Welcome To My Bed

The Bibliography of Loss

I haven't written here in eight months. For everything, there is a reason and season, if not a proper rhyme. My father died in July. Simple as that tiny sentence; bigger than anything I can (or will) ever write here or anywhere else.

Following this, I threw myself into many things. I worked two jobs, spent endless driving hours bouncing between Providence and Boston. It felt best to move more than was comfortable. In stillness, people approach you. Hang at the fringe of a party and someone will ask how you're doing. It's rude not to answer. They're only concerned, and rightfully so. The conversations that accompany losing a parent are unlike any others. Such an experience becomes public no matter what you do or say surrounding it. Everyone finds out. Sympathy becomes oppressive. Pity, pervasive. The faces of friends are suddenly gutted of kindness, deeply hollow, wanting only to drink in as much of your sadness as possible. They can't help it; tasting your loss could make their own future losses somehow easier. You are a walking premonition. A how-not-to guide for grieving.

My best friends have always been books. Like many children, imagining was the greatest escape. It continued to be into the final stretch of my father's battle with innumerable chronic illnesses. I read The Autograph Man; the first scene, I reread three times and cried on the commuter train. Big, wet sobs in front of strangers too horrified to ask. And then I read White Teeth and decided that along with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I had the start of a syllabus for a lit class on the immigrant humor-histories of diaspora. To finish out my comprehensive tour of Zadie Smith, I sat a long weekend with her essay collection Changing My Mind, which had me bawling even more than the novels. Her piece about off-color humor and its place in her family life hit particularly close to home.

I started The Brothers Karamazov and in the middle of it, the end. I haven't been able to push forward more than a hundred pages since. (I blame most of this on having come to the first person interjection of the elder Zosima's call to faith, which should probably just be dramatically staged in my living room with funny accents and stick-on mustaches to expedite the process so that I can say I've made it through.) Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World broke my heart by presenting itself as the first book post-death that I would've bought for my father. Our phone calls where we talked about recent reads are the thing I miss the most. He was an expert on the hierarchies of Herbert's Dune, favored speculative fiction above most things. I feel closest to him now when I find something madcap and unapologetic. I also have my greatest troubles with the future, because he can't bodily be in it. I cry about weddings of complete strangers. The thing I am most proud of is that the first piece of writing anyone's paid me for publishing came out 2 days before he went. That I got to see him smile at our triumph.

He made me a storyteller and storylover. Which made this next one a particularly difficult time, given the elusive presence of the brilliant storyteller dead dad. I picked up Infinite Jest at the end of the summer as a challenge to myself. I hadn't been writing. I hadn't been able to read more than a few pages of poems a week, where my appetite usually went through two or three hundred times as much in the same time. Before. Such an ugly word to think of when talking about a person's life. Foster Wallace wrote the guilt of remembering a better before and the guilt of searching for a better after, and the numbness required to run from both, and the ways we are all bred to expect some escape, and a lot of nonsense about puppet shows and trash and radio engineers and Canada that wasn't even close to nonsense because it kept me from thinking of the hospice and the ashes and the eulogy I wrote mostly about a seagull feather (weeping nearly enough to short out my computer). The power of words lies in their ability to imagine ourselves different. Reading asks us to go somewhere unfamiliar, to trust that the unknown can be good again. I can think of no other conversation I wish someone had started with me in person.

I am (un)fortunate enough to know a handful of people who have done this dance. The I-wish-wouldn't-say-you're-sorry-for-my-loss dance. The please-shut-up-about-it-and-take-me-to-a-stupid-movie dance. All of us are heavy readers. I can think of no other effective coping mechanism. If someone asks about "how I'm doing" in that eyebrows raised kind of way, I tell them what I'm reading. Most seem deeply thwarted by this, but I much prefer sharing something truly useful to harping on a wound that is unlikely the scab over, perhaps ever. Luckily, there are enough titles on my must-read list to keep me distracted for at least six lifetimes.

I guess what I'm saying is I needed a long, deep breath, voices unreasonable and irreverent to talk me out of taking loss so seriously. I come from the future. The thoughts here are hard-nosed, but happy.