One Year Later

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Dear David,

I wonder at the necessity of writing a letter to you – I don’t know how these things work or where you are. Do you already know the things that are happening in our lives? Do you already know our hearts? Do you see the kids and know how much they miss you? Do you see they are happy and doing okay, despite having young lives peppered with sorrow most kids never know? I don’t have any answers, but somehow I suspect drawing things together and speaking your name matters. I do know there is power in a name, and in speaking that name- maybe this is why it’s important we say the names aloud in the temple? I do not know, but allow this small offering of faith on the alter of the unfamiliar and unknown.

It’s been a year since that awful morning, when your mom’s thin, pained voice woke me in the early, grey dawn. A whole year. Many days, I can’t bear to go near those memories; gingerly sidestepping them until I am alone; my eyes suddenly sting and swallowing is heavy and hard. It took me days before I could write a simple statement. Telling the kids was the single hardest moment of my life, swallowed in my own grief, but needing to hold them up and be their anchor. Only time will tell if I did a good enough job. I would have traded any earthly thing to change that morning.

On my phone is a voice-text you sent me right before you died. I’ve played it for Jeffrey. It’s short. You’re goofing on yourself, and you end with a laugh. It feels like a tiny gem, this little electronic data bit, preserved forever. I’m so glad it exists.

Remember when we’d talk on the phone, we’d clarify if it was a parent call, or a friend call? Remembering how much we mattered to each other, even after the disastrous years and divorce- is one of the things of which I am most proud. Your forgiving heart and my forgiving heart allowed not only you and I to start to heal, but it created a safe and sacred space for the kids to be whole. You never stopped being one of the most important people in the world to me, and it aches that I cannot pick up the phone and tell you the funniest thing Bean did, or what a good man Jeffrey is becoming, or that Abby inherited your brilliance and is skipping ahead to 6th grade. You’d be weeping with pride.

In that spirit, I am writing to you as a parent first.

Oh David, they are so beautiful and strong and full of life. When Jeffrey was born, you said it wasn’t us that mattered, but that the kids would be the arrows to change the world. Each of them has processed your loss differently, and Jon and I have carefully tried to protect the spaces around them for that to happen organically. We speak of you often, we celebrate your birthday, and we tell stories around the dinner table. Happiness and laughter often accompany many of those memories.

Jeffrey tells people he has two dads, and Jon and I smile and don’t offer anything beyond what he wishes to share. It’s a testament to you and Jon he feels so confident and safe in both of your love. Jeffrey has a huge heart- he’s always been a champion of the underdog and guardian of those in need- and his size affords him privileges that match his spirit. He’s taller than you were in your prime, and he’s not done growing yet. He’s playing football, and he is certain he can feel you with him, when he’s exhausted or completely spent, and it keeps him going. He firmly believes you are cheering him on with Jon from the sidelines. I hope he’s right. He’s starting his sophomore year in high school, and is counting the days until he can start driving- I’d have to ask him the current tally. We’re bracing for insurance hikes, dating and girls.

Bean is thriving. We just returned from a week at the beach, and I don’t think I have ever seen him so happy in his entire life. The ocean tapped him into something deep and important- not unlike what it used to do for you. The constant rhythm of the waves, the pressure of the sand, the unending white noise; it was like a week-long heavy blanket; he was peaceful, calm and deeply happy. He’s very excited that Abby is moving to his school in the fall, because it means they can ride their bikes to school together. Simple things, right?

Speaking of Abby…this girl. I worry most about her, actually. She doesn’t talk as much as the boys do, and she keeps a lot of herself tucked inside. I ask her questions, and can draw her out sometimes, but I think she’s had the hardest time with missing you. You were able to see her in ways I am lacking, and there are places I just simply cannot make up the loss. I hope acknowledging that sorrow helps, and I will keep trying. Much of the time she’s fine—she’s friendly and happy. I’m alternately worried and really happy for her to be skipping a grade— I have no doubt it’s the right move academically. The girl got your head for math and science. She hates to write. Go figure.

Now, as your friend…

I talk to you in the car sometimes. It was Jon’s idea- now that I can’t call you to check in, he suggested when I’m alone, I just talk. It helps, but I usually end up crying. I get stuck on the precipice of mercy and faith and on how a light as bright as you left this earth alone.

There are memories I can barely brush up against and still remember how to breathe.

