For Larry Norman
I got the text message on the way to my yearly gynecological exam. "It's Don Juan. Despite our issues, I thought you would want to know that Larry passed way last night," And my first thought was that Don Juan had, despite all my expectations, found a way, yet again, to shock me with how he was willing to sink in order to get my attention. Without considering that there might be any veracity to the statement, I texted back, "Is it true?" And he responded, "Well, that's the rumor." And I thought, "That disgusting bastard using some pathetic excuse like that to try and get back in touch with me. As if, considering that Larry is my upstairs neighbor, I wouldn't know if he was dead."
And I didn't give it much more thought...for about 15 minutes.
If it had been anyone else, the Amazon, the Doberman, Meathead Mike, I would have completely dismissed it. But Larry, Larry was a type one diabetic who drank. We had conversations about what it was like to be a person with health conditions who took risks. We both had that "We all gotta go someday babe" attitude. But after fifteen minutes my mind began working the way any child raised by a medical family might think. A type one diabetic, he certainly could die suddenly. Especially with his habits. And while at first I dismissed the idea of him being dead because he was my upstairs neighbor, there was no rule that said he had to die while he was at home, or while I was at home. He might have dropped dead at the bar where he worked. He might have dropped dead at his girlfriend's house. He might have dropped dead on the street. Christ, the truth is he could have died several days ago, and I was just getting the news now.
All the while, my gynecologist was telling me to relax.
After I gave her some advice on how to help her daughter on a book report of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, I found a restaurant. I hadn't eaten, and I had an appointment for drinks with some hopeless IT twit who needed the brilliance of a word smith to help a few of his projects get off the ground. While I sat at the table, I called the Amazon. I thought if anyone could get to the bottom of this quickly, she could.
The answer came back within minutes.
I'm not sure why I walked in that night. The bartender looked familiar although I couldn't say how I knew him. "Hey, you're my downstairs neighbor," and stuck out his hand "I'm Larry." We had met before. Lord knows how many times on the stoop or getting coffee, but I don't remember. I remember that time. And after that he always looked after me.
Some nights I would walk in and Larry would say, "Hey, I saw a strange man leaving your apartment, are you OK?" It was the Doberman (who is indeed a strange man) who he had spied in the hallway. If a questionably guy was talking me up, Larry was sure to let me know. Before I left for vacation, I had to let him know lest he take my absence as sign of homicide or worse. My last birthday, I stopped in at 12:05 to do a birthday shot with Larry.
We had both come from private schools in CT. We had both grown up with health problems. We understood that death was not an abstract construct, and we were gonna live life fast. Because we didn't have the luxury of thinking we had a long life. Not us. That was our bond. Us sick children who really understand what life is. We were living on borrowed time, and we were gonna make every minute last.
"I can't think about this right now." I told the Amazon. This is my gift. Block everything out. It didn't happen. Not for the next two hours. For the next two hours, I can be on. Drink Guiness. Listen to his ideas. Pretend that nothing has changed. Nothing. He won't have a clue.
And it works. He thinks I'm dazzling. I have to pry him off with a crowbar.
Finally I shake the IT guy and make my way uptown. On the bus, I'm having a debate. I know if join whoever is at the bar, I'll never go to work. Am I that close to him? Is it justified? Is it my own invented drama? Does it matter? I'm expected. I am to show up and drink in the name of all that I hold holy-a great bartender and a good man. If I can't get drunk and take a day off in honor of that, when can I?
Morgaine, the bar manager, hasn't stopped crying. Her eyes are swollen and tears keep streaming down her face. It's the same crowd of miscreants, but we hug without explaining ourselves. We hold each other long. We pat each other. We do not ask each other if we know. We know. And we know that we know.
Everyone wants to tell me how close I am to him. Morgaine tells me how she thought of me when she was in his apartment . The Amazon says we were such good friends. But me, I can't think of anything about him. How many nights have I sat at this bar with this man? Hours. Days. He used to push the candles around me so I could read. But aside from that I'm drawing a blank. Close, right, so close I can't think of a god damn thing. So close I had no fucking idea the man was dead and thought it was a bad ruse for some jackass to get back on speaking terms with me. Right, close, but I feel nothing.
The girlfriend comes in. She has that hollow look. Like someone who woke up to find a sandbag where her heart had been. Sick and empty. I can see she hasn't processed it yet. Who can? Who would want to?
And for the first time, down deep, I begin to feel something. Not sadness, not loss, but anger. Anger for myself. Because I'm too young for this. I'm too young for so many dead people. My father, my friends from AIDS, from diabetes, from a stroke, from suicide. I'm too young for this. My grandmother loses friends like a fistful of sand. She's buried 2 husbands and all of her sisters. What's another friend here and there? But me? How dare this fucker die on me? Another one? I have to bury another one already? They are not supposed to die before me.
