The lesson of fish is that if you can imagine a fish, it exists.

So I went on vacation. Nice, right? It had been over a year since I took a week off from this comic, and I decided that my brain needed a total break.

I actually cannot remember the last time I was so profoundly unproductive, and it was fantastic. We swam in a clear sea, we let the waves turn us topsy-turvy, we had sand in our ears. I read at least four books, including Rebecca Lee’s marvelous collection Bobcat. (Do you enjoy feeling like you are in a secret society? At a sleepaway camp for public intellectuals and emotional ne’er-do-wells? Like your heart is an animal that lives in your mouth? Read this book.) I ate the most satisfyingly pomped meal of my life. (At one point, a busboy slipped my napkin off my lap so it wouldn’t fall to the floor when I stood. Unsettling and yet somehow luxurious!)

See all the positive adjectives and adverbs? I was relaxed. Now I’m back, and the vacation feels so many miles away. So many years. But whatever was pent up in me, whatever was so tightly gripped that I could barely sit down to read a sentence, let alone write one, has released somewhat. If nothing else, I remembered that there was such a world, in which I slept easy and woke with the birds.

Of course it is worth mentioning (more than worth mentioning, let’s let back in the self-evaluation, the doubts and the inquiry) that this past weekend was also the one year anniversary of the death of my father-in-law, Doug. Most of the people who were gathered together last September are now spread out, over the country and the world. To pull us a little closer, at least on that one day, we all went to vantages of great beauty and took pictures of the sunset, something Doug loved to do. (If you’ve seen me tagged in a lot of #rememberingdoug photos lately, that’s why.)

After capturing our own sunset we went out to dinner: Dave, his brother Ryan, his brother’s wife Kim, and I. We were all a little ruffled, which is to be expected, and talked about how much closer and more tangible our mortality feels this year. “Is anyone else afraid of feet, now?” Ryan asked. And we were confused until we realized that no, this was not a non sequitur; Doug’s cancer started in his heel bone. He first knew it as a strange foot pain, misdiagnosed as plantar fasciitis.

In fact, I am afraid of feet – at least, my own. I’m afraid to put my computer on my stomach, because I worry it will radiate something unseemly into my tissue. Right after we found out that Ryan also had cancer, last year (right in the middle of Doug’s illness), we went to the movies and I started crying in the middle of Spider Man, because I felt a pain in my chest. Though I’ve always been prone to a slight over-emphasis of my physical mal-symptoms (perhaps a result of faking sick too often in elementary school?), in that moment it ballooned into a full hypochondria that has remained with me ever since.

People have continued posting sunset pictures, even though the date of Doug’s passing has come and gone. I did, just yesterday – the pinks in the sky were saturated, and there were many clouds. Why are we doing this? To feel closer to one another? Closer to Doug? Yes, but also (I think) because we have suddenly remembered that we are seeing these sunsets, that our number is limited. Every picture says look, I was there, I was there.

In Maui, Dave and I saw an octopus that slunk along the ocean floor before puffing up and engulfing something. I’m small, I’m small, I’m small, I’M BIG, it seemed to say. Grief is a little like that. Small, but suddenly so visible. Consuming everything in your field of vision for just a moment, before molding itself to the shape of the landscape, becoming indistinguishable from the stones.

Finally (and apropos the theme of grief, though you’ll only understand why if you read it): I have a story in the current issue of Gargoyle Magazine. Please pick up a copy if you’re interested! It’s a fabulous line-up of writers.