Physicist’s Letter to His Dead Wife

In the months before I met my own wife, I’d slid into the most frightening depression I had, at that time, ever experienced.

It was winter break of my senior year of college, and most of my friends had gone home, to distant places, for the holidays. I’d started working at the bookstore café, often 3PM to 11PM, and after work I went back to my empty apartment to read alone all night. I’d fall asleep at dawn, wake at 2PM, and return to work, which meant I often saw daylight only in the brief afternoon commute.

The darkness and solitude were a dangerous combo, especially given my depression, and I credit that month of desperate reading with my belief that books can literally save lives.

One of the books I read that month was a biography, called Genius, of the ebullient physicist Richard Feynman. One section of the book tells of Feynman’s time at Los Alamos, helping to build the atomic bomb, and spending his weekends at a nearby hospital where his young wife Arline was dying of tuberculosis.

That section of the book — the science, the bomb, the personalities, the love story — is an astonishing fifty pages and you ought to read it sometime.

Sixteen months after Arline’s death, Feynman wrote her a letter. The envelope remained sealed until after his own death in 1988. Here’s Oscar Issac reading the letter:

 

Writing About Nothing to Write About

I’m trying to blog every day in 2017. What the hell, right?

I started early, on December 11, and haven’t missed a day. Some days I’ve written mini-essays about anxiety or neckties. Other days I’ve posted a song I’m feeling.

“Do Things, Fight Gloom” is the order of business, and the blog is as much my public contribution to gloom-fighting as it is my private motivation to do things. If I’m feeling too low to write, I do something vivifying. If I do something vivifying, I write about it.

Days like today, I do a plethora of things I’ve done many times before and have little new to say about:

  1. Wondering if “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is an eerily true description of existence
  2. Novel-writing
  3. Pushups and stationary-bike riding
  4. Obsessing over subjects far too private to share, especially on a blog *
  5. Hanging with our dog Bones in front of the fire
  6. Reading about fallopian tubes, sugar, and anarchism in my general knowledge books
  7. Playing music

So tonight I wrote about that stuff anyway.

* Let your imagination go wherever it likes, then wonder why it went there.

Imaginary Bike Tour: Days 4-5

Days 4-5 of my imaginary bike tour got me to Neversink, NY.

Wait till you hear about Neversink:

In the 1940s and 50s, the original town of Neversink, along with a town called Bittersweet, was flooded to create a reservoir as part of the NYC water supply system.

The Neversink River, which flows through the current town, is said to be the birthplace of American fly fishing.

The town prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages from 1935 to 2015, at which point the ban was only partially lifted. Neversink is a dry town.

(Image Source)

Half Our Lives Together

Twenty-one years ago tonight, Coley and I had our first date. That’s exactly half our lives. From here forward, we’ll have been together more than not.

We met at the local Barnes & Noble. She was the music department girl. I was the café boy. She claims to remember me from months earlier, when I was only a customer, and she asked her manager, “Who was that in the oversized barn jacket buying an obscure classical CD and acting all writerly?”, or something to that effect.

I don’t remember that first encounter.

I do remember the week I started working in the B&N café, where I’d been hired because the café manager — an R.E.M. fan — thought I resembled Monster-era Michael Stipe.

Coley walked up that week, introduced herself, and gave me a strong, warm handshake. This thrilled and depressed me.

Thrilled because God, she turned my stomach into candlewax. She made fantastic eye contact. She dressed like a 90s thrift-store Gypsy. She was vivid, smart, voluptuous, and fun. Had I ever met someone so immediately lively?

Depressed because I was fire-scarred in love, having spent most of college unrequitedly pining for my best friend, and I didn’t want to suffer anymore. I’d sworn off dating. Now this.

I asked her out anyway and she said yes. Before the date could happen, she had a family emergency and skipped town for a week. When she came back, she didn’t call me for days and I let the whole thing go, assuming she hadn’t been truly interested after all.

We ran into each other in the employee kitchen shortly thereafter. She insisted on giving the date another try. I begged off, convinced she was throwing me a pity bone, but she insisted with such intensity I finally agreed, feeling awfully confused because I hadn’t thought — and struggled to believe — I’d made an impression on the voluptuously smart, vividly fun music-department girl.

Our date was on a Monday night. I picked her up at B&N, much to the entertained enthusiasm of our coworkers. Inside my Buick Regal, I gave her a gas-station rose (still in the plastic) and we drove to the local Café Dolce for coffee.

We parked a block away and walked. Halfway to the café, I turned my head mid-conversation and she was gone.

She’d tripped on cobblestones and hit the street hard. I helped her up, laughed along with her mortified laughter, and gave her my arm for the rest of the walk. It was one of those lucky deals where offering my arm might normally have seemed preposterous, but suddenly seemed both gentlemanly and essential in light of her spectacular fall.

We talked a long time in the café. No joke, we spoke of marriage: not seriously or deeply, but as if such a thing were distantly possible and we needed to acknowledge the weird, strong aurora rippling between us. We were dreamers from the start: reckless, naive, optimistically together.

Later we went to her apartment, a place so crooked the refrigerator door sometimes opened on its own. I met her cat Max, my future cat-son. We sat together on her couch and talked a lot longer. I’d worn my best socks that night, in case I got a chance to take my shoes off.

I took my shoes off.

Watch Closely

Magician misdirects with a flourish, steals your watch.

Trump misdirects with a spectacle, steals your watch.

Moral: Keep your eye on the watch.

More specifically, whenever he invites Kanye to Trump Tower, stacks mystery files next to his podium, or belittles a giant of the Civil Rights Movement, pay closer attention to what he’s actually doing while you’re distracted.

(Image Source)