You can tell when things are askew, for a Peet’s cappuccino seems downright calming. Not only that, but you roll aboard Caltrain for a routine trip to San Francisco, get as far as Redwood City five minutes north, and stop. With various announcements promising to, bear with us, we need to reset something. We are still working on that. Still trying. Until, after almost an hour has elapsed. Please get off this train and board the next. Naturally, everyone complies with this request, but with a certain collective proviso. For everyone has been drinking. This is the first day of baseball season, and people have been drinking a lot. By the time they board the next train, now cramming two passenger loads into a single space, they are in a party mood. They are all extroverts. While I am jammed into a corner and trying to read a book of columns by the former editor of Punch, a woman actually leans over me to ask if I have gotten to the good part.
Extroverts are like this. They believe that if you’re not talking, you are somehow deprived, and it is their generous spirit that offers you this chance at conversation. Incomprehensible, but there you are. I told the woman that the good part was just coming up. Hard to say if this silenced her or she tired of trying to lean over a large steel wheelchair, but that was that. Minutes later, a young woman felt obliged to scream from one end of the car to the other that she was born a Giants fan, was always going to be a fucking Giants fan, and so on. By now, virtually all of the available air had been sucked out of the train, upwards of 700 people were sitting, standing and jostling, and I had been aboard for more than two hours. As I say, things are askew.
You also know things are askew when the IRS announces that you owe them $16,000. Thus, the day’s mail. I stared at this missive, and seeing no particular reason to panic, actually went to bed. And even slept. Why not? This is traditionally what one does at night. Furthermore, I had been anxious in one form or another all day. I do qualify the observation, noting C. S. Lewis’ observation that ‘grief is so much like anxiety.’ And who knows what it is like. I don’t like it, that is the point. And at the end of the day, dining with old friends, Laurel reminded me that one must get past the horror of death and experience its sadness before one can really grieve.
Which is all much more complicated in its execution, emotions piling atop each other as they do. A certain manic, slightly chirpy hysteria, underlying these days. Which is perhaps the horror, perhaps the beauty, of Marlou’s day of dying. That it was either the earliest, or one of the earliest, days of spring. Warmth and promise and kids outside making noise. Ironic and redeeming. The truth being that we are all headed for the compost tumbler. And it could be worse. At least after some decomposition, I do have the possibility of being consumed by a lettuce root. Forming part of a brussels sprout. There are worse fates.
1 April, the day of fools. And I am just foolish enough to be up literally at the crack of dawn. A rare event, but I have been early to bed, and now I rise. The rosy-fingered dawn is reaching Menlo Park. The pink and salmon blazes in the wisps of clouds hanging over downtown. The dark blue of the fading night’s sky confuses everything. It is almost morning, but not quite, and I am almost at Peet’s. Oddly cold. For that is the other thing, that it is a California spring in moments, winter in others. Overhead it is all turbulence and transition. Below it is much the same. For within minutes of awakening, I shift from post-sleep to a state of shivery fear. Or something like fear. Why not? The yahrzeit approacheth. Tomorrow.
I am even equipped. Turns out there’s nothing mysterious about yahrzeit candles. Aisle 5 at Safeway. And why such observances? Not to make us remember, but to help us with something we cannot forget. Forget that we are next? The essential injustice and cruelty of death? She didn’t deserve this, I say to myself. And in the end, as the grief-fear subsides, what remains is the sharpness and the poignancy. Without which the luminous pink of dawn clouds would never give its miraculous pull at the heart. So brief, almost disappearing as it arrives.