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When Worlds Collide

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On Saturday night we went to a wedding reception in Tribeca, a once unlikely area of New York City to be considered residentially-chic. These days, it's brimming with bistros and upscale restaurants. Venerable buildings hold loft-style apartments where new windows and modern lobbies are the only hint at opulence. It was a somewhat unusual wedding in that the bride and groom are both middle-aged, have been living together for quite a while and the "buzz" among the guests consisted of expressions that they "finally tied the knot" or "I don't understand why they had to get married." I understood neither sentiment: Marriage, at its essence for me, is simply a public announcement of devotion and love, so why either a sense of relief or puzzlement? Be happy for them. Period. A particularly profound statement, perhaps, in middle age.

The reception coincided with my father-in-law's 84th birthday -- he was also a guest at the wedding. It occurred to me that my father-in-law was two years younger than my husband is now when I first met him. In addition, it is now the beginning of April - the month that marks one year since my mother's death. I thought about the fact that one year ago, on the eve of the "Tribeca" wedding, my mother had two weeks to live and no one knew. I wondered if I had known, what I might have done differently knowing she only had two weeks left. Probably nothing, since there was nothing to do. The only thing would have been to sit vigil -- and strangely, I had been doing that anyway for five years in one form or another. Although as I sat vigil, there was often a part of me, mostly revealed in my dreams, that hoped she would rise from her wheelchair and suddenly be fine, poo-pooing the last years of her life and moving on. That, I suppose, is the beauty of dreaming.

It is odd how we can mark a single year in different ways. When we are married one year, we celebrate. Pull out the slice of freezer-burned cake we saved for the occasion, look through the wedding album, watch the video, recall our honeymoon (and consider taking another), deflect the questions from those who ask when we will start a family. We celebrate the day our baby turns "one" -- a cake with a single candle, a pointed hat with sparkles, balloons...we watch the baby stumble like a drunkard as he takes his first step, encourage him to clap his hands, demonstrate that he knows where his parts are -- give him the cues -- "Where is your nose? Where are your ears?" As he points, we beam: He has grown older, he is becoming brilliant, a genius no less. His hair is growing, his chubby little feet fit into white leather shoes with laces. A year ago -- perhaps we got our first job, graduated high school or college, had a first date which led to falling in love, bought our first home...and if memory serves me, there was never a feeling as those "first years" flew by, it wasn't supposed to do anything but. As I look back on so many events, I don't recall a sense that time was lost -- or rather that time could go on despite the "event" of a year before. Not until now. This marker of one year to the month that my mother died is painful. I went through every day, every month, every moment not thinking that time was going by -- and now, in retrospect, it is as though I see the pages blowing past one by one in the wind.

Last year, in this month of April, I spent two days writing out cards to thank people for their condolences. Printed cards stuffed into envelopes with my printed return address. On some, I wrote a special note, although mostly the cards had to speak for themselves. People needed an acknowledgment and expected little more than that...I wanted to show my family's gratitude, but pretty much ran out of steam when it came to personal thank-you's.

This past weekend, I sat in the same place as I did roughly a year ago when my mother died -- at the dining room table -- surrounded by boxes of cards, lists of addresses, and sheets of stamps -- "Save the Date" cards for my daughter's wedding. Oh, there are a million adjectives that I could ascribe to the emotions I felt at first, none of which capture the feeling -- perhaps because the feeling was not singular. Yes, a part of the feeling was laced with "poignancy and irony," and yet it was also a testament to life going on, and a wonder at the progression. It was a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, my own, and then that pesky bittersweet...I don't like bittersweet. Give me one or the other but don't bother me with both.

And so, the addressing of cards became sweet. I liked addressing the "save the date" cards -- tried to keep my handwriting even, tried to center the names on the envelope. I thought about how some who have known my daughter since the day she was born will get the card, and I pictured their faces as they recall the baby girl and perhaps ask something aloud like "Where has the time gone?" At first, yes, it was an exercise in self-control as I pushed the tendency to wax "ironic" from my brain. Instead of a photograph of myself from last April with condolence cards, I pictured years before when my mother sat at her dining table addressing Christmas cards, complaining every so often about how she "hates the fucking holidays," shaking out her cramped wrist, and asking aloud how this became her "job." It made me smile.

After my mother died, I took the small wedding album she saved from Mark's an
d my wedding. Just yesterday, I pulled it from the shelf. Within the cardboard pages were bills from the hotel and florist, a hand-written guest list and then pages of "table lists" -- names circled, crossed out, punctuated with question marks - clearly, my mother was arranging and re-arranging. The coral silk chiffon gown she wore to my wedding hangs in my closet -- the fabric discolored and stiffened by time. Feeling more like stale bread than silk. She had her gown made for my wedding. I just ordered mine from bluefly.com -- returnable in 60 days if it isn't what I think it might be.

This is yet another April like no other.

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