When I took my third year of Russian, almost everyone else in my class was actually Russian--almost all engineering students taking the class for an easy A. I am not Russian, and was finding it hard to keep up--and not getting much out of it either. A couple of weeks into the semester, I pointed this out to the instructor, a really wonderful Russian guy-with-beard named Slava. "Okay," he said. "We will do one-on-one." For the rest of the semester, that's what we did, meeting up in one of the campus eateries for an hour to go over whatever I'd translated during the week--mostly five-year tractorization plans and that kind of thing. Every so often, I'd have a sentence that would make no sense at all. He'd look at it, and chuckle. "Oh no," he'd said, "but there's no way you would know that. This sentence here refers to a medieval Russian nursery rhyme, and it is the last three words of the fourth line. So the reader is supposed to know that really, what the writer means is this completely different thing." I'd grumble about these ridiculous Russians, fix my translation, and grumble some more.
Anyway, now I've done the same thing. Jiggity-jig--we're home. Again.
Oh, wait. I didn't mention we went anywhere, did we.
Well, we went out of state for the weekend, for the unveiling for the friend who died right after Iyyar was born. Having a brand-new baby who had just gotten out of the hospital, and no one else to take care of Barak, there was no way I could have gone to the funeral (which was, in addition to being a plane ride away, the day before the bris). She was a good friend, and I wanted to go to the funeral, and since I couldn't do that we all went to the unveiling. Yup--all four of us. It was on Sunday morning, and we couldn't get flights that would get us there in time leaving after Shabbos, so we stayed Shabbos with friends of friends who turned out to be absolutely lovely and very hospitable people who, incidentally, happened to live three houses away from the brother of one of my favorite cookbook authors. (Funny world, isn't it.)
The weekend, the whole thing, was just so... not real. Shabbos was lovely, and every time someone asked us why we were in town I said, um, an unveiling actually. I had never been there before. My friend was someone I met through her blog, and whose blog I took over for the last few months when she was too sick to write it herself. She was, as I have mentioned here, Jewish but not observant; when it was clear she wasn't going to recover, I was the one who had the conversation with her about vidui, a Jewish tahara and funeral, what the chevra kadisha does. We changed her name. I talked to her, a few days before she died, when Iyyar was back in the hospital with jaundice and she was at home, knowing we wouldn't talk again--it was, I found out later, the last real conversation she had with anyone. She was my age. In a few weeks, I'll turn 34, which she won't get to do; a few months ago, I had a wedding anniversary she never got to either.
Even though she and her family and her illness were so much a part of our lives here, they were still, physically, very distant; I had known for months that she wouldn't get better, but had no sense of how imminent it was until I was back in the hospital with Iyyar and completely wrapped up in my new and suddenly very sick baby. I never saw her sick, never saw her house, didn't go to the funeral, and never even met her husband or parents until after she died (although I had met her sister). I met them a month or two later, while I was still on maternity leave, but it was all so... removed.
Going to the unveiling, seeing her name on a piece of stone, standing in her kitchen without her in it, and seeing all the people who I knew only in context of her now in a context of absence--it made it suddenly real. Not that it hadn't been before, not that I hadn't been aware that she had died, but my only real loss in a day-to-say sense had been of a cherished email correspondent. It wasn't in my face--I didn't wake up in the morning to an empty bed, or sit down to breakfast across from an empty chair, or even walk past a house I'd once gone into. When things happen that I want to tell her about and can't, I can still just write the email anyway, and send it off into email oblivion. For her husband and her parents and the rest of her circle of family and close friends, the ones who lived nearby and saw her often, things are very different.
And of course, in the middle of trying to connect with these people, and assimilate all of this, and be there, I was also trying to keep Barak from tipping over the chairs at the cemetery, and convince him that their doggie was not going to eat him, because he was a nice doggie, and change Iyyar's diapers behind a car, and make sure we had a ride back to the airport, and navigate the minefield of being the only Orthodox Jews in a group of Catholics, Reform Jews, same-sex partnerships and everything else, all while keeping Barak from climbing on the white couches with his shoes on, and preventing Iyyar from eating dirt.
I guess that's why I'm up at 1 am, the day after coming back, just sitting here and blogging in the late-night quiet. Her first yahrzeit is past, and my husband has finished saying kaddish for her. The year of aveilus is over. The blog is deleted. Her Hebrew name is there on the headstone, the way we changed it two summers ago, and I am here.