November 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The day my friend was buried, ten months ago, I posted a video of Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 – Prelude here at the blog. That morning, I listened to it repeatedly, sitting through the last hours before his body would be put into the ground.
Only the cello felt palatable when shock had rendered nearly all other music unbearable. Until it happened, I never would have anticipated that loss could bring about such an intolerance.
The service took place in Melbourne and I desperately hated not being able to attend. For too many reasons, going was impossible. Plus, I was just a woman he’d only recently met. Who was I to show up from the other side of the world?
“Well, we’re friends, aren’t we?” he said more than once. He’d dive into some deeply personal topic, and regardless of the way I loved his openness, I couldn’t help myself from asking, “Why are you telling me this?” That’s when he’d say, as if he was thinking out loud, “Well . . . We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Yes. We’re friends.”
I took enormous risks for the exact friendship we had, and I do not regret a single minute of it.
I feel like everything I’ve written about him here has been obscure. But not obscure enough to be decent. I’m tired of dwelling stubbornly between obscurity and indecency.
Yet, I won’t stop. Won’t revert to silence. Won’t pretend like life isn’t complex.
For one reason, meeting him almost immediately set me on a new trajectory towards living more fully. I remember the second it happened. It felt like a veil lifting. Suddenly I could see things I’d never seen before. He did that.
He showed me myself.
People who know him will understand what I mean. I’m sure I’m one of many who make the same assertions about being in his company. He was that special.
A week after meeting him, I wrote a poem about the impact he made on me that ended with the sentence –
“I inhale deeply and open to the full experience of being an animal on earth.”
Death did not occur to me when I posted that line.
As fatigued as I am by my stifled expressions, I can’t resign the sadness to invisibility. I’m afraid of regressing back to the automaton I was before I met him.
I think this continued blogging — trying to make sense of his place in my life — demonstrates my wish to hold on to what he gave me, to develop my new sight, to act upon my desire to thrive.
Today, I’m listening to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2. – Prelude. The tone is more sad than No. 1. Just like ten months ago, I keep hitting the replay button. Just like ten months ago, I keep thinking of his body.
I know that even my deepest pains are luxuries.
Yesterday, I walked through the Women Hold Up Half The Sky exhibition at The Skirball. Being there — reading about systematic rape, and FGM, and human trafficking — it became clear to me, again, that the sanctuary in which I mourn is, in many ways, a type of paradise.
It’s yet another topic I wish I could discuss with him. My friend.
November — NaBloPoMo — Day Eighteen
July 3, 2011 § 4 Comments
A few months ago, I looked at my shrink and said, “All I want to do is write. I don’t care if I ever make any money doing it. As long as I can write freely and later go back and read what I have written, I’ll be satisfied.”
On days like today, that sounds like a big pile of Pollyanna drivel. It’s 3:25pm. The deadline was 2pm. I’ve been sitting here for over five hours, manipulating 727 words of clichéd, passive voice crap. My head hurts. I want to delete everything and go lie down. I have no idea where this is going and I’m irritable as hell about it.
I expect to have days like this for the rest of my life. I am a writer.
I’ve written about writing more times than I can count, about how it’s “going in” to what feels like an actual place — a different type of consciousness, about how it’s a process that leads to new thoughts, about how I’ve been doing it “ever since I could shape the letters of the alphabet.”
I’ve got a cabinet in my bedroom filled with (filled and half filled) journals. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on writing classes and seminars. I keep dozens of letters and story drafts saved in binders and on obsolete discs. My worn out copy of “Letters to a Young Poet” has Post-it notes stuck to pages 18, 19 and 29. There’s a broken-spined dictionary within arm’s reach of my desk chair and an electronic one set to pop up with a quick dash of the cursor. I’ve got over 470 blog posts here and another handful back at Thirty Voices.
When I forget to bring paper, sometimes I’ll tear semi blank pages out of whatever book I’m reading and write on those. Napkins work also. I’ve written over newspaper headlines, in the margins of magazines, on brown paper bags. I’ll ask anyone for a pencil. I’ve offered to buy pens from strangers.
It’s not that my thoughts are so insightful or original that they must be preserved. It’s not even that I’ve got a message to communicate or a story to tell.
It’s not that at all.
Then what is it?
It’s as if having an experience is inhaling, and the only way to exhale is to write.
March 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’m blaming the hat. It’s a dorky fleece tuque, bright red, with a little tie at the top, impossible to wear now without thinking of your fondness for all manner of amusing head coverings. “Ruth? Are you putting me down?” “Of course not!”
I had it on last Friday when I set out for a walk or, as I prefer to think of it, to happily wander my giant grief grid. Just as I started to cross the courtyard of our building, Andy entered at the other end, coming home from work. Seeing him, I raised my arm and waved a large greeting. Once I was sure he saw me (the courtyard is long – don’t ask me to approximate the distance), I did it: the thing I’m confessing.
