Saturday, September 15, 2007

Excerpt from The Goldfish Went on Vacation

A Beginning
The snowy night I met Willem at a synagogue in New York City, in February of 1990, I knew we would marry, but I did not know it would last only ten years. He was sitting in front of me and I fell in love with the back of his neck. The floor sloped down to the front, so I didn't realize he was six feet three inches—more than a foot taller than I. He was from Holland, the son of a Mennonite minister, and was drawn to Judaism. I was the child of suburban assimilated Jews. He was almost forty and had never wed, and I was thirty-seven and had just about given up on men, Jewish or otherwise.
Soon after, he dragged me to the Lower East Side, where we met an old rabbi, who looked at us a bit askance and said wisely, "You will have a sweet and crazy life together," which we did.
Nine years later, on an April day in 1999, our little family—Willem; Jake, our three-year-old son, whom we'd adopted from Lithuania as a baby; and I—visited a friend's sheep farm in Connecticut. When we returned to New York, Willem parked the car on the street near our apartment. We walked from the car with Jake riding on Willem's shoulders.
In the middle of the block I said, "Should we get the car seat?"
Willem said, "What's a car seat?" and with that seemingly simple question we entered a new kingdom. Suddenly, the work I'd been doing the past twenty years, teaching writing workshops where I give simple memory assignments to help my students, who are all older than fifty, to write their life stories, became my own person quest to remember my life, my husband's life, the life of our little family before it was lost. I began to do the assignments I gave my students, so that I had a taste of my own medicine, or, as the Dutch would say, "a taste of my own cookie dough."

The Goldfish Went on Vacation
A Memoir of Loss (and Learning to Tell the Truth about It)
By Patty Dann


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