Numb is a good word. It’s been two and a half weeks since Ricky died, and I am embarking on the long business of wrapping up his life, wrapping up our life.
If were able, I would take this slowly, but as it is, my lease ends on June 30, and there’s a lot of life I can’t afford now. I would spend more time outside because I can now, and more time grieving, but I just can’t do it. I can’t even accept a homemade meal from a neighbor, or visit my in-laws, or have someone over for coffee to help me with the business of simply going through his clothes. I have a lot of work to do in the next two months, and it has to be done.
Taurus Moon. Man loved his clothes. Capricorn rising. Man loved his suits, which I will be selling to pay down some of the debt I’m left with. I can’t think of anyone who knew him who wants his suits that would fit into them. He bought most of these at the peak of his fitness; surely there is a bouncer who needs an Armani suit, or perhaps Dwayne Johnson has been cast in a film where he plays an attorney or corporate executive back in 2001? Most of these suits have been lovingly maintained but not worn in 15, 20 years.
Rick taught me a lot of things about men’s clothing. I know how long suit pants should be (no one should see your socks when you’re standing up, and you look shorter when your pants are too long. I know how to button an extremely starched collar. I know how to tie a necktie to get the dimple under the knot, which is how a gentleman wears his tie. I know how the collar of a jacket is supposed to fit (and never rise up in the back). I know how to use cufflinks and a tie pin. I know the difference between winter suits and spring suits. I know how to hang a suit jacket just right in the car so it doesn’t get wrinkled (because you don’t drive in your jacket if you can help it). I know how to polish shoes. I know how to hang suit pants. I know how to match a tie to a suit to the man. He also taught me why I need to get my clothes tailored, particularly my own suits.
So I am resigned to the fact that I am definitely coming out of this different, because that’s what happens. I think about a lot of things. I wonder what the future will bring. What does life #4 (or #5?) bring? Who will I be in the future that I am still eligible to possibly participate in? I think about why I never liked ketchup. I think about why I think about why I never fully get over my post-undergrad aversion to fiction. I wonder if I’ll still have to pay back by law school loans if the economy collapses and James Howard Kunstler sees his visions come to fruition. I wonder why I didn’t become an engineer or an architect or a chef or a professional artist or massage therapist or some other person who works with the material because that comes so much more naturally to me than any job or career I actually choose to pursue. I wonder if, should the economy collapse, if I can prosper as a tinker or soap maker or some other thing if the world becomes small. I wonder why I like the idea of marriage but don’t ever want a wedding. I wonder if I will actually have children someday, since that just wasn’t on the table up until two and a half weeks ago. I wonder how I would go about ensuring that at least one of them could be redheaded and left-handed (because I want to pass on my genes, too).
There is now a long, dark hallway ahead of me and I either stay here or walk.
Anything but to think about the present, anything but to think about Rick.
I go to work now. Work is in the same place I eat and sleep, the same place I was in self-quarantine. I drive now though. I missed it. I am able to function enough during the day to do things. Night is still hard and sleep doesn’t come easy, but I have been able at least to lay in the dark at night and get up in the morning. Luckily for me, the birds are singing earlier and earlier, and sleep can finally come.
Non-stock stand-up is still proving to be a big help. I watched Anthony Jeselnik’s Fire in the Maternity Ward last week. I forgot about the last few weeks. Maybe it’s because dropped-baby and pedo jokes made me feel more like I’m at work again? I find it oddly comforting to listen to this special, which wouldn’t make much sense to most people, but as an attorney who represents abused and neglected children, it’s the gallows humor I miss the most right now.
I was recently attending a CLE on identifying and working with minors who are victims of possible sex trafficking. I’m not sure why it ended with a note on mental health for the lawyer; every type of case we deal with is bad, and some are terrible, and some make you wonder if humanity isn’t really any more than just another animal. Secondary trauma comes with many types of cases. But near the end of this CLE, the presenting attorney warned us about gallows humor. He said that while we may think that gallows humor, dark humor, and making light of the horrible things we confront every day is actually therapeutic, it just deepens the trauma because it keeps bringing up the traumatic experience, forcing the body and mind to respond to the trauma all over again.
