be a line to get in to the Disco. A very, very long one that starts early. So I ask David if we can go sit on the grass near it, to make sure we don't miss out. He agrees, and we step out of the Christmas chaos into the cold night.

My high ramps up noticeably as we do so.

Cold. I run to the locker to get my hoodie. I return to find the line has grown. David is socializing with some other very high people. A guy and a girl, who, a moment after introducing herself to me, literally crawls off on all fours, disappearing back into the dark. She just fell into my lap, he says. We sit cross-legged. We chat. We chat faster. Moon rock. Heart thumping. My eyes are wide and I'm rocking to a beat somewhere. I run to the bathroom again. I refill our water bottles. David waits for me. I'm thankful for my warm layers. Recorded music pours over us from a nearby tower. Something awful. Some awful artist. We're too far away from everything live, it's all we hear. What it is? Why aren't they changing it? We laugh. We sit closer to one another. Watch out, I say. I'm coming up. I climb onto his lap and wrap my limbs around him. Cozy. Warmth. I do not love this man. I barely know this man. But he's strong and he's kind and he's here with me, and we're having a good time. We're in a great mood now, the headliner hole forgotten. We're ready to dance. The line grows long behind us, and I feel a rush of gratitude and relief that I'm not going to miss my DJ, that David has patiently waited an hour with me, in the cold grass. He holds me. I bury my face against his shoulder, his neck, this man I do not know or love.

I'm glad he's here.

In the Disco, I cut loose fast and hard. He keeps up with me for a while. We retreat to the grass behind the tent. Room for us to goof, to spread out, to sing to one another. The music is a mix, and frustrates me. Some spectacular EDM tracks, some randoms from the 90s. David sits and watches me. Takes photos of me. He points at me, licks his finger, makes it sizzle on his shirtsleeve. I laugh and dance harder. The line to get in has quadrupled. They watch us enviously. I'm giddy. This is my zone. When fireworks start over my shoulder I can't even stop to watch. Alive comes on and I explode into movement and laughter. I sing the words to David, ecstatic. I mean them. Loving every minute cuz you make me feel so alive, alive. And I do feel incredibly alive. I never feel more alive than when I'm dancing to music I love, and here I am, at Bonnaroo, my god, what an amazing thing, what an incredible experience, out here among the stars, thousands of joyful people around us, listening to musical thrill after musical thrill. My heart fills with affection for this person, for being here with me, witnessing and sharing in my joy. He's made it real, more real than when I do it alone, and even though I don't love him, I love him for being with me in this moment.

Oh Silent Disco, how I love thee. 

Stalkers will need to do their own exposure adjustments, sorry.


Friday, late afternoon. The sun is slowly dripping into the magic hour. The weather is a gift - a godsend really. Nowhere near as hot or humid as last year. There's even a light breeze valiantly working its way through an eighty thousand-strong mass of bodies, lifting skirts, hair, and spirits even higher than they already are. David's younger brother has joined us for the day, with a one-day ticket so they can rock out to Paul McCartney and ZZ Top together. They haven't seen one another in two years. Lots of laughter, smiling, teasing.

The three of us grab a patch of grass near a hip hop show. We sit only long enough to share a truly wretched soft pretzel and a handful of shrooms before we get up and wander the grounds, soaking up the chill sunset vibes of the festival. They're not attached to anything until the classic rock shows starts a few hours later, and I'm content to meander and take in the sights while the mushrooms gently, slowly curl their fingers around my senses. I let my gaze linger on things as we pass. Colorful clothes, face paint, signage, the oversized grotesque statues spiked in the ground. Everything has the potential to be a playground for my mind. I loosen my thoughts and relax my body into the drugs, letting them take me where they will.

Where we sat to do The Deed.

As usual, it starts with water. Water has always been the gateway for me, with shrooms. Especially in the fading light of dusk. The twinkle and sparkle, the splatter and trickle. When water suddenly takes on an extra dimensionality, I know I'm high. The water of the Centeroo mushroom fountain captivates me as we come upon it. I jump on a bench as the guys walk ahead, snapping pics, entranced by the sound and sight of it, which blend together. Synesthesia, my favorite thing about mushrooms.

Mild giggles kick in as we walk up to This Tent, where Jim James is just starting. It's the perfect musical backdrop. A. E. I. O. U. sounds lush in my ears, drippy and loopy and sexy and silly all at once. I post to Instagram with one hand, my other arm wrapped around David as we half-dance, nodding and smiling and laughing.

Weird stuff to look at when you're high. Thanks, Bonnaroo!


