advice

“Stomping on puppies is a third or even fourth date issue.”

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chat

“What’s 7-2-4-2-0-0-6?”

“My kid’s birth date. That’s what they all are, my kids’ birthdays in binary.”

“Do they like them?”

“Each one is in their favorite color, and they helped me pick the typeface. They think it’s cool.”

“That’s sweet.”

The above conversation took place at 7:53am, between strangers, on bicycles.

ford

I watched you walk across the water. It was a creek. I would have called it a creek under almost any other circumstances, but at that moment it was a river. You carried the pack, moving from stone to stone, feet never trying to occupy the same space. You went with your elegance and grace and confidence. Those things I admired and loved and envied in you. With hesitation, I followed. Two rocks quickly. The third slower. I stopped and stared at the next one. It was more triangular than flat, and the water rushed over it.

You came back across, took my pack, and deposited it on the other side. You stood several paces in front of me and waited. I picked up my right foot several times, feeling the weight on my left. I knew–I knew!–that the point was not to move on my left foot, to shift my balance there, but rather to use it as a point to steady myself. I’d done it before but the water and the cold and the snow ate at such fear in my head. I imagined falling in and being swept all the way back to where we started. From here to there, the water picked up silt and runoff and turned from clear to the brown and red of milky tea. I could see myself floating in it.

I closed my eyes and then opened them and picked up my right foot, moving quickly forward several more steps. You reached out your hand and took mine. The final balance point.

pageantry

My aunt and my mom stand around the kitchen table. There are bills and statements all around them. They are both on phones, on hold, and talking to each other. My mom is typing something into her laptop.

This is what death looks like.

A candle burns. It’s white and in glass. The wax is liquid and around the wick, sucking up whatever it sucks up and mixes with oxygen to burn and burn and burn. A discarded, torn black ribbon is on the table next to it. There’s a wicker tray with apples and mandarins.

This is what death looks like.

My cousin stands and speaks candidly, tears in her eyes, about a miscarriage. The rabbi faces her, but he looks elsewhere. He’s not making eye contact. The wind blows the clouds away from the sun and spanish moss sways like haze in the trees. The casket is on straps hooked up to a hand cracked rig. I wonder how they’ll remove the supports after they lower it into the grave. There’s a concrete box at the bottom for the casket to sit in. A cover nearby, a neon orange identifier spray painted on top. Men with dark skin and dazzling smiles speak a French creole and drive construction equipment and golf carts. My mom shifts in the way she does when she has to pee. I cross and uncross my legs, wondering what’s most polite. There’s a pile of dirt and two shovels. I want to grab a shovel and push it hard into the pile, lift it up, and dump it in. I want to do it again and again until the entire grave is filled. I’ll only be allowed to nudge a little of the dirt onto the body that belonged to my savta. A machine will bury her.

This is what death looks like.

The masticated mint and lime mix with crushed ice at the bottom of my glass.

This is what death looks like.

Pictures of a woman I never knew, with a long dace and a long nose. A wide jaw. Cheekbones under her eyes. Soft eyes. Curls in hair I’ve seen in my mom during humid days. A curve in her neck I’ve seen in my own. Or maybe I’m just reaching. A picture of a woman I knew from a time I don’t remember, with the same jaw and a slight smile. Her head is on the shoulder of a laughing man and her glasses are the biggest I’ve ever seen. Her cheekbones are hidden under softer skin and wrinkled lines.

This is what death looks like.

Phone calls and e-mails, facebook messages. “P’s in Berkley. Yeah, he lives with a wonderful woman. She’s older. They seem so happy together…C has a job at in the same department as her dad…A has a great boyfriend…S has made a family with a lovely woman and her two kids…m’s at MIT. She loves Boston…” Updates again and again. Ritualized conversations. “Hospice of Palm Beach County. It’s what she would have wanted. They took care of her. They took care of Dad in the end. Thank you, thank you.” Half-heard whispers of “prayers” and “sorry.” “She was…” Sympathy and love.

This is what death looks like.

fit

You pull in the white string in the waistband of my sweatpants, tightening and tying it so they stay on. Later, you pull them over your knotted hip bones and peel them away from your feet. When you’re gone, I undo the bow you made, and loosen the waistband, adding slack until they fit me as snugly as they fit you.

felt/feel

Felt.

He was on his side facing the wall. His legs, too long, tried to curl into his chest. My leg wrapped around his midsection. He turned onto his back and my leg slid, resting on the knots of his hipbones. My face in his neck and his smell in my nose.

He told me about a girl he loved. He said he wasn’t sure what to do with her feelings, how they changed and shifted. One day, he said, she loved him. He was so wrapped up in her. He understood what it meant to be loved.

What it felt like to be loved.

“Do you feel loved?” I asked him.

“Sometimes,” he said.

Feel.

I always imagined that feeling loved would be someone driving out of their way to pay for the groceries when I forget my wallet. Someone doing the dishes. Putting their hands into that grey water I cringe just thinking about. Them doing this without being asked.

Love is doing the dishes.

These ideas came from Charlie Baxter’s book Saul and Patsy. Perhaps not the most likely source. When I read that passage, it just made sense to me. Loving someone, actively, is the moment in doing things for them because you know them so completely. You know, without asking, that some small action will, even unconsciously, be something.

When people do the dishes so I don’t have to, they don’t know what it means to me. They don’t know how much I hate washing dishes. They do it because they don’t mind, or they like it. They think it’s polite.

I like to watch them. I like to hug them from behind and close my eyes and imagine that I am loved.