Monday, May 24, 2004

With Shuddering Fall

It is the nights that are the most difficult. Our routine is fixed. Karen continues to work until ten or eleven at night. It is her only escape; the only way she can block the pain from colonizing her mind. As a psychologist, she evaluates tests, writes up reports, makes recommendations. She does this with a remarkable attention to detail. Her patients are lucky; she is attentive, compassionate, realistic. She works with children and their parents. She listens to harrowing tales of domestic conflict, helps them cope with all sorts of conflict and anger. Yet it is Karen who endures more pain than any of her patients. But Karen never lets on. She has never even hinted that all she really wants to do is lie down on her son's grave and stay there until her bones mulch with his. And so, Karen works until exhaustion takes over. I read. I learn. I write. Sometimes I'll go into Ariel's room--unchanged since the day he died--lie down on his bed and smell his pillow, the sheets, feel his imprint in the mattress. I gaze at the room: there are the Transformers he loved as a little boy. There are the pictures of his Rebbeim from High School and Rabbinical College. And, oh look at that, there is his huge Snoopy poster. Ariel loved Charlie Brown. He always said that there was a great deal of Torah to learn from Snoopy and his friends. I leaf through his notebooks and marvel at the clarity of his thoughts on particularly difficult tractates in the Talmud. I head upstairs to our bedroom. I sit in the dark and listen to Karen breathing. Invariably, she begins to violently shudder. She cries out in her sleep, makes strangling, yelping noises like a frightened animal. I slip into bed and hold her. "What is it?" I ask. "Ariel, Ariel," she sobs. "Where is he? He must miss us," she says. "We were so close." I have no answer. All I can do is soothe this brilliant and beautiful woman who I fell in love with when we were ten years old, students together in the Yeshiva of Flatbush. Soon, Karen will drift off again, but the terrible moans and shuddering always accompanies sleep. It is a tornado of grief. A woman's body remembering the child that grew inside and is no longer. It is her body reacting to the hatchet-drop of tragedy. Karen's womb is suffering a loss all its own, a phantom limb crying out and insisting on remembrance. The female body is remorseless in its ability ot recall what it has nourished, remembering Ariel's lips the first week of his birth, smooth as boiled candy. It is night and Ariel is dead and he will always be dead. It is night and Karen convulses and all I can do is hold on, for if I let go I will fall off the bed and never stop falling.

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