I think what is making me so apprehensive about this upcoming Friday, this one year marker, is that part of me irrationally thinks oh, once a year is up, it will all be over.
But there’s that lurking rational reality that of course it will never be over. Just, the first year will be over. The Eitan-shaped whole in my heart always there.
The This Time Last Year thoughts are coming in fast and furious. Had I known, had I known… According to my phone records, February 11, 2013, at 7:01 pm, was when I last spoke with Eitan. When we talked about his epilepsy, how he didn’t want it to have an effect on his life, his frustration that it was having an effect on his life. When I told him I was proud of him, when we signed off each saying “love you.”
Eitan’s first yahrzeit, the Hebrew calendar time marker was February 4; he will have two because there are two months of Adar this year, a Jewish leap year. I like the tradition of lighting a ner neshama, a soul candle, as they’re called in Hebrew, the yahrzeit candle that burns for a full day plus. The candles come in what looks like a juice glass, or in a small can. I got a beeswax candle, expecting it to burn down cleanly, but it didn’t, leaving behind an outcropping of unmelted wax.
I still have the glass candle holders from the shiva candles for Larry and Eitan. These are candles that burn in their glass holders for a full week, during the time you sit shiva. I hesitated, then threw this spent yahrzeit candle in the trash. I have a tendency to save things, but what for, this one? Would I have year upon year of yahrzeit candle holders with remnants of unmelted wax clinging to the glass? I should get rid of those shiva candle glasses too, but somehow can’t quite bring myself to do so, yet; They sit on the floor by the trash can. I don’t even know which holder was Larry’s and which Eitan’s, and they memorialize weeks of unbearable sadness. Maybe this week I’ll chuck them. Are they recyclable, this glass with a coating of paraffin?
Just before leaving for shul last Monday night for the yahrzeit service, I smashed the tip of my left pointer finger in a drawer. Since I am over sensitized to seeing signs in everything, I wondered about this one. Why would this happen? To cause me to focus on the physical pain, rather than the gash in my heart? Except, I felt both.
The next day, at yoga, my shirt and arm caught on the lock of the deadbolt, ripping the shirt and scratching and bruising my left upper arm. Symbolic of? Eitan’s seizures started with his right hand, so it couldn’t be that. Sometimes a bruise is just a bruise?
Florida memories are flowing these weeks, leading up to the last, awful ones.
I’ve been to the Sunshine State many times, with and without the kids. And always liked Florida. Now I feel like there’s one of those red circles with a bar across the state.
We went in December 1997, when Shoshi was a baby in a stroller, and stayed at Jeff’s aunt and uncle’s condo in Miami Beach, with a view of the Fontainebleau Hotel. The boys slept in the big king size bed, with a shag rug on the floor. I rarely get sick, but did on that visit – one day I simply couldn’t get out of bed. But was up and about the next day. I thought the boys would want to check out the beach, but they preferred the overheated pool – I guess beaches were di rigueur for them, from summers spent with their grandparents on Cape Cod. The weather was unseasonably cool for Miami then – in the 60s. People we’d meet in the elevator would apologize for the weather. But coming from 20s New England, and with a pool with water kept at I kid you not 90 degrees, we thought the weather was lovely.
We went again a few years later, when Eitan was 6, in 2000, in the summer. I was writing an article on Miami restaurants. It had been a cool summer in Boston. Having grown up in DC, to me summers are supposed to be hot and humid, so I enjoyed our stint in Miami in August.
Eitan had a loose tooth. The three kids slept in the room with the king size bed, and the loose tooth felt out the first morning – and promptly got lost in the shag rug of the room, never to be retrieved. Somehow I got trapped into giving Tooth Fairy gifts, rather than money over the years; Eitan and his siblings let me know that I should convey to the Tooth Fairy that money was unacceptable tender for their teeth; they liked presents; I think this tooth (or rather an explanatory note for the tooth fairy) had to wait until we were back in Cambridge. And in the true confessions of saved things, I saved their baby teeth, in plastic film canisters and Ziploc bags. Over time, I’ve gradually discarded them, when I stumble upon them in medicine cabinets or drawers; I didn’t do anything sensible like label them, so have no idea which teeth may have been Eitan’s, Gabriel’s, Shoshi’s.
