Yesterday was October 28th. Ten months since our son died. I wasn’t really aware of the date until today, but my body knew what day it was. I woke up early to take a friend to the airport. Returning home, I fully intended to begin my day, but a wave of weariness broke over me and all I could do was climb back into bed. I slept until nearly noon. For the rest of the day I felt as if I was walking through a viscous atmosphere without quite knowing why. It was an effort to pull myself together and go teach the class I am now leading two days a week. These teaching days anchor my week, give me a bit of a renewed purpose, and a chance to pass on a bit of my knowledge and experience to a new generation of image makers.
I teach a black and white darkroom lab at Venice Arts, a community organization that offers classes for young people in a variety of media arts: photography, filmmaking, animation, comics, story telling. I started volunteering, mentoring in a photography class in February just to get out of the house and my head. I continued mentoring one day a week during the spring, and during the four-week summer session I upped my involvement to every day for a few hours. When the fall semester began I made the commitment to mentor (volunteer) in an ‘Old School’ photography class and the two darkroom labs for a total of three 3-hour stints every week. When the lead instructor of the two-day darkroom portion left to take a real job, they offered the position to me. I truly enjoy working with these young people teaching them both the basic skills and concepts of photography and the specific techniques for developing and printing black and white film. Yes, film. Those long plastic strips with all the tiny holes along the sides.
I began my photographic career right around the age of the kids I am working with this semester, and 50 years later there is still magic when I see a printed image start to appear as it develops under the red safelights. There is magic when I see them get excited about it too. There are a few that are really into it, have started to grasp the concepts and basics and apply them to their work. Jake was an accomplished photographer and printer who also began his darkroom ‘career’ around the same age, and working with these kids, somehow allows me to spend some time with him. I am not always conscious of his presence there, but knowing I might be sparking a lifetime of creative expression is something I think he would approve of.
I miss him terribly. Some days more than others. I don’t know what makes the difference. As I said, it is the most random things that spark the deeper sadness that pierces the gauzy veil between the light of my daily life and the dark room where my bottomless sorrow dwells. Every day brings a new dimension to this tragedy. I read a post somewhere where the writer made the distinction that it is his tragedy, our loss. To me it is our loss and our tragedy too. We took a trip to Phoenix this past weekend for a cousin’s 85th birthday party. Cousins who knew Jake from birth. We had a subdued Shabbat dinner on Saturday night, and I almost made it through the Kiddush. The last few words caught in my throat and I whispered them in the silence that surrounded the table. I am usually able to recite it now without breaking down. Recite but not sing. I cannot bring myself to sing. Anything. My muse has truly deserted me. Not only deserted me, but cursed me with an abiding sadness that shows no signs of abating. I haven’t picked up an instrument in months, although I did strum a uke briefly a while ago. There is so much memory wrapped up in that little instrument. Terry gave me one as a wedding present. I played it for Jake at bed time. I played it during our halcyon Hawaiian vacations. ‘Hanalei Moon’ was a family anthem. Now it lies silent. Stacked in my office along with the other dusty black cases that once brimmed with music. Tragedy upon tragedy, loss upon loss.
So I still stumble through that darkened room every day. I am beginning to learn where the furniture is. Like in the photo darkroom, I do many things by touch; I can’t always see what I am doing. I move slowly, cautiously, hands out groping forward. I still bark my shins on the coffee table from time to time, but less frequently. Sometimes I think I can perceive a glimmer of light, but mostly it is still very, very dark.