Tearjerk

Back in SF and back to work. More craziness here than I need. But due to the fact that I was gone over a week, I feel obliged to return full-force. At least it’s good to be back, warmer weather and the ex will drop off Louie tonight, I’ll take him out for a walk.

Mom’s service was… pretty amazing. Lee did a great job of planning it out, and the speakers captured so many facets of her. What emerged, through their stories and the others I heard from her friends and co-workers who approached me, was that Mom consistently went out of her way for others, supporting them and befriending them, never drawing attention to herself. She once ran a race with a slower friend who was just starting out, keeping her company and encouraging her along the 10K until the very end, where she fell back a bit and let her friend pass the finish line first.

I was a big mess. I suppose I should be grateful that I could cry (a lot) and not be cut off from my feelings, but it took quite a few seconds up at the podium for me to hold onto my voice and even then I lost it. Lee picked out two Broadway tunes for the solo vocalist: “What’ll I Do?” and “Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us)”. Made me cry just hearing the titles.

What can I say? I’m going to miss her so much, and the world has lost such a good soul that it seems it should slow down for a bit and take notice, but it won’t. Words fail me. But this is what I said:

Things I Learned from My Mother
Work hard for your dreams.
Stay in school.
Animals are sources of great love and companionship.
The examined life is the best life.
It’s never too late to strengthen your bonds with others.
Read books.
Travel the world.
Climb mountains.
Run, farther that you thought you could.
Surround yourself with good friends, the kind that will stick with you through the best and worst of times.
Love can be hard, but it’s worth fighting for.
Saying “no” can be hard, especially to telemarketers.
Life isn’t fair, but never give up.
Above all, treat others with respect and compassion. When you do, you will be loved, more than you ever imagined.

The following is an excerpt from Manuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spiderwoman”

Following the death of his cellmate, Valentin the revolutionary dreams that he is reunited with his beloved.

“-Yes, this is a dream and we’re talking together, so even if you fall asleep you don’t have to be afraid, and I think now that nothing is ever going to separate us again, because we’ve realized the most difficult thing of all.
-What’s the most difficult thing of all to realize?
-That I live deep inside your thoughts and so I’ll always remain with you, you’ll never be alone.
-Of course that’s it, that’s what I can never let myself forget, if the two of us think the same then we’re together, even if I can’t see you.
-Yes, that’s it.
-So when I wake up on the island you’re going to go away with me.
-Don’t you want to stay forever in such a beautiful place?
-No, it’s been good up to now, but enough resting, once I’ve eaten everything up and after some sleep I’m going to be strong again, because my comrades are waiting for me to resume the age-old fight.
-That’s the only thing I don’t ever want to know, the name of your comrades.
-Marta, oh how much I love you! That was the only thing I couldn’t tell you, I was so afraid you were going to ask me that and then I was going to lose you forever.
-No, Valentin, beloved, that will never take place, because this dream is short, but this dream is happy.”

Money changes everything

Two years and three months ago, when my mother was first diagnosed with ALS (after several months believing it was Parkinson’s), I was busy escaping the emptiness of my life with copious amounts of whiskey and crystal methamphetamine. Her phone call instigated a rather clumsy and painful journey towards sobriety that took nearly a year. Having looked ALS up on the Internet only to see the words “usually fatal within five years of diagnosis”, I sat at the computer in a dark silence and suddenly every cliche about terminal illness was true: things would never be the same.

As any practicing drug addict would do, I went through the following days and months making most of it about me. The world owed me, now more than ever, and I quickly decided that every creditor I owed would somehow cut me some slack because now my mom was dying. Needless to say, they didn’t, and I have been under an increasing amount of debt ever since that fantasy entered my pretty little head.

I’d like to think that I’ve made progress in accepting life’s harsh realities. I know the world will not wait while you pull your shit together, nor does it care much if you make a few mistakes along the way. Sobriety can be hard if only because of the “wreckage of our past” demands clean-up. Not that I would trade my current clarity for those terrifyingly small and lonesome days. If today carries a generous amount of loss and pain, at least my head is clear, and I have companions beside me.

