My obsessions with love and death are collapsing into each other such that I’m not sure I can distinguish them as recognizably different concepts anymore. The sublime and the tragic are knotted together, so knotted that they seem impossible to disentangle and pull apart to see if there’s anything in between.
I know there is a kind of love that doesn’t bother itself with thoughts of death, or passion, or grasping for sense, and that this love is steady and generous, made of the same sketches drawn with the same pencils every day. Holding hands with someone, the way the hands slide into and against each other so easily. The comforting grooves of a squabble that has spanned years. Reading next to each other for a whole afternoon and both getting hungry and saying so at exactly the same time after hours of silence.
I’ve seen seven dead bodies. Dead people are just very large dolls covered in paraffin wax and stuffed with meat.
My mother, so vandalized by cancer that her face was unrecognizable. Her cheekbones were protruding, her eyes sunken. And her mouth was wide open, so one of my aunts put a rolled up towel under her chin to keep it closed. That was an important thing to do for some reason – I supposed it was in case a little animal decided to sneak in there and build a nest. Meanwhile, the other aunt was busy prying her rings off. “Can’t leave them on too long, Chels, her fingers’ll puff right up!”
My grandmother sat in a chair in the corner of the room. “She was such a good girl,” she was saying over and over, “such a good, good girl.”
From: Kris <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 1:08 AM
That song, Calgary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KrmxavLIRM
I do love it, but it makes me sad. Because it’s about juxtaposing the death of love with the death of the body. And a fear that your partner doesn’t or no longer loves you, but is just with you because they need companionship. And accepting that, and loving them anyway.
If you were to pull your love away, or make me uncertain, if we were forced apart for months on end, I would hungrily paw at the floor for you. I’d pace, and obsess. As hungrily as then, as when we met last year, and as obsessed. This year, now, and in five years, in ten, in forty like an old dog. But don’t do that to me, darling. It’s not a happy place to be, needing you like that. Seeing you, loving you, but not knowing if I could have you, be with you. Being uncertain if you loved me, too. I’m yours. And I wonder, if in time you’ll tire of me. If you’ll think me too old, maybe. If you’ll drift away, riding an intellectual ship in these coming years of education, that awakens and excites you, and perhaps meet someone on the same ship. And instead of coming home, you’ll drift away. Or you’ll sail away, me on the shore, waving, tears on my face, knowing you’re not coming back, wishing I could go with you. Yeah, I think about that, sometimes. I accept it as a possibility. It changes nothing, because I love and adore you. Though if I let myself, I feel the pain of that scenario, as though it has already happened or is about to. And it’s crushing, and I wonder how I’d find my way through it.
Though this love we have, now, it’s more secure; those thoughts don’t intrude so often. They’re as frightening as dreams of your house burning down, but no more real. No more real than any bad dream. And much less real than the bed you wake up in.
I can’t wait to wake up to you, every day.
It’s pretty late, now. G’night.
All I do these days is google things like:
An overdose in a dingy motel room. It wasn’t hard drugs, it was mouthwash. Did you know this is a way some humans die? Well it is. I was meant to be delivering meals and medications for a client. Instead, I found him in the bathroom. Full rigor mortis, his back broken over the lip of the bathtub. The sink was running, hot water, so hot that the room was full of steam, listerine particles dancing in the air. His hands were like claws.
I drove home from my shift that night and Rocket Man was playing on the radio, so I blasted it and sang at the top of my lungs.
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time
I walked in the door of my house, threw my keys on the coffee table.
My husband asked me if I was okay.
“Yes,” I said, “I think so. But I don’t know what to do now.”
“Yeah, I don’t know either. Let’s just talk.”
We did talk. We talked for a few hours, and at the end of that few hours we had decided that the best thing to do would be to get a divorce.
From: Kris <email@example.com> Date: Sent: November-29-10 12:43 PM
That’s sad about the client you found. Thanks for telling me, it can’t have been easy to have written it all out again. Alcoholism is a terrible disease, and I know the sallow cheeks you describe, the way the body is shrunken, from malnourishment. Alcohol gives you calories, but nothing else, while destroying your appetite (since your blood sugar stays high). If you’re going to drink yourself to an early grave, you need to eat your veggies. My family is rife with alcoholism. Some peoples’ brains get pickled, and some people can be alcoholics for years, decades, without degenerating mentally. I don’t know what their secret is. It’s probably a good thing I don’t. Perhaps they just make sure to eat real food sometimes, too. Or maybe it’s something else.
