The memory is heightened at the moment of
impact. The senses are stronger, more adept,
more aware, in that instance of abrupt and
It was a missed call. A missed call that I watched ring and then allowed to go to voice mail. It was an unknown number, no name flashing up across the face of my cell phone. No name and therefore no way of knowing how to react. So I let it ring through. Ring out. Didn't want to bother with the unknown in that moment. But then curiosity had me check the message immediately.
A part of me got slightly excited. Thinking
it might be her, high on the prospect of
hearing her voice. Knowing it couldn't
possibly. We hadn't spoken in almost three
months. But then that could have been a
reason for her blocking her call. Although
she certainly knew me well enough to know I
didn't respond to the unknown. Not often,
and certainly never on the first try.
I had just settled in on a tempestuous New
York afternoon. Curled up with my book, a
warm chocolate chip cookie and a coffee in
the corner of my favorite West 8th Street
coffee shop. Having slept in that morning.
Having taken my time, gone running,
showering, checking emails, silly banal
everyday things. A day like any other day,
like every other that had come before. The forever impenetrable wall of before and
after erected by the fact of the ordinary
before and the anything but that follows.
The voice mail was vague. This is for, and
then they said my name, like they were
reading it from something, like they didn't
quite know how it was pronounced, even
though my name is so normal, so easy so
common so clear. A girl like any other girl,
like every other girl they had called
before. We were told to contact you in
regards to, and then they said her name, and
it seemed, in her case at least, they had
found a source from whom to have learned the
proper pronunciation. Please call us at, and
then the number, so at least I knew it was
local, at least I knew I could be with her
soon. Regardless of the time they said, so
it was seeming to be somewhat of an
I couldn't call back from where I was. I was jolted. I was concerned and curious and worried and scared, but I still took the time to pack up my things, take the last bite of cookie and bring my book and my coffee out the door.
I didn't call until I was well past Saint
Mark's. I headed East towards the river and
then North up Avenue B. Something bad had
happened, but I headed towards her house as
if there was still time for saving. Still
something there to be saved. I dialed the
number and then decided not to call. Saved
the number in my phone. Saved it as liz2. I
waited until I was outside her building to
When someone picked up (two and one third rings, like the person was right there but had other more pressing matters to be concerned with) it took me a moment to remember what this call was concerning, who it was regarding. I said my name. I had received a call in regards to her name. There was an official hold, an official moment of quietly subdued adult rock, easy listening for the over thirties. Lots of piano with too much pedal and throaty high notes that run into one another.
And then they told me. Over the phone, over the blocks of separation, the miles of care that separated their reaction from my own. Passed on they said. (Passed on to where you mother fucker, I thought) Very technically, appears to have taken her own life sometime late last night or early this morning. Exact time to be determined exact cause or effect or reason still as yet to be made clear. Never to be made clear.
And then directions, official motions to go
through, official responses and instructions
to be given. And me still in front of her
apartment. Not crying, not thinking or
feeling, standing there, with the men on the
stoop across the street gawking at my
posturing, my pacing, my fidgeting, my own
specific physical incarnations of the
uncertain not quite yet arrived beginnings
of grief. The address of the body. The phone
contact numbers, the endless procedures,
rituals of death come to life.
Then me beginning to walk. I can see myself. I stepped outside myself. A concept which I would previously have questioned, have judged, would never have said out loud. But which makes sense then, in reference to that moment, as I stormed down the street. What I felt was bigger than this minute being that went trudging down 12th
street. With the long emphatic strides, the
slight beginnings of tremors in the hands,
the absurdly large bag slung across my back,
the phone still clutched to my ear. I
watched my sadness grow and overtake me and
then go beyond me, outside of me, surround
engulf and inundate me.
The immediate response is that they are
wrong. That they just don't understand. That
maybe she faked it, maybe she, this, was
just her way of getting my attention. And
it's that thought that finally brings it all
crashing down, brings all of me shattering
into millions of inconsolable pieces.
