I hate the word dead.
It is a stupid, sucky word. I want to kill it,
strike it down,
punch it in the nose and rip its face off so it bleeds and bleeds and disappears.
It is a disgusting word, dead is, harsh bullet word rat a tat ded ded ded
I want to dismantle and dismember it, break apart that half circle of d, separate it from the stick, pierce that e and mush it into the totally unnecessary needlessly there a and that second idiotic d, what does it need two for anyways, pound them all together and reshape those curvy asinine letters into what they should be, which is alive and kicking, not stupid dumbass dead.
Ha, turn it on its head you get paep.
Kind of makes it look all silly and ludicrous,
an object of ridicule, dead should be,
take away its undeserved power, render it harmless, innocuous, just a nonsense word, paeppaepaep meaningless,
meaning less, meaning absolutely nothing, paep does.
It’s not an elegant word, and it never will be, dead isn’t,
so what’s the point in having it around,
when we should just step on it, rub it into the ground like a scrap end piece of chalk, leaving a smudge, an irrelevant smear. Besmirch dead into the asphalt until it’s just little crumbles of useless, ineffectual dust.
But no matter how I punch it, rip it, scratch at it, stab it, shoot it,
twist it strangle it gouge it
it doesn’t turn upside down and it doesn’t change shape and it doesn’t disappear and
and it doesn’t even show a goddamn dent
or reform into a better word,
or regret into another thought,
or regress into nonsense.
It doesn’t even boing down like those inflatable punch clowns, springing back up after a wobbly moment, it just stays there, dead does, impervious to anger, fire, hate,
alone in solitude,
I can fold the paper over, hiding the word from sight,
never from mind
I could crumple it up and throw it over my shoulder,
bury it deep among the tea leaves and egg shells and apple cores,
I could burn the page to a crispy black cinder,
but dead don’t need the paper it’s printed on to be true, and permanent,
and not going
Dumb, dumb word, dead is.
Fifty-two weeks ago, I was juggling, many balls in the air. It was Valentine’s Day, and I had my gift for Larry to finish. I had purchased sheet music at a music store in New York, a 1946 song called Kiss Me Sweet with a cute cover sheet, and I wanted to get a frame for it. We had finally found a restaurant for our romantic dinner, and had reservations (a challenge for kashrut).
My friend Naava’s daughter’s bat mitzvah was coming up that Saturday. I was reading the haftorah, so I had to practice that. And I was going to be hosting Naava and her family for Shabbat dinner. Wednesday night I’d planned out the vegetarian menu, written out a schedule of what to prep on Thursday, what to make on Friday. Wednesday night I got into bed at 12:59, and I remember considering calling Eitan, but thinking, it was very late, he might be up, but maybe not, and probably wouldn’t be thrilled at my calling him then, so I didn’t.
I got up Thursday morning and started two dishes for the meal the next day, including a slow cooker black bean stew in a new clay pot cooker I was testing for an article. Had everything cleaned up and was going over my shopping list for the remaining menu – would head to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but also needed to walk over to Blick to get that picture frame for Larry’s gift. I checked emails and set up articles for editing for the two magazines I edit – was going to be a busy work week, and I needed to send recipes to testers.
Then, at 10:35am, the phone rang.
I never did give Larry his gift – forgot about it, didn’t have the frame, all thoughts of Valentine’s plans gone with Eitan. I so wish I could have given it to him before I lost him. I did read the lyrics at his Shloshim, and hope he heard them then.
I am so grateful Larry was still with me then, there to hold me through the flight to Miami, and the days there dealing with the inconceivable. He never tried to fix it, he knew he couldn’t, he was just there, a rock, giving me strength to face each day in the my new world. He was beautiful and kind and generous and a blessing, and the memory of what he did for me gives me strength now, the thought of his smile, and the way his eyes lit up whenever he’d see me. I will always have that.
I learned, last year, about Eitan’s last day, Wednesday, February 13, and I wrote about it soon after, so I wouldn’t forget those details. I posted it on EitanSternRobbins.com, and it seems appropriate to share it here now. It was a great, normal day.
Eitan had a great last day on Earth, Wednesday, February 13, 2013. In the morning, he had an appointment with his adviser, Karen Donno, who we had met the previous April when we visited the school. I had been after him to check with the university regarding possible summer internships, and they discussed that, along with his schedule for next year. (Karen wrote to me, “Eitan’s wonderful life should be shouted from the rooftops. His legacy of joy will remain on our campus always.”) Later that morning, he called a neurologist at university health services, and put in a request for an appointment. He had been having seizures with more frequency.
In the afternoon, he had Introduction to Business Law – the first class in his major that he was really beginning to enjoy. His professor, Shannon DeRouselle, wrote, “I see so many students each semester; while all are very special, few stand out. Eitan did. I shared only a month with him as his instructor this semester, but our class met three times per week. I could always count on Eitan’s participation during lectures, knowing that he was watching with an inquisitive eye and would without hesitation question me if I said something that he disagreed with or that did not make sense. He did just that in fact last Wednesday afternoon during our last class together. I appreciated his engagement in my class. I will miss Eitan, as I am certain all of his classmates will as well.”
Eitan had supper with a group of floormates that evening, then headed to the AEPi house. They were there for a quiz, the coordinator Kenny Esman told me. Pledges had to know the names, hometowns, and majors of all their pledge brothers. “Eitan did really well,” Kenny said. Eitan attended Camp Avoda for eight years, which always seemed like a kind of brotherhood, a fraternity, to me. He had long wanted to join a frat, and the laid-back frat system at UMiami appealed to him. “I’m a pledge for AEPi,” he had told me happily when he got in a few weeks before.
After the quiz, Eitan hung out at the frat house playing video games – another thing he has long loved to do. He and his brother Gabriel played on all the Nintendo systems from when they were young (yeah, yeah, video games baaad – but their dad loved to play too – our first Nintendo system was Jeff’s after all!), and it was something he enjoyed with his friends in high school, and college too. He played with a pledge brother for a few hours, and then they walked back to the dorm – his friend said they arrived around 1:30 in the morning.
Back in the room, he hung out with his roommate Reid for a bit, then settled back on his bed to watch American Dad on his laptop – as he wrote in his English notebook the week before, “When I need to relax, I go to my bed and pop on some Netflix.” He was also munching on a bag of Doritos. Reid told me he was trying to sleep, but the sound of the crinkling bag kept him up – it was close to 3 a.m. at this point. “Dude, could you pour them into a bowl or something?” he asked. Eitan laughed, said no problem.
Sometime during the early hours of Valentine’s Day, a seizure took Eitan’s life.
I miss Eitan profoundly, but it is comforting to know he spent his last day doing exactly the things he liked to do, and at the same time was planning for the future, enjoying his life to the very fullest.
Eitan, much to his chagrin, did not pass his driving test before he left for college. But he did want an ID, so got this license-like ID from the DMV before he left.