Today is a hard day. I had a moment in the shower, this morning, when I thought “Tony killed himself” and it was like I was hearing it for the first time. As a result, I feel shaky and sad and angry and want nothing more than to just crawl into bed and put my head under the covers and hide. Grief is like that. It blindsides you. You think you’ve reached a certain place – maybe not acceptance, not yet – but a place where you can deal with what’s happened. Then a day like today comes along and shows me how very far I still have to go. Acceptance is a distant country. Impossible to chart the distance from where I am to where it is; impossible to know how or when or even IF I will get there. Everything, today, feels impossible. I am here, where I am. I am upright, and breathing. Maybe that’s all I can really ask of myself.
I started reading very early, at the age of four, and my first and most enduring love was fiction. I remember, vividly, my experiences reading certain books for the first time. I remember reading Little Women when I was seven, and the intense pleasure/pain of realizing, through Jo, that people wrote fiction; that I could write it, if I wanted to; and that fiction could create real emotion. Oh, how I cried when Beth died. Words did that. Words made me cry over the death of someone I didn’t know. But I did know her. Louisa May Alcott introduced her to me, and because I identified so strongly with Jo, Beth was my little sister, too. I have two younger sisters. Fiction taught me about empathy. Fiction taught me about life.
When I was twelve I read Gone with the Wind. I was in the seventh grade, and my teacher recommended it to me for a book report. I remember thinking, this book is so BIG; can I really finish it in time? And then I remember staying up, latelate into the night, devouring the story of Scarlett and Rhett and Melanie and milquetoast Ashley. Even at twelve I couldn’t understand what Scarlett saw in him.
I have met and fallen in love with Alice and the Mad Hatter, Nancy Drew, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Peter Lake and Beverly Penn, Prospero and Beatrice and Benedick and Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen and Jack Reacher and Mosey Slocumb and so many more. Too many to count.
Then there are the characters I have created on my own, and co-created with Tony. Manny, the perfectionist cannibal chef. Delilah Macintosh, the jilted beauty queen who takes up boxing in Fighting Belle. Leon, a disgruntled elf in Santa’s workshop. Dana and Teddy, a talk show host and her husband working their way through infidelity. Eugene Bloom, a guilt-ridden shut-in who can’t forgive himself for his wife’s death. So many of them, and all so real to me that I would instantly recognize them if I ran into them on the street.
So why, since Tony died, have I barely been able to touch fiction? I read a couple of Janet Evanovich books – light, easy. I read a kids’ book my sister Stephanie loaned me. But for the most part, fiction and I have a strange relationship right now. I am reading right now, simultaneously, a book called Mindsight about how we can actually train our brains to react differently; Dr. Brene Brown’s astonishing I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t); and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
It’s not just books, either. I think I have watched only two films since Tony died, all the way through. I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service with my niece and nephew; and I watched Les Miserables. And now that I think of it, I didn’t watch Les Miserables all the way through; I left the room and did not watch Javert’s suicide. There were a few times I put on a movie in the background because I needed some noise to be able to get to sleep; but I didn’t really watch those.
It bothers me, this aversion to fiction. I’ve been wondering why it is, and I’ve said a few times that maybe it was because I didn’t need any invented drama, having had such a surplus of it in my own life lately. But tonight, in therapy, I said the six words that are the title of this post. Maybe I need a non-fiction life.
