Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Strange Grace

When death kisses you with icy lips  and turns away, you're left in a void wondering whether you were rejected or spared.

Sometimes you try to get its attention again, flirt and flutter like a moth to a flame wondering fluttering wondering sputtering wondering singeing your wings in futility.

You long for answers that may never come to the question which ultimately and painstakingly is reducted to 'why'.

The longing and pain enmesh into a confusion where there is no fine line anymore. All is vague and gauzy like a veil of only, 'if only'. Of only, 'if only'.

The exquisite pain of a first tattoo, first love, well...many firsts indeed and quite a few simultaneously our last and yet many of them the gateway to more of the same and more and more and harder, stronger, deeper, longing for meaning where there is none except in that vague veil of faithless faith and meaning sought in suffering. Someone said to me yesterday, 'My joy is my tears, they're my oldest friend' and my comprehension needed no interpretation or narrative.  The fire and the ice, tiny bites and gaping gouts of life flowing and ebbing, trying to make sense when in your despair, you seek it but know there is none yet it's better than the numb of nothingness.

We all hide from something. There are no exceptions, only degree and variation. I think for most, it's unfaceable, indefinable, unfathomable, yet enough feel it and recognize it in others' eyes and decide to acknowledge commonality or deny its existence.

Hiding from life, my poison, my method, wasn't easy and, in fact,  replete with bad choices based on worse reasoning. I hid to protect, to insulate, and defend but it made me more of a target and object of vilification and contempt.

I had a little friend (not so little, but young as me, then) who introduced me to cutting, self-harm, self-mutilation. and it brought deep pain to the surface, agonizingly blissful in release. I etched a boy's initials into my forearm. Thirty years later, my friends still remember his name. I dragged a wire from a soiled mattress across and around my wrist, gasped with welcome and fear and now sitting at a bar, in the near dark, drinking something more anisette than espresso, I can still see the faint fine delicate line like the vines I doodle unthinkingly and while I agonize about revealing my scarred body to the next man I may love, this one and a few others I consider an artifact of my history and as artful as inkwork, chosen and rendered by me exclusively, not the consequence of some catastrophic accidental complication of illness. I turned against my body as opposed to my body turning against me. Semantics or control?  There is a strange grace and extraordinary beauty in ritual that transcends reason. does one begin to speak of someone one wishes to honor? Have you ever composed a eulogy for someone you loved more than your next breath? Have you ever attended the memorial of someone with countless friends yet only one attended, their grief was so unspeakable? Have you flirted yourself with the void so the surprise doesn't come as a shock to you?

How do I honor the dead or more directly, the one who some would say committed a most supreme act of selfishness? Even blood relations insist they thought only of themselves, rather than those who would nearly drown in the wake of their act. They can't comprehend which to that one departed soul, life is the more insufferable choice which you yourself have considered. That you will never reveal to them. That it's not romantic or ritual but only release.

My brother was a sensitive. Not emo-sensitive, not an affectation or attention-seeking drama royal. He was an introvert who appeared relatively social to many, even very close to him. One would have to spend years at his side to sense a vulnerability that he hid so well.

His endless stream of friends would tell me what a great guy he was and I'd smile because most of the time, he'd sit on the floor, cross-legged, with a cushion in his lap, rocking back and forth, listening. Thinking on this now, people speak of him having uncommon wit and wisdom but none once noted he spoke rarely. He was content to be present, think, and tinker.

Having a talent for taking things apart and putting them together, working better than when they were new, and with parts remaining, he repaired everything and often did it to unbroken things just to see what was inside and if he could do it. He always could.

He took other peoples' refuse, bicycle parts stand out prominently, and built new ones and resold them for pure profit. I'd find him surrounded in his mini-shop in my parents' garage like a small messiah with a sizable crowd of disciples. He was truly humble and waved away any mention of a gift, wisdom or talent.

If anyone raised his ire, no matter what he said or did, whether he was right or wrong, the other person never failed to apologize profusely and request to reenter the fold they were never driven from. It was a sight to behold. But to his own family, he was as invisible as I was. A prophet in his own country....what is that verse? He was very nearly worshiped except by his own. We understood each other. Without words.

He wasn't always gentle but he was profoundly gentle.
He wasn't always kind but he was genuinely kind.

Even as children I believed his soul was too good for this world and I watched helplessly as it devoured him through depression and drug abuse until he succumbed while still in his prime. He never knew his value. I hope he believed I loved him, at least.

He was so overwhelmed that he needed to dull his own senses. It started with weed. Then he had a friend who gave him something else, then dealt him more, then another friend, and as he began to rapidly lose weight (he was always slight even when chubby) I realized he'd graduated to cocaine.

He was severely injured in an accident in which he was a bus passenger and having lost his job and his apartment, he moved in with our father who was grieving over the recent loss of my mother and sister, so had no room in his heart for love, but only a roof to provide shelter.  There was no peace between them, no solace. There never had been, since the day my brother, named for my father, ironically, was born, strangely. Inexplicably.

My brother spiraled into a depth of depression neither I nor his erstwhile wife could break through.  He too was distraught over the loss of our mother, but my sister's sudden death threw him over the edge and his smiles became rare. He spoke less. He drove his friends away. His lucid moments became rarer too and bursts of angry denial over his abuse of prescription painkillers drove a further wedge into my already crumbling marriage while I was slowly recuperating from a debilitating illness.

One evening, I got the call and realized I would never hear his voice in this life again.

In the mausoleum that is my former home, just inside the master bedroom door, to the right, there is a mahogany jewelry armoire.  It's an object of profound beauty and once contained treasures of profound beauty but now it stands empty save two bottles in the bottom compartment behind stacks of small empty boxes.

The resident of this tomb may or may not recall their presence but they contain relief temporarily, or irrevocably, depending on one's intent. For a time, they allowed me existence without unbearable pain but barely functioning and when my sister died, I forced an end to our easy relationship and stowed the bottles away for........for insurance. For.....just in case.

Then, my idea was if we were to be without insurance or medical care, I could still have some relief but the fog of that relief didn't allow me to grieve for my sister. I didn't know that I'd reach desperately for that relief upon the death of my brother, not even two years later. I didn't know that another event would take place which made me hold a third bottle in my hand and stare in the mirror thinking I had no future but I would indeed. I saw it in my own reflection, in the light in my sorrowful and soul-weary eyes. The light that told me that I would know joy and love and peace again.

I put the bottle down and packed it away.

I left that lonely house with it. Again, insurance, but I never took one again and in fact, as a symbol of faith in myself and my future, I took a heavy can and crushed the pills into a fine dust.

If I like, I can ask my doctor for a prescription or even very easily illegally obtain the same means of relief and release but I've passed through that gate and it has locked behind me forever, for which I'm unspeakably grateful.

I don't know why my brother and my sister left this world so young and without hope. I don't know why I've endured so much as they and find the faith to remain and desire desperately to flourish.

I'm no more defiant than Lisa nor more analytical than Donny that there is a definable reason for it except perhaps to honor them and share somehow that if I can survive, anyone really can yet that seems so canned, so pat, so preachy. But still, if I could.

I couldn't save them but I could save myself. I can't tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I did.

Death comes for all of us eventually. Sometimes it touches us briefly and we'll never know why and sometimes it's to remind us to treasure the now because tomorrow is not promised.

Once I believed it had rejected me, like everyone else I loved most. Now, I see that I was spared and the depth of suffering was not pointless but to enable me to experience and appreciate the beauty of life, no matter how fragile or short. We are all given grace and sometimes it takes the unspeakable to comprehend the measure of it. Sometimes, an entire lifetime.

No comments:

Post a Comment