THE SUN, THE MOON, AND THE STARS, and a CAKE… A Birthday Story

On the eve of my 34th birthday, my husband walked through the front door around 7 pm after a full day of work. He greeted me with a bouquet of yellow roses, wrapping his arms around my waist in his usual way, while lifting pot lids on the stove. “Mmm, how’s my dear today? I brought you some birthday flowers.” He said his day began fine, but was very busy and didn’t end well.

“I have to go back into the office tomorrow morning, for something brief, I can take Davin with me.” On a rare Saturday, he might have an IT Association meeting, but he rarely worked unless he was doing a favor for a friend’s company.

“Oh? What’s going on?”

“Nothing really, I just forgot something that I need to work on at home, we’ll be back by noon.”

1997 had been marked by the birth of our second son, an SUV purchase and our tenth wedding anniversary. Our lives were flourishing at a fast and steady pace, an ebullient fusion of career building, financial planning, and life celebrations. We were crystalizing our kindred substance in time and place. Both Dave and I were self-employed, each managing three contract jobs in our respective fields, and between pre-K play dates and Good Night Moon, we were restoring a 100-year old Dutch colonial, breaching the gambrels to stretch into as much square-footage as possible.

Amidst the intensity of this period, we paired our birthday canonization down to simple affairs; a nice meal, a card, a cake, a token. A weekend birthday might lend to a family outing. This would be the first year we’d snap birthday photos as a complete family.

After dropping father and son at the station for a 10 AM train, I returned home with our nine-month-old to catch up on laundry, and sewing stripes on the lion costume I was fashioning from orange fleece-wear, for Davin’s Halloween costume. Two-and-a-half hours later, Dave and Davin caught the bus from the station, returning to 15 Morris Street with a shopping bag containing a large, white bakery box. Dave had a favorite bakery he liked to get special occasion pies and cakes from, as well as a favorite Jamaican jerk grill, and a favorite jeweler.

“Dear, you went into the city to get me a cake?”

“Yes, and no. This was the bad part of yesterday. I left the cake in the lounge fridge.”

“Oh my goodness, you didn’t have to do this, we could have had cake on Monday.”

“No, I had to, it’s all good dear, Davin and I had a nice time riding the train, subway and bus together.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what emerged from that box. Our favorite cake, applesauce-carrot. It was the most beautiful presentation of culinary art I’d ever seen. green wisps cascading down the verge like falling leaves.

He slid a new album of romantic sonatas into the CD player and presented me with a notecard and a small silver box containing blue topaz earrings, complementing July’s anniversary pendant. We’d only snap three more birthday photos, but for twenty-three Octobers the vivid impression of that magnificent pastry inspirits my birthday.

I don’t remember the meal, if he smoked a turkey or ordered out, yet what I do remember are the lush textures of the cake, the glinting light of topaz, the amaranthine avowal, and the incantation of Clair de Lune wafting gently in the breeze. Thirty-four pink-swirled candles blazed like an imperishable sun. Contained in my breath, was a wish for at least as many more birthdays together as there were candles on my cake. A devotion unfading.

© 2020, Deborah Garcia

DANIEL BURGESS 1953-2020 Tribute To a True Top Dog

You think the wonderful people in your life are going to be around as long as you, especially those in your generation. Life moves fast, a season passes after you’ve said “let’s do lunch”, a birthday passes with a text message greeting, a pandemic hinders plans to make anticipated trips to visit friends and family. Then the goddess Fortuna snaps her fingers, click, a car crashes and a sister’s brain is smashed. Click, a plane crashes into a skyscraper and a husband is dead. Click, a friend goes to sleep, never to awaken.

Nineteen years after my husband was killed, a friend called me on the anniversary to catch up on our lives, as he has every year since we moved from the village of Freeport, New York to Vermont in 2009. It was 4:32 PM, the boys and I had just re-united in Dylan’s Brooklyn apartment from a long day that began with an 8 AM ceremony at the September 11th Memorial in Manhattan, and ending with a ferry ride across the East River to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where we parted for awhile. A pleasant day, that was unremarkable except for the chorus of messages which flood my phone and social media notifications like a long dirge, most to which I decline to respond until the 12th. We were tuned into the men’s Tennis US Open, playing out just fifteen miles up the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Zverev and Carreño Busta were bidding for their first chance at a Grand Slam in the men’s singles’ semi-finals when my phone chimed, displaying “Daniel Burgess”. I tapped the green circle arresting my screen, “Hi there,” I said.

“Hey beautiful, how are you? I’ve been thinking about you and the boys all day, where are you?”

“We’re all together, in Dylan’s apt. in Brooklyn, watching the Open.”

“Really, Oh my God, where in Brooklyn?”

“East Flatbush.”

“That’s right down the road from where I used to live when I was in college at Long Island University!”

“I went to Brooklyn College.”

“Ah, they were our rivals. Beat one brother never got to beat the other. How long will you be in town?”

“Just until tomorrow.”

We chatted for several minutes, catching up on the Cliff Notes of each other’s lives; work, family, health. “You have to come to Freeport next trip. I miss you guys, what are the boys up to?” I handed the phone to Davin and they chatted for several minutes before the phone was passed to Dylan. Dylan took his and Daniel Jr’s phone numbers as they discussed plans to arrange some hitting time. I hadn’t noticed until September 29th, that Daniel had sent me a text message: Fri, Sep 11, 9:32 PM – “It was so nice to hear your voice today, and the kids, all made my day more meaningful.”

First Service

We met Daniel Burgess in the summer of 1999, when a friend told my six-year (Davin) about the fun he was having playing tennis at Freeport Indoor Tennis, home of The Daniel Burgess Tennis Academy. When I called the tennis center, Dan invited Davin to join his friend for a complimentary lesson.

Dan approached us with a warm smile and mellow tone as though he were welcoming us into his hearth. The small lounge was buzzing with parents and grandparents chatting while their charges took lessons in the court one level below. Pros were on the courts giving lessons, working the desk, and jabbering with colleagues, parents and kids. Most days, Bob T., the pro shop owner, usually had a lively but very serious chess or backgammon game going on with a pro or a teen. High School teens hung out there for hours, long after their tennis sessions had ended, including his school-aged sons. Food seemed to always be floating around, especially pizza. Whenever Dan ordered food for himself, he always asked if anyone wanted anything. If he had an errand to run, he said to the kids hanging out in the lounge, “who’s coming with me to pick up Kenneth, pizza, racquets?” If a parent had a conflict or was running late he’d say, “I’ll pick him/her up, or, go do what you have to do, I’ll get them home. Daniel was often seen with every seat in a van or SUV filled with kids on their way to team tournaments, the U.S. Open Kids day in Flushing Queens, and to and from his summer camp at Northeast Park, which is across the street from his Freeport home. He also sponsored young pros from the Caribbean islands to play and work in his programs, helping to arrange lodging and transportation. In summers, Dan ran a low-cost summer Police Athletic League (PAL) tennis program on the two courts in Northeast Park, just steps from his Freeport home, transporting all kids who would not otherwise had been able to participate. My boys participated in the camp and Davin and I also volunteered as instructors, at times.