Here's what I expect of watching Paul McCartney: I expect it will be a ton of fun. I expect an eighty thousand person singalong. I expect to enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is: a once in a lifetime experience. I'm a Beatles fan, but I'm certainly not a rabid one.

Well, I get the singalong, and I absolutely get the fun. We end up in a very cool little cluster of people with whom we sing, dance, and high-five throughout the show. But the whole experience is heightened by the fact that while I'm not a rabid Beatles fan, my companion, David, is. And watching any show in the company of a die-hard fan is always much more fun. He knows every word to every tune, and is just generally beside himself, he's so into it. He sings the ballads in my ear and plays the guitar solos on my hip and my arm. And somewhere along the way I get hit with a wave of holy shit emotion, as in holy shit, I'm watching one of the most famous musicians in the world, a man who's not going to be up to doing these shows for too many more years. I think of all the times I've listened to The Beatles either by myself or with friends who were fans.

I think of the fact that my brother was the one who introduced me to them.

And as Sir Paul pauses in between songs to muse about "his friend John", it dawns on me what an amazing, momentous thing it is, to be living at a time when I can watch this incredibly famous and influential man perform. A man whose life and experiences and connections and friendships are so intermeshed with the 20th century historical musical narrative that it's hard to think of someone more important, or integral to, well, the whole fucking thing.

And it moves me, tremendously. And I think of friends that I love, and who I would be crushed to lose, in the way that Paul lost John. And I cry. Unexpectedly, I cry. And I'm strangely happy to be surprised by this moment.

I'm not a fan of pushing up through crowds, but push up we did, and we got pretty close...


Not too horrible a view of Sir Paul. 


I don't meet up with David on Sunday. I don't want to. I'm burned out physically and emotionally. We talk about meeting up for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which is the final show, but he's already buried deep in the crowd when I get to the field. I'm feeling really low at this point in the evening. So low, in fact, that I actually consider skipping the show and just going home. Everyone else just seems so connected, and I feel so incredibly alone. There's a special kind of bittersweet energy at the last show on the last night of a festival. People stand closer to one another. They're quieter. It seems like they listen to one another more, perhaps soaking up the last of their interaction with each other before saying goodbye forever. It honestly feels like 79,999 people, and then me.

And then it starts raining.

It isn't pouring, but it isn't misting either. The covered tents at the back of the field quickly fill up, as some people retreat for shelter. But most just hold their ground, some in rain gear, though most not. I'm waiting in line for the bathroom, pulling my ninety-nine cent poncho out of my bag, when the band starts to play. And I know instantly that I'm not going anywhere. The sound is so good, so rich and full and pretty, even way back where I stand, at the far end of the field. It lights up the night and grabs a hold of me and says Hey, look, don't leave yet, ok? It's Tom fucking Petty after all. You can be sad, but just be sad to Tom Petty is all's we're saying.

So I don't leave. I go to the bathroom, where I unfold and don a flimsy, transparent triangle of plastic, and then I step back out into a massive, moonlit singalong. I wander around the field for the entire show, socializing a bit, but mostly just stopping in one section long enough to listen to a song or two before moving on to another area. I watch lanterns being lit, and set out to float off into the night sky amidst cheers and applause. I watch fire breathers and glow stick dancers and hula hoopers. I spend a few minutes running in circles with a group of people who are just randomly running in circles, for the sheer fun of it, in the rain. I do all of this alone, and my heart, which has felt so empty and hollow all day, suddenly is full again. I throw my head back and yell out lyrics along with everyone else. Heyyyyyy baby, there ain't no easy way out. Heyyyyyyy I will stand my ground. And I won't back down. 

I won't say that I feel joyful, exactly. Not akin to other, higher moments of the fest. But I find peace back there, in the dark, aimlessly wandering and singing to myself, to the crowd, to the band, to the sky, to my past, to my present, and to my future. It isn't some great revelatory moment. I'm not high, and I haven't had a single drop of alcohol. It's just a clean, peaceful feeling, standing there in the rain, being alone, and being anything but at the same time.


Thursday night. We've got our festival legs. It's the warm-up day. No major shows, none of the big stages are open, but there are several smaller or lesser-known acts scheduled to kick the weekend off. Last year A. and I missed Thursday entirely, so it feels like a bonus to even be here tonight.

We drift and sample shows at will, having fun and enjoying the scene but not getting too amped up about anything. Until we stumble upon Django Django. And that's when our festival starts. I've never heard them before, and David has only briefly checked them out online when making his schedule. They're indescribable. Part EDM, part funk, part question mark, and one more part question mark. I've since listened to them on Spotify and something definitely gets lost in their studio recordings. But live? Live they are unreal. So fun, so funky and danceable.