Tom Waits was a really bad alcoholic. Of course. He quit in 1993 (I think), at the age of 44 or so. He drank, partially because he thought he needed it to be creative. I dug up this quote from a magazine about it:
For a while, Waits had that fear himself, the fear that when he finally dried out the songs would dry up, too. He worked through it, though. ‘I was trying to prove something to myself, too,’ he says, revealingly. ‘It was like, “Am I genuinely eccentric? Or am I just wearing a funny hat?” All the big questions come up when you get sober. “What am I made of? What’s left when you drain the pool?”
He’s produced good stuff since then. So I guess there was something left when he drained the pool, after all.
Another client, sleep apnea.
Knowing I was going to be alone that night, I got home and turned on every light in the house and stayed awake all night blasting the soundtrack to Grease and trying to replace the image of the dead woman with images of Olivia Newton John in her flouncy dresses and John Travolta before he got creepy.
Losing a spouse is weird. It’s different from losing a parent (as an adult, anyway), which is an experience that makes you think about your identity and your childhood and your own mortality and your children and the nature of unconditional love.
Losing your partner is just a whole different kettle of rotting fish grease altogether. Initially, it felt like an earthquake. The foundation of my whole life and future shaken, the landscape permanently altered. And then came the feeling of betrayal, which is very likely specific to people who lose their partners to the catastrophic Judas kiss of addiction. It is very difficult to weasel your way out of feeling betrayed magnificently.
I pour over the hundreds of emails Kris sent to me looking for hints of what was to come, and when I find none, I pour over them again and find hints in every fucking word he ever wrote. Who writes that passionately, I wonder – who?! And in my darker moments, I wonder how a person could write with such passion for me without being positively fucked out of their mind.
Old age – the husband of a client this time. I drove her to see the body, accompanied her into the room. A sanitized hospital death, crisp and mercifully scentless. The client sobbed and stroked his face for an hour.
Something that might happen to you when your spouse dies is that you might really lose any sense of appropriate conversation with others. Because your entire life is now composed of fantasies/rumination about love and death, you might say things you wouldn’t normally say. For example:
To the lawyer handling your partner’s insolvent estate:
“Is it your wife in that picture?”
“It sure is. So we need to get a handle on all of Kristian’s debts, which means a complete financial picture to submit to the courts.”
“Okay, but – excuse me, can I just ask – how did you meet and fall in love with your wife?”
“Um. I’m not sure that’s what we are here to talk about today. I bill by the hour.”
“I know, yeah. Okay, sorry.”
“It’s okay, Chelsea.”
“Credit card statements, any outstanding bills or tuition payments, any leases or loans. A complete financial picture.”
“So are you still in love with her?”
“Well maybe you’re a bit disappointed in how she’s aged so you’ve started an affair with a woman in her twenties. Am I on the right track?”
To a convenience store attendant:
“My day is going awesome – thanks for asking! This morning was the first time I masturbated without crying in seven months, so I’m super relieved and it may not seem like a big deal to you, but I actually think it’s a really important step forward for me.”
To the barista making someone else’s latte:
“Hello there! Is this your vanilla latte?”
“No it isn’t, but do you ever wonder whether some people are actually incapable of expressing love in a concrete, sustainable way, because they get a big thrill-of-the-chase thing happening and they idealize the person and then once they actually get to know the object of their lust they get bored right away and then the person who was pursued actually becomes insane trying to understand an impossible to understand scenario and meanwhile the incapable person is actually using booze and cocaine to get the same eurphoria that new love provides, which means they were just using the person as a means to get high?”
“Sorry, I don’t understand the question? That seems like a bunch of questions.”
“No, it’s one question. Are some people incapable of love beyond the initial explosive rush? Are you?”
“I just turned nineteen.”
“Never mind. It was rhetorical.”
My father, of a mysterious cancer that began as a lentil-sized lump inside of his cheek but soon grew out in rubbery tentrils through his entire jaw and then the rest of him. Having slipped away with great dignity, he appeared in death to be some kind of slumbering elder statesman. I kissed his forehead and then the tip of his elegant nose, went home and tried to sleep but was woken up by Eli, who wanted to nurse every two hours that night.