Because maybe she did do it to get my
attention, to get everyone's attention, but
now there's nothing to do with what we have
come to give.
The too late feelings. The my fault feelings. The what if feelings. The whys the whys the hows the whens the insatiable, overwhelming, rapacious, voracious desire for knowledge when it's so clearly not possible, never to be achieved. The what could have beens the what would have beens the what should have beens
the what was.
The last time I saw her she was laughing as I walked away. It was cold inside JFK and she had her scarf still wrapped around her neck, though she'd taken off her coat to reveal a long sleeved black scoop neck t-shirt underneath. She was wearing flip-flops, which I'd shaken my head at. Granted it was still fall mostly, but right on the cusp of winter. And there was a definite chill in the air. And airplanes are always so cold. But she'd brushed me off. Her feet needed air. It would be a long flight and people would be more receptive to her putting her feet up if they didn't smell from having been all sweaty and confined in shoes and socks just minutes before.
She was in one of those moods that made it impossible to recall how or why it was she was ever anything other than an absolute thrill to be around. She had her hand in the fold of her scarf pulling it down carelessly against her chest, leaning her head back loosely. Her hair had gotten just long enough over the past few weeks so as to start to move freely atop her head. It had been thrown all askew by the wind as we'd walked and it was tousled and boyish as she stood there, watching me go.
For a long time after, I fixated on that moment as when I could have made it all different somehow. But then there were so many phone calls after that, and letters and emails, so many changes in mood and moments when I could have called or gone to her apartment and didn't. That moment soon enough became one of the purest of my memories of her. One of the least fraught with the what should have been storylines screaming between my ears.
I remember looking back selfishly, just because I wanted a little more of her before she was gone.
And I'd blown her a kiss. And she'd laughed. Mostly at me, for being ridiculous again. But we did things like that with each other. We made allowances with one another. Things we always found awful and obscene around others.
Quick answer, rational answer, stock answer.
Its not my fault. Its her fault. It's the
fault of everyone who ever did her wrong.
The people she loved who betrayed her. The
people she trusted who betrayed her.
Unfortunately for all of us, that list was
only one. That list was only me. But she
pulled the proverbial trigger. She did the
deed. It was her choice and her cowardice.
And I will tell myself that everyday. I will
repeat that quietly, scream it loudly, but
it'll always ring just a little bit false.
It wasn't my fault. But then if fault is a
mistake, a weakness, a small almost
imperceptible fracture in the continuity of
a rock formation, then maybe it's more than
just my fault. Everyone's and no one's, the
world that betrayed her and the her that
didn't have the courage to stick around to
see if....if maybe betrayal....if maybe the
betrayer could be forgiven, could make it
all all right.
What was were parents I'd never met who'd
known to notify me. Parents who had given
out my name and somehow found my number and
said I was the one who could take care of
things until they arrived. Parents who
thought I was competent, had somehow
discerned as much when I so obviously was
Sterility and smells. Weird odd haunting
unforgettable smells of those moments when
she's viewed, identity confirmed, upon my
request. To look at her to see for myself,
to make certain. Thank you for coming, they
say. As if I had any choice. Right this way
they say. They are mechanical, careful with
their words and their movements. I walk
alone with a man down a hallway. Salmon
colored walls and bright white tiled floors.
Floors that are slippery when wet. The
motioning, the showing of credentials, the
muttering among colleagues. All very
official and sterile. Sterile has never had
a clear moment to go with its definition
until this one.
And then the deafening silence. Days of the deafening silence the promise of the coming weeks, months and years of the deafening silence. Places where her voice would have been, spaces where her life would have been. The cacophonous screaming of an absence that's everywhere. The spaces and the places and the nothingness that remains.