I skipped a few steps. It’s as if I forgot to be somber; not abandoning, not surrendering, not accepting, not resigning, I (monkey mind), forgot. And in forgetting, I skipped those first few steps, and liked it, and skipped a few more. I skipped into the shape of a circle, and I didn’t care who watched. I skipped a second circle, too, and heard Andy laughing as he approached. Then, (I’ll further confess, enjoying the audience) my left leg crossed back as my right leg bent and my arms raised into a curtsey. Without hesitation, I exchanged legs and did it again. I felt adorable and adored while the fleece on my ears reminded me of you and your hats, so even in my forgetting, there was remembering.
And alongside that forgetting and remembering was Andy. He has been here all along, demonstrating the same generosity and kindness he has shown me since the day I met him.
But maybe it wasn’t the hat. Maybe it was the breathing. That morning, roughly eight hours before the hat donned skipping, I read at a dear friend’s blog that there’s a meditation purported to ward off irrationality (just what I need!). I’m no stranger to meditation and yoga. I don’t need to be sold on the positive effects. It’s mostly laziness that has kept me from forming these healthy habits. On this particular morning, I was procrastinating and needed a diversion to delay my arrival at the office. What a perfectly lofty detour: meditation.
My beautiful yogi friend described specific hand postures for the practice. It took a tad bit of focus: left ring finger to thumb, nails not touching, etc., yada, blah. I got into place and followed her instruction to “breathe long and deep, but not powerful.”
Immediately — I hate to oversell this — but immediately, as I drew in breath (long and deep, gentle) I was reminded of a blissful moment we shared. No, I’m not suggesting that this was an “after death communication” — I’m over that fantasy. But during this one breath, my body recalled such a happy memory. It was so startling that I stopped and wondered what was happening.
Would it continue? I put my hands back into place and took two more breaths. They, too, felt pretty damn good. So good that I stopped and logged on to FB: Yogi, dear, is there something mystical about this pose? “Isn’t it crazy fast-acting?” she agreed.
I stopped at three breaths. Sort of like your cologne I succumbed to buying two weeks ago (“He’s dead,” I told the sales woman when she tried to up-sell me to the larger size), whatever was going on with this practice, I didn’t want to dilute the sensation. Perhaps those three long and deep breaths were enough to cause me to skip later that day.
The next morning (Saturday) I woke up to a letter (some emails are so poignantly composed that they must be elevated to the status of “letter” – even if the words are never written or printed on paper). This one was from an old friend. He had read this blog, read about your death, and wrote to send concern.
Hours later, I hiked with a dearly awesome mate. We revisited the geo-cache I hadn’t been to in over a year and found a note I scrawled for my fellow hikers (or was it really a note to the future me?). [See right.]
Sunday, as I blogged about turning off the flashlight inside my cocoon, other friends posted a video for me: a most delightful and thoughtful serenade. It featured their freshly-eight-year-old daughter inhaling helium and singing one of my new favorite songs. “I will hold on hope,” she sang, giggling, looking like a princess with high cheek bones and a gleam in her eyes.
In the next 12 hours, my mother, an old roommate, and one of your classmates all wrote to me expressing love and more love and kindness and finally . . .
Finally . . . I felt it: gratitude. For the first time in nine weeks, I wasn’t just a shell saying or writing the words, “Thank you.” I actually felt lifted up and lightened and held and loved. I felt undeniable, overwhelming gratitude. Because it’s not just Andy, the yogi, my old friend, my hiking mate, the singing princess, her parents, my mother, the old roommate, or your classmate; it’s not just those 48 hours, or the last nine weeks, it’s dozens of other people and dozens of years: I am utterly, insanely, blessed.
And I confess, maybe this confession isn’t really that I skipped and curtseyed, I confess that right now, I don’t like feeling good very much. I know it’s shamefully ungracious for me to take so much kindness and love for granted. The truth is, feeling anything positive without you being alive in the world is extremely uncomfortable and ought to remain unthinkable. I’m determined to stay at your virtual graveside digging my finger tips into the ground, feeling the soil lodge itself under my nails. This is where I want to be, where the luxury of my physical health and safety will allow me to be. But I can’t pretend that this is a stagnant place.
There’s room here now, where I am clinging to every memory of you, there’s room for me to feel other feelings (some of them good) and there’s light enough for me to see that I’m surrounded by people offering countless gestures of good will; I must remember that none of these people are without their own pain.
I’m not ready for “new normal” yet (I reject it) but once in a while I might accidentally dance and skip. I’ll breathe and write essays and letters and notes. I’ll walk the grid and hike up hills and scrawl messages to a future me. Often, I’ll express gratitude. And each time I mouth or type the words, “thank you,” I’ll notice that I’m a fraction of a fraction less of a shell than the time before.
March 6, 2011 § 6 Comments
“People think I’m lying when they hear this.” Or sometimes you’d open with, “People never believe this is the truth when I first tell them.” But you weren’t lying; it was your truth. It was a chapter (or several chapters, depending on how things are organized) of your life, your beautiful life, before you introduced yourself to me.