Working for a non-profit and living in the most expensive city in the country, I have become adjusted, if bitterly, to living hand-to-mouth, focusing my attention each month to the fifth and the twentieth days, parceling out twenties like rations in wartime. Such an income has not helped my debt, nor have the costs of my trips home over the past year. And currently, a week from payday, I am faced with a checking balance in the double digits and several bills laughing openly at me on my desk.

My mother’s death means, among other things, that I’ll inherit a little bit of money. I’m not sure how much yet, and I’m not sure when, but it would appear that it could at least take care of my debts; an understandably liberating thought. I’ve worked non-profit jobs most of my adult life, long enough to wonder if I’d ever be able to travel or buy a house. Working for something resembling the Greater Good seems to equate working for nothing but passion. The starving artist is a romantic icon. I have wondered if the possession of money would corrupt or strangle my need to write. I feared the same with sobriety. The artist/writer drowning in a sea of alcohol and drugs is another of society’s favorite icons. I still don’t really know yet the consequences of sobriety upon my writing/acting. With the Campfire, I am writing again, but it ends here. No poetry, plays, stories or novels have welled up within me. But that may change, and maybe memoir, that currently over-played genre (if you pay attention to critics) will suffice. Time will tell.

Things that I have already bought in my head include:
-A new down comforter
-New running shoes
-New boots
-A car for me and Louie
-My own little studio apartment
-A trip overseas
-A memorial fund in Mom’s name for the organization she volunteered for
-Expensive, frivolous groceries

Things I conveniently ignore:
-The actual taxes I would owe on withdrawals from this inheritance
-The cost of car insurance and gasoline
-The stock market’s bad mood
-The awkwardness that suddenly having money could produce among equally poor friends and co-workers, and my consequent desire to keep new purchases at home in the closet, where only I could see them, with a flashlight

I’ve resisted writing about this before, mainly due to the last reason. Let’s just say I feel undeserving of this inheritance, and guilty that I may actually have some of the freedom that money buys. But who knows, maybe the stock market wiped it all out, and I’ll be just as poor as always. Guess which problem I’d rather have?

Midnight Radio

My friend Crowman, whom I’m staying with through tonight, has built a sizeable collection of gay-themed DVD’s, so this whole week has provided ample opportunity to escape through film: Three, count ’em, three viewings in two days of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, one of Moulin Rouge, and my second viewing of Trick which I like simply because it captures that giddy sense of infatuation when you first meet someone who might become a part of your life. I remember seeing it awhile back, about the time I was going through my break-up, and feeling kind of…excited, that I might get that chance to feel that way again about someone, to have that initial thrill and goofiness. Despite all my talk, I guess I still want that.

Mom’s service is tomorrow. A snowstorm is expected, but this is Minnesota, and snow never keeps anyone home. Three more days, then I can go home. Just talked to my boss, who says it is clear in my absence the amount of work that I do, and how much I am missed by my co-workers, not only because I make their jobs easier, but apparently they kind of like me….or they don’t hate me. Something like that.

Hey, I can talk to Mom again, at least in a somewhat nebulous way. I doubt she surfs the Internet in heaven, but maybe she can hear me, watch over me. Mom, I’m keeping busy, I haven’t exactly dwelt on your absence, but that’s coming. I hope you are free, and happy, and reunited with your parents and your dog, and I hope you can see me. Unless I’m having sex, then I hope you can’t.

I think I’ve finally finished the program layout for Mom’s service. There have been so many small, minor changes and numerous people to organize and commit, and it’s a delicate operation, but I think it’s done and acceptable to Lee and hopefully the minister. Lee has pushed hard to make the service as un-“religious” as possible, while also honoring Mom’s spirituality. I think it’s a good balance.

