44


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.

27 Responses to “44”

  1. Ben Rabin

    So very good to hear from you and to share the vision you both had for the future. Hang in there…and yes, there is a life to be lived, and at least from what we know of Ezra, he would, indeed, be disappointed if you did not find the means to move on.

    Take care. Thanks for the post.

  2. Lisa in Vancouver BC

    I was just describing Ezra to someone last week … so thank-you, Hillary, for sharing his birthday with us. Please don’t worry about what Ezra would think; there is already enough to bear. And don’t hate yourself: give yourself all the time you need to find your back to those people, places and things you loved, especially those you shared with Ezra. Cancer took his life — don’t let it take yours, too.
    May 2018 bring you healing and happiness. Sending love from the west coast.

  3. Linnea Olson

    Oh Hillary. Who I know but don’t know. I was looking at my photo of Ezra (one of his self portraits) just yesterday and wondering about you—how you are doing.

    Such a cheat, cancer.

    Were I closer I’d talk you into going to dinner with me. We’d reminisce about Ezra (who I also knew but didn’t know) but I’d also share with you the things I’ve learned about living an imperfect life, the one you didn’t plan. About making peace with disappointment and heartbreak but also finding another way. A beautiful, love filled way. Because that is in fact what Ezra would want for you.

    xo Linnea

  4. Penny

    I was so glad to see you had posted. I still have times he will pop into my mind and for someone I never met in person, that’s a lovely thing. His energy clearly filtered into everything he did. I suppose grief has its own calendar and I hope you find or even stumble upon your happiness soon. I hope it’s waiting in the wings. Thank you for posting and nothing but love to you.

  5. April Blankenship

    I hope you find a way.

  6. Amy

    Thank you so very much for the update. I followed Ezra for a while before he passed away, not knowing the lessons I was learning along the way and how I would use them later in life. Ezra’s espousal of palliative care was incredibly helpful when my mom was toward the end of her life. We should have asked for it earlier, something I will always regret. I’m so thankful for Ezra sharing, without filter, his journey.
    Also, thank you for updating people that you don’t know, and some I am sure you do, but mostly a bunch of internet strangers, on how you are. I was thankful to see an update from you today. Take care.

    -Amy

  7. bibliogrrl

    Hillary – there is no timeline to being done with grief. (you know this though). This internet stranger has thought about you a lot over the years, and slow forward movement is still movement.

    Thank you for writing here. Thank you for being, and writing, and teaching , and remembering Ezra to us. <3

  8. Deborah Goodwin Potter

    Hillary,
    Thank You for posting. I needed to be reminded of Ezra and how he handled his cancer. Have had cancer 4 times in the past and always seemed to get off easy. This time it is being more stubborn and I will be rereading Ezra’s posts to guide me in this fight.
    I agree with Linnea and hope you find renewed love and Peace in your life.
    Have a Blessed Christmas,
    Deb in NH.
    (Ali’s Aunt)

  9. Gwendolyn

    Today my niece turned 14 and leading up to this day when I think of her birthday I always think it’s about to be Ezra’s too. It makes me think that my niece is lucky to share a birthday with someone like Ezra.

    I also completely understand your feelings. My mom died of cancer two years ago around this time. Lots of love to you as you celebrate Ezra.

    I wish Ezra a very happy birthday.

  10. sue borst

    I’m so glad you can still hear his voice, it was a very compelling one. You’re right, his love for life, for making things, for work and for you kept us in thrall. He blew thru his days, not having enough minutes in the day to get everything done. He was such a whirlwind that it must have impossible to escape….

    And now the days must be quiet, almost still. It is no wonder you have been marinating in your grief, reimagining your future with children, bikes, boats and elders to care for. It’s very hard to lose that idyllic view of the life you should have had. But soon, with a little more time, you will begin a new one. Perhaps meet a new student, another professor, rekindle an old flame. You two had wonderful friends and contacts and I can imagine some of them, who knew Ezra, are still interested. A way to move on and yet keep him alive in your hearts. Or join a new group of musicians, of casual gourmands, writers or park dwellers. Maybe teach young children at an after school program. I got great pleasure watching little kids after my husband died.

    I’ll be thinking of you Hillary, sending gentle hugs your way. Thank you for communicating with us again. Hold yourself tight.

  11. Stephen

    Thank you for sharing, Hillary.
    Sounds from here you are doing Ez proud.

  12. Daniel Miller

    This was beautiful. I’m so glad you still return here from time to time.

