December 9, 2016

Dear Charles,

It’s been two years since we lost you, and it still reverberates more than you know with more people than you might imagine. You are still so loved.

You’re not here, but… maybe you are just a little?  Maybe you were around yesterday when, for absolutely no reason other than I needed something to occupy myself in a very tedious moment, I decided to dust off a shelf in the office I’m sure I haven’t touched for, well, at least two years (four? more?). Tucked among the notebooks and reference books was a folder. It held dozens of letters and notes from you, all written within the first 18 months or so of our marriage, far as I can tell.

I’ll be damned if you didn’t send me to dust that shelf yesterday. I’d completely forgotten those notes were there. Can’t begin to tell you the last time I saw them.

But I read them as if they’d all been written yesterday. Or last night, I should say, because I’m sure all but one or two were written in early morning hours, long after I’d gone to bed. You used to leave them by the coffee machine for me to see in the morning.

Some were like haiku on post-it notes. Most were lengthy essays about the things that mattered to you most: music, kindness, this country of ours. Some were filled with heady propositions on the nature of Art and Man (both capped). Some were love notes, replete with apologies and what turned out to be the occasional lie. Some ranted against Bush 43’s politics and policies (John Roberts’ nomination to SCOTUS… FEMA’s disastrous response to Katrina), and others articulated your rejection of religion. More than once, you recommended steps I should take to be a better songwriter; those notes pissed me off then, and I had just about the same visceral response rereading them yesterday. No matter. Almost all of the notes seemed to have a bit of anguish to them, but they were all signed “Love, Charles”—often above a P.S. that included a request to wake you before noon. I wonder if you knew I kept them all.

I sure miss you.

Since I have to believe you directed me to that folder yesterday (yes, we agnostics still love to believe in those mystical moments that seem a little too amazing to be actually coincidental), then I’m gonna guess that you might have an inkling that things around here are far more confusing than they were when Bush 43 was in office. I’m gonna bet that, wherever you are, you’re well above the fray, you lucky soul.

Beyond the normal amount of missing you, I missed you a ton during this laborious election season. I missed your insight. I missed what I also think would’ve been your mental storm—a wild confusion over the process, the outcomes, the immediate aftermath, and the coming… what? Shit storm? I don’t think a lot of people realize how well you knew our Constitution, the Federalist Papers, anything that gave you deeper insight into a country you just loved, loved, loved. I try to conjure up what you’d tell us mere mortals to do now that you’re in the Great Unknown, but I can’t say for sure. Could be you’d tell us to fight the good fight. Could be you’d tell us something altogether different. I’ve literally asked you for an answer more than once; maybe you’ve offered one, and I just haven’t picked up on the nonverbal clues. I’ll keep adjusting my antennae.

There was one other item in that folder of letters: an essay written by Joan Didion, published in the Sunday New York Times Magazine from September 25, 2005 titled “After Life.” It was a preamble to her magnificent book on grief and loss, The Year of Magical Thinking. 

And now I’m flummoxed. Why, oh why, did I tear out that exceptional essay from a magazine way back in 2005 and tuck it in with your letters? Was it for this moment? Are we mortals that prescient? Did you put it there somehow?

In it, Didion writes, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss… In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be ‘healing.’ A certain forward movement will prevail.”

In this, I think, our imaginations may protect us just a bit, yet they turn out to be wickedly wrong.

But I hope that you’re happily bopping around on The Other Side in the particles of energy that now constitute what we knew of you. I hope you’re making mischief, and music. I hope you find ways to keep visiting This Side, as often as you can. I hope you can do something about the Yankees next season, or maybe ignore them and focus on this insanity coming to the White House. Do something about that, will you please? And while you’re at it, I hope you can get Freida, who is aging quickly now, to stop licking that hot spot on her tail so she doesn’t have to live with that Cone of Shame around her neck on an increasingly regular basis. Also, I hope I followed some of the good advice on songwriting you left me in those late night notes, and I hope I ignored the rest.

It’s been two years. Miss you madly. So do many, many others. Much love.

rediscovered-letters-2005-2006
Your old letters, uncovered yesterday, from 2005-2006, along with Joan Didion’s New York Times essay on grief from 9/25/05.