Freeport Indoor Tennis

Freeport Indoor Tennis was like a community center, with a flurry of activities for youth on weekends, weekdays after school hours, and school vacations. It also functioned as a hub for section USTA junior tournaments of all levels, adult leagues, and lessons. Most remarkably, it was a social polestar where people of all ages, races and religions gathered, a recess from their worries, where everyone was happy to be, and glad you came. A place of belonging, a place to play, on a level playing ground, to give 60+ minutes of everything you’ve got, so you could return to the world with positive energy. Sitting on the stools with parents, grandparents, and pros infront of the one-way window while viewing the action of our children in their lessons and matches, continuing the narratives of our ordinary lives like they were never meant to end, the pop of tennis balls in the background of domino tiles clicking on the table behind us, were the touch points of all who attended.

Daniel Burgess Tennis Academy

“Tennis is something anyone can try out and play. Get me the kids who don’t want to play the other sports. I’ll gladly take them.”

Dan Burgess – LI Herald, June 2020

The Daniel Burgess Tennis Academy is where both of my boys, myself, and my niece (when visiting from Vermont), began and developed the game of our lifetimes. It became our family affair. It was not only a venue for lessons, but for fun Saturday afternoon games, ladder matches, USTA tournaments, school vacation camps, and summer team tennis, all of which the three kids participated in. I joined a day ladies league and had a blast at the afternoon drop-in-clinics twice per-week of ninety-minute fast-paced drills and entertaining Dan-tics. A dozen or more adults chasing balls, playing together, and encouraging each other to let loose and improve their skills.  In June, Daniel was named Hometown Hero by the Long Island Herald where he was quoted saying: “Everyone loves baseball, soccer, football…but those team sports aren’t for everyone. Tennis is something anyone can try out and play. Get me the kids who do’t want to play the other sports. I’ll gladly take them.”

Dan provided personalized encouragement for my niece (Shina), who was highly conscientious of her inexperience and athleticism overall, to challenge her apprehension by engaging her in fun group drills. She had so much fun volleying, target shooting, and running “around the world” that she was unaware she was learning and gaining confidence in herself. A few years later, she joined USTA Summer Team Tennis for our local Vermont tennis club, as well as for the Essex High School Girls team. Shina currently resides in a Vermont tennis community, enjoying the fun and fitness of the sport with her fiancé and her new extended family and friends. Davin played many USTA singles tournaments in the Eastern Long Island, Metro, and New England sections. He rallied an undefeated season as second singles in his senior year in high school, bringing the team to state championship. He also played on a college tennis team. Dylan played third singles on the high school tennis team and took the Vermont State Doubles championship, with a partner, in his senior year.

Service Break Point

In 2009, the building owner passed on Dan’s purchase bid, selling the tennis facility to a sports entertainment company. This was a very sad time for the Freeport Indoor tennis community, akin to the closing of Cheers. Dan resorted to providing his services in other local established clubs, where most of his fans followed. During this transitory period, he also served on the board as president of the USPTA/Eastern Division, as President of the USTA Eastern Section Long Island Region, chair of the USTA Eastern Diversity and Inclusion Committee, he directed tennis programming for two local PALs, and served as an Ethics committee member of the Incorporated Village of Freeport. He also created the USTA Eastern Long Island newsletter, “On The Ball”. For a decade Dan worked to rally support from other municipalities in Nassau County to lease low-use courts and create his own tennis facility. This was his dream. A culmination of all that he strived for. A home, server’s advantage, for the foundation of the sound principles of fitness, teaching, and community service, which he spent a lifetime building and carried in his soul. He drew up a business plan, procured ten investors, myself included, and presented his proposals to take over the neglected courts of various town facilities to the Town of Hempstead. However, after years of negotiations and modified plans, the factions could not come to an agreement, the Daniel Burgess Tennis Academy would not have its own house, and was dissolved.

Learning Institue of Tennis, Life Skills & Sportsmanship

It’s not just about learning to play tennis, but about working on improving yourself and seeing some growth

Dan Burgess – LI Herald

Dan was not about to give up the breakpoint. About two years ago, with limited funds, he approached me with enthusiasm, his idea of starting a non-profit tennis-based organization of life-skills development. The Learning Institute of Tennis, Life Skills & Sportsmanship (LITLSS), (of which I am a board member) launched in 2019 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization devoted to providing tennis education, life skills mentoring and peer tutoring to children in communities surrounding Freeport. “We offer community-based educational enrichment opportunities for youth through a variety of programs designed to foster self-respect and positive leadership values. It’s not just about learning to play tennis, but about working on improving yourself and seeing some growth.” Despite the restrictions on programs due to the pandemic, LITLSS obtained grants to provide summer and fall outdoor programming on the courts and playground across the street from the Burgess home, renamed: Bishop Frank O. White Park. Children ages 4-16 enjoyed tennis, music, dance, writing and reading enrichment, and park cleanup (https://www.tennislifeskills.org/).

Inside-out

Soon after I was widowed in 2001, Daniel said, “you need to play tennis, hit a hundred-thousand balls, I’ll teach you.” It got me out of the house and my grief headspace when the kids were in school, expanded my world with new relationships, and gave me attainable goals…and some fun. Freeport Indoor Tennis became our second home. He picked up the boys, drove them to his academy, to Queens, to tournaments, gave them dinner, took them shopping for my birthdays, drove them home. An unexpected solid in our lives.

Daniel Burgess was a man with an extraordinary adoration for his sons, a fierce passion for the game of tennis, and a wholehearted fondness for people with a soft spot for kids. Tennis was his frame for teaching the fundamentals for gaining one’s individual advantage in life: serve, approach, rally, follow through, love. He served up the principles of sportsmanship, tolerance, goal setting, fortitude, courage, self-forgiveness, praise, and charity. He was all in, on the court and off. Which is exactly where he was, on a warm Sunday afternoon, with his adult sons, teaching kids, until he went to sleep, and his big heart burst.

Daniel, I’m heartsick over your sudden passing. My friend, big brother from another mother, unselfish mentor to my fatherless boys, does not encompass the complex of the wonderful man you were. Incomprehensible loss to the Eastern, Long Island division, USTA junior tennis world, and the families, children, and communities you served. How you saved us twenty years ago. I love you. Devoted family man, compassionate teacher, faithful soul-friend, indelible.