We catch the show from the outside of the tent, nowhere near close enough to see the stage, but the sound hits us - and the crowd around us - just right. We have a blast dancing with one another, laughing and goofing around to the music we can't for the life of us describe or classify, but which is rocking us hard. Some guy near where we stand shines a handheld disco laser under our feet, twisting the grip to change the pattern as we dance. I'm mesmerized and delighted. David is loving the music, loving dancing, loving his first taste of Bonnaroo.

There aren't a lot of moments during the weekend, that he and I truly connect over the music we're watching. But we connect over Django Django, and it's the perfect sleeper hit start to the weekend.


I lucked out so many times throughout the festival, in terms of catching the one or two songs I'd wanted to see, at shows that I wasn't otherwise interested in. This happened with Maps and Atlases, Beach House, Wilco, ZZ Top, David Byrne, Divine Fits, and at least a couple more I'm not remembering. I just happened to be walking by, or walking up, or on my way to another show, and I caught some of my favorite randoms this way. Super lucky timing.


I missed On an On entirely, because we got to Paul McCartney so early. That's my biggest regret. I also missed The XX completely (I missed them at Coachella, too - double fail).

I wish I'd been much closer for Of Monsters and Men and The Lumineers. The Lumineers put on an awesome show, but their sound got completely lost in the back. We could barely hear them. I would have been much more bummed about it if I hadn't seen them here in LA last year, and smack up against the stage at that. And I can't really complain about the Of Monsters and Men show, since this is the third time I've seen them, and both times before were really amazing for me, emotionally.

About how close we were for Of Monsters and Men. Bummer, but damn, that crowd was THICK and it was HOT. Would have been hellish to try and get much closer. 

There are a couple other smaller bands/performers I wanted to see that were earlier in the day, but I was just way too trashed from being up until 6am the night before to get back up early enough to catch them. C'est la festival vie.


Porter Robinson, Wolfgang Gartner, Boyz Noise, and Pretty Lights are all, predictably, incredible. Danced my face off, loved every minute of them.

Standard issue blurry EDM photo. Could be Christ himself up there and no one would know. Good job Ellie.

David got this amazing shot of Pretty Lights which I may Instagram, because it is so fantastic.


Negative. Chemistry, yes. Lots of laughs and great conversation, definitely. Romance, no. Ellie is officially still single, kids. Hide your menfolk.

Moment of Random Dancing In the Middle of Everything

One particularly Bonnaroo-esque moment was actually on Thursday night. We took moon rocks, which neither of us had ever had before, and it hit us like a tsunami. I consider myself, for lolz or for lolsobs, to be a pretty savvy user of ecstasy/MDMA at this point. And I've never experienced anything like it. It was nearly incapacitating. We both had to sit down when it hit, lest our legs give out from under us. This happened as we were walking through the middle of the festival. We just plopped down right where we stood. That lasted about thirty seconds for me, at which point, I, of course, needed to dance. The closest music source was the crazy Christmas barn, and it was perfect. David just sat watching, dazed but laughing, as I broke it down right there, in the middle of foot traffic. I didn't have a choice. Then we just sat there for a while marveling at how unbelievably high we were, and every few minutes I'd pop back up to dance some more of it off.

To me a festival isn't complete unless at some point I'm randomly dancing in the middle of nothing/everything. So I got that covered.


Band - The Vaccines. Holy shit they rocked. Loved loved loved seeing them, especially since they were a last minute, very exciting discovery for me. I've since added lead singer Justin Hayward-Young to my rock star crush list. I mean, come on. If The Strokes + Weezer + a dash of Vampire Weekend sounds good to you, check them out. Family Friend (just the tune, no video) is fucking amazing, I cannot stop listening to that track. Also great are If You Wanna and Norgaard. Oh, and Wetsuit, which was so, so fun to hear live.

Performer - Matt Berninger of The National, who drank his way through the show like a boss, jumped into the pit inches from where I stood, and wandered around the audience for a couple of songs, dragging and violently yanking his mic cord behind him. Such a badass. I Need My Girl almost killed me. I wish it would have. Then maybe Matt would have revived me when he plunged into my personal space, which he totes did on purpose, I'm sure of it.

Song - Alive, by Empire of The Sun. So magical. I was in heaven. One of my favorite festival moments of all time, if not THE best moment, actually. Can't wait to see them again at HardFest in August.

