Sunday, January 30, 2011


In my Manhattan apartment, overlooking pillars of rain moving across Central Park, the phone rings.
“Hi Sweetie.  I’m afraid I have some terrible news.” 
It’s Sam calling from Paris.

“I’m sorry to tell you Michel died this––”  
Sam continues speaking but I don’t hear what he’s saying. At such times, something takes over the brain: a protective white fog, an override, a mental detour. I saystupidly:
    “I have the mailbox you asked me to get for you.”
    “Oh, fuck the mailbox.”
    “What happened?  How did he die?”
    “I don’t know. It was something to do with his heart. You know he never took care of himself. So young too. . . Look, I just wanted to let you know...”
    “Yes. Thank you, Sam.”
    Sam doesn’t like talking on the phone.
    I hang up and feel numb for the rest of the evening. Even though I’d expected this news and had steeled myself against it, that does nothing to prepare me for the stark finality of Michel’s death. I want to call him; I stupidly feel that if I could just talk to him on the phone, he wouldn’t be dead any more.
    It’s the next day that the grief hits.
    My knees buckle and I fall to the floor, sobbing. Why do our knees give out when we’re overcome with shock and sadness, I wonder? Joy makes us jump up and throw our arms in the air, but grief make us sink to the ground and sucks the life out of us. All the ambitions, struggles and desires just drain away. Grief leaves us softened and diminished.
    Picturing Michel cold and dead in Paris makes me rail against the knowledge that I will never talk to him again, never again see his sad brown eyes, his tiny handwriting, hear his surprised laugh.
    I call in sick and take a taxi downtown to the end of the island. I want to get away. From what, I don’t know. From death, perhaps? I can’t actually think, I just know I must go to the statue of Liberty, which is a gift from, also closer to, France.
    I take the Staten Island ferry, mistakenly believing that the statue of Liberty is there. When I find it isn’t, I wait for the return ferry in the Staten Island Museum, numbly marveling that periodical cicadas can live underground for seventeen years, then emerge in broods, climb trees and transform into winged singers. 
    On the ferry back, I see dozens of silver quarters lying on the cabin floor and wonder what happened there. Forever frozen images: bugs, coins and cold sea spray.
    Eventually, I get to the statue of Liberty, on Liberty island it turns out, where there are, thankfully, few tourists. The sky is icy blue and the sun shining stupidly as I say goodbye to Michel.
    Death may diminish us, but it also adds grief to our life. We do gradually come to grips with it, wrestle it into a corner, lock it up so it doesn’t interfere with our life too much. But every time we open that door, it’s still there, as fresh and sharp and blood-thirsty as the first time it bit us. Unlike a lost friend, grief never really goes away, it stays with us for the rest of our life.


Claire King said...

I sometimes think that our knees buckle because the best place to be in grief is flat out against the earth.
And I sometimes think that young people feel so indestructible because they have not been wrenched into their mortality by grief.
I'm sorry.

Nora Lumiere said...

Yes, *prostrate with grief*, on the same level as the grave.

Nora Lumiere said...

The Good Wifehold commented on Jan 29:

Hi Nora
I read your Michel extract in my google reader ... . I just wanted to say sorry to hear about your news but on a good note your post was beautifully sad with some lovely detailed observations.
Thank you

Nora Lumiere said...

Thank you.
Michel died some time ago, but I still miss him.