“I’m just doing what I love”

Daniel Burgess

Lizzie’s Saucy Applesauce Cake

Letter to My Mother

Dear mother,

            This letter has taken a very long time to get to. It has been forty years since we all sat around the kitchen table together, wishing for your dreams to burst through the next CT scans. That was 1980, my senior year in high school. It is only now that it occurs to me, I was not present the following year, for your 38th. I was 300 miles away, in upstate New York, beginning the first weeks of my adult life at college, while you were blowing out your last candle. It’s unclear what my seventeen-year old mind was contemplating on September 22, 1981, but I do recall holding two thoughts in my head; that we would never return to the family table to light your candles, and I was fulfilling the wish carried in your last breath.

My life has been long with good health, and knowing that longer days means broadened experiences, I am grateful for the lasting genetic markers you’ve given me. But the linguist in me cannot allow these fortuitous strands of conception to get lost in translation. It’s true that at nearly 57, I have no known ailments nor addictions, and I can still account for ten fingers and ten toes. As a matter of fact, I can account for twenty more of each on the equally robust physiques of your grandsons. However, I’m learning that the length of a life span is equal to the sum of all of its parts, those that quiver at the heart and those that leave you trembling. Added into the mix of success, joy, and love relationships, swirls an equal measure of loss, despair, and screaming into the fearful wildness of unknown destinations. I have learned that the fact that I am here, left to wondering what’s next, is evidence that there is more work to be done.

It was important to you that I attend college to pursue a life, more satisfying than your own, and according to my own edict, independent of the command of others. When you were a majorette on the Port Jefferson High School squad, you hadn’t known that your aspirations to rise above the role of records clerk at the Office of Unemployment would have been cut short by giving birth to me, four weeks after your twentieth birthday. For this I both apologize and thank you. I thank you not only for your courageous outlook for the new future growing inside you, but for gifting me the seventeen years to have known you, more so than the daughters you would bring forth later. Although the memories don’t come easily, I am fortunate to have been old enough to contain a shared past that cannot escape me.

The most prominent impressions in my memory are of a sensual nature. Returning from school to the aromas of beef goulash, ragu sauce, and apple pie. Running into the house, after spending hours raking and jumping into leaf piles on chilly autumn afternoons with the neighborhood kids, to your operatic voice chanting romantic tragedies. And racing back out again, a tailwind of parched bits of oak and maple descending onto the red carpet, with a fragrant Tupperware of chocolate chip cookies. Waking up Saturday mornings to the heavenly scents of apple pancakes and sizzling bacon. The sweet, tanginess of the lemon bars of summer, and October’s orange-chiffon cake. And then there was the Amish friendship bread, the ever-growing yeast chain-batter that just seemed to outgrow the number of friendships any woman in a single-car household could conjure. You tried your best, baking and storing, and growing and sharing, and baking again. The ebullient starter seemed to be growing a face and pigtails, I wasn’t sad to see you kill your sweet sourdough.

One thing we’ve shared is our love of the fall season.

Your birthday, falling on the Autumnal equinox, signaled a change in the axis of everything, the cooling air, the north-east brilliance of Mackintosh and goldenrod, the falling leaves blanketing manicured lawns. For you, it signaled a renewal, a chance to exhale as we skipped off to school, to reset ambitions for childless afternoons and plan the upcoming new year that carved another notch on the kitchen wall. This time of year, when the air is crisp and energies run high, was punctuated by bushels of apples we gathered from local Long Island farms just a few miles out into the east end. For a solid eight weeks, the warm colors and sweet scents of our home would take on the character of the center of an enchanted orchard. I loved the way the waning daylight shadows cast a warm glow of color through the crimson drapes framing our front picture window. Undulating light pulsed through the waving maple’s and danced across the red carpet in our living room as though it were a pulsating heart, beating in perfect time. A gleaming stage light on a vital force of driving impulse that circulated love and fury in the center of the total personality of us.

From the bushels of deciduous orbs, your creative spirit shined in your labors to produce apple sauce, apple-baked pork chops, apple pie, apple fritters (my favorite), apple pancakes, candied apples, and apple-cinnamon friendship bread. Apples with slits filled with coins floated in Dutch oven baths with little bubbles of saliva, and hung from strings in October birthday games. Apples were peeled and left to shrivel up, poked with cloves to look like old men’s faces. The one autumnal treat that has a salient home on my tongue is your Applesauce Cake. Dozens of sweet, spicey loaves of Lizzie’s Saucy Applesauce Cake made their way from the hearth of 224 Munsell Road to kids’ lunch boxes and adult tea tables, as well as to the gatherings of the many Aunts, grandparents and cousins in our life.

Christmas, 1980, you gave me a Royal classic (non-electric) portable typewriter, for my future college papers and a vinyl brief case to carry them in. Between rounds of chemotherapy treatments, you broke-in the keys by typing up some of your favorite recipes from the love-worn cards in your recipe box. Maybe you were eager to share your recipes or perhaps after you received the news that the cancer had traveled to your spine and liver, you wanted me to have what you valued most, ingredients to serve the perfect loaves and stews, keeping the kinship alive.

You passed away just twelve months later, in the January of my second semester. Dad quickly packed away all of your photographs, holiday decorations, and recipe books into cardboard boxes, stacking them in a corner of the damp basement. I hadn’t known what was actually in those boxes, what was discarded when I was away, nor what dad carried with him to his next home, with his next wife. My life became busy with college, graduate school, career, marriage, and kids. I myself had been living in cardboard boxes for nearly ten years as I moved through the development phases of adult life, creating my own family, and outlining plans according to my dreams. Through it all I found myself crafting versions of favorite childhood dishes from memory, a palimpsest of all the hours I spent watching you perform your magic in the kitchen. I accessed the tastes of childhood by reaching into a palatial well of savored memories of cinnamon and clove as well as the texture rendered of the moisture to flour ratio imbedded in the sensory corners of my mind. And although I have been attempting to resurrect your Applesauce Cake through various attempts by way of Google recipe searches (too difficult to explain), I was never able to quite mimic the same texture and spice of my memory. Until today! I found your recipe tucked in the fold of a binder, typed by you, on my Royal. I no longer have the clunky typewriter, with the sticky ‘H’ key, however today, your cake will spice up my hearth with the sweet scent of apples plucked from my very own tree, and make a home on your grandson’s tongues.

Today I celebrate you and remind myself that I am happy for this day on which you were born. Seventy-seven years ago, you came forth from within the midst of global unrest, a child of war, goddess of birth.

            Love, Deborah

Remembering the 19th Anniversary of 9/11 in 2020

How a Pandemic points the lens on what strengthens us: Hope

None of us need anniversaries to remind us of what we cannot forget; nor bumper stickers, marathons, murals or museums. What’s on everyone’s mind every September, particularly in America, is the modern-age tragedy known as 9/11.