Recently, a friend asked me about my fears. As I tried to find a real answer, I had to look at the spaces that make me afraid. I have to remind myself darkness can hold answers not found anywhere else, and I realized that my deepest fear is the thousands of tiny moments of light and brilliance that make up the life of a person being lost, and forgotten, and swallowed by the breach. I am not afraid of dying; I am afraid of our stories— our precious sparks of madness and glory— being forgotten. The thought makes me hurt, and I shy away without meaning to. This is my truth. This is why I am a writer, a steward of some, a protector of others, a champion of myself and those I love. I am a writer- you helped me learn this fact. I must write to figure this out.

So that’s what I’m doing.

It breaks my heart that the kids didn’t get to know the you that I knew. Too many of their memories of you are of the last, broken years. I try and help with this by telling your stories. There are so many stories. Twenty years of life together, plus the years after; there are a lot of stories. I know my voice isn’t— and can never be— your voice, but your stories matter, and I cannot think of anyone else to attempt the stewardship of preserving these memories, and not trying just because it’s scary is not an option.

I talked to your sister the other day, and she’s planning a small memorial next summer when we bring the kids to California. I reminded her that the roses we plant should have the biggest thorns. No cultivated, de-clawed roses for you. Emily, by the grace of God, has some things of yours saved for the kids. Your relationship with material things was complicated, I know— you spent years giving pieces of yourself away—we talked about it before you died. But material things are helpful places for children’s memories to live, and want them to have what few items Emily saved of you. It does matter.

The two weeks you spent with us here in Virginia remain high on my list of gratitude. Having the kids’ last memories of you be of you and Jon sitting around, amiably talking and sharing stories, poking fun at me, and laughing together, is one of the best gifts you could have given them. They know it’s okay for them to love their home, their lives, and to be happy. It’s part of your legacy.

Jon is very careful to always refer to you as their dad. He’s mindful and respectful of the role he’s assumed, and all three kids love him. He loves them. Bean started calling him Person. I was confused at first- but Bean clarified “He’s my dad-type Person, but he’s not Dad.” So for Father’s Day, Bean got him a keychain that says “You’re my Person.” It’s pretty charming, and it’s a way Bean has made space for both of you to inhabit his heart.

I don’t think I believe in an interventionist God, but there are pieces that were moved around in the most unlikely and unexplainable ways, through some of the hardest and darkest years, that allowed the kids and I to land in a place where one of the very best of men was waiting for us. In Jon’s love and protection, there is boundless generosity of heart, there is kindness, there is an utter lack of envy, there is certainty of self and place, and there is a spiritual sensitivity that has allowed us all to heal in safety.

I tell you this because I want you to know we are in the very best of hands. We are cared for, loved, and protected. Our family now extends in all directions, and my gratitude matches in vector. It reaches back, to thank you for sharing your life with me and for helping me forge the foundation for the woman I am today, and it extends forward to and with Jon, who will walk beside me and raise this family to eternity. I don’t know how it all works out, but I offer my mite of faith in a loving God, and hope to one day see your beautiful smiling face again, my dear friend.

Tracy Leigh



A few moments frozen in time from just about the most perfect few days ever.


While I carefully keep the margins of the kids’ lives wide and open, I’m not as good about giving myself the same protection. This week was a reminder that our adult-selves also need space around our responsibilities to remember who we are and to breathe deeply.


Ten years old. Holding her stuffed animal. On the precipice of jumping from 4th grade to 6th grade, and totally able to do so- but here, time stopped for moment, so much still a little girl, lost in her own thoughts.


As the kids say on Instagram, #nofilter.


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It dawned on me last night that this is the very first vacation of my adult life that is simply about relaxation and enjoyment— every other vacation or trip I have ever undertaken has been to visit family, to attend a wedding, to be sealed, to speak or to appear somewhere. All those things are good things- but until this week, I have never just been somewhere, by choice, for the sheer joy of it. I adore travel, but there has always been a purpose, besides just “happiness.”

We’ve had no schedule. We’ve had no plan. And it’s been spectacular. This is why people like vacations so much, isn’t it?

Because of the tenderness of the sun-burnt and freckled faces in my care, yesterday we opted to visit the aquarium in lieu of another day in the sun. Bean has lamented his lack of aquariums since his 3rd grade field trip was canceled, Abby is always eager for science-y experiences, and Jeffrey is amiable and likes cuttlefish.

