It has been a quiet week for me, quiet in the not-typing kind of way, mostly because I'm working on some things I'm very excited about. But then it got quiet yesterday for a very different reason.
Yesterday morning I blithely opened up an email from one of our friends downstairs, an email in a chain about coordinating babysitting. In between two sentences discussing what time they were going to come up to babysit was one brief devastating line letting us know that our friend Joe on the first floor had suddenly passed away. This line was tucked in like she couldn't bear to make a whole separate email with some kind of subject heading like "Sad news". Let it stay under the heading of "Babysitting Friday night".
My eyes couldn't piece it together, I thought perhaps our own Joe had a father with the same name. I wrote back "Wait wait wait. Wait. Our Joe, as in Joe and Ellen, that Joe? That can't be right, can it?"
But there was no father with the same name. He was Paul's age, and I just nearly wrote "is" Paul's age. Joe was not asleep on the sofa, that wasn't sleep.
He was Paul's age, and it simply happened the same way you might look over and notice that your clock had stopped at some point, and you check the plug and try out other things in the outlet to see if it is the outlet's fault or the clock's, but no, the light you plug in turns on, it is not the extension cord, and there is no discernible reason for it to have stopped at 7:15am. And they have two children, no wait, she has two children. She is not the one who cooks. "Was" not the one who cooks?
What is the grammar the day after a death? All day yesterday I whole-heartedly told my brain to slide over the details and allow itself to say No no, that didn't happen, he's still downstairs. Downstairs where I see their door every time I leave or enter the building and look to see if there's a light coming from under the door through the gap and know they're home, and if there's a good smell on the first floor then I know he's cooking. Was cooking.
When will she get to be whole-hearted again. Now that he is no longer "is", only "was". The rest of us stand in confusion because confusion is better than facing it head on, and we are rushing to make sure our wills and life insurance are up to date. What a horrid response. But when a death is this sudden, and you have children, you're not able to flip a death into a reminder to live life fully, or at least we can't. All we can think of is, will our partner be okay with one income? Will they be able to keep up on the mortgage payments? Will the partner who is left behind learn how to cook dinner in half an hour? With iron-rich vegetables the kids will eat?
There is always one person in a couple who would be able to survive such a tragedy better, and the horrible thing is, it wasn't her. "Isn't" her?
What is the grammar 24 hours after a death. Fuck you, "was", fuck you, where did "is" go. Go to hell and don't come back, undo your grammar of past tense, go to hell so everyone can remain a family and the cook can cook and there's always someone who can pick up the kids in an emergency.
At some point when you have kids you think about what would happen if a bus hits one of you, that malignant Bus that exists in all our minds to the extent that I feel it must be out there somewhere, creeping along until it sees someone fragile and then without a noise goes from creeping to speeding with rush lines flowing behind it. The windows on this bus are so dark you can't see if there's anyone in it, not even a driver.
When we lay down in bed last night Paul's eyes suddenly widened and he said "Oh my God. Do you remember hearing that siren this morning and explaining what it was to August? There was an ambulance outside when I took him to daycare, was that Joe's ambulance? Jesus Christ, that was Joe's ambulance. Jesus Christ."
Was. And now forever was. I don't get it.