Were There Any Groups of People Dressed In Banana Suits?

You bet your potassium there were.

So help me god next fest I'm wearing my owl suit on the last night.

vs. 2012? 

Gah, do I have to? Put a gun to my head and I'll say 2012 was better. But that's not really fair. Such wildly different experiences. Last year I went with A., and we were pretty head over heels, though the fact is we fought terribly when we were there. Drugs and romance, I have learned, do not mix. Like, at all. 

That being said, some of my favorite moments of this year way, way trumped some of my 2012 moments. It's just too hard to compare, really.

Gonna 'Roo Again Next Year?

Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm going to wait and see what the lineup is first this time. And I'm itching to do a new festival, if I can. Maybe Osheaga, in Montreal. Or, dream fest - the Isle of Wight. And if I don't go to EDC next year, I can pretty much never go, because it'll be my last chance to go before I'm 40. And your girl really doesn't give a whole lot of fucks about age and all that nonsenserry, because she still has a blast going to EDM shows and such...but EDC is a whole 'nother kettle of (very young) fish.

I'm also thinking of maybe just taking a trip to see one of my huge favorites somewhere cool, such as Explosions in The Sky, or The Walkmen. Making a weekend out of visiting a new city, capping it off with a concert. Dunno.

How Bad Was the Comedown After Bonnaroo?

Suicidally bad. That's not an exaggeration, I'm sorry to say. I was an absolute, utter mess. Even worse than after Coachella, which was unbearably bad. Hence my silence on the blog and IG. I was in the throes of some of the deepest despair I've ever experienced. I don't know if it was the moon rocks, or the combination of lots of moon rocks plus lots of mushrooms, or the fact that I barely ate while I was there (I lost ten pounds over the weekend), or WHAT was going on, but I crashed worse than I ever have. Disastrously bad scene. Spent most of Wednesday wanting to hurl myself off of the roof. Really. Luckily friends near and far were there for me, and I had a ton of support when I needed it most. Like, unreal amounts of love and support, which probably saved my life.

Serotonin depletion is bad news for anyone, at any time. But for someone prone to depression, it's actually incredibly fucking dangerous. I've now learned this lesson twice, the very very hard way. It's something I'm factoring into consideration for all of my subsequent festival plans, including Burning Man. That much usage spells serious trouble for me. One or two nights in a row is one thing, but four nights in a row is just not doable for the Ellster.

Assorted, Leftover, Unremarkable Crowd Shots

And that will conclude your coverage of Bonnaroo 2013, which was written by your blogmistress all at once over the past few hours and therefore on no sleep, so apologies if it's not her best work, etc and so forth, and also apologies in advance for a few more IG shots she's probably going to post because they're pretty and she wants to, even if they're totally redundant (read: sunset Ferris wheel shots) and to all a goodnight zzzzzzz.....


*Blog code name. His choice.

call from here

Alex: Thank you for calling Mama Mia's Pizza, Alex speaking. What can I get for you today?

Me: Hi, Alex. Um, I was wondering if you guys deliver?

Alex: If we deliver?

Me: Yeah. Do you offer delivery? 

Alex: You, to the mountain or something?

Me: Well, no. I was actually hoping you could send it a little further than that.

Alex: (pause) Where exactly would you like your pizza delivered, ma'am?

Me: Los Angeles. 

Alex: Los Angeles?

Me: That's right. 

Alex: You want me to deliver your pizza to Los Angeles.

Me: Yes, please. But there's one other thing. I need you to deliver it to future, too. 2013, to be exact.

Alex: (sigh) Look, lady, we're really busy here, so thanks for the prank call, but--

Me: Wait! Don't hang up! Please don't hang up. I want something. I want to place an order. I'm just not sure I can get back to you. I'm having a hard time remembering, that's all.

Alex: Okaaaay, wellllll, did you want cheese, pepperoni, sausage, veggie, or supreme? 

Me: Ummm, I think he'd want sausage. Or maybe supreme. Yeah. Supreme for sure. Except no mushrooms. He hated mushrooms.

Alex: So this is for two people?

Me: Yeah. Just two. I think. Well, I don't know. I don't remember who took the picture. It could have been my mom, or it could have been a stranger. But I think we might have gone alone...

Alex: Ma'am...?

Me: Sorry, yes, just two. So a medium I guess?

Alex: Ok, medium supreme, hold the mushrooms. That'll be eleven dollars, ready in twenty minutes, and you can pick it up at Snoas--

Me: Alex?

Alex: Ma'am?