  13. Carolyn

    he would be a tough act to follow. i never met hm, but reading his blog start to horrible finish, and feeling his loss as i do, i can barely imagine what it must be to you. you should have had that wonderful life with him. he is a great loss.

  14. DeAnne

    I don’t really have words, just know that I’m sending love.

  15. Jolene

    Nice to see a post here. I think of you from time to time and wonder how you are…and thought of Ezra just today. Have a Happy Christmas as best you can. Healing from grief takes time, sometimes a long time…and that’s ok.

  16. Artis

    Thanks so much for sharing! As Lisa said, don’t let cancer take your life too. I didn’t know Ezra in person, but as they say, you can’t hide an awl in a burlap sack — his lust for life was the main theme for his posts here. I wish I was more like him in the sense of following his passions and enjoying life the best way he could.

    I hope that you will find ways to get your mojo back!

  17. SDB

    Really sorry to hear this, but not at all surprised.
    Ezra seemed almost larger than life.
    A tough act to follow, therefore tough for you to stop comparing every man you meet against him.

    I know that you will find your way back and one day will find love again even if the idea is rather horrid momentarily.

    Grief has its own timetable and will only let go when its ready to do so. Just keep putting one step forward and one day soon you will wake up and feel that life is wonderful once again.

  18. Monkey Me

    To hear the voice…. It’s been 15 years since my son passed. I hold onto as many memories as I can. I have his wallet in a ziplock bag. On tough days I unzip it, just a bit, and breath him in. I can hear him say his name because it was recorded on his voicemail. I can hear him talk to his infant son because it is our only video of them together. so many of the memories have softened. my love for him will never.

    Ezra helped me in many ways. I was angry with my recital cancer diagnosis. I had just lost both my breasts to cancer and soon, I would lose the commitment of my husband. Ezra’s deliberate living kept me grounded. And it kept me honest. You, Hillary, keep me reaching for something richer…deeper. Thank you. I send you peace, love and glorious Nova Scotia light as I remember and celebrate the gift of Ezra. Always.

  19. raoul

    Thanks for these words, sending you love.

  20. rc

    I never knew Ezra in real life but found his blog years before he passed away. I think about him and you often. I’m so glad you posted. Keep writing. Maybe it will be a way for you to move through the grief process. Hugs.

  21. Lei Isaacs

    I JUST (two days ago) lost a dear friend to cancer, and while he was in the hospital, I used to take him printouts of some of Ezra’s posts. He live on—Exra, that is) in his writing his photos, and the bike he inspired.

  22. Gary Oberbeck

    Hillary,
    I found Ezra’s and your story by accident – some bike link I suppose.
    Ezra looked like a talented,caring, smart man from here – I am sorry I cannot help with your loss – I know ALOT of people came to meet Ezra online, and made the journey a part of our day, maybe hoping to help some how by being a ‘supporter’?

    Please keep up your work,school, the folks in Nova Scotia etc.- you are valued and people depend upon your good works. Hopefully by communicating on the blog there will be some help garnered from friends and internet friends.Please stay close to those that are friends- they can help.

    I think of Ezra every time I put my ass on that beautiful Brooks Swift with a heart on it – It makes me smile… and cry.
    Thanks for the ‘letter’.

    Peace and Love
    go

  23. Lauren

    Lump in throat reading this. I’m so glad that he’s still helping you work stuff out. I didn’t know him, never met him, but I think about him often. Sending you strength and courage for the future. x

  24. Kyle Walton

    Peter and I send our love from DC.

  25. Audrey

    I’m so sorry to hear of your multiple losses – especially Putney’s. Like so many others, I followed Ezra’s posts, which were so informative as my sister endured stage IVb cancer. I wish you peace of mind.

  26. Susan

    Every month or so, I make colcatada, or “flashy pan fish.” And remember Ezra and you. We were once neighbors but didn’t know it – only after I moved north I discovered your stories beginning with the flickr photo of the hot-weather-Ez soaking in the tub with an iced whisky and black cat–around 2006. Now living in the Netherlands, I am still ever so glad for the occasional dispatches. I’m so sorry about Putney Sue, damn. And sorry we never met in person. There has been a lot of transition and leaping in my life in the last five years and having the example of Ezra’s fearlessness and your perseverence as a reference point has (and continues to make it) a little bit easier. And reminds me to not be a guarded perfectionist but just share, share, offer.
    Wishing you all the strength of mind and heart needed to accomplish your dissertation and step (again) forward.

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