The needs of the dead

It’s Mimi’s job to prepare the dead for their wake. As she explains it to me over mouthfuls of cherry cheesecake, when a loved one identifies a victim, they are often exposed to a body that is broken, traumatised. So she tries to make that last viewing better for closing eyes, for what is seen in the dark. She tries to bring her dead back to who they were before.

She wants that to be the memory, the smallest consolation.

I had a talent for doing hair and makeup. And I found a way to use it. I mean, at first it was just curiousity. That lady at the salon told me some crazy shit about her job – and at the time, I was in the mood for crazy. But then, well, it sort of got important. The needs of the dead, and all that.

The needs of the dead. To Mimi, death is its own kind of living. Her bodies are present, aware. Her girls – she uses the term my girls – hover, observe what is happening to them. They tell her things, too, she says. Now that she has learnt how to listen to what they have to say. She pieces her damaged girls back together, and she listens to their stories. They are in turn grateful for her care, for her efforts at returning them to who they used to be.

Before.

Well, that’s how it seems to me, she says, licking cream from her fork.

There isn’t any sense that I’ll find this strange. Mimi assumes I know what she is talking about. And I do, I suppose, in my own way. Jane changed everything. Jane changes everything. She is not past tense, or rather, her past feels like the only thing that informs my present. I feel the constant pull back to that first moment, when I saw the billow of white, the hazy flutter of fabric that led me to her body. I’ve come to think of it as a kind of beckoning. A flag raised for me to stumble toward.

It’s what I wanted to explain tonight, when it was my turn in the circle. This idea that I was meant to find Jane, how it goes against all my reason, but it feels true, just the same. How Jane haunts me, and I can’t let it go, can’t let her go, because I still don’t understand why. Why she chose me. Why it happened. Why anything like this happens, and how I’m not even sure that’s the right question to ask.

I just know everything leads back to her.

I didn’t say any of this, of course. I don’t have Mimi’s ease when it comes to the needs of the dead. I spoke instead of the shock, the sense of safety dislocated.

And how, after finding Jane that afternoon, I can never unknown this: anything can be waiting around the next corner. You’re only ever one turn away from your whole world changing. And from there, you can never get back what you’ve lost.

Riverside Park NYC

Turning Into the After …

The familiar ugly

Maybe that’s this strange shame I’m feeling. An embarrassed disappointment that the shine has come off my new city, that it took so long. And how the real glare, the thing standing out, is me.

I had intended to go for a cocktail, I was ready to venture out to some busy, pretty rooftop on this summer night, but now I just want to get back to my neighbourhood, and I’m relieved when I get to the familiar ugly of my station. Here, no one stands on the sidewalk taking pictures, keeping the cardboard-signed stories of the homeless just out of their frame. Here, there’s no reason to look up, to miss what is right in front of you. Here, there’s not much to see at all.

I walk into the sports bar on the corner of my street. Ask for a scotch on the rocks, and settle at a table where I’m not blocking anyone’s view of the boxing match playing on the row of mounted TVs. The scotch sits on my tongue, it’s smoky and warm and familiar. Reflexively, I reach for my phone, bring up his name. I want to talk to him, I want to share this crappy night, and this foreign place, but it’s Saturday there now, an against the rules day. We don’t message on weekends; I agreed to this moratorium a long time ago. He didn’t even need to ask, or explain.

Fuck.

How did I agree to any of this? How did I end up here? Out of the corner of my eye, I see a punch land. A guy in purple shorts staggers against the ropes, then rights himself, comes back for more. I leave the two men on the TV to their weaving and ducking, and turn back to my scotch. They use such generous pours here; the golden liquid fills a good two thirds of my glass.

I take a solemn sip, and add this fact to my ever-shifting list of reasons to stay in this city.

Scotch on the Rocks

Fact and fiction in New York City …

Every single time

The first time I come. It doesn’t feel like fireworks. It feels like breaking into a run. That moment when muscles coil, prepare. And suddenly there is a hand pressing at your lower back, propelling you forward. You go from heavy to light in an instant, you’re sprinting, feet barely touching the ground. Everything rushes by, and it’s you right there at the centre, flying.

That’s what it feels like.

And then you come crashing back to earth, heavy limbs and hard breath. Everything slows to its usual, unbearable pace, and the loss of that lightness is as painful as a punch. You were free, you were running. And now you are back here on the ground.

I never let Mr. Jackson see how sad this loss makes me. How it makes me cry. Every single time.

~ Alice, Into the After

Image by Joanne Piechota

Waltz

A memory that sits closer to the surface. A different conversation we dance around. We are discussing what would happen in the hours after Honey, I’m home! How it would be, if we were the ones on either side of the door. We spin an imagined history between us on this sunny, stolen afternoon.