Me: Could you just...could you just tell me what it's like there today? You know, like, describe it a little bit? It's been a really long time.

Alex: What it's like...where, ma'am?

Me: There. Wherever you are. I'm trying, but I just... I can't...

Alex: Ma'am....? Are you...ok?

Me: Yeah. I'm good. It's's a year ago today that he died, and I'm looking through all these photographs, and most of the moments I remember, but I don't know which trip this was, or what it was like, and I don't even care about the place or the date so much as I just...I just want to be there, yanno? In my mind, just for a few minutes. I want to close my eyes and feel what it was like. But it's been so long, almost thirty years, I don't even... I can't...

Alex: Ok, ok, calm down. One sec, my manager is yelling at me...

(muffled voices) 

Alex: Alright look, I'm on my lunch break in a few minutes, anyway. What it is you want to know?

Me: Just tell me about the place where you are. About what it's like there today. Anything at all.

Alex: Okaaaay, well, I'm in a shack the size of my parent's bathroom at the bottom of a big ass mountain. It's not snowing today, but it did last night, so the powder's pretty good, and everyone's in a good mood. They're tipping for once, anyway. Some little girl left a sweater in here a little while ago, so I gotta--

Me: Wait, what did you say?

Alex: Some little girl. She was in here with her dad. Cute kid, total tomboy. Looked exhausted though. They got a supreme pizza and sat at the counter. The kid picked all of the veggies and stuff off of it and put them on her dad's slices. (laughs) Anyway, yeah, she left her sweater, or I guess her dad's sweater, it's pretty big. I gotta run it over to lost and f--

Me: Alex?

Alex: Yeah?

Me: Listen, I'm sorry to be a pain in the ass, but I need to cancel the order. I can't...I can't get to you. I'm sorry. I wish more than anything I could, but I can't.

Alex: So no medium supreme?

Me: Yeah. I mean no. Not today. But thank you. Really...thanks.

Alex: Sure, no problem, I didn't put the order in yet, anyway. Have a good day, ok? 

(dial tone)

Me: Thanks, yeah...I'm sure we did. 

broken appointment

To Whom It May Concern,

Recently, I received a billing statement from the office of James M. Radeski, DDS, regarding an outstanding balance on the account of my father, Norman Baker.

(Precisely how recently I received this bill I'm afraid I cannot say, as sometime toward the end of last year, I established the temporarily anxiety-reducing if ultimately stress-compounding habit of depositing stacks of Norman's unopened mail in the rosewood sewing box on my sideboard. One can only field so many fundraising solicitations from the Tea Party Patriots and membership renewal reminders from the John Birch Society before one needs a respite from the tidings of the United States Postal Service.)

The sole item on this statement is noted as code D095: Broken Appointment.

It appears that my father missed his semi-annual teeth cleaning appointment, scheduled for October 4th, 2012.

May I just take a moment to say that my father had excellent teeth? He really did. They were lovely and straight, and very white, and he was rather vain about them. He brushed them fastidiously, often while roaming about the house in a state of semi-undress, Sonicare buzzing in his cheek, conducting half-garbled and largely incoherent conversations with myself and/or the cat.

I guess what I'm saying is, Dr. Radeski did fine work, where my father's dental health was concerned. Please convey my compliments.

But to return to the matter of the balance, I'm afraid that as my father passed away some five months prior to his October appointment, it would indeed have proven quite challenging for him to attend it.

I'm sorry, but if I could just interrupt this letter once more, I'd like to also say that my father was an extremely responsible and considerate man. He wasn't the type to miss engagements, ever, and was always respectful of other peoples' time.

I, on the other hand, am the type of person who stuffs unopened bills into sewing boxes, where they remain out of sight and out of mind for months on end. Consequently, I do hope that you'll consider this oversight my own, and not my father's. He'd really be pissed at me if you didn't, and while not a superstitious person, I've no wish to invite his posthumous temper anymore than I enjoyed the occasional glimpse of his living one.

As regards the $30 balance, I trust that the above revelation will be sufficient cause to clear the charge on my father's account. If you require a death certificate as proof of his demise, I can provide one, though I won't lie: I'd be grateful if you'd just take my word for it. Digging through my files to find the requisite document, carrying it by hand across the street to Kinko's, and staring dolefully at its contents while waiting for the fax machine to blast them into the digital ether - a routine I have already undertaken a couple dozen times in the past year - well, it kind of totally sucks.

Thank you for your time and understanding, and for your part in giving my father one of the most beautiful smiles I've ever known.