Recently I’ve received numerous social media shares and listened to commentary from acquaintances and podcasts, that after nineteen years, the tragedy of 9/11 is fading from the memories of Americans, we are forgetting. With the vast number of deaths resulting from COVID-19, the rising intensity of racial justice, and political vitriol, it may appear that the largest single-day mass tragedy in American history is fading beneath the shadows of these fire-breathing dragons. I do not believe this is true, and feel it inappropriate to compare any one tragedy or campaign to another. The grief still resonates deep in the memories of those old enough to have witnessed and close enough to have been directly impacted.

Although, my family and I are personally impacted by this loss, the events of that beautiful September day have changed our lives in ways that have cast an indelible impression in the way we all live our lives. There’s no question that this one single day has changed the nation forever. Many of our freedoms were stolen on that day from the fear and threat of terrorism and the government’s efforts to ramp up the safety of American citizens.

In what permanent ways has 9/11 changed our lives? Advances in social science took a leading role in developing new ways to detect, react to, and prevent further attacks. Shortly after the attacks, the National Institute of Justice funded the collation of terrorist activity data from 1970 to the present creating the Global Terrorist Database. On November, 11, 2001, the TSA changed airport security processes that impacted the casual freedoms of travel we once took for granted. The Homeland Security Act, passed November 25, 2002, established an organized effort of multiple government agencies to act as one entity to ensure the safety and security of our borders. The Total Information Awareness project was funded to aid government intelligence agencies to track the suspicious activities of individuals and groups across the globe.

9/11 has driven cutting edge DNA technology in the largest forensic investigation in history. 2,977 civilians from 115 nations were murdered in this simultaneous series of terrorist strikes. 1,609 people lost a spouse or partner, and an estimated 3,051 children lost a parent (The Encyclopedia of 9/11, Sep 2014 https://nymag.com), My children accounting for two in that number. 1,108 victims remain unidentified, the most recent victim being identified on July, 18, 2019. The cancerous, unbroken ripples continue to claim thousands of lives among rescue workers, survivors and residents.

Forty percent of World Trade Center victims’ remains have not yet been recovered or identified https://apnews.com. The Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York (OCME) continues their efforts to identify the remains resting within the basement of the OCME Repository at the 9/11 National Memorial Museum. I was fortunate, the positive identification of two of David’s bones was among some 1,200 victims who were positively identified by the first anniversary. Since I’ve declined notification of further identifications of fragments after internment in 2005, what remains is entombed with over 7,000 remnants of others behind a variegated blue subway-tile wall, designed to represent the color of the sky on the that fateful morning.  A quote by VIRGIL, mounted in steel, stretches across the expanse – “NO DAY SHALL ERASE YOU FROM THE MEMORY OF TIME.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I sat paralyzed, transfixed to the television airing the same drama unfolding on every station. My mood was one of disbelief, overwhelming anxiety, and hope, that one of the tens of thousands of people racing through the streets of lower Manhattan, spanning the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, were wearing L.L. Bean green khakis and a striped oxford shirt with my husband’s face of determination. I fell to the floor in horror at 9:59 as I witnessed Tower Two imploding in a dust cloud, screaming at the 32” glass box, “Run David, Run! You don’t have to be a hero, RUN!”The city was in utter chaos; camera crews were fleeing, Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer wept from their midtown news desks, choking for words, white dust ghosted individual identities. All were one, in two contrails stretching north and eastward from the lower Gotham precipice. Suddenly, Tower One quaked with a tremulous chill and collapsed into itself, in slow motion, as did my life. 

In what temporary and permanent ways have the coronavirus pandemic changed the ways in which we remember 9/11? This year, the victims will be remembered in numerous in-person and live-virtual gatherings, expanding opportunities for people to attend. My sons (now 23 and 27) and I will attend the ceremonies at the September 11th Memorial and Museum, which will be open only to family members, after a six-month COVID-19 hiatus. The color guard will march, the bells will toll, and in lieu of staged-readers, the voice recordings made by family members, which are usually heard in the hallowed halls of the museum, will resonate from loudspeakers throughout the glade. My voice, among them. Social distance mandates will be respected in the spacious outdoor Memorial space and with timed Museum tickets. Masks up.

What passed within me while witnessing passenger jets slice through buildings and plummet into a field, I can never forget. The plumes of black smoke heaving into the blue sky, from the tower my soulmate raced into for a morning meeting, to be incinerated and crushed into dust with thousands of others, I can never forget. Never can I forget that morning of my son’s first day of Kindergarten. Never can I forget the fervid faces of our fatherless little boys, whose toy helicopters unwound threads to rescue their daddy from the roofs of buildings constructed of interlocking bricks. Never can I forget the unselfish efforts of rescue and search teams, nor the kindness and charitable acts of local, national and global communities.

At the end of this story, the immediate shattering has ended: Bin Laden is dead, the footprints have been memorialized, the families have been compensated, the author has moved through the two decades of her narrative. But the continuous disquietude is interminable. The disquietude that will never subside; the disquietude imposed by memory that makes the line between joy and sorrow a narrow groove. Have previous pandemics resulted in an amnesia of Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, the fight for civil rights? Throughout all of history, ravages of wind, fire, water, and disease have surged through the contours of human battlegrounds. What I believe is that within the interfold of simultaneous human dissonance, there exists a universal sympathy. A sympathy woven so deep in the fabric of our collective substance, that long after the actual witnesses are gone, a collective hope threads through us, which only strengthens our resolve. We cannot ever forget.

© all rights reserved, Deborah Garcia 2020

Once, Not to the Lake

August 22, 2020 – I’ve awakened to a rather melancholy Saturday morning. The weather is fair, overcast, 67, grounds sodden from early morning rain. Joni (the border collie) lies in the dirt hole she carved out under the weigela bush. My twenty-seven-year old son, D.R., oversleeps in his bed, nestled below-grade within my Vermont home. Twenty-three-year old D.P. swirls oat milk into his morning macciato in his Brooklyn apartment. A few of our Maine camp friends, are caravanning I-95 toward the Air BNB’s they rented in other coves on Great Pond, opposite Bear Spring Camps. I am sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, in my home office, writing stories as I have for the past six months. This time, authoring a page to mark the twenty-first vacation year at Bear Spring Camps, that COVID-19 pandemia has nullified. I am feeling forlorn for the halcyon days of bear hugs and sunset cruises.

“Once summer, along 1904, my father rented a camp on a lake in Maine and took us all there for the month of August. We all got ringworm and my father rolled over in a canoe with all his clothes on; but outside of that the vacation was a success and from then on none of us ever thought there was any place in the word like that lake in Maine”

– E.B. White, “Once more to the Lake” – Harper’s Magazine, 1941

We have been unraveling our tangled lines into this lake since August, 1999. The feeling that bubbles up from the soles of our feet to the solar plexus becomes so strong by the waning summer’s solstice, we release in exuberant darts and twirls onto the wooded shores of Great Pond like an un-pinched balloon.

