Silver

I wanted to do something special for my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

I know it seems silly… futile… quixotic… self-indulgent… – I don’t know what the right word is for celebrating a wedding anniversary when death did you part.

I knew the day would be difficult and I just wanted to fill it with something.

I’ve planned so many anniversary celebrations – where to go? what to do? what to give as a gift?

My favorite anniversary might have been the year I surprised Kim with a picnic of her favorite food from her favorite restaurant.

I’d arranged with her boss to fill up her schedule that afternoon with fake appointments so that she’d be completely free.

I showed up late in the day and Kim, Tara, and I headed out to the Case farm for a picnic. Just the three of us. Kim, me, and our two year old black lab on an extra long leash.

Perfect.

Yesterday, I checked the Lake View website and they allow dogs so long as you clean up after them.

Perfect.

Just after noon, I packed a picnic lunch and Annabelle and I jumped in the car. Ten minutes later we parked next to section 32.

I pulled a canvas chair and the picnic lunch from the trunk and led Annabelle over the grass. She’d never been there before but she behaved pretty well as I set the chair up in front of Kim’s grave.

It went much better than I’d expected.

Annabelle and I ate a picnic lunch and hung out a bit for a perfect twenty-fifth anniversary meal.

As I ate the cole slaw I thought of seven year old Sophie sitting in our house eating mashed potatoes during her visit just after Elena had died.

Our picnic was a twin homage – to our anniversary celebration and to Sophie’s memorial.

That was the where to go and what to do.

What to give as a gift?

It didn’t need to cost much – it never did. But it had to be special.

I’ve thought a long time about this over the last couple of weeks.

Then a couple of days ago I was up on the third floor looking for something and I saw a little film canister on my desk.

I don’t know that that’s the right word for it. But when cameras used film we used to take the roll and put it in this plastic container to be developed.

This one didn’t contain film.

It contained something I got twenty-five years ago today during our wedding ceremony.

I’ve told the following story before.

Sue me.

I wrote our wedding ceremony to include components from each of our traditions. I included explanations and stage directions.

In the passage where I described Kim’s dad walking Kim down the aisle and leaving her with me I noted that it wouldn’t be inappropriate for some amount of cash to be exchanged at this point.

Sure enough, on the day of the wedding, Tom reached out and pressed two pennies in my palm and whispered in my ear, “she’s been giving me her two cents all her life, now it’s your turn.”

When I got a chance later I looked more carefully at the pennies.

One was from 1960.

One was from 1993.

One from the year Kim’s life began.

One from the year that our life began together.

I’ve kept those pennies on my desk in a film canister ever since.

Just two pennies.

He didn’t clutter the story up with a penny for the year she graduated from high school or college.

Just two.

I thought of adding one for the year Maggie was born. One for the year Elena was born. One for the year Elena died. So many significant events.

Instead, for our silver anniversary I decided to add just two more pennies to the canister.

Just two.

One for 1997.

One for 2016.

One for the year Kim became a mother.

One for the year that Kim died.

I didn’t spend much on the gift. Just two cents.

Just two.

But that last penny cost me everything.

Happy 25th anniversary Kimmy.

 

Published in: on August 8, 2018 at 2:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Hang up

I met my friend Craig for coffee at Juma then headed to Oberlin to have dinner with my family.

I tell you this so you understand how I ended up traveling west on I-480.

I got on the highway at Warrensville, just as Kim did on the last trip she took.

I wasn’t on the highway very long before I noticed a car next to me that didn’t look right.

I took another look.

The driver was bent over the passenger seat looking at his phone. Just like the guy who killed Kim.

He wasn’t watching the road and his car was drifting into my lane. Just like the semi driver who killed Kim.

I checked the rear view mirror. I had room to brake so I did. I hit the brakes and the horn. He drifted into my lane where I would have been. Thankfully I was now several car lengths behind.

I don’t think he ever saw or heard me. I just know that he didn’t stop.

