January 15, 2017

Neko the Hunter

From the time I was about 8 years old, we always had a family pet (or three). The first was a street-smart calico who wandered into our yard not long after we moved to CA from NY. Amir had noticed her first. He began requesting American cheese slices more and more frequently from my mom, who didn't think twice because that kid loved cheese more than oxygen. Eventually, my parents realized he was feeding cheese to the stray cat who'd been hanging around our yard. Thus, she became ours. We named her Brown Kit, or Brownie for short. (I cannot account for our lack of imagination in coming up with a name.)

Later, there was Buba the mutt, who, in spite of the love rained upon her in our house, ran away every chance she got until one day she didn't come back. Then, we got Skylar, our beloved golden retriever, who was such a part of the family for two decades that we still talk about him often and photos of him still line my parents' hallway, 20 years after his death. After Brownie, there was Henry the rockstar cat, who lived fast and died young, and Calvin (aka The Fatbox), our cuddly orange tabby gentleman.

As adults and (mostly) apartment dwellers, Amir and Yael and I all went on to adopt cats of our own. For years, Amir's feline companion was the fickle and finicky Neko, named for one of his favorite singer/songwriters, Neko Case. That cat worshipped Amir and rarely, if ever, let another human near her. The three of us talked often about our cats' antics and personality quirks, including exchanges such as this one between Amir and I:

Postscript: We were very fortunate to find a wonderful new home for Neko with a work colleague of Amir's who was heartbroken by his death. She and her husband had also recently lost their cat. Neko's lovely new owners provided gentle reassurance and waited patiently for her to learn to trust them. They'll never know what peace of mind they gave us, knowing Amir's beloved girl would be well cared for.

January 7, 2017

Scooby Snacks

The other night, I found myself scrolling through old texts on my phone. These made me smile and laugh, recalling Amir's unique humor. I miss our text chats like crazy. What I wouldn't give for another round of pop music minutiae.

New Year... Trying for Happy

Anyone who's lost someone close to them knows how difficult and heartwrenching it is to turn that calendar over to a new year. Another year they won't see or experience. For those of us still mourning, it's another year of grief and loneliness. I'm getting pretty fucking sick of feeling this way, yet I don't want to "get over it." I will never get over it. I have become a fantastic actress (or at least a clown). Most days, no one would detect the sadness and pain I feel. That's not to say I fake being happy--I am lucky to have many genuine moments of happiness, fun and laughter in my life. But the underlying sadness is always there. And I cover it up like a fucking boss. Usually.

December was a wretched month in many ways. A friend and neighbor of mine and Jason's died on New Year's Eve. Another young life lost. Cathy was a bright light around our neighborhood--always smiling, joyful, spreading laughter and warmth. Everyone within 10 blocks knew her face and her smile. She had a wicked sense of humor. I admire her joyful spirit even more knowing her life wasn't all rainbows and I strive to live life as positively as she did. She helped Jason with his business, she and her husband had us over for epic summer nights in their backyard and she tried to be there for me as I struggled to cope.

I will always be sad that we had not talked much since Jason's death. And these terrible things that happen only make me miss Jason more, as I long so badly to talk to him. He would have been so saddened by Cathy's death and would have joined me in lending support to her husband and family.

When you lose someone close to you, you naturally miss their physical presence--their smile, their voice, their laugh, their arms around you. But what I miss even more with Amir and Jason is their insights and ideas and thoughts about everything. I miss talking to them so much I feel I can't stand it sometimes. I am not myself because I cannot share things with them. I often feel like half a person without them in my life.

So, I move into a new year with a heavy weight on my shoulders, but one that lightens with support and love from my friends and family. I remain sad but optimistic. Grieving but positive. I strive to find happiness and purpose, even when both seem unlikely. I truly appreciate what I have and what I'm capable of, even when I dread the thought of a future without Amir and Jason in it. No matter what, I will do whatever I can to make 2017 a happy and productive year.

December 13, 2016

Darth Vader Piñata

Missing Amir's wit and wisdom today as I do every day, I wanted to share a few more glimpses into his exceptional mind.