As soon as I said them, I knew it was true. I need a non-fiction life right now. I do. As much as I loved Tony, so much of what we presented to the world was a fiction. We were both participants, authors of that fiction. We pretended everything was okay. He pretended not to be afraid; I pretended not to know he was afraid, and not to be afraid, myself. When people asked me how he was, he was great, perfect, the best husband anyone ever had, ever. He loved me! He got up and did the laundry every week on Saturday. He worked harder than anybody I knew. I’m not saying those were lies; no, not that. Those things are all true, as far as they go. Tony did love me. I know he did. He was the best husband he knew how to be. He did get up and do the laundry ever Saturday; but the reason he did was because he didn’t – not really – trust me not to ruin his clothes. He was very anxious about his clothes. I don’t know what he thought I was going to do to them, his jeans and tee shirts and socks and things, but it was part of the fear that enveloped him. He did work hard; but the reason he did is because he was unable to sit still, unable to relax, unable to rest because if he sat still, might not the fears catch up with him? I didn’t know that then, couldn’t put it into words, but I know it now. We pasted a fiction over the truth of our lives – the scary, painful, naked truth of it – and we sold it to the world like it was one of our screenplays. And then when we were alone together, most of what we talked about was related to our scripts. To people that we created, out of whole cloth, the same way we created ourselves. We created ourselves.
I can’t do that now. I can’t pretend. If I am scared, I say I’m scared. If I am sad, I say I’m sad. I went through a brief period where I was tap-dancing on the phone with friends, acting almost manically cheerful. I’m not doing that now. I was with friends in San Diego, and I cried with them. I told them I cry every day. That’s true, I do. I told them how guilty I feel; how horrified I still am that Tony killed himself. I am. Horrified. Every single day. I talked about therapy. I talked about the medication I’m taking. I talked about my gratitude and my fear. I am still afraid. I don’t know where the path I am on leads. That scares me so much it makes my stomach hurt. I feel strongly that I am where I am, on this path at this place in my scary life, for a reason. That doesn’t make it less scary. I feel vulnerable, stripped naked and hurting, and instead of trying to pretend that’s not my reality, I am putting it into words and laying it out for anybody who wants to know about it to read. I am taking the words, the very same ones, that I used to write fiction and create characters and put words into their mouths, and I am flaying myself with them. I am dissecting myself. I am showing you, all of you, each piece. I am naming each one: this, here, is my fear. This is my heart, broken. This is my grief that my husband is dead. This is my guilt that he’s dead because of me. This is my relief that I am no longer living on the edge of a cliff. This is my new guilt, because how can I feel relieved? This is my judgment of myself. This is my rage at Tony. This is my gratitude for the people who helped me when he died, and who are helping me now, every day. This is my determination, to find the true purpose of my life and to put all of these raw stripped pieces back together into a new whole, a new non-fictional Aimee who is somehow, in spite of everything, exactly who she is supposed to be.
“It’s awfully hard to be b-b-b-b-brave, when you’re such a small animal.” ~ A. A. Milne
I wrote a few days ago about Tony’s sense of humor. Today I want to talk about another thing I loved about him.
Tony loved animals. We had two cats, Audrey and Katie, and he adored them. He and Audrey, in particular, had a bond unlike any other I’ve seen. He would lie on his stomach with his arms propped in front of him, leaving a little nook between his arms and his chest. Audrey would run over to him, climb into that space, lie down and push her feet up against his arms (we always said she was curbing her wheels) and just purr. She would sometimes knead his arms, or if he was lying on his back she would lie in the crook of his arm and knead his armpit. (Yes, she was a little odd.)
In a lot of ways, Tony and Audrey were similar creatures. Both craved affection; both feared many things. Even toward the end of Tony’s life, when things were the most difficult, seeing Audrey curled up with him always made me happy. He used to sometimes say that he wished Audrey were the size of our apartment. I think he wanted that because he knew that she’d protect him. One time a raccoon came right up to the sliding door in our living room. Audrey, who ran every time the doorbell rang, puffed up and hissed and protected her territory. Tony felt she was protecting him, and maybe she was, in a way. Maybe she sensed his vulnerability.
It wasn’t just cats. I cannot think of a single animal whose life Tony did not respect, except maybe himself. That’s strange, isn’t it? That he could have such reverence for the lives of spiders and snails and things, but not for his own. I remember one time we were out for a walk and someone had been down the sidewalk before us, smashing snails. Tony was so sad for them. They were defenseless and someone had needlessly killed them.