A massive lightning storm and downpour caught us in the car on our way back to our place, and as we pulled into our spot, a brilliant double-rainbow arced from the ocean far out over the island and disappeared onto the mainland. The sun was low enough in the sky that it was safe for us to be on the beach, and we walked down the boardwalk towards the deserted sand.

After a thunderstorm is a magnificent time to hit the beach. The sand was dimpled with raindrops, and cool under our feet, and the beach was empty as far as we could see. Clouds arched into the stratosphere, their glowing white cumulonimbus towers hitting the anvil shape as they leveled at the atmospheric ceiling. The full(ish) moon peeked barely over the steely eastern horizon, as the sun bowed behind is, turning the clearing sky a pink and yellow fire.

Bean ran right into the ocean with all his clothes on. Again.

It’s clear the ocean is his happy place. It’s mine, too. I suspect it might be for all of humanity. The unending power and rhythmic cresting and falling of the waves, the connection to the timelessness of the ongoing cycles of tides, the dependability of the moon waxing and waning, the waves never ceasing, the sand always piling up and eroding out from under our feet. No matter which ocean, no matter which beach, no matter which coast on which you find yourself, the constants of ocean, of season, of moon and of rhythm are rocks on which you can hang (and heal) your heart.

I stood on the edge of the continent, thinking about the sand under my feet, eroded from some of the oldest mountains on the planet, run down through the rivulets and unknown dark and secret places, to be here, kissed by the salty Atlantic. Warm sea foams around my ankles, and I watch the bubbles pop as the wave draws back, and the sandpipers run forward. My children mimic the birds, teasing and chasing the waves, except Bean, who stands, arms akimbo, staring at the wild sky, waves crashing around his belly.

No matter where we may ever live, this is one of the places we call home.

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Jon was called to the other coast this week, much to our dismay. We tried everything possible to cancel/move/change, but both his professional and our family plans were not movable… so he’s at the Pacific, and we’re at the Atlantic. We agreed to meet at the beach on either side of the continent yesterday. He may have also ran in while still in his clothes.

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Salt Water

13690864_10153765355625963_3471727603672140044_nIt was near dark, and she wondered if it was just smarter to wait until morning to walk down to the beach with the kids. They’d been to the beach before, but they had no memory of the icy Pacific with her dad, years before in their toddlerhood. She’d spent most of the day driving south, watching the land change from the hard red clay of Virginia to the pines and soft grass of the low-country, while pointing out the draping, grey Spanish moss and waxing poetic about Carolina barbecue.

Travel was a double-edged sword for a kid with autism. Her other kids were pros at buffering and helping, and the trip had been largely uneventful, but the moon was well over the horizon when they finally unloaded the car and traipsed up the stairs to their  room. Her daughter pointed out the moon wasn’t actually full, but waxing gibbous, and she wryly contemplated of how proud her father would have been. (She quickly looked up ‘waxing gibbous’ on her phone, and her daughter was right- for that night, the moon was 97% waxing gibbous. Of course.)

Screw conventionality and dinner. She told the kids to get their flip-flops on, they were going to the beach.

Crunching over the sand of the boardwalk bridge that carried them to soft sand, the crash of the waves grew louder, and she caught a glimpse of the wide steel-grey level that was the horizon. Her heart leapt. How could she so easily forget how important this is to her? She grew up on California beaches, where the water was icy cold,  and the undertow fierce. But as soon as she tasted the salt on her lips, she was home.

The kids stepped gingerly on the soft sand, and laughed with joy. “Take your shoes off.” she suggested, and reached down to pick up her own sandals. The sand was powdered-sugar fine and already cooling in the night air. She smiled at the exclamations of delight as the kids set their feet tenderly on the unfamiliar ground. The full(ish— she reminded herself) moon lit the deserted beach and sparkled on the dark water.

They walked towards the water, her son with autism, usually hesitant about new sensations, was effervescent with excitement. His smile lit up his face and he couldn’t tear his eyes from the waves- he dropped his shoes and ran straight towards the sea. Fighting back a moment of panic, she bit her tongue, and let him go. Fully clothed, he ran straight into the Atlantic, arms outstretched, head thrown back in utter, embodied joy. She blinked hard. The other kids glanced at her, she nodded and smiled, and they ran ahead.

