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The lake held the memory of the afternoon’s hard wind, waves chopping the water with a few caps still curling into white, as we crossed to Five Mile Island to watch the sun set.  Earlier when we paddled out of the lee of Bear Island to try kayaking straight into the north wind, the entire surface of the lake was wild, two and three foot waves slapping our boats up and down, spray blowing back at us.  We could hardly move against the wind, but the kayaks handled well and we turned and paddled back along the shore of the Island, into protected coves, skirting rocks and docks, letting the late summer sun warm us.  

Now this morning there is no wind, but the water is still moving.  I’ve missed being next to water, experiencing the changing face of the lake, yesterday’s dark, ripping waves, the softening flow as the wind died in the evening, this morning’s flicker of the cloudy morning light on the rippled surface.  After dinner last night, we watched the moon rise, first like a half-circle orange cap on the opposite shore making me wonder what unknown neon casino had opened there.  The moon rose into a bank of clouds and disappeared, then come out again like a big yellow egg, making a wider and wider path across the water as it got higher.  The path of moonlight came straight across the water to us, sitting on the camp’s deck 20 feet from the shore.

“It looks like a slow, sensuous flash of lightning,” David said, and it did, snaking and shifting in the moving water, zig-zagging into a smaller and smaller line of light until it was just a random flash here and there at the water’s edge.

This has been a brief and welcome retreat.  It was an initial treat when David and I first came out to this island camp for three days in July of 2008.  We’d only known each other four months, and those three days were magical.  We were away from all the complications surrounding our emerging relationship, like orange traffic cones we had to navigate — the need for discretion among David’s family and friends, my family and friends’ thoughtful wariness, the difficulty of finding time to be together in the face of the usual work and family demands on time.  Here on Bear Island we were alone, on the water, letting what was happening between us unfold and sweep along with the constant shift of the lake.  We talked and wrote and read poetry.  David made a pastel painting that is still tacked to one of the cabin’s walls.

We haven’t been back in the over two years since, and we were barely able to squeeze this visit in among our fall commitments, but we did it.  Yesterday morning we packed the car, stopping to admire the morning glories climbing their string through the blossoms of hydrangea as we carried gear and kayaks from the barn.  Driving north, we talked about the rise and fall of intellectual and artistic communities, the human need to connect and stretch individual thinking and creation by reaching beyond ourselves.  And we talked, as we always do, about the need to retreat, to have unconnected time to create.  Kayaking out to the camp was a bit tricky, with loaded boats and a hard wind, but once we rounded the north end of the island we had the wind at our backs and reached the sandy beach in front of the cabin easily.

Now we’re having our usual coffee on the deck, but we have a field of lake in front of us, instead of pasture or yard.  The sun is drawing shifting paths of sparkle as it moves across the cloudy sky and lights on the undulating surface of the water.

The wind is picking up again, this time from the south.  It’s time to pack up and kayak back to the car, drive home and, for me, get ready to leave.  I’ll be in Chicago tonight, but I’ll have this window of waterfront time to take with me.  Retreat.


Factors of 15

Okay, I really thought, over four years after Eric’s death, and over three years after I finished all the financial death chores, that the one dollar bill was the last of it.  But yesterday, the very day after the dollar arrived, there was another envelope addressed to Eric.  In it was a check for $15.36, a settlement from a Securities and Exchange Commission administrative proceeding from some mutual fund Eric must have owned at some point in the past.  If things really do come in threes, and each subsequent, unsettled piece of Eric’s estate increases by a factor of 15, like this latest check, then I should be receiving $225 any day now.  I’ll let you know.

A Dollar Bill

The envelope arrived yesterday.  No check for 68 cents, rather a lovely, sympathetic and continuing apologetic letter, and the outstanding balance statement in Eric’s name, with a dollar bill taped to the paper.

The Last 68 Cents?

There was a message on the answering machine last night.  “This is Linda from Dr. Bezon’s office, calling about a credit balance on your account.  If you could call and verify your address, I can send you the balance.”  She left the phone number to call three times.  I didn’t recognize the doctor’s name.

Though wary this might be some sort of scam, I called the number this morning.  Linda answered, and when I told her I’d gotten a message from her, she asked my name.  Still wary, I gave her the phone number she’d called and asked who she was looking for.  “I don’t recognize the doctor’s name,” I told her. 

“Let me see,” she said.  “I can’t find that number, what’s your name?”

She seemed legitimate, so I gave her my last name.  “Oh, here’s the number,” she said.  “Do you have an Erica or Eric there?”

“My late husband’s name was Eric, but he died four years ago.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Linda said.  “But this is from 2006.  Dr. Bezon is a chiropractor your husband saw.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Eric went to a chiropractor a couple of times for the back pain he was having.  We didn’t know yet the pain was from metastatic cancer in his bones.  The chiropractor didn’t help.”