For most of the time we lived in San Diego, we were zoo members. The San Diego Zoo is world-famous, and justifiably so. Before I met Tony my memories of the zoo were simply those of walking from display to display. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy seeing the animals, but going with Tony taught me a whole new way to see them. He would stand for long minutes, observing, and what I learned from him is that if you do that? You don’t just get a quick snapshot of a lion or a gorilla, you get a glimpse into their lives and behavior. One of the last scripts we wrote featured a character who was an expert on animals’ sexual behavior, and I think Tony had more fun researching that character than any other, because he learned so much about animals, himself, while doing it.
While he loved all animals, I think Tony had a special fondness for old animals, small animals, particularly defenseless animals. He identified with turtles, maybe because he spent so much time wishing he could hide from the world. I think that was why he loved snails, too. We would sometimes see a woman walking a very old dog named Jenny when we were out for our daily walks. Jenny had some kind of non-contagious skin condition, and her owner loved that Tony and I would pet her when so many others wouldn’t. I know he would have fallen head over heels for my sister Laura’s old rescue dog, CJ, but he never got to meet her. Every time I look at CJ’s sweet face, I think of Tony and imagine how he would have loved her.
I think Tony felt, himself, like a very small animal in a world full of very big, scary ones. A mouse in a world full of mouse-eaters. He was not physically a big person, and somehow the lack of physical size was something he internalized. He felt small and scared and alone. I think that if there’s a heaven, Tony’s heaven is full of animals. I think that, like him, they are the ones who felt scared when they were in this world. I think he knows them all, and names them, and loves them. And I think they love him back.
I saw the quote above last week on a post by Momastery’s Glennon Doyle Melton that was published by the Huffington Post. It’s so true that it makes my stomach hurt. It speaks profoundly to me of how I want to see the world, of how I wish Tony could have seen it. I am afraid sometimes. The past year has been more frightening than not, and I have been so scared. I am scared right now, typing this. I just found out that my cousin Christina, younger than I am, died this weekend. She had cancer. She had a hard life in many ways, and now she is gone. I cannot help but think of Tony. He was also younger than I am. He was also more afraid than I have ever been.
The world is beautiful. I saw that this past week in my family hugging me before I left Seattle. In my dad driving from Phoenix to meet me there. In my co-workers greeting me and telling me they missed me and making me feel how much they appreciated my presence in the office. In my beloved friends, who helped me to bear the sight of those empty chairs. In the marathoners who kept running to give blood, the first responders who ran toward danger, in the crowd of Bruins fans singing the lustiest, most heartfelt rendition of the national anthem I have ever heard.
The world is terrible. I saw that in the pictures of the wounded. In the grieving families of the dead. In the pictures of two young men who tried to tear apart a city. In the smoking ruins of that fertilizer plant. In the earthquake that took hundreds of lives in China. In the rising floodwaters of the Mississippi. In the empty chairs where Tony should have been sitting.
What I know is that we need both. I don’t celebrate or welcome the terrible. Certainly not. But I believe that life is about balance. Without darkness, could we ever truly appreciate the light? If all we had were goodness, would we even know its name? Might it not be taken for granted, the way a child who grows up rich takes money for granted? Might we not be less? Less compassionate, less forgiving, less kind, less understanding?
I think we would be.
This is what people with depression can’t see. For them, the darkness blots out not only the light that is now, but all the light that ever was. For them, darkness means that light never existed, never shone, never illuminated or lifted or sang. I tried so hard to shine the light on Tony, to help him bathe in its glow. There were moments, fewer as the years went by, but moments nevertheless, when I know he felt it. I used to tease him that when those happened, he looked like the Grinch after his heart grew three sizes. His eyes would be so big, so blue, so JOYOUS, in those moments. Full of light. I wanted him to rage against the dying of that light, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t. He never could.
