By the time I get to my Sunday morning bowl of oatmeal at Café Borrone, the stuff practically makes me choke. Strange days. Emotions overtaking me, the body reacting oddly. Nothing wrong with the oatmeal. Something very wrong with eating oatmeal this Sunday morning. Anxiety, or something like it, rising out of my double cappuccino. Frank Rich, I learn reading a New York Times now three weeks out of date, has hung up his editorial hat. Strange the things one misses when one is missing everything. Mostly missing the point. Pent-up emotions are strangling me at my wooden café table, people drifting in for their Sunday morning. I down the cappuccino, inhale the glass of water and hit the fucking road.
At least the yahrzeit candle is out. Last night it was still burning, albeit feebly, at 10 PM. How annoying, it seemed, and how fiendish. For I would like the whole unpleasant chapter to magically go away. Which is why the tradition of the candle, I suppose. Not to forget, and not to avoid. Two years would seem long enough. Apparently not. The physical reactions remain, fear and panic and revulsion. But less. Or not all the time.
I am generally so oblivious that just the other day I noticed the watercolor on my bedroom wall as though for the first time. Old sailing ships, sails furled, the silhouette of their rigging standing out stark and black against what might be a sunset but is too fierce. No, the clouds are whipped into an orange fever by something else. With the ghostly ships at the edge of things, riding a horizon, there is a sense of the glowing, impersonal light of death. The ships aren’t going anywhere. And at one moment the scene has a quality of desperation about it. Then desperate sadness. Then sadness. Then something more objective, larger and uncontrollable. Inevitable. The changing scene.
This hung on the wall opposite Marlou as she was dying. Did she look at it? Could she even see it with her pain and her brain tumors and her fear? Had she chosen it unconsciously in anticipation of such a moment in extremis? And now I have finally seen it myself. The changing scene.
Naturally, I was unclear about the rituals. Okay to say Kaddish after the first year? The keddem Rabbi filled me in. Jane helped me light the yahrzeit candle. I downloaded an English version from the web, read the Kaddish…a maddeningly general, seemingly all-purpose invocation if there ever was one. Then went to bed. Naturally, I awoke in the wee hours. But did all the right things. Sat up. The general change of body posture making this quadriplegic feel less helpless. Jane fetched some chocolate from the kitchen. And the next thing I knew, I was sliding through suburban Redwood City on my hand splint. The uphills being rather difficult. And then, incredibly, we were not dreaming but awake and on the road. The southbound US 101 road, then over the hills, past Santa Cruz, and down to Moss Landing where Marlou’s ashes were scattered last year. In fact, aboard the very same boat.
It promised to be a source of renewal, this going upon the fertile and protected waters of Monterey Bay. The fertility stems from a strange accident of nature, that a deep undersea canyon pulls in very close to the coast. Pacific Ocean life swells up from the depths right by the sea’s edge. Whatever. The crew got me on board with remarkably little effort. And then Jane and I were seated side-by-side on a fiberglass bench, chugging through the harbor, heading out to sea.
Everything was very much as it was last year. Except the weather. The oceans are known for this. Suburban landlubbers like me are not, by contrast, known for their nautical sense. Which explains my surprise at finding the entire experience so radically different. The skies looked on the verge of rain. The wind blew. The boat bounced, rocked, tilted and began the cycle again. At sea, in a craft from which one is able to observe the watery surface well, the stormy ocean looks much like a landscape of small valleys and ridges, moving of course. That, the whale-watching oceanographer explained to those of us aboard, made such an experience rather difficult. For sea creatures were the object. Gray whales, blue whales, dolphins, orcas, we were here to see them. But they had no interest in us. The spouts of the largest whales would have been lost in the frothy tumult. The fins of dolphins or killer whales equally hard to see. Still, these Moss Landing folks were determined to give their passengers a good run for the money. And run we did, from the middle of Monterey Bay to the northern end beyond Santa Cruz. Then southbound. Four hours altogether. When it was over, Jane, as stalwart a creature as I know, remarked that the cold had driven the feeling out of her feet. We kept our jackets on for lunch at a terrace restaurant. Then drove home.
The hours of harsh elements, even the drive there all added up to a ritual of remembrance. I said Kaddish again bouncing over the waves. No more meaningful than before. Except that I had tried. And Jane was there. More than there, a partner in everything. Now it is all over, except that it isn’t, of course. The revulsion and the wish to escape the horror of it still warring inside me. A good battle to fight and lose. Sadness waiting for the armistice.