8:59am: Laurie and Texas
Laurie was buried yesterday, next to Celeste. She didn't want money spent on funeral arrangements, so it was all very simple. There was no wake and the service was at the graveside. It was gratifying to see so many people turn out and stand around in the cold to support the family and to say goodbye. Funerals always make me think about what I would want for myself when I'm gone, I hope that there will be as many people who care.
I know that your relationship with her was not smooth, but you would have to admire how well she bore up under the circumstances of dying slowly in such a dreadful way. Lorraine spoke at the graveside and talked about that, I don't think there was a dry eye. We all find out what we're really made of at the end. I hope to God to be able to make a "good death," as medieval people put it, at peace with myself and the universe.
Tonight we are going to say goodbye to your brother -- he and Dag are moving to Dallas, Texas tomorrow. There will be some logistical issues for them to resolve, like dealing with the house they bought and spent so much time remodeling, but they seem very determined. She has found a job there. Some of her relatives had already moved there after her mother died, and they will be able to help them get settled. She has wanted to go south for a long time, and hasn't seemed very attached to this part of the world, especially in winter. Your brother will be able to find work right away also -- there is lots of construction and it goes on all year. It's a lower cost of living, and right now it has been struggle for them here. It makes me sad, though. At least I will know where he is, but if I ever have grandchildren they will be very far away.
10:55am: Those whom we have lost
Death is one of those occasions when all members of a famly tend to come together, no matter what other kinds of things separate them. It has always seemed important to recognize and acknowlege that final passage. Perhaps it is only a way-station, and all this life is only an illusion, but all the same nothing goes on as it did before that river has been crossed.
Your grandmother Elisa passed away in 2006, after you lost contact with us. She is buried with her husband, the grandfather that you never really knew. You can find her name at the cemetary website, if you ever want to visit.
Laurie passed away two days ago, on January 18, 2008. She was diagnosed with ALS in the summer. She declined quickly, losing the use of her legs and arms, then her ability to swallow and to speak, and finally to breathe. She had the hereditary version, which progresses more rapidly than the other kind. She will be buried with Celeste and her mother. From the obituary: All are invited to a graveside service on Tuesday, January 22nd at 11:00am in Mt. Hope Cemetery, Central Street, West Acton. Those who wish may make memorial contributions in her name to the Feed the Children, on-line at Feedthechildren.org; or by mail, Feed the Children, PO Box 36, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73101-0036.
10:47am: Message in a bottle
I have updated the intro to this journal to explain... Ariane came home after seven years of wandering without any contact with her family, and left again in the next year, the summer of 2006. I have re-opened the journal in the hope of using the power of the internet to cast messages in a bottle, where perhaps they might drift up on whatever shore she finds herself.
The most important first thing: Ariane, we love you. No matter what misunderstandings we have had, that remains unshakeable. Wherever you are in the world, if you ever need help, call us and we will be there. I will keep the same telephone number forever so you know where to find me. I can't promise that I won't retire some day, or live in a different house (I have never wanted to leave this spot, in case you should turn up), or be buried in some plot of ground. But as long as I am alive, you can call that telephone. And whatever it takes, both I and my spouse will be there. When L and I married, we promised that "thy people shall be my people," and you can count on L as much as you can count on me.
Part of me wonders if somehow seven years is a magic number... it is in fairy tales. I have dreams where Ariane is just out of reach, where I desperately want to tell her something and grab hold of her. Sometimes she makes it clear that she is visiting from another dimension. As a teenager she played Perdita in Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, directed by pamelina at the Footlight Club. I wonder if, like Perdita, she will be found on a foreign shore and return to offer forgiveness.
The candles are lit again, 30 votives, all along the front porch. The Lady of Guadalupe will burn in the window for 9 days. My neighbors probably think I am eccentric, but that is not unusual here. As the dark increases, I find light comforting. It is easy to believe that it has magical properties to reach the lost.
Today is Ariane's birthday. She was born after nearly 24 hours of labor, and exhausted from the ordeal, slept for nearly another 24 hours after greeting the world. It was completely unlike her brother (22 months older), who was barely sleeping through the night even then. From that moment on, she was fiercely independent and taking her own path.
In medieval times, the vigil, or eve of a holy day was as important as the day itself -- witness All Hallows Eve, where the day is now little observed, but the vigil much celebrated. Tonight is the vigil of Ariane's birthday. In the tradition of All Hallow's Eve and Christmas Eve, when candles are lit for the lost, there are 30 candles burning on the front rail of my porch, one for every year, and the Lady of Guadalupe burning in the window.
11/11, veteran's day. Four years ago on 11/11 were were in New York City, at Ground Zero. The wreck of the towers was still sharp and reeking. I remember the day the towers came down, 9/11 -- in my car on the way to work, listening on the radio, screaming and crying as the planes smashed, the towers shivered and crumbled... Ariane's last known location was New York. Her last phone message said that she, and her then-boyfriend, Shannon McCarthy, had found a place to stay, and I still think of it as the place where she is. I realize that the odds of her being in or near the World Trade Center were pretty low, given that her life was lived as far from the corporate world as possible. Her boyfriend's cousin died in one of the towers -- I don't know if Ariane or Shannon ever knew that. But by whatever irrational power of the human brain, the loss of the towers became entwined with the loss of Ariane in my mind. That year, my spouse and I went on a pilgrimage to New York to commemorate her birthday. We left her picture and the legend that her family loved her everywhere we went. We walked to Steps, the dance studio that she favored and left our paper prayer there. We left it at Lincoln Center, by the American Ballet Theatre, where I had brought her for auditions. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to leave them in and around Times Square -- Giuliani's anti-graffitti, anti-postering policies had made the place antiseptic. Sometimes they were left in secret places. We walked from 77th St. to Ground Zero, and left her picture and roses at St. Paul's. And in our own little ritual observation, we set our paper prayers on the waters of the Hudson, where the nereids mourn.
