The other night, I was over my friends’ house for dinner. A last minute invite: they had been out to the farm to pick tomatoes, boxes and bags of tomatoes, and needed to eat them, or some, that night. The farm. My insides tumbled. Not their farm (they don’t have one), but the Yoder farm, the Amish family who grows all the vegetables for the CSA started up, in part, by my ex-husband (with my intermittent help). In married life, I used to drive out to farm with C. and the kids, pick a trunkful of tomatoes, and spend days processing sauce, salsa, and bags of whole peeled Romas. And chat with David, the farmer, and his wife, and their giggly half-dozen kids. We even had them over for an Amish-English dinner party in our formal dining room. One daughter, six or seven at the time, thought it was so fancy because I’d lit candles and put them in gleaming crystal holders shaped like stars. Wedding gifts. But in divorce, some friends get divvied up, just like the wedding gifts, which meant for two, go to one or the other.
This is not about the loss of wedding gifts, but the loss of friends. The real loss. Last week, one of my friends committed suicide. Impossible to imagine (and I try not to) because she was always suffused with joy, at least when I saw her. She owned the yoga studio where I practice. Her smile was a stabilizing force and she inhabited her body with a grace I can only hope to achieve. And yet, she is gone now. A strange, legalistic phrase: “committed suicide.” One commits crimes or commits to a relationship. But suicide? Perhaps initially as a cause of intended action. But wholeheartedly? That seems impossible, and I know since I once committed myself to such a course. But gratefully I woke up in the hospital bed, my life, while not intact, given more time for repair. Even in the pain and inside the intention and in the bottle of pills I swallowed, even in my irrational thinking, unable to see any other possibility, I don’t think I believed for an instant that I wouldn’t wake up at some point, even if that meant years on out, and see my daughter and son and husband again. A faulty, fleeting solution to the pain of now, a decision, in its execution, that seemed temporary. Except so often, it isn’t.
Sorrow for my friend in her pain and the consequent devastation. It is not easy to resist shutting down for good. Sometimes, I wander into thinking that might be the only way—not as often as I used to—but still, what I imagine as a blank, dark quiet can seem preferable over the angry, hopeless noise in my head. And then, my daughter emails me a sketch of the two of us, disguised as her invented cartoon characters. The mother has her arm wrapped around the daughter’s shoulders, and they gaze at the other as if besotted.
Love keeps me here. Friends, too, and their tomato bounty. So I commit love, then. R. sliced up platters of enormous tomatoes marbled through like steak, and decorated them with mozzarella, feta, basil, salt and pepper. We joked they were as big as the brains of small children or swollen hearts or alcoholic livers. A way to counter sad mortality. The three of us sat at the table, spearing tomatoes with our forks, juice and olive oil dripping from our chins. We mopped up our plates with warm pita, spoke of our friend who was gone, and moved into the restoration and warmth of laughter. That was our meal: the joy of summer’s bounty and the pain of its end, and friendship that could make a feast from what seemed like so little.
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