let's talk about Anna.
Such a queen. She was my aunt. I mean, by marriage. From my perspective, she was more than that - a friend with ears, a woman with an eye for fashion, a timeless face with a commanding voice.
She was real good at socializing. She knew exactly what to say to keep the conversation going - she also knew when to end it. And she was real good at business. Well, maybe marketing. Sex appeal and alcohol sells; Mega Metro Marketing was her business. I mean, her car almost got repo’d and her credit score went to shit, but that’s part of it, right? She could still sweeten the pot and get several cases of liquor out of the house the same night.
I had just gotten back to New York from spending three challenging weeks at the Verbier Festival Academy. I was at my mom’s house with my sister, Taylor, and my girlfriend, Rubina. There was a downpour around 2:30pm that day but it wasn’t really anything to worry about. After it ended, Anna and Uncle Dale went to Bayswater Park in Far Rockaway to enjoy a little of the breeze, spend a little time by the water.
Anna, don’t go in the water
Anna, get out of the water
Anna, get away from there
You know when you have the most perfect dream? Like, so perfect that you might even remember the exact details of how amazing you felt in that moment right before you woke up? I imagine it must have been the perfect beach day - the sun came out, the breeze felt cool against your skin, the water at the tips of your toes. And your wife is being dragged away in front of you and you can’t do anything about it. How traumatic is that? There’s no way to wake up from this. I don’t know what Dale is going through right now. He's probably blaming himself every minute of every day for saying yeah, Anna, let's go, for not trying harder to pull her out of the vacuum, for sacrificing his life so she can still be here.
Mother, mother, it's me - Anna drowned. 4:30pm.
Never mind 911; who is the first person you reach to in moments of panic? Grandma answers the phone.
What do you mean “drowned”? Jamaicans exaggerate everything. She could have just swallowed a little bit of water and had gone unconscious. No big deal, she'll wake up, vomit up the water, you know the drill.
Except she's missing.
Mom and Taylor drive to the bay. There's no way she could be out there, haha, it's not that bad - scary, yes, but I'm sure everything will be fine by tomorrow.
Mom calls. Yep, she's gone. They can't find her.
Babe, we have to go. I don't know what happened. We have to go.
Rubina and I drive to Far Rockaway. I'm stuttering through sentences at this point and getting increasingly nauseous on the way. All I can concentrate on is the movement of traffic and how people never really seem to move fast enough and don't you know that cars have more powerful engines than this like what are you doing???
We talk about that one time when Dale and Anna took the both of us out to some expensive restaurant on the Nautical Mile in Freeport and Anna just got one overpriced sushi roll and Rubina ended up getting lobster because a. It was the cheapest thing on the menu and b. She loves seafood. Not really the ideal date food, but she had a grand old time cracking the shell to get to the meat on the inside.
I'm not a big lobster fan. Not helping with the nausea.
We make it to Grandma's house. No one's really sure what to do or how to walk or where to go. Just utter confusion. Grandma is in the kitchen because that's where she spends most of her time. She says go to the bay, see if you can find Dale, he's probably with the police right now. But do I want to see this for myself? Is this the right time? Doesn't he want to be alone anyway?
We head to the bay. It's half a mile up the road, takes us no time to get there. We turn the corner off Waterview St. and onto Norton Drive. I used to live on Waterview St. It was the very first house I lived in after I was born. I don't remember anything about that house; I only know it because my dad told me so.
There sits an NYPD emergency vehicle. An Eyewitness News van sits several feet behind it. Surrounding both vehicles is a crowd of people, none of whom I knew - maybe they knew her, maybe they lived on that street, who knows. But we got out of the car and as soon as I felt the thickness of the air, that's when it hit me. Death is heavy. But having no closure is heavier. My stomach was burning from wanting to purge everything that my eyes were absorbing. There was a helicopter persistently propelling overhead, and divers off to the left who've returned empty-handed from below the water line. And yet, the bay seemed calm, forgiving, and the sky was just turning into the pink-and-blue cotton candy pastel colors that make us just love Long Island sunsets in August. It's beautiful, the Jamaica Bay. The same bay that I've been looking at the past 2 years crossing the South Channel Bridge on the way to the city. The bay that just supports the red, white, and green lights at JFK Airport at night.