Elizabeth Baker

Iguazu Falls, Argentina - 2010


the far side of grief

I know I wrote a lot last year about my parents' deaths. I know it probably got tiresome to read. I know it was depressing.

But I think I'm done grieving. I can think of it now - the cold, hard fact of their absence - without losing my breath. Or my voice, if I'm in conversation. I'm now in the It is what it is phase. Not numbness so much as dryness. The tears have dried up, and in their place is a crisp matter-of-factness. Yes. They're gone. I'm on my own. 

It is what it is. 

I'm on the far side of grief. And, maybe as a hard-won bonus, something else is taking its place, in bits and pieces: wisdom. 

It's impossible to throw out a word like "wisdom" in relation to yourself without sounding like a smug ass, I totally get that. And god knows, the older I get, the more I realize how little I know. But there are things I know now that I didn't know then, and that I wouldn't know, if not for. Surprising things. 

1. Grief has made me a better dog owner. Chaucer is one of the best things ever to happen to me. I adore that dog to the moon and back a dozen times. But he can be exhausting. Not just his physical needs, but his emotional ones. Mastiffs are incredibly sensitive, and Chauc is no exception. Look at him the wrong way and he'll be an anxious, unsettled wreck. He's a lot of work to care for on my own, and there were times in the past that I felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities and duties of being his sole master and provider. It's the little, time-consuming things that can get frustrating with him, like having to wipe down his paws after each walk, having to mop up the floor around his water dish several times a day, having to repaint patches of wall every week - even having to drag his bed across the apartment at bedtime, since otherwise he'll sleep on the hard floor to be next to me. 

Sometime in the past few months, though, I suddenly became infinitely more patient with him. The small annoyances ceased to be annoying, because I realize how precious little time I have with him. And I know exactly what I'm in for when he dies. I know the precise shape, form, and depth of pain I'll be facing, because I've faced it down twice now. And I am in no hurry to be in that place again. I will happily, gladly, please and thank you very much, sponge dirt and drool off my floor, my furniture, my walls, and him several times a day, for as many years as I'm granted. And I'll do it with a genuine smile on my face, because he's all the family I've got. 

Gratitude and good humor have replaced the exasperation I sometimes had with him. There are still moments when my patience wears thin, no question. But in general, the perspective I gained from losing loved ones has tapped an even deeper wellspring of love and appreciation than I thought I had for him before.

2. Grief has made me a more selective dater. It's simple: life is short. Life is precious. Life, to me, is about relationships, experiences, and creation - that's where my happiness comes from. I don't want to waste my time being unhappy. I just plain don't have enough of it, as far as I'm concerned. So I've worked really, really hard at getting to know myself and my needs better - so that I can better predict my happiness. I don't know how else to say it: it's just incredibly important to me that I don't throw any more time away on relationships that don't fulfill me, or that don't move me closer to the person I want to be.

ETA: plz to read this clarification, thx. 

3. Grief has made me a happier person. How's that for a paradox? It comes down to gratitude. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Gratitude for the connections I make with others, big and small. Gratitude for the things I'm still here on earth experiencing, while others are gone. Sunshine. Rain. Friday nights. Monday mornings. Sex. Breakups. A drive with a handsome boy in a fast car. A plodding bus ride surrounded by strangers. Leisure time or hard work, pain or pleasure. It's all a fucking privilege to experience. And while that's something I could have said a year ago and thought I'd meant it, it would have been lip service at the time. Now I really, really get it. What drives it home for me is the total apathy of the universe, towards all of us. My mom died. Bam. Gone. Some people cared, of course, but the universe at large didn't give a shit. My dad died. Bam. Gone. Some people cared, but again, the world in general did not. This life is ours for such a tiny, tiny slice of time, and how little an impact we make on the universe is almost laughable - almost belittling to us. It doles out experiences to us with complete indifference - it doesn't care that it's dumping rain on our French Polynesian vacation, or that someone's brain is not manufacturing the sort of chemicals that would make him want to spend the weekend with us.

It doesn't care, period.

So if you can't find a way to feel joy in more than just the obviously joyful things, you're fucked. Because there just isn't that much obvious joy in this life, and the universe has the power to knock you down, again and again and again - if you let it. You have absolutely got to cultivate joy. Treat it like a plant, like a living thing you feed and water. Carry it around with you. Learn how to transplant it to places it normally wouldn't survive. Cherish it, and it will grow so strong that you find yourself smiling and optimistic, in spite of x, where x = whatever challenge you face at that moment. Joy is my shield when the world batters me. I practice feeling it every single day. I train myself to soak up even the smallest drops of it. It's freezing out, and I'm so cold and tired, and I have another fifteen minutes' walk back home - but it's still early enough that there's sun on the opposite side of the street. If I cross and walk over there, I'll be warm. Ahhh, yes, that's awesome. And wow, the air is really crisp and fresh tonight. Smog? What smog? This air is amazing. Oh, hey. My favorite song came on shuffle. It's a sign. I'm totally gonna speed walk now. 

