The man I loved had been dead a year.
I felt like a young widow catching men in my web of sorrow. I grieved through thighs and back and mouth and hair. I had entered the shadowy life of Philadelphia nightclubs in the 80’s, ending every night with a man in my bed after dancing at The Black Banana with the Beth, Virginia and Aaron. Tony, Kelly, Bob. Women wearing plastic earrings and polka dots and shoulder pads, and men in too-tight pants. I danced until night became day and day night became night again and all the days of grief strung together like blinking holiday lights.
I knew if I stopped moving, grief would catch me and hold on tight.
If I stopped moving, maybe I would die, too, from its grip.
If I stopped moving, I would hear his laugh and see his gapped teeth and hear him call me “baby”, and I’d turn around to air and sky and subways and concrete and he wouldn’t be there.
If I stopped moving, I would see him skiing down the slopes of Stowe Vermont like a poem, framed by the evergreens.
If I listened to the lyrics of any song too long, I would fall to my knees screaming, so I kept moving – drinking, smoking, dancing, laughing, falling asleep half conscious, waking up next to someone whose name I didn’t know and didn’t want to know.
Every day and night and night and day came with the rude glare of morning light, my youth being stripped from me. – the empty packs of cigarettes, the empty boxes of wine, Sade and Talking Heads and Blondie my only real companions.
I was in a landslide of my own making, and I lived as if I was dying.
Until I went to Italy, and I threw a coin into Trevi fountain, the muscled cement gods staring at me.
I made a wish for all of it to stop, right after that wish, it did stop.
I returned to love, though it wasn’t love at first.
First, I slowed down. Washing my underwear in sinks and hanging it on the balcony of my pensione near the Vatican. Bumming cigarettes and sitting in the Colosseum every afternoon sharing my sandwich with the starving cats.
I was eating gelato and drinking smooth red wines out of too small glasses and practicing my Italian on strangers.
And I was laughing at myself in a foreign country.
I was literally running when everything changed. Running down a narrow cobblestone street from two men trying to hurt us, when two other men pulled up in a tiny Fiat too small to be threatening, and said, “get in.”
We did get into that car.
This story isn’t about the first time he moved the hair off my forehead to see my eyes, or how making love was such a beautiful return from the sharp edges of sex.
No, this is about me returning home – to Philadelphia after a month in Rome, a month of eating and walking and driving and loving. A month of embracing the gods and them embracing me. It was hard to be back with the fresh baked memory of a new love in my heart and my body and my hands, and return to the place of grief.
It was almost Christmas again, the day my beloved died, and I was at the Italian market and shopping for a dinner party. A dirty white truck pulled up to the butcher, where the pig was hanging out in front.
The driver got out and ran inside with a clipboard when I heard the squawking.
Loud, and insistent.
I heard these words – I want to live.
I left my bags and looked in the small windows at the back of the truck, and there were over a hundred turkeys screaming, with nowhere to go but the butcher. Climbing over each other in a panic.
That’s when the grief came in, not for the first time, but it was a tidal wave, crashing on the shore of me through the tiny desperate eyes of a hundred turkeys.
In a panic I pulled the doors open and let all those turkeys out into the streets, running into the Italian market down 9th Street.
I heard a woman screaming. The man with the clipboard ran out and asked me who did this, while trying to grab a turkey.
I picked up my bags and shrugged my shoulders.
By freeing the turkeys, I opened the doors to my own grief, to the universal grief we all live beside every day.
I had to learn I could open those doors and survive.
This is what I wanted to tell you this morning. Grief comes in waves, and sometimes we have to run fast from it, then slow down to feel it, or free a truck filled with turkeys and walk slowly back home.