Imagine being nineteen again, still pimply and awkward, parroting a script from behind a plexiglass wall: Phone number, please, you say, and imagine her fingers, typing one in. You hear the click, clicking of keys on the keypad, sickening, music of the dead, you think, you’re dying.
You’re maybe a hundred pounds, just a little thing, whose mask covers two thirds your fragile face, and they buried you at the door, the enforcer, instructed to say— This door, not that, and arrows, follow them, follow them, do like I do, with this cover, my voice smothered, my soul—
I’m sure I was just standing there, leaning over my cart, watching my daughter shop for cards, when I heard her voice— not the enforcer, but a fellow peruser, like me, another blank face, masked, breathless, breathlessly, you’re going the wrong way, she said, you’re not following the arrows, she said, and her bony, dead finger pointed down along the ground. I followed it, and sure enough, she was right about me: Rule breaker, careless spreader of germs. The shame, the shame, she would have me feel, for facing the wrong way, disobeying.
Fuck that. My latest mantra. Fuck that and fuck that, too. Even as I do it. Where’s the humanity in this? I want to scream. But who would hear me? We’re too busy saving lives by not living, buttressed as we are behind masks, She doesn’t even realize I’m not smiling, Or, does she? Maybe there’s something of, fuck this shit, in my eyes, the only part of me she can see, if she tries to see, but she doesn’t.
The mask isn’t merely the covering for a mouth, a nose, — it’s blanket, too, as in a morgue. Covering the dead. And I know, my time is coming soon enough, but I’m not dead yet, covered as I am, prepared for burial. Yet, still pounding on coffins, trying to pull back the heavy veil, cursing my heart away,
The lasting sting of salt, zero point three milligrams per tear, yet, still they drop, tapped into an ocean where I swim, like a child, through the salty grief of letting go.
She’s gone with the quiet rains, too gentle to wash away the grief of my empty hands.
Even now, I know I’ll look back and wonder why it was so hard to let go. Time will blunt emotion, stunt the onslaught of memory, the true knowing of what was lost, now, so fresh, but soon distant, as gone becomes gone, and life, unable to stop, moves on.
And now I wonder, if one can be too intent on loving another, hold too tight the thing it can’t lose, then lose it. Did this truth come too late for us, my once held, or were we always destined to let go, and drop our love, like stones, into the dark well of undoing?
“The lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them.” The Odyssey Book IX
Promises, she heard them all, the call of her mother’s voice, she wanted to believe: This won’t happen again, baby. Maybe, it was okay to trust for a while, and rise, like a lotus blossom, above the mud of her addiction, floating with petals stretched up to the sun. Somewhere, she thought, there is a story of a girl whose love could cure, and pour itself out as an ethereal blanket, so magical, together at last, even their bones would long to float away in the lotus’ song.
We are veterans of dead bones, products of love, and its loss, memorizers of last breaths, and what letting go feels like. The front line of memory gives way, what we held in our hands, dissolves, like water on clay– muddy water, returning to muddy ground, then dust; it is a fate that awaits all of us: empty arms, encircled of sacred air, grasping at remnants of what we valued there.