riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Remembering (and Writing About) Love

I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, not just because Kaz isn’t around to share it with me, but because it seems forced and commercial, not to mention superfluous. Every day should be about love in my book. And people should express it in their own ways, not feel pressured to do so by some public measuring stick.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little sad. I’m happy for anyone who is enjoying this day and celebrating love. It’s just impossible to not think of Kaz and remember times gone by.

My favorite Valentine’s Day (which I wrote about here) was the one when we had the least amount of money and went camping in Joshua Tree National Park. The only expense was the price of the campsite ($15), wood for the fire ($20), and the food and wine, which we would have had anyway at home. During the day we hiked. At night we ate dinner and talked. We had no entertainment other than the fire, the stars and a radio. It was lovely.

As a writer attempting to capture our story, it’s easy, cathartic even, to describe scenes like the camping trip. Less easy is to describe what it felt like to be in love. (To be fair, I think this has been a challenge for writers since the beginning of the written word.) Some folks who have read my memoir draft have commented that while it’s clear that Kaz and I really loved each other, they found themselves wanting more of the “being in love.”

How does one write about being in love? To me, it’s not very effective to say, “I had never felt so happy” or “I felt like my heart might burst,” even if it is an accurate description. It’s easier to write an argument – a moment of conflict – than it is to describe those silent moments where everything was happening on the inside.

Maybe it’s because I come from screenwriting. One is never supposed to write how the character feels, unless the character is saying how he/she feels, a slippery slope which only the greatest screenwriters can pull off. One is supposed to write the scene in such a way that the reader knows how the character is feeling without being told.

I recently discussed this with a friend, and she asked me describe out loud what it was like being in love with Kaz. This is what I said:

“I remember looking into his eyes and feeling like the rest of the world had just faded away. It didn’t matter if it was for several minutes or a split-second. In those moments, it would feel like there was only us, like we were inside a bubble. Inside the bubble we didn’t need to speak out loud because we could speak with our eyes. Outside the bubble was everyone else.

Looking into his eyes was also like looking into a mirror. I saw him… but I also saw myself. I saw myself the way he saw me. In his eyes, I was more beautiful, more intelligent, more talented… always a better version than how I saw myself.

There were moments when he would take my hand and bounce it lightly in his, or just play with my fingers, or he would squeeze my hand and I would squeeze back. It was this private thing between us, a way of communicating without words. We did it when we watched television, on long drives, in public, when he was sick, all the way to the end. Actually, that’s how I knew we were at the end… when he stopped squeezing back.

At concerts, he would always find the best spot in the crowd to see the stage and let me stand in front of him. He didn’t dance, but he would put his hands on my hips as I danced.

There were other moments when we would make each other laugh, or we’d be hanging out in the kitchen, drinking wine, cooking dinner, just talking about our days… and I would suddenly feel the sensation of fullness, like my heart had expanded to fill up my entire body, like my heart had become my body. Sometimes I would hug him out of the blue because… I just had to. Moments like this would always be followed by a hint of pain, because I never wanted them to end.

I used to fall asleep before him when we watched TV, and he would always guide me to bed and tuck me in. My mother used to do that too when I was a child. She would sit with me for a few minutes before I fell asleep. Kaz was the only other person who ever did that, and it always made me feel so good and safe, like I could trust him with my life.

When we were in nature, like in Joshua Tree or driving up the coast of California on Route 1, everything sort of sparkled. I know that sounds silly, but that’s how it seemed, like everything had a layer of diamond dust. I used to feel like a divine presence was with us, like the heavens were pleased, like my mother was smiling down from above. One of the ways I knew that Kaz was special was this certainty that my mother would have loved him, and vice-versa.”

It was a good exercise to describe these moments out loud. I often wonder if I’ll ever feel like this again. In any case, I never want to forget what it feels like to be in love.

Wishing everyone a love-filled day, every day. xo

Joshua Tree sunset

Me looking at the Joshua Tree sunset, pic taken by Kaz


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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