If he’d been driving a semi, like the guy who killed Kim, I wouldn’t have had room to move out of his way.

Today I could have died in the same stretch of road as Kim in the same way.

Please stay off your phone when you’re driving. You have no idea how many people have saved your life by reacting when you weren’t able to because you were on your phone.

Before you drive – hang up.

Once you’re driving – please, pay attention.

Published in: on August 5, 2018 at 8:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Just Us

So where are we now that the criminal case and the civil case have concluded?

On the one hand, the man who killed Kim spent no time in jail and paid us nothing.

On the other hand, would that have made a difference?

I don’t know.

The prosecutor certainly mishandled the case, but a criminal case isn’t between the victim and the accused so there really wasn’t anything we could do.

I never met the driver. I didn’t see the point.

He was on the phone when his semi drove into Kim’s car.

I’ve been advised to let it go.

Say we get the case opened. Say he goes to jail. Would it make a difference?

I don’t know.

I was upset the first time the trial went forward to see he was charged with a misdemeanor not a felony.

So I suppose the answer is “no”.

We did get a settlement from his insurance company.

Kim’s cousin represented us and got the maximum that his minimal insurance allowed. He got all there was to get.

It certainly wasn’t enough.

Not enough. But as my friend Steve said, would any amount have been enough? Say it was something absurd like ten million dollars. Would that have been enough.

No.

But this felt like too little.

It felt like too little because of all that Kim was to me, to Maggie, to her parents and siblings, to my parents and siblings, to co-workers, to friends …

She did so much for so many.

This wasn’t enough.

But it’s all there is. I’m grateful to the many that helped me get this much, to get through these cases.

I don’t know what I expected from the legal system in either of these cases.

This wasn’t enough.

I went to dinner and an outdoor concert last night with Kim’s brother and his wife. At one point the band played a Bill Wither’s cover and my eyes teared up and I thought of Kim.

I don’t know what was special about that song, about that moment, but I felt her with me.

Not in a creepy “I believe in ghosts” or religious way. I just felt her there beside me swaying to the song, kicking the back of my knees to get me to loosen up.

I don’t want to become one of those bitter old men who complain about the justice system.

Should the man who killed Kim have gone to jail?

Yes.

Would it change my life in any way?

No.

So there – let’s not speak of it again.

It would have been nice if the civil suit resulted in more money.

But it didn’t.

I’ll say one more thing about it, then we won’t speak of it again.

There was the moment when I went to the lawyers office and the young lady at the front desk handed me an envelope with the settlement check inside.

It was a moment where it was done.

Here’s the check – we’re done.

It was a very final moment.

I took the check to the bank and deposited it.

That was it.

In the eyes of the legal system, Kim’s life had been accounted for.

The civil and criminal cases were done.

I hope not to speak of it again.

It’s not enough.

But, it’s all there is.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 5, 2018 at 12:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Angel Eyes

I’m listening to a John Hiatt album and “Angel Eyes” comes on.

I don’t really notice.

At least, I don’t think I do.

But my thoughts flick back to a concert Kim and I went to a couple of years ago in Akron.

It was one of those married-people date nights.

A night where you remember those early days of hanging out together while you were falling in love.

A night where you sneak a look at each other and it takes your breath away.

You don’t notice the extra lines in each other’s faces – the extra weight – the extra years.

It’s the “Angel Eyes” that Hiatt talks about that allows you to look at this person you love and see everything in them.

And then you do notice the extra lines, weight, and years and it makes you smile all the more. You remember what those changes represent in the twenty-some years you’ve been together.

It’s been twenty-six years today since I went on a date with anyone other than Kim.

I know this because I’d been trying to push our relationship into an exclusive relationship. I wasn’t interested in seeing other people. She’d stopped seeing other people but she didn’t want to make it official.

So I told her I really didn’t want to date other people but if she couldn’t commit, I was going to go out the following week.

She said she thought that was a good idea.

