Some things cannot be wrapped up, tied up and put neatly away. Like people. Like the love you have for them. There is no closure when it comes to the ones you have loved. We all talk about moving on but it doesn’t mean we have to purge ourselves of the memories and beautiful parts of our past lives.
I will go out into the world again, and see what I find, and find how I fit. This is what I tell myself in the spring of 2013, two years after my daughter’s death. I did not get to launch Marika. Instead, in 2013, she is launching me.
Typically, a child is sent forth fortified by the lessons and leanings of the parent. But now it’s me venturing out into the world, and I’m taking what I’ve learned from my daughter. Each new day, I drift farther from the course we shared, yet I carry her with me. Her spirit. Her smile. Her words. Her way of riding the wave of a birthday or victory or something she deemed exceptional, by celebrating the heck out of it. Her gravitation toward the light of others, toward gatherings. The ease with which she could snap out of a funk or get a friend to. Her stubbornness and resolve. These things grow in me now. And they are setting me in motion.
Except for the grief. It’s always there and it has a stifling effect on any movement forward. Grief is just all this love I still have, cooped up inside me, which I don’t know what to do with. It drains me. And it feels like I won’t ever be able to love again. It’s like when a friend comes over unannounced at dinnertime on a day when you have only a few leftovers in the fridge. And you think your cupboards are empty, that you have nothing to share. But somehow what’s there ends up being enough to feed you both. I have to remind myself: I’m still enough. Even with a wounded heart. The friends who keep calling, even though I’m often horribly unapproachable, see something worthwhile in me.
My friends. They listen, worry, and sometimes still raise a brow when I mention Marika. They’ve come to understand that I need to hear and talk about her, that I can’t stand the thought of her being forgotten. When they phone me on Marika’s birthday or send me flowers on the anniversaries of her death, I gush with gratitude. For the closest ones I make a huge salad every weekend. My salads are pure celebrations of life. Of the sweet and savory, the bitter and the bland. Into the greens I throw local ingredients and exotic delicacies, colorful vegetables, cheese, nuts, legumes, seafood, fruit or edible flowers. Each toss is a song of love for those who have hung in there, seeing me through hard times.
Almost every day, I hike with Suki and friends, all over Ithaca and beyond. In between, there are photo shoots, long sessions in Photoshop, and writing groups. I write daily and post a weekly blog. And fumble on social media sites, trying to expand and keep up with a growing group of followers. It’s exhilarating. It’s like flying. Tweeting and Friend-ing people; Marika would have loved this. It’s my life now. And she is my lodestar.
Once a month I take Rachel, I mean Ray, going on 526 days of sobriety in the spring of 2013, out to dinner. With his new wife. They chatter about their puppy, new jobs, and the upcoming move to their first shared apartment. Every so often Ray relinquishes a scarf or shirt that once belonged to Marika, and it’s like getting a precious gift from a past lifetime.
Laurie, as always, is only a phone call away. Late nights, we talk about going to Australia. Her knee has healed but I’m not sure about her heart. She collected the photographs from Marika’s Facebook page before it disappeared, and put them on a thumb drive for me, not knowing how for years I’d pick photos from it to virtually visit with Marika in Photoshop. Laurie treats every one of her patients like they’re her beloved niece.
“Mom, I leave for Afghanistan in two weeks,” Greg announces in April 2013, having accepted a position with a private security contractor. In my head a huge wave swells and I have to catch my breath to jump over it. For a long time I knew this was coming. My days disintegrate anyway. It snows at the end of April. The driveway floods. Another friend is diagnosed with cancer. But on Facebook new friends cheer me on. In Photoshop I dress Suki in armor, and superimpose several selfie-shots into one picture so it looks like I’m hugging myself. Maybe I like to ‘shop because it lets me control my universe. In Photoshop I’m not at the mercy of cancer or the changing tides. I can shift-click, drag-and-drop a girl running with her rabbit into the flaming sun. Stars shine and flowers bloom in my living room. I can move the moon. I can pretend I’m snuggly wrapping up the ones I love in intricately crafted nests. I ‘shop my son safe in his red Hummer in the driveway at home, far from the dangerous places on earth he’s drawn to.
“I love you, and I’ve loved having you here,” I tell Greg after his announcement about Afghanistan. “How can I help?”
“Uh, can you iron this shirt for me?” he shrugs.