follow me down
welted by grief, try to take the long view
A door marked “You
could have done more.”
I feel cold.
stop following me.
Avoid the bar. Avoid the street where the bar is. Avoid the freeway exit where the street is that the bar is. This is what they say. On the one hand. And yet, on the other hand, I pass this exit every day. It's difficult to concentrate on anything else.
And then I did.
Summers with my friend; driving around aimlessly, he said "see the moon is bright," and I suggested we call the radio station. “Drive by Truckers,” he said and I squirmed. "The moon is bright and your heart is gold." "Yup. And I'm Broke."Wanting good things to happen to us and come our way. Longing for passion. Something to do and feel like doing. Wanting to make something of ourselves. Something better. But still just driving around in big ten, twenty, thirty mile circles somewhere up in the kingdom, then turning around and driving in circles somewhere else, hoping for fate to fall into our lap…
And then it did.
We came to the bridge and the bridge was washed out. Not washed out, with water, so much as snow & sludged over with snow and sludge. What water was there appeared to have reached a level just underneath the roadway, yet the two lanes of travel were engulfed by the floating wall of odd off-white geometric shapes of roiling scrum about 2-3 feet high. I stopped the car. We parked it actually, at a safe distance away, got out to watch the river roar and speak in a crunchy whisper. There was no getting across. The carnage was immaculate though. Searching fruitlessly for patterns in the vicious push-pull of onrushing effluvia and ultimate meaninglessness of it all happening, the randomness of our being there to see it. It wasn't even snowing.
And then it was.
follow me down
for motives of clarity, mostly, help me see
like a polaroid in a cathedral
just the facts, then we’ll reduce
with acuity see through transparent
Hole up, bed down,
stare out and
down to reach
It’s a kind of trigger. Means of relating to other people are shot. Finding words, difficult, wanting to say them won’t be enough. This is what they said. The experience of loss creates a kind of melancholy reflection of normal reality, like a mirror distorting the vanity of human hopes and dreams, warping one’s perspective on the irreversible finitude of life, the mutability of human monuments… but the distortion looks vividly clear, which is troubling.
And so it was.
I met my friend in the 5th grade. His name was Johnson. He smelled like peanut butter sandwiches and dirty socks.
We met playing whiffle ball, sort of. I was batting and whacked one out clear across the playground to where he was standing with his girlfriends, a different kind of player altogether, and it hit him right in the ear. Not the most auspicious of meetings I suppose.
I knew who he was before that. I was lucky that we became friends. I knew who he was because everyone knew who he was, but also his family went to our church and once, I’ll never forget it, during a prayer when everyone was quiet with their heads down his sister yelled at him out loud to "shut your freaking pie hole!"
And so he did.
I came to know him as a frenzy. His youthful ambitions trumped everyone I knew, and most everyone I didn’t. It was through Johnson that I found myself invited to the party in Chelsea, standing in dimly lit leather book-lined apartment next to a guy (who seemed to believe that dressing casual meant a pinstripe three piece) talk about reverse funnel guaranteed online income strategies. I felt slightly ashamed to be there. The room was actually bursting with rather handsome people, all of them slightly too clean, a bit too members-only. I am a satellite friend. I scan the room:
“He’s related to the Laura.”
“It’s foolproof. Absolutely assured."
“They’re not functional,” a young woman said, losing interest.
“Who was he to talk to me like that?”
“The 'labor force,' is what they called them," is the punchline, and so much polite laughter erupts that one begins to questions one’s very notion of actual jocosity.
“Bogie and Bacall named their kids after their friends from work. Would you name your children after your friends?” and I start thinking about my friend Zeno Blumqvist.
And there he was.
Johnson came in. He came not in a puff of smoke nor in a cloud but through the door like a common man ambling into the room slightly off-kilter, with a wink that fills me with a devastating happiness. “You got a right regular little rhubarb going here.”
Completely out of balance and yet unflummoxable, he started shaking hands and speaking to everyone in the room, individually looking them all unfailingly deep in the eye. The real genuine article that. I’m not sure anyone had any idea what he was saying, what was he… but the words were always secondary with him. It was his passion that captivated you. He made the rounds and made everyone shine and then he came to me, inclined his head, opened his arms wide as if to hug me, turned his back, yipped for me to follow, and walked out. In short, he was lovely.
And so he was.
So do or so don't
along, into the ground, let's
lost in a whirling dance
with invisible partners
dark, slowing down, cold, going down
Do you know where we are going?
The anniversary of a loss, and significant events spent without the person may be pointedly difficult. Instead of letting yourself fall apart, you may find that doing something special to mark these occasions can help. Eventually you should find ways to use all the stuff of life—particularly the most challenging memories that nobody wants to think about, pain, loss, and suffering—as fodder for awakening, for pulling yourself together.
And so it did.
I feel the sweep of internal winds, as if a powerful voice from somewhere back in time had just spoken and set fire to an invisible rush of air around only me. The cat nuzzles my shin. We have just left the church, uncorked a bottle. It was a nice service, someone is saying. I sit with a few mostly blank pages in my lap. My friend is gone and I can't do anything to bring him back. Blank pages. I know I could have done something. I hope he is in a better place, although on any other day I would doubt such a place exists. Blank pages, a warmth deep in my chest, emanating outwards. I should have done something. I put pen to paper. May my asemic brooding shine I pray.
And so it did.
Were we intuiting what our futures would be? The unbridgeable distance that once again we would find ourselves up against. The thwarted lover, hardhearted and frozen cold incapable of feeling; the divorcee with two small kids he's terrified of absolutely fucking up for life because his psyche isn't fit for single parenting.
And yet it was.
We all have different gifts so we all have different ways of saying to the world the only thing each of us truly can say: who we are. Each of us is so much more than any one thing. A sick child is much more than sickness. A person with a disability is more than a handicap.
I knew this once. Why do so many of my catastrophes creep up on me without warning. Are my eyes closed? It is from suffering that we learn compassion, from loss that we learn understanding, and from overcoming struggles that we come to discover ourselves. We are more than our job description or age, or income or output… and how others whittle that down is their problem. Johnson’s problem: to be true to his inconsistencies.
At least, it was.
The light dims. “Follow me down” he says, leaving the party. This, before the fight, before all of it. Slowly, without light, everything appears to sink into ghostly darkness. His posture perceptibly shifts forward in the stairwell toward the door.
“What is beauty?”
“Leaves floating on a stream. Did you have a good time?”
“You were on fire in there.”
“I know. It was good.”
“Where are we going now?”
He laughed, “I don’t know.”