Memorial Day 2010
The smoke tree crouches below my second story window, its rust red smudges reaching toward the top of the house on Pine Street that my husband and I have rented for four years. In early days, my husband and I planned to buy this house, raise our children here, eventually renovate the add-on upstairs apartment for my parents. This home was where we’d root our family, we thought.
But now we are newly separated and soon, our six-year marriage will be over, so there will be no children, no family, no roots. My husband has, just lately, moved out of this rambling New England two-story into the back in-law apartment, a stick-on afterthought of a place, with even more tilted floors, asymmetrical angles, and less insulation than the thin-walled main house we’d shared.
This morning, as I settled at my desk, the crunch of footsteps on gravel alerted me to visitors making their way up the driveway, past the smoke tree, through the tiny yard, to my husband’s new front door. My husband is never without company, as long as he wants it. He has had a broken heart since childhood, and I know the fracture has recently gaped even wider, but at least he knows how to rest, and to play.
This Memorial Day, I will work next to my office window in an elusive slice of arcing sunlight until late in the evening, when a desk lamp will become the room’s only illumination. This Memorial Day while I work, I will ignore the sound of my still-husband’s muffled voice, the occasional burst of his laughter just on the other side of that wall. And I will work every Memorial Day for the next decade, though this will be the last in this house, in this life. It is the work that will keep me from feeling too much.
Memorial Day 2020
The willow tree is taller than any other tree or dwelling between 4th and 5th Streets. She not only sweeps past the top floor of our three-story brick apartment, but drapes her thin branches across a span of three three-stories on either side of adjoining backyards that connect this strip of buildings sliding down from Park Slope to Gowanus.
I have lived in this apartment for seven years, and my partner for four. But only this year have we taken time to play with whatever nature is available to us in this urban neighborhood: birdsong, the blossoming of backyard cherry trees, a blooming petunia we hang on the railing outside. If I sit cross-legged in a slab of sunlight that warms the cream faux fur blanket draped over my office loveseat, I can watch mourning doves, cardinals, chickadees, and juncos as they flit from willow branch to telephone cable to our new, fire escape bird feeder.
This spring we’ve spent almost every moment together inside our home, kept indoors by the pandemic that has parked a refrigerated mobile morgue outside the Brooklyn hospital just a few blocks away. We’ve argued more than usual, lately, but we’ve cooked more, sung more, held our kitties more, and we’ve clung to each other, too. We talk about all we’re grateful for: we still have jobs; all his family and my parents, too, are so-far safe; thank god we don’t — and won’t — have children.
This Memorial Day will be the first I’ve taken off as long as I can remember. Every other year I’ve been in an office somewhere, in a panic that there is not enough time, I can’t afford to stop, the only way forward is to keep working. This First Memorial Day Off there are no invitations to refuse: is no neighborhood block party, no backyard barbeques, no possibility of a road trip to see anyone. My timing is terrible: I’ve committed only this year to Regular Rest — taking days off, evenings off, weekends off. But this quiet holiday, these muted mornings and evenings where New York City traffic doesn’t drown everything else out, thrum with tension, so not working doesn’t yet mean finding rest. I resist the urge to return to work; maybe the work could keep me from feeling so much.
2018 Audiobook Narrator of the Year and the winner of multiple Audie Awards, including the 2017 Best Female Narrator Audie, writer, performer, and producer Tavia Gilbert is the voice of more than 650 full-cast and multi-voice audiobooks. She produces several podcasts for an international audience, and is the creator of the scripted fiction podcast, The Abels, in collaboration with the BBC. She earned a BFA in Acting from Cornish College of the Arts and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts
Tavia encourages you to learn more about Covenant House, a housing non-profit for homeless youth, runaway teens, and victims of human trafficking.