My brother flew in tonight, he and Lee’s two kids and I went out for pizza and beer (well, I drank soda) at the Leaning Tower, which was smokey but low-key enough. Managed to have a few laughs, mostly about stupid celebrities. Alone, my brother and I didn’t talk much, but it was a pretty comfortable silence. I honestly have so little to say now, I mostly just want to be quiet, and be left alone. Four more days here, trying to fulfill responsibilities and see relatives and mourn, somwhere in there. I don’t exactly want to head back to work right away but I don’t have much of a choice; I’ve been gone a week already, and the workshops I was coordinating have already had a huge disaster when the keynote speaker got his dates mixed up and failed to show. I’m glad I wasn’t there.

Meet with the minister tomorrow a.m., get a haircut, hit Kinko’s in there someplace, have dinner with Dad and it sounds like his mother and brother are coming, then try to get squared away to both move over to the motel and do the service on Saturday. I’m broke, I can’t afford these plane tickets and motels. Time for bed.

Why, oh why haven’t I seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch until tonight? I’ve been so out of it for too long. Wow. wow. wow.

Sometimes I wish that I could go back in time and tell the young scared boy who was me that I’ll be okay. I’ve been feeling this new, I don’t know, comfort, with who I am, or confidence. It’s like stripping away the layers of fear one carries as a kid, through school and adulthood, and finding yourself so right that none of that other shit matters anymore.

I haven’t been updating much. I feel like those natives who viewed cameras with suspicion; I feel like the more I talk (or write), the more my soul is captured, erased, weakened. Being quiet has always been easy for me, and now more than ever I resort to that natural state of silence. Sometimes it is marked by contemplation, other times I escape into crossword puzzles and hand-held Tetris.

This week is a succession of small events falling like dominoes towards Saturday’s memorial service (or “Celebration of Life”, if you rather). Phone calls to relatives and friends, medical equipment collected and returned, bags of my mother’s clothes donated to Goodwill, a life reduced to a $6.80-per-line obituary in the paper, a chapel reserved, a program planned and typed, flowers procured, cars to share, casserole gifts to eat, movies at night, words to write for the service.

I’ve been unconsciously avoiding calls from friends in SF, reluctant to engage in discussions regarding my emotions or the brighter side of death. Bearbait left a message today telling me that “large numbers of people” are approaching him to say that me and my family are in their prayers and, apparently, how much I mean to them. I can’t say it hurts to hear that.

Tomorrow the obituary runs in the paper. It was one thing to see it written up in a notebook, it will be another to see it in the paper.

Saturday night, Mom’s been gone about 24 hours now and I’m tired and not terribly emotional, nor articulate.

She died about an hour and a half before my plane landed, I got the message as I was waiting to get off the plane, not the greatest environment, but I concentrated on getting over to their house, where Lee and a house full of their friends greeted me, and she told me that her body was still there if I cared to see it, and warned me how she might look. Despite that the sight of her body, so pale and lifeless, hit me like rock and I broke down next to her bed. Her hand was still a bit warm so I held it and just cried for a bit while people came in and out offering their condolences.

The Neptune Society came by around midnight and took the body to be cremated today. Apparently Lee ran into a problem with the coroner’s office, who would not release the body to her as she was not a recognized “next of kin”. Idiots. They had cops wait until I got there, then left us alone. Makes you want to firebomb a Republican’s home.

The service will be held in a week, so I have plenty of time now to help out, tie up loose ends, etc. Lee wanted the bed moved back upstairs and I helped move all of Mom’s “equipment” (wheelchairs, commode, IV stand, walker, etc) out into the garage. Seemed important to Lee to make the change quickly, and it didn’t bother me as I don’t really want to remember my Mom as she was when all of that equipment was necessary. Now she’s free.

I’m supposed to meet with her minister in the morning, I’m not sure if it’s just to talk or to plan the service, but she’s been good to me ever since my Mom’s diagnosis over two years ago. Other things I need to do this coming week: get a haircut, get my shirt and pants dry cleaned for the service, maybe get a week’s pass at a gym so I can get back on the treadmill. And, somewhere in there, let this reality sink in.


