No matter how much emphasis I put on personal goals that I achieved or places that I visited or people that I spent time with, 2015 will always be, first and foremost, the year that took my mother. Over the course of the last few weeks I've been thinking quite a bit about the coming year and what I want it to look like, about the things I want to accomplish and the places I want to go and the people I want to spend its minutes and hours and days with, and as those thoughts turn over in my mind I can't help but consider them in terms of what my mom would think. Luckily, and thankfully, she was a planner, my mother, and she left me with pretty clear idea. So, in the space below, which I would typically reserve for words written by Anne Lamott or Jonathan Tropper or Neil Gaiman, I'm going to proudly place the words of my dear mother, her last, and with them the hope that I can spend this coming year and every year that comes after it living a life guided by them.
B and I just polished off cheese quesadillas, a plate of crab enchiladas and one shot each of Don Julio Anejo at Don Ramon's (see photo below) and now we're gonna rent 27 Dresses because he claims that hasn't seen it before which I'm not entirely sure that I believe but because I wouldn't mind spending the rest of this night with James Marsden, Katherine Heigl and a slew of wedding reception dance montages set to Michael Jackson songs I'm just gonna go with it. And yeah, I guess I'll go ahead and file the second-to-last night of 2015 under 'Crawling to the Finish Line.'
According to the year in books thing that Goodreads does, I started and finished twenty-nine books in 2015. Twenty-four of those books were fiction, seven of them had an LGBTQ bent, five were books that I'd read before, two were memoirs and one, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, was a graphic novel, my first. I also counted one play, The Laramie Project, as part of the total, as well as one very short children's book, Rosie Revere, Engineer, which I read to my one-year-old nephew.
Because I'm the type of reader that stops every few pages to mark a particularly meaningful passage, usually by snapping a photo of it with my iPhone, and because I had nearly eight thousand pages of words to choose from, I have amassed a pretty sizable stash of quotes from the past year, so I've decided to put together top-ten list of my faves. I should note that quite a few of the quotes that made the list are from books written by Jonathan Tropper because, well, I read a lot of books written by Jonathan Tropper in 2015 and also because, well, Jonathan Tropper is quite good at writing books containing words that I want to keep handy. The list itself makes its way through the books I read in the order in which I read them beginning with Breakfast with Scot (I finished it in January) and ending with Postcards from the Edge (I'm reading it now). Also, I lied a few sentences ago, there are more than ten quotes. Oh, and a bunch of them are about death and grief and loss. Sorry. Anyway, without further ado, here are my favorite book quotes from 2015.
Breakfast with Scot
Sam put his elbows on his knees and held his face in his hands. He looked at Scot as if he'd known him forever. "I thought about you all day long, Scot. Since you came to live with Ed and me, I think about you all the time. So does Ed." He closed his eyes and smiled. And when he opened his eyes, he said, "It's so great you live here with us. When I'm on my way home, I can't wait to talk to you about school and how you're feeling and what's for dinner." Then Sam shook his head apologetically. "But there's something incredibly important I keep forgetting to tell you." Here, he inserted a very long pause.
Scot and I both wanted to scream, What? What did you forget? But we held our cool.
Sam said, "You’re going to change. In the next few years, you're going to change a lot, Scot. You'll get taller and your feet will grow, and your arms and legs and shoulders will be amazingly different. It's happening every day, and you're so used to it that you won't even notice all the changes. But I will. Every day of your life, I will notice you. I will memorize you every morning, and you will be a picture on my heart wherever I go."
Scot bowed his head, and then he went farther and rested his forehead on the table. He was sobbing.
The fiddle players rosined their bows, and the piano player lightly touched the keys, and the bass player made his big fat string talk in a deep, low voice, and then they exploded—and the music they played was like a giant bucket of water poured over a great tree, fully leaved, the notes dividing and dispersing themselves down, gradually growing smaller and smaller, joyously running, bouncing, flowing down, down, down from leaf to leaf as if racing one another. A one-child family suddenly multiplied a thousand, a million times over, each rivulet, each bead, each tear, a drop of sunlight and glee.
