Some Buddhists believe that forty-nine days after a person dies, they are reborn into a new life. That’s the theory, anyway. I don’t know if it applies to dogs, too, but I’m pretty sure that dogs enter the bardo (the state between this life and the next) just like people do, and then, just like people’s, their consciousness (or karma or something—it’s hard to grock!) is reborn. Anyway, today is Scooby’s forty-ninth day, and I wanted to wish him well:
May this life be a good one, and long (preferably, may it be a good, human birth). May you find the dharma, a good teacher, obtain enlightenment, and benefit as many beings as you can. May you be as sweet and loving as you were in this life, and as well cared for and loved. May I see you again, and maybe even kiss your face. I love you.
I was running. I was tearing down the snowy stairs, screeching around the path covered in snow, and bounding through the drifts of the driveway, trying to get to my car, which was perched on the only patch of drift-free seashells from here to the edge of the road. I had discovered, three minutes before, that unless I had a form—this form, the one waving in my hand—from unemployment, postmarked and in the mail TODAY, I would lose the rest of my unemployment benefits, most of which I hadn’t used, but now needed. Badly. I need them very, very badly.
The trouble was, the post office closed in four minutes. A minute before, I had answered the government’s two questions in the only “pen” I could find in my kitchen (having just, that second, opened the letter )—a fat, black sharpie, not meant for government forms—and I don’t even know how I answered them. They were trick questions—something like, “Why didn’t you file for unemployment in the week starting December 12th?” and then there were multiple choices, none of which had anything to do with why I hadn’t filed for unemployment in, in fact, six months. And then they asked for my last employer who I guess, not counting the freelance employers who weren’t technically “employers” (I hope!), was that rat bastard who fired me six months before—and they already knew about him. I had to fish his phone number out of my iPhone (thank you, Steve Jobs!), though I had blocked out the address (especially the zip code), and had no time to look it up.
Was my car going to make it out of the driveway, drifts and all? Was there another deer, and another, behind the one in the road in front of me? Was the guy coming the other way going to yield, against the drifts piled on either side of the road, or was I? I got to the post office with two minutes to spare, but the window was closed. “Linda!” I yelled, to the postmistress I had seen just an hour before. “Yup,” she said from behind the frosted glass. “Are you closed?!” I said, devastated. “Yup,” she said. I am going to end up living in a paper box, I know it.
Then she said, “What do you need?” And I said, “I need a stamped envelope postmarked with today’s date.” I didn’t say, “Stat,” though that’s how I felt. Julia would have laughed at that part of the story, being an ER fan. That is, the old Julia would have laughed, but this was before she was abducted by aliens, and replaced with a fake Julia. ANYWAY. Linda came out from the OZ door and handed me an envelope. “There you go, Trish,” she said. “Write fast.” She handed me a real pen.
This is partly why we live in the country—or I do. Because country folk are happy to put themselves out for you, if you need a little help.
One time a few years ago, at a large teaching given by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in San Francisco on the subject of emptiness and enlightenment, I got up and asked a question. I hardly knew Rinpoche at all, and I think this may have been the first time I’d ever stood up at a mic and asked him anything. Anyway, I said something like (and, really, this is making myself sound coherent, when, in actual fact, I wasn’t), “How can we talk about what enlightenment is like, when we’re so far from being enlightened? We can’t even imagine enlightenment, so how can we have the vocabulary?”
Rinpoche looked at me somewhat appalled (I imagine), and said something like, “You people don’t get it: This is it. You have to stop thinking that enlightenment is out there somewhere, waiting for you. Stop it now. This is it.” That’s not quite what he said, but I know he said, “You people,” and I know he said, “This is it.” And I remember him eliciting from me the promise that I would stop it now—stop thinking anything but this is it.
I take the bus now, every day, through Central Park at 97th Street, past Julia’s apartment where I hung out for seven years, past the doormen I got to know, past the entrance where we’d take the dogs, past the paths where they’d walk and the ball fields they’d circle. All of them, including Julia. Bronnie’s dad lives on 96th and Fifth, and so such close reminders are a little torture everyday.