And so on July 25, 1992 I went to a radio-station sponsored event with another woman.

Not much of a date, but we planned to see each other again.

And then I got back to my apartment and Kim was waiting for me.

And that was the last time I dated anyone else.

Suddenly Hiatt’s song pushes into my consciousness with the line…

“Well, I’m the guy who never learned to dance.”

And again I’m traveling through time back to concerts I’ve been sent out to introduce.

Kim and I are standing watching some act along the Cuyahoga.

She’s got one hand on my shoulder and the other holds a drink. She dancing – not exactly with me – I’m the guy who never learned to dance – but near me.

I can’t get enough of her.

Hiatt sings,

“Don’t anybody wake me if this is a dream,”

“’cause she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

After Kim died I worried that I just wasn’t fun enough for her.

She’d embraced life. She’d been so fun. I’m just not.

She’d listen to new music all the time. Her phone sat in a cradle connected to speakers so she could start her day with music.

I’d walk in the kitchen and she’d smile and ask me if I wanted coffee.

In the early years I’d been the one to offer her coffee – but she preferred the way she made it.

Each morning she’d look at me and, as Hiatt sings,

“Must be something only you can see.”

“But girl I feel it when you look at me.”

I can’t say it any better than that.

You should listen to the song – the lyrics alone don’t do it justice.

The last two lines of the song haunt me now that she’s gone.

It’s the question that all boys like me wonder about someone special like Kim.

“What did I do, what did I say?”

“To turn your angel eyes my way.”

 

Published in: on July 25, 2018 at 9:16 am  Comments (1)  

Choice

Kim was pro-choice and her choice was “no”.

That seems to confuse some people. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion, it means you believe in a woman’s right to choose. Kim’s choice was “no”.

I know this because we talked about it when she was pregnant with Elena.

Not explicitly.

We were considering which pre-natal tests to take and I asked her what she wanted to do if the test came out positive for one of these conditions.

Kim said she would come to term anyway so we decided not to have one of the tests because there were risks associated with that particular test.

But Kim was strongly pro-choice. She believed in her right to a choice and she believed in and respected other women having a choice and coming to a different conclusion.

She’d had friends who had had abortions.

It was not something they had done lightly and it had stayed with them forever.

They believed it was the right choice and they believe today that it was the right choice – but it was not an easy one.

Friends asked me how I felt about Kim’s decision. After all, they reasoned, you would now be responsible for a child with this condition for the rest of your life. This is a decision that has a great impact on your life. Don’t you get a say?

A say?

No.

I am pro-choice. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. The choice was Kim’s to make.

If I felt strongly, I might have suggested things she might want to consider.

But this is Kim we’re talking about.

There’s nothing I could suggest that she hadn’t already considered.

So the decision is Kim’s and my job is to support her in that decision. My job is to hear her decision and say, “then that’s what we’ll do.”

We reduce the stance to “pro-choice” and sometimes forget to widen our view a little to the positioning statement, “a woman’s right to choose.”

Even though Kim’s choice was “no”, she’d be outraged that we are currently facing the prospect that we may soon live in a country where the choice wouldn’t have been hers to make.

Published in: on July 15, 2018 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Catch 22

 

After Kim died, a friend brought over a plant. It reminded her of how she had first met and become friends with Kim.

She placed it on the mantle and told me it was easy to take care of.

I said, “I don’t know.”

She assured me that I could do it. It didn’t need to be watered that often. It didn’t need much sun.

She was sure I could do it.

The plant was dead before the end of the year.

A year after that I thought I might be ready to start dating.

I was wrong.

Thank goodness nothing came of it.

 

I think that maybe now I am.

Or maybe not.

Even if I actually am ready to date, I don’t think it’s going to go very well.

I haven’t been out with anyone other than Kim on a date in over twenty-six years.

I didn’t like dating in my twenties and early thirties.

I loved being married.

I loved being past all the stuff you need to get past when you date.

