So this happened.
Connoisseurs Marketplace, Menlo Park, California, 7.20.14
He is grown but young.
The attack from within knocked him flat backward,
tight curls torn open staining black asphalt crimson,
in front of a statue of jeans with a pig snout jutting from the fly,
and a coffee shop.
Aunt’s hands, grandmother’s, cousins, holding, supporting, cradling that head,
eyes rolled back white frozen
cold unseeing but alive, the barest hint of terror.
I recognize this stare,
suspended immobility after the shakes,
And I stop, and freeze, and stare, seeing, and wring my hands,
an action I thought only appeared in writing, but there they are, the left, the right, holding each other, washing with fingers and skin, pressing against my heart.
A crumpled cream colored towel appears in the relatives’ hands,
supplied by someone,
to prop, protect, that head so it will rest on softness instead of street.
Bright red outlines the wrinkles of cloth,
blood on the hands of those who love him, looking, seeking help, Please call 911, they implore.
I have to watch because I can save him just by being here,
making sure he stays alive,
breathe, I breathe to will the breath,
gauging if his color is normal.
What would turning blue look like on black skin?
But I see the rise of his body inhaling, air going in, out, nourishing, replenishing
I stay as police come, as firemen arrive, and the EMTs,
as they lower the oxygen mask over his face,
the prone boy emerging from the netherland of shakes to hands legs faces loving bodies, touching, holding down, plastic mask of relief descending.
he pushes it away.
he attempts inarticulate articulations, moaning noises of protest because he can’t yet form words other than no, no,
supreme effort to get that sound out of his body
He struggles to understand,
to free himself while not understanding, just to
Is he your brother, I ask a young man.
He’s my little cousin, he tells me. He’s 17.
I, I lost my son to epilepsy, I say, though I want to say, Oh he’ll be fine. And there are unbidden tears on my cheeks. He touches my arm.
Seeing my leaking eyes, I’m so sorry says a passing woman who hands napkins to the family to wipe blood from their hands. No, he’s, I lost my son, I say, and she envelopes me in a hug before continuing her walk.
I turn to the grandma, Terrifying, she says, just the second time I’ve seen him this way,
It is terrifying, I say. I lost my son. And she squeezes my hand.
I have to stay, I have to make sure he’s staying alive.
And I feel utterly helpless and wonder why I am witnessing this. On a perfect blue sky California day after a 10 mile bike ride to a craft fair, where I admired the pottery and jewelry and sculptures and paintings and photographs, smiling at artists and families and people
until the collapsed form stopped me.
Are you a relative, connected to this family, the pink EMT asks me. Their skin is espresso and mocha and cocoa and mine is milky tea. No… by circumstance I say, and he tells me, Then please move on.
The grandmother hugs me, and she thanks me. I give her my Eitan card, This is my son, I say.
The cousin and I hug, and I search for something useful, advice,
some reason I am here, a messenger. Make sure he takes his medication, I say, teenagers, and he says, Yes, yes. I want to say more, but I can’t make the shakes go away, and I can’t say it’s all going to be OK.
Bodies aren’t supposed to do that convulsive spasms seizure tremble vibrate electrical disconnection
whatever the hell that means.
As instructed I move on,
leaving the family of strangers bound to me, tears falling, unhidden,
and I lean my back against a sidewalk tree by a drugstore
deep, slow, grieving breaths;
hands to heart center.
For days after, I wondered what I was supposed to do with this experience. I, who look for signs in so many things, feeling messages from Eitan, Larry, God. And now, a month later, I think, perhaps this was a turning point for me this summer. Because it has been a summer of growth and light and sun, of so much sunshine. Of life-changing conversations and connections to old, old friends, and to newer friends, and to new.
My initial reaction, even though this thing happened to someone else, much more significantly, was, why me? Why did I witness this? What’s my takeaway? And perhaps it was a shoutout from Eitan, and perhaps there is no takeaway at all.
Except, I feel lighter.
I’m not sure if it was just before or after this incident, when I had a little snippet dream of Eitan. “Aren’t you angry?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“But you were so young!”
“I had a good life,” he said.
I was in DC and California for July (the perk of working from where I am), where perpetual sunlight invigorated my soul, where precious friendship balanced my heart, where a play addressing grief included puppets and surprising insight, where two dogs who just liked being nearby made me rethink my self-proclaimed “I’m not a dog person” label.
I met my 100 in 100 days yoga challenge and extended it to 150 in 150, another kind of counting. Because at 79 weeks, I now have to calculate, and don’t automatically know how many weeks it’s been since Eitan passed away. A year and a half. And still have to blink at the realization that he’s gone, question that reality. So now I count sun salutations and oms, connecting to Eitan’s lack of breath through my own focused breathing.
Home for a few days at the beginning of this month, to admire the first sunflower I’ve ever successfully grown in my yard, and pick Sungold tomatoes, and see a remarkable high school production of Chicago, before heading off to a Jewish study retreat in New Hampshire.
I went to the National Havurah Institute and saw a double rainbow the afternoon I arrived, and practiced yoga on a mat with Eitan’s name at dawn on a dock on a lake for six days and saw downy feathers on sand and cobwebs studded with dew on bulrushes and studied prayer and prophecy and wrote a sermon on love and hope and comfort. Mind opening, heart expanding.
And I came home and danced at a wedding of two beautiful souls when I did not know if I would ever dance again. Hava, nagilah, come, let’s be joyous.
And I can grieve my son, and my Larry, and know that they are both utter blessings in my life, and I can mourn them, and know that I am not betraying them when someone asks me how I am, and I can honestly answer, “Great!”