waffles

I am back in the waffle place where I was a week ago, when my mother died. It’s loud now. Then, it was quiet, and I read this as my mother lay dying thousands of miles away:


I didn’t know she was in the act of dying. I trudged out here because eating proper food was something she would have told me to do, and despite purchasing two huge bottles of Gatorade to try and make up for all the water I lost through crying, I still felt (and looked, I’m sure) like I had a terrible hangover. A server with pink hair tried to flirt with me, missing both my wedding ring and my general misery, but she retreated when persistent questions about my book met only bleak looks, and eventually left me to my reading.

A week later, I read:


And I think of the many posts I’ve written over the years about anger being more productive than despair. That remains true. But it is too hard, maybe, to stay angry the length that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis requires. It can flare up, when petty people luckier than you waste their time and their mental cognizance on stupid shit, right in front of you, where you can see, and seethe. When those they love treat them like they’ll always be there, because they can’t imagine–haven’t been wrenched into imagining and then living–any alternative.

But staying that angry starts wars that can’t be won. At least, I assume that is how you end up with people wanting to cryo-freeze themselves into better times, or re-seat their aging brains in younger bodies, or…all these batshit things you see people do. Take over countries. Launch a bomb at a man who threatened your father once. 

One of the petty people I resent most sent me a long letter. Amid a pile of storebought sympathy cards and watercolor flowers with embossed silver script, she sent me a long letter on notebook paper. I prepared myself for religious bullshit, or affirmations of being there for me to fill a void she’d better not dare even to try. 

Instead, she said what I already knew, and what I so resented her daughters for not seeing: she was in the same place I was. Lost her mom that way and will go out that way. I know for a fact she spent all Mother’s Day sobbing, but here she was writing in ballpoint pen on notebook paper, telling me it would become less shit in time.

Of all the well-meant falsehoods people shower you with when someone dies, hers is the one I’m grateful for. 

Because I know how much it cost her.

reapplying breakup songs as songs of loss

This is not a new thing. Remember Stepmom?

Stepmom

Spoilers, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough isn’t about losing your mom. I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy.

This should be a creepier transposition than it is, though. Especially in an age where the most powerful people in the world obsess over their daughters’ fuckability, I would expect us to balk at so many songs of romantic loss repurposed for…I guess it’s, what, platonic loss? Familial loss? You have to retreat from the word “love,” even, it seems like, if you want to discuss loss of a family member. We’ve reserved that word for a narrower and narrower space, as you grow older and don’t say “I love you” as much or as freely anymore; or write it in red crayon on lopsided heart cards. I think of the studied disdain of Kevin Kline’s Cole Porter, reflecting on the insipidity of the latest chart-topping hit: “an actual song called ‘I Love You.'” His distaste is that of the artist, sure, but also of the cultural critic. People, for wanting such things, are kind of dumb, is the implication. We should, I guess, want more. Or want it more colorfully.

Obviously the right lyrics — or at least the absence of the wrong ones — helps enable the transposition from romantic loss to non-. But maybe we also lend ourselves to this lyrical reapplication through a desire, both to see loss we could have fixed as inevitable, and of loss we couldn’t fix as something we could have fought, staved off, or avoided through calling back, or being more patient, or picking up.

Take Said and Done, by Nervous but Excited, which cropped up on an old playlist I’d retreated to at work and which, instead, had me desperately undoing my ponytail to hide my crying:

Bases covered:

1.) Come back home (not going to happen)

2.) We can get back to the way we were (we can’t)

3.) Try to forgive the rights that I made wrong (I’m sure everyone has lists of such things…continuing to Skype my mom regularly when I returned from abroad, as she apparently expected when she’d stay logged in all morning hoping for a call, is kind of at the top of my list)

4.) Still close my eyes to the sight of you laughing in sunlight (this verges on too decidedly romantic to be comfortable listening to but again, like with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, the idea that memories held or promises made are concepts relegated entirely to romantic situations is a little short-sighted — and anyway, you obviously want to remember the person who knew you, laughing maybe, rather than the glassy-eyed husk with concave cheeks who didn’t know you anymore)

Again, I’ve written about people dealing with death a lot, and everything I say is salted with the knowledge that it’s very much the wrong thing, for someone. It’s either too crass (I keep saying she died, rather than that she “passed away,” because I hate the fakery of that phrase, the gentleness it implies, when there was nothing gentle or graceful or noble about this), or too narrow-minded (the President is imploding and taking the country down with him; there are bigger problems than one mother who is no longer here), or simply too much (most of the people caught in the bullet-spray of my sorrow don’t really know me that well, and certainly don’t know what to do other than take cover and wait for me to stop posting sad shit).

I am, though, among the people I do know my age, the first to have to do this. Everyone else has the luxury of parents they can still argue with, or of celebrating Mother’s Days their mothers haven’t died on. They can pose in stupid family photos still, and puzzle over bizarre combinations of emojis texted to them at 10PM, and scream and cry and clutch their mom’s hand as they give birth to their first child.