Queens, New York, man. That water sucks you in and spits you out somewhere else. I remember going to Rockaway Beach when I was little and occasionally seeing a helicopter fly overhead and my dad would go, “See that? Someone drowned.” Never did I think it would happen to someone so close to me.
She was missing for two days.
You wanna know where she ended up? Rockaway Park. Water flows, and so did she. Her lifeless body wound up about 80 NYC blocks from where she started. She had been taken in a bodybag to the medical examiner and was kept there overnight. The butterfly tattoo on her right shoulder was how we knew it was her the following morning. I’m sure her face looked like absolute shit, but at least it was something.
Some things don’t move.
I still have programs in my room from the funeral. I have drafts of funeral programs that weren’t printed right. I have pictures of the Presbyterian Church in Far Rockaway. The funeral was whatever. I played some Bach. I thought you might’ve liked that. People were crying and stuttering and just trying to speak English and/or Patois because of course. The pastor called it a “celebration of your life,” and then some other minister was doing the most and telling us to call upon Jesus and maybe one day he’ll save us in the end or something. Really? From this neglected place called Far Rockaway? From guys on the corner of Cornaga and Rockaway Freeway yelling, “Whatever I want, I get, B. Far Rock, we wildin’ out here in these streets”? From wherever these streets are? From wherever real New York is?
I have pictures of your white casket. I have pictures of the hearse that carried you away. I have pictures of the plot of land where you rest now. Or those might just be memories - I don’t remember.
Remember the lights at JFK? Red and white were your favorite colors. Maybe you were wearing a red dress in your white box as you were being lowered into the ground.
Your BMW is still in the driveway. Your car keys are still on the table. You still have EZ-Pass violations in bright orange envelopes sitting there - girl, you knew better.
There’s a box at the bottom of the stairs with a bunch of your things in it. I wonder if they will get donated. I don’t ask. It’s a difficult question. But I mean, it’s difficult coming home, too. You know, when I used to take the A back from the city and get home around 12:30am, you and Dale would be shouting at the TV about various things, Trump is President, he fired yet another person, he’s gonna destroy the country, how are we going to live in this broken world, yadayadayada, and I should have been worried about it, but I was far too exhausted and I had a lesson in the morning and I just needed sleep.
Now I come home around the same time and you can hear a pin drop. It’s uncomfortable, it’s eerie, it’s jarring. Maybe it’s because that was a used-to-be thing. Have you ever heard of a loud silence? A silence so loud that it causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up in fear, maybe a response to danger? A silence that penetrates the fibers of your nerve endings because God you could be standing right behind me? A silence with tension so great and so deafening that it beats the sound of the construction going on down the street at Far Rock high?
The chairs outside are still there from when we sat on the steps trying to make sense of all this. You had a kickass body. You were toned. You were fit. But I guess you were no match for what was to come. Those chairs served as some kind of comfort. We were together. We were wondering the same thing. Cats sleep on those chairs now. We know how much you loved animals. They stay when it’s dry. Lately it’s been kinda rainy, and, well, it floods once a week over here. That’s kinda how we feel, too.
So here’s to you, Anna.
Here’s to your 35 years.
I know you loved that bay. I remember when you took me there when I was 11 and Taylor was 9 and we were nearly mauled by mosquitoes but it was so pretty and I couldn’t believe a place like that existed around here. Not like we were minutes away from the beach or anything. I knew you were just as happy 13 years later, up to your last few minutes.
I remember when you used to say “Hey, handsome.” I remember you used to say that sometimes when I came home late and you had a headwrap on before diving into an absurdly small cup of mashed banana and chia seeds.
I remember when we used to go to Subway at 1am to get their chocolate chip cookies. And then we’d go to Grandma’s house and stay up until 4am. That was a big thing when I was in middle school.