“I’m so sorry,” Linda said again.  “We just got a new accounting system, and we’re finding balances we didn’t know we have.  Eric’s account has a balance of 68 cents, from a visit on March 10, 2006.”  Two months before Eric died. 

“Well, you can have the 68 cents,” I said.  “That’s fine with me.”

“Oh no,” Linda answered.  “If you could just verify the address, I’ll send you a check for the balance.”  She told me again how sorry she was, apologized for being so tardy in finding the balance, and said she would be putting a check in the mail.

At one point in the year after Eric died, I got two checks two days apart.  I’d transferred an account in Eric’s name, but the order to transfer didn’t catch the last of the interest. A check, in Eric’s name, arrived for $7.32.  Then a check for $.01 came.  The account was finally closed. 

At least this check will be in my name.

Yom Kippur

Two years ago on Erev Yom Kippur, I went upstairs to change for services, and lay on the bed for a few minutes, to collect myself, and to let some tears loose.  It was my third High Holy Day season without Eric, so I was getting used to not finding Eric at the Temple when I went to services, and David was in my life, so I wasn’t feeling the wrenching loneliness I’d felt in the first year after Eric’s death.  But it had been another hard summer, losing David for a time during his return home to be with Laura and their children on her journey to death, and reliving a quick cancer death, even though it was happening to a family I only knew through David.

Sam came into the room and lay down next to me on the bed.  “What’s up?” he asked.

“I’m just getting ready to go to services,” I said, wiping at the tears. 

“You know what I think about every year at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?” Sam asked.

“Daddy?” I said, half laughing.

“I realize that Daddy had the life he wanted,” Sam said.  “I used to think he just spent his life working for The Man.  That he was cooped up in these jobs that weren’t what he really wanted.  But now I understand that he loved his work, he had a great family life, he spent a lot of time doing things he loved liked hiking and kayaking.  He had a good life.”

“Yes, he did,” I answered.  “He said over and over in the weeks he was dying that he didn’t regret anything.  There was nothing he wished he hadn’t done, and nothing he wished he could go back and do.  That’s a gift.  To die without regret.” 

“And you’re really lucky,” Sam said.

“Well I think so too,” I said.  “But I’m interested in why you think I’m lucky.”

“You had something with Daddy that a lot of women don’t get even once,” Sam said.  “You had real love.  And now you have it again, with another wonderful man.”

I smiled.  I got up and we went to the Kol Nidre service.  Last year neither Sam or Adrienne were home at Yom Kippur.  This year, Adrienne was home, beautiful and pregnant with a grandchild Eric will never know.  We have a new Rabbi, David came to Kol Nidre services with us, we broke our fast with a private, home-made memorial service with Mark and Andi, on their new patio under their ancient maple tree, then went and celebrated the 60th birthday of Eric’s best friend John.  It was a fun party, a joyful conclusion of the Days of Awe. 

But my contemplation of atonement and forgiveness and the repeating cycles of life and death is not over.  The Rabbi’s stories and sermons are still reverberating in my head and somewhere in my heart too.  I’ve been weepy off and on since walking into Rosh Hashanah services without Eric, yet again, 11 days ago. 

I’m feeling lucky and sad, maneuvering my way past regret.


“We glove you,” a plaque above the high doorway on an abandoned building declares.  Downtown, almost every building is abandoned, with more empty storefronts than any place I’ve ever seen.  Gloversville was built on leather works, tanning, cutting, stitching, with gloves a central product, and that work has all gone overseas.  “‘Hell,’ people said,” says Richard, who has lived here all his life.  “‘We can send this work to South America where people will work for 17 cents an hour and we can dump all the toxic shit in the rivers.'”

Grandma Knowles lives in a high-rise behind downtown, full of elders like herself.  Her second story windows look out on an old brick building with “Zimmer’s Gloves” written in big faded letters across the side.   I walk around her apartment looking at all the family photos and she talks about her friends and her family and her sweet cat and how grateful she is for all she has, even though it’s been a hard life and she’s lost a child.  Laura, David’s late wife, was her daughter, and we’ve come to visit, to be with Grandma around the anniversary of Laura’s death.   We fill up the apartment, David and his children, Melia and Mackenzie, and Daisy, Mackenzie’s girlfriend, and me, meeting Grandma for the first time. 

David rented a mini-van so we could all ride together across New Hampshire, then Vermont, and into New York.  Rolling up and over mountains and hills, woods and pastures and short views and long vistas stretching out along the route, we are all assaulted by memories.   For David, Melia and Mackenzie, this was a familiar family trip.  For Daisy, we pass signs for the route to Peterborough, where her grandmother lived, Grandmother who died in June.  For me, the first third of the trip, to Brattleboro, is most of the route to Lisa’s house.  Lisa had been my best friend since I was 11 and we lost each other in the year after Eric died amid a confusing swirl of grief and inappropriate boundaries and an over reliance on the comfort of intoxication. 