That is, as I said, the deal you make with yourself. It's OK if you get sick, to spare the rest. To spare your friends and your family. They are supposed to be OK. Supposed to be. Except the universe is no respecter of contracts. Of decency. Of justice.
And it's at moments like this that I know that it isn't so much that I don't believe in God, but that I want absolutely nothing to do with the mother fucker.
My now my mind is succumbing to the Jamesons, as I hoped. I haven't given in yet. To the sadness, to the rage, to the loss. The Amazon hugs me good-bye, and I tell her that when I die, she better hold a party. This is what I want when I go. Fucking drinks and glitter and "Can you believe the time she picked up the frenchman off the street?" stories for days, people. I want orgies and gladiatorial games. I want poetry readings and full body massages in my honor. I want table dancing and free shots for everyone.
My last clear thought is "Fuck all of this. This is a sign to get my ass to Paris." I want to dissolve in someone's arms. I want my french boyfriend who can't pronounce my name to take me into his warm bed and not let me out for days. I want him to bring coffee and crepes in bed. I want to forget all of this. Send me to the land of Colette and chocolate and let me forget all this death.
I end up hugging and crying in the arms of Pompous Actor who is one of those people who is decent only when you really need them to be. Tomorrow he'll be an asshole, but tonight he holds me while I cry. Before he goes to the bathroom, he makes me promise not to leave. I wait for a minute and then slip into the night worried he'll try and use my sadness to talk his way inside.
I stay home the next day, my head hammering, utterly useless for most of the day. I call myself a pansy. A pussy. I shouldn't be this effected. He isn't the first friend to die or die suddenly. Hell, I was less upset when my father died. I didn't even have this guy's phone number. I tell myself I'm being a drama queen. I'm not that upset. I even find myself cursing at the now invisible man. "God DAMN it Larry."
But when open the shade, there on the street is all of his stuff-his mattress, couch, paintings, cd rack. Bags of garbage. All heaped on the street. And again I feel that rage rising within. For throwing away his stuff to be picked over on the street. For him risking his life so casually. For his girlfriend, for his boss, for his family, for me, for his friends. For all of us who feel lost and hurt and upset.
I sit there and watch person after person sift through the detritus and walk away, usually with nothing. One or two people find something. Many of them hover and circle, like crows, before departing empty handed. They know nothing of why the stuff is there. Or who it belonged to. They don't notice me watching from the window. And if they did? What would I tell them? "Hands off the dead man's futon"?
It is moments like this that my function in life is supposed to be apparent. I am supposed to strip off all the cynical comments about dating men and feckless friends and see the deep rich fabric of the universe revealed in beautiful and seamless prose. I am to give meaning and poignancy to this seemingly senseless loss. I am to find something worthwhile in all of this muck of tear stained bar napkins and spilled jamesons. This is what I give hours of my life and my privacy for. This is what I sacrifice my friends for. Their secrets. My failures. Our little world of incestuous relationships. To give solace. To give comfort. To give order to the seemingly reasonless chaos of the universe. This is what all those hours of scribbling by tea lights in bars is supposed to be for. For this. For this moment. The Amazon says, "I know you'll blog about this" before she leaves. She's expecting something profound.
But there are no words for this. Like the look on his girlfriend's face-tear stained and mute. Like Morgaine's never ending font of tears. Like my blank stare at ever clearing side walk. No quotes from Shakespeare, no lines from Dante, no pithy analysis of Kafka that will help. What is the genius of loss? What words can justify this? Even Voltaire gave up and told us to merely tend the garden.
And this is the secret horror of loss. If there was a reason, if there was something, anything, we could understand. If there was an answer to "Why? Why him? Why now?" Then we could accept. But there is only silence.
The Jews, as Larry was, as I am, believe in focusing on the present. This moment. Not the afterlife. Not in the past. For it is all we can do. This moment is what we have. Death reminds us of how much we fail to live while we live. And thus rather than look for a reason, we are to look to each other. And instead of thinking about what we should have done, we should think about what we can do. And for those of us, who like me, play fast and hard with our lives, we should perhaps ponder that our lives are not really ours, but rather we belong to our friends and our family. To those people who gave up hours and days and years to make sure that we made it this far. Because it takes a freakin' village to get through every day on this ridiculous planet and especially in this city. And to be cavalier with our lives is an insult to all of those who worked so hard to make sure we got one more day of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and Nina Simone albums.
And so the next time I book my ticket to France, and someone says, "Again?" I'm going to tell them that I am doing it for Larry. For that is what we owe the dead. To enjoy living as much as we can.
Labels: death, mourning
Bad Bunni posted at 9/26/2007 07:48:00 PM