For Gina–and for James.
But your great sadness will join the stars,
a new star to wound and outshine the skies.
Frederico García Lorca, Elegy
Look at this, at this, my heart; wherever and however you are now just look at this terrible tangle of thorns. The skin has been split into shivering parts: hips wrapped in rosebuds and ribs in barbed wire, the blood thins again, the white wrists fold like paper. But this is not about me, not really; there is precious little left of that to write about. (I wonder how it felt, to break me down and bleed me out. Can they still sleep at night? Does it matter?)
Even before the worst occurred, when this was all just radio silence–for I had not yet come home to find the bodies of people I loved turning cold–I spent the past two months in a semi-pathetic state of despondency. Upon losing what little affection I thought I had found in that ancient, fallen city, not to mention every friend who proved worse than faithless, I was submerged once more in the astringent madness that always arrives, like a bloodlust, with the winter. I frequent my own blog rather often now, unconsciously revising previous pieces on suicidality and my own forsaken flesh. I read the language of my earlier days, consume it almost obsessively–considering, elaborating, re-assessing again and again.
I still stand by what I said. Yes, I maintain what I have written before, and with all of the conviction I managed the first time. I do not believe that any death is as simple as a tragedy. I do not believe that every life ends before its time. But two gone–two, in as many months, and both of them scarcely as old as me? Their absence feels so much more lucid, more real, than the blood that dries between my teeth or knees, than the knotted nightmare of scars that fire and ink could not purge. Why am I still standing, me, and not them? Two. That soul-numbing number devours raw life like locusts. Two, two–how many people have I loved and seen buried now? How many more are to come?
In some ways, it hardly seems to matter. My grief is so expressionless now, so solipsistic, so self-consuming; my vision silenced, I listen in compliance as the world crashes into verse all around me.
“I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”
Another one gone, as if he had not been. The words that tore what remained of my strength apart, while former friends feigned ignorance or offered hollow apologies. Life support. No brain activity. He’s gone, Grace, he’s gone. And then another, just as sudden and as senseless, her lack of life waxing serpentine within me, like a lidless, venom-tinged movement beneath anemic skin. Another skipped funeral, in a week’s time or less. It will happen again, I am certain of it. And the next time won’t be any different.
It does not matter. I am barely there. I am the only thing left, and this is not real. A girl that I knew in some other life watches me closely, standing silent, my face alone not anointed by tears. She asks, “How are you staying so strong?” I do not respond. I finish my drink and turn back towards nothing, because any answer that I give is a lie. There is nothing strong about me. I am the fucking opposite of strong.
Because I knew, in a way; I have always known. I knew and I didn’t. The same could be said of others, I am sure. But I was selfish, I turned away from everything, from the world. My challenge and my subject, for as long as I can remember now, has been myself. But lately my mind has been devoured by this fact, by the question of my own trauma and self-loathing, by a narcissistic, dialectical curiosity about inadequate acclimatization and my specific relation to the ones who left me. Instead of caring, I brought myself to each new extreme. I became my own best weapon and worst enemy. I withdrew and watched. I held my tongue. I did nothing. My distorted fury rises like a scream. How could it come to this? Is your own life even yours to mutilate? Did you find peace at last, or did you simply find that there was nowhere left to go?
But then, in some ways, I think I do understand. Not what you felt, but why you did it. I understand that. Because once I dug a shallow grave for myself by the shoreline, and prayed that, in its gaping mouth, my body would decay and asphodel would grow in rivers from my skin. I remember the dark seduction, the macabre calm of it all. But I could still feel rainwater carving patterns through the soil, the paths of my sensation were elusive but inexorable, and I had to live. Somehow I knew that I had to live. Because I owed someone something: not my life, but an absence of suffering. I kept on. All the same, I understand. Because sometimes I still wish to be down there, under the earth beside you and sleeping as softly as new fallen snow.
This must be the second coming of which the old poets speak. Has there ever been a generation more shattered, more disturbed? Turning, burning, these wayward children that slouch across the sand-shore face of the Earth, in the clutches of silence and dignified chaos, we all await meaning. We keep our memories and take on your blame. We have bars for hurling words or fists, whiskey writhing in our time-coated throats, filthy oxygen in clairvoyant masks, IV needles sliding slowly into our veins: our survival liquified, our suffering unreal. We live. We fuck. We work. We disappoint. We bare our teeth and afflicted skin, we scatter ourselves across bedsheets and rooftops, we cast faltering matches at the far-off, slippery stars. We taste our own smiling horrors like a birthright: their false, sordid glamour, the electric notches of ferocity across our tongue. Of course we sometimes dream of dying while we’re still so young and beautiful.
But nobody is okay anymore. Not one of us. Our lives, once bared, are just long shrieks of protest: against the world that taught us to hate ourselves, against the blood and ink spilling from speechwriters’ pens, against the calamities to which we bear an ever-present witness. We’re half-sick of shadows and lost possibilities, of candlelight vigils, of endless catastrophe. We reject the culture that failed us, that starved us, that tried and tried to “fix” us until we finally destroyed ourselves. We must now engage in the violence of becoming, the nameless acts of destruction and resurrection that tear back the curtains through which senseless life is framed. “The world, somebody wrote, is the place we prove real by dying in it.” But not yet. Not yet. We are still alive, and we have work to do.
In the corners of our culture where we presently inscribe the sentiments of the still-living–what we should have seen coming, what we might have done differently–we must now lay the foundations for empathy, for solidarity, for something, anything, better than this. In the wake of horror there must also be solace, textured though it will be by the grief that is necessary for loving or living in the first place. There must be some comprehension of the inimitable displays of devotion and selflessness shown by these people who survive for so long against impossible odds.
The end cannot be what matters, lest we all come undone beneath our own despair.
We have, and must enact, the knowledge that they have not suffered needlessly. They loved, and were loved. They stayed with us for as long as they could, they endured, they seared the snarling rhythms of their pulse against an intolerable world. That alone is a victory. To live at all is inexpressible triumph. We must recognize this. We must understand this. We must reframe the discourse that surround our losses and longings. Can we do it? Can we love each other? Forgive each other? Watch out for each another? Can we care? If so, then the grief is not futile, the tragedy not insurmountable. To create the world wherein a life seems worthwhile–is this not the possible future whereupon our better efforts must reside?
You, my love, have done your part. You two are two, and one, at once, inexorably, and recoiling in your Janus-heart the sacred scripture of a twin silence resounds. My words are formless, grief-infused, but by own principle, how am I to mourn? You lived, and lived well, for so long. You are where nothing can hurt you any longer. Your resistance was so realized, so unearthly, so saturated by love. How can one not find some solace in that? Yes, I miss you. I miss all of you who are lost to me now in this way. I want to believe in some other place and time, some holy refuge, somewhere to find you. But in truth, my hopes are scarcely reliable. Wherever my fragmented faith may still lie, it was never to be found in a Heaven or Hell. This is the last life we all had to live. I do not think that we will meet again.
But we live through one another other still: in the brightly burning echoes of a future those of us living can still form. So rest easy: do not ache any longer. We will carry this on, this purpose informed and enriched by the long triumph of your efforts to remain attached, as it were, to the world that failed you, and that we aspire to recreate. Sleep well beneath the silent stars, and in my own time, I will join you there. We all will.
For now, though, we must live. We must give rise, within ourselves, to the possibility of a world worth living in. It is the final respite that I can think of; for I am so very tired of goodbyes.