On November 4, it will be ten years. Ten years since we last heard her voice, saw her newest paintings, found her sleeping covered in a white afghan on one of my parents' couches (I remember thinking that she looked like one of Peter Pan's Lost Boys as she slept, tangled in the blankets with her short pixie haircut). Ten years since that summer when I received one her many witty texts, this time saying "Love Santa stuck in chimney."
Ten years since we sat hunched together on a big cooler at one of my parents' outdoor tent parties, and I told her I would leave my husband. She was the first to know. We sat together and watched all of the laughing people, dancing and clapping and singing to the music. We watched, and she said to me "You will find happiness, Paige. You are destined to have it."
Ten years since she brought a stack of her canvases over, laid them out on the breakfast table, and asked me to describe Michelangelo's technique of layering....how did he get them to look so old? I suggested candle smoke. She loved the idea. We made plans to go to Italy in the spring -- I for my research, she to tag along and get ideas for her work.
Ten years since we saw her palette on the altar of the church - "fitting" I thought to myself at the time, "but not the right time." Not the right time. And on that same day, holding up my father on our way back to the church pew after seeing her open casket, I couldn't walk without counting "1, 2, 3" over and over again in my head. Her beautiful artist hands with perfect nails and fingers that Michelangelo would have swooned over, into which I slipped a four leaf clover. My father's shaking hands. Our shaking hearts.
Ten years since my parents opened their home and hearts to all of her many loved ones, a party in her honor in their great room the night before her funeral. She said to me once "I never got the concept of a great room until I saw your house. This room IS GREAT." She noticed the Windsor chairs my parents collected and made them beautiful collage coasters with antique prints of Windsor chairs. Helping my parents feed her friends, I placed glasses of wine onto her coasters, and silently cursed her for making them.
For my dad, ten years without a day trip companion to go antiquing for glass medicine bottles, pieces of pottery, and birds nest, which she loved. Ten years of her gentle jibes: "You're special Greg, but not that special" when he sped through a toll booth after a Bruce Springsteen concert.
For my mom, no one to sit at the table, slowly sipping a glass of her customary red wine and talking to my mom as she cleaned the kitchen...and also, given the early to bed nature of the rest of our family, no one with whom to stay up late talking.
For her friends, ten years since she asked one to borrow a shotgun to shoot mistletoe out of the trees. Ten years since she laid her head in the lap of another some hours before dying - a dear, sweet man whose tender heart belonged to her, and whose own painting, made at her urging, hangs in my living room as a reminder of how worlds become connected through tragedy.
And ten years since our last meal together. She ordered three desserts, and when asked if she wanted the cardamom ice cream, she declared with utter certainty, "Make it so." Ten years since I held her hands for the last time, hugged her thinking that I would see her over Thanksgiving. Ten years since, with my parents, we all listened to Iron and Wine in my living room and she asked me for the name of the album while she sat on the floor stroking my cat, looking with a distant curiosity at my new and unfamiliar world. A blessed world without him...and then hours later, a world so suddenly without her.
Ten years since I had a friend over for dinner, and we were laughing over soup and wine, listening to music. The windows were open; it was a crisp autum night. And my baby sister called three times before I heard my phone ring from the bedroom. Her sob like a strangle, "Paige, Cheri's gone." I stood in the threshold between my bedroom and my living room, and I remember thinking, "This is what they tell you to do during hurricanes." Brace yourself. You won't be able to stand up without support from both sides. Hold tight to the door frame when a wave of grief pushes you into a place and you need to stop it from spinning. And you then realize that the world actually hasn't moved at all...but still, it won't ever be the same.
Ten years of not being able to hear Don MacLean's "Starry, Starry Night" without thinking of her: "And with no hope left in sight/on that starry, starry night/you took your life as lovers often do/but I could have told you Vincent/this world was never meant for one/as beautiful as you."
Perhaps this is the only answer we can ever have when our hearts can't move past absence and loss. This morning, I saw the box she made for me, which she painted with peonies because she knew how much I loved them. I picked it up, and pried the lid off, breathing in linseed oil and a profound longing that has no word, no picture, nothing to give it proper weight. Oil paint doesn't ever really dry, and so the box is still sticky when it is opened, ten years later.
Tears, grief, loss - they never really "dry" either. My heart, though stronger, is not the same. It will never stop missing her. Ten years later.