I’ve only been back in New York for two weeks, but they have been busy ones. One of the things I have been busy doing is answering people’s questions about how I’m doing and how it feels to be back. I have been really bad at it, because I was still processing it
Here’s how it feels:
Like part of me is still walking along the ghats at Varanasi, going to a cafe or meeting a friend there, the river shimmering in the morning light. Part of me lives at the temple at Chidamburam, among the flickering lamps and carved pillars. A different part of me is floating on the Nile, looking up at the painted ceiling of an ancient temple. There is a piece of me which now permanently resides at the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo, and I may have accidentally lost part of myself to a tour group going to Mecca.
The rest of me, or most of it, is in New York City, strangely, comfortingly, back in an apartment I once called home as we start the countdown to its demise in this incarnation.
It is a sudden stop, like waking from a wild dream to find yourself in your own familiar bed. I could almost fool myself that I have gone backwards in time instead of forward, and that all my travels have been a dream, a figment. But for a few small modifications, this time could almost be 2009 or last April, only this time a serious change is afoot: my good friend Nora is leaving the city. For good. We say that it isn’t permanent, but we know that it isn’t that temporary.
She was like a sister to me through the process of moving to New York, through all of my ups and downs, and I have had the privilege of being there for her when the poo hit the propeller. When my big sister died in 2011, Nora was with me in New York and took time out of a business trip to come up to Napa and be with my family when we were there to organize her memorial and sort out things. We desperately needed some comfort and she will forever be remembered by me and my family for providing it.
Her life has called her to far away shores and I can’t begrudge that! But I do wonder what we’ll do without her? Perhaps New York will lose its allure, post-Nora. It will certainly feel different.
And so we have a week till she lifts off and soon we’ll see the apartment transformed back into its previous blank incarnation. Meanwhile, I am on the hunt for a place to spend a few months collecting myself and reshaping my life. I’m taking some screenwriting classes in exchange for “interning” in the office and looking for part-time work while trying to determine if my differences with this city are reconcilable. Maybe all I need is a different perspective.
This weekend Nora and I went to the birthday party of a couple of my friends and I couldn’t help but recall another party at the same house, almost ten months ago now, when I was about a month away from leaving New York and my heart was singing with possibilities and hopes untested. There is a melancholy sense in which the magic and the potentials I felt to be so palpable at that moment have split off from my actual life and become reflections of dreams unrealized. Ten months ago I had that moment of standing at the brink as we celebrated the festival of St. Joan on a rooftop in Brooklyn, jumping over a firepit to symbolize the letting go of old fears and limitations.
No harsh realities seemed likely – they were a child’s drawing of a boogie man – all roads would lead to happy endings and all tangles, if any should appear, would be miraculously untangled for the benefit of all. I was the victor, having emerged from a few months of funk to feel once more, at long last, that “teenage feeling” – I really thought I saw the pink sky of sunrise after the long dark night I was traveling through since Erika died. I felt cradled and protected, invincible. Beloved.
On the other side of nearly a year’s worth of experiences now, I can’t claim to have been correct about the rightness of things. Some things which seemed beyond doubt then have proven to be very questionable indeed. I’ve seen those sketchy comical boogie men come to frightening life as the trappings of mundane quotidian existence fell away and the shells of dreams shattered under the weight of time’s testing. Some of the people I thought were in my life for the longterm turned out to be gone forever in an instant, without a backward look. I thought I’d seen the last of others who have somehow stuck around to cycle back and clink cocktails with me at these karmic parties.
It is enough to remove the last vestiges of childlike belief in a future that is comprehensible or really has anything to do with what I want or need or deserve and make me just submit to life. I find myself pulled in two opposing directions: part of me surrenders and longs to give up, battered by too much self-reliance and too many hopes dashed. Another part of me, inspired by the spirit of my fearless sister, urges me onward, encourages me to keep my chin up.
Today would have been Erika’s 35th birthday. It is the second of her birthdays to pass without her presence here on Earth. All my life I’ve had her example to follow, her steps to tread in. Her old roller skates became my hand-me-downs, and now I’ve inherited her car and her motorcycle – fast-moving wheels for a speed-demon of a thrill seeker. And I will drive.
This day of senseless killing, of lives cut short tragically and terrifyingly, reminds me of the day in December when we all started to hear about the shooting in Newtown. Then, I was reflecting on the passing of my uncle, Philip Wellford, comedian and and juggler, spiritualist and psychic. Early onset dementia brought an untimely end to his life not long before that confused young man opened fire on unsuspecting, defenseless children and teachers. Several of those who knew him thought of my uncle’s death in relation to the passing of those frightened souls, pictured him protecting them and comforting them.
Now, months later, gun laws are still controversial, though that attack ended more lives decisively than this one seems to have, yet everyone agrees that bombs should be illegal. Sigh.
Meanwhile, 35 years ago today, my big sister Erika Karen Kupfersberger, came into this world.
Mom had her at home, with a midwife, instead of in a hospital. Though I wasn’t yet alive to witness, mom says she didn’t cry at all when she was born, but just looked around her in wonder, her pale eyes peering out from a face almost translucent. They thought at first that there was something wrong and nearly rushed her to the hospital, thinking she couldn’t breathe because of her general bluish hue. But as it turned out, she was just redheaded and somewhat seethrough like a gecko.
By the time I came to know her, she was just a little purple around the eyelids, but no longer transparent. She had an innate sneakiness and curiosity, without the influence of which I would most certainly be a far less adventurous individual. She taught me how to be curious, introduced me to books that broadened my world and shared her love of old movies. I never got as passionate about “Little Women” or “Gone With the Wind” as she did, but I loved Philip Jose Farmer and Douglas Adams.
She grew into a tall and elegant woman, striking, slender, independent, compassionate. She pursued what she wanted with a single-minded passion and managed to live a life full of travel and fun, to boot.
I’m so sad to be without her, but happy to have her memory. Happy Birthday, Eekaleek. You are always in my heart.
Love and miss,