As most of you reading know, I spent this past week in San Diego. It was my first trip back there since Tony died, and I was so apprehensive about what it would be like. Parts were extremely difficult – the empty chairs that I wrote about earlier this week. It was hard, too, seeing my co-workers for the first time in months. Three of those co-workers were there for me in a concrete way the day Tony died; but all of them have accommodated me as I’ve worked remotely. It felt good to be there.
My dad ended up driving out from Phoenix to meet me there. His presence meant that I wasn’t sitting in a hotel room alone. It meant that I had someone to walk into the office with me that first morning, to make sure I was okay and that there was somebody there in case I needed to cry. I got a little teary. It would have been infinitely worse to walk in there alone. I can never thank him enough for that.
The night I went out with the women from my Spanish group, we went to a restaurant right on the water, one I’d never been to. It was in La Jolla Cove, which is where Tony and I had brunch on our wedding day. I had some misgivings about going anywhere near there, but then decided that I really wanted to. It’s always been one of my favorite places in San Diego. The waves are spectacular, there are colonies of seals and pelicans and seagulls there, and we’d be there to see the sunset. I had a little pang when my friend Lydia first turned her car into the area, but it was a bittersweet pang. I missed Tony, so much, yet I really don’t want to forget that place.
Tony and I sometimes went there to work on script outlines. There’s something about watching the waves, hearing the ocean, smelling the salt air, that stimulates my creativity and we truly came up with some of our best ideas there. The dinner was lovely, the view spectacular, and the company filled my heart. What more could I ask for?
My other dinners out were in an area of town that Tony and I never really spent time in. That helped. That fourth chair at the table was still empty when I had dinner with Cam and Amy; that part was hard. Yet seeing their faces, hearing their voices, reminiscing about Tony and catching up? That part was wonderful. I’m glad I went.
I didn’t get to see all of my San Diego friends. The week was a bit overwhelming, I didn’t sleep well and I found that I had to dial back my plans. I know I will be going back soon, and I think the next time will be easier.
San Diego is a beautiful city. It was more beautiful with Tony in it. The world was more beautiful with him in it. But what I realized this week is, it is still beautiful. The world and the city, both of them.
Last night, I had dinner with two friends in San Diego, the two women who, with me and Tony, made up our Spanish conversation and reading group. We met every Saturday at UCSD, and Tony and I would get there early and walk down to the bookstore and get coffee at the little café there, Perks. The barista there knew us, she spoke some Spanish and we would always chat a little while she made our drinks. Once we had our coffee, we would go back upstairs, find a good spot for our meeting, and wait for our friends to arrive.
Most of the time, we would read aloud from whatever book was our current choice. We started with short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and then read three young adult books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. When Tony died, we were working on “En el Tiempo de las Mariposas” (In the Time of Butterflies) by Julia Alvarez. We would take turns reading, puzzling through unfamiliar words and phrases, and taking special delight in figuring out the ones that weren’t in the dictionary. My personal favorite was “carne de gallina” which literally translated means “chicken meat” but, in the context of the book we were reading, meant “goose bumps.”
At dinner last night we sat at our table, and piled our purses and bags on the empty chair. The chair that should have been Tony’s. We talked about him a lot. I have spoken to these friends on the phone and by email since Tony died, but this was our first time seeing each other. As we talked and cried and laughed, my eyes kept wandering to the empty chair. Probably if Tony had been there, if he were not gone, he would have been seated next to me. The empty seat was diagonally across from me, but that didn’t change its emptiness.
There was another empty chair tonight. Another dinner, two more friends. More conversation, much of it about Tony. More glances across at a chair that will never be filled again, not by Tony. As the talk tonight turned to movies and music, I thought about how much Tony would have contributed to the conversation. He was passionate about both things, movies and music. He would have loved being there. It was a gastro pub with an extensive beer list. He probably would have ordered some variety of stout. He would have worried about the food, worried about whether what he ordered would cause him to break out. He always worried about his skin, and yet when I mention that now everybody says that they never noticed any acne. I never did either. I only saw him.
