It’s almost our son’s 3rd birthday, which will mark half his life without you.

I don’t much care about other birthdays anymore. My own, 35, felt so strange. I don’t say “happy birthday” to people often because it feels too fake when in my head it’s like saying “hey, that’s fun that you get to be another year older and my dead husband doesn’t”.

But we’re going to try to celebrate and the kid will get cake and visits from some family and some of our fraternity brothers. You’d be glad to see who keeps trying and showing up.

This time I won’t order a cake that’s twice as big as we need or make the mistake of taking kiddo to the grocery store with me to pick up the cake hours before he can eat it.

it’s the weird things

At least if there’s some contest for obscure grief triggers I’m winning.

The things that have upset me the most in the last few days: a NIST update email about an elliptic curve cryptography publication, and people discussing estimates of when self-driving cars will be mainstream.

Not Halloween, or parties without you, or starting to plan for hosting Christmas again without you.

But just all the goddamn things that I wish I could hear your opinion on one more time, or that I wish you could explain to me one more time.

Your 16-month deathiversary was ok. No worse than any other day. Playing on the swingset you never got to see was ok. Dealing with toddler-wrangling while I have a migraine is hard, but ok.

Missing the car rides with you picking me up from work, you coming from grad school evening classes at the buildings near Rockville, MD – how we used to go to the rather crappy yet crowded town center and get burritos for late dinner – how you used to tell me about what you were learning in crypto or AI class – missing that has me floored.

I want your patient doodling after we’d get home, continuing the conversation over a beer.

I want sangria after a hard day at the Mexican place across the street from our apartment in those days. Nibbling some of the fruit at the bottom of the cups, lingering too long at the table, giggling.

I want to go back, sometimes.

Like Jack to Ianto in the shitty and wonderful Torchwood fanfic you’d tease me for loving so much. One more time to see the earlier years. To remember.

I’m not as almost-ageless as Jack. I’d have to observe but not interact, till I’m fully grey, lest you know my visit means you die way too soon compared to only the too-soon that we expected. So that leaves things like Quarryhouse pub where it’s dark and loud, then. New Year’s in Baltimore. Street festivals.

I guess this is what I do now when I’m crying into your grey and purple striped shirt. I pick the time-travel targets for the Time Agent wrist strap I don’t have.

I made a friend who eats persimmons and the fruit from the bottom of sangria and has comfortingly bad programmer handwriting and she’s everything and nothing like you. I don’t mean to compare

but I look for hints of all the things I love about you in every face on the street in everyone I interact with

in your pillowcase long since folded and placed in the drawer after it no longer smelled like you

searching and not yet accepting that it’s me who has to embody you who knows you well enough for you to be the ghost voice in my head

come home, I tell myself

but where?

my best friend is dead, long live my best friend

Before Zack, I had best friends.

Then it was just him. Not in an isolating way, not because of a lack of other dear friends, but in a “this one person knows and gets me better than anyone in the universe and also happens to be my life partner” way.

He never used to use the term, even found it a little repugnant. I think that was because it implies a hierarchy or exclusivity and doesn’t give you the nuance to describe that different friends can be important to you in different ways. When we talked about it when we were first dating, he would say “you are one of my best friends; x, y, z are some of my best friends.” I agree, philosophically, yet I find it such a convenient shortcut that I use it anyway.

So for a long time I’ve reserved the term for saying things like “oh, he was my best friend before we dated.”

And then the other day I caught myself saying it while describing something I did or talked about with, well, one of our best friends — our oldest mutual friend, who knew both of us nearly our entire adult lives and now knows me better than anyone alive.

It felt normal to say it at the time and it was only later that it felt like some sort of treasonous offense to use a term I had unthinkingly reserved for Zack.

Even if Zack would roll in his grave (okay, in his wooden box on my closet shelf), which he wouldn’t, but even if — he’s dead. He said he didn’t want me to live based on what he would think, after he’s not alive to care, and I know that.

Yet I still feel so conflicted about it. Another little type of erasure, or maybe it’s repulsive to me because I would never want them to feel like they’re some sort of runner-up or that I would expect them to be some sort of replacement.