Let me help you then, all you millennials who will get to have your mothers for decades longer than I did. Let me help you do this years from now. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts for losing your mother, in no particular order:

DO Tell your boss. Even if you aren’t really that close or you were just hired like a month ago. There is probably some company provision that allows you to stay home and cry all day. This is important. It is better to do this at home than on your keyboard. Especially if your work has nice keyboards.

DO listen to sad songs, or songs that are sad to you in the context of your loss. That’s how this post came to be, after all. More importantly, even if you possess a steely reserve necessarily built up over almost a decade’s worth of dementia-driven misery, you should probably cry at some point. Music may be necessary to crack your adamantium shell. Grab those headphones.

DO eat. I mean, duh. I’ve never been moved not to eat by feelings, but I hear it’s a thing that can happen. Nutrients are kind of a big deal, guys. Get them.

DON’T become annoyed by people stepping gingerly around you. They literally don’t know what the fuck to do. This is not their fault.

DON’T snap at other people who text you happy pictures, from better days, of the person you’re both mourning. If you can’t deal with it, just ignore the texts. Your phone isn’t going to fill up, and you don’t know what psychology is driving the other person to fling these images of the lost person out there. You can’t yell (or…text-yell?) at someone loud enough to bring your mom back, so please don’t try.

DON’T expect people to say the right thing. They won’t. They can’t. There is no right thing. The right thing would be for your mom to still be alive, and she’s not. So whether you find yourself surrounded by people who pretend everything is fine, or by people who ooze religious platitudes, or who go on about karma or childhood or funeral prices or lame internet jokes, don’t expect a magic bullet. Not from a mentor, not from a friend, not from the old guy who walks his dog at 6AM every day. Literally no one will get it right. Not because they suck but because your mom is dead. It’s not their fault.

Oh, but if it is? Punch them. Just, you know. Because it would probably feel good.

still waiting, colbert

From an interview with Stephen Colbert in GQ in 2015:

He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.
“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”

I’m still waiting, Colbert. This thing I most wish had not happened. I’m 31, not 35, but my mother is dead, and it has been eight years since she was diagnosed with forgetting all of us. Five since cancer took so much more of her away so fast. And it still sucks, man. She’s dead, and it still fucking sucks.

random music fridays : lake shore drive

Yep, this is from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack. God I love this cheerful, bouncy piano. And, in a sudden turn of events I desperately wanted to be deliberate, the girls whom I want to befriend in the gym but who probably think I’m a bitch because I give them tons of space and don’t talk to them so they don’t freak out at some bi girl being in there with them, they stopped their 90’s boy band onslaught and played this instead today. Which cannot, cannot have been intentional because there’s no way for them to know either that I chafed at the boy bands (I’m very careful! I don’t sigh or huff or roll my eyes or anything!) or that I love GotG’s music lineup. But still. It seemed a good sign.

all the light we cannot see

I am reading this book — no, I haven’t given up on Proust, but my copy is digital and I don’t always want to look at a little screen when I’ve been looking at big ones all day — because I’ve wanted to since I heard the title. It’s beautiful. The moment I encountered it, I think on list of acquisitions, I wanted to read it. And now I can.

I love Jutta’s fury over the bombing of Paris. She has no claim to it. She is so far from tojisha status anyone would say she was putting on airs. But this thing, this most beautiful and loved thing to her is being broken, somewhat in her name, and it’s ripping her up. It’s a only a few lines that document this but it’s perfect. We can’t be doing this. Give it back to me. Not even the city, which she has never seen and has no sensible expectation of ever seeing. But the idea of it. They’re killing even that. And she’s furious.

super

Today was Free Comic Book Day.

I didn’t know that, because I’m not really much of a comics person. I found out via an almost slapstick line-of-sight reveal: from going up the wrong ramp, seeing a fence I couldn’t get past, looking back the way I came, encountering a man in a spacesuit and cape, dismissing him as irrelevant to my escape, then realizing that he was out there advertising the comics shop hidden behind the adobe wall forming one side of my enclosure.

Ta daa. Free Comic Book Day.

comics

I’m not traditionally a comics person, but I do try. I love Batgirl of Burnside, for example. I’ve seen…half…of the big movies? A lot of the reasons I’m turned off by superheroes are pretty cut-and-dried, I know. Nonsensical costumes, gravity-defying boobs, dumb love plotlines. A too-eager reflection of the real world, but tweaked, when what I typically want is a depiction of Anywhere But Here (see: Ferelden! the Shire! Morrowind!) with all the narrative and emotional pull of life as we know it.

But, costumes and gender problems aside, I also always took issue with the portrayal of hero flaws. They seemed far too pronounced. Even in third grade, tasked with writing a super hero story, I chafed at the weakness I was given to write about (we pulled weaknesses, like strengths, from notecards in a basket). “How can she be old enough to be super if she’s afraid of water?” I argued with my teacher [conveniently forgetting my own mandatory, remedial swim class for Kids Who Are Afraid Of the Deep End]. “Real people don’t do this!”

