Two years ago, on the eve of Dad's sixty-sixth birthday, I printed out the pages of my novel. I hole punched them, ten pages at a time, and put them in a white binder from Staples. And then I wrote him a letter. And that little letter was a million times harder to write than my book. Last night, when I got home from our weekend away, I found that letter and I read it. Through tears, I smiled.
...Youve taught all of us to pursue work about which we are passionate. This is a tall order. But Im proud to say that Im getting there. When I walked away from the law firm years ago, you supported me. When I said I wanted to write, you supported me. Your unwavering support, your quiet encouragement, has meant everything to me, propelling me along.
So, in addition to the sweater I hope you like, and this letter, Im giving you a draft of my novel. Its no Spinoza. Its no War and Peace. But its mine. And Id love for you to read it. Whenever you have the time.
For me, this book is just the beginning. It might be published and it might not be. It might be loved and it might not be. But its still a beginning and beginnings, like endings, are important.
Heres to containing those damn yapping puppies and to celebrating many more birthdays
Dad was a magical metaphor monger. Oddly, almost affectionately, he referred to the cancer cells that ravaged his core as "yapping puppies" and informed us that this was just a matter of containing these nefarious nuisances, of finding the right chemotherapeutic or cosmic kennel to do the job. When I wrote that letter though, my mind focused and my hands shook. I think I knew that it would be his last birthday with us.
We all spent the weekend at our place in the country. And after Dad went to bed the night before his birthday and two nights before Easter Sunday, I left the letter on top of the binder on top of his desk in his study. The study full of shelves lined with duck decoys. I left it there so he would find it in the morning when he arrived at his desk to work. And he did.
We never talked much about the letter. But that morning, his final birthday morning, Dad kissed me on the forehead and said, "Thanks for the letter, Maids."
He always called me Maids. Which was short for Maidy-Bunks. Which was short for Maidy-Bunks Picnic. And I'm not sure why he called me this. I never asked. I guess I always thought I would have time to ask these questions. Now that I think about it, I presume this was a riff on Ladybugs Picnic. And this makes perfect sense because Dad was fond of ladybugs and whenever we'd find one crawling on us and panic - usually at the country - Dad would peel those little red specks from our little sleeves and say something like, "Oh, don't be silly. These are sweet little ladies."
When I finished reading my letter last night, I stood in the kitchen. I think Husband could tell I was a bit shaken and stunned. He threw his strong arm around me and asked how I wanted to spend the rest of our Sunday.
Without thinking, I had an answer.
"Let's have a picnic."
And so. We rallied the tiny troops and headed to Turtle Pond near Belvedere Castle in Central Park. One of Dad's favorite spots. We plopped down in the grass. And, immediately, I was flooded with awareness and acceptance.
There were shocks of color. The ladybug red of our stroller and the balloons those young and hip birthday revelers handed to the girls before heading home. The tattered blanket of trampled green grass.
For the first little bit of our time there, I sat there, knees to my chest, in a fit of Dad-like abstraction. Husband snapped away, culling the evidence above. But then I took his camera in my own two hands and did what I could to capture the picnic poetry.
I studied the lonely red balloon, apart from the pack and trapped in tangled branches. Swaying solo, bright, aloft, alive, alone. I lifted my giggling girls so they could kiss it.
I studied the complex canopy of tree branches, the knobs and knots, the lines thick and thin, winding and wispy. I took comfort in the reality that not one branch was perfectly straight.
I spotted a man by the water in a yoga pose, presumably trying to secure a moment of peace - and failing when Toddler skipped on by when she spotted a friendly goose.
I savored the wild blues around me. Of the springtime sky. Of my girls' eyes. Of Husband's. Of Toddler's fleece. Of my new silly plastic shoes that Dad would hate.
I chuckled when Toddler shoved my foot off "her rock."
And I panicked a bit when Toddler decided to jump off another rock...
...and when Baby tested her climbing skills on yet another.
I hung back and snapped a shot of a certain daddy with his daughters as they stood in deep and silent reverence of a glorious bird.
I marveled at the sweet sisters who go everywhere together, plodding through city pavement and grass, peering through wire fences and through each other, looking ahead.
I watched as ducks took off, a blur of transition and vitality.
And as a plane dotted the evening sky, flitting between Here and There. I thought of that one flight I took with Dad when I was probably all of ten. When, before nodding off on his shoulder, I asked Dad something: "What is the self?"
I watched the aimless wandering of celebratory creatures and realized that Self can be made up of Others. And that this is a heart-breaking and wonderful thing.
And when Baby scooped up some goose poop and threatened to eat it, we headed home.
But first, per Toddler's emphatic request, we made a detour to the dock, so we could get a better look at the ducks.
And as we waited for the green light to cross, I tried to snap a picture of the red light. But each time I did, it appeared yellow in the picture. Maybe life is lived between the reds and the greens. Maybe life is about proceeding with caution?
Dad finished reading my story two weeks before he died. That this man - who did spend his leisure time reading and rereading Spinoza and Tolstoy - took moments from his final days to read my words meant - and means - everything to me.
Two years later. I am here, a patchwork of struggles and smiles, missing Dad. I wish he were here to blow out his candles on his favorite mocha cake and tell his silly stories. But most of all, I wish he were here so he could know the two little girls who flank me in the picture above.
My sweet little ladies.
Today. Today is a new day. And it is okay. Better than okay. Because I have written these words. Because I am shrouded in happy memories. Because, even at this early hour, I am aswirl in little girls, their smiles and sobs and silly faces and sippy-cup pleas.
Today is his day. But it is also mine. Ours.
Today is a Birthday. But it is also an Every Day. And I will celebrate this day, Dad's day, by doing something both simple and profound. Something he would approve of.
- How did you spend the first day of spring?
- Thoughts on picnics, on vintage letters, on nicknames, on grief?
- Thoughts on using a blog as a means of processing loss?
- How do you spend your difficult days?
- Has losing someone you loved made you notice and appreciate the creatures and colors in your life even more?
- Have your parents been around to see your achievements and know your children?
*Thank you all for your kind comments on Friday and on all days. Writing here, in this space, has been incredibly meaningful and useful for me. Here, I feel and fumble my way through existential fog. That I am writing these words, and that you are reading them, means a great deal.*