At the tide-line, her daughter stopped to gather some shells- unsurprisingly, she’d brought a box and some collection bags and labels. Bemusedly, she reminded the girl that they had all week for that, and it might be easier in the morning. She encouraged her towards the waves and getting her feet wet. The shells would be there tomorrow.

And so would they.


High Summer


Where to even begin? The silence has stretched out now for months, and it’s not just been a silence in writing, it’s been an odd and interesting imposed silence in my mind, too.

In my interactions with- and in my ways of moving through the world- my silence is a pretty accurate gauge of how important or big my current processing is. This applies to the happy, as well as to the terrifying. When things with David were disintegrating, I alluded to it, but it wasn’t until the dam broke and I couldn’t keep it together any longer than I started talking openly about the pain. When I was dating Jon and I knew this happiness was different and he was Important, I didn’t say a word publicly. The same with this spring, when I had a very scary scare of scariness.

Because I cannot handle suspense and I read the spoilers first: I am fine now.

Because medical stuff is just not that interesting, the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version: During routine testing, some “abnormalities” were found in my stomach and on one of my lungs. I like both those organs, and you get lightheaded and woozy when you hear words like “dense spot” and “pre-cancerous.” I underwent more tests than I knew existed, and thanks to amazing doctors and fancy magnetic machines, we got super-detailed results. It’s awesome modern medicine can check in such detail without being invasive- however, it turns out, sometimes those pictures do show when it’s time to actually get invasive. Lucky me.

In May, I had surgery. Afterwards, all my pathology came back clear. No more abnormalities, everything was healthy. Yay!! I’ve been recovering and healing ever since, and I’m just about good as new. Really. See? Ignore the teenage zombie in the background.


So that’s really just a long way of telling you *why* Jon moved heaven and earth to get us Hamilton tickets in New York in early May. As I’m heartbreakingly watching the turnover at the Richard Rodgers, I’m even more amazed that we pulled it off, and that we got to see all the original principals.

Now, onward…

The world is pretty scary right now, isn’t it? I don’t know how many times our hearts can break. I feel helpless and frightened, and then I find threads of hope, and I hear Mr. Rogers saying “Look for the helpers…” and then I wonder how many times are we going to do this to each other? as the unanswered symphony of “why?” echoes out into the universe. Our capacity to hurt each other is ghastly, but then, our capacity to heal, lift up, and to change is the balm and hope for the future. We can do better. I know I cannot solve the aching of the world- no one can. But I have committed to doing better in my own small life. I will be kinder. I will reach out to the actual humans I encounter in my life. I will be more aware of iniquity and racism. I will speak up. I will try really hard to challenge my comfort zone. I will teach my children. I will lift where I stand, and I will do it better and more consistently. I don’t know what else to do, because being paralyzed with fear isn’t working.

We had a giant tree in our backyard bust itself lose from the earth early one Saturday morning, and take a flailing trip over the fence and into our neighbor’s house. Thankfully no one was hurt, and our neighbors are super cool people who happen to have the same home-owners insurance as we do. Made the process of cleanup much easier and simpler. Bean was beside himself with giddiness when the arborists arrived with the chipping machine. Even more fascinating were the guys who loop the ropes over the tall branches and string themselves 30 feet up while swinging chainsaws. They earned their money. Now the south side of our house gets a whole lot more sun. Thinking about a garden, then I think… nah.


Tiberius, now 160 pounds, celebrated his first birthday. Well, he didn’t give a flying bat, but the kids froze a hamburger patty in a block of ice and gave it to him on the front lawn. All were happy- but they forgot to take the ice out of the Tupperware, and so Ty also had a Tupperware snack along with his meat popsicle. We aren’t telling him about his Very Special visit to the vet next month. He’s going to be a load of fun in the Cone of Shame.

Jon and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary, but it honestly feels more like a lifetime. Everyone’s favorite evil uncle Willy came to visit for a week, and that was awesome. Stephen graduated from high school, and we’re pretty proud of him. He’s an aspiring writer, so his story is not mine to tell.

Abby has some news. After batting around the idea for years, and always feeling the time just wasn’t quite right, we are finally letting the schools advance her a grade. She’s moving from 4th grade to 6th grade this fall. She’ll be at the same school as Bean, and he’s super excited. They can ride their bikes every day, and while they’re two and a half years apart in age, they’ll only be one grade apart in school. Neither of them are remotely bothered by this fact. I’m hoping being able to take pre-algebra and earth science and a music class will all help Abby be challenged by school again. It’s been a long time.

