My cousin died eleven years ago today. She was twenty-five that year, I was twenty-four. It was a Tuesday that year, too. I tried to avoid Thanksgiving altogether by purposefully getting wasted the night before, thinking I’d be too ill to get out of bed so could just skip it all. It didn’t work, and I ended up being sad and hungover on Thanksgiving.
The year after SES died I had moved to Boston, and I remember sitting on a bench on the edge of the Charles River, in between classes at Boston University, weeping. The year had passed so quickly. I blinked, and it was gone. I thought about that day, about sitting on that bench, a little while ago while I was reading Roger Angell’s essay in last week’s New Yorker. He’s writing about his wife, who died last year, and thinking about all of the things that she doesn’t know – that president Obama was reelected, anything about Hurricane Sandy or who won the World Series, not to mention how much her granddaughter is enjoying nursery school. I pictured myself sitting on that bench in 2002, wearing the fabulous leather jacket that I grief-bought after SES died the year before, staring out at the unfamiliar river running through my new home, as I read, “What the dead don’t know piles up, though we don’t notice it at first. They don’t know how we’re getting along without them, of course, dealing with the hours and days that now accrue so quickly, and, unless they divined this somehow in advance, they don’t know that we don’t want this inexorable onslaught of breakfasts and phone calls and going to the bank, all this stepping along, because we don’t want anything extraneous to get in the way of what we feel about them or the ways we want to hold them in mind. But they’re in a hurry, too, or so it seems.”
In my last year of college the Tuesday before Thanksgiving birthed a tradition that I kept for many years, which called for me drinking a bottle of cheap Chardonnay and watching Home for the Holidays – quietly, by myself. I wasn’t alone that first year, the year that started it all. Randa was with me, so now I think of her on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, remember sitting cross legged on the couch after the movie had ended, describing what we thought Thanksgiving at our respective homes would be like – and then comparing notes once we got back to school the following Sunday to see how right or wrong we’d been. But I probably won’t watch the movie tonight – for many reasons I guess, some of the least interesting being that, simply, time has passed, I’m not alone, I can afford better wine, and it’s a work night.
I think about it though – about that movie, about that first night Randa and I watched it together in my living room on North Jefferson Street, about how this time of year is always so full of melancholy for me – not dreaded, familiar. And then, to realize that the melancholy this year sort of snuck up on me. In fact, it wasn’t actually very present until the last day or so, and not really until last night. I blame Facebook. I was scrolling through my news feed before I went to bed and my cousin, SES’s sister, had changed her profile picture to a gorgeous photo of SES holding her dog. It took my breath away. In the photograph she’s so vibrant, so beautiful, so alive. It made me remember my attempt to miss Thanksgiving the year she died, how even today, despite being thankful for so many things, I just don’t feel like celebrating – how each year I really just want to close my eyes and open them up on the other side of Thanksgiving, to have it all over and behind me for another year. But then Facebook reminded me of something else – something that couldn’t help but make me smile. It reminded me of all the birthdays that fall today – including the children of two old friends of mine who were born on November 20th, one who turned seven today and one who turned three. So it was with all the more poignance that I came to the end of Roger Angell’s article, where he writes about going to visit his wife’s grave in a little cemetery in rural Maine.
“There’s a low gray column bearing lowercase lines of verse in memory of a beloved wife who died in 1822, at the age of twenty-seven. Many of the names – Freethey, Eaton, Bridges, Allen – are still well represented in Brooklin today. What I noticed most, though – the same idea came over me every time – was that time had utterly taken away the histories and attachments and emotions that had once closely wrapped around these dead, leaving nothing but their families and names and dates. It was almost as if they were waiting to be born.”