|Oct/Nov 2017 Salon|
Image excerpted from Evolution by Roe LiBretto
And then my baby just died...
I was walking down the Plymouth Road with the Rabbi, and we came upon the disciples who had just handed over their master to the authorities. They had each kissed him once on the cheek and handed him over.
Their hands waved in weird palm hosannas like the sea weed undulating in time in that old Robert Mitchum movie, The Night of the Hunter, undulating, when the drunken ferryman saw the murdered woman in her car at the bottom of the river, Shelley Winters, and her hair was caught in the current. All the hands were waving. All the arms were undulating. As they handed over their master to the authorities. Like sea weed and hair.
Venus on the half shell.
I had handed over my Mary. My wife. Handed over my Ms. Mary to the authorities. To the specialists. To the illness. To the inevitability. Handed her over. To the tubes and the staples and the holes in her belly, and the surgeons and the punctures and the bruises, and the weeping of arms and the violence of the sucking of the phlegm from lungs, the sucking of phlegm from pneumoniaclogged air sacs. I had handed over my beloved.
Ever since it had become clear Ms. Mary might actually die, and now that's she gone, I've had the unsettling feeling there're only three walls left, or maybe, that the front door has been left open. I feel exposed. I didn't expect that.
What also surprised me throughout the whole deal was the urgent need to see the movie Papillon again. Do you guys remember that movie? Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. I watched it with Mary's best friend, Karen, and Elias, my stepson, the night before Elias left to go back to Boston. The night after his mother had died. It was his first time seeing it, and he was blown away. Loved it. We both seemed to recognize something about ourselves and our new situation in that movie.
I was walking down the Plymouth Road with the Rabbi, and we came upon the disciples. Their hands empty and reaching and grasping and hungry for what they had always and already handed over. They stood with stupid looks on their shattered and stunned faces.
And I saw Abraham and his bound son, Isaac. And I saw him hand over his son. This is Abraham we're talking about here. Like in the Bible. Just handed him over. Handed over the Promise. Handed over the fulfillment of the Promise. Handed over Isaac, which means, "Laughter" in Hebrew. Abraham just handed over Laughter.
In fear and trembling.
In plain English.
And I turned to the Rabbi.
And he was nowhere to be found. And he was everywhere. In the pus and the piss and the bile and the blood. And I let her go. I let her go. I let my baby go.
"Is this what is required?" I asked, "Do you have to give it away to get it back?"
Ms. Mary passed away today at 1:53 PM. In the last couple of days, she had become conscious enough to tell us what her wishes were concerning further treatment. It was a gift. A grace. She fought her way out of God knows what kind of fog and whirlwindwhipped half-light so that we would know that we were loved. That we had mattered. That she wanted to go home. Wanted to see her mother and her father and her sister. Wanted to let go. Wanted to sink deep, deep into that black water, in the deepest and darkest of wells, where she could sleep and dream forever in the light. She was 55 years old.
And she came back! My baby came back! And Jesus came back. But he couldn't stick around. He just came back for a quick buss on the cheek and then was gone again. Ascended on high. Sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Or wherever. And she came back. She came back.
And I said, are you going to stay?
And she said, if you want me to, YEAH.
But that was just a line in a Bob Dylan song.
And I said, are you going to stay?
But she didn't say a damned thing. Her hair just waved like sea weed in a movie or a myth. And she didn't say a damned thing. And the Rabbi didn't say a damn thing. And then she said. This is what she said: "No."
In particular I very much wanted to see a scene remembered in that movie Papillion in which prisoners in solitary confinement stick their heads out of holes in their prison doors, while prison officials check for lice. The prisoners look at each other. They ask each other how they look.
The first time it happens, Steve McQueen is indifferent when an older man asks him.
"Fine," he says, almost impatiently.
Later, after his hair has turned white and he, himself, has aged deeply, he echoes the old man's question, and a younger man reacts much as Steve McQueen had reacted the first time.
That scene kept recurring to me. It was just as powerful as I had remembered it.
Strange. Feeling exposed and wanting to hide—and then feeling the need to be seen, to be recognized in order to recognize yourself—simultaneously.
It feels like I'm going to have to get used to myself all over again without Ms. Mary. This seems preposterous to me. I haven't been myself without Ms. Mary for so long that I'm not quite certain how to be at all.
I'm kind of curious. I mean, beyond the bracing for those sudden and searing stabs of loss and grief. Behind it is a new curiosity.
And then my baby just died...
I was walking down the Plymouth Road. No. I was not walking. I was not fucking walking. Fuck the Plymouth Road! I was keening. I was twirling. Slowly at first. And I was rising. Arms extended. I was slowly rising. My feet were bare. I was twirling. Arms extended. I had lost my red shoes. And I was not touching the road. I was fucking twirling. Weather vane caught in the storm. Arms extended.
And I was engulfed in flames. Flames of grief. I was slowly rising. Flames licking limbs. Flames of violence. Flames of rage. And then I was spinning faster. And I was rising faster. And the flames were rising like shrieks. Flames of sorrow. Flames of terror. Arms extended. And parts of me were splitting into sparks. And the sparks were rising and glowing and then fading. And I was just never going to get those parts back again.
When someone dies, they can no longer tell you who they are. All you have left then, is who they were to you. While they were alive it was a process. Unfolding. Evolving. Once they're gone though, it's all just nostalgia—which in Greek means, "homesickness." It's all just uprootedness and exile.
Once they are gone then, I gather, you have to re-evaluate the process itself. Re-evaluate the process-ness of it. It's immediacy— and how immediacy guarantees a future. And how without immediacy there is no future.
At this point it becomes a practical problem. How do you live in a present with no future? Because someone severed the connection. Cut the cable.
The clues are everywhere, and not least, in the fact that you just keep getting blown into the future with every breath you take—or is taken in you—whether you like it or not. It's not like you don't keep living.
It's about locating immediacy, then, I suppose. In the desert. Achieving conscious contact. Where do you find that door, that window, that secret passageway? How do you close the front door? And we're not even talking here on the level of the marvelous. We're talking the quotidian, we're talking just folks and comfort food.
We're talking skin hunger and remembering that a moment of awkwardness is always worth an instant of human warmth. Hugging and being hugged. (Ugh!) We're talking what you choose to nurture and tend, what you feed. And how it is possible to freeze to death without dying.
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Quicken me.
Or better, water me, in my desert sojourn. Give me the courage to take the cool water offered. The manna, the quail. I am so far from home and prone to stupidity and stubbornness. Stiffnecked. Let me own my thirst. Let me own my hunger.
And I was twirling ever faster. Flames of love. And my feet were not touching the road. Twirling. Twirling. Fucking twirling. Ever faster. Out of control. All elbows and broken limbs. Umbrella carcasses. Flames of love. Out of control. And I was not consumed. Flames of love. Flames of love. Flames of love. I was not consumed.
And the Rabbi said. This is what he said: "See, I told you I'd be here."
And I said. This is what I said: "Uncle."
And he said, "Very funny."
And then he took my hand, and we twirled together, faster and faster. Out of control. And in the heart of the fire. In the fury of the twirl. All elbows and broken limbs. Umbrella carcasses. He held me and gave me shelter. From both himself and myself.
And in a single instant, I knew peace, and in the space of that single instant, we had breakfast. On the beach. Grilled fish. And it was really good.
While all hell broke loose around us. And something in me died. Just fucking died.
And I was born again. To grieve again. Now and forever. (My baby is gone, gone, gone.) Born again. To fucking grieve again. Now and forever. (My baby is gone, gone, gone.)
Ain't I a man now?