I loved being past all the stuff you need to get past when you’re first married.

Kim and I continued to refine the way we were together throughout our marriage.

Combine the years of being together as best friends, raising kids, surviving the death of a child, cooking, eating, and traveling together, sitting across from each other talking, and sitting next to each other happily saying nothing – we’d pretty much gotten this relationship thing down.

I don’t know that I have the energy in me to start again.

But there’s a part of me that thinks I might be ready.

Friends have suggested online dating. Although I may end up there, it sounds awful.

People lie in their profiles.

They leave things out.

They paint pictures of themselves as the people they want to be.

And they lie about what they want.

It feels to me like someone who says family values and morality are the most important things to them in a politician and then they vote for and ardently support someone who embodies the opposite of all they profess to support.

In online dating, that’s the person who says they need someone intelligent with a good sense of humor while they ignore all descriptions and just look through the pictures in the profiles until they find someone they find attractive.

Of course it’s a catch 22.

If I don’t lie in my profile I’d have to say something like,

“Crabby, old, over-weight man might be looking for a left-leaning, bright woman who doesn’t annoy him too much.”

“I say ‘might’ because I might not be ready to go out with anyone yet – and even if I am, it likely won’t work out.”

That should do it, right?

Actually, I was hoping not to have to enter the online dating world.

I was hoping that one of my friends or neighbors would say, “hey, I know you don’t know if you’re ready and even if you are it probably won’t work out, but would you mind if I gave your number to a friend of mine?”

 

I keep the dead plant on my mantle.

That’s actually not accurate.

I’d like to tell you I keep the dead plant on my mantle as a reminder not to do things I’m not ready to do yet. But the truth is I haven’t gotten around to throwing it away.

There’s a side of me that thinks if I can’t be trusted with a plant then I can’t be trusted with a person.

Then again, another person can get her own water and find her way to the sun.

So – am I ready to date or not?

I don’t know.

I am, however, pretty certain it won’t go well the first few times.

And that’s the catch.

Doesn’t seem fair to invite someone into that situation.

Even if she can get her own water and find her way to the sun.

Published in: on June 23, 2018 at 4:03 pm  Comments (1)  

No Bagel

I didn’t put my finger on it until I was texting with my friend Mark.

He texted that he’d enjoyed bacon with his Fathers’ Day breakfast and I realized that this is the first time in twenty-one years that my morning didn’t begin with an everything bagel from Bialy’s, cream cheese, onion, tomato, and lox.

It’s a small thing.

It’s not the most important thing about today.

But it was a tradition for twenty years.

I became a father on September 15, 1997 when Maggie’s caregiver placed her in my arms in a hotel in Hefei, China.

We had just missed her first birthday and Kim and me, and the other families of Maggie’s “Shen sisters” became parents together that morning.

Nine months later we celebrated our first Fathers’ Day.

Kim had wanted to make something fancy but decided (after seeing the recipe) to instead pick up bagels. She got up early to make coffee and slice the onions and tomatoes and lay everything out.

Thus a tradition was born.

For us Mothers’ and Fathers’ day was about celebrating our spouse as parent. Sure, later it was about our kids doing something for their mom or dad, but, for me, Mothers’ Day was about me looking at Kim and remembering who she was before we had kids and who she’d become after.

On our second Fathers’ Day, I had bagels again.

I also had two daughters.

Elena had been born in March. The girls were almost exactly two and a half years apart but my second Fathers’ Day was Elena’s first.

As soon as she could talk, Elena loved celebrations like birthdays and Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days.

For the next several years Kim still picked up bagels but Elena would wake Maggie up so they would bring me a card or a gift.

My ninth Fathers’ Day was different.

Elena had died a few months earlier.

I began a new tradition.

Kim and I would have bagels and coffee together as always.

I’d wait for Maggie to wake up and come down with a Fathers’ Day card. I’d sit while she had a bagel.

Then I’d head to the cemetery to spend time with Elena.