Maybe the Moon
I've been stricken with what Mom used to call "the mauves"—something vaguer than the blues but just as debilitating. If I knew what the problem was, I could fix it, or at least bitch about it, but I can't nail down my emotions long enough to give them names. I feel empty and adrift, I guess, devoid of purpose. The simplest rituals of existence, like shaving my legs or replacing the trash can liner, leave me racked with the futility of it all. I long for serendipity, but there is simply none to be had. And that hateful, familiar voice in the back of my head reminds me that I've probably already done all I was meant to do—and ten years ago, at that. I am a husk of a person, nothing more, a burned-out organism tumbling toward oblivion.
We sat there quietly for a while watching the lake, growing ever so slightly older together.
One Last Thing Before I Go
Isn't that what love is, anyway? The sum of a million intangibles that all come together in just the right way at just the right time? Like conception. Or the universe.
The Sky is Everywhere
How will I survive the missing? How do others do it? People die all the time. Every day. Every hour. There are families all over the world staring at beds that are no longer slept in, shoes that are no longer worn. Families that no longer have to buy a particular cereal, a kind of shampoo. There are people everywhere standing in line at the movies, buying curtains, walking dogs, while inside, their hearts are ripping to shreds. For years. For their whole lives. I don't believe time heals. I don't want it to. If I heal, doesn't that mean I've accepted the world without her?
The Sky is Everywhere
It's such a colossal effort not to be haunted by what's lost, but to be enchanted by what was.
A Separate Peace
"There was no harm in taking aim, even if the target was a dream."
The Beginning of Everything
"There's a word for it," she told me, "in French, for when you have a lingering impression of something having passed by. Sillage. I always think of it when a firework explodes and lights up the smoke from the ones before it."
"That's a terrible word," I teased. "It's like an excuse for holding onto the past."
"Well, I think it's beautiful. A word for remembering small moments destined to be lost."
People brush past us on the street in endless waves, leaving somewhere, headed somewhere else, laughing, smoking, speaking into cell phones, completely oblivious to the holocaust of an entire world casually imploding in their midst.
How to Talk to a Widower
People want their lives to make sense, want to sit back like cosmic detectives and examine what's happened to them so far, identifying the key turning points that shaped them and retroactively imbuing these moments with a mystical aura, like the celestial forces of the universe are a team of writers on the serialized television show of your life, charged with concocting outrageously convoluted plotlines designed to achieve resolution by the end of the season. No one wants to believe that it's all completely random, that the direction of our lives is nothing more than a complex series of accidents, little nuclear mushroom clouds, and we're just living in the fallout.
How to Talk to a Widower
"...people become possessive of their grief, almost proud of it. They want to believe it's like no one else's. But it is. It's exactly like everybody else's. Grief is like a shark. It's been around forever, and in that time there's been just about no evolution. You know why?"
"Because it's perfect just the way it is."
Hopefully I have another forty to fifty years of living ahead of me before I pass from this earth either in my sleep or during a daring rescue caught on tape. Ideally my penultimate day would be spent attending a giant beach party thrown in my honor. Everyone would gather around me at sunset, and the golden light would make my skin and hair beautiful as I told hilarious stories and gave away my extensive collection of moon art to my ex-lovers. I and all of my still-alive friends (which, let's face it, will mostly be women) would sing and dance late into the night. My sons would be grown and happy. I would be frail but adorable. I would still have my own teeth, and I would be tended to by handsome and kind gay men who pruned me like a bonsai tree. Once the party ended, everyone would fall asleep except for me. I would spend the rest of the night watching the stars under a nice blanket my granddaughter made with her Knit-Bot 5000. As the sun began to rise, an unexpected guest would wake and put the coffee on. My last words would be something banal and beautiful. "Are you warm enough?" my guest would ask. "Just right," I would answer. My funeral would be huge but incredibly intimate. I would instruct people to throw firecrackers on my funeral pyre and play Purple Rain on a loop.
I lay in bed and thought about time and pain, and how many different people live under the same big, beautiful moon.
Postcards from the Edge
I think that's what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality.
I would also like to include a bonus quote which only sort of counts because it's from Ernest Hemingway's World War I novel A Farewell to Arms which I didn't read this year, but it appeared as the epigraph in Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places, which I did read. Anyway, it's wonderful.