But maybe I need to say “my best friends across the country,” or “my best friend and I watched Star Trek” or “my best friend came to visit.” I feel like I’m downplaying their importance in my life if I don’t use some term like that that people understand. “Friend” feels insufficient when what I’m trying to say is “don’t worry, I have someone, not just parents but a peer, who witnesses my grief and takes my middle of the night crying phone calls and who’s still here for me every day after 14 months of widowhood and who sends his husband to visit me and makes me laugh at the absurdity of the universe and tells me to get more sleep.”

It doesn’t matter if they’d use the same term for me just like it didn’t matter if Zack did. But if the shortcut is useful to me…

Fuck it, fuck what anyone else thinks.

I have a long weekend planned to visit my best friends this fall.

Saying goodbye to a warlock

I deleted your warlock in original Destiny on the Xbox the other day.

I had to manage your crowded vault space to do it, or rather I wanted to because I didn’t want to delete your best things, didn’t want to send your virtual body to the grave wearing your nicest suit and jewelry.

I felt nauseous clearing out things, making decisions for you. Which duplicate hand cannon with a slightly different roll do I keep? Which year 1 weapons that can’t be upgraded need to stay as a sort of trophy case? Would you have been ok that all your ugly Sparrow Racing gear is what I chose to have your character wear as I held down X for the last time, holding my breath, clicking “are you sure”?

It’s been years since Destiny 2 came out and all this stuff in D1 is just there gathering virtual dust, preserved just as we abandoned it when we started playing D2. I guess that’s why it feels awful. It’s like walking into a frozen-in-time abandoned house out of a novel, pulling the sheets off the furniture, clouds of dust flying everywhere, and unceremoniously starting to throw half the stuff out. Like throwing away memories.

I screenshotted your loadout and your Destiny Tracker stats. Feels bad deleting a character with so many raid clears.

But it’s just stuff. We weren’t using it. All your accounts are mine now and you’re not alive to care.

So why did I do it when I can’t even bring myself to get rid of your car no one is driving IRL, when I’m nowhere near done my real-life Death Chores? Why hand over your Voidfang Vestments when I have boxes of your real clothing left to donate?

I wouldn’t have done it for myself, wouldn’t have made myself get through it. Just left it on the shelf.

But now I have the chance to show D1 to our friend while it’s still populated and the servers are up. Since no gear carries over between games he may as well use your account and be able to have all the cool weapons and armor when our clan takes him into D1 endgame activities (by which you know I mostly mean Vault of Glass) before he comes over to console for the next D2 expansion.

I say “our friend” but the truth is I hadn’t gotten to know him particularly well until after your death. He was just our dear friend’s husband who we liked but didn’t spend a lot of time with. You didn’t get the chance.

I hope you would have liked the wonder and awe in his voice and would be glad he’ll get to see VoG. I wish we’d gotten to play together. I wish you were here to tell the stories. I wish you could tell him all your favorite Voidwalker builds and pieces of armor; you’re both void mage aficionados across many games. Glass-cannony magic-throwing lore-scholar min-maxing spreadsheet-making sons of bitches. He hasn’t even seen sunsinger self-res yet. Or the zapping devastation of Landfall. So many details that I, as a titan main who only mained a warlock for approximately one DLC (House of Wolves) don’t properly appreciate.

You guys would have so much to talk about, together.

In two nights we made it to the Black Garden. Friend called the vanilla story “disjointed” and I laughed so hard because that’s the thing we always said, everyone says: the Destiny storytelling is garbage but the worldbuilding and art and music and UI and sound design and everything about the feel of playing it is so damn good.

It was like throwing away memories, deleting you, deleting your main, reminding myself that the universe has already deleted you and your charred remnants are in a box on the shelf so this is just your Destiny account catching up.

Except then it felt worth it. I’m glad I did it so he can experience the story from the start but then use your old gear.

Killing memories, to make memories, to honor memories.