In the Spring of 1999, my attention was drawn to an 11×14” framed print hanging on a wall, in the home of a client.  The bucolic lake scene, illuminated in Kinkade shades of fuchsia, indigo, and tangerine, was a window into a daydream that hung in severe contrast to the concrete urban sprawl that paved our day-to-day. The dreamy scene caused me to pause and say, What a beautiful image, I wish it were a real place. “It is! exclaimed the boy’s mom. It’s an amazing place on a lake in Maine that my family has been going to every summer since I was a little kid.” A few weeks later, I was on the phone with the Mosher-Churchill’s of Bear Spring Camps in Oakland (pr. Rome), Maine, making a reservation for a two-bedroom cottage named Chicadee on Great Pond, the third-week of August.

“It’s beyond any doubt that everything here is as it has always been, that the years are a mirage and there have been no years.”

– E.B. White, “Once More to the Lake” – Harper’s Magazine, 1941

It is as it has always been, during all of the days in the twenty years we’ve rested upon the lake, and by all accounts the eighty-years before.

The shrill of the loons resonate by dint of the rivulets in the pond, as if it were a ceaseless echo in an unfading firmament.

The rocky dirt road from the farmhouse to the camps is the same as it has always been, when reveling city kids rode on haystacks in a 1952 Chevy stake bed truck, to the Smithfield roller rink.

The devout dawn of vaporous gold, lilting over the calm ripples gently licking the clay shore. The same steel grey and pine green John boats bobbing from ropes tethered to cantering pine docks extending into the mouth of the lake, like ribs of the bass contained within it. Year after year, the week is the same, the people are mostly the same, the grey, striped tabby cat padding the porches for mice, is the same.

This family owned encampment has been run by four generations of the same family, since the founders purchased the 300-acre farmland in 1910, upon which they built six rustic cabins (cottages) and converted a shed to a dining room, (www.bearspringcamps.com). Reclaiming childhood memories on similar camps on the lake, E.B. White brought his own son to summer in these cabins until the 1980’s. Descendants of Mr. White, still maintain a presence on the pond.

Mornings, beginning at 5 a.m., the same whirring of 14 hp motors can be heard churning wakes out to the reedy margins of the coves. At 7 a.m., I throw on a jacket, quietly leave the cabin, careful not to slam the pine screen door, to meet friends for a brisk morning hike. By the time we emerge from the black oak canopy into the morning sun at the hill crest, giving way to fingerlings of dirt roads around Jamaica Point, I’m tying my jacket around my waist. By 8:30 we join our families in the main dining room for fried eggs, loon muffins and New England Coffee. Then it’s down to the lake to sit on the porch with a book, motor out to the shoals at Pine Island for the hope of a prize-winning bass, paddle in the lake, or interlock a few more pieces in the puzzle spread out on the card table in the cottage. The popping sound of tennis balls on stretched nylon and children’s laughter leaping from the floating raft, concertize the quacking of Tom, the duck, and his followers.

At 12:30 p.m. the appearance of a great motorboat race advances the shore, and 150 bear campers pilgrimage up the dirt road to afternoon dinner for some form of meat, potato, and blueberry pie, and lemonade. Afternoons, one may find campers slicing the glass-smooth surface on jet skis, gliding over wakes on water skis, or venturing into Belgrade for souvenirs and fudge. The big kids race off in camp boats to explore lake islands and fly from the rope swing off the cliff on Crooked Island. Kayaks glide along the shores like hyphens adrift in a daydream, and ladies convene for afternoon socials on inflatable lobsters tethered to floating loungers. The thump, thump of corn-filled sacks smacking brightly-colored wood boards tap out a bass riff until dusk gives way to the obsidian star-lit night when the loons yodel their evening prayers. At 6 p.m., the herd returns once more to the main house for a “supper” of salad, a hot sandwich, and blondies.

Evenings are spent on the lakes’ edge illuminated by small rings of fire, the incense of maple and birch swirling around chattering folks encircled upon lawn chairs. The cool northern breadth infused with the sweet perfume of white marshmallows on the ends of sticks twirling over crimson embers, hot, toasted to the cast of brown sugar, or perhaps torched to a savory singe. And the million beacons of heaven glittering the raven sky over the 45th latitude. They never change. They have always been there. It’s “the pattern of life indelible, the fade-proof lake, the woods unshatterable,” the pasture with the rafter of turkey and the silver maple forever and ever.

” Mommy, this is the best place on Earth!”

– THE GARCIA KIDS, 1999 –

Our vacation week always ends at Rainbow Sweets Cafe. A small, bake shop, manned by an eccentric comedic with a severe sweet tooth, along Route 2 in Marshfield, Vermont, fifty-two miles from home. Drive too fast, and you’ll miss the only restaurant in town, which marks a corner with a sweet pink sign. Spanakopita, Greek salad, Moroccan-spiced pastilla for lunch, Johnnie Dep’s (cream-filled, caramel-coated profiterole’s) and poppy seed cake for dessert, and a whole linzertorte to go. This delight is not for the timid, the pastries are eclectic European, and you can hear the whipping cream screaming from the Hobart.


August 21st to 28th, 1999, commenced our first year on Great Pond. Turning onto Jamaica Point Road, in what was the town of Oakland [Rome] at the time, we were “Newbies,” joining multiple generations of families returning to the lake of thirty cottages, at Bear Spring Camps, unwitting that we had begun the trip of our lifetime. After a straight six-and-a half-hour, four-hundred-mile drive on I95 N, from Freeport, Long Island, we arrived at 1 p.m. and entered the office of the main house, announcing our arrival. A homey aroma of baked chicken and apple pie invited us to our assigned table in the country-style dining room of slanted wood boards and red and white checkered curtains. The first of 420 farm-fresh meals served us to date.

“Chicadee” – Bear Spring Camps, August, 1999

Following the afternoon “dinner”, campers waved as though they were waiting for us, as we drove the woody Dodge Caravan along the 800-yard stretch of bumpy dirt road to the camps. We parked behind the small, sable log cabin that was set on the sandy beach area, where young children congregate to dig trenches in the sand and capture minnows and frogs in pails.

The cabin is the eye of the rib of thirty cottages lining the northern-most cove of North Bay in Great Pond. It consisted of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a common room with weathered sofa and chairs, a wood stove and a dorm-size fridge. A front porch with log rails to break your fall from the severe cant, faces the watery expanse of the storybook pond. Each cottage having a ring of fire on the beach and a hand-hewn wood dock jutting into the lake, like the spine ribbon of a northern pike.

The blue-woody Dodge Caravan was packed tight with luggage, sleeping bags, and all form of camp sundries. A short list included; beach toys and fishing rods, rainy-day puzzles, drawing pads and playdoh, a laptop and work folders, munchies, drink boxes, and marshmallows. And, Dave never left home without his usual fifty-pound tool box full of socket wrenches and drills bits.

