My Grandma’s Full Moon Belly and Remembering Jesse

January 7th, 1937, Saint Mark’s Place, Manhattan, Maggie’s diary continues:

Read Bartlett’s book on baby care cover to cover then to dinner at the Hoffman’s with Ned, Pat and Dick Fabian who is working in aviation now.  Champagne.  Mrs. H. gave us a white and pink “snuggle bunny”, very sweet.  Pat told about dumb young social workers at her new school and the complexity of charity organizations, which she still hasn’t untangled.  Walked home in brisk evening air.

January 7, 2010, Yours Truly, Brattleboro, Vermont

I try to imagine my grandmother with her belly full.  A pregnant belly looks to me like a full moon, full of possibility and wonder and light.

Today I am thinking of someone else’s full moon belly.  I am thinking about my dear friend, Lisa, a painter and graphic artist, a bohemian and dancer and lover of Burning Man and great parties and food, who was pregnant nineteen years ago. She gave birth to a boy named Jesse. Jesse was the kind of boy who liked sushi at a young age, he was slender with wire-rimmed glasses, and he liked to speak French and memorize poetry, he liked theater and classical music. He went to Paris for a summer and got into one of the very best architecture schools except the spring he was about to leave, he was diagnosed with leukemia, which was supposed to be one of those things that take up a few horrible months in the whole bountiful banquet of our lives.  We endure, and then we look back on it like a bad dream.

But all through that summer and fall, Jesse went back and forth to Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital, and he did not get better. He got worse.  And one night, while I was staying with Lauren in the East Village, I got a call that he was slipping away from us.

Jesse was eighteen. He died on this day last year.  There was a waiting line into the road from the funeral home on High Street. Our whole town came out into the bitter cold to talk about him, to love him with words and tears. Afterward Laura and Dan opened their home for food and drink, and Jesse’s school teachers came, his music teachers, his aunts and all his young friends, in college or still in high school, and their parents, parents always loved Jesse, his grandparents were there, and his father and his dear, sweet, beautiful mother, who is my friend.

The day after the funeral, the museum hosted a gathering. I would guess at least 300 people were there.  Chairs were set up in audience and people got up and read, people who knew him when he was a little boy spoke of him then, his English teacher spoke, an elementary school teacher, his friends’ parents, and his mother’s friends.  His own friends got up and quoted Shakespeare, they sang a capella, they wore costumes Jesse would have loved and performed theater.

One brave girl got up and read a letter. She spoke to Jesse as though he would one day receive the letter, she told him, I am pretending you are just away somewhere, on a desert island, maybe, where you cannot write.  In her letter, she talked about one day in the library that was between them still, that she wanted to set right. She was beautiful this girl, but not in a bold way, in a timid way, though she was very brave, with thick lips and hair and a body too tall for itself that would one day be regal.

Do you see? I asked Peter later, I was crying for the letter had been too open, too raw for someone as conditioned as an adult, and it made a child of me.  Do you see the power of writing? And he said, Yes.  He held me close to him.  I see.

Today I think of that brave girl and her letter to Jesse, and I would like to write my own, but instead I started a novel because that is what I know how to do.  I did it soon after the funeral, and I am still writing it now. There is a Jesse in it, and he is much like the Jesse I knew. He is the hero of the story.  He is the hero that came from a full moon belly so many years ago.

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