He isn’t you and I didn’t think it was you seeing your username. That wasn’t the hard part. Once the deletion was over, once his account was set up, it was fine and didn’t make me sad to see. I was pretty sure it would be fine, but I did it knowing I was going to make myself get used to it even if it didn’t feel fine. That’s the bargain I make; once I commit to the things I do with your old stuff, I don’t go back. People say wait until you feel ready. I can’t always wait. It’d be forever, or rather never.

The voice on comms that isn’t you is enough to remind my brain it’s just the same username, inhabited by a different person. aediapony and omnican one more time, but it’s a different omnican baby warlock who doesn’t know the stories of the treasures he’s inherited sitting in the vault. But who wants to know.

And that’s the thing. I couldn’t have stomached giving your account to just anyone. Would have felt dirty, I guess. Like they wouldn’t appreciate it. Wouldn’t admire you, wouldn’t metaphorically hold your favorite hand cannons lovingly.

But he wants to know everything. Wants to know you through my eyes, hold my hand while we revisit old haunts. I’m crying writing that now, but I haven’t cried while playing D1 yet, though I had the box of tissues at the ready these past few nights.

The first night, I went up to bed, and I grabbed my phone as if to text you to tell you that I had a nice time, that I was so excited to show this beloved game to our beloved friend. This entire experience is only happening the way it is because you’re dead, yet something in my brain still thinks you’re just away and has the hardest time catching up to reality. It’s worst when there’s joy. You always wanted me to be having fun when we had to be apart.

All this and the thing I wanted most was to tell you.

Thirteen months.

Sad and bitter and lucky

I haven’t been writing here much because so much that I have to say is so private it just goes in the paper journal I write to my dead husband.

Some days are ok.

Some days I’m really really bitter. And jealous and angry. Jealous of everyone who doesn’t have to do this by themself. Jealous right now. Jealous of everyone who can maybe make the time to fill out their long-term disability policy applications (or more likely doesn’t need to do one because they haven’t had to confront the reality of being the sole provider for their kid and worry if they are crippled instead of killed in a car accident there’s 30 years of income that should have been there to take care of both of you)

instead of needing to frantically use their kid’s naptime to take a shit and brush their teeth and check that they took their thyroid meds because who knows if they did earlier and put batteries back in the firefly nightlight and clean up the pouch that they let their kid have in the car which immediately got squirted on the carseat in today’s installment of Poor Parenting Decisions Saturday.

11 months ago this time of day we were in the ER.

And now I’m sad and lucky like Nina McInerny. Our first mutual friend and his family take care of me and worry about me and visit me from across the country. And some days it feels ok. It feels like a life worth living and like I won’t totally fail to live in the ways you wanted.

And sometimes it’s lonely and it’s crap and I hate it.

And sometimes I’m happy and then I’m sad for being happy.

thousand books

Finished your son’s last book for 1000 Books before Kindergarten and turned in his sheet today. We had started it before you died.

You never got to see him say a two-word utterance. In early June, I’d told you he might have said “boat gone” on our walk looking at the river. You said “that seems like a stretch.”

Now he can say “you read a thousand books and the last book was Grumpy Gloria!”

You should be here. You would have been proud.

a few ok days

I’m waiting for it to crash back down but

I’ve had a few days of feeling like it’s not a totally alien thought

to think I will survive

numbers 1-31

The problem with dates is that each one is an anniversary of sorts.

Today it’s 8 months from the day Zack went to the hospital and never left.

But no date survives unscathed, untouched by something painful or beautiful from our years together. I really should stop trying to act like any of these numbers aren’t difficult to see. It started out that the monthly deathiversary was the worst but now they’re kind of all the worst.

Sometimes it hurts more to see the fond ones, things that were joyful at the time like birthdays and holidays and new experiences together, knowing there are no more the same to come.

I don’t want to forget but I also wonder if I should turn off “on this day” type things in my photo storage and social media platforms.

I haven’t been writing a lot here because I’ve been journaling on paper and talking to dear friends and not had much else to say, I guess, that isn’t more of the same. Some moments are pretty bad. What do I say. This still sucks.