The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.
I woke up Christmas Eve to an email from a close friend of mine from childhood whom I lost touch with when he changed elementary schools at the end of the 5th grade. Although we haven't seen or spoken to one another in quite a few years, the email contained a pretty recent story about my mom. I asked my old friend if I could stash part of that story here and he said yes. It's below.
A few years ago I slowly started developing anxiety problems, mostly like claustrophobia or at its worst moments like agoraphobia, and it just progressively got worse. It was like I'd slowly dug a mile deep hole and when I finally looked up all I could see was a pinhole of light and I couldn't imagine getting back to the top. The reason I'm telling you that is because near the deepest part of my head-down hole-digging phase, your mom did something that I'll always remember and I don't think she ever knew what it meant to me, so I wanted you to know.
I don't remember what the occasion or holiday was, but my family went to a very-busy-at-the-time Hennessy's for dinner, which was a Herculean task for me then. While I was trying not to have a panic attack on the way to our table, your mom popped up from a large group of people and came up to my mom and I and asked how I was doing and she made me feel safe and comfortable in the middle of that packed room. For a second I wondered "did my mom tell her about what's going on with me?!"...and then I realized, that is just who your mom is. She had no idea what I was going through, but she treated me like she knew and it gave me a moment of peace when I really needed it. You always see "be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" quoted places because we tend to forget and need to be reminded, but I don't think your mom ever forgot that. I can't pretend to act like I knew her well enough to really back that up, I knew her about as well as you might expect someone to know a childhood friend's mom, but I do know I always felt safe and comfortable around her and that meant a lot to me.
I've been the lucky recipient of dozens of stories like the one above in the months since my mom passed away. They've come in many different forms, but their endings are almost always the same. My mom wasn't rich or famous, but she was kind, and in the end that's what really mattered.
Beginning on the first day of December and continuing through today my sister Kelly and my brother-in-law Chris gave my nephew Harrison one new book every night, which they'd read with him after he unwrapped it. Before the month began Kelly asked me to suggest a few of my favorite children's book titles and I did. I then asked her if I could provide the last book, the Christmas Eve book, and she said I could. Although I have a great many favorite books from my childhood, I decided to give Harrison The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's story about a pilot who meets a young prince while stranded in the Sahara desert following a plane crash. It's kind of a long story and a little bit complicated and probably not ideal for a one-year-old, but it's beautifully written and the illustrations are delightful and I hope that one day Harrison will count it among his favorites, too.
In the very beginning of The Little Prince, even before the actual story starts, Saint-Exupéry, the book's author, dedicates his work to a lifelong friend and then expounds on why he has done so.
TO LEON WERTH
I ask children to forgive me for dedicating this book to a grown-up. I have a serious excuse: this grown-up is the best friend I have in the world. I have another excuse: this grown-up can understand everything, even books for children. I have a third excuse: he lives in France where he is hungry and cold. He needs to be comforted. If all these excuses are not enough, then I want to dedicate this book to the child whom this grown-up once was. All grown-ups were children first. (But few of them remember it.) So I correct my dedication:
TO LEON WERTH
WHEN HE WAS A LITTLE BOY
Inspired by Saint-Exupéry's dedication, which I love so very much, I penned the following note inside of my nephew's copy.
December 24, 2015
In the dedication of this book, which you’ll find four pages from now, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote:
All grown-ups were children first. (But few of them remember it.)
My wish for you this Christmas is that you remember the magic of your childhood always. I wish that you remember all of the things that made you laugh and few of the things that made you cry. I wish that you remember how much you love books and dancing and your Paka. I wish that you remember the warmth of your mother's hugs, how truly silly your dad can be and the goodness of your grandmothers, who we lost this year. Mostly though, I wish for you an adulthood that echoes your youth, with at least as much laughter and twice as much love.
Merry Christmas munchkin.
I would like to mention, for the sake of my own records, that I penned the above inscription while babysitting Harrison so that his parents could attend Christmas Eve mass. We played "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon, at his request, on a loop and jumped around the living room of my parents' condo until my legs grew tired. Then we ate pretzels and watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas while snuggled together in my mom's favorite blanket.