This is from an email in February 2007, after he visited me in SF and we made one of the few bar bets I won over the years:
"I owe you five bucks because 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' was indeed performed by Frankie Valli, not Johnnny Mathis - I guess all that Rita Moreno and whiskey clouded my judgment at the Owl Tree bar.

I ran into about 300 rabid Lakers fans at the Oakland BART depot. L.A. stomped Golden State's ass at Oracle Arena, and I got to witness the hi jinx of drunken dipshits in outdated Kobe Bryant jerseys storming the train. Luckily, I didn't get shot at and got to the airport in time to witness two young lovers get in a MASSIVE fight at the security check-in. I chuckled to myself, gave thanks for my independence, and prepared for what would be a turbulent flight. It's snowing like a motherfuck in Reno, and the descent into the blizzard nearly caused me to puke up my cashews. We made it, though I made my neighbor uncomfortable by reading that addicting 9-11 book you gave me as we lurched about in the clouds."
And, from September 2010, just before I visited him in Portland:
"I feel like an asshole for leaving you an answering machine message filled with insensitive jokes. If I had a nickel for every time I put my foot in my mouth, I'd be filthy stinkin' rich. Mostly I was just hoping to make you smile.

Trivia is Tuesday night at 7:00. Again, I remind you that you are expected to help us win. Don't bother coming all the way out here if you can't tell me the minimum I.Q. for Mensa entry, the smallest Great Lake, and Valerie Harper's boyfriend's name on 'Rhoda.' Last time, the first prize was a Darth Vader piñata. I sulked the whole way home."

December 4, 2016

"I can't beat it..."

For as long as I can remember, I have lived very much inside my own head, deep in thought, constantly poring over ideas and feelings and insights without talking to another soul for hours (or even days) on end. Only one other person in my life shared this tendency toward living inwardly and that was Amir. He and I often talked about the good and bad points of living in one's own mind, being too cerebral and introverted, overthinking our feelings and intentions to an unhealthy extent.

Yesterday, during a long walk around Prospect Park on a cold, gorgeous day, I thought, "My brain must be tired of me." Then I considered how amused Amir would be by that idea and... here we go again... I longed to share it with him.

How has it been two years since I spoke to my darling brother? The days and weeks and months seem to drag on, when they are not flying by. That's the thing about grief: it fucks with time in a fascinating and utterly confounding way. It feels like yesterday that I last saw or spoke to Amir and sometimes it feels like it's been far longer than two years. I am completely gobsmacked by how often I reach for the phone to call or text him, even after 24 months of not being able to do that. I do this even MORE often with Jason, sometimes even stopping short of calling out to him from another room before being punched in the chest by the reality that I'm alone and he won't answer. Jason's absence from my life is intensely physical. Grief begets physical and emotional longing of an intensity that I never expected to feel in my life.

What else is there that fucks with the mind and heart like grief does? Nothing. There is pain, both physical and emotional, that most every human faces in his or her life. There is sadness and longing and disappointment and confusion and anguish. But none of it wreaks havoc on the mind and heart like deep grief does. None of it transforms who you are as a person down to your very core and uproots everything you once felt about life, love, longing and loss.

Last night, I saw the movie Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck as a young man who loses his brother while also suffering the aftermath of an earlier, horrific tragedy in his life. I don't remember the last time I was so moved by a film and a performance. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. I managed to hold it together in the theatre (I've gotten pretty fucking good at not crying in public), but its poignancy affected me deeply.

Affleck's character's grief and pain are so crushing that you can see it physically in his eyes, his face and his body language before the film even reveals the magnitude of the loss he's endured. At one point, speaking of his grief, he repeats the line: "I can't beat it." Fucking hell, do I know that feeling. I don't think I've ever seen an actor convey the numbness, anger, misery and longing of grief in such a compelling and thoroughly authentic way. Give this brilliant actor an Oscar. Now.

You want a glimpse of what profound grief looks like? See this movie. And bring tissues.