There was Pensacola in 2002, when we discovered Eitan’s allergy to giraffe saliva.
We went in 2005, when Jeff’s parents were living in Key Biscayne, next to a state park, where we rented a pedicycle, a pedal operated carriage four of us could pedal. Shoshi’s legs couldn’t reach, to her frustration; Eitan liked showing off his “driving” abilities. My marriage was ending then, tho I didn’t fully know it. Still had the joy of vacationing with the kids, who would take turns staying at their grandparents’ condo and at the bungalow we rented. I went to a local zoo and children’s museum with them. So many memories are of all three of them, can’t quite call out separate Eitan stories. That was the last year I went with the trio.
Then 2012, visiting UMiami once Eitan was accepted. He spent the morning going to classes, then having lunch with a third-generation UMer who was also in a frat, learning about life there, becoming absolutely convinced that was where he wanted to go to college. I meandered around campus, and discovered a farmers’ market there. It was Passover, so I couldn’t sample the breads at one stand. But there was a raw vegan stand, no wheat there, and I fell into conversation with the owner, Lamoy, who made fantastic salads. She ran the stand with her husband, and mentioned she had seven kids. I expressed surprise, since she looked like she was 25, but, she told me, she was 38. Her husband, 44, ran the stand with her. I was enamored of the salads, and her adorable toddler daughter, playing happily with her older sister.
Four months later I was back in Miami, bringing Eitan to college. I attended the parent orientation events, and left on a Saturday, giving Eitan one last hug, catching him with new friends as they left the cafeteria.
I had read that there was an organic farmers’ market in Coconut Grove, on the way to the airport; my flight didn’t leave until the evening (in fact, it was cancelled due to thunderstorms, I learned en route, later). I wondered if Lamoy would be there. It was a larger market, lots of interesting stuff for foodie me, and then, in the back – there was Lamoy and her stand. It was a weekend, so several of her kids were helping out, including a boy of around 10 who affectionately was playing with that adorable 2-year-old. I purchased a bunch of salads for lunch – and then it started to pour, Florida style. Lamoy made room for me under her tent, and we started to chat. She told me about her kids – a daughter in high school she thought might be interested in going to UMiami. She hadn’t gone to college, so wasn’t familiar with what might be needed, so I gave her advice on that. Another teenager of hers was interested in cooking; it challenged Lamoy’s veganism, since he liked to cook meat, and she was coming to terms with that. She gave me the names and ages of each child, and one, Woyah, she said, was with God – she had lost her at 5 1/2 months. A shock. And I remember thinking oh – in fact she has six children, not seven.
But her ordeal had been horrific. She and her husband were accused of starving their daughter on a vegan diet, when in fact Woyah had a genetic disorder called DiGeorge Syndrome that could (and was in this case) be fatal. Their other children were taken away. They were thrown in jail for three months. The case went on for years, and ultimately they were proven innocent of murder, but guilty of neglect, a charge Lamoy was still in the process of fighting, seven years later. I looked at her beautiful, robust, energetic, sweet children, and wondered at the court system. And yet Lamoy had this calm about her, resignation, surrounding a core of strength. And such obvious love for her family. We bonded as mothers.
I thought of her when I lost Eitan in Florida, realizing of course Lamoy will always have seven children, as I’ll always have three.
These are the only photos I have of Eitan in 2013. I’ve asked his UMiami friends, and one of his pledge brothers found this group shot of the new pledges last year; Eitan is in the back, with his head turned, and the pledge couldn’t locate any other group shots like this. The other picture is of Eitan with a sorority pledge, and I am so grateful to her for sending me this photo. She had some kind of pledge assignment where they had to get photos of themselves with pledges from the various fraternities. As far as I know, this is the last photo of Eitan, taken in early February last year.