Ezra at his last birthday party, in his wedding suit, taking portraits of all his guests (Dec. 18th, 2013) Photo by Caroline Samponaro.
Ez should be 44 today. He made it to 40, which was longer than anyone expected at the time, and yet way too short by any calculation. Ok, so he got to the top of the hill without having to go over, as they say we do after 40. But the thing is, Ez couldn’t wait to get older. He loved the thought of himself as an old, dignified man, with silvery grey hair and glasses. More immediately, he was desperate to see me pregnant and to have kids in time for them to know Putney’s snuggle. He was sure our kids would be girls, who would be tomboys. He’d be a stay at home dad and I’d be a professor at nearby City College. The kids would hang out with him in the shop, with Adi and Boop at their place around the corner, with Uncles Thomas and Evans next door, and with the kids in the neighborhood as soon as they were old enough. Ez would build bike seats and bikes for every phase of their development. They’d all bike up to have lunch with me at school and he’d make dinner for us every night. Ez would be first in line to sign the kids up for NYC public schools, completely unphased by the trials and tribulations that would almost certainly entail. We’d spend the summers in Nova Scotia. He’d teach the kids to swim and sail, and how to survive the various elements. We’d do house and island together and he’d help me take care of our community of elders for whom primitive island life would be getting pretty difficult by then. If he went too long without making stuff, though, he’d get anxious, and I’d insist on staying on the island until September of each year, so at some point he’d take up boat building as a summer job. Back in the city, during fall, winter, and spring, he’d keep building bikes in one way or another for as long as he found that interesting and beautiful. He’d keep taking photographs, making movies, and cooking food. I’d read and write and maybe get to a dance class every once in awhile. Beyond that, my vision of him, us, and of his vision of us gets blurry. I guess that’s as far as we got in terms of dreams and schemes.
In his afterlife I’ve managed to keep a few of our dreams alive. Shortly after Ez died I started teaching at City College, which is hands down the best job I’ve ever had. I haven’t finished my PhD (in part because it is difficult to do while working full time), which means I get get harassed by CUNY every semester for not making “satisfactory progress”- this despite the fact that I have made progress (all but the dissertation), and that I continue to pay tuition and to teach their undergraduates for practically nothing. So that’s a drag, but also a pretty privileged problem. And I should be able to finish my degree in the next year, at which point I can try for a permanent, salaried position. I spend the summers in Nova Scotia, taking care of the house, hanging out with the elders, learning how to survive the various elements if not how to sail (yet), soaking up the sun, and feeling at home. I’m grateful for the life and love that I’ve had and that I could have ahead of me.
And yet, I can’t seem to move through the grief or to “move on” with any grace. I just get by. I go to work, I take care of the house in Harlem, and I communicate, more or less, with the handful of people I see on a daily basis. I’ve tried, in fits and starts, to find my way back to the people, places, and practices I love, to find new ones with whom and through which to move forward. But one way or another, I’ve lost or withdrawn from almost every relationship and activity that ever mattered to me- most recently Putney Sue, but also friends, family members, housemates, and lovers- through death, distance, intentional and unintentional estrangement. In the process, I’ve all but let myself die, and I hate myself for it. Ez would be so unimpressed, so frustrated with me.
Having spent today, his birthday, reflecting on all of this, I realize how much I relied on his energy, vision, and love to carry me through and to be my compass. And I can see clearly now that I’ve spent quite enough time marinating in loss. There’s simply too much to do. As Ez would say, it’s time for me to “get on with it.” I’m so glad I can still hear him.