The days that followed; people came and went quickly and interchangeably. Her
parents came and struck me hard with their
normalcy, the predictability of their grief
and their quiet tears, their quick
competence in getting everything in order,
taking control and making arrangements and
doing what had to be done. Their clinging to
one another, their silently questioning
looks in my direction. John stopped by, but
was sent away. My parents called and were
told to stay home, to stay away, to let me
be. Attempts at comfort were quickly
replaced by attempts to keep a safe
A blur is a state I have always wished to be
capable of achieving. A state in which you
float through the days and weeks that follow
a certain event where nothing really stands
out as tangible, where there is no
discerning between the real and the
imagined, where feelings are numbed, dulled,
by the intensity which has preceded them. I
have never been so lucky. Everything is
always already a bit more heightened, a bit
more painful and pronounced. A bit more
certain to leave a mark.
Her face is clearest when I remember her sorrow, the way she looked at me on the days when she wouldn't get out of bed. The times when she called me crying, or I would show up at her apartment after days of unreturned phone calls and find her curled up under mounds of comforters, surrounded by Salinger and Dostoevsky and Woolf. "Funk" she would say, like everybody was crippled at the very thought of encountering the outside world from time to time, like it was all natural and normal to cry for days on end. She wouldn't shower for days. She wouldn't eat and she wouldn't answer the door unless she knew it was me. One of the conditions of my being permitted to at least check up on her during these periods was the tacit understanding that I would not encourage any change in mood. That would come on its own time and be a welcome surprise. Expected and inevitable but something that happened to her more than something she actively worked towards and chose to accomplish.
I can see her then. There was purity to those times. Those nights we spent quietly, the necessity of not acknowledging each other for anything more than simple presence, asking nothing and conceding everything.
She had hazel eyes that turned bright green underneath her tears. It all fed into the illusion. The brown was a cover, the dark façade she presented to the rest of the world, but as she opened up, filtered out all the excess, the purity of her sorrow became clear, so translucent that it shown through her every time she looked at you.
Perhaps the most striking thing about death
is how quickly and adeptly life engulfs it.
Even in the most daunting of circumstances,
life swoops in and reasserts itself somehow,
even further fortified by the challenge of
its having briefly been negated.
And so I go back. I go to classes and listen to professors, I have books to read, papers to write, a dissertation to begin formulating. I have oral exams to take and a class to plan to start teaching in the fall. I go back to work after a few weeks. I have a small stash of money saved and my stipend from school and I think perhaps it would be better to concentrate my efforts solely on my studies for a while, but ultimately the idea of being always on the go is the most appealing. ??
I throw myself into school and work. I read
beyond what is expected, right on through
what is recommended. I spend hours in
obscure parts of the library devouring
criticisms and long forgotten philosophical
essays. I am ravenous in class. I take
copious, often illegible notes. I ask
questions often. I contribute
enthusiastically to class discussions and
then as soon as the hour is up, I gather my
things quietly and leave quickly avoiding
the eyes of my classmates. I pick up any
shifts I can. I work through every weekend
night and the Tuesdays and Thursdays I do
not have class.
The time I spend not in the library or at
work or in my apartment is spent getting to
know the city more deeply and efficiently
than I ever have before. I walk everywhere.
Even though my apartment is almost exactly a
hundred blocks from campus, on the other
side of town, I very seldom take the train.
But then there is too much to do. I have
been working all day, I have been up since
early and need to be back at school again
the next day, and it's late and I'm tired
and hungry for the quiet and comfort of my
apartment. And then I do take the train.
I am on the 1 local train heading downtown from 110th street. I usually get off at 96th and change to the express train but I am feeling a bit too jumpy. I am feeling the need to stay in one place for a while. And as the doors close on 96th I stay put, and then keep staying. I stay right on past
42nd street, though that is where I am to get off and make another connection, change trains. I keep seated on the same train rocking back and forth, heading farther and farther from where it is I am supposed to be going. I am coming back from something or where of no consequence. Having had a full day. Having gotten up at a normal hour, gone running, showered, coffeed, etc. etc., gone through the normal person checklist of the day, but still ending up somehow, now, around 11 pm, rocking back and forth on the subway, where no one really pays attention because it's crowded and busy and everyone's a little bit crazy. Because there are plenty of reasons for people to rock back and forth that have nothing at all to do with the recent suicide of the only person she ever felt close to. Because self-indulgence is frowned upon in Manhattan, in anywhere that isn't the mind of the self who is presently being indulged.
