Sunday, June 20, 2010

Silliness, idle hands and video cam

Silly Girls Father's Day 2010 from Erin Shachory on Vimeo. Singing and camera work by Serena. Dancing and choreography by Emmeline. General silliness by Marlowe.

My kids are crazy. I mean, seriously. This is just over a minute, so don't feel like you have to see the whole silly thing, but it adequately captures our "quiet" time together as a family...

Father's Day 2010

Here's my family, the proud patriarch and his smiling, happy girls. Sometimes I feel badly that we didn't have a son. Raf came from a family of four kids from a force-of-nature Israeli dad, growing up with a strong older sister and two younger brothers. All of them could bond over sports and business, topical issues, politics, farting, burping, scratching. Okay, so their sister is far more demure than all of that, but she was able to allow the men in her family to be who they are, not always nagging about the farting, burping, bodily noises, Adam's apples and other unexplainable male traits.
Coming from that background, my husband is still a little flummoxed by the girliness in our household. There's drama, there's a lot of chatter, lots of pink and fluff and frills, more tears than any injury could truly justify, and (for him) the unnecessary nuisance of someone always acknowledging a strange smell or noise. And so I feel badly that he doesn't have a son to share these things with, along with the sheer physicality, strength and logic that another male in the house could provide.
The other sad thing is the loss that I can tell he's feeling today. I mean, we had a GREAT day. We're in Malibu and our good friends spent the whole day with us, beachin' it and hanging out in the sun. But when his brother Sky called after dinner and they were reminiscing about their dad, I felt his sadness. He remembered that, when his dad was alive, Father's Day was ALL ABOUT ISAAC. No one could bow out, no matter the reason. If he wanted to BBQ (something my husband really doesn't love to do), well then, we'd BBQ. After he got off the phone with Sky, Raf said, "I forget that I'm not the only fatherless child." He was, of course, referring to losing his dad three and a half years ago, but I know he was also feeling the recent loss of his brother Max, whose strong personality was so much like Isaac's.
We're staying in Isaac's beach house, where Sky grew up, while we wait the last few days for our new house to be finished. On one hand, I'm thrilled to spend the first few days of summer in a lazy haze on this famous beach road, watching the sun move across the sky as the girls jump the waves for hours on end. But on the other hand, this is where Max spent his last few months and I know it's suddenly become the saddest place in the world for Raf, and it's been hard for him to relax and truly enjoy this time.
Today, however, he seemed to let go and enjoy the sound of the tide. I caught him looking at the ocean a lot, as though he was memorizing this spot and the bewitching spell it cast on both his father and his brothers. At one point, the girls were laughing and yelling at the waves and he laughed, remembering how he and Max had done the exact same thing as kids.
It's a cycle, life. The kids become the fathers and the fathers must leave the earth to, hopefully, become kids once more. As a mother, it's hard to just sit back and observe this dance that kids and fathers do, but it's not my place to interrupt or even to understand. Just like the sun, dancing across the sky until it trades places with the moon, I must orbit this relationship, witnessing and recording it, saying that yes, it happened, and yes, it was magical.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

We are supposed to move into this house tomorrow. Yeah, I'm not seeing it happening, either.
The plan was that we would take 2 - 3 weeks to knock out a few walls, re-do floors, paint and carpet the girls' rooms. It only took 3 weeks to completely re-do our last kitchen... but that's just one room in a house.

In light of our recent loss, our contractors (good friends of Max's) have been so good to us, putting a lot of guys on the job and really pushing to get the house done by this weekend. But what I'm learning lately is that sometimes you just have no control. And that applies to both remodeling jobs and life in general.

When I walked through the house today, a little part of me wanted to throw a hissy fit and stomp my feet and cry and demand that they work all night long to get it done... but it may only be a week before everything is finished, so it's not worth looking like a crazed homeowner. It's just a week. In the scheme of things, it's nothing. We are just so anxious to get on with the next part of our life, but life has its own plan for us.

And so we sit. And wait. And wish.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Sweetness of Friendship

I could tell you a dozen sweet stories about the people who have saved me throughout this very trying week and the reality, slowly setting in, that Max will not be physically near us anymore: S & K have brought us banana bread and taken care of our kids and laughed with us and reminded us that we are still standing up, despite everything; N has picked up my kids and weathered the nasty prods for salacious People Magazine details from busybodies (she had my back) and arranged a spur-of-the-moment breakfast with girlfriends to cheer me up; D offered to bring dinner over; L offered to babysit; B counseled me on Jewish funeral traditions; J texted me daily to remind me that I was not alone and took a few hours off work to attend the service and give me a big hug; my other J, gone for the week, checked in regularly via texting from Yosemite; Raf's childhood friend/spiritual sounding board flew out and was just present with us, running errands and doing what needed to be done intuitively; my mom and dad sent flowers; my sister called and cried; Max's friends texted and emailed and Facebooked, scanning photos and recording their stories of Max. A lot of people brought food. Many people came and sat with us.

Today, we went to the new house to check the mail and say hello to our contractors. After we ran our hands on the new granite and answered a few questions about the paint, I noticed a box in the entryway, addressed to Raf and me. Not remembering if I'd ordered anything for the house in the week prior to Max's death, I opened the box casually and was THRILLED to see a beautiful basket inside. The note, offering love and support from two good friends of mine - one of whom lives in the new neighborhood - accompanied gorgeous fruits and a box of chocolates. The girls and Raf and I grabbed the contents like we hadn't eaten in a week, juice dripping from our chins on the new porch, chocolate smeared at the corners of our mouths. Raf had two pears, one in each hand, each with a bite mark. It was like we couldn't get enough, finally feeling nourished again.

