Alas, it was bound to rear its ugly head at some point. Why not write when provoked? And why not dump as many clichés as humanly possible into the mix while I’m at it.
On 20 December 2010 at 17.26 my world metaphorically collapsed. With the preview of one email, it was as if the roof fell upon me, 9 million tons of cement following. I clearly remember processing the following from my pop up email alert: Tom. Daughter. Kate. Dead.
I cannot cogently describe the next few hours of my life. There was a phone call placed to Kate’s parents. I was standing on the front stoop, in the cold, shitty wintry weather, smoking a cigarette. I remember catching a glimpse of my reflection in the storm door. I was smiling but it was that forced smile that I make whenever I’m on the phone. I remember pulling on my hair. I remember hearing the words and it reminded me of my first day in Sweden – a whole lot of gibberish that I would never understand. I remember answering questions. Asking questions. I remember saying good bye.
I think I sent Magnus the email from Kate’s parents but without going back and looking, I don’t know when.
Then, somehow, I ended up in our dining room, near the door to the kitchen. There were no lights on as the sun had set not too long before. I stood in the dark shaking and gasping for air. I remember Dock and Milkface coming home from work and school respectively. Barely above a whisper, I said the unthinkable “Kate is dead.” I remember being led to the living room and put on the sofa only to spring back up and run outside because I didn’t want my child to see me upset. This time it was the back porch, a cigarette and my red pea coat.
For the life of me, I wish I remembered which outfit I was wearing. By Jewish law, you’re supposed to rend your clothes. Not by any stretch am I a good Jew or an observant Jew but I like the tradition of destroying the outfit you were wearing when the world as you knew it ended. It’s a simple, cathartic rite. To this day I eye the laundry pile, suspiciously, wondering which shirt was on my back. Kate would have said “the shirt is laughing at you.”
December 20th was a Monday. I have little recall of how I got through the week. Sparky, Monica and DeeDee brought food and booze. I reached out to dear friends for some direly needed support. I managed to keep focused on work and preparations for Christmas. The first week was surprisingly easy. I suppose that is the blessing of shock.
Rather than make our half-assed version of the julbord, I had Dock pick up a ham and I threw some crab cakes in the oven. As I was puttering around the kitchen, I started making more and more food. I par-boiled asparagus and let them bathe in a light olive oil glaze with lemon juice. I think I even made bread. I may have made boiled potatoes. Daddy came and left. Presents were opened. I sat on the sofa and stared.
I tried keeping my shit together at work the following week. Sadly, it all became too much and I ended up taking time off. I wasn’t sleeping. I was crying at the drop of the hat and if I could have figured out a way to get out of my own skin without making a bloody mess, I would have.
The only thing in my favor was self-medication. As my back was giving me a world of trouble, I had various forms of painkillers at my disposal. One can find a good amount of peace in an opiate induced fog. Unfortunately, the calm was temporary. At some point, notifications would be made and the floodgate of questions would open. After all, it’s not every day that an otherwise healthy and happy 39 year old woman ends up dead. Even if most deaths come without warning, this one was sure to jar. And jar it did.
A death around Christmas is unusually cruel and not for the obvious reason. A death around Christmas causes all of us to look around the room and wonder who may not be in their rightful place next year. A death around Christmas provokes feeling of survivor’s remorse. A death around Christmas makes you feel like absolute hell knowing that someone’s parents are not opening presents with their children or toasting a good meal with everyone present and account for.
From time to time, I’m going to chronicle my journey. My journey with Kate who is closer to me than any other creature on the planet. My journey of losing her and my attempts to build a life without someone who played such a critical role in my existence. While certainly therapeutic for me, I hope people will be interested in the tale of two girls growing into women and a very special friendship/sister hood. These installments will may not always be life-affirming. They’re certainly not novel. But, for me, they are necessary.