Looking around and somehow wanting someone to notice, someone to look to acknowledge, something. To not have everyone be so oblivious at every turn. Wanting so badly to scream, to involve expletives, to stand on the seat and tell everyone what happened and have it matter to them as much as it does to me. I want to stand up on the seat and raise my arms above my head violently. I want to scream excuse me ladies and gentlemen like one of the homeless people who goes from car to car telling their sad sad tales and getting people's pocket change in return. I want to get up and tell them I don't want their money. I want more than their money. I want them to know what they've lost. I want them to know what she looked like curled up next
to me, eyes still wet from tears, hair still wet from her shower, but smiling and really willing herself to make a go at things this time. I want them to know the way she smelled after not showering for days, sort of musty and ripe, somehow more human more real more alive than any of them. I want to tell them it's my fault. I want them to stone me, to chastise me, to look and listen and have it hit them hard and I want their reaction to involve my eventual castigation and excommunication.
And of course this is absurd. Of course this is impossible. But that doesn't make it any less screamingly present in my mind as I rock back and forth on the downtown bound 1 train right past
A few months later and its summer and I
decide to go home for a while. I have not
been home for more than a week at a time
since high school. I seem only to refer to
it as home for lack of any other better word
to describe the place I grew up and return
to from time to time. The place where the
people that call themselves my parents live.
I find the concept of the trip daunting but
somehow the closer the end of the semester
comes, the more excited I become at the
prospect. I am not particularly close with
my family but I cannot think of anywhere
else to go or anything else to do with my
I sublet my apartment to a friend of a friend's little brother who is an undergraduate in the Midwest and has some nondescript business type internship in the city for the summer. I should be earning money, or taking classes, or working somewhere at something, but besides studying and wandering, I can't seem to bring myself to do much more than reread the same handful of books I keep by my bed and watch those cop shows of which Lizzy
always spoke so highly.
I fly home within a week of my last class
and my parents are at the airport together,
none of us quite sure of how to greet one
another. They are older than I remember,
quieter now that all of their children have
gone. They seem to be in a constant state of
relief and scattered confusion in having
somehow managed to survive the raising and
supporting and letting go of four children.
It seems there should be more to show for it
than a large empty house and shelves and
shelves of framed photographs. Theirs are
lives defined by the needs of others, by
giving in and giving up. And now it seems,
with nothing left to give to, these shadows
of their formerly incessantly active selves
are left to mourn the loss of their
On the drive home we discuss the improvements they are making to the house. They have decided, though my mother seems less excited at the prospect and in fact makes several references to a bedroom set she seems to have given up in the deal, to surround the pool behind the house with rocks. I recognize that I am to react to this decision with interest and excitement but find myself a bit short of both. The whole process should only take a matter of months and in the end, they will have a bunch of imported rocks piled about three feet off the ground surrounding a pool I don't remember either of them having ever dipped so much as a toe in. From what I can discern we will be referring to the rocks as a grotto and if everything goes off as planned--which knowing my father, it will--they
may even get a waterfall out of the deal.
My room is still the same as it's always been, a bit too much so. I have clean sheets an endless supply of food and my little brother's old jeep to use. I spend most days driving for hours, out at the beach, walking or running or reading, listening to the same Arthur Rubinstein CD over and over and over.
My father comes into my room every morning
on his way to work. What are you up to he
says what will you do with your day. He
wakes me up and then asks me to make
something of my day. And every morning, for
a moment, this makes me want to destroy him.