As if any of us have the choice of not having these terrible stories come up over and over again so long as our eyes and ears are open.
I’m not sure there’s actually really “gallows” or “dark” humor; I think there’s humor because there is the constant dis-ease of being a human, an imperfect creature with a body that is not ever pure but is rather a germ-filled killing machine fighting a losing battle against the elements, the other creatures, and it’s own chemistry at the mercy of the seeming chaos of the universe. There’s a lot to laugh at.
I am carrying on. Crying whenever I speak about Rick is gone. But I also try not to speak out it. I am no longer bargaining with a god. Religion right now is just some of the hair of the dog that bit me. My panic is mostly gone, but I have failed to find the therapy or healing that religion promises when it arouses the primal fear of death and offers all of the brutal superstitions that come with it.
I have yet to get his ashes. The crematorium is 45 minutes away but only open during the same business hours that I owe to the people. Perhaps it’s because I don’t sleep much at night that I don’t just go out in the morning and get them. Perhaps it’s because he’s been gone for so long that it just feels as if he’s disappeared at St. Francis Hospital, and to take his ashes home is to hold his body in my arms one last time, to find a place to put them, to come up with an idea of what to do with them.
Because I can’t keep any person’s ashes in my possession. That’s just the weirdest souvenir of a past relationship. They have to be spread.
These ashes are of the body of a man who loved his body very much. A lot of time and dedication to the shape and size of it, to how it looked, to the influence it may have over others.
Ashes. Just a box of ashes now.
I don’t know how successful I will be in distracting myself from all of this when I have his ashes. What will it feel like to be alone, in isolation with his ashes? They’re just ashes. They’re not him. But they’re his.
I don’t like funerals or weddings. Weddings are all the same. They have the same core elements. They’re celebrated the same. They’re revered the same way. They’re expensive and have no utility. Funerals and memorials are better than weddings because at funerals and memorials, it’s kind of okay to lose your shit and turn into a raw and burning knot of tender human emotion. Funerals and memorials are still expensive and without utility, but they promise nothing. There’s no happily ever after when the casket is lowered into the ground. There’s no fresh start, no new adventures, no Karen Carpenter wistfully singing for what she would never have, no warm speeches from inebriated wedding parties about how everyone knew that the deceased and death were made for each other from the moment they met.
Because we don’t even need to say that at funerals – people were made for death. We all know that.
And usually, there’s no dancing at funerals. Bouquets are not thrown. There is no tension between funeral attendees and their +1 over when the two of them will finally have their own funeral, because they don’t want to be the last of their friends who is still not dead. While weddings are supposed to be romantic, they’re also fashioned as beginnings. Lifetimes are romantic. Making dinner is romantic. Having your own secret language and in-jokes no one else would get is romantic. So is reading silently next to each other for hours. Having small talk over coffee because that’s all the time you’ll have to remind yourselves that there is a foundation to this busy life you’ve built. Before that, spending all day in bed together perfectly content to never get out of that bed again, sleeping and hiding away from a world that concerns you less and less as the world you two build around yourselves grows and envelopes you, making you wonder if there ever was a time before him or her, and if so, why?
Only time can bring you to this point, and time ushers us all to the end. Weddings just promise this stuff; funerals let us know how many promises were kept, how much the people involved changed and grew and became something unlike everything their younger selves could have predicted (if they’re lucky).
I know I’m not going to break the arrow and push it through. I know that sometimes, it’s going to spill out of the compartment I’ve put it all in.
I want this to have meaning. It probably has meaning, for me. And that’s okay. God is the human imagination, and each mind is a universe unto itself, each with its own mighty god, and whether it’s poetry or prayer or playing with yourself that brings richness to your existence, it’s what it is within your universe.
But death doesn’t have meaning. It just is.