I wish those chairs hadn’t been empty. I wish I could look across a dinner table just one more time, and see him there.
“Maybe I should just kill myself.”
“If such-and-so happens, I’ll kill myself.”
We’ve all said it. Every single one of us. I’ve said it too. Those words make an impression, don’t they? What could be more dramatic? If your favorite restaurant closes; if the line at the supermarket is too long; if your friend cancels dinner plans; if your relationship ends; you will kill yourself.
Tony said it all the time. He shared with me fairly early on in our relationship that he had come very close to attempting suicide as a young man. The only reason he didn’t is because he had bought some scratch tickets, and he told himself that if he won any amount of money, no matter how small, it would be a sign that he should live. He scratched. He won. He lived.
I don’t remember if Tony said those words, or any variation of them, before he shared his near-miss with me. I only know that after he shared it, those words were a sure-fire way to upset me. A guaranteed way of getting me to stop talking in the middle of an argument. He said them so often that, on some level, I stopped taking them seriously. They never once stopped upsetting me – those words always resulted in some degree of panic in me. Sometimes I kept it in check, sometimes I didn’t. When I didn’t keep it in check, Tony’s go-to response was that he was just blowing off steam. He needed to say things like that, he said. It made him feel better.
You can imagine how I look back on those words now. How I wish I had known that he really meant them. How I wish I hadn’t believed his easy reassurances that he didn’t mean it, that he would never, not really. That he cherished me, cherished what we shared, wanted to live. I believed him because I wanted to believe him. Because even when things got really bad, toward the end, I needed to believe that he would never take that awful, permanent, irreversible step.
I was wrong.
That is the thing that haunts me most often. Should I have known? Should I have sensed that he really meant it? If I had, what could I have done? I couldn’t have forced him to get help, I know that. It’s not easy to do that. How could I have proved that he really meant it? The truth is, he didn’t want me to know that he really meant it. He wanted me to think that they were just words. Only words. He knew the power of words, as I do; and yet I let myself be convinced that those words – the scariest words in the world – had no power. No truth. No threat.
Why do we throw around those words so easily? The truth is, most of us don’t really mean it, it’s just a way of expressing frustration, annoyance, anger. Yet the statistics are daunting. I just learned from a woman who started the Alliance of Hope that worldwide, one million people a year commit suicide. ONE MILLION. That is one lost, sad person every 14 seconds. Those who collect the statistics suspect (and are probably correct) that those numbers are underreported. I think of Tony’s cousin, who had schizophrenia. His death was not ruled a suicide, but may have been. With Tony, there was no question. But how many Tonys out there die, and how many of those deaths are classified as accidents or something else?
Each one of those million known suicides every year leaves behind an average of six survivors. Six people who are, themselves, seriously impacted by the suicide. To me, that number seems small. I think of all the people who have been stunned and saddened and irrevocably changed by the fact that Tony is no longer here. It’s not just me. It’s Tony’s sister and mother and all of his aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s my sisters, my mom, my nieces and nephews, my dad and stepmother. It’s our friends in San Diego and in Massachusetts. It’s dozens and dozens of people that we knew professionally, other screenwriters, directors, producers. To some degree, all of those people have been changed by what he did. Those who were closer – family and friends – have indeed borne the brunt of his decision. But so many of his friends, our friends, have said to me that they fear that something they did, or didn’t do, contributed to his suicide. One friend said that maybe if he’d called Tony to get together more often, he wouldn’t have done it. Another said she was afraid that the fact that she’d spelled Tony’s last name incorrectly on her wedding invitation had been a factor. Tony had proposed going back to Massachusetts to help his sister care for their mother, who is terminally ill. His mother fears that because she didn’t welcome the idea with open arms, it’s her fault. She said that to me the day after he died. It broke my heart.
