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Postcards From L.A.: Missing my late son one year later, in a world full of emotional trap doors

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So instead we threw a Mardi Gras party.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

We’re exactly a year removed from our eldest son’s sudden death, and if we seem made of Roman concrete, that is a misconception.

We are prone, in this year of loss and repair, to periods of reflection and mourning and stupid forgetfulness.

Bouts of anger, directed at the dogs but often having little to do with the dogs, also surface from time to time. Like, in the middle of our Mardi Gras party, when the 300-pound beagle squatted to empty his tank with 30 people watching.

It wasn’t the act of open defiance that bothered me so much as his utter lack of remorse. I guess we all grieve — even dogs — in our own way.

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Besides, no one should have parties when they’re still mourning. No, scratch that: Everyone should have parties when they’re mourning. It would’ve been unfair to Christopher, and he would’ve busted a gut in laughter, had we held some sort of weepy, candlelit séance in his honor, one year after he was killed in a car accident. So instead we threw a Mardi Gras party.

As it was, he had to smile over the way I faked the jambalaya, having misplaced the recipe favored by my late wife. I could never ad-lib in the kitchen the way she could, and to this day I have no sense of what culinary mojo you get from cumin, only that when she sprinkled it into stews and soups, the world got instantly better.

“Coach wants me to put on some weight,” the little guy announces as I stir the pot.

“How much?”

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“A hundred pounds,” my son says.

“Here?” I scream. “In this kitchen???”

By the way, let me just say that anger gets a bad rap. In the proper setting, I find it soothing. If there’s one thing you can say in defense of irrational outbursts, it’s that they take the edge off. Certainly, laughter is the better booze, but anger suffices when the other stuff runs dry.

What you have to beware of are those noncommittal middle moods — not quite anger, well short of joy — where the zombies reside.

Here’s how irrational anger often works:

The other day, I am searching for a copy of a death certificate to send to an insurer. I know it has to be in this one spot (hint-tip: This is the birthplace of irrational anger; it feeds on certainty and inflexibility).

Hence, I know the death certificate has to be in a particular spot, just know it, with the self-belief of a test pilot that it’s the only place the document could ever possibly be.

Yet it isn’t. Now I’ve lost my son, and I lost his death certificate. I’ve lost him twice.

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I’ll admit I don’t really feel control over my entire desk — socks end up there, and the overflow from the boy’s homework. But in this one corner I like to think I have absolute control. Like baseball trivia, or mixing a martini, this little corner is my comfort zone, in a world brimming with trap doors and trick plays.

After 20 minutes of not finding the certificate, I slam the desk cupboard in frustration — a little too hard, but that’s the point, right? By this stage in Western civilization, everything should be engineered to withstand irrational Irish anger.

Anyway, the only immediate casualty of my stupid outburst is that a little plastic clip snaps off. Otherwise, the cabinet and the inset pane of glass are fine.

“Whew, that was close,” I say while drawing a careful breath.

I find the missing certificate a short time later on the other side of the desk, and all is well.

Next day, still sick with a cold that could be tuberculosis — or an extraterrestrial form of cholera — I swing open the same desk cupboard and the pane of heavy glass slides out and machetes my laptop, knocking out the screen.

“Oooooooooooooh good,” I yell, looking around for a dog to blame. None seems willing to come near.

So I pen this column now on the back of my hand with a 29-cent ballpoint that pinches a little. There is no spell-checker, and the word-count feature appears to be disabled.

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(I tried to use Posh’s old laptop, but it opened to her fan page of Anderson Cooper, and I couldn’t click out; his smirk just grew and grew.)

And now here I sit, missing my laptop, missing my son …

Yeah, it’s been a miserable year of successive losses. Ups and downs. Laughter and love. Tears and sleepless nights. Purportedly, the Romans strengthened their famously tough concrete with volcanic ash. I’m thinking of adding some to my cereal.

Because what I’ve learned is that stuff happens.

Then more stuff happens … that’s life.

And you know when we are at our absolute funniest?

When we’re not trying to be funny at all.

chris.erskine@latimes.com


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