Today in particular it was bad. It was the beautiful snow, and the cold, and it was Christmas, and it was 97th Street and the dogs (Dolly would rub her face in the new snow and come up a tiny crystalline flower face), and it was Julia (who I imagine, if she thinks of me at all, is just happy to be rid of me). It was Bronnie’s dad sometimes crying behind his bedroom door as I come in. (He lost his wife a year ago in a couple of weeks.) I am the cheerful one at his house across the park from Julia’s. But the truth is that every day, on my way to Bronnie’s dad’s house, and on my way back, I, too, ache from longing and loss. I stuff the tears, and they live in my stomach and chest like rocks.
It’s pathetic, right? No, I don’t think so. I think that it is good to have a heart, and to care. I think that it is good to feel love for someone you love, and to miss them. What is not good is to freeze. I refuse to freeze. I’d rather live in this blizzard, then to freeze.
Apparently, when my brothers and I were very little, our father told us that Santa had been killed in a sleigh accident. As I’ve noted, though my mother was Catholic, my father was Jewish, and I guess wasn’t at all into the idea of Christmas. I do remember once, when my father was still alive, my parents arguing over a Christmas tree. My mother wanted one, and my father didn’t. They finally settled, if my memory is correct, on putting a star of David at the top of a tree, and having it be both a Hanukkah bush and a Christmas tree. That was a little like, later on, when I was grown up, being married in Nova Scotia, where same-sex marriages had just become legal, but not having any of the rights or recognition of marriage in New York. So Julia was my wife in Canada, and not in the States. It was confusing, even between us: Were we married or not? Was it Christmas or not?
Though destabilization is not so bad if you’ve wrapped yourself up in a cocoon that leaves reality out (particularly the reality of other peoples’ suffering), being confused is not so good. I mean, truth really is subjective, at best, but we do all have to get along, and that usually involves agreeing on a few things. It would be even better, too, if we actually cared about each other, our society, and the future of our children and our children’s children’s children, and agreed on what’s needed to allow us to have those things.
Dzigar Kongtrul once told me and Julia, when we were driving him up to Vermont one day, two or three years ago, that you’ve got to have principles that you live by. When Julia asked him how you know what your principles are, he told her (among other things) to start with being grateful to the people who have helped her, or taken care of her, or been kind to her. Or something like that. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Anyway, I recently discovered that, as of 2008, New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed in Canada. This is a very good thing for a lot of people. It makes at least that issue—are we married, or are we not? Is a vow worthless, or is it not? Are we at least in part responsible to each other, or are we not? Do other people recognize us as a sanctified duo, the way they do heterosexual married couples, or do they not?—less confusing. Having grown up in a situation where realities did not match up (see above), I am grateful for any consensus on the principles that are at least in my heart.
So here it is: Today is Christmas Eve for some us, including me; and I am legally married right now and right here in New York, separation or not. It’s a beautiful day, and I am going off to serve lunch to a lovely man with a foot injury. That’s all I know for now, and that’s good.
Happy Christmas Eve, blogateers. May Santa have a soft landing on your homes.
Bronnie’s seventy-seven-year-old accomplished-lawyer-dad was too formidable to be cute. He’s a very tall man, broad-shouldered, with horn-rimmed glasses and tinted hair that he keeps pushing back with one very large hand. I think I made him anxious, standing over him in his kitchen on my first day of employment, which involves an hour or two a day making him lunch and doing the dishes. As I said, he just had foot surgery, and he can’t stand or get around without his wheelie thing, which is like a razor scooter, only it has a bunch of wheels, for maximum stability, and a lambskin-covered seat where he rests his bad knee and then pushes off with the good foot. If you know what I mean.
So I was standing over him, because all he can do is sit, and I don’t think this is a man who has much experience with, or appetite for, being either vulnerable around strangers or stood over by some tall chick with big black boots on, even if I am Deitch, and therefore mostly capable of only Deitching things. Anyway, we made a few deals: I wouldn’t stay in the kitchen while he ate (“I don’t want my meal to be a spectator sport,” he said), and I’d be completely fine, and not get annoyed, if and when he told me exactly, exactly, exactly how to cook what he wanted cooked, and clean what he wanted cleaned.
Feeling like a complete moron these days anyway (and totally shrunken to a state of total, cosmic insecurity)—constantly and totally Deitching everything up—I welcomed the instructions on how to serve lunch. And, it turns out, Bronnie’s dad and I are of like minds on some things: We both use paper towels as napkins when we’re just hanging with ourselves; and we both like gefilte fish, and canned fruit.