I fear that so many things I did or didn’t do led to Tony’s decision to kill himself. The fact that I didn’t lose weight sooner. My failure to understand how lonely he was, working at home. My inability to recognize the fact that his depression, which I was accustomed to as much as one can be accustomed to such a thing, had taken a turn into something much more malicious and serious and insurmountable. My need to hear the words that he said so often, and believe his easy dismissals instead of heeding my own adrenaline-fueled panic.
In the end, we are all wrong. The only person who made that decision – the only person who took those actions, kept his intentions a secret, dropped me off at work that day as if nothing were wrong – is Tony. He did this. It’s easy for me to write those words, yet so difficult to believe them in my heart and in my gut. My intellect knows that it is true. So why, so many nights, last night among them, am I lying in bed with my stomach churning and tears leaking from my eyes and begging for forgiveness? Why can I not feel what I know? Maybe part of it is because I cannot escape from those words. They are everywhere. One night I fell asleep with Season One of The Office playing on my computer. I woke up in a full-on panic to Steve Carell screaming at the top of his lungs, “Maybe I should just kill myself! I’m just going to kill myself!”
Those words are dramatic. They are effective. And they are sad and scary and dangerous. The people who throw those words around so casually probably never imagine the profound impact they could have on someone like me, or any of Tony’s relatives or friends or business contacts. Those words are not just words. They are a terrifying threat of the worst thing I can imagine, the worst thing that has ever happened to me. They are part of the reason that we don’t talk about suicide honestly. They diminish the reality. They turn it into a joke. Trust me, it’s not a joke. You don’t want to be in my shoes. We can only start talking honestly about mental illness and suicide and shame and things like that if we stop treating them like they are merely words.
It is 4:30 in the morning as I write this. In a little over twelve hours, I will board a plane that will take me to San Diego. The last time I was there was December 22nd, the day after Tony died.
I am afraid of what going back there means. I am afraid of my own emotions, my own sorrow. What will it be like? I have been dreading this visit for weeks, even though it means seeing my co-workers, many of whom are now family to me; and my friends, whom I cherish and have missed so very much. The thing is, San Diego was home for nine years. It was the home Tony and I chose, together; the one we moved to from Boston. The one we drove 3,100 miles to reach. The one we discovered together.
When we first moved there, we were renting a room in a condo, sharing space with a college student and a guy who I think did some kind of sales. It was an uncomfortable situation in many ways. Living with people you don’t really know is weird. Yet the condo itself was beautiful, with murals painted by the woman who owned it, and a lemon tree in the back yard. That tree was magical to us, two people who grew up in Massachusetts. Nobody ever had a lemon tree in their back yard in Massachusetts.
Try as I might, I can’t think of going back there as going home. It doesn’t feel like home to me, not anymore. What made it home was Tony, and he’s not there. He’s not anywhere.
I think perhaps the thing that I fear the most is this: I will see him there. I will see him around every corner. When I get off the plane, I will see him waiting outside security, as he did when I came to Seattle last October. When I get to work on Monday, I will see his car parked in its usual spot, I will see him sitting in the guest chair in my office. He sat there so often.
When I meet my friends from our Spanish group, I will see him trying to dredge up his high school Spanish. I will hear him mingling Spanish and English. I will see the way his face lit up when we were getting ready to meet with our group, hear him telling me that going with me to UCSD, where we met, and getting coffee in the bookstore there, was, for him, the very definition of romance. I will hear him reciting this one beautiful sentence, his favorite, from a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
When I see our friends Cam and Amy, I will hear Tony asking Cam about his music, encouraging him not to give up on his dream. I will see the sunlight on his face when we went to the zoo with Amy. I will hear him talking about how much he loved the job where he worked with both of them, how he felt happy and accepted there.