So odd.

Most of the other people there were spending time with their fathers on Fathers’ Day.

I was spending time with my daughter.

Not with her. I never thought she was there. But it was a way of spending time with her memory.

That first year, Elena’s grave didn’t yet have a stone. Every year since it has and I’ve taken a picture of it on Fathers’ Day.

Again our tradition has changed.

Kim was killed almost two years ago.

Last year was my first Fathers’ Day without her.

It was difficult.

Fathers’ Day was always a day that was special to Kim and me. It was a time where we – this is going to sound sappy and stupid – but it was a day where we paused to share a love of something greater than the two of us. This family we’d built.

Maggie was home last year on Fathers’ Day.

She got up early – an amazing gift in and of itself – and went to Bialy’s as they opened. She picked up fresh bagels, cream cheese, and lox and brought it home.

I went to the cemetery and visited Kim and Elena’s grave.

Kim’s grave didn’t yet have a stone.

I used to sit on a bench next to their graves. The bench fell apart and the cemetery won’t replace it even though I’ve offered to pay for it.

So I stand a while. Some years I bring a chair.

This year it’s my twenty-first Fathers’ Day.

Maggie is away at a summer program studying ancient greek.

I consider that my Fathers’ Day gift. I’m very proud of her.

This year it’s just me and the puppy on my twenty-first Fathers’ Day.

It’s my thirteenth without Elena.

It’s my thirteenth of visiting the cemetery on Fathers’ Day.

It’s my second without Kim.

It’s my first without a bagel.

Published in: on June 17, 2018 at 10:34 am  Comments (1)  

Toots at 85

This is the toast I made to my mother on her 85th birthday at a special dinner at Kendal at Oberlin.

When Kim’s grandfather was in his 90’s, he told me that when you get old, people talk to you like they did when you were a small child.

They ask –

  • “How old are you?”
  • “Isn’t this fun?”
  • “Did you clean your plate?”

When you get really old, he said, no one asks you about anything of substance. And it they do, they don’t give you enough time to answer. They cut you off with another question – usually one they would ask a child.

It’s one of the many things I value about the Kendal community. It’s one of the many reasons I’m glad that my parents are part of it.

People here at Kendal – young or old – value the experiences of others.

They ask questions.

They wait for answers.

They listen.

And then, if it’s appropriate, they share their own experiences.

They know time is short.

Every birthday is to be celebrated.

By your age, every day is the birthday of someone you know or someone that someone you know – knows. So you celebrate.

Every day.

Today it’s my mom’s 85th birthday.

Happy birthday mom.

  • “How old are you?”
  • “Isn’t this fun”
  • “Did you clean your plate?”

When you were my age, I was in grad school. I had just met Kim.

I brought her over to meet you and you were full of questions, advice, and opinions. (I won’t repeat them here) So now that I’m that same age, here’s mine.

I’m lucky enough to still have both of my parents with me, but I’ve lost a wife an a daughter.

I know time is short.

It’s important that we live accordingly.

Not irresponsibly, but with joy and purpose and love of those around us.

Not everything matters…

And, of those things that matter, not everything matters equally.

Focus on those things that matter most.

In that list of things that matter most, there are those things you can affect and those you can’t.

I can’t make LeBron come back to Cleveland next year. I may as well take it off my list.

On the other hand, calls, donations, and my vote may change the midterm election. These things stay on the list.

What stays on the list?

Important things you can affect.

Like walking every day so you can continue to walk for many years to come.

Like meeting friends every day – for a meal, for coffee, or just for conversation.

Important things you can affect…

  • These items keep you from getting old.
  • These items keep things fun.
  • These items – and cleaning your plate.
Published in: on June 10, 2018 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Expected and not

There are moments I can prepare for and those I can’t.

I spent this past weekend at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah in Santa Monica.

I know that the mourner’s kaddish is coming. It’s a moment we think about and pray for those who have died.