I remember when we went to the fireworks show over by the East River. I think we also got Subway cookies. The place smelled like cardboard as always but warm chocolate chip cookies from anywhere are still great.
Remember when we drove from New York to Georgia? I remember you allowing me to rest my head on your lap, but in the morning you told me I punched you in the face three times. Sorry.
Remember when we drove from New York to Boston for my undergrad auditions? You and Mom would not stop talking the entire ride and I really needed to sleep. You were so annoying.
I remember we were planning on going to an Indian restaurant for all-you-can-eat buffet lunch one day because Dale doesn’t like Indian food but who cares about him because we were going to have the best time. We should have done that!!!
I remember when you stole one of three very large fruit tarts that Rubina made for my undergraduate recital at NEC. She stayed up until 2am making those. Mhmmmm. I saw you. Running away in heels with a fruit tart all to yourself. Couldn’t tell you nothing. I found the plate that the tart was on when I became a Juilliard student.
I remember when we went movie hopping in Flushing and when we got caught, we came up with some lame excuse like “Oh, sorry, we totally forgot what theater we were supposed to be in, could you just remind us?”
I remember telling you about my viola. I told you how happy I was to have an instrument of my own, and such a fantastic one at that. And you cared, even though you didn't know anything about violas, or instruments in general, or much about classical music.
I remember expressing to you how much I wanted to give a recital and for you to use it to get more clients for MMM. Good music, good drinks, good company. I'm giving a recital in New Haven soon. It would have been the perfect time.
I remember driving you to the Nautical Mile on your wedding day. I came down from Boston during my sophomore year to be there for you and Dale. You were nervous, and emotional, perhaps overwhelmed with joy but also like is this wedding going to turn out okay??? I knew you wouldn't have it any other way. I've known you since I was 7, but it was that moment when you showed the realest, most vulnerable version of yourself. I mean, your dress made you look kind of like a goth princess or something, but I knew you were happy. I remember the yacht with the red trim. I remember how full the moon looked as we celebrated on the water into the night. I remember the host telling us to wrap up our speeches because she needed us off the boat at a certain time. That may have been a good call - I think Uncle Terron spent a little too much time at the open bar, because his words were not few. Or thought out.
Our family photo of that night is still on the wall. You kept it classy, and Dale looked like Ja Rule during his prime, just with a better looking white suit. Mom looks like a deer in headlights with a short bob. Uncle Kert is at one end, eyes fixed to the right as if a fresh tray of jerk chicken has just arrived. Uncle Terron is at the other end with drink in hand, his tucked in lavender shirt now half-tucked in and I don’t know what those dreads are supposed to be doing. Taylor is wearing a black cocktail dress feeling relieved after having just changed out of the red bridesmaid dress. Grandma is here for the night because this is her one chance to get out of the house and live. And then there’s me, next to the bride, big smile as usual. It was a night to remember.
I remember you talking to your cats. Coco and Fluff are still here. Sometimes Coco greets me at the door. If she’s feeling social, seductive. She’s so fat now. She tried to jump on the window sill and failed miserably, tearing Grandma’s curtains that she’s had for over twenty years. Maybe you were still around for that. Fluff still drags his tail with him everywhere he goes, and still fights with Coco, his mom, in the wee hours of the morning, for reasons I don’t know. And then Cookie comes out once in a blue moon, when not a single creature is in sight. Or so he thinks. He sat in my viola case once. I don’t think he remembers me that well, though.
I know you wanted the ginger cat to have a home. Yep, the one that slept underneath the Acura on hot summer days. You had enough cats already. So Rubina took him in. We drove him up to Connecticut and named him Bartok. I guess that’s what happens when two violists adopt a cat ;) He’s living the life now. That’s for another time, but you’d be so happy for him.
We’re getting over the hump, little by little. We’re trying. I don’t really see Dale much anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve been out of the house more often, but I know he’s around. We have our differences. Sometimes he still says “we” in conversation. And I don’t show any emotion, but my heart breaks a little. I don’t know what I would do.
It’s been wonderful, Anna. Have fun out there.
Today marks three months.