The Weight of Everyone

My brother’s fake glasses and me; a memoir.

I’ve built castles on crumbling foundations. I’ve written stories with leaking pens obscuring half the words I’ve choked onto paper. I’ve typed correct lists of awkward Nordic and Nerd names for soap opera characters on pages stapled together and stuffed into important desk files without labels. I’ve built ideals on the principle of not getting killed by serial killers. I’ve lived an ethos unconnected with the granite weight of real life. I’ve built paper houses on anthills full of fire. I’m not going to say any of it was easy, I never took an easy step in my life. I’m not going to say I ever reached for perfection, I never did a perfect thing my whole life.

I’m asking for more time for the first time in my life. I’m a fucking mess and I’m not quite ready to fix myself. Feels like I’ve got things to do first, ghosts to counsel, wrongs to consider, and I need my scaffolding left alone long enough to get there without breaking every bone in my body first. I never wanted more time before like I want it now. It occurs to me that this might be how every person about to die has felt throughout the history of humankind. Nothing special here, nothing new in this spyglass of mine looking across my imaginary kingdom of possibilities. I’ve never been less healthy in my life and never wanted more desperately to stay alive. You’d think this was where I rise up with my tracksuit and sweat and take back my heart, lungs, and liver. You’d think this was the moment in the movie of my life where I shoot my vascular system full of oxygen and glory.

It’s not. I’ve never been here before and I’m not okay. I’m writing a new script for my hopes and in it I get to live long enough to live longer because I haven’t finished my business here. There are people who need me to help hold the floods back, to help chain the devil to the cracking walls long enough for them to run to where not even God can find them. I’m the witness protection program for fallen angels, defunct carrier pigeons, and people like me.

I’ve built relationships on wooden prayer beads from homeless men collected at the corner of Seventh and Market Street when I was sixteen years old. I’ve built my philosophy on the shirtless backs of beetles that excavate living skeletons for rotted marrow. It’s how I see into human hearts through to the valves that pump even when the muscles cramp with sorrow. I see your sorrow and raise you an ache. I can extend you the promise that you’re going to live through this until you don’t. I am oracle. I am diminished hope. I am your everything at three in the morning. I’m what’s left of you after the floods.

I don’t want to die until I’m better than I am today. No one can help me. Can’t always get off the knees of this grief. Not when new souls lean onto them with the weight of love and sorrow before the old ones have taken flight. If they ever do. (They never do.) These knees crush under the weight of everyone’s story needing remembrance. I can’t hold everyone in here, can’t hold everyone so fucking high every day when my scaffolding is so crowded someone is always falling. I’m always falling off my own towers of faith.

 

 

Thinking about Ezekiel and Sonya tonight. Please, don’t anyone else I love die for a while, okay?

Blood is the Dual Source of Life and Strife

the fight night

I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on realizing fresh that someone you loved will never walk through your door again and being abjectly sad about it. I’m tired of it already. But every time my life starts to feel almost normal again I realize it’s because for a second I forgot my brother is dead.

Then my brain chants “my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead” and I want to shout this at everyone around me and I want all this to be over with. How people deal with loss like this over and over and over again is a huge dark mystery to me. One I know will visit itself upon me if I don’t die before everyone else at this point.

I’ve known many people who’ve died, folks, but I’ve never felt this way about it before. No anger, no feelings of unfairness or anything like that. This shit happens every day, and yet, this time it’s my brother and a part of me is also dead because of it.

This is the story of life, right? Everything about it is normal, rational, ordinary, and necessary. We all gotta do this thing where we let go of our skin and bones and become something new. Air, maybe, dust probably. We feed the fishes or the flowers or we pollute them with all the chemicals we’re pumped full of if we’ve been embalmed in the modern way. This is not an ad for ecologically sound burial practices, but it could be. My brother was cremated without being filled with toxins first.

I don’t want to cry any more. I know I’m going to cry some more. I know this is normal for most people. This is the story of loss. Our feelings erupt out of us at inopportune moments, we jockey for privacy and concealment in grief because it’s uncomfortable for everyone.

Zeke’s memorial is this Saturday and I’m terrified of it. I’m so tired of grief and realizing at weird moments that he’s dead, as though I hadn’t totally realized it before and my brain chants “my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead” until I want to give myself an Appalachian lobotomy*.

It’s only been a month and a few days. Pretty fucking fresh still.

