His First Birthday . . .

February 21, 2011 at 9:07 pm (By Amba)

. . . dead.

One year ago:

I’ve been encouraged to celebrate his life today and I’m all with that in principle, but right now he just seems long gone and me in the middle of nowhere.  I don’t even feel sad:  just adrift.

It’s the jet lag, stupid.  (Coming back from Japan it can last more than a week.)  And the confrontation with financial reality, which mercifully held off somehow as long as J was ill, but now it’s time to deal.  I took the bus to the accountant’s, walking through Target’s vast empty mall again and through that landscape designed only for cars, walking along road shoulders littered with fast-food trash and along sidewalks like afterthoughts that peter out in the middle of nowhere.  How different everything looks when you’re on foot and moving slowly!  I’ve swooped obliviously along this very stretch of highway that I’m now crossing like an ant on an overpass.  I feel cast out of power in multiple ways.  For no good reason I take a pratfall on the cement and spill the rest of my McDonald’s latte, which was probably why I tripped, tossing my head back to eke out the foam.

I fall asleep in the accountant’s waiting room.

On the way back to the bus, I pass the tower after which Tower Boulevard is named, a truncated glass “skyscraper” that looks absurd to a New Yorker, as if someone jammed an imitation of the Empire State Building halfway into the earth so that only the top fifteen stories stick up.  In fact, whenever we passed it I’d point it out to J as “the funny building.”  This memory comes to me from faraway, with a muffled pang.  It strikes me that losing someone you’ve taken care of for a long time is more like losing a child than an adult companion.  You miss the routines of your own tenderness.

On the bus I fall asleep again and sleep way past my stop, waking up in “downtown” Chapel Hill.  I had been craving a deli sandwich, and the bus deposits me right in front of a deli, which seems fortuitous.  Except it isn’t a real deli.  The “rye bread” is some kind of fluff, they have no coleslaw, they have to put the thing in a nasty styrofoam container, and they insist on giving you a choice of sides; I choose applesauce which I guess correctly will be sweetened, in fact with high fructose corn syrup.  I leave the applesauce on top of a trash container for one of the surprisingly many homeless men sitting on the street in front of the terminally cute stores and restaurants among the red-eyed, self-indulgent-looking students, the young joggers who keep bouncing in place during the long push-button lights, and the older people who come in three flavors—drug-dissolute, counterculture-complacent, and Christian-prim.  I realize that I hate Chapel Hill.

There is another reason why sleeping through my bus stop was a lucky break:  I needed to come downtown to the place Chris took me for my new glasses, and get them adjusted, because in another bout of jet lag a few days ago, I woke up to find the glasses under me.  They’ve been slightly askew ever since.

Glasses on straight again, I climb on a bus going back the other way, and what does the driver say to me but, “Didn’t you just get off the bus?”

When I tell him I slept through my stop, wishing I could explain that I’m not just your garden-variety befuddled old lady — I’m Kung Fu Granny, befuddled by jet lag from training in Japan! — he tells me I should have asked for a transfer, and says that if someone gives him $2 in cash he’ll refund my fare.  That doesn’t happen, but it does remind me, in the midst of stropping my contempt for Chapel Hill, that there are some sweet things about living in a small town.

And that’s why they call it Greenwich Village.

(And with that, Jacques smiles.)

UPDATE:  “Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happened.”

Commenter Mockturtle sent these words in a different context, but they’ve put a smile on my face.  If something was good enough to make you sad when it’s gone, it’s worth being grateful that you had it!  Mockturtle wrote:

This is a sign a woman in Seattle posted on a wine keg as her wine-making business was folding due to the economy. Her husband died of Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago. She created a special wine in his name, put his face on the label, and will give all proceeds from the sales, estimated at $100,000, to Alzheimer’s research.

Since there were no buyers for her business, she put that sign up for her customers who were disappointed she was closing. I have been pondering those words since I read them.


  1. mockturtle said,

    Happy posthumous birthday, Jacques!

    Your amusement over the ‘skyscraper’ reminds me of when I was in Wisconsin and saw what they called a ‘ski hill’. I actually [and rudely, I’m afraid!] laughed out loud, being from the state of Washington with its magnificent, glaciated peaks.

  2. amba12 said,

    Heh! Snicker. Yep, I took ski lessons on one of those bumps in Wisconsin. We had to drive about 100 miles from Chicago just to find a wrinkle in the land. I think they called it a glacial moraine.

  3. Randy said,

    You miss the routines of your own tenderness.


  4. Charlie (Colorado) said,

    I’m not sure if you realize it, but you’ve actually got the story of that tower about right: it was built from plans that were to be used by a (as I recall) 60 story building in Dallas, but the deal fell through, so they built a 20 story building in Durham using floors 1-3 and 44-60 of the plans.

  5. amba12 said,

    Are you serious????

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