Bobbing from a tattered rope at the end of our dock was the 6 HP steel camp outboard Dave rented with the package. After unloading, we immediately snapped life jackets around the boys and puttered out in the boat to explore the lake. Davin gazed in awe at his father, the first time seeing him power a boat. You could feel the exhilarating pride in his breath.

The children (ages two-and-a-half, and six) immediately made friends. At first sight, this place seems oddly cult-ish, everyone is exceptionally friendly, strangers say “hello”, inviting you to their porches for cocktails and campfires for Smores and drinks. Cabin girls sweep the floors daily, cabin boys restock firewood and gas the boats. Everyone pilgrimages up the dirt road to the main house three times per day for meals prepared by the late Mr. Pearl. Every night, at ten, Mr. Taylor trumpeted Taps from his dock’s-end of cottage Shangri-la.


These moments, not one of which have pass unrecorded, are gifts which have become indelibly essential in the lives of those who share them. An exclamation point on the vernal calendar, just days before the autumnal equinox shift, from playful summer days to early morning alarms and obligations of school and work schedules.

Our children are 23 and 27 now and will drive their own cars to Great Pond. On the third Saturday of August, 2021, we will pick up where we left off to return once more to the best place on Earth and fill the pages of the camp album for our twenty-first year. The same week, The same friends, and the endless silver maple.

Bear Spring Camps – 2018
© Deborah Garcia, 2020, All rights reserved

TREASURES

There was a game David played with his sons. They’d climb into our morning bed while he pretended to sleep. On the right side of the bed, concealed within the spread, he’d lie and wait. He’d quiet his breath, and the game began.

His sons would do their best to avoid capture while attempting to reach the space between us, even though they’d climb over his conspicuous mound hiding under the sheets, risking seizure. Despite the eight-year old’s clandestine skills, the four-year old cannot yet play this game silently. He first patters into the bathroom, a dribbling stream echoes through the hall before advertising his presence with poorly muffled squeals. Dave always hears him coming. Dylan wants to be captured just as much as he shutters from anticipation, you could hear the conflict fluttering inside him. Suddenly thick arms clamp tight around his small body and the revolution begins. “Steamroller! Errummm.” Dave’s baritone resonance produces grinding sounds of paving machines as he rolls over him one way, then the other, tickling him in the interval, rupturing with laughter. A pure riff of emotion, waking his brother to join in the morning crush. Arms and legs, kicking and thrashing, ensnared by the weight of him.

“The boys are so funny and growing so fast. I want to play with them all day, I like to play too.”— Dave, 5/24/1999.

My sons are 23 and 27 now and can’t be sure where or when the ambush is coming. But it always does. When they were small, it was easy for Dave to raise them over his head, resting them on his strong shoulders, to stand taller than they could be. Sometimes, he’d grip their calves firm, and gently fold with them into the turbulent sea, re-emerging through a ring of white effervescence. Dave hadn’t known what to call it then, a deep appreciation of the present, a quiver that something was about to change, but for them it was child’s play to roll in the deep and pop up safe.

Dylan , Age 6 – 2003

Now, when the boys are ambushed, thrust into a strange and unfamiliar world, and tossed off balance until they can’t stand it, until everything is at stake and life feels unbearably acute, they reach for his playlist, immersing in the music he revered. For Dave, music synthesized words and riffs with emotions he could not understand, proclaiming insights about himself that were otherwise wrapped in too much pain to hold onto. Poetic tunes tranquilized his blinding fate. The hundreds of recorded cassette tapes and CD’s in his stereo cabinet were his sacred anthem. When I hear waves of romantic preludes, jazz fusion, hard rock and new age ballads surge from our son’s instruments, my own faith is awakened and I know he is there, rolling in the spread, with his abiding grip clutching their resolve.

I want my kids to grow up to be good boys. I love them so dearly, they are our treasures.”— Dave, 9/13/1998.

© 2020, Deborah Garcia

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY HEART

Note: This poem is originally formatted in cascading lines, like the cascades of rose petals falling through our life. I apologize that I am not able to harness the technology to reproduce this beautiful format on this platform.

Your love: a cascade of shimmering meteors,
a cascade
of yellow petals. Striding through the aperture
of a cerulean mortal frame,
I hadn’t known your face, I hadn’t known
your name.
A star-blind road of fate,
the price of time
you could not wait.
You write “I see you”—
on the slate.

In a dorm room too close to the churchyard,
blanketed in lake-effect snow,
mother’s prayer card stands on the sill. You arrive
deep into the night,
crucified from a brotherhood haze—
you say, “Do you still love me?”
I say, “there is love?”
Not because I was cold,
but because I didn’t know—
you did.

In a kiss our souls ignite,
the lamp of rapture
floods the darkness
with our light, and the bottom of a staircase spirals
out of sight—
you say, “That was reeal good.”
I say, “Mmm.

”We’re moving in time to
a chamber door, where the needles’ eye is winking,
it’s tip piercing through the core.
And the feast is lit by candlelight,
and the Fates cant, spinning the thread of life
as the sound of Genesis echoes through
the night. A distance falls around our souls,
our bodies glowing bright—
you say, “lend your love to me tonight”
I say, “complete me.”
Then my blood begins to roar, I become your
universal whore.

In the home of my past,
I kneeled to my host,
the father, daughter and
mother ghost.
A white horse with no rider appears—
in the dawn, a cross with no artist
in the satin weave
is drawn.

Under an altar on the edge
of the sea, we light the eternal candle’s glow
Taking my hand—
you say, “With this ring
I wed thee.”
I say, “I do.”
We sing, “you are my lover and
my best friend.”
The bottles empty, the nuptials done,
billowing clouds swallow the sun, the heavens heave
in turbulent roar as the Gods alight
in thunderous war—
you say, “You me together.”
I say, “Until the end.”

In a house too close to the city,
five years pass in our history of one—
I say, “we’re having a son.”
You say, “the rhythm we made has a heartbeat.” You carry
yellow roses from the city,
on the train.
Through a decade our hearts haven’t missed—
a beat. as your vision fades
all around you, your light
is burning fast. Your second son near
his birthing day,
Yellow roses on the way—
you say, “I hope life is not too short.”
I say, “I promise you all my love now and forever.”

Under a moonlit night, with ten more diamonds
you re-avow
the only stars you can see.
Yellow roses and Claire de Lune—
you say, “Hey Dear, don’t you know my love is true.”
I say, “Promise you’ll never leave me.”

Twenty years—
our love: a cascade of shimmering meteors,
a cascade
of yellow petals. You’re restless in the night,
something unknown trembles
your light—
you say, “I love you so much, I need to hold you tight”
I say, “I love you too, tell me what’s not right?”
You say, “I don’t know, I need to feel your heartbeat close to mine.”
But you knew, you knew more
than me or you,
No one could see your view,
where you were going to.