I love that my brother and I shared a taste for taking candid and distressing pictures of ourselves bleeding.

bramble legs

I have so many pictures like this I’m too tired to search for. Me bleeding. Anything bleeding. The Scenes my kid has left me to find where I’m looking for bodies stuffed in closets because of the giant pools of blood spatter he leaves me courtesy of his epic bloody noses. We both loved to take pictures of the underbelly of life. Around us, but also using ourselves as absurd disturbing subjects.

what's left at night

There’s a great photograph of Zeke sitting on a toilet outside with his pants down and smoking a cigarette. I love it. I don’t have a copy of it, but I cherish it because it captures his enjoyment of the natural theatrics and humor of life without an impeding vanity.

I admit that I will take a hundred selfies to get one that’s flattering. That’s vanity. But I also have taken and shared a million unflattering pictures of myself for the humor of it. Life’s a stage, so have fun with it and with yourself. Take yourself too seriously and you miss so many opportunities to let go and laugh, to discover and rediscover and then dig graves for our ability to revel in the ridiculous.

I’m not crying right now, for anyone who’s curious. I’m listening to Bob Dylan while I write this and am simply enjoying counting the things I had in common with my brother.

I have other brothers I will never know the same way.

I don’t have room to be sad about that right now. If any of them were to seek me out and want to know me I would throw my arms open to them, my world of little brothers, but I am separated from them by an expanse larger than mere oceans.

I truly thought I would be able to handle this mourning better than I actually am.

I’ll tell you what, though, it’s constant balm to me to know how deeply loved my little brother was by so many people.

I have to believe that he always knew, his whole life, how much I loved him because I never lost an opportunity to tell him and show him. Except between 1987 and 1989. I have to believe that he knew there was never a moment I didn’t value him and love him and wish I was cool enough to spend time with him outside the family paradigm. I wasn’t. He never chose to spend time with me outside the family paradigm.

It’s okay, it’s alright.

Goodnight.

 

*A quarter of my ancestors were uneducated Irish Appalachians so fuck you if you feel all offended. My mountain people were ignorant and seriously unhappy people who enjoyed visiting their misery on others almost for sport. So fuck them too.

No Wrong Way to Say Goodbye

veil contrast

There’s a lot of ways we dig graves for the people we used to be, for the people we have loved, for the lives we’ve left behind, and for the thresholds we’ve crossed stitched together with nothing more than booze and frayed embroidery stitches holding our bones up. We dig deep into humus until we reach the hard packed soil underneath, until we hit rocks and flint and moon. We dig until we see the same stars in the dark abyss that we see in the burgeoning night sky.

There’s no wrong way to say goodbye, so let the velvet drapes hang heavy across your mourning, shutting out the thin grim air of death. Cover yourself in wreaths of old roses rich with the incense of crumbling castles shrouded in cool mists you can wear like clothes in your waking dreams. Go ahead, draw and quarter your misery until it has nothing left to scream or bleed. Paint it with blue woad and strike its tatters down until you’re empty of it all.

If you hear the scattering of spirits like raindrops on a tin roof, if you feel the brush of ghost butterflies against your cheek and you need to press it between thin pages of rice paper so it will be preserved in the soft book of time for others to open and discover for themselves in reverent breaths, no one will think less of you. There are as many ways to say goodbye as there are ways to love.

Black band, lavender silks, cascading veils of grief, or candles burning through the night; every urge you have, every instinct that pushes you forward through the dark towards the light is natural. Prostrate yourself against old gravestones or drink yourself half to death if it’s how you need to drag yourself over the finish line.

We all get there in exactly the time it takes us.  If anyone tells you it isn’t fast enough, or you aren’t strong enough, or you aren’t sad enough, or you don’t cry enough, or you don’t pray enough, or you don’t care enough, or you aren’t doing it right: shut them out. Power them down. Sometimes saying “fuck yourself” is the best way to say goodbye.

Wail against the walls that hold you in, shred your nails against the coffin suffocating your sleep, punch fate in the jaw like it tried to grab your bare balls when you thought you were naked alone. Let your underbelly be your strength, let your play be your vocation, let your love push through every grave life digs for you. Rise up through every burial to fly with the mourning doves over branch, under twig, through leaves, until you’ve cleared the canopy of life on earth and exited the atmosphere.

You might not cry tears but at some point you’re going to feel shredded by loss. You’re going to stand out in a thunder storm, drenching and shivering in the cold, and you won’t be able to move or think rationally, and you’ll think you’ll never be able to come in from the wet cold. But you will. Hands will draw you home. Sometimes the hands of strangers, sometimes the hands of those who love you.

I hope when the moment comes to say goodbye you’ll dance and laugh and shriek with joy out in the thick drape of rain. I hope you’ll find the light in the gloom and laugh at the dark that shrinks in your light. I hope you’ll wear your sorrow unapologetically and light votives for fleeing spirits to find their paths home. I hope you’ll come with me to the cantina of the dead and waltz through the empty neighborhoods in our shared nightmares so that we both wake fresh and ready for everything we’ve got left.