I hope that, when I look back on this time, I will be baffled by the strange mix in my memory of sadness with the taste of ripe nectarines and dark chocolate truffles.

The Best Worst Day Ever

Max's memorial was yesterday. The weather was gorgeous at the beach, truly sparkling. My kids played in the water and got all their clothes wet. Not that it really mattered: my older two wore fancier outfits... the youngest wore what she wanted, which were old grimy jeans under a cheap Target skirt and a small t-shirt... I think the stress and sadness had finally gotten to her and she was like, Fuck it. I'm-a wear what I please. She did the same thing at Raf's dad's funeral, when she was 2 and wore a Snow White costume.

Anyway, it was gorgeous and heartfelt. I thought later that maybe I felt "Max" in the room... like he was there, watching over us, but it's not something I usually believe. My thought is that people don't stick around on the earth immediately after they die... their souls have too much to do, departed loved ones to reconnect with, an afterlife to learn. The funeral is held so soon after death that it is really just a way for us "survivors" to hold each other and love each other through the pain. So maybe it wasn't so much "Max" in there with us as our collective memories and love for him, stitching us together, the quilt of his life.

Over the week, Raf did what he does best: take care of business. In the midst of it, though, he would remember, in fits and starts, that all of this was for Max. Unbelievable, he kept saying to me. I can't get used to it.

When we arrived at the beach house, I was worried about going into the bedroom where Max had died, even though the bed was dismantled immediately and is gone (his mother has it). But when I walked in, his friends were gathered in the corner with a big ol' bud, rolling, and soon the place smelled like Amsterdam, sweet and herbal. It was kind of like the Native American ritual of "smudging," in which you exorcise evil spirits by burning sage. Only it made everyone happier, dreamier, hungrier, more able to enjoy the beautiful day outside the beach house windows.

I'm not saying it was easy. I'm only saying it was beautiful, which felt appropriate.

On the way home, I asked the girls how they were doing, if they had a good time. Serena, barely still awake, sand in her hair, clothes still damp from tumbling in the tide with her sisters and cousin, said, "It was the best worst day ever." And it was.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Only the Good Die Young

This is a picture that I took yesterday, in the middle of the worst day of my husband's life.

The call had been hysterical from my brother-in-law's phone. "Hold on, Maxie," I said, fumbling for my earpiece (I was just leaving a parking lot). "Okay, what's up, Max? Is Raffy there?"

I couldn't understand him at first. Panting, crying. It was my husband. "Is he sick?" I asked. "Did you call 911?"

"Get here now, please. I don't care what else you have now, get here, please. I think he... he might be dead."

I don't know if those were our exact words. I don't remember much. I had a long drive to Malibu in the typical traffic of a sunny Saturday in June, when so many people abandon the city to go to the beach. Convertibles. Tanned teenagers in jeeps. Rusty pickups with surfboards hanging out the back.

I had to call his mother. "Did you call 911?" she asked, still composed, not grasping the scope of the moment. Max had been in the hospital just last week and they had been so close, had had such a warm bond over soup at Jerry's. Max had always been a sick kid, had his appendix out at a very young age. Just in the last few years, his doctor had diagnosed him with a very rare condition that caused his glands to swell up suddenly and his mother had become his champion, calling the insurance company and hospital to be sure that he could have a particular shot -- $4,000, but worth every penny -- available in case he had another episode of swelling. She had been so there with him. It was so special.

"Is he at the hospital? He needs to be at the hospital, I'll meet you there."

"No, um..." I didn't know how to say what you shouldn't have to say to a mother. "Um, he uh, he thinks that he might be... he might be..."

"No! No! Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!" She called later to demand that they don't move Max. "We must be with him. They cannot move him. We need to be around him."

Here's the irony of the day: before he left our new house, my husband had dropped his iPhone into the pool and had sent me a text from his friend's phone before he went to Malibu alone with just our oldest daughter and her best friend. My husband, the most reachable person in the whole world, was without his phone.

When he reached Max, just as he was realizing that Max wasn't sleeping, Max's phone rang. It was Josh, one of Max's best friends. My husband picked up the phone, unable to really talk. Josh was the one who called 911. After the first call from Max's phone, I got another call, an accidental redial, in which I heard my husband screaming at Max; I thought that maybe Max had pulled a really horrible joke, even though that wouldn't be Max's style. But still, it made me hope that he was still alive, still living large, loving life.

Everyone battled sunny Saturday traffic to get to Max, to be together somehow, near him. It took me an hour to reach my husband, whose grief was so powerful I had nothing to say, no words or wand to take it all away.

Hours later, the coroner arrived and was flanked by two sheriffs, surrounded by Max's mom, sister, best friends, aunt and uncle. I sat on the couch, my husband outside because he just couldn't be in the beach house anymore, and I turned to look out the window. In the path was this image: a beautifully designed home, the sunny waves, and a big blue bong, right in the middle of the coffee table.

It was so like Max to just leave it out there, for all to see. I just had to remember it and save the memory.

We love you, Maxie.