A clock
unwinds,
A child cries, an urgency
intoxifies.
Racing through the door—
you say, “have a good day dear.”
I’ll say, “I love you—
later, when you call.”

Your love: a cascade of shimmering meteors,
a cascade
of yellow petals. Receding through the aperture,
of a cerulean mortal frame,
you haven’t left un-faced,
you haven’t left unnamed.
Your star blind road of fate—
you said, “I’ll see you—
at the gate.”
I said, “In the chamber, where the thieves’ debate, I’ll write
I love you—
on the slate.

In room too far from the tomb, there’s an angel
standing in the sun,
the meaning of all that I believed
escapes me in this world of none.
Every moment marked by apparitions
of your soul.
And the songs that echo all around me, bring a glimpse of you
in the night,
in a world I used to know before, where our candle burned
bright.
Now blind faith guides my darkened sight,
as the eternal flame burns
low.
And although it’s been such a long—
long time,
I ache to feel the glow—
you are my universal soul,
I am your divine whore.”

Your love:
a cascade of yellow petals,
a cascade of shimmering meteors.

© Deborah Garcia 2020

About this poem:
I wrote this piece to honor our 33rd Anniversary, July 25, 2020. Our love began on a cerulean blue, sunny day on a college campus in upstate, New York. Dave appeared out of no where, running up from behind me as I walked on a campus sidewalk, and introduced himself. To say that Dave was a Rock fusion affecionado understates the importance music and lyrics had in his life, lighting a world that was darkening from an eye disease, that had already robbed him of 80% of his vision. He was also night blind and had never seen the stars. In the years we were apart, before marriage, he wrote extensive letters to me, citing lyrics from albums that were influencing him in the moment. “Lend Your Love To Me Tonight, by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer was one he hand wrote all of the lyrics in a letter, dedicating it to me. On our wedding day, I spent the last night in my childhod home and strange things occurred before the Limousine arrived. At the end of our marriage day, the beautiful day folded into a violent storm, taking out power in our apartment. When life became busy, we kept a journal on our nightstand, where we passed notes to each other at the end of the day. Some quotes are from here. September 10th, he was troubled by a feeling he could not describe and held me through the night. Then suddenly, the alarm didn’t sound, though the clock hands had moved forward, and he jumped out of bed to race for a train on a cerulean blue day.

RELICS

Davin’s Red Tricycle – Oct 1996

Relics are the objects of memories past, evidence of fragments remaining in the physical world.  Vestiges of something sacred.”

–Deborah Garcia

Three weeks ago, the boys and I cleared out most of our origin home in Long Island. I moved so much stuff in 53 hours, my lower back fisted into spasms for days. It’s amazing how much stuff we have. Despite standing in visibly vacant rooms, there are pieces of of us, hidden in unseen spaces. In every closet, there are baskets and boxes flanking the top shelves containing objects of what we can no longer carry but cannot discard. Every cabinet has items I combed through and chose to leave behind in the previous visit. In addition, on this trip, we cleared out the garage. This included rear shelves filled with some of Dave’s power tools; a Milwaukee electric drill, a Makita radial saw, a Porter Cable reciprocal saw. Also sleeping on the sandy plywood floorboards were rusty cans of of paint thinner, mineral spirits, carburetor spray, and a can of DW-40, faded black fingerprints marking the sticky blue cylinder. Under a drop cloth, tucked in the far-right corner, was the red tricycle with fat tires we bought for three-year old Davin, from an Amish market on a family trip to Bucks County, PA. Davin’s love of trains when he was small, inspired our vacation plans around scenic train rides and museums in the Keystone State. The trike was an object encapsulating this happy still-life locked in a past lifetime. A time when we slept at a country inn and Davin collected the eggs from the residence chicken coup for our breakfast, and spent the afternoon gliding up the Delaware Canal on a mule barge.  

Both Dylan and Davin individually recognized this house clearing must have been a difficult process for me. Perhaps they discussed it amongst themselves. It was not surprising that Dylan would express this level of sensitivity, but it felt refreshing to hear Davin bring it up. I said, “Well, somewhat. I’ve been doing this for twenty years. I’m not one to hang on to too many things, but it can become overwhelming to dispose of things from my past life, in large purges. So I have to binge and purge. I don’t force it. Over time, the items inform me when it’s time to let them go.”

 In the beginning it can become overwhelming to think about anything more than putting tokens aside so you can direct all of your energy into holding onto yourself in the mourning. In the early days of pain and sorrow, the objects left behind feel like security blankets. I liked to spread them all around the house, in dark corners that were not as easily known to others; a shirt in each closet, a pair of shoes under a bench, the aftershave in the medicine cabinet. In some ways those objects provide a sense of safety in belonging, by validating he was real. They are relics of memories’ past, evidence of fragments remaining in the physical world.  Vestiges of something sacred. By touching them, I’m touching a surviving trace of his soul. Because in my mind, he is still around, somewhere, a sense of him remains, a phantom memory of an extremity, dismembered.

On a Tuesday, at 6:30 A.M., he was scarfing down a bowl of Cheerio’s with the kids while I packed him a lunch bag. At 7:10 he was hugging us goodbye, putting his eight-year old on the school bus that pulled up to the curb at our front door before running up the street to catch his own bus. At 9 A.M., nothing. Sometimes I needed something physical to touch, or see to assuage my need to feel his spiritual presence. Like a bridge. As time lengthens the distance between us, I look back and realize I’ve crossed a few bridges. Not by plan, but by design.

THIS IS RESILIENCE

I’ve got this quarantine/social distancing thing down. During the course of half a century, from massive hurricane fall-outs during childhood, to family illness, death and, oh yes, having my life yanked on an unplanned course eighteen-and-a-half years ago, I have developed the ability to adapt to major life disruption.

Though my children are young adults now and I work from home, I feel positioned to respond to this current life interruption by placing it at arms’ length. I view every jarring life event as an opportunity as a shift in energy that invites personal, civic and economic growth in areas we have only dreamed of, or have not made the space in our lives to consider alternatives. So here is the space folks. The universe is calling. Regardless of the level of hygiene I can employ or how few fingerprints I can rub up against, I cannot control the existence of this pathogen nor its course. However, the circumstance is not hopeless, I can control how I choose to respond. I could not hope for my husband to rise from the ashes and walk through the door, but I could continue to rise, keeping the door open for new experiences. One moment at a time.

I choose to cherish the time I have with the people who I’m with. I choose to support my community with service and kindness by not pointing my lens on personal losses. Anger and blame are self-armoring emotions that are counterproductive to community health. I choose mindfulness in heart-centered spirituality, trusting in the unassailable ebb and flow of life forces, by not yoking myself to fear. I choose to embrace the present by accepting the necessary changes I am given.

