journal

fragments

 

STEIN--Joel Maier, 67, passed away on July 17 after a brief illness at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital. Born January 9, 1944 in Queens, NY to the late Samuel and Helen Stein, raised in Shaker Heights, OH, and a die-hard New Yorker. Irreverent and loving older brother of David Stein (Josselin, France), beloved uncle of Mikhal (Bouganim), Maya and Adam Stein, devoted surrogate uncle of Peter, David and Sam Beller, and mentor, teacher and tutor of countless others. He was a raconteur, Egyptologist, student of entomology, collector of robots, gourmand and chef who retired from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York after decades of service. His humor, generosity and enormous heart will always be with us.

 

 

 

My uncle's face comes to me daily. Those low jowls against his neck. The beard almost up to his cheekbones. Eyes dancing. His wide grin. And oh, the sound of his laughter. Uh-HAH-HAH-HAH. The burst of that laugh into a room. It is hard to imagine him as anything other than alive. In his apartment in New York, even in the days following the funeral, it felt as if he were just gone for the weekend. It is hard to believe that he is gone for good. 

 

Sitting Shiva and the sweets from Zabar's. 100 degrees in New York, the windows alternately open and closed, fans blowing hot air around. Neighbors from his apartment building shaking my hands, and co-workers of his from the Fed, and the people he played bridge with, and the doormen in his building with their sad, sweet smiles. Everyone full of good words and memories about this man who in some ways I knew least well. I kept trying to match up the pieces, the stories. My uncle did everything on full volume. He weighed too much and drank too much and smoked too much. He loved to tell stories and shock with his illicit humor.

 

In his apartment, one discovery after another.

 

The seashell collection he'd kept in his room, a remnant from childhood. Inside a half-dozen large blue boxes, the most beautiful, delicate creatures.

 

A letter my mother wrote to him on the heels of my father deciding to head to Israel for the Six-Day war.

 

Photographs from his retirement party.

 

All of those white sheets in his linen closet.

 

The dozens of jars of spices in his kitchen.

 

The false violets in the living room. His aversion to fresh flowers.

 

The New York Times coming up day after day. The Week, and the irony of the card on the front of it that said "Final Issue." Mail that he would not read. The blinking red light on his answering machine. The bathrobe hooked on the back of the door. Bandaids. Shaving cream. Two bottles of Tums. The strange intimacy of a bathroom cabinet.

 

My brother and his mohawk. My brother and his new tattoo. My brother and his cartoonishly yellow shorts and blue tank top and pulled up socks. My brother. My brother. One conversation after another. Words landing between us at last. Something giving way, laying itself down. Something at the beginnings of healing. My heart, knowing this, cracking open.

 

The train out of New York, the relief of the cool car. Watching "Weeds" on my phone until the New Haven stop. A round of food shopping with my mother before the drive home. Summer's first peaches. Farm eggs. Bagels. Butter. A half gallon of orange juice, full pulp.

 

The rocks at Puffer's Pond. Two seconds of free-fall. The startle and relief of water.

 

Love coming to visit. Sweet, soft, kind, connected. This is what slow feels like. This is what steady feels like.

 

Bike ride on a country road. Midnight in Paris. Cookies 'n cream in a sugar cone. Stillness and crickets.

 

I don't need to go anywhere just yet. LA, a friend said, will be there in the fall. The calendar is not a deadline. I can take my time. I can be here for as long as it feels right. I'm not married to the answer. The only thing I need to do is trust myself.

 

Tomatoes from the farmer's market. Thin, sweet cucumbers. Lemon juice and salt. Simple, simple.

 

A thunderstorm followed by mist and silence, the mosquitoes finding cover.

 

This morning, a quiet house. The day verging on itself. My uncle's quiet apartment his first night at the hospital. The fast decline. Just two weeks ago. And this collsion of everything - life and death, love and loss, thunderstorm and stillness, movies and memorials, peaches and Shiva rugelach. It's hard not to want to hold onto everything. It's hard to keep letting go.