Sunday, January 20, 2008

Jeff and Erica

It was Jeff's birthday the other day. And Erica's yahrzeit. She did not die on his birthday, no. She died the next day. Or that night, but not on his birthday. No.

It was a strange and terrible year, even as years go, following another strange and terrible year, a whole series in strange and terrible years. I kept my funeral shoes near the door. It seemed too much trouble to throw them in the closet when I'd only have to dig them out again a few days later. Timmy and I discussed snubbing each other. We were tired of running into each other in funeral chapels, cemeteries, wakes, shiva calls. Before that year, we were used to two or three years passing with only a phone call or christmas card. But that year? Never more than ten weeks without seeing each other.

Never more than ten.

I went to a lot of funerals that year, the year before I got married, moving guests from the "yes I will attend" column to the "deceased" column. Perhaps the wedding, wearing my dead father's necklace, my dead mother's scarf, Jeff's penny in my shoe, was a funeral of sorts, too, a funeral pickled on champagne and ice floes instead of whiskey and ice. Perhaps.

We all thought Jeff would be the last funeral. Who was left to die?

I, the bad sister-in-law, came back from Tibet to a treasure trove of mourning. My mother's death money sent me there, away from it all, and I came back a month later, spinning my prayer wheels, to find four more coffins waiting for me. Yes I'd sit and spin my prayer wheels, wood and ivory, with my little prayers tucked inside, sending them straight to heaven, straight to god. Every prayer was "Enough."

If I lined up all the coffins head to toe, head to toe, head to toe, counted the miles, I would be a fool. There was no relief that year. It was SLAM SLAM SLAM, body shots, gut shots, huge gaping holes of grief shots.

Still, there was nothing to do about it, except make whatever plans seemed to go with or against whatever grain there was and I don't know I just did and didn't think. Or I'd think and turn away from it. Twenty years later and I don't know that, that it IS twenty years later. To me it isn't, certainly not. When I let myself feel, let myself in, it is now.

The dragons have sharp claws, sharper than a serpent tooth, especially from the inside trying to get out. Dragons in full bloom that year, slowly circling the campground, waiting to pounce on the person that inadvertently? with audacity? leaves the confines of safe haven. They wait. Dragons can wait forever, they have no concept of time.

Dragons only exist in me. They aren't real. Everyone knows dragons are just more make-believe. Right? Right?

Jeff's memorial service was on his 30th birthday. That was his short range goal, to be thirty. And his long term goal? Thirty-five. This man, who had the courage to climb out of a bottle, climb out of the drug haze, this man who saved lives as easily as he snapped his fingers, this man who was truly beautiful, all he wanted was to be thirty.

Erica did not have a good day at the service. She'd spent the past sixteen months nursing her child, her firstborn, through illness after illness, as the ravening dragon inside him chewed his liver, his intestines, his heart, his brain. I stayed with her and we counted sugar dots. We even had the fancy ones with little flowers on them. Sugar dots and sugar cubes are a tradition in my family, a funeral tradition. I still have Jeff's sugar dots, a few. But we used most of them at Erica's funeral. Two days later.

Jeffrey Jan 17, 1958 to Oct 9, 1987.

Erica ???? to Jan 18, 1988.

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