Between us, we’ve lost enough loved ones to account for all fielding positions on a baseball team—which is a meaningless observation. It’s instinct, I think, to contextualize this impossible load of grief within something contained, familiar, anodyne. We’ve also lost enough loved ones to make up the entire Supreme Court.
The others share readily, hungrily even. This night is a reprieve from every other night, where well-meaning others don’t know what to say when we mention our dead loved one’s name, or how to react when we’re in the thick of a “sad day.”
“That’s part of the beauty of The Dinner Party,” says Marlana. “We wouldn’t be sharing this intimately, I feel like, with anybody.”
Tonight, though, I find myself unable to pipe up. My voice shrinks away, like it did when I was a kid at birthday parties, or on the first day of school. If Julia were here, she’d make this spilling-in-front-of-strangers thing easier. Julia could eviscerate my natural shyness and draw me out in a loud, dynamic group. Julia could make me feel like myself when no one else knew the difference.
Conversation moves fast at the table. The group transitions with ease from “zombie mode” in those first few months of shock, to how grief sneaks around and drops in unannounced.
“It’s not something where you can sit and be like, ‘Okay, I’m going to grieve now,’” says Sara. She recalls breaking down inside of a World Market because her mom loved World Market.
I’ve got a story—a recent drive to Target, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl,” an old Julia favorite, strums onto the radio, and I sob in the parking lot—but I’m not quick enough, not brave enough, and the conversation moves …
To voicemails, and I think about how I lost Julia’s messages after updating my phone, but the conversation moves …
To how hard we are on the people we know will love us no matter what, and I think about how I hurt Chris when I accused him of not understanding my pain, but the conversation moves …
To seeing our dear departed—and their deaths—everywhere, and how Marlana can no longer eat apples because she was about to eat one when she got the news that her brother had died. I think about the half-bathroom attached to my bedroom. It was there that I answered the phone from Julia’s little sister as I got out of the shower on July 7, 2015. I think about how I haven’t used that bathroom since.
I wish I could plop the congealed contents of my brain onto a plate for the others to note the “shape.”
But it’s easier to listen.