I had a death in my family two weeks ago, completely unexpected. It took me by surprise even though he was pushing ninety and had become weak and depressed after his wife died four years ago. He crossed over to the other side to be with her and two of his sons, and he's happy now. I know he's happy. In his casket, he looked like he was going to sit up and say, "just kidding!" and then probably "you betcha" and "how about dat." I remember him only as someone who was so alive.
After the funeral we all went to Chili's, and I ordered an entire rack of ribs. While also downing a beer, I turned the whole rack into a graveyard on my plate, partially just to show off, but also because I was hungry after refusing to eat all day. My meal became just a slack pile of bones. And I thought about death like I always think about death, but this time death was apparent, present, and perhaps thinking about me, too.
I had just come from the cemetery, and there I sat in my black dress turning a family-friendly restaurant into a valley of dry bones all dropped in a pile one at a time until it looked like a fallen tower of Jenga. At least Warren lived while he was alive. I already feel dead like the pig bones in front of me. Deader than Warren in the casket.
Loneliness can literally kill you. That's what happened to him in those last few years after Gladys was gone. When I was in the army, a chaplain told us that loneliness was more deadly than smoking and drinking, and that you needed a minimum of four hugs a day. Loneliness is like walking around with a backpack full of bricks, except that it doesn't make you stronger, it just makes you weaker a little at a time. We had been having a problem with suicides in our battalion.
So there at Chili's I was acutely aware of not just death and its mysterious prowling about, but also of loneliness and what it can do. I imagine death and loneliness probably stroll around together looking for hell to raise. .
One week later, my friend sent me a picture of him and his newborn. I looked at it and broke. I realized how alone I am, and that something was definitely missing. Not a baby, but something that could take the place of being too independent, too self-sufficient, and totally alone. So I looked at that picture and started to cry. Just going out and finding a boyfriend wouldn't cure the loneliness; plenty of people share a bed and still wake up alone. And empty sex only numbs you for however long it lasts.
Being alone means you're dead while you're alive. I'm just one of those piles of bones in the book of Ezekiel that got up and started to walk, had flesh that grew over them, but did not start breathing. They missed out on the breath of life.
I deleted the picture of my friend and his newborn from my phone. I felt pretty stupid at that point about all my goals, ambitions and ideas. The things I wanted to do with my life, and all the things I wanted to learn and make happen. I felt stupid about my pipedream monkeying around with some pathetic graffiti and street art photography.
I'll keep doing it, though, because of the inner voice telling me to keep doing it even when I don't want to. Because I haven't seen the forest when I just planted the seed yesterday. Because I probably won't feel alone like this forever. And because sometimes you have to pick yourself up by the bra straps and keep barreling forward. Despite what I think, I will live. I usually do.
Catfish in the Mud
I went to Namibia and took a tour of Sossusvlei, where it hasn't rained in 6 years. The river is completely dried up. My guide told me that even in the six-year drought, catfish are hibernating deep down in the mud and will surface again when the rains come back and restore life to the desert. I didn't believe him at first, like I didn't believe in the mysterious fairy circles on the dunes. But now the idea of catfish in the mud has become a metaphor for the things trapped on the inside and down below that wait for the rains to give them some vigor and life. Catfish in the Mud is a pretty standard millennial blog in which I say mostly nothing in about 300 words.