I promised two different people I would write a post while I am in Minneapolis. I am keeping it by the skin of my teeth, sitting in the airport on the way back to New Orleans as I type.
Many things happened while I was here. I went to visit my grandmother (who is, as she herself well knows, very slowly dying in a not-too-horrible nursing home) and for the first time heard my grandfather say aloud that she’ll die. I’m sure he’s said it before from how matter of fact he was, but it was a first for me. I’ve been worried about him maybe being in denial about that but I suppose when your spouse goes into hospice care, that’s a truth that’s hard to avoid. He is very sensible. They both are. Some of the most sensible people I have ever met. 15 years ago I found a book in their house called Dying Well. With the kind of love that they have though, have had for 50 some years, one could be forgiven for being a little less sensible around the subject of the loss (however temporary) of the beloved. So I worried. But he’s fine and she’s, well, she’s on huge amounts of fentanyl and mostly asleep, but by God she can still make a pun when I show up, so she’s fine.
I do not live in a time and place where death is always around. We hide death and dying for the most part. The elderly are secreted away from the young people who need to understand what will happen to their own bodies. It does not matter how beautiful and shiny you are now, we all sort of look like potatoes if we’re lucky enough to last. I got a jump on this by being born looking like a potato. My hair hides it right now, but one day you will all see my true potato-nature.
I was already thinking about ageing and dying and then I learned that a member of my community had killed themselves. I saw them quite recently and it is very odd to think that they’re not just as they were when I left. But they aren’t. My grandparents won’t be. My parents. Myself. None of us remain in the body. I spend so much time trying to create a sense of solidity for myself, so that I won’t be afraid. But I have no control. And how foolish to spend all my work and love on building a hallucination, an idea of a ground that I know, even as I’m shoring it up, is not real. I have not accepted my own death. I’m not sure how to believe in it. When I run up against the death of others, I am not more afraid, but relieved. Physically relieved. My shoulders relax and the skin of my scalp eases. For a moment, until I forget again, I stop pretending that I won’t die. I see clearly that others die. And this is painful but it is less painful than willful, energy-intensive blindness.
I miss the winter, living in Louisiana. When I was a child, I would walk almost every day to the creek and back, more in winter than in summer. I was in love with leafless trees and cold skin and snow smell. It made me feel very clean, but not in the way I get now, where I make believe that a disinfected house or a thin body or a right angle is a clean thing. These are lessons I’ve taken on that I act out even while I don’t believe them. They are what took me in a kind of storm when I would kill the invasion of flying ants in our kitchen, when I did dishes even while poison ivy covered my fingers and my eyelids and virginia creeper came gently through the ceiling. That sort of belief in cleanliness makes people live in the suburbs and buy white carpets and pretend they can’t be hurt.
I stand at the edge of a frozen lake. I gulp wind like a dog. My hood has fallen off. The wind gutters on my right side and I turn my face to bathe in it. My mouth and my chest and my eyes are wide and hollow feeling, like an empty church, like a high ceilinged room. I unzip the top of my coat and pull my scarf down with numbish fingers so the wind can get at my throat. There are brown black trees lining the other side of the lake and the sky is pearl and dove and pigeon. My sight pushes out. Winter is home, if winter is wildness, if wildness is home, if home is running.
Winter and death. Not so scary once you’re right up against them.
If you have the urge to comment, it does help me to keep doing this and not just feel like I’m screaming into the void. Be the void, scream back.