What I meant, or what I’m reinterpreting what was probably a much less nuanced argument to have meant, is that real people’s weaknesses aren’t so clear-cut and laid out there, plain to see. You don’t just fall apart at the exposure of your weakness, whether that’s water or cancer or the discussion of either. Right? I spent decades eschewing superheroes not so much for their superpowers as for their over-pronounced frailties. Everyone has weaknesses, sure, I thought. But you deal with them. They don’t weigh on you for episode after episode, lurking in your subconscious or your body like bombs, waiting for the proper moment to blow your plans to smithereens.

starlord

Except, that’s exactly what they do.

**SPOILERS FOR GOTG2**

When Peter Quill’s father tells him he put the tumor in his mother’s head, his reaction was instantaneous and 100% what I screamed for him to do in my head (albeit mostly in profanity): he attempts to blow this guy the fuck away. That the speaker is technically his father matters not one jot: here, personified, is the reason his mom died. Blam. You absofuckinglutely attack that. Thumbs-up, Starlord.

The deep satisfaction I got from Quill’s kneejerk reaction was not lost on me. Coming out of the theater to a confusing barrage of dammed-up texts about my mom’s hospice care, it was not lost on me. Maybe not as a third-grader (let’s be real: the cultural critique game is not that strong in those afraid of the deep end) but definitely as a teenager onward, I had disparaged superheroes for the giant bullseyes they walked around with, glued to their backs. “Hey father issues, over here!” “Oi, Krypton, pick me!” “Enclosed spaces! Come at me bro!” People, I thought, don’t work like that. Everyone’s issues are deeply buried and they only come up in the quiet of your own mind, are dealt with, and then are shelved away, hopefully a little better cataloged than before, but otherwise ignored.

Yeah, um. Nope.

If I someone were standing in front of me who could somehow credibly claim to be responsible for my mother’s illness, I’d beat the everloving fuck out of him. It’s a giant emotional bullseye that I was just too sheltered, or lucky, to realize I’d have to carry around one day. I wouldn’t even pause — as Peter Quill doesn’t even pause — to reflect upon the recriminations, legal or moral or otherwise, of my actions.

I have acquired my bullseye. I pick up an issue of Runner’s World magazine, see an article on one man’s doomed attempt to keep running in the face of Alzheimer’s and bam, slap that sucker right back down on the shelf, unwilling to bring that freshly energized sadness into my day. (Still haven’t read the article.) I walk into a movie theater with a bunch of friends to see X-Men, knowing zero things about X-Men, and suddenly I’m burrowing nine miles back into the depths of my hoodie, fleeing Patrick Stewart’s all too accurate portrayal of dementia’s viciousness.

It’s not that I didn’t think people had (and I’ve tried not to use this word, because it has been co-opted by too many people to mean too many different things, and not with the best of intentions) triggers. I grew up in the nineties and aughts. From What About Bob to What Dreams May Come, we knew shit went down. That people got fucked up. But I always thought it would be…well. Other people, I guess. Not me.

The level of fuckery required for superhero-level bullseyes, I thought, didn’t apply to me. Unlike families I’ve since come to know intimately, no one in my house screamed at each other or threw things at each other, or starved themselves or drove their cars into trees on purpose, and I thought well, good. Bases covered. I’m safe from bad things. I knew the disease was coming, had seen it take my grandmother, and figured I was as ready as one can be.

I was wrong.

In a movie rife with enjoyable comedic and emotional beats, Guardians‘ portrayal of Quill’s reaction there is still my favorite moment. Because it is so true. (And, I guess, a little forgiving, if I think of it as true.) No one presses pause there to make judgmental Instagram reposts of Pinterest quotes in Lucida Handwriting pontificating that they would have shown compassion to their mother’s killer. No one chastises Peter for having feelings. They just do their best to help him mow down the fucker who killed his mom. And who also, okay, will kill everyone else if left to his own devices, but that, for me (if not for Quill — this is why he’s the superhero and I’m not) is beside the point.

Maybe, then, the unrealistic thing about superheroes isn’t their giant bullseye weaknesses just waiting to be exploited.

It’s that they get to overcome them.

 

broken hook

maui

For the record, I massively love in Moana how the guy who presents as a cocky jerk is broken apart so visibly. Obviously there’s the fem main character too (plus her sexuality not being part of the plot), but I knew about that going in and I was already on board for it. But I didn’t expect to see some self-aggrandizing jock torn up, not just via implication but verbally and openly. He places all his self-worth in this tool outside himself, and without it he sees himself as nothing, and he says it. That’s the sort of thing you usually surmise about people after they die and you try to put together the pieces of their life in a way that makes sense to you. And we are just out and told it, in dