In Jewish tradition, family members light special Yahrzeit candles on the one-year anniversary of the passing of a loved one.
Yahr is the Yiddish word for year.
And in Hebrew, a similar-sounding phrase, Yehi Or, means, “Let there be light,” which are the first words uttered by God in the Bible.
My wife, Barbara, who passed away on September 3 last year, will always shine with light and truth, love and imagination, this year and every year, this day and every day.
In some ways, it is as if Barbara, whom I called Barbara Bunny, has not passed away at all, especially because, as Barbara famously said, “language is where we meet.”
Barbara may not be with me in corporeal form, but she is with me when I read, when I speak, and when I write.
That does not mean that I am not suffering her loss.
It helps me to remember the Book of Job, which tells us that God works in mysterious ways, that there is no limit to the works of God, that we human beings cannot fathom the depth and complexities of God’s acts that serve a higher purpose.
It also helps me to remember the Book of Jonah, which is discussed on Yom Kippur every year. That book reminds me to be grateful for everything I have, to be grateful that I was with Barbara in corporeal form for 23 years.
The Book of Jonah also keeps in perspective for me that I did not create any bit of the universe. For instance, I did not create or even plant the trees that provide me with shade, as God tells Jonah. And I have played no role if any tree has produced a gourd that could give me succor.
But I did write a very, very long opus, a set of eight novels, and Barbara mused my creation.
She read the very first chapter I wrote in 1996 when we met at a UCLA writing class, and she was giving me advice, love and inspiration until the very last day of her life last year.
When I came into the bedroom on Labor Day morning last year and told her that I had reached 5,000 pages in our opus, Barbara said, “Sweetheart. Tomorrow, we will celebrate your achievement!”
Barbara knew that she was not feeling well on September 2 last year, which was why she did not suggest that we celebrate that achievement on Labor Day.
As it turned out, Barbara, who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder after many bouts of pneumonia, passed away in her sleep on September 3.
Years before, when we were about to have our first, official date in 1997, Barbara told a few people that she was “going on a date with Woody Allen.”
She compared me to Allen at that time because of my “New Yorky style,” as she said, and my mannerisms, more than any actual resemblance to the filmmaker.
Later, during our courtship, Barbara used to say that I was like a prince from the fairy tales, who awakened Sleeping Beauty, with a kiss and a touch.
She said that all women dream about such an awakening, but very few ever actually receive it.
Of course, Barbara awakened me too. In fact, she gave me life, and she blessed me with an infinite variety of gifts, including the art of language.
In Genesis, the J writer, whom Harold Bloom speculated was a woman, perhaps Bathsheba, writes of how God kneaded Adam from the clay and breathed the spirit of life into Adam through his nostrils.
You might say that Barbara whispered (and still whispers) music or magic in my ear, through my air hole, and onto my tongue or my fingertips when I am reciting or composing.
Barbara used to say to me that, when I walked into that UCLA writing class in June 1996, she “recognized me.”
Is it possible that I was once her David and she my Bathsheba?
It may be that David and Bathsheba alternated roles as writer and Muse. Did Bathsheba inspire the shepherd boy to write the Psalms? Did David inspire his goddess to write the J portions of the Hebrew Bible, the most influential and literary passages in the Old Testament?
I frequently talk to Barbara in the house when I look at her pictures, and I ask her to visit me in my dreams, and often she does.
Sometimes, she surprises me at night or during a daytime nap when I have not asked her.
Near the end of this life, Barbara used to say to me, “Promise me. Promise me that we’ll always be together.”
I, of course, always said that we would, but I said so, not knowing how I could ensure that.
When Barbara passed away, I was in shock.
She had been ill for years, but we had always gotten through her pneumonias, surgeries and ailments.
The night after she passed away, as I was trying to sleep, I realized what I could do to ensure, as best I could, that Barbara and I would always be together.
In reality, it was an obvious point; I realized that I would place Barbara, my Muse and angel, alongside me on the title page of our opus and credit her with love as co-author.
On the day of Barbara’s funeral, when I was standing on the altar by Barbara’s casket roughly a year ago, I told her this, that I was naming her co-author of our opus and that I was putting her on the title page with me.
I will not tell you exactly what happened, but Barbara’s spirit had not left her. Her expression turned or, I should say, returned to the pixie-like smile of enchantment that I had seen on Barbara’s face so often throughout our years together.
It was in fact the same smile of enchantment and even mischief that she had displayed when I touched her, my sleeping beauty, for the first time in 1997.
Some years after that, Barbara bought a sculpture of Eros cupping the breast of Psyche. She kept that sculpture on the bookshelf above her side of the bed, where it still rests.
Barbara used to say that I had shown “bold” or “admirable restraint” when I touched her.
She had looked as if she had never been touched like that before, with respect, love and warmth, not unlike the way King David danced when he saw the Levites carrying the Ark of the Covenant, which had been stolen by the Philistines, back into Jerusalem.
King David danced with such ecstasy and enchantment because he loved God so much.
When I told Barbara a year ago on the altar that she would be on the title page with me, my goddess looked not only enchanted and mischievous; she also looked as if she had never expected nor received such an honor before, one that she completely deserves.
In 1996, when we met in the writing class, Barbara was working on a four-part mystery series.
When we started dating, I read the two books that Barbara had finished and offered her some thoughtful suggestions, as she did for me, when she read excerpts of my fiction.
But Barbara hated technology even more than I do. She did not like working with computers. And she preferred writing by hand, writing children’s books about Carlitos, our late cat who had diabetes, or writing slightly risque books about our alter egos, Robert Rabbit and Barbara Bunny.
Early on in our dating, in 1997, Barbara stayed up all night and made me a Robert Rabbit book about our adventures at Echo Park, where we rented a pedal boat and breached a metal barrier, then headed into a lagoon, filled with ducks.
Barbara wrapped the book, made of construction paper and folders, with ribbons and drew beautiful illustrations that adorned her prose. Barbara said that I inspired her; and she, my own little Bathsheba, made Robert Rabbit a hero, as Dr. Michael McGrail, my late psychiatrist, said after reading the book.
Of course, Barbara, who had been a public-school kindergarten teacher, always inspired me. And she is, was and always will be my hero, as well as my Shekinah, my goddess.
As provocative as it sounds, sometimes it strikes me that, just as God made a cosmic bet with the devil concerning Job, He made one involving me when I was a 5-year-old boy in kindergarten.
“Hast thou considered Bobby Jaffee?” God might have said to Satan.
I don’t want to overstate anything, but my kindergarten teacher, who possessed the Dickensian name of Mrs. Crawley, was, without a doubt, an anti-Semitic witch.
Unlike Barbara, who nurtured her students and who would later nurture me when I met her at the age of 30 in 1996, Mrs. Crawley tried to destroy my soul after I missed school for Yom Kippur in October 1970.
She smacked my left hand, my dominant side, yanked it and sent me repeatedly for months to the “dunce corner,” a shadowy spot in the back of the room, where I was not allowed to sit.
I would imagine that her sadism affected me in ways, physical, spiritual and emotional, that I still have not fully grasped.
That I have healed at all is primarily due to Barbara, the best kindergarten teacher ever, who used to say that what Mrs. Crawley did to me was “criminal.”
I can recall Mrs. Crawley dragging me to the principal’s office, as well as the “dunce corner,” and saying that it was not “fair” that I could already read, while the other kids could not.
After six or seven months of this torture, I, who had been reading from the time I was 3 years old, stopped reading for five and one-half years, some of the prime and formative years of brain growth and cognitive development.
I was so traumatized from Mrs. Crawley’s abuse and humiliation that I did not understand why I stopped reading, or why I no longer had any desire to read.
Nor did I understand why I always opened lids off jars and showed more strength with my left hand, when I was supposedly right-handed.
On one of his Christian albums, Bob Dylan once sang, “In the fury of the moment, I could see the Master’s hand.”
I might add that, in the fury of the moment, I could hear my goddess’ voice: “Grow up fast, Bobby Jaffee. I’ll wait for you.”
It was only when I started dating Barbara, my goddess, in 1997 that I, who had just gotten a job as a proofreader at L.A. Weekly, began to recover from my childhood trauma and other acts of evil that had targeted me.
When I think about Barbara, the most angelic and luminous kindergarten teacher, who taught her kids Macbeth and how to love, I realize that God may have been preparing me over the generations for the abuse that I would endure from Mrs. Crawley.