Anyway, I learned today that if you scrub a frying pan while it’s resting on the floor of the sink, rather than holding it in space with one hand, and scrubbing with the other, it’s easier to clean. And I learned that if you pour boiling hot chicken broth over cold leftover noodles, they’ll warm up. And I learned that life really sucks sometimes—you’re seventy-seven, and you know that if you fall off your scooter you might break a hip; you’re fifty four, and you can’t do anything about your relentlessly broken heart—but, oh, well: If you’re lucky, maybe you can make soup for someone who needs it, or you can eat soup made for you.
It’s weird, I swear: It’s 11:15 at night, and I’m lying in bed, looking out the window at a sky that is lighter than it was earlier in the evening—a white night sky, with no stars, and, from where I’m lying, bare black branches riding the currents of the wind. It is silent in my place, except for the sound of the heat blowing, and hard things sometimes hitting the roof over my head. Pods, branches—occasionally I hear an animal up there, skittering. What is this life?
Tomorrow I’m getting up early and driving into the city to go make lunch for my friend Bronwen’s seventy-seven year old dad, who had foot surgery a few days ago, and can use some help in the kitchen. He’s a lawyer, and accomplished, and he lost his wife of fifty-something years last year to cancer. Can you imagine that? Being seventy-seven and having been married for as long as I’ve been alive, and then, in the last few years of your life, having to face that loss, and those few years ahead? So often the remaining person just dies—you hear it again and again.
Bronwen, in any case, is worried because her dad, though charming, wants things to be the way they’ve been for the past seventy-seven years: You cook the pasta in that pot; you eat soup out of this bowl. Things need to be done in exactly the right way—the way he’d do it if he weren’t hopping around on one foot while balancing on a rolling walker thing.
And then enter Deitch: Oy. I can see it now: stovetop coffee flying across the kitchen, a broken favorite bowl, onion skins on the floor, dirty forks in the sink. Hair everywhere. When I used to do things like this, Julia would say I’d “Deitched it.” I think I asked her to stop saying that after a while, because it hurt my feelings. Deitching it was never a good thing, unless maybe you loved me, and then it was amusing. Man, I guess really Deitched it, finally.
Anyway, dude needs help, and I need help too, exactly in the form of taking care of someone in need, so maybe we’ll do O.K. I’m anxious in the kitchen, so having an old guy bossing me around will work for me, as long as he doesn’t get annoyed: “Do you want this fork, or this one, or this one?” “How al dente is al dente when you’re you?” I’ll take a Xanax, and then I’ll tell you what happens. Meantime, I’m just going to watch the sky. Sweet dreams, my faithful blogmeisters. I hope you’re all O.K.
I stopped off at the East Marion post office on my way out to the city the other day, and there were five elderly people in that tiny box all at once, hobbling around, their red, runny noses pressed up against the little combination dials, because it gets to the point that no matter how strong your spectacles, you just can’t see. (I’m there.) One of them said to the others, because of the cold, “It’s a soup day,” and they all assented in their own ways, rustling giveaways and bills and Christmas cards they were pulling out of their now-opened slots. I could hear Linda, the other postmaster, from behind the wall of PO Boxes, talking to the old folks like Oz from behind the curtain: “Soup Day, yes.” This is about as exciting as it gets in East Marion (which is pretty exciting, actually).
Then today I was rushing towards the Hearst Building near Columbus Circle, my computer and plugs and books and chargers and notebooks and toothbrush and medications and vitamins on my back, the wind blowing hard in my face, and I was cutting my fingernails with a clipper I’d just bought at the Duane Reade on 57th Street. You can’t have lunch in the Hearst Cafeteria with compost under your claws. People were blowing by, their feet getting wrecked on concrete, not missing the sound of waves, the deer on the porch. I don’t think they were offended by my clippings, though I thought, “This is not right, Deitch! It’s gauche, and also kind of gross. These will not mix with the earth and make a difference for the better.” But I had already overstayed my welcome elsewhere: two friends’ houses (warm beds), multiple Starbucks (phone charging, email checking, working). Sometimes you’re just forced to take it outside.