There aren't a lot of family photos of Ariane smiling; as a tiny child she had lost a milk tooth early from an accident, and so didn't have one until the second tooth grew in. I think it affected her tendency to be sombre in photographs. But her smile was one of her amazing characteristics -- it lit up her face and had a power to dazzle.
The image I have chosen here owes apologies to both the subject and the photographer -- it was probably not one that either would have chosen for her portfolio. But it is what I have. I can imagine one of Ariane's other looks: the cocked eyebrow and sardonic, "what the heck...?" expression...
9:27am: what if...
this journal will not be about flogging the ways in which I think I failed my daughter, the guilt that twists me and sometimes clouds my second marriage, the endless what if.. what if... what if... that afflicts me in the oddest ways. I will never change my home phone number, because someday she might call. I will never sell my house, because someday she might come home. I worry that I do not have the financial cushion that I should have at this stage of my life, because someday she might need me in some part of the world. No, it will not be about that. Instead, I will remember the patience of my spouse, the way Ariane sparkled, the texture of the days that we shared. The hardest part of loss is losing the hope for the future, and I refuse to give that up.
When my children were young, one of most sacred traditions was the Bedtime Story. We favored classic adventure stories: Treasure Island, The Lord of the Rings, The Three Musketeers, the entire first Amber series where we waited for each new book to come out. As older teens, the bedtime story faded away, and then the kids went out on their own. Ariane came back home in those last days. It was (and is) my desire that as long as I lived, my kids would have some shelter against the storm and I was happy to have her. Admittedly, it is difficult to live together on new terms, both as adults, when one of you used to change the other's diapers. But one of the pleasures that we rediscovered was Reading Aloud, only this time we read to each other. We continued to favor adventure stories; the Phoenix Guard now resonates with her characterizations. She had an amazing ability to sketch a person with her voice and some mannerisms. She had a sense of humor as dry as vermouth and as sharp as a honed knife. An end-of-the-day story about a bus ride would be achingly funny and bitterly true. Her ability to observe people and get inside their skin meant that sometimes their emotions and beings assaulted her with their intenstity, and she would raise a shield to the world that looked like indifference. But it was never so.
Note: this photo, and others I will probably post in the course of this journal, is among the last pictures that I have of Ariane. They were taken by my friend Ritu, who did a photo shoot with Ariane as a model. They are not the whole story of Ariane, but they are part of it.
Of necessity, this journal is about me as much as it is about Ariane...
Autumn has always been my favorite season -- the cool relief after summer heat, the rare but perfect New England days with their crystalline air, lapis skies, and that golden slant of light spreading like grace over everything it touches. As I get older, the autumn resonates more profoundly with my own stage of life. In the galenic system, the humor of the season is melancholy -- it is cold and dry. As so it has indelibly become. I am more likely to awake from my dreams with my heart so full of grief it feels like it would stop. Sometimes a profile caught on the street, a way of walking, a toss of the head will remind me of her and I will be forced to stop until I can pick up and go on as I was. I find myself replaying the last few months that Ariane was with me in my mind. Being a gardener, I am acutely aware of the cyclic nature of time, and this has become as woven into the cycle as picking the last roses or mulching for winter. And yet in spite of their cycles, no season is ever the same one, the arrow of time flies only in one direction. The moments missed will not return, the things unsaid will never be said, the things that should never have been said cannot be recalled. Life does not always give you a second chance. I know now why people hope for granchildren -- another chance to brave the cycle more purely, more wise, more hopefully...
I do indeed have a second life with a loving spouse, and I do not want to disparage the joy I feel in it. When the well of grief runs over I do not want it to drown the love I have now -- a love that cannot redeem the loss no matter how it tries. We have learned the hard way to accomodate this cycle, to honor the loss, to observe our little rituals, to tie our prayers to the trees together, to make our pilgrimages together, to stand together in the dark and the rain, appealing to somone full of grace...
More than anything, Ariane was a dancer. From her earliest childhood, spinning in her special dress with the big round skirt was her delight. She was always performing; her body, her self, her movement were all of a piece. I did the best I could to support her and never urged her to do anything more practical, even when my friends advised me not to encourage her, lest she be disappointed, performing arts being such a hard way to live. To me, creating Art and Beauty are sufficient justifications for a life, and the details will eventually take care of themselves. As someone whose youth was side-tracked off the path I had originally sought for myself, I felt that she had decades to settle for something else and if she never reached for the stars when she was young and without obligations she would certainly never achieve them. Like all children of all parents, she was a piece of me that never lived, and that I hoped to set free to twinkle among the stars, listening to her own special music and dancing her own dance.