From: Kris <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 5:21 AM
Subject: RE: Melisandre
To: “Chelsea” <email@example.com>
I accidentally went to bed at 9:30, so am now awake. Great.
I had a dream where I was in a boat with some friends, and we were all getting hammered. Someone accidentally set one of the walls on fire, and we were happy about that because it was giving some pretty good warmth. It looked like it was going to be awhile before the fire spread enough to cause damage enough to sink the boat, so we weren’t too concerned. We were making jokes about it, but can’t remember what they were. Not sure what to make of that one. It probably speaks to my inherent irresponsibility, or at least a subconscious awareness or fear of it. I really shouldn’t have spent 3 days reading Dance With Dragons instead of getting my work done. It’s funny how dreams sometimes re-assemble your concerns, and present them in amusing metaphors. How they find analogy, and fit them together and derive a symbolism from the world.
The pre-dawn world is a strange one. Before everyone has woken up, all dwelling in their slumber. It’s a different place than the bustle of daylight. I’m going back to bed, soon. To join the rest in fitful tossing, re-assembling fear and hope into novel understanding, subconscious awareness. It’s a strange and beautiful thing.
Birds are chirping. I started writing this email over an hour ago. I’ve done some work, meanwhile. Goodnight, Chelsea. And Good Morning.
My grandfather, ninety years old and looking so like my father it was eerie.
On Canada Day, I went to some street party. A whole kilometer was blocked off from traffic. There were vintage cars and jugglers and hot dogs, there was music, the air smelled of cotton candy and burger meat and sweat. Eli didn’t want to stay in his stroller. What he wanted to do was run into peoples’ yards and pull up their flowers and arch his back screaming and thrashing when I picked him up. Then what he wanted to do was lay down in the middle of the street crying. I stood there above him and let him go. There were so many people, so many Dads with little boys on their shoulders, and there I was standing still in that river of souls, looking down at my tantruming son and thinking about how he would never experience such a simple stupid thing as a ride on his father’s shoulders, and I burst into tears. Look at her, hissed the mean narrator, the poor slob widow of an addict with her screaming toddler.
If I could just jump universes, I thought, if I could just figure out a way to climb out of this one.
If some merciful minor deity had ripped through the fabric of spacetime and dropped a ladder from the sky in the middle of that Canada Day street party with my toddler screaming on the ground, and if a voice had rung down from the heavens just for me, saying, “Climb, my girl, climb, and if you climb high enough you will reach a beautiful black hole to jump into. Blow this pop stand!” would I have climbed?
No, because I wanted a snow cone in this dimension.
From: Kris <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Wed, Dec 15, 2010 at 8:19 PM Subject: RE: lost To: “Chelsea”<email@example.com>
You complement me, in ways no one ever has before. We’re so similar, in all the ways that matter. And we’re different, in ways we should be. I’ll grow, with you.
I’ve never been fickle. When I go all in, I’m all in.
I’m all in, Chelsea. And if you bolted, now, I don’t know what I would do.
But if you have to run, run. I’ll be ok. Somehow, I’ll be ok.
But please, don’t. Please don’t run. I just found you, darling. Please don’t run.
I just found you, and I’ve been looking so hard, without even knowing what I was looking for. It was you. All along, it was you.
I have to leave in a few minutes. A friend is having a party, and I promised I’d attend. My eyes have been streaming uncontrollably for the last hour, and I have to figure out some way to regain my composure.
A psychologist did a big study in the late 70s. She mapped the landscape of the heart. When I read about what she found, it was clear to me she found something true. Something true about some of us mammals. But not something true about all of us mammals. Something true about me. Something true about you. What she found something real, in all of us, when we open ourselves to it. Something beautiful, and frightening. Something that seizes us, and won’t let us go. Something that can give us each the intimacy we crave. And need, to keep from living, and dying, in dust.
Something that lets us soar. Something that lets us be more than just a word, written on grains of sand. It’s what we’re here to do.
So let’s do it.
And there’s no one on earth, that I’d rather do it with, than you. Let’s pry each other’s fingers loose from the sharp rocks of this river’s bank. Let’s go hurtling down, together, terrified, but somehow without a care in the world.