Anyway, I miss my homes—my home homes and my people homes. Even though I don’t know for sure, I imagine that it’s soup day in each of those places. Soup up, my loves: stay warm. I love you.
I’ve been moving through the city for the last two days, couch surfing, visiting with friends I haven’t seen in a long time, having business meetings, stopping off to work and charge my phone in various cafes, feeling, finally, that I am on my own again, a woman with a future that is completely unknown. I have the work of mourning ahead of me, and I’ve been given the advice to pay attention to the feelings in my body, and not follow the thoughts that are unhelpful; when they come up, I’m supposed to distract myself, and, again, focus on the intensity of the feelings in my body. It is a lot like being sick, this person said—you just have to go through it.
I think of Scout, and how after he died I just lived my life as usual—doing the dishes, throwing out the compost, driving to the market—while tears fell down my cheeks, nonstop for days, just because they did. It was O.K.—there weren’t many thoughts, except that I hoped that, wherever he was, he was O.K., and not afraid.
I don’t want to go through this part of the process quickly. I want to give my feelings their due. It is an incredible gift to have loved someone, and the loss of that experience and that person is probably as bad as it gets. I don’t believe we are on this planet to buy shit and watch TV and drink ourselves into oblivion. I believe we are here to be touched by just a few extraordinary beings. So that’s where I’m at.
I hope you’re well. When you kiss the person you love tonight, think of me, being very, very happy for you. You have it now: You are lucky.
I think that when I hit my bardo (that frightening state that Buddhists talk about, in between this life and the next), one thing that I will be subjected to is having to find a job:
Dear Hell Gatekeeper,
I got fired from the last job you gave me, sitting still while someone poured molten iron over my head. But maybe you’ve got something else: Five-million years of having my mouth filled with the shit of gossips? Ten-thousand years having my arms hacked off by the people I love most? A hundred lifetimes of being beaten by holy men just after they have another round of margaritas with my friends?
Thank you for reading this letter. I hope you’re well (or not, if that’s how you like it).
Anyway, I was in the East Marion post office a minute ago, checking my box (the old-fashioned kind, with the little dials—nothing), when Chris, the postmaster, asked what I was up to. Now the East Marion post office is 1) the only war-memorial post office in the country, and 2) about the size of a bathroom in a diner. There was only room for Chris and me, separated by a box full of donated toys. I told him I was looking for work, and he said maybe he could help me. He asked what I did, and I told him (leaving out the part about never taking off my pajamas, and crying half the day), and he said there were a couple of people “on the wall” he could talk to: a writer, a reporter on Shelter Island. I don’t know—I thought that was really nice, and it made me wish I’d brushed my teeth before I went out to check on the mail.
On the way home, two little deer ran across my road like puppies, and the monster truck behind me and I just sat patiently waiting, to make sure that no one else was hiding behind a tree. Then we crawled along for another minute, until two more little deer came out, their eyes shining in the dusk light. Maybe there’ll be deer in my bardo, for comfort (without ticks), and postmasters too. Maybe my dog will be there.
Before we met each other, Julia and I both collected beach rocks and put them in little piles, here and there in our houses—on the edge of the bathtub, in a corner of a windowsill. When we discovered this shared pleasure, we didn’t make a big deal out of it; it reflected what was all around us: though we are very different people, we have very similar sensibilities.
The reason I bring this up is because all day yesterday, though it was still Scout Day, I thought about Julia—about how abandoned I feel by her, etc. That is a family of origin thing for me—the abandonment, but also the not being allowed to say how I feel, or be who I really am for fear of rage or isolation or abandonment or threat of loss of love or ridicule—so maybe I’m just pinning something on Julia that is not hers to be pinned on. Maybe a person has a right to just break up with their partner of seven years without much explanation, or any attempt at trying to heal things in therapy, period: time to move on, bye-bye.
In any case, I was thinking of her all day: missing her. And I was thinking about what it is that I miss, and then I relaxed and I got it. I miss her. When I was standing in the cold at the gas station at exit 50-something on the LIE, and they were playing some silly, wonky pop music, loud, out into the night, and the lights were too bright, and I had my mala in my left hand while I pumped ridiculously expensive gas, I just missed Julia, who for the past seven years might have been in the car playing with the radio or checking her email, talking to a tiny dog, or inside the glass gas station itself buying chips or water, or hopping back and forth from one foot to the other, her legs straight, so the movement was a very exaggerated side-to-side thing, talking to me, or dancing exaggeratedly to the music, because she is a clown and loved to make me laugh.