When I see the San Diego sky, I will remember how Tony and I got up on the morning of our wedding, and how we got dressed in our apartment. I will remember how we were the first ones in line at the County Clerk’s office. I will see the picture of the two of us smiling outside, beforehand, and the ones taken afterwards at the beach. I will remember how we went back to the apartment afterwards, how we held each other and loved each other and smiled. I will remember watching When Harry Met Sally… that night because it seemed like the right movie for us to watch together. I will remember how I thought, that day, that if I could just have this man – if we could just have each other – I would never ask for anything more.
I will remember. I will always, always remember my home, and who it used to be.
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. ~ Anne Lamott
The thing is, I had forgotten about grace. For months before Tony died, I forgot. I was alone, I thought, devoid of grace and hope. I was watching the man I loved spiral into something neither of us understood. I was watching him drown, and I didn’t even know it. Things got bad, then worse, and somehow all of it became normal. It was my world, and it had no grace. It had only pain and confusion and frustration and anger and fear and shame.
I forgot about grace, but grace did not forget me. At the darkest hour, truly, of my life, grace met me where I was. Grace was my co-workers, one offering me a ride home when Tony did not arrive to pick me up as he usually did, one giving me his cell phone number just in case I needed it.
Grace was the 911 operator, keeping me calm while she dispatched the police to our apartment. Grace was my co-worker Sheri, staying with me while I waited. Grace was three uniformed officers, one talking to me while the other two broke into the apartment. Yes, grace broke the bedroom window and climbed inside the apartment and found Tony there. Grace broke the worst news in the world to me in the gentlest possible way. Grace went into the apartment to get me a blanket as I shivered on the concrete steps, and came out with the only blanket in the world that I would have wanted at that moment, a beautiful afghan my mother made for me. That was grace.
Grace, in the form of a beautiful blonde medical examiner, told me that I did not need to worry, that Tony could not have suffered. Because of grace, I believed her. In yet another guise, grace answered the phone in the form of my stepmother. That was not the first phone call I made, but she was the right person for me to talk to. She’s a therapist and was the one person in my life who could have done what she did, which was to go immediately into professional mode and offer me exactly what I needed at that moment, which was calm and loving guidance. Grace was my father booking a flight before he even knew exactly what had happened.
Grace was the crisis counselor, who sat with me in Sheri’s car and rubbed my back while I talked to grace in yet another form, my sister Laura. Laura, who would have come to San Diego that night, too, but there were no flights. Laura, who flew into Phoenix the next day to meet me and my father, four days before Christmas, leaving her kids in Seattle to come be with me because I needed her.
Grace was my other co-workers, who are now family to me, opening their home to me and going to the airport to get my father late that night, and taking us back to the airport the next day.
Grace was my sister, Stephanie, going out and shopping for me; not knowing what I needed and buying half of Target for me, everything from underwear to jewelry, because she wanted me to have pretty things to wear. Grace was my mom, and her unconditional love. Grace was my nieces and nephews, making me Christmas presents and finding ways, against all odds, to coax a laugh or two out of me.
Grace is my cousin Marcy, whose brother also struggled with mental illness, reaching out to me and opening her heart to me and somehow always knowing the thing I need to hear. She just did it again, just now.
It’s strange, the things that can strike you in the midst of tragedy. The things that can be the hardest to do. For me, one thing that has proven to be largely impossible is to write the thank you letters that I know I want to write. How do I thank someone for telling me that my husband was dead? For telling me that he didn’t suffer? For dropping everything to come get me? For loving me, when in my heart I felt I had failed because Tony was dead and I was alive? Where will the words come from? How can I thank grace, in its many forms? Grace, who sent me chocolate and lavender-stuffed teddy bears and soft blankets and sympathy cards and love. So very much love.
How can I thank Tony’s mother and sister, for the gift of him? What could ever be enough for that, especially when I feel that the thanks should be wrapped in an apology, because they gave him to me and I lost him? How can I thank the people I don’t even know, have never met? The internet friend who has somehow become a friend of the heart because she has been there for me in a way that I could not have expected, and yet doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she is, herself, full of grace.