At the same time continued existence isn’t quite as absolutely constantly painful as months ago. I’m able to function a little better, play with my son a little more. I’m able to read, or watch tv, or play a game, and derive something from it sometimes. A pinprick of joy, a hole in the blanket of despair.

I have no doubt by the world’s standards I’m barely functional and hideously depressed, consumed by complicated grief, but I wonder how it would even be possible to be doing any better. It still gives me hope to think that on average, taking into account all the ups and downs, I’m slightly more able to get through the day.

Yet it feels like erasure to admit I can experience other emotions atop grief and I’m possessive of my grief and don’t want to let it go. I guess I fear that anything but paralysis (hah I still hate words that remind me of hospitalization and breathlessness but I can’t get them out of my working vocabulary) is moving on or forgetting.

Rationally, I think that if my ability to cope with daily existence improves I’ll be better able to write about the good memories, better able to preserve him and convey him to our son, better able to do the things he loved and would have liked to see me doing. The opposite of erasure. But the fear is still there. Doing anything, changing anything, making any progress, enjoying anything. Seems wrong without him.

Seems wrong to enjoy visiting or talking with our oldest and most beloved mutual friend and not be able to tell Zack about it, not be able to plan the next time Zack can see them, never be able to look forward again to seeing his eyes light up in their company.

but with all the time I already spend being a crying shambles of a human being on the floor *with* that friendship to comfort me day in and day out I can’t imagine how I’d survive otherwise so I try to graciously accept the painfulness of the joy.

I’m doing the best I can I guess.

Blink of an eye

I’ve been dragging my feet on writing a post because it stings to acknowledge that we’re in 2019, a year he never got to see. It seems impossible that time should keep ticking without him.

Yet here I am, surviving somehow.

I watched the Voyager episodes One Small Step and Blink of an Eye recently, and they immediately made me want to find a piece by Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow) that I knew I’d read.

Thinking of Blink of an Eye, for how beautiful and poignant it is watching a world grow from naively worshipful of an object in their sky, to sending prime numbers, to rockets, to destruction, to hope and exploration again.

And here’s a civilization that was absolutely clueless four or five hundred years ago about its own tiny world and the impossibly greater vastness surrounding it. We were like a little bunch of fruit flies going around a grape, and thinking this grape is the center of everything that is. 

Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe . . . and Carl Sagan

And One Small Step, for the aspect of human inspiration in spaceflight sometimes meaning more than the hard science. For Seven, skeptical of the worth of it, ultimately sending back the astronaut’s corpse, risking herself by taking the time to collect more of his logs.

It’s a catastrophic tragedy that science ceded the spiritual uplift of its central revelations: the vastness of the universe, the immensity of time, the relatedness of all life and its preciousness on this tiny world.

It seems to me that the biggest challenge we face is to evolve a language that couples the cold-eyed skepticism and rigor of science with a sense of community, a sense of belonging that religion provides. We have to make it matter what is true. 

Ann Druyan

Also in this piece, I adore the turn of phrase “suffused with disarming candor.” It’s 3 of my favorite words crammed into one thought and I really like it for all it holds in its brevity. Makes me think of Zack and of one of our dearest friends. I could write a book just on that but it’ll have to wait for another day.

Of course, the essay is more famous for Druyan’s reminder that neither she nor Sagan believe in an afterlife, had no deathbed conversion, but took great joy in appreciating having found and understood one another.

The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.

Ann Druyan

To be seen, to be transparent to someone and still deeply loved and accepted, is luck beyond measure.

But we own nothing, nothing is ours
Not even love so fierce it burns like baby stars
But this poverty is our greatest gift
The weightlessness of us as things around begin to shift

Indigo Girls, Everything In Its Own Time

P.S. The Quote block looks beautiful in the Gutenberg editor in WordPress and then I don’t even know what this theme is attempting to do with it but it’s coming out a hot mess and I’ll fix the style someday. After I get the site switched to https and get akismet anti-spam working on my comments and you know, all the other webmaster chores that ain’t gonna happen so why am I pretending. I guess because if Zack were alive even he would notice how bad the line spacing is and so I’m embarrassed to leave it but I’m also trying not to give a shit about half-assing things more often.