Later, when Toby and I were sitting at the bar at the Whiskey Wind—pool table, Foosball, beautiful pit bull greeting everyone, drunks, lady bartenders and other than that, mostly empty—the Fleetwood Mac song, “Landslide” came on, and, wow, I knew Julia would love it there, in that bar. Or maybe it was just that I wanted her there, at that very moment. It was like being, once again, run through with a lance: the terrible loss. I loved just being with her, anywhere. That’s what I miss about her: I miss her in my life. I miss our daily-life adventures: Whole Foods, out to dinner, CVS, iTunes. It was always an adventure: the adventures of Julie and Deitch.
While I was driving between those two places, the gas station and the Whiskey Wind, I thought about relationships in general, and how so much of them—because we are so busy, all of us—are made up largely of just knowing the person is there, at work, at home, in transit. You don’t talk a whole lot during the day, but you’re both thinking about dinnertime and what you’re going to do; you don’t talk a whole lot during the day, but when something happens that’s either good or upsetting, you call, and you tell your person, and they’re happy for you, or they’re angry on your behalf, or they help you work your way through a problem: “Is this my problem or my colleagues?” “So-and-so hung up on me, and I don’t know what to do.” “Guess what?” you say—”guess what?” “Guess what, Deitch—I’m getting out early! Wanna meet for dinner?!” “Guess what, Jul—I got a cool writing job.” Like that. That’s what makes up ninety percent of relationships, I thought: the knowing that your partner is there for you, and you’re there for them, and the incredible, incredible comfort of that, and marvel of that—that someone has chosen you, and loves you. So many people never find that.
But I found that with Julia, and had that for seven years, and, no matter what our problems, I never wanted to be without her. I remember our friend Lynn, who we spent at least an evening a week with for at least a year before this breakup, saying to me one day a few months ago, while we were still very much together, that she envied what Julia and I had: that we just made each other laugh constantly—that we just had a constant, humorous understanding about our experience of the world together. That we were friends, and how enviable was that? She shook her head and told me how lucky we were, and I knew it. I knew it then, and I know it now.
Anyway, what I miss about Julia is Julia. I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, me saying this: I have to start saying what I feel, and stop being afraid of the consequences. I know that Julia and I had huge problems, but we also had each other in an incredibly rare way. If we had seen the enormous luck of that, and the enormous power of it, maybe we would have sought a solution to our problems early enough to not have dead-ended in a perfect storm of family-of-origin mishegas, which we had no control over when we were little girls, but that now we might actually be able to see, and, because we love each other, heal.
I had to go into the city to see a play—a two-and-a-half hourlong commute each way for a sixty minute event—Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, at the Irish Rep. It was noonish, and I put my coat and scarf and bag on, and then Toby said to me, “Oh, wait, take your dinner.” He reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a plastic bag. I was shocked: He’d made me dinner, in the morning, probably when I was asleep.
He said to leave it in the car during the play, and then eat it on the way home. Then he said he’d walk into town later (he didn’t have his car, so I was taking the only vehicle, and the walk is three-and-a-half miles), and maybe I could pick him up on the way back, at the Whiskey Wind, the local’s bar.
I got into the car and looked in the bag and there was:
1. A steak sandwich with horseradish.
2. A container of roasted vegetables.
3. An apple.
4. A tangerine.
5. A quarter of one of those large dark chocolate bars.
I mean, rhonestly: How amazing is that? How amazing is my friend Toby?
The other night I was driving home from the city, arriving home to an empty house in the pitch dark, which I really, really hate. When I say “dark,” I mean dark dark—only a lot of stars in the night sky. Toby had left that day, or the day before (I’d stayed in the city), and when I pulled into the driveway, all I could see in my headlights was my landlord’s house (once a Coast Guard barracks) with the shades pulled down all around like death, or major rejection—like eyes blotted out. And then I spotted something glinting on the two steps that lead to the path to my place. It was my Mag Lite, standing like a sentry where I would have no choice but spot it. Toby had left it for me.
I don’t have to keep Toby to myself. He can take care of you too, and now I don’t have to tell you that he’s really, really good at it.