And that was a pretty lame example of what I'm talking about, but you get the general idea. 

4. Grief has taught me not to hang my happiness on things that can change. I touched on this a few posts back, though I didn't really go into detail. But since this is one of my New Year's resolutions, and I planned on writing a post about those, I'll save this for that.

11.19.38 - 4.30.12

1. He loved crossword puzzles.
2. He was born and raised in Queens, NY.
3. He loved roadsters and convertibles.
4. When I was 17, things were really bad for me at home. My brother was out of control, my mother was drinking incessantly, and my grades were starting to suffer. So for my last year of high school, he moved from San Diego back to Scottsdale so that I could live with him, successfully graduate, and generally enjoy my senior year without domestic chaos.
5. He pretended not to love animals - it was his schtick to play the curmudgeonly old man - but he really did. Especially cats.
6. Despite having raised two of them, he was clueless around babies. His idea of playing with them was to shake his keys at them.
7. When we were in Buenos Aires in 2010, he confessed to me his disappointment that I wasn't going to have kids. But he also told me he understood and didn't blame me.
8. He really, really, really listened when I spoke to him. He looked me straight in the eye and heard me.
9. He loved pistachios.
10. And coffee ice cream.
11. He was a very aggressive driver, but a very good one.
12. He'd never kill insects if he could help it.
13. When he lived in Alaska, he used to hunt caribou.
14. He was a very skilled and highly trained scuba diver. When my parents were younger, they traveled the world, and he scuba dived in nearly every ocean. Later, he'd go diving in Lake Michigan, and bring trinkets and things home to me that he'd found in the water.
15. He enlisted in the Navy when he was 16.
16. He was an impossible flirt, often to my mortification.
17. We watched The Gods Must Be Crazy at least half a dozen times, and he would laugh like it was the first time, each time.
18. He had an infectious laugh, deep but raspy. He'd often laugh himself to tears, especially around his clever, wise-cracking brothers.
19. He forgave my brother, again and again and again.
20. He bought me all the books I ever wanted, whenever I wanted them. When I was in high school, he'd let me pile up stacks of them at the bookstore. Later, I had only to mention a title I was interested in, and there'd be a package from Amazon at my door.
21. When I was a little girl, he used to let me sit in his lap and draw small emblems on his sweatshirts, with a black Sharpie. I'd ask him what kind of animal he wanted (hoping he'd say rabbit or unicorn), and he'd say cockroach or spider or fly. I'd laugh and say, "Nooo, something pretty!" and he'd insist, "A cockroach! That's what I want!" So I would carefully smooth out the fabric on his breast, then do my six year-old best to approximate a pair of beetle antennae, or eight tiny spider legs, right above his heart. I told A. about this one day towards the end, when there wasn't much left to do but wait. I said I could still remember what some of the insects I'd drawn so many years ago looked like. When I finished telling the story, he got up, walked into my dad's office, and returned with a pad of paper and a Sharpie. He set them down in front of me and said, "Show me." And I did.
22. He loved to go tubing on the Salt River. Every year until I left for college, he'd take me and one of my girlfriends, or my boyfriend if I had one.
23. He never wore sunscreen, and was very proud of how deeply he could tan.
24. He tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift, but I was impatient and frustrated, and we both gave up.
25. He lied about his age on dating websites.
26. He loved his extended family very much, and kept up with cousins, second cousins, and even further-removed members far into adulthood.
27. He grew up afraid of his father.
28. He loved cheese and yogurt, but he hated milk.
29. He loved Chinese food, but he hated Mexican.
30. When he disapproved of something, he'd frown exaggeratedly and make a deep grumbling noise in his throat.
31. He'd sing when he got drunk.
32. He loved boxed wine. He drank gallons and gallons of the stuff, as if it were water.
33. He was a pack rat, but a very neat one. When he died, I had to face down an attic stuffed to the rafters with every document he'd ever touched - but it was all perfectly organized.
34. He regularly wrote letters to his congressmen and the president.
35. He often wrote letters of complaint and commendation to companies he'd done business with.
36. He was incredibly vain about his hair, which was thick and soft, and which he let grow long enough to wear in a ponytail. When he was dying, one of the hospice nurses would comb it out for him gently before binding it back up again. He'd already lost the ability to speak, but we could tell he enjoyed that.
