written 21 months and 7 days after
Today, I turn 33.
I’m not at home. I woke up somewhere else, in a guest room that isn’t mine but is mine for the moment. Where I am, there is light, though there hasn’t been for days. I didn’t see it at first. I had to peel the heavy, dark blind up and let it in.
It doesn’t have to be said, but I will: he did not see the sun break over anything. All he got was 32 and a half. Or maybe before it goes dark when you die, there is another kind of sun? People say that right? People that have near death experiences? That there is actually a light?
I finished a book this weekend. I haven’t been able to read since he died, so closing the book’s spine, knowing I had read it felt like a gift unto itself. That day, the day before today, a friend took me to a bookstore named Despair. We found and bought a book that was written because its author was furious that he was born.
What I know at sixty, I knew as well at twenty. Forty years of a long, a superfluous, labor of verification, my friend said, reading some of the book’s pages aloud.
I laugh, unexpectedly and heartily. It read like a joke, in my friend’s easy, deep voice. I know the writer did not want to be born, to live, but here he was in words, making it easier for me to be here.
We got tea after, or I did anyway. Mine was matcha green. We talked about our pain as if it were sea rocks we had to pick up. I imagined mine as more of a mountain — towering, impossible, filling the whole view. It was dark too.
I didn’t ask what my friend saw when he thought of his but somehow I thought he might have thought his was smaller, maybe more like sea glass, maybe a dark, glowing red, like the inside of your eyelids when you close them.
I explained that I am trying for more time. I’m trying to layer as much of it as I can on my sea rock. I want time to ossify the sea rock, tighten around it in such a way that it begins to densify and dull. The problem is time. It always is. It moves differently for me now. It’s slow and it’s always not what I expect. Almost two years since he died? Thirty-three years old? It’s all origami, folding in and back and on itself.
In the room that I woke up in this morning, hollowed out into the walls are small rectangular wall niches. In one, a paper mâché model of a hand. In the other, a stack of four books, their spines tattooed with Dreams, Night, Treasure, and the Sea.
I imagine the wall niches of my interior architecture. Tucked into each one of mine, separate but together, are the artifacts time has made of my living. There are old pains, old sea rocks — some so crusty with time that they have shrunk to small, brown and tan pebbles. These ones sit in their niches with a fur of dust. I haven’t taken them off their shelves in a long, long while. There are old joys too — these have ossified as well, but I can still see their bright veins wavering beneath the dull, smooth sheen of the layers of living over them.
My friend and I are trying to make more joy, to have some things be bright and light around the darkening sea rocks of our longing, our grief. It’s difficult though. Sometimes, the only thing you have is the sea rock in your palm, cutting into you, all of its sharp edges still so bright.
Let no one tell you it gets better with time. Time is nothing but a concept. Some days are so acute. I’ve had months this year at the edge of a darkness I cannot fathom coming back from. Others are just days. Sometimes I laugh. Recently, some happiness.
Also, let no one tell you that it doesn’t help, trying for more time. The artifacts have to be made. All the layers of living have to be created. It all binds together. These artifacts, they’re endurance, after all.
Yesterday, I was with my friend and then I was with many of his friends, who have become, in recent years, my friends too. There were heavy towers of candles collapsing beneath their burn and roses woven together on the long table. My friend gave me the part of the roast chicken that is a wing, and when I bit its bones, they were crispy and light. At the table, we talked about what we talked about.
Later, there were candles — these long and thin and birthday and bright. It was my friend’s birthday that night, her birthday the day before mine. We sang to her and then the whole party turned and sang to me. There were more candles, and these ones were for me. The string bulbs above our heads felt like bright, amber stars.
I know that he is dead. I always know that he is dead. But I wasn’t thinking about that in that moment. I was thinking that he might walk in from the other room. I was thinking that was how much he loved a party. He could find one anywhere.
Earlier, my friend was telling me that when he meditates, he allows his thoughts to pass through him as easily as birdsong. I imagined the birds soaring through my friend’s interior landscapes, his thoughts not far behind, borne on their own, dark wings.
Standing beneath the lights, listening to the familiar sounds of Happy Birthday, I let my thoughts pass through me. I let them go and float up into the manufactured heavens of lightbulbs and electricity. When I let them go, I opened up and the gleam of that moment, all those people singing to me, rushed in, a bright thing and I let that pass above me too.
All of it twines together. It’s later than I think. In my pocket my phone is brightening. Someone is reaching for me. I pull my phone out of my pocket and I answer.
You’ve got me, I say.
Is this a good time? they ask.
Yes, I say. No, I say.
On the line, they’re confused.
I’m with friends, I say.
Oh, they say. Is that why you’re there?
Yes, I say. They’re the reason I’m here.
… In case you were wondering, no, I don’t write the letters regularly, but I do write them when I feel like I want to — so if you’d like to receive these occasional missives from me, feel free to stay or become subscribed.