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I dreamed last night that I’d said something snappy/snarky/cutting to someone I was debating about some point or another, and Robin Williams, sitting there, smiled with crinkly eyes. It was a smile of compassion, disappointment, love. He’s a muse, or a familiar, or an animus, or a spirit guide, but for whatever reason, my subconscious has decided to send me a message from him when I don’t know how to feel.
I’m always grateful. My dreams have directed me for as long
as I can remember but mostly they help me shut down the thinking and lodge me
back into feeling and being. It’s a blessing.
But it was that smile that told me that I won’t be
distracted by the tiger show or any of the numerous questionnaires on Facebook,
that told me that now is the time for thinking, reading.
I want to hold the world’s grief in my heart, as much of it
as I can stand, just to hold it, just to take it every bit of it into every
cell and really feel this loss, this chaos, and all the goodness and beauty of
it too. There is so much to reckon, and what strikes me is that the reckoning
is not about death – that is always with us – or disease – that is always with
us too – but in the too numerous tragedies of it – how many could have been
spared if we listened to scientists, how many could have been spared if we
lived in a world based on humanity and not greed, how many wouldn’t be mourning
the loss of a person whose funeral they can’t even attend. It’s not death
that’s hard, it’s how badly we manage it, how fucked up a culture is that
doesn’t acknowledge grief at all.
I remember my mom thinking my brother Joe would be the one
to give the eulogy for my grandma because he was, no doubt, her favorite, but
also for the same reason she was: he was always the one to make the joke at
just the right time, to distract everyone from what was pressing and serious.
He was great at it, and still can be. And she worried, as she would, about me
being too much of a mess to manage even a reading. I wasn’t. He was.
Goth kid, you know? Gloomy and emo and deep and way too damn
serious all the time. And I write that as a kind of defensive gesture, and to
say: if the tiger show or whatever distraction helps you, I am so glad for
that. But so much just falls away for me and I wish those things didn’t. I wish
I could be distracting, and funny, and sarcastic or cutting.
But mostly I’m just sad. I cry a couple of times a day as I
suspect a lot of you do. I’m yearning for wisdom and flipping through
Thucydides and Mann and Dos Passos and Woolf and Salinger – anyone whose words
have brought me comfort in the past. Writers are the best friends you can have,
except if you know them in person.
Just about everyone I know and love is still in the New York
area and I feel both relieved not to be there now – because a house and a yard
are much better than a one bedroom apartment for quarantine, and we have few
enough people here that taking walks is possible and easy, and because
Wisconsin feels like fucking Disney compared to what’s happening in New York
right now. But I also feel guilty for feeling relieved, I feel guilty for not
being there, and mostly, I feel all the grief of 9/11 all over again.
The ER doctors then, waiting for anyone to work on.
Now the ER doctors overwhelmed with people to work on.
I don’t know how my friends with children are managing; I
don’t know you explain anything to children much less something like this. An
entire generation is going to grow up with weeping parents and friends on
facetime instead of in person. And maybe they’ll joke about it, as the
millennials did about 9/11: that was the day that changed everything,
one said to me sarcastically once, and I think he apologized about a million
times when he saw the blood drain from my face.
I don’t know why it’s always New York. I know, too, that
it’s not. So many people I know – friends from India and Indonesia and Puerto
Rico and Haiti – have watched tragedies unfold where the places, the sounds,
the people they love are. New York takes up a lot of the air in the room, and I
know folks don’t think it’s fair. You don’t know New York if you think
that’s unfair, I’ve often said, it’s the best dream this country ever
had. It’s not easy to do at a distance because you don’t know what to do
and there’s very little you can do.
An artist named Renee French
made an image I named Wish after 9/11 that has sustained me more
than once since then: it’s two flowers growing to meet the sun, about as far
apart as the Towers were. As if. As if this wish might be true, as if things
grow where things have been destroyed, as if you can imagine weeds growing in
the cracks of the rubble.
I stand outside in the dark in the middle of the night when
things are normal, but lately I’m doing it more, at midnight, at 1, at 2, at 3.
It’s my nightwatchman syndrome, the way my PTSD manifests; I got woken by the
bad news on that Tuesday and something in my brain never wanted to be woken up
by that kind of news again so now I stay awake overnight, sometimes doping
myself to sleep with Benadryl or whiskey or Ativan, but now, with no job to go
to, with nowhere to go and no schedule, I’m just staying up to keep watch on
the world while everyone sleeps. (This is when, of course, the writing has
always gotten done too, at least.)
And tonight I watched the bunnies munching grass in my yard,
visible only when their white puffy tails turned to me, and I listened to the
City Park owl hoot twice; I smoked a cigarette because it’s the wrong week to
quit sniffing glue and looked at that big dark beautiful Wisconsin sky and the
gorgeous home next to mine and at my own and felt that surreal mental trickery
telling me that everything was okay. The robins are back. The tulips are
coming. There are very few and only very tiny patches of snow left. And my
allergies tell me, too, that spring is a minute away.
Spring in Wisconsin almost always involves a lot of
unexpected snow – and it’s only March. We will no doubt get dumped on again, more
or less; we will groan and complain, more or less; we will roll or eyes or
complain or, depending on who we are, we will squeal with joy one more time but
quietly because snow is a miracle. I love the stuff.
But spring is on its way. I will sneeze and cough and itch my
way through it, and grumble when people ask me why I don’t like nature more – because
it’s out to get me – and take Benadryl to sleep so that I don’t worry that
every cough is a sign I am infected with Covid-19. I don’t worry too much about
dying anymore but I really, really, really hate suffering.
Despite my love of winter, spring will come, and self
isolating will be harder; quarantine will be harder. The eternal human need to
hug and fuck and kiss and socialize and wear whatever will be difficult to
manage. This northern soul, this winter, is so much easier, when everyone and
everything is quiet, when the birds are gone, when the lawn is dead and not in
need of mowing.
But spring is coming. And despite everything, those tulips
are ready to break through the ground, as are the dandelions and the quince and
the magnolia and all of those eager, over achieving first flowers of the place.
And they are a wish: that from death and stillness and calm
come beauty and chaos and life.
It’s a blessing, not a curse. Life will go on.