Fall is falling on my head. I’m flat on my back in a pickup bed. Tangled in thin white blankets. I sit up–a stiff, sticky-eyed mummy–and scan the empty streets.
A black cat is crossing Lawrence. Of course.
My rickety but faithful Dodge Dakota, Silvia, is parked under a black oak tree. Quercus velutina. Angry acorns are pelting me. My cheek is still stinging from the last one. Reminds me of a hail storm I endured in Colorado, almost a biblical stoning.
Hurricane Zeta is breathing her last. As did Zelda Fitzgerald many years past. She wanted to die here at her home in Montgomery. But no. It was a hospital fire in Asheville, North Carolina that took her. The end is never really on anyone’s terms unless one decides to pull the trigger. I know a man diagnosed with a terminal disease I can’t even pronounce (every time I try the word stutters out like Joe Biden’s gibberish). Anyway, he poured himself two fingers of scotch, wrote a moving letter to his ex-girlfriend (wherein she finally discovered that he had wanted only her and nobody else but it was too late). Finally, he listened to Frank Sinatra singing “I did it my way…” and then–bang–lights out. Some said it was a cowardly act. I think it was manly.
A powerful hurricane, weakened to a tropical storm, gradually disappearing, and moving on out. A single brief life. Less than 24 hours later, I’m listening to her death rattle. That’s how it goes. Zeta’s eyewall has closed. Her final thoughts nobody knows. But the experts say she’s going peacefully.
The air is cold, the stars are bright, and a mournful gust of wind is a woman moaning. The trees try to calm her. They say sssssshhhhh.
My heart hurts and I say NO! to no one. On this lonely Bohemian night.
Or is it the morning? I don’t know. I’m still mourning.
I reach for a bottle of gin I’ve propped against the cab.
A swig. Another. Again.
Spin, spin, spin.
My throat is burning. I must stop drinking.
My hands, no longer folded in prayer (what’s the use? God doesn’t care), now cradle my dizzy head as I ponder the loss of the living and the dead.
Two unexpected goodbyes in one week.
Broken engagements. Broken promises. Broken hearts.
This can’t be happening. Where is God?
I would’ve asked my ex-fiancé but our relationship is dead. She would’ve considered the question behind her intelligent vibrant blue eyes and offered something comforting and wise. She still believes. Perhaps in a kinder gentler version of God than mine. I’m missing her more and more. The pain is so fresh and the funeral casseroles of our breakup are still waiting in the fridge until I can get myself together. Getting on with life after such a loss isn’t easy. I wonder if it’s even possible. The feeling of gone forever is a throat constrictor. But I remind myself that she’s not really gone from this earth but only from me. It’s a death of different kind. It may be reversible, it may not be. Probably not.
Right now, I’m thinking of them. The others. Their loss is far greater because it’s permanent and irreversible and six feet under.
Orange South Carolina clay on a rainy day. The sky is weeping as a family hemorrhages around a wooden box, their souls waterlogged with shock and a forced acceptance. They haven’t really been given the chance to grieve. Time moves on and there’s no chance to breathe. The whole thing. It’s cruel. It’s too heavy and it stinks.
A Category 5 storm of pain.
Her body is broken. There’s nothing more we can do. That’s what the doctors said. They left the family conference room and went for coffee and Panera in the MD lounge. The grief wasn’t theirs to share. Their feigned concern was on the level of a news anchor who must move from a clip of tragedy to the latest in sports in a matter of split seconds and adjust their faces accordingly, like the Sock and Buskin.
What more can anybody say? To the living, the dying, and the almost dead.
Don’t go away. Please, please stay.
Call the minister. Pray. Pray. Pray.
But no one is listening. My faith was rewarded with silence. No miracle divine. Only a flatline. That’s the damning thing about faith: it’s belief in the unseen.
How can God stand by and watch His children suffer and not say to their dying mother, Talitha koum! “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
Death. You rotten son of a bitch. Have you forgotten?
Faith, hope, and love. These three.
You may have destroyed the first two but the greatest of these is LOVE and you can’t rip that from the living. Love is ours to keep or to throw away.
With this thought, I fall into a dreamless sleep, awakened at sunrise by a baby squirrel sitting on a branch directly above me, jittery and making funny noises. A twig drops onto my forehead with a “pip” and it feels good to smile. You twitchy little bastard, I say, and the rodent bounces away.
The wind lifts my hair with a ghostly touch.
It’s a new day. Time marches on but we don’t want it to. I yawn and stretch my back, staring high, high, high into the sky. My neck cracks and my spine adjusts with a pop or two. It’s almost Halloween and I wonder why we celebrate such a theme. Maybe it’s because we must laugh before we cry at the monster that is waiting for us all just around the corner. Whatever form he may take, the bogeyman is real.
I wonder how and when I’ll go.
Time is fast. Time is slow.
An arrangement of fiery orange clouds has formed a pearly pink gate through which blinding rays of slanted sunshine touch the ground. Jacob’s ladder, I think. Where angels descend from heaven to earth and back again. Regular visitations from the other side.
I realize that my faith, a smoldering wick, hasn’t been put out by the foul breath of embalming fluid and funeral flowers or a precious daughter trying so hard to be strong but vomiting at the final verdict. I’ll never forget the sight. My throat is tight.
As an outsider to the family, I wonder if I might somehow walk with them through the valley and shadow of death. I myself am a departed spirit in many ways (which is best for everyone) but they might summon me from time to time until their darkness has passed.
For some reason, the word resurrection pops into my mind. Tombstones rolling away. Grave clothes folded to the side. Maybe all hope isn’t lost. The idea occurs to me that every single memory is a multiple daily resurrection of the dead until the real thing (if there is a real thing) and it excites me. The wind seems to agree and the trees are bowing.
Pouring the remainder of gin on the ground as a libation, I brush my teeth twice, rinse with a bottle of Evian, spit it out, and drink what remains. I think of my blue eyed girl and how I’m dead to her and that maybe she’s still crying. Fumbling for my phone and the right words to say, I know a sincere apology is long overdue. True love is never really dead. I hope she answers my call from the other side.