37. He was the most stubborn and proud man I knew.
38. He taught me to question everything and everyone, including myself.
39. When I was a little girl, we used to sing this song together.
40. This one, too.
41. He loved Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. And Crystal Gayle.
42. He was mechanically-minded and could fix almost anything.
43. He could explain how almost anything works.
44. He was vicariously vain about my looks; he often told me how proud he was, that I was pretty and fit.
45. He always called me Deborah or Deb, but never Debbie (Elizabeth is my middle name; I only started using it when I moved to LA).
46. He never once touched me in anger, or physically punished me.
47. When he was really angry at me, he'd say I was just like my mother.
48. He taught me how to ski.
49. He had the best vocabulary of anyone I'd ever met, including all of my college professors.
50. He loved the ocean.
51. When I was younger, I'd lay next to him, following along while he read Stephen King novels that I was too scared to read on my own. He'd say "ok?" whenever he got to the bottom of a page. When I caught up, I'd say "ok," and he'd turn the page for both of us.
52. In the later years, after the divorce, when my mother was at her worst, at her weakest and sickest and most unhappy, he'd help her out. He'd send her money when he could, and talk to her for hours on the phone about my brother.
53. When I was a teenager, he teased me about being flat-chested. He said once, "Not exactly a sweater girl, are we?"
54. When he found out he had cancer, he told me how proud he was of me, of the person and woman I'd become.
55. He loved to make me spaghetti. Overcooked, with sauce out of a jar and a massive amount of Kraft parmesan on top.
56. He loved to make me bagels from the freezer. Lender's garlic bagels. He'd split one, still frozen, on a plate, and carve huge chunks of Land o' Lakes whipped butter on top, then microwave it until the bagel was soft and the butter melted. To this day, I don't think I've ever had anything so delicious.
57. He loved maps. His walls were covered with them.
58. He had a master's degree in engineering.
59. When he was in his 40s, he went back to school to study pre-law. He then went on to attend law school, though he didn't finish.
60. He lived in New York, Michigan, Alaska, Arizona, California, and Florida.
61. He didn't sing along to the radio, but he'd make a curious whistling/hissing noise that drove me crazy.
62. He loved Trident gum.
63. He was a true libertarian. Not the bullshit, hateful Tea Party variety that the Republicans have appropriated and whose beliefs they've tried to skew. True, hands-off, do-what-you-want libertarianism. He believed in women's rights, reproductive freedom, and marriage equality.
64. When he was dying, he was very restless, even though he had no energy with which to move. He was always trying to sit up and hang his legs over the hospital bed; but after days of not eating, he didn't have the strength to do it. Pillows didn't provide enough support for the position he wanted to be in. So during those last days, I used to climb into the bed behind him, and use my own body to prop him up. The nurses would help me sit him up, turn him sideways, and slowly scoot him to the edge of the bed. Then I'd wedge two or three pillows between my own back and the railing, and use my chest and shoulders to support his weight. He would lean back against me, relaxing, finally calm. All he wanted was to feel his feet on the floor, just for a little bit. He couldn't speak, but he seemed happy to be exercising some control over the situation. I'd talk in a low voice, close to his ear, and tell him how much I loved him. He couldn't see the tears streaming down my face, and he didn't know how helpless I felt. He didn't know just how much strength it took for me to do that. But he seemed as content and at peace as he could be, in those moments, resting against me. Later, A. would tell me that it was the most selfless thing he'd ever seen, the way I used my body to help and hold my father. I didn't get to hug my dad goodbye, not in the traditional way. But I got to do that.
65. He regretted falling out of touch with his brothers.
66. He took every pain to make sure it would be as easy as possible for me to handle his death, logistically and financially.
67. His favorite boyfriend of mine was my high school sweetheart, JJ. For decades after, he'd ask about him, always seeming surprised when I told him, "Dad, I haven't talked to that kid in years. I have no idea how he is."
68. He grew up going to Coney Island.
69. He had a tattoo of a pair of lips on his butt cheek. He got it in the Navy as a rite of passage when he crossed the equator.
70. He loved Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood.
71. He loved, loved, loved chocolate.
72. He had a beautiful smile.
73. When he died of small cell lung cancer, he hadn't had a cigarette in his mouth for forty years.
74. He would have been seventy-four today.