What’d He Miss? Magical Thinking Along My New Path in Life

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson in HAMILTON

It was dumbfounding. There I was, trying to plug a power cord into my MacBookPro. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what slot to use. That happened a few days ago. Bear in mind, my laptop is like an extension of my body. There is an invisible umbilical cord between the machine and me. A day doesn’t go by that I’m not working on it, plugging it in or out depending on where I am.

The process of mourning for my husband, David, has caused me to succumb to intermittent amnesia. (Kind of like intermittent fasting, with different consequences.) Granted, I work on my TV series pilot and write long analytical articles about the media business without any problems. But little memories sometimes escape me. This happened to me once before, living in New York in the aftermath of 9/11. I know it will eventually go away.

Joan Didion speaks of the tricks mourning can play on the mind in her masterful book, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. She experienced the illogical belief that her husband would reappear. That’s different than what I am traveling through right now. No doubt, this is in part because Didion’s husband, the writer John Dunne, died so abruptly.

David charming some Irish ladies in Padua, Italy

In contrast, David had Stage 4 cancer for nearly four years before his passing. Living with the fear of death all those years caused me to dig deeper into writing fiction. It was my escape hatch, and in a twisted kind of way, the world I created in my sci-fi cyberpunk novel, THE JUICE, benefited from David’s condition. I so desperately needed points of time when I could be away from that real-life fear.

All this brings an old memory back to me with fresh volumes of understanding. When I was a little girl, growing up in an upstate New York town called Franklin, I lived at the bottom of a street that ended abruptly at the edge of a large pasture. In the other direction, up a hill, was a charming brown-shingled home that was occupied by Mrs. Latin. At one time, before retirement, she was the school nurse. She had snowy white hair, kind blue eyes that were magnified by her thick glasses and a sweet voice. I can hear the sound of it as I write this.

While Mrs. Latin’s husband had died many years before, she still set a place for him at the dinner table. That was the rumor. A friend and I decided to find out if it was true. We made an excuse to visit her around supper time. Sure enough, there was a place setting opposite her own on the table. I’m sure we barely held back our laughs. I’m sure she figured out what we were doing, which embarrasses me now.

I do not feel David’s spirit around me, do not pretend he is here. Instead, I keep thinking about a moment shortly before his passing, in March. His sister, Angela, had learned from David that he wanted to speak with a therapist. David’s social worker asked him for more information, why he wanted a therapist, in order to figure out the right kind.

“Because I’m angry,” David said.

“What about?” the social worker asked.

There was a dangerous pause. David was so vulnerable. Finally he said, “What I’m going to miss.”

I know what was behind that. He’ll miss hearing about his friends’ children, along with our nieces and nephews — finding out how their lives evolve. That was something he dearly liked to follow. He’ll miss countless dinner parties, where he always came up with provocative thoughts: opinions about politics, or art or what food was on the table. He’ll miss never traveling to certain parts of the world.

What will we be missing? We’ll miss David at those gatherings. We’ll miss David’s amazing stories about the family’s history. We just have a few short recordings where he talks about the romantic and adventure-filled history of his clan.

We’ll miss my Creole boy’s amazing gumbo. We’ll miss his enthusiasm for what all our futures might hold.

And I miss even the smallest, seemingly meaningless moments we spent together.

In a fanciful way, this makes me think of the song Thomas Jefferson sings in HAMILTON, called “What’d I Miss.” It is the funniest tune, about Thomas Jefferson coming home to Virginia after essentially skipping the birth pains of a new nation while living in Europe. (“I’ve been in Paris meeting lots of different ladies… I guess I basic ‘lly missed the late eighties.”) It’s my favorite tune in that show.

While it’s purely magical thinking, I imagine dying many years from now. I imagine finding David again, in the great beyond. He isn’t emaciated by cancer anymore. He’s vibrant, quick-witted and full of energy.

He says to me, “What’d I miss?”

“You wouldn’t believe it,” I say.

I curl up beside him on a big bed, as I did countless times before dinner on Saturday nights. We take a few sips from a glass of bourbon and ice, kissing each other deeply as the sun goes down outside. And then we begin a very, very long chat.

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