riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Valentine’s Memory

Since it’s Valentine’s Day in a few hours, I thought I’d share a favorite memory with my late husband. This is also an expert from the current draft of my book. Happy Valentine’s day to you and yours.

February 13-15, 2009
For our first official Valentine’s Day, at my suggestion, we go camping in Joshua Tree National Park even though I’ve never been camping before. Since it’s my idea and I’ve organized the whole trip, I’m the only one who receives the instructions for the tent. Once we arrive and unpack, Kaz watches me circle the tarp a few times.

“You okay?” he asks.
“Yup.” I turn my back to him and silently bite my lip. I have no idea what I’m doing. Why did I even suggest a camping trip? What will happen if I can’t remember the instructions?
“Why don’t you try telling me how it’s supposed to go?” I hear him say gently behind me. “It might help you remember.”
“Okay.”

I start talking out loud, and he’s right. The instructions slowly come back to me. I begin to place certain pegs in certain holes, then bend the tent’s spine and stretch the fabric. We finish pitching it together, after which I’m practically giddy with relief and gratitude.

We celebrate by going for a walk in a nearby field of rocks. “Have you ever been here before?” I ask. “Yes, with my ex,” he answers. I nod and look down at the ground. He puts an arm around my shoulder. “But I’m very happy to be here again with you.”

We take a series of pictures. In one, he stands on a boulder, his hands spread wide, his feet straddling a large crevice running up the middle.

“Because he’s a crack man!” I yell as I take it.

As we walk back, he picks up a long, straight branch, which we immediately dub his Moses stick.

After dinner, which I manage to make without utensils (because I forgot those too), we sit in our borrowed camping chairs by the fire and pass a flask of Jack Daniels back and forth. Other than the fire, our entertainment is the star-filled sky and a small transistor radio which doubles as a flashlight (a Christmas gift from his mother). Tonight the only channel we can get clearly is a classical one with a DJ who speaks in Japanese.

We talk about our families again. I tell him how my mother was an artist and did art throughout her life, even when she was sick. That she loved music, especially jazz and reggae, and she spoke in a whisper due to multiple tracheotomies and open heart surgeries. I describe to him the moment my brother informed me of her death, 17 years prior. “It was and still is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me.”

In the flickering light of our campfire, Kaz tells me the closest he can relate is losing his paternal grandmother, who had helped raise him as a child. He describes the vegetable garden in the back of her house, the strawberry patch where he used to help her pick strawberries. He had been very fond of her.

“By the way, you can never go wrong making me something with strawberries in it, or berries in general,” he adds.
“Noted,” I laugh.

Later, he points out a couple of constellations and explains that because of the time it takes for the light to travel from the stars to us, some of the stars might actually be dead planets.
I look up at the sky. “That’s disappointing.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble,” he chuckles.
“You haven’t. I choose to believe the stars I’m looking at are alive,” I smirk. He laughs.

The next day, we visit Skull Rock where, to our surprise, it’s snowing. When he discovers both the heat and defrost don’t work in my car, we have a mini-spat, later to be referred to as Incident at Skull Rock.

We quickly take pictures before hurrying back to my car, where he jumps behind the wheel. A few miles and minutes away, we’re in the low desert and it’s sunny and warm.

“Oh my G-d,” I squeal. “Look at that!” I point over his left shoulder at a full rainbow arched over the plain, end to end, like something out of a movie. “Can we stop to take pictures, pleeease?” I plead. He pulls over and I jump out to photograph the rainbow, which, coupled with the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day weekend, feels like a divine symbol of love and hope.

View from the tent

View from the tent

Kaz and the crack

Kaz and the crack

Skull Rock in the snow

Skull Rock in the snow

the rainbow

the rainbow


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Spirit Guide

My puppy Ruby is only 4 months old and still discovering the world. Today, on our morning walk she discovered birds – specifically, pigeons. She’s actually seen them before but today was the first time she really noticed one. As she leapt in the air, wagging her tail, yelping with excitement, I laughed – and a stranger waiting at the bus stop nearby also laughed.

The pigeon of Ruby’s affection seemed hardly fazed. It didn’t fly away. It simply hopped a step or two out of Ruby’s reach, which of course made her even more frenetic.

I thought of Kaz. It doesn’t take much for me to think of him, especially around Ruby. I keep wishing we could be enjoying moments like this together, not to mention raising her together. I know for sure he would be better at disciplining at her. And she would have been daddy’s little girl.

But the pigeon made me think of him in another way too.

A few weeks after he passed, his best friend was going through some family issues and missing him. One night, he decided to walk to a local playground to be alone and think. While he was sitting on a swing, a crow flew down beside him and started “ca-cawing” to him loudly and repeatedly. “I felt like it was Kaz trying to tell me something,” he later told me.

On the one year anniversary of Kaz’s passing, I went back to Joshua Tree National Park, one of our favorite getaway spots. It was the first time I had been there without him and rather emotional. After a good cry, I sat on a rock and just looked out at the desert, remembering past trips there together.

Then I noticed a yellow and black bird about 20 feet in front of me and only a few feet above the ground, flying in circles. Once it had my attention, it began to gradually rise higher and higher, in a continuous circular motion, until it seemed to literally disappear into the sun.

At the time, I felt certain that I had just received a sign from Kaz. The bird was yellow and black, the colors of the Pittsburgh Steelers, his favorite football team second to the Redskins (he was from Washington D.C.). It seemed to both appear from nowhere and disappear into thin air. And after seeing it, I felt reassured, like I was not alone.

I should add that I’m not a particularly religious person, and neither was Kaz. He once sent me this quote in an email: “Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.” – Arthur C. Clarke

But we did feel spiritual and would often discuss various spiritual interpretations.

That said, I’m quite sure he would find these bird encounters funny.

I don’t know if what his best friend and I encountered was “real” or imagined, but there are many civilizations throughout the world who believe animals are part of our spiritual teachers and guides. Perhaps it’s up to the individual who experiences them.

Have you ever experienced an “animal spirit”? Do you think they’re possible?