I know that I will write those letters eventually. Grace has worn dozens of faces since the day that Tony died. Grace has had countless names. Some of them I do not know and will never know. What I am realizing is that, too, is grace. The not knowing. The fact that people who I do not know and never will do things every day that I will never know about, and they, all of them, are grace.
I have said that at times it’s been difficult for me to remember the things that were good about being with Tony, because it ended so badly. The last eight months were brutally difficult. He was spiraling into something neither of us really understood, and then the last two months I was dealing with the fallout from a herniated disk that I ended up having surgery to fix only two weeks before Tony killed himself. When he died, I literally could not dress myself and it was so hard for me to think that he had deserted me when he knew I couldn’t physically take care of myself. It felt so personal, so mean. I know that he didn’t do this to hurt me, he did it so he could stop hurting. But until very recently, it seemed like all I could remember were the hard things.
If this blog is to be an offering of truth and understanding, then I have to write about the good things. There were so many of them. The very first thing I loved about Tony were his laugh lines. He had such good ones. It seems almost strange to say the first thing I loved about a person with serious depression were his laugh lines, but it’s true. I remember looking at him from the side on our first date, and noticing them, and smiling when he smiled because he those laugh lines just made me happy.
The reason the laugh lines were there, of course, was because Tony had a spectacular sense of humor, and he was so funny. He could always make me laugh. There’s a reason that we decided to focus on writing comedies. We both loved to laugh, and to make each other laugh; and we made a good team. I think I had a slight edge when it came to coming up with funny ideas for scenes – I was the one who came up with the idea of the cannibal chef in our short script Au Jus cooking himself when he couldn’t find the proper ingredients for the king’s stew. But Tony is the one who had the edge when it came to writing hilariously funny dialogue. He’s the one who came up with the line spoken by the cannibal chef when confronted with a tasty-looking tourist with breast implants: “This woman is made of artificial materials!” I laughed until I cried when he came up with that one. My other favorite line of his was for a script we wrote about a talk show host who gets caught cheating on her husband. When another character scores a point but is kind of a jerk while doing it, the main character’s husband toasts his achievement and says, “Douché.” I think I might have actually wet myself the first time I read that scene. Just a little.
Another way Tony could make me laugh was with his impressions. Like my good friend Liz, he was a master mimic. We met online, and the first time we talked on the phone he did almost the entire initial meeting between Cary Grant’s and James Mason’s characters in North by Northwest. He had the same birthday as Cary Grant, and he had his voice down perfectly. He had Mason’s down too, and in fact he referred to the whole scene as “suave to the death,” which is a perfect description. He could also do Grant’s drunken, “I’ve grown accustomed to my bourbon… your bourbon” from later in the same movie; and his version of Robert Shaw’s speech at the town meeting in Jaws never failed to make me giggle. He got the scorn in Shaw’s voice exactly right: “Mr. Mayor. Chief. [big pause; utter contempt] Ladies and gentlemen.”
One final example of how funny Tony could be. We both loved the movie Michael Clayton. It’s a perfect film, truly; if you haven’t seen it, go rent it right now. No, you know you should really buy it because once you see it you’re going to want to see it again. It’s that good. Anyway, for those who have seen it, there is a stellar scene in an alley between George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson. Clooney says to Wilkinson, “How do you want me to talk to you, Arthur? Like you’re a child? Like you’re a nut?” One Christmas, our cat Katie was tearing around the living room like a maniac, the way cats sometimes do, and she ended up all wild-eyed and bushy-tailed under the Christmas tree. Tony’s reaction? He slid right into a perfect Clooney impression: “How do you want me to talk to you, Katie? Like you’re a kitten? Like you’re a nut?” I fell out laughing. That was Tony. The funniest person I ever met. I miss his laugh and his laugh lines. I miss him.