It started with Colorado.
Colorado is beautiful, but, like the sleek side tables and hot girlfriend that make the rest of your living room look shabby and your pals feel bad about their thighs, it may not be the best idea. At least for coastal-city-dwelling me. My nose starts to bleed before we leave the Denver airport and it stops the day after I get back to an altitude meant for humans not elk. Being there is like being in third grade or whenever it was I had that run of nose bleeds, except now I can’t go to the nurse’s office and lie down. Now, I lie awake all night in the parched air, wrap myself in DVF in the early evening and attend weddings with fields and mountains in the background, which is ideal for wedding photography and oxygen-depriving for me.
I do love my family there fiercely, but I wouldn’t complain if they all moved to Vancouver. Or Cape Cod. Or Mallorca. Mallorca would be ideal.
Back at sea level, I ended my first day of recovery with the awful news that Nora Ephron had died.
Reading her work, tributes and obituaries all week was inspiring and terrible. I contributed my own to the mounting number which, like so many, was more about me than her. This made me feel even worse for not having known her and having a store of wonderful, poignant stories to tell about her, and like an asshole for being self-absorbed and writing exactly the kind of piece with which Nora would have had no patience.
I feel her loss keenly, and spent the better part of last week overwhelmed with a sense of my own mortality and inadequacy of output as a writer and a hostess.
I resolved to right myself on the weekend. I hadn’t slept much, the nanny had given notice, the house had fallen into chaos, as it so easily will after a trip and with a toddler on the premises, and I had forty-seven tabs open in my browser, all of them obituaries or near enough. As my grandmother would have said, I had gotten myself into a state.
My course correction was short-lived. The phone rang and my brother, never big on preambles, told me that a mentor of mine in high school had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. He was pre-empting the news I would receive in a letter from her that afternoon.
I won’t get into how the rest of the day went beyond, “Dark and sad.”
As I say, it was a fucking terrible week. And, of all concerned, I was the lucky one.
Before Nora died, before the letter arrived, the fear of death had already been stopping my breath. Ever since I got pregnant, I have had stretches of extreme anxiety about dying. Before I was pregnant, I was as much of a hypochondriac as everyone else with access to Google and WebMD, but it got worse with the baby.
In my twenties, I thought the usual dramatic and lonely thoughts about death accompanied by the swelling chords of Mozart’s Requiem and followed by a cinematic run in the drenching rain. Or the dark, if rain was unavailable. Those isolated thoughts have been replaced by periods of persistent and specific anxiety, a hyper-awareness of consequences and loss, brought on by bad news, by the wrong movie, by prolonged stress, by lack of sleep. What would I do? Have I done enough (in the largest sense)? How should I prepare (in the smallest sense)? It comes and then it goes again.
The going is usually a result of avoiding my phone, my email, and the news, and having some time alone and with my family. I sleep. The fear dissipates. I realize – again, the same as last time – that there is nothing to be done, not really, that these dark imaginings are just that, that we can only deal with what is within our grasp today, that I have an embarrassment of things to be grateful for, that I am (thankfully) aware of them, that our days and lives are a result of our own effort (which we can control), and that what I focus on is a matter of choice (and, as needed, sheer force of will).
The mourning doves that I love have nested just outside our kitchen window. My daughter cocks her head and says, “Could be,” just the way I do when I don’t want to contradict her, when anything is possible and there’s no reason to imply otherwise. Case in point: the Supreme Court miraculously upheld the healthcare law. My former mentor started chemotherapy today. Anderson Cooper admitted he’s gay and almost no one got upset. My man is better than all other men before or since and there is nothing else to be said. The fog has lifted from San Francisco’s hazy July skyline in time – perhaps – for fireworks. And the doves: the doves are back.
This week will be better.