Susan McAllister
December 21, 1946- February 1, 2002

Progression

My mind is spinning. When I called home about an hour ago, Lee told me that Mom was progressing, and that it was time to plan my trip home. She didn’t offer more advice than that, just telling me that anything I decided would be okay. Mom has become more unresponsive, and the morphine is now regular. The service would be held a week from Saturday, and I am waiting for my boss to come in so I can talk to her about leaving, and about how to cover this workshop that is starting on Monday. Making a list of things to do before I go, including checking my account balance to see if I can afford the airline’s “emergency fares”, which aren’t a discount at all, really.

Later…

I found a round-trip ticket online for $285 leaving tomorrow, if you can believe that. So I’m taking it. Work will cover me. The ex will watch Louie. Tonight I’ll cancel any appointments and pack. Here we go.

Offerings

Below (before?) are two poems from my early twenties. Both about failed relationships (the best fodder). I’ll try to just leave them be, without comment. It just seemed a good idea to include them.

This Body

I.

What would you like me to tell you?

I have my things. A bed. A desk. Second-

hand clothes. Coffee and milk. We pour water

in a pan on the radiator. The dishes are clean, the

light spreads out across the floor, fleeting. My plant

has died from the cold through the window. A wool

blanket at night, a clean towell in the morning.

There are things to confront: the stories we’ve heard,

the mutual friends, the rooms of dry

air that chaps your lips. You spent years with a man,

a French intellectual, a professor across the country. A

handful of men, like colored stones, tossed up, scattered.

Men will offer parts of themselves, needless and crucial.

Impressive lies, a house for the summer. A voice,

carbonated, expectant. A boy with bright enough eyes.

So I’m here, with my thin youth. No house, only

one degree. What would I give you? Only poets

read poetry. The stories you’ve heard, about the

things I’ve done, are nothing. A bare torso, maybe,

an ex-boyfriend. I hear these things. My anger tilts

the world on its side.

We’ve left small towns, small places, to come here.

The things we’ve done are small. Our frosted

breath on your windshield, the museum artwork we

forgot to look at. A table littered with powdered cocoa

and teabags, your knees resting against mine.

I would like to write you ridiculous letters.

I would like to leave the city with you.

Instead, I grip your shoulders through

your overcoat. A restrained smile, a parting at

an elevator, a street corner, your idling car.

The winter afternoons are rounded by dark and snow;

a quick daylight, a hastened twilight. I sent you postcards

with other people’s poetry, and have passed hours with

playing cards, losing games of solitaire:

ten on jack on queen on king.

February will pass. I’ve bought you

tea and your dogs lay on my cold feet there in your house.

I touched your knuckles, your palms, the tips of your fingers.

An hour for lunch, food wrapped in plastic, juice from glass

bottles. Between your words I stare at the hollow of your neck.

I would like to tell you this.

II.

One man looked at another man,

one set of calluses against another,

the sins that banished us from the gardens

of other people’s heavens. On clear mornings

they place wafers on wet tongues. This is the body

of Christ, they say. This is the body of heaven.

Our heaven. King of kings. This is the body.

What would you give for that?

How would you prove your faith?

This is the shame of teacup people;

my shame at every night I never

slept alone; a tongued-open palm, a bright-eyed

boy who fed me cigarettes and grocery store champagne,

several months of shared sins. This is shame, what

you’ve handed me. This is the body, full of guilt and

red anger.

The windowsill ivy climbs my bedroom walls.

The snow, melting, runs off the

neighboring rooftops and at night I read the chapters

of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus.

Their heaven demanded certain sacrifices, demonstrations

of affections, atonements and confessions. So, you’ve said.

What do we do now?

The scattered collection of men have all had their hopes,

and, left alone, they have called themselves fools. Is that so

uncommon? Even saints dream of sin.

Drunkenly, you remarked my youth was beautiful.

Plato was happy to lose the tyrant of his youth.

Eventually we’ve given each other nothing of value.

Content, faithful. Like I was never even there.

This is a demonstration of willful affection.

This is the body that I would become, the body

I would fold myself into and sleep, next to you and

your dogs. This is the body and these are my calluses.

This is my world-tilting anger and my desire knotted.

This is my thin, fleeting youth, these are my stories of sin

and my smile at your smile, jack on jack on king on king.

(c)1996 Michael McAllister