We all carried our own pieces of emptiness, into this empty town, spilling out of the full mini-van at snack breaks, pee breaks, stretch our legs and stand up so it’s easier to hug breaks.  Grandma Knowles is full of love and kind words and sweet appreciation for the richness of her life.  We take her out to dinner, and the next morning to breakfast, Laura’s brother Richard joining us for both meals.  We pass the empty stores, most of them not even posted for rent.  Why bother. 

We drive up into the mountains in the rain to visit Laura’s grave.  I leave a rock on her gravestone and explain to Grandma it’s a Jewish custom.  “I like that,” she says.  And then when I hug her she pulls my face down next to hers and says into my ear, “Take care of David, because he needs taking care of you know.”

“I know,” I say.  “We all need taking care of.”

Up First

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The sun is coming up the road, the furniture on the deck wet with dew.  I’m wearing Eric’s jacket, which I coveted when he was alive, cherished in my grief, and still use as my extra layer on chilly mornings.  I’m up first, David still asleep after staying up late writing to the community of friends and family who were connected to the process of his wife Laura’s death through online updates.  Yesterday was two years.  We climbed Mt. Moosilauke with friends and David scattered ashes at the top and ashes in the wind cruising the tops of the dwarf spruce trees.

I’m alone with the sun slanting through the trees on the short horizon of the yard, casting shadows across the grass, illuminating the copper heron statue in the garden.  Eric comes to me in herons and stands between my garden boxes all year.  On Saturday I passed a heron as I ran over an abandoned turnpike causeway that cuts across a marsh.  The heron looked over its shoulder, seemed to shrug, then lifted off from the water, a fish in its beak.  Later in the day, kayaking in Portsmouth Harbor, stroking our way back to the car in sunset light, David and I passed a heron at the tip of a small island.  It watched us as we moved closer, then walked up the rocky beach into scrub pine and bushes.

One morning on vacation I got up first and let David sleep, and later he asked me to wake him up on mornings when I get up before him.  Our mornings drinking cappuccino on the deck are sweet, and ours alone.  Eric and I didn’t do this, because we didn’t have this eastern facing deck when he was alive.  Sam and friends built it a year after Eric died.  At that point, I was still bursting into tears most mornings when I first walked into the kitchen, seeing the sun rising above the trees, realizing it was another beautiful day that Eric was missing.  “It can be my crying deck,” I said to Sam.

David doesn’t want to miss too many of our mornings together on the deck, and neither do I, because we both know we don’t have that much time.  We both watched spouses die very quickly of untreatable cancer, we both know some trapdoor of life could open at any moment and one of us, or someone one of us, or both of us, loves immensely could go crashing through.  We hike, we kayak, we swim, we walk and talk and wring everything we can out of every day because we’ve both lived right next to numbered days and know the number can be small.

But this morning David needs the sleep and I need the solitude.  Last night over dinner we talked about the black hole of grief, how it never goes away but it shifts.  At first the black hole is enormous on your page of life, it’s all you can see, but as time goes by the inexorable scribblings of life begin to fill in the margins of the page, and then the page gets bigger as more and more scribblings fill in.  The hole never goes away, and in fact never gets smaller, but so much life fills in around the circumference your perspective of it shifts.  The black hole where Eric used to be now has four years and four months of sunrises and sunsets, hikes and kayaks and triathlons and runs, new love and lost friends, weddings and funerals and birthdays and parties spilling into every margin of my life.  And mornings on the deck. 

I hear the shade going up in the window above me.  David is awake, the sun has cleared the trees, the day is moving on.


“Honeycrisp?  I’ve heard they’re like crack,” Adrienne said, after asking if there would be apples to pick when she comes home for Yom Kippur in a couple of weeks.  I’d told her there are already good apples ready, there will be plenty in two weeks, and David and I have been eating lots of Honeycrisp apples, new to both of us and delicious.  Addictively delicious, apparently.

“This is crack corn,” I said to David, eating last night’s ears of fresh corn, which have been as consistently sweet and popping fresh as we can ever remember.  We’ve had a lot of company this summer, family and friends, and we’ve served basically the same menu every time — caprese salad with tomatoes and basil from the garden, green beans from the garden, fresh corn, and some kind of protein on the grill.  It’s been our standard menu for ourselves too, for weeks now.  The farm truck parked at the traffic circle we go through on the way home makes keeping well stocked in native corn, peaches and nectarines easy.  We’re happy, because we’re eating real food, as Michael Pollan prescribes, we’re eating local, as slow fooders would prescribe, and much of what we’re eating I grew myself. 

Slow food, delicious food, simple food, crack.