Friday, September 9, 2016

#SOL 16: Aftermath

from my art journal, 9.9.16 (Gesso, digital text, found papers, ink, acrylic paint)


I measure time in relationship to Rob's life and death. I don't mean to do this, but I quickly calculate the years Rob lived beyond a given event. When the Towers fell, my husband was in his mid-40s. Our son was just two. That morning, Rob was teaching, I was at my job in Newark, and Devon was with Mina, the woman who took care of him each day. As soon as I heard, I phoned Rob. Later I would race to get Devon. I knew he was fine, but like many parents, I suspect, I just needed to hold him--breathe in something good. When Rob came home that evening we stayed up late and he told me how as a teenager he had watched the Towers being built. My husband was born and raised in Brooklyn and would later work in a family business in Hell's Kitchen before leaving it to teach.

This morning as I listened to shows highlighting the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I thought how strange it is that Rob died before 15 years elapsed. Who could have imagined such a thing? Certainly not us. Then, we were so young in our marriage, in our life, a baby whose age we still calculated by months. It seems impossible that the three of us would have such little time. It's best to not know.


All day I have been sick to my stomach. Some days are like this--blindsided by sorrow and longing and I cannot quiet the noise in my head. I miss my husband in ways words cannot convey. Six months ago Rob had just died and I realize now that the shock insulated me. I could narrate what was happening at the moment, but there was no future I could see or worry about. Now, I am more aware of some of the long term ramifications of Rob's death. I am a single parent with a son who has just begun his last year of high school. Apart from my love for Devon, there is little else in my life that feels solid, reliable.

This week I bought Devon a car.  I insisted only that the car be as safe as possible and he did the research. As the medium, Anne Marie told me a few weeks ago, Devon did in fact get a black sedan--a Ford Fusion. Rob was a huge admirer of automobiles. He loved to drive. He loved to look at cars and was always pointing out new car models as we drove.

See that MXK, he would say, or I like the line of the new...

And so it was impossible to not feel the loss amplified as I filled in paperwork at the dealership. Rob would have loved to have been advising Devon on the car selection and would have been down right giddy at the dealership. It would have been Rob who drove us to get the car, not my older brother. After we picked up the car, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant and it took such willpower to not lay my head on the table and just sob.


At the end of August, I received an email from a former student of Rob's asking to meet. She graduated from Reed College last May and before she headed back to a Zen monastery in Oregon she wanted to meet me and talk. And so we met for the first time and she told me that her senior thesis had been greatly influenced by Rob. He had been her 8th grade English teacher. As she was formulating her thesis and writing, she had been in contact with Rob who read and responded to her work. The major works she analyzed were written by Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, and David Foster Wallace--all authors that Rob introduced her to in 8th grade. I told her she must have been an exceptional student given the authors and her young age and shared that Rob had spoken of her often. Chloe told me that the day before Rob was diagnosed with cancer she and Rob met at a Starbucks so they could discuss her thesis. I recalled that as I was at work. I also remembered how Rob would later fret about telling several of his former students about the cancer.


Every waking moment is filled with a reminder of Rob.

Every moment.

Every waking minute.

This afternoon when the mail arrived I found a bill from a hospital (do they ever end?) and the latest issue of The Threepenny Review--a magazine Rob subscribed to. The symposium for this issue is on crying. Yes, crying. I turn to page 18 and began to read. Most of the pieces felt overly contrived--carefully coiffured texts that felt forced and raised no emotions. What I could tell them about crying would fill the review.

On the next to last page--a poem written by Philip Levine had me pausing. He writes:

...The day is fresh, barely
begun yet feeling used...

And what catches me here is the way Levine's words fit how I feel. Each day as it unfolds is imbued with remembrances of Rob. Some engender peace, but many catch me off guard, leaving me slammed by all that Rob no longer can experience. There's no newness to the days.

Yesterday afternoon I was slicing fruit and as I cut into a strawberry I thought about the countless bowls of fresh fruit I made last fall as we combated cancer with good nutrition.  Now Rob will never taste a strawberry again, he'll not see his son drive, nor attend his high school graduation.  He didn't see him dressed for the prom, or watch him drive his new car home and remain in it, puttering long after he had parked it for the night. He won't read his son's college essay or the book I have begun writing. He won't take anymore road trips like the one we took back in 2012.


When Hurricane Sandy hit we rode out the storm at home, surveyed the damage to our home and property and the day after living with no water, heat, or electricity we left  to find a hotel. There were none near us with vacancies. And so after spending the night in a jacked up pricy chain hotel 40 minutes north of home, I asked, "Why don't we go to Maine?"

We were all off from work and school and Rob said, "Great idea. Call and see if we can get a room."

The first spring I knew Rob we went to Maine and stayed in an inn that was newly opened. We went back each year and it was a favorite of all three of us. I phoned there, made the reservation, and we piled in the blue Pacifica and went off on holiday. We had a grand time and when I thought about our future I thought of it as road trips where Rob and I would photograph and write about the world.

This is how we lived. This is a small part of what has been lost and what can be no more.


It is the small things that comfort and undo the widow. It is the small things that offer and disrupt the knowable structures in our lives. We cling to the knowable now that the earth has tilted so.

We make inventories of the things we know. We know the wing of the cardinal as it slants between branches of trees, the sound of the garage door clicker, the pressure of our husbands' hands gripping the back of our necks, the long sighs, and the losses that refuse to hold still.

Death strips the futures we sought. It steals wanted possibilities and leaves uncertainty in its wake.


  1. As I read I was struck by the ordinariness of everything mentioned. Cutting fruit, buying a car, communicating with students, family holidays. And it made me think of "Ordinary People" by Judith Guest. "This is permanent. It must be."

    1. It is the ordinariness that stings the most, that amplifies the loss.

  2. Mary Ann, as I ingest your words they feel like musical phrases, flowing in and out of major and minor keys. I am deeply touched by how much you were loved, still love Rob, and how much Rob loved you, and Devon. Sitting at the car dealership you appear to feel his presence, if only in memory form. Physically he is not there but intra-psychically and spiritually it seems that he is. You mention time and ordinariness as just some of the many ways we measure life and love. Your loss, your pain feels to me as if it is so wrapped in the past as well as that future which you no longer can envision; your enormous ability to love and be loved, still there, even in the pain and suffering. I, too, am reminded of that part of the mind that measures, those parts of being human that are experienced in present moments while also enveloped in a sense of the concrete, the physical. Who am I to say what you feel or experience? Though, what I can share with you is that which I feel, think, and experience in my being, as I am honored to follow your journey and the many ways it impacts me, my living. It is a journey that has widened my scope. This morning I am profoundly touched by how deeply loving connections can both enhance this human experience while also leaving a wide and deep hole of vulnerability, fear and the emptiness which is left in the wake of loss. And even in that depth of loss, in you, I still hear, witness, feel such love and light.
    And, if I haven’t said it before – or even if I’m saying it again, it bears repeating – you are such a brilliant light in this world that can sadly be, so often, very, very dark. I am so grateful to know you.

    1. Thank you so much Carol for taking such time to read and respond--to raise new questions, offer new insights. Knowing you see light helps.