Also? She cut her braids off! Big changes for the youngest among us.


Bean has been on a growth tear. He’s suddenly decided he wants to try new foods, and he’s very specific and determined. Don’t get me wrong- English muffins with peanut butter are still the predominant staple. However, he seems to have noticed other people eat other things, and he’s been curious. He recently announced he wanted to try Chipotle, since Jeffrey likes that food. He said he didn’t want it little kid style, but with all the stuff “regular people” get on their food. You cannot overstate how quickly we got everyone out the door and to Chipotle. He ordered a carnitas quesadilla, ate 1/3 of it, and said “It wasn’t horrible. I didn’t gag.” High praise indeed from Bean.

On July 4th, he ate FOUR ears of corn on the cob. I think the joy might have stemmed from the little corn-stabbers I got him, but either way- a fresh vegetable! It only took 12 years.


Jeffrey has become consumed with football. Honestly, I didn’t really expect him to be so passionate about it- it’s a ton of really, really hard work. He’s been at practice every day this summer- it’s not “official” practice- that doesn’t start until August, but the coaches hold clinics all summer, and he’s not missed a single one. I don’t make him, I don’t wake him up- this is a 14 year-old kid who willingly gets up during his summer vacation and goes to practice in the dirt and heat for 3 hours every weekday. That’s some dedication, and I’m pleasantly surprised at his determination.

Oh, he also had tubes put in his ears a couple weeks ago. The difference is *amazing*. He can actually hear now! Turns out he wasn’t just ignoring us- his timpanic membrane wasn’t flexing properly, and now it’s like a miracle. His first comment? “Wow, the toilet flushing is SO LOUD!”


As the seasons are changing in our family, Jon suggested I take the tiniest bedroom, now vacated by Stephen who heads to college this fall, and make it a home office. It really is a tiny room, barely big enough for a twin bed width-wise. None of the other kids wanted it- apparently they like sharing space. Lucky me! So Jon and I have spent the last week or so cleaning out, sorting, storing, donating and painting, and I now have a room where I can write.

I wanted to make it inviting and comfortable- I can close the door when it’s time for serious work, but so far, the kids and Jon and the dog all filter in and out, and the big comfy chair I drug in is constantly holding someone. More impromptu conversations and laughter have happened in the last week than during the whole rest of the summer. I think this is going to be everyone’s favorite room.


My thrift-store mojo seems to have returned- I found four new second-hand bookcases, and I suddenly have the problem of not enough books! Frankly, there are at least 14 bookcases in our house- is that normal? I don’t know. But I get to hit the used book store and not feel guilty because book shelves don’t need fluffers, they need books! Back to my point, I found a gorgeous petite glass-fronted antique book cabinet at the Salvation Army for $100. I have named her Wallace, and she is in the corner of my office, now holding my precious antique books, where they will be safe from dust and dog slobber.

Long ago, Crazy Chicken Annie told me to make sure I surrounded myself in life with only things that mattered deeply to me. She said it would change how I moved through my home and the world if I didn’t have stuff just to have it, but to keep and truly love the things in my environment. She was right, by the way. I have been refining this notion for years, and in the office I have really enforced it.

I very carefully curated everything I brought in- each book had to be a book I had read and loved. Each item was weighed and judged. And it makes a difference. On the shelves are my grandmother’s button box, Charlotte’s mother’s knitting basket, a rock from the Pit River in California where I last camped with my dad, a wooden toy I bought in Germany before I had children, now almost Velveteen-Rabbit-level loved. I have my own box of precious letters and cards, a flower Marissa gave me years ago, an oil-painting of a chick by my dear friend Annie, my great-grandmother Hattie’s creamer, a picture of my mom holding me when I was a baby, and of my dad dipping my toes in the Pacific when I was two years old. Ticking importantly on my desk is the Big Ben wind-up alarm clock that sat on my grandma’s nightstand forever. There is David’s crystal ball, right next to sealing pictures of us with our family through Jon. It’s everything.

I’ll just leave you with this picture in closing, because seriously. We couldn’t find him. We still don’t know if he’s responsible for the wheelbarrow of pink flamingoes.