There’s a scene in the 2016 documentary One More Time With Feeling in which Nick Cave addresses the sudden death of his 15-year-old son Arthur. He talks about the idea of time being elastic—life marches on, but he is perpetually being snapped back to his son’s death, like a rubber band stretched too far. This is the most accurate description of trauma that I have encountered since the loss of my 37-year-old wife Kit and our unborn daughter Margeaux a little over a year ago, which left me a single parent to our 2-year-old son, Dash. No matter where I go or what I do, I will forever be tied to the day that my pregnant wife went into cardiac arrest at work and never regained consciousness.
There are times when I imagine this must be what it’s like to return from war. There is a sense of shell shock, likely some residual effects of PTSD. The work-around that I have found, the way that I can keep on going, is my commitment to happiness—both mine and my son’s. And I say this from the perspective of a man who also lost three siblings, all by the age of thirty-five. But I find strength in the fact that a woman of Kit’s caliber believed in me, and this propels my faith in the future: even though I see nothing, I approach it as if I can see everything. This sense of what lies ahead is what led me to uproot my life in New York and move my son and myself to Los Angeles.
By late May of 2018, I felt the walls of New York closing in on me. I had taken two rounds of leave from work and was about to take a third. My career was in free fall, and as a single parent, this was petrifying. After my twelve weeks of paid leave, I would need to find another job. I knew I couldn’t stay in New York. I was still living in the same universe that I had created with my partner of 13 years, even though she wasn’t. It was painful, each day and every city street and familiar landmark a reminder of what I had lost.
Even as I knew I was losing footing, I couldn’t avoid this innate feeling that everything would work out, that I was making the decisions that I needed to make, that Dash and I were going to be okay. I was crediting any sense of optimism I had to Kit. She would not let me fail. It was a familiar pattern: During the course of our relationship she had been hard on me, and I was always a better person for it. I continued to feel her influence at every big decision or turning point I made even after she died. Whether the question I faced was about parenting or professional matters, I would think about what she would want, and then plan accordingly. I felt like we were still a team, like she was still the one who made all the right calls and made sure we'd pull through. It took me awhile to acknowledge that this was all in my head. There was no angel on my shoulder. Kit was not there pulling for me—I was pulling for me. And for Dash's sake and mine, she would have been pulling for me to get on with our lives. The only way that I would have a life again is if I let go of her ghost.
There was a job offer out in Los Angeles, and rounds of interviews. The city of Manhattan Beach was the best school district and close to my new office. Everything clicked when my best friend from childhood texted me asking what my gut told me about moving to Los Angeles. I thought about a passage from Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park: “He was returning to the land where every boy forced into bravery and quickness retreats: a new life.”
There was nothing left to consider. I had made a deal with myself a long time ago that there was a rhythm to the universe, one that I followed: you either move forward or you move backwards. I never would have thought that Kit and I would not be discovering a new city together, but that’s the way it would shake out. I would move forwards alone.
Life in Los Angeles is different. For one, it rarely rains. I can’t help but think of the dichotomy of both cities’ worst environmental fears. In New York, you worry about water swallowing the place whole. In Los Angeles this past November, it was the lack of water that accelerated two years straight of the deadliest fires ever seen in the area. Dating feels more natural away from the haunted house of New York, even though I still find myself bumbling through it. There is a relearning, but also a pause. I was so painstakingly in love and felt inordinately lucky to have grown together with Kit. In my heart, I know there is no margin in this type of thinking and that the past is just that: the past. But I can’t help the fear that lightning will not strike twice.
I returned to New York this past November for the sale of our home after having been away for a little over two months. The morning of the closing, I went to the apartment to address a couple of the buyer’s last minute concerns. I recalled my initial visit there with Kit, in 2009. At the time, the apartment hadn’t been updated in over 30 years and I couldn’t see our future there. But, Kit could see everything, and over the next year would redesign every square inch to her exact specifications. Before I left for the last time, I sat on the table in the kitchen that we got on a lark one weekend in Hudson. I thought about all of the incredible meals we shared together as a couple and with close friends. I thought about the way that wine tastes when you’re in love. I knew that a part of me had died in New York with Kit.
I know this time well; the part where you hurt for awhile. I used to say to Kit that you can’t appreciate the sweet without the sour. I was coming off of the death of my brother when she and I got together back in 2004. She got me through that and the deaths of my two sisters over the next 10 years. I knew that if I had her love, nothing could stop me. And for the course of our relationship, through every setback and heartbreak, she was by my side, balancing the scales.
Manhattan Beach, with its surf breaks and sunsets, sometimes feels like an elongated vacation. Sometimes I think the universe owes me, and this current existence is some sort of recompense. But, I know that’s not true. Dash was robbed of his mother, and I feel this loss every time I take him to his new school. It’s especially painful seeing the happy, whole parents of his classmates dropping off their own three-year olds, usually with another infant in tow. I can’t help but think that this should be us.
I know I’m not finished. I’m starting to recover my faculties. The sunsets and colors in the sky above Manhattan Beach floor me every time, and there’s a tacit promise there. I’m going back to the fundamentals, and allowing myself to be vulnerable. She was a dream that came true. And maybe having realized that dream is enough.
People ask me all of the time if I still feel Kit’s presence around me. Without hesitation, I say that I do not. But her impact and her energy is everywhere, and that’s what comforts me. This past weekend, I was crying in front of Dash, and told him it was because I missed his mother. He hugged me tightly and gently rubbed my back. He continued to do this throughout the day, his way of checking in on me. It was just like his mother.