For entirely different reasons, my chapter about you would begin the same way and carry on with lots of difficult-to-believe truths stacked in a row. Any sensible person would be skeptical of even my first claim that the night we met – perhaps within just an hour or two of the first time we spoke, while getting ready for dinner out alone, I noticed myself rushing. There was no apparent reason for the urgency, but it was so palpable that I questioned it: why do I feel I have to get to Guido’s tonight and why am I hurrying?
A logical person would say I brought that inexplicable urgency and unidentified expectation with me to the barstool where I dined. Perhaps. But you spoke first. I sat minding my own business editing an essay I started that morning in which I had written these lines:
I can’t fathom how people handle facing their mortality. How people prepare to let go of the sweetness of soil and water and sky and leaves. And books and words. How people say goodbye to their very own bodies.
I was keeping to myself when you leaned your head towards my shoulder and started talking, started listening, started thirty thousand other things in motion, all of which felt at once lovely and important and dangerous and irrevocably desirable. Neither of us, no one, would have ever guessed how close you were to dying.
Maybe this is why Genie’s March Living Out Loud writing prompt sends deep pains into my torso. She asks for our thoughts on destiny, how or if we think fate might have played a role in our lives. My answer to that question is this: give me a soundproof room so that I can scream at god until my vocal chords tear. And then leave me in there because I don’t have interest in much else any longer.
Still, if I could go back to that night, the night I felt propelled to Guido’s, and walk past it down the road for seared tuna and sake instead thereby setting in to motion an entirely different future, one without your first uninvited kiss, without my choice to be reckless, without the bruise only we saw, without your death, I would not.
I would do it all over again because being with you was, what did we used to say? “It’s wonderful!” That and eleven or twenty seven other joyful exclamations I would give anything to hear you say again. Unless (unless, unless) the different-seared-tuna-sake-future was one where (never having known me) you could remain alive. Oh, if only you could remain alive, alive as the son, brother, uncle, friend, genius you were for the 99.62% of your days before I met you. If you could remain alive, that would be my utmost preference.
But I don’t think it works that way.
We don’t have a choice in this. And this is not a soundproof room nor is it my chapter about you, so I must wait until I can accept what has happened, and I must speak in polite tones, and I must try not to wound the living.
February 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
It feels like Saturday was yesterday (where did the last five days go?). I finally opened the junk mail that had accumulated since early December. Found coupons that expired before you died, check stubs dated the day you died. Chores that seemed impossible the first week eventually got done, and now need to be repeated already. I keep having to trim my fingernails. The loaf of bread I bought while you were alive, ate part of after you died, expired finally. I’m dreading the time when not even the canned goods in the pantry overlap with your existence.
“Oh, but he does exist,” some might say. And I will respond, “Show me.”
Last night, when I looked up, the moon’s changing appearance caught me off guard. I stopped walking and touched the side of my face you knew so well. No amount of bargaining, no lovely reenactment, no recitation (neither whispered by sorcerers nor deliberated by scientists) can push that orbit in the other direction.
You would have wonderful advice about this (my being stubbornly rooted in wanting nothing but the full and total resurrection of your body and mind). I don’t know what your recommendation would be, but it would make practical sense. It would require some effort. It would result in the best possible outcome.
And you would be kind if I was slow to act, if I told you I still have memories I need to write. You were there; you saw the torn cellophane next to the knife smudged with brie (the brie everyone else was eating). You were especially considerate that afternoon, sensitive to the fact that I knew no one but you. Your proficiency at acting with empathy was always unparalleled. Ignoring the others, you asked again if I kept a journal, and I told you I did — to record the details, the texture, that would make a story feel real. “Like these crumbs here,” I said.
Cracker crumbs on laminate are easy, smiles are much more difficult to capture.
It will take work to describe the smile you gave me later that evening. Which one? The one as we walked towards your room, when I saw the full moon and remembered to tell you about how I had put on my coat around 3 a.m. that morning and sat alone looking up at the sky. That smile.
It will go undescribed for now. The most skilled wordsmith alive could not rebuild you, and even if she could, she didn’t see what I saw. So for now, absent your guidance over how to cope with your death, I’m going to follow the advice you gave when you did have a voice. “I can do this,” I told you. Do you remember?
The moon will have to forgive me for not looking up.
January 25, 2011 § 4 Comments
Once I told you I felt like a homing pigeon. Any time I set out for exercise, randomly wandering down streets I’d neither driven nor walked before, miles later, I found my body closer to where ever it was you were.
Three times this week I ended up walking barefoot towards the edge of California. It’s the only time I feel tolerant. You’re not even above ground any more and my body continues trying to return to you.
In the warm January Pacific, the sand pulls right out from under my soles. It doesn’t matter how heavy I am, how still I am, how unrelenting I am, the ocean takes my foundation back into itself and I sink. Ankle deep is as close as I can get to you.
I heard of a book I thought might help. “Broken Open.” Searched three stores over two days. Last night, I saw it on the shelf, thumbed through, looked at text on the pages without reading any words and dissolved into tears. Covered my mouth to keep the sounds in.
I think a part of me held an inexplicable hope that if I found the book you wouldn’t be dead any longer.