I don’t go to services that often and I’m not religious. And yet that prayer just rips me in half every time.

I know that before the service begins.

I feel it coming.

There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m going to feel my losses sharply and deeply.

It kind of surprises me. I’m not religious and yet that part of the service seems to speak right to me.

I’ve learned to embrace the prayer and sink into it and be comforted by others thinking about lost loved ones. Some are thinking of Kim and Elena too.

Some aren’t thinking of anyone or anything at all.

I remember being one of them.

I remember seeing someone near me truly grieving and feeling the moment through their eyes.

Friday night I sniffled through it.

Saturday morning Maggie had passed me a tissue by that point.

It was the second time that morning that she’d helped me through a tough moment.

The family gathered before the service to take pictures.

The photographer arranged us for our family’s group picture.

She waved towards me to ask who I was.

“I’m his uncle,” I said.

She waved me in closer.

“Are you married?” she asked.

I looked at her blankly.

“Where’s your wife?” she asked.

I just couldn’t find the words.

She wasn’t wrong to ask. I just lost all ability to respond.

Maggie said, “we’re together,” and walked over and quietly stood next to me.

We moved on.

Some days Maggie just astounds me. Saturday was one of those days.

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 3:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Benjamin

The first Mother’s Day that Peggy lived with us, she came downstairs with a gift for Kim and told her that Kim was her american mother.

It meant so much to Kim.

Peggy was one of the Chinese teachers in Shaker. She’d been living with us for six months.

A week later while I was out of town, Peggy asked Kim if she could live with us the following year as well.

What could Kim say?

She was Peggy’s american mother.

Peggy and Kim spent time together talking – mainly when I travelled. Peggy’s own parents are about our age so we always felt parental and protective of her.

Peggy lived with us the following year and moved into her own apartment during the school year after that.

She was only a couple of blocks away but we didn’t see her very much.

Kim missed her.

Peggy would visit now and then and we’d sit and talk but it wasn’t the same.

We remembered her zooming by in the morning on her way to school. No time for breakfast – just a cup of coffee.

We remembered her coming back to take a nap before zooming to graduate school.

We remembered her cooking in the kitchen.

We remembered her in her room talking to her mother in China every day.

Peggy lived in Elena’s room – although the whole time Peggy lived there we called it Peggy’s room. Once Peggy moved to her own apartment we referred to it as Elena’s room again.

Peggy got married and she and her husband bought a house on the corner of our block.

Her parents and her grandmother would come from China for long visits. Although we didn’t see them often, we loved getting together with Peggy’s family. Just the nicest people.

A year and a half ago they sat with us in the hospital as Kim lay dying.

They were there for us like family.

Kim’s chinese daughter, her husband, and her parents.

After Elena died twelve years ago today, Kim would sometimes muse about the moments Elena never lived to see.

I think about last June when Elena’s class graduated from High School.  Elena never lived to graduate from high school. Then again, she didn’t live to finish first grade.

And if she had lived? Kim wouldn’t have lived to see her daughter graduate from high school. Kim wouldn’t have lived to see Elena start the twelfth grade.

A little over a week ago I had the privilege of holding Benjamin in my arms.

Peggy and Eugene’s beautiful baby boy was born a week and a half ago.

They let me visit them in the hospital.

Peggy’s mother smiled and placed Benjamin in my arms.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I walked and rocked back and forth.

It was the same hospital where Kim had Elena almost nineteen years ago.

I brought Peggy the same flowers I had brought Kim almost nineteen years ago.

I held our chinese daughter’s son.

There aren’t many “Kim would have” moments that I can truly be sure of, but Kim would have loved meeting Benjamin. She would have been proud to have been his american grandmother.

I could just be projecting.

I handed Benjamin back to Peggy’s mother, sad that I wasn’t handing the baby to Peggy’s american mother, but just so, so happy.

There is just something so perfect about holding a baby.

It focuses me on this moment.

On this child.

On Benjamin.

 

Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment