Someone posted on Facebook that it’s Joni Mitchell’s 70th birthday. It might surprise you that I’ve never been a huge fan of hers. I don’t dislike her music – I just never got into it. I wasn’t into her voice, although some classics have entered my psyche and I hum them from time to time.
So anyway, someone linked to this song and I read the lyrics underneath the video, and well, that was it. Happy birthday, Ms. Mitchell.
Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
It has been two years today since Lisa’s death. At this time on that day everything was normal. I suppose it has returned to something like normal. It’s been two whole years now, after all. But at my college reunion we all sat at the Grotto at midnight, a special place at Notre Dame where people light candles and pray “Please,” or “Thank you,” or “How could you?” and without planning to we left an empty chair among us and when I saw it I started to cry.
These empty places aren’t so obvious anymore. We who love her adjusted our lives to fit the new absence. I visited with her mother and father briefly. We sat in the kitchen and played with Lisa’s little dog, Sadie, who jumped up and down when I arrived. Maybe she remembered me or maybe she was just being a dog. At least this time she didn’t pee on my shoes. We didn’t talk openly about how much we missed her but it was all around us and in our eyes.
I am happy that I saved so many of her things. Every time I make a pot of coffee I use the silver coffee scoop I gave her one year for her birthday or Christmas to replace the one I accidentally ground up in the garbage disposal in our apartment in Pasadena in 1996. It came out in two pieces – one small measuring cup with the stub of a handle, and a balled up nub of metal that had once been the handle. She was particular about her tools. Each had a specific purpose and place to be kept. She was disappointed to lose that coffee scoop. And I was delighted when, years later, I spotted a nearly identical one in the Skymall catalog on an airplane.
Every day I sit at her desk. On dark days I turn on a Notre Dame lamp with a face plate on it that says “Lisa K. Kelly, MD Class of 1993.” I had not claimed that piece. That was a gift from her parents. A “she would have wanted you to have it” maybe, or “we don’t quite know what to do with this,” more likely. “Will you take it for us, to relieve us of just one of these things of hers?”
There is an item of Tupperware in our collection now that used to be hers. The day after she died, when I joined her family and another friend at Lisa’s house to gather up the important things, the immediate things, the things we hoped would make sense of it all, I took this container of fruit from her refrigerator. It had recently been cut up and assembled into fruit salad. The sudden and inexplicable nature of her death made people wonder, sometimes aloud, if she was depressed and maybe that had something to do with it. But that fruit salad was proof enough for me — as if I needed it, which I didn’t — that this was a life interrupted by death. You don’t make a fruit salad and then wash it down with a bottle of painkillers and a tumbler of bourbon.
Besides, Lisa’s one true passion was living.
I got very sick right away and I never ate the fruit salad. I allowed it to grow moldy in my own refrigerator. It was a ludicrous connection to the day when she was alive and cutting up the fruit and washing the grapes and placing it in this container. Now I put my own leftovers in the container. Every single time I do, I think about that fruit salad, about how healthily Lisa lived, and how unfair it was for this to happen at this time in her life.
A friend cautioned me against inheriting too many of Lisa’s possessions. They would make me sad, she said, if everywhere I looked I would see something of hers. Yes, at first it was harder, and they do still make me sad. But that’s okay. They are the only things you can touch that she left behind.
All the others are memories, or the way she made you feel. She was a fucking superhero, but she was so normal, and flawed like the rest of us. I always felt just as important to her as saving the world, or winning a triathlon, or exploring Maccu Piccu, or finding true love.
I hadn’t planned on writing about her today. I thought I would just quietly incorporate missing her into my regular life. But when I woke up, the first thing I thought was that I had to turn our clocks back. This is a regrettable cliche, it’s true nonetheless: how I wish I could turn them back much farther. Even though my life, which included her to a great degree when she was alive, has grown in a bit around that missing place like metaphysical scar tissue, I miss her all the time. I remember things she said or things we did and sometimes I smile and laugh and sometimes I cry and sometimes I do both. I experience new things and I say “You know who would have loved doing this with me? Lisa.”
So yeah, I miss her. The hole is covered with other things but it’s still there and I can’t fill it with one more photo album or Pottery Barn mirror or sequined tank top from her closet. But those things help.