||July 1, 2000
In April at the Seder, I learn that Sara, a family friend, is being bat-mitzvahed July 1st. My heart does a kind of leap, knowing there will be a celebration of life, of passage, for this young person on the anniversary of Steve's death. I say nothing but hope that I will be invited.
But as the day of Steve's first anniversary nears, I find myself wondering what I can possibly do that would be adequate as a tribute to Steve's life. Yes, I will celebrate Sara with her family in the morning, but what of the rest of the day? How evoke Steve's spirit?
Despite my vows of almost a year ago -- to adopt Steve's manner of enjoying life -- May brought me very little pleasure. It is as if I were on an express train sucked speeding down a subterranean tunnel -- one event hurrying relentlessly to the next -- just as it felt when Steve was dying. But now I am alone on the speeding bullet train of spring heading inexorably into summer and the time of Steve's death. I find myself subject to the most severe mounting anxiety. As Julie puts it, "I truly believe it's seasonal memory kicking in. Just think of where you were last year at this time. You knew what was coming." And, waiting, walking toward Steve's death -- what anxiety could be more intense?
But one day, driving to town, aware of the more primal, basic, pervasive under-lying anxiety caused by Steve's absence, by the lack of "Steve-ness" around me and in my day-to-day life, I remember suddenly the feeling of the comfort of Steve's presence, and I draw it into me and around me like a robe of cotton batten all warm and soft and sure. I am so glad to evoke him this way, so relieved for some moments. I don't know that it's ever a matter of "getting used to" someone's absence; maybe it's more learning how to still have them.
The last week in June is a rich one, a feast of friendship, as my home is filled with friends who have come for my 'divestment' sale, as I start shedding my belongings like an old skin. People drift in, connect, chat, munch, buy, linge r--love like a river, as my friend Jo Ann says.
Tia and Frank Yank are here for five days, and we eat together and laugh, tell stories, while Frank, effortlessly, it seems, fixes all of my cars and the hot water heater, installs a shower, replaces a broken door-knob, resuscitates a collapsing cabinet in the camper, Endangered Species, and mounts and wires in the porch light that had been on Steve's "to do" list for 24 years. Frank even hauls the freezer outside on a dolly and hoses it down to defrost it. Back in its place, it purrs instead of whining loudly.
Tia finally declares a vacation, "and they all went to the seashore." (Remember Never on Sunday?) The ocean is glazed with sun, and a wind blows sand on us as we shelter as best we can in the lee of a dune. Tia and I walk down to test the waters, and she draws a heart. When she adds a wing, I draw its mate. She writes in the center of the heart -- Steve -- and below that -- Luis -- another beloved friend. She writes Amor on one wing, while I write Paz. on the other. Beneath, she writes Adios, and I say aloud, "Hasta la vista." We watch the waves wet the heart and lick it away. Our lives written in sand.
I am immensely satisfied.
After they leave for California, I feel full and linger in the aura of companionship and love -- of family -- created by their presence here. We are in the middle of a heat wave, and Maki has said she would like to plant a tree for Steve, a sugar maple, because they give syrup, just as Steve gave sweetness. Contacting a local nursery, I find, as I suspected, that it is too late in the year, but we can get one next spring.
The morning of the Bat-Mitzvah, at the last minute before heading out the door, I fling on one of my favorite of Steve's Hawaiian shirts, a pink one, over my dress. And I take the parmesan cheese container of ashes and empty some into a spice container. I am 'down-sizing', I think to myself. I place the cheese container in a Huichole bag with a bold pattern of a pink star, or peyote flower, on a bright green background. I wear the bag to the Bat-Mitzvah as well, where I am frequently moved to tears as we sing, chant and celebrate in joy and love, feeling the loss of Steve all the while, a typical life-mix of bitter and sweet. Sarah looks beautiful in a simple white sundress with daisies in her hair, and the Rabbi has the most lovely singing voice.
After the feast, I drive wearily back to Deadwood, and arrive at Steve's mother, Maki's at 4:30, just about the time Steve started dying a year ago. I find her sitting in the sun on the stairs of her trailer, reading the newspaper, and I know she is glad to see me there.
"Oh, Tina. I was going to call you. I'm so glad you came." We move out to sit in the orchard. I find a ripe cherry on the ground and eat it. She tells me Ocie harvests most of them, those the birds don't get. "She's the fruit girl."
Our talk is gentle, and we laugh about both of our inability to pick the same missing word out of the cosmic soup; it's on the tips of our tongues! "If I remember it in the middle of the night, I'm going to call you up," I threaten.
We muse awhile about where Steve is now. I remind Maki of the Tibetan belief that he is being re-born into a new life, even as we speak.
"But then," I say, "I think it's much more mysterious than that. He could be more than one place."
"Yes," agrees Maki. "Tia said he's probably fixing a great barbecue for his pals over there."
"Yeah, do you think John Muir's there? And Diane and Rolfe? It's getting so the better party's over there," I exclaim.
Maki and I muse about whether it's easy to 'find someone' when you die. Do they just show up? We compare notes about near death experiences we have each witnessed, of her grand-mother and my mother, each calling out the name of a beloved relative.
"I don't think you have to go fill out a form at a missing person's bureau, " I joke. And then, looking at my watch, I say quietly, "It's been a year now, Maki." We clasp hands and sit silently together, just us and the bird-song of late afternoon.
"Where do you think he is, really?" Maki asks me.
"I like to think part of him is here with us and Xuxa, right now."
We while away another hour. Maki doesn't want to keep the peyote bag with Steve's ashes. "Will you keep it until we plant the tree?" she asks.
I am secretly glad. I was having separation anxiety.
When she walks me to the truck, we hug good-bye and agree we'll be friends "all our lives," laughing together, since that could easily be just another twenty minutes, for all we know!
I drive on home on the shadowed road. I'll be keeping my ears and eyes open "for the rest of my life" for anyone born July 1, 2000, I think.
Yet, in my mind's eye I can see Steve so clearly--he strokes his whited beard with a kind of sensual absent-minded pleasure. He has that twinkle in his eyes, then rolls them back like someone in the grip of orgasmic delight. I see him standing on the porch, leaning with one arm against a pole, other hand on cocked hip, telling a story to someone descending the stairs, just one more story for the road. Or he sits on our couch covered with an old, brilliant red Saltillo blanket, reading a cookbook on a hot summer afternoon in the cool, cave-like living room, mind adrift on a sea of sauces. And then I glimpse him behind the wheel of Jolly, listening to ranchera music for all those thousands of miles.