Not in any life threatening way, just do
away with all his silly expectations in some
irrevocable way, just make him see expecting
is bad, make him understand wanting from me
is not something he should ever under any
circumstances attempt. But then I wake up
enough to realize he's just trying to be a
father somehow. I learn to swallow the
initial impulse to push him away and humor
him with talk of catching up on work for
next semester, finishing up my proposal for
my dissertation, going into the restaurant I
worked at in high school to see if I could
pick up some shifts.
After a week of being home, after a week of
quiet dinners focusing mainly on the
activities and trivialities of my siblings'
various lives, I try to speak to my mother.
I vaguely remember us having something to
say to each other once and I am hoping to
salvage it. They know about her in the
haziest of ways. They know a friend of mine
died recently and they see I am quieter than
usual. They have a nebulous idea of the
circumstances, bits and pieces they have no
doubt presumed to put together in their own
covert way of finding out about their
children's lives. They know it affected me
in some strange way that has resulted in me
asking to stay with them for a while. They
know, me being the kind to never pursue
staying with them for any longer than what
is considered appropriate or even a bit less
than appropriate, that I am going through
something that they are not quite certain
how to deal with.
I want to speak with my mother about it but
when I go to her as she stands making
herself a drink after work, I find I have
absolutely nothing to say. I find knowing
she would try to listen and in the same
instance knowing she would not be able to,
is at once enough to satiate me and simply sad for me to realize so completely.
It turns out this all goes unnoticed regardless. I ask her how she is and it turns out she is experiencing a tragedy of her own which seems to have escaped my notice. Turns out, there is a great sadness sweeping through her life. Because she and my father, whose relationship is contentious and fraught, though understandably so after so many years and so much fodder, so much vestigial resentment and mistakes to be fraught with, are fighting again and she is certain this is the last of their fights. She is certain she will finally make it all better by just making it all go away.
She is in no way dependent on him. Not in
the moment she tells me this. Not as she
cries over something he did. She has never
practically been dependent upon him. She has
always made more money than him. She has
always been more physically fit, more
emotionally hard, more commanding a
presence. She has always been perfectly
tangibly capable of existing on her own.
Except of course for the fact that she never
would. She cries and she talks and she
mumbles and she cries and she repeats
herself again and again. And even as she
tells me the sad sad tale that may very well
ruin her life, she manages to wipe the ring
her glass has made on the counter and locate
a coaster. She manages to unload the
dishwasher as she talks to me, cries to me,
pours her heart out while making sure each
glass and dish and utensil is in its proper
place. Like crying is just part of the deal.
Domesticity has a little bit of sadness
built in but that doesn't mean you stop the
order of everything.
I stand completely unable to react. My
mother is sad and I hate this. My mother is
crying and concerned and feels hurt and
abandoned by the one person in her life who
is contracted by law to bring her comfort.
And I have absolutely nothing to say to
console her. I begin to help unload the
dishwasher. I follow her lead realizing I
have long since forgotten the places of
things. And then, once we have finished I
hold her. She is smaller than me now. In
both height and weight I tower over her and
could lift her onto my lap were we that kind
of family. As it is I am a bit uncomfortable
embracing her. Both my parents have always
been free with displays of affection over
the years but they have learned to be less
so with me. I cannot recall ever initiating
contact with either of them until this
She holds onto me hard like she always has. She grasps my back with a sad sort of force. At once asserting her self as still alive and capable and further emphasizing her smallness by coming in so close. She quivers a little still crying as I hold her and I can feel her tiny breasts against my ribs. She could be a small child were it not for the absurd expensive loveliness of the thin black silk blouse under which I feel the slight trembling hardness of her back. She holds onto me in a way that makes me fleetingly suddenly frighteningly think that she may never let go. And then, that maybe this could be the best resolution for both of us. She, still beautifully dressed, grey wool pants, black silk blouse, tiny and lovely and sad. Me, still smelling of beach, old torn faded maroon t-shirt and white cotton shorts. Both of us barefoot. In the kitchen, with all the dishes put away and everything in its place, grasping on to things we have long since lost hold of.