Ebony and I were living together for four years when we finally started getting serious about making wedding plans. We were enjoying a lazy engagement and the pleasure of living together without roommates, while we worked and started to save.
I had gotten Ebony a signed copy of David Tutera's "The Big White Book of Weddings," and we watched every wonderful and silly show about weddings. We loved "My Fair Wedding" and "Say Yes to the Dress," while Ebony particularly embraced "Four Weddings," a show where four brides compete for a free honeymoon by rating each other’s weddings. I found it to be sadistic as the brides were always harsh critics. Still, I watched it with her, and I would yell at the television, apoplectic, "How can you say that about someone's wedding you were fortunate enough to attend, eating and drinking for free? You didn't care for the centerpieces? Really?" Ebony would giggle as I lost it. "No one will ever make fun of our wedding," I promised her.
As it turns out, sadly, I was right.In 2015, Ebony, who had migraines since she was a teen, found she was having them with more frequency and greater intensity. She take some over-the-counter pain relievers, drink some tea, lie down for an hour and be right as rain. When I expressed concern she dismissed me. She was fine, she said.
By June, it had become too much and I took her to the hospital, North Shore Long Island Jewish. Three days after being admitted, and a battery of tests and imaging, Ebony was diagnosed with brain cancer. Specifically, she had an anaplastic astrocytoma, a malignant tumor composed of a mass of cells with splinters. Doctors can remove the mass, but the splinters are difficult and can and will eventually form another tumor.
We sought a second opinion which lead us to New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. The diagnosis was the same, but the enthusiasm of the medical team was very encouraging, although they said that if this had gone unchecked, Ebony would have been dead by Christmas.
In September, Ebony had brain surgery followed by aggressive radiation and chemotherapy. In January, the doctors told us that her imaging looked good and showed no signs of tumor recurrence. With this kind of cancer they don't say, "You're in remission," they say, "there's been no recurrence." This would have to be managed, however, with regular hospital visits: blood work every two weeks, MRIs ever six. One of the doctors told us he'd seen patients go as much as twenty years with recurrence. We were encouraged, relieved and, exhausted, returned to our lives with new hope.
I think we consciously knew we had to step things up. After everything she'd been through, a wedding seemed frivolous: Ebony wanted to live in the moment and not idle away her time planning for a one-day event. We loved each other, so hotly and so blissfully, anyone would think we didn't have a care in the world. We ate out, went to movies, comedy shows, ordered in and played video games; we traveled to Jamaica, to San Francisco; we took day trips to the north shore of Long Island to visit wineries and made frequent trips to visit my mother in Newport, Rhode Island.
More than anything, we went to concerts. We both just loved to see live music. Metalheads, we met and fell in love because of our love of Brooklyn gothic doom metal sensations, Type O Negative. In the months that followed we saw so many bands including Adam Ant, Amon Amarth, At The Gates, Black Sabbath, Children of Bodom, The Cult, Filter, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Judas Priest, Lacuna Coil, Moonspell, Slayer, Sodom and Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall. Some of my favorite memories with Ebony was just watching her, so engaged with the music, smiling and swaying from side to side, or just putting her arm around me and knowing were so happy to have found each other.
In the spring of 2017, the doctors informed us that Ebony's tumor had recurred.
There are pictures all around the house, like a shrine. I see her everyday, in so many places. I see her in people, like Zerlina Maxwell when she's speaking out against injustice on MSNBC; I see her on Instagram when Jessica Williams is declaring how tall she is; I see her in the background of on-the-scene news reports when a crowd has gathered after yet another awful hate crime and a young woman is just looking into the camera and shaking her head. But mostly I see her in the faces of everyone attending a concert. They are alive and free from pain, celebrating the music, dancing and singing along among friends. When I go to these shows, It makes me feel like she isn't that far away and that somehow, Ebony is there with me. I sometimes cry but it makes me so happy.
Friends tell me that my grief will get easier over time, and that's difficult to fathom; but right now, I am taking comfort in the familiar and, at least as long as I'm engaged with the music, I feel a little better, even optimistic. I feel hope and love and that's everything I felt with Ebony.