What happened?

A question I usually hate, not because I shy away from recounting Zack’s hospitalization and death, but because the fact that people ask it implies that there is any sort of justice in the universe. That there is a cause, or a reason, that this happened beyond random chance; any narrative that makes sense about it, anything to learn from it; that it’s even the part of the story that’s worth telling.

I realize they’re just asking “how could this happen?” but I’d literally rather tell you about how he organized his socks (a subject on which he had Opinions) than have you think the manner of his death is anything but the least important thing to remember about him.

All that being said, I’m finally writing it in brief because the first thing I want to know when I flail around on the internet looking for writing I can empathize with, looking to know I’m not alone, is what the hell kind of Widow Creds does this person have. It’s not about how their spouse died but about the widow’s narrative. Can I relate to their situation? So, all 0.3 readers of mine, here’s the backstory.

Zack was hospitalized for suspected pneumonia in June 2018, one month shy of our 9-year wedding anniversary. He died after a week in the MICU at Albany Med.

He was my best friend since freshman year of college, 16 years ago. He had congenital heart and lung issues that didn’t stop him from delighting in life and resiliently handling everything it threw at him. We were the world to each other and devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I feel now. Being prepared for the unlikeliness of having many retirement years together didn’t make me prepared for him to die when we were 34 and our son was 18 months old.

The weekend of Father’s Day he has what seems like a fever and mild illness with no particular cough or congestion, which leads to significant trouble breathing, which leads us to our primary care doctor who takes one look and sends us to the ER, where they admit him and start antibiotics and treat for severe ARDS. June 19, 2018 is the last time I see him conscious because they put him on mechanical ventilation.

There’s no clear inciting incident for the illness, though the doctors ask about anything that might guide treatment decisions, especially after cultures don’t help them narrow down the antibiotic choices much. I still think about it even though it’s unproductive. Was it some bacterium in his home oxygen tubing? His surgery in January? A dental cleaning?

For several days his vitals are up and down and I don’t really know enough to understand his prognosis and I read all the papers I can, so I can go over his labs with his nurse and ask intelligent questions in morning rounds, so I can understand what we’re facing. I still don’t let myself believe he’s not going to be in the 50%, or 30%, or 20% survival rate. Want to believe that because he’s been lucky every time he’s brushed shoulders with death that that means he’ll be lucky now. Just studiously ignoring the logical fallacy.

When people ask What Happened sometimes they mean “why didn’t he get better in the hospital?” Yeah, I don’t have an answer either.

The fact that he’s an interesting case means he’s been on a first-name basis with experts on his conditions and I’ve been calling directors for their recommendations and making sure they’re in touch with his doctors up here. I have met the attendings and the cardiology folks and the infectious disease experts here and done my best to prove to them that I am both intellectually capable of comprehending the jargon and emotionally capable of frankly discussing his condition. As if there’s some scrap of information I can offer that will improve a treatment decision; as if by force of will I can make the universe give him to me.

By the 22nd we’re looking at transport for ECMO. Ultimately, three institutions say no. He’s not a transplant candidate due to sepsis, and it’s a bridge therapy, not a destination. No one will start it if there’s no path to recovery. They try to start dialysis here as some last-ditch effort to keep the acidosis under control while we wait in vain for antibiotics to work. They prep him for it, but they can’t keep his blood pressure high enough. For some reason they shield me from the term “septic shock” and I don’t make them say it even though we all know that’s what they’re describing.

The evening is a blur. Doctors and nurses tell me when they’re leaving as we switch to the night staff. One kindly presses me to think about the fact that the default will still be for them to do CPR if his heart stops right now and I say I’m not ready to change that.

An hour or a few later, after they can’t get the dialysis started, I tell them shakingly but carefully, choosing my words precisely, “I would like to withdraw my request…”

I sign that part of the MOLST form and take some time to sit with his body as machines try to force it to work.

Then I sign the rest and they stop the pressors and under my hand, his heart stops beating.