Eighteen years is a long fucking time. That’s what punched me in the chest the other morning while I sat in my kitchen window watching smoke drift from my hand and out into the fog—it has been eighteen years since my mother passed away—and now that realization is hovering around me, ghost-like, whispering. So much has happened in those eighteen years. Would she even know me? Would she want to? Would I want her to?
There will come a day when I stop writing about death.
This thing that keeps hovering around is not malevolent. It is something other, something needling but in a way that warms as much as it shakes. This thing is rattling memories loose and letting them push me around a little, which is kind of refreshing and kind of titillating because I need to be pushed around a little and ain’t much happening to do so regular-like. My clean blood is clean blood and will stay clean blood.
Yesterday I was standing on a pier in the middle of the East River and I was looking at the glorious fog hanging over the city and I kept on wanting to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. I closed my eyes and tried to let whatever needed to wash over me do what it would but all that kept happening was me seeing my dog—all wiggles and wags and snorts and grunts and happy sounds—sleeping at my feet in a way only dogs can do. I was trying to meditate, I guess. That is something I do every morning but I never do it out there in public even though it was early and the only other person I saw hanging around the park with the pier was an older bald man who kept looking at me warily and I could feel his sadness.
I can always feel sadness.
I had the new Swans album going pretty good in my headphones and the rhythm was perfect and repetitive and I felt myself leaving my body a little bit as I stood out there and could taste the moisture of the river and of the fog, but as soon as I would drift I’d see the dog again and come back to my flesh.
When all of your elders—the flesh and blood you came from—are gone, it’s unsettling. I’ve had time now to get used to it, but I don’t think I will ever fully get used to it. Mother, father, grandparents, aunts—all gone. Superstitiously, I mostly feel them around the anniversary of their death[s]. Emotionally, I mostly feel them when I feel unmoored and without a base. When I think about them when they were living, I don’t think they knew me at all, which wasn’t their fault as much as my own. I’ve always been secretive, dark, someone with a path hidden in the larger path everyone else sees. I have always been uncomfortable with lovers and friends who disclose their entire lives to their elders, people who share too much of their innermost and dangerous with people who are wired to worry, wired for concern and anguish. My elders didn’t need to know about my darkness. They felt it.
My neighbor has been riding a bike everywhere. He is a weed delivery guy, which is a very lucrative gig here in this city. Yesterday morning I was outside, smoking in front of the building, and he came down with his bike and we started rapping and joking. He’s from Oklahoma, loves metal, and—like me—is an orphan as an adult. His mother recently died and whenever I see him I just hug him and we don’t need to say anything because we know the secret handshake of orphaned adults. Back to the bike thing, though—I noticed he had no helmet and basically begged him to wear one. “Nope,” he said. I told him about my friend who was killed and how he wasn’t wearing a helmet and as the words were slipping out of my mouth an understanding coursed through my body, an electric current made of blood and knowing.
Orphaned adults don’t wear helmets because orphaned adults already know pain and give no fucks.
I would wear a helmet. I want everyone to know that. I would.
Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself about this shit, about the deaths and my hurt and my sad and my familial aloneness, I try to walk. I throw on headphones and get moving and get getting and get to watching other people on the street or in the park or in the stores or in the pews. Watching people be people is a cure-all. Watching people be people is an inspiration to be a person and not a mope and I’d be a monkeys uncle before I’d ever be a mope.
I think about my sister out in California and wonder how often she goes to see our mother, I wonder how her heart feels, I wonder if she feels the same aloneness, I wonder if she speaks secret words in the night to the ceiling like I do, I wonder if she sees our mother in the faces of cats and the tail wags of dogs, I wonder if she wonders—like I do—if our mother and our father have ever spoken in whatever world or place or chemical compound they are in after this life has ended for them.
Have you ever held a dead body? It’s an incredible thing. The physical is there but you can feel something has gone and something was there and electricity is still in there a little bit but it’s like holding a light bulb after taking it out of the socket and letting the glow dim. I held my mother’s dead body. I held my father’s dead body. I’ve held my own dead body. I’ve held your dead body.
Who will hold my dead body?
Trivial, but true—
My mother once found a series of letters I had written to Jimi Hendrix. I had been in a bad place, drugs were fucking with my head and my head was fucking with my heart and my heart was fucking with the world, and I had set up a typewriter in my room—I was around sixteen or so, I believe—and started clack-clacking away in the night. Stacks and stacks of letters, all of them free-form and flowing with my madness and my sadness and my desire to leave my body forever and leave the world forever and my blood feeling about my father and my mother and my friends and my sister and my classmates.
I really didn’t understand any of my classmates. I was an alien boy.
Any other mother who’d found those letters would have freaked. Any other mother would have sent that child away never to be seen again. Any other mother would have put a pillow over the monster’s face in its sleep and let it slip away.
Not my mother. No.
She told me she found the letters and encouraged me to keep writing.
My mother let my band “rehearse” in her house. My mother let me and all my dopey and beautiful punk rock friends smoke in her house. My mother would sit up late at night and drink coffee with my high school girlfriends and talk to them, soothe them, treat them like adults when nobody else would. My mother secretly made t-shirts for my band and gave all of them to us on the eve of our first show. My mother cried when I graduated high school because she never thought I would be able to follow through and do it because I’d dropped out twice and went back and still finished on time. My mother cried when I enlisted in the Navy because I did it on my own and didn’t tell her I was doing it and she was proud. My mother cried when my ship pulled in to San Diego and she couldn’t see me because I was locked up in the brig. My mother called me by my secret name—the name she gave me as a child—when she saw me after she came out of her coma. My mother danced with me at my bar mitzvah and I remember seeing her deep brown eyes and how proud she was and how glad she was and I remember right now—sitting here, right here—how much that meant to both of us.
I joke about death because death is a joke. The joke that never lands right. The joke that stings. The joke that twists.
My mother, born on Father’s Day, died on Mother’s Day, loved to laugh.
I need to laugh more.
I’m still writing, Mom.