That sure would be something, you say. If life were a dream.

You think my view of domesticity is naïve at best. You do not believe two people could sustain this every day. An intensity of skin to skin that does not leave room for God or neighbours, or tricycles turned over in the yard. Obsession may prevail in moments, yes – but it does not leave nearly enough time for real life, Maggie.

My parents still waltz in the kitchen, I defend. In the midst of chaos, they go into their dance. It makes the chaos beautiful. Or the dance. Even when there is work to be done.

Because not all love is scheduled, I say as you look at your watch.

But the moment is gone. I can see that I have lost you to the clock, once again.

Image by Joanne Piechota

Eidyia who sees. Who knows.

I ask you to christen me. I have nothing of yours to keep, nothing to mark me, and so a particular significance weights this request. This will be the only name we ever share, and I have already determined no matter what you decide, it will be mine to keep.

You take your time (and I think you’ve forgotten) when you come back with this – Eidyia.

Eidyia. The youngest, perhaps the most beautiful, of the Oceanides. The baby sister of the Nymphs who presided over all water flowing on earth. Eidyia. Pronounced Idea. The guardian of both seeing and knowing, a Goddess of knowledge. Some say she was in fact a sorceress, a witch in possession of the magical eye. Indeed, she would grow up to birth Medea, that ultimate enchantress, and the archetypal woman scorned (I was always better at research than you, my love).

But Eidyia!

The daughter of all things flowing, where nothing abides. Her father Oceanus, and her mother Tethys – the source of all things that never stay the same. As a young girl I used to scribble out the words of Heraclitus, finding comfort in his idea that everything is in motion. To think you could never step in the same stream twice! And now the personification. Eidyia. The goddess of a family in flux. The source of clouds and weather and quenched thirst. The shifting of mud and rocks and settled earth. The impetus rushing to the river mouth and pouring out in to a salty sea.

How did you come to this name, my love? As the only clue you left me, I have examined this from every angle (I would build a shrine to her if I thought this is where you’d fall at your knees). Because – EidôTo see. To know. What did I see my love?

What did I know that made you want to lay in my arms, to ask the truth of me?

Or was I nothing other than your siren on the rocks? A fresh water nymph with glistening legs, and a pretty face? We joked of mermaids without their tails, and you were always a naked husband – was this just an extension? Could you possibly know that I would wear this name the way others wrapped a diamond round their finger? That this would be your greatest gift? Did you name me with a gravity that matched how I took on this mantle?

Eidyia. The Goddess of Knowing. The Goddess in perpetual motion. What I wouldn’t have given for the waters to still. For a moment, treading water, where you were there right beside me. Waiting with the answers.

Eidyia at body, remember

This was written so many years ago. It required a little tidy up to re-post here, but the ideas were all there, way back when …

All that stays unknown

There he is, the morning of.

It is summer and he feels good in his skin. Stretched to the corners of his life, filling them out. Everything is as it should be; he is where he should be. He’s solid here, close to the ground, nothing shifting underneath him.

There he is. Oblivious and satisfied, this morning of.

Oblivious: Unaware. Without memory.

Oblivion then, is this. All that stays unknown. There are fires forgotten, under that skin. Little licks in his veins he tries to out-run. Thinking flames can be exhausted this way. Not knowing a single spark can revive.

And how close he is to burning, now.

There. Here. There he is.

He’s out the door, and the sky is blue, and he’s running along, not knowing her name. He’ll hear it today, this name, for the very first time. Unaware of the dreams she’ll soon gather, of the clocks and counting just ahead.

He doesn’t know that he will remember. And that she is his memory, waiting.

(I never, not for a single day, forget)

Somewhere, waiting

There she is, the morning of.

It is summer, and she feels it. The winter sadness has been shaken, sloughed from her skin, and she’s lighter now, present. Waking without the ache, without the anchor thud dragging her down.

There she is. Happy and forgetful in her getting ready, this morning of.

Ready: Prepared. Willing. Equipped.

The readiness is all, they say, but at this minute she thinks she has escaped her fate. She thinks one can survive it. She does not know, as she takes that last mirror look, as she smoothes her hair and tongues her teeth for lipstick stains. She does not know that life can change in other ways, that there are slower, softer ways of starting.

She does not know what’s out there, waiting.

There. Here. There she is.

She’s out the door, and the sky is blue, and she’s humming along, not knowing his name. She’ll hear it today, this name, for the very first time. Unaware of the ghosts he’ll soon gather, of the tracks and stopping just ahead.

She doesn’t know that she’s begun. And that he is her somewhere, waiting.

Walt Whitman Poetry