That is because God does indeed work in mysterious ways, and we cannot fathom God’s higher aims and purpose.
There is no question that, like Barbara and Job, I have been victimized over the decades. I have been lied about and ganged up on by many people, who did not even know me, but who believed, or wanted to believe, poisonous rumors they had heard about me.
Yes, it is true that I have lashed out at times in my op-eds, and I am sorry that I have been too harsh to some people, who are decent and well-intentioned.
But when you have been tossed in a ditch of schizophrenia and PTSD for 40 years and more, it is sometimes difficult not to feel a little bit jealous of individuals, who were not savaged when they were little children and who have not had their lives and careers searingly disrupted by evil.
I don’t think that I wallowed in self-pity, like Job, so much as I felt a narcissistic wound or two or three.
I was not as respectful as I should have been in some of those op-eds.
Barbara did not necessarily like it when I wrote pieces that were critical of President Obama or Nicholas Kristof or David Brooks, as well as others.
Of course, it is true that even God can be jealous, as He tells us.
I admit that I was indeed jealous, to an extent, of the achievements and laurels of some other people. I wish that I had not been, and I regret I was.
It is also true that even if Barbara sometimes felt a bit uncomfortable with some of my tougher pieces, she, who, like me, had been editor-in-chief of her high school paper, understood that those people, whom I criticized, are not gods. And she also understood that they may have erred, for instance, in their assessment of mental illness or Hamlet, a character as mysterious as depression or psychosis.
Op-ed writing has never been my favorite form. Nor was it Barbara’s.
Like Barbara, I am, at core, a novelist, where I can channel, transmit and transmute the music of my goddess, who still whispers in my ear.
As I have noted elsewhere, I was asked as a little boy if I believed in God, and I always said that I did. But I obviously had very little experience in life back then, and, as a result, my belief in God may not have been that firm.
Since I met Barbara, who saved my life, I have more than solidified my belief.
God is love, as Barbara said, and the clearest manifestation of this for me is that God sent Barbara to save me when I was very ill, deeply depressed, psychotic and suicidal in the late 1990s.
Barbara saved and nurtured me then and forever, just as I saved and nurtured her from the cruelties and traumas that afflicted her, the previous husbands and other family members and friends, who stole from her, who betrayed her, who violated her boundaries, and mine, too.
But they could not kill Barbara’s spirit, just as my anti-Semitic kindergarten teacher and other hate-mongers could not kill my soul.
This gets me back to love, to devotion to God and Barbara, and to the Book of Job.
Barbara is still looking out for me, and I am still taking care of her.
At the end of the Book of Job, Job’s wealth is doubled, while those who have mistreated him, who have ostracized him, who have defamed him, including his troika of frenemies, lose their property and more.
Yes, I have been very lonely at times in the past year, because Barbara is not with me in corporeal form. And, yes, I retain a physicality, with its attendant desires.
That latter issue may be a sign of optimism and exuberance as much as it is a sign of anything else.
Irrespective of the physical dimension, my spirit is, was and always will be with Barbara Bunny, who is truly my Shekinah, the female essence of God.
Barbara and I still communicate with each other, as we always have, through a kind of mental telepathy, through dreams, or perhaps through what Rupert Sheldrake, the biologist, once called “morphic resonance.”
Just as the blue tits, a species of bird, in one part of Europe (it may have been England) were able to pry open the lids on milk cartons with greater success after their cousins in France did so, Barbara and I still send each other signs, even if she floats in the ether, and I reside on the Earth.
Barbara and I are not just on the same wavelength, as is said of some couples.
It is as if Barbara and I are the only two members of our species, or as if we really are the same person, a point I have made before. As I have said, she is just better looking, much better looking.
I have had a few lunch dates in the past year, and I have been politely turned down more than a few times.
Someday, I may get involved with another woman. I will not rule it out.
But I am not sure how I would feel about that prospect.
As lonely as I am, at times, I would not want any woman to be under the impression that I could commit to her spiritually.
I am together with Barbara forever. That is, was and always will be true every year and every day.
And I can still hear your voice, Barbara Bunny.
“Grow up fast, Bobby Jaffee. I’ll wait for you.”
I will try to do so, my angel. And we will celebrate our achievement. Please keep waiting for me.