Growing up on Fire Island, I learned to escape the undertow by moving parallel to the shore. Don’t fight the current, you can’t swim back to the shores of the past. You’re sure to drown. In this day, I’ll take a deep breath, swim out of the current that’s pulling me into the deep, and allow the surf to carry me home.

In difficult times, there can be no normal to grasp onto, the journey is dynamic. At each bend in the road, I am changed. I just am. This is resilience. When bad things happen, recognition of my individual experience is a huge component to recovery. Yet, resilience can be community-wide as well, as has been my continuous experience as a 9/11 widow. In all of the environmental and human-made disasters throughout time, people have endured inconceivable hardship. Trust that everything works by design. Keep your head from being too invested in the future, it not real-time. Today is yesterday’s future and tomorrow’s past. Just like that, it goes fast. Your alive!

How do I maintain a positive outlook in the face of tragedy with dignity? Limit TV and social media crisis aggrandizement, it’s easy to get sucked away. I choose to exercise, walk the dog, to feel the air and sun on my skin. In Vermont this is a big deal. It’s also fun to give a wave to the neighbors, I rarely see, who are out in the middle of the day doing the same. I calm my mind by practicing stillness through meditation for twenty minutes. I can recognize when I’m getting close to my stress limits, and if I slip up, my kids will recognize for me and call me out on it. Personal favorite stress-relievers; crafting, ancestry, cooking, playing, listening to music, dancing in the kitchen, reading and writing.

Today I baked a beautiful loaf of Irish bread. I’ll slice along the margins and swaddle four wedges in green wrap. One for my children, one for the young woman who walks my dog, and one each for my friends in need. Perhaps I’ll bake another, tomorrow.

© Deborah Garcia 2020

CHALLENGE: OCTOBER 3, 2001

October 3rd, 2001, begins with no fewer challenges than the three Wednesdays that precede it. After I shower, dress and sit at the Gateway on my roll-top desk, I type a letter to a few political figures; New York representatives Pete King, George Pataki, Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton and President George W. Bush. Out of a loss for knowing how to take action, and a need to advocate for the love of my life, in his absence, in three tidy paragraphs, I describe our story and express my concerns for how our family, and the hundreds of families in the surrounding communities will move through the tragedy of 9/11.

At 10 AM, I stuff a yellow, letter-sized envelope in my bag containing mine, Dave’s and the boys birth certificates, our marriage certificate, a full-page missing person’s photo, and Dave’s proof of employment at the World Trade Center. My father arrives to watch the boys, and my cousin Pam picks me up for the forty-five-minute drive into Manhattan’s West side. We are like Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise, Long Island-style, 5’2 blond thirty-somethings in designer shades, motoring up I-495 (aka the Long Island Expressway) toward the Ground Zero Family Assistance Center in her pearlized Cadillac ESV.

We make our way to the Westside Highway and 52nd street and park in the VIP lot behind a tall chain-link fence beside Pier 94. “This should only take about an hour,” I said. My sole purpose is to file for a Certificate of Death. However, one step through the NYPD-guarded doors changes my illusion into the reality that would forever re-pave the path in my life, as I step from Manhattan Island into Fantasy Island, for a six-hour tour.

We are immediately met by an American Red Cross volunteer who asks about my story. She escorts us down a long corridor, between two tall temporary walls covered in photographs of the missing. “This is the ‘Wall of Memory’ for survivors,” she says, to hang pictures and write sentiments with a complimentary Sharpee. I walk through a 500-foot tunnel of a thousand faces, with eyes looking at no one in particular, flanked by uncountable Teddy bears sent from the people of Oklahoma City. This nearly ends my day. I clutch my envelope tight to my chest. The well-meaning and nervous Red Cross volunteer, about my age (which was 37), explains; “This is going to be very difficult for you, to answer the questions for the death certificate filing, and you and your children will be needing a lifetime of counseling, so I suggest you see a counselor here, before you leave.” I am scared sick. I can barely move forward, still praying that I am soon to awaken from the coma that is creating this nightmare, and return to my forever.

We emerge from the tunnel into what appears as an indoor flea market, dotted by rows of booths with printed signs and uniformed barkers, filling a hollow building the size of two football fields. Consequently, the death certificate process takes all of about twenty minutes. It is a unique Certificate of Death, of an unactualized death. Immediate Cause of Death: “Physical Injuries, Body Not Found”. Relatively speaking, it was cake!

The volunteer then advises we file paperwork with the American Red Cross where she leads us past dozens of booths to the area. Here, there is a complimentary dining area, so Pam and I take a break and lunch on turkey wraps and pasta salad.

Next, we meet another Red Cross volunteer who warns us that the wait is so long, we should leave and return tomorrow! Like it’s a single subway stop to Freeport, Long Island. Pam presses on and we proceed anyway. The wait is ten minutes, however, the ninety-minutes of torture put upon me by the hyperverbal, confused volunteer we were given, took all the blood out of me. Perhaps she became overwhelmed by the discovery that she had known Dave from his college days. She lives in Rochester, what are the chances?

Then we are directed to the Salvation Army. Ten minutes there. Then onto registering with FEMA, who hands me a checklist of eighteen booth sites to visit. The Tzu-Chi order of Buddhist Monks pray upon me, placing a $1,000 check in my hands.

We continue on, to the Worker’s Compensation table, a moderately bleak stop considering Dave was a contracted IT employee. Then onto the FBI, which turns out to be the most important place to visit. Dave is placed on the “Official Missing Person’s” list filed in Washington, D.C. The feeling of crossing the fifty-yard line, woohoo, I’m running with folder in hand, in the right direction. Yes, this is a comic relief, that provides me with a sense that I will no longer remain in the dark pursuing my lover’s murder. I am part of the action! They send us current news on leads and capture of the terrorists, and the federal government can direct all appropriate benefits to me.

Pam and I then make a beeline for the door at 5:30, grabbing apples, bananas and water bottles on the way out. I am home by seven. After being with the kids all day, my Dad scoots, and I still have to get the boys dinner.

Needless to say, October 3rd, 2001 was a challenging day in which I journeyed through many tunnels. Because of Pam’s fear-based water-crossing ritual, we emerge from the final leg of the one-and-a-quarter mile journey under the East River via the Midtown Tunnel, holding our breath.

From the last morning I kissed my love goodbye on the second Tuesday of September, to the re-telling of our story on the many stages set before me today, I have journeyed through dark tunnels of unknown destiny. Moving through the dark, I feel the reality of my decree crack open under my feet, and this is where the light shines through. For eighteen years, I have fought against the black holes that threaten to suck me into despair and I tell myself that I will keep alive what he believed. By keeping it alive and warm inside during the years to come, we will be able to return to creating the life we dream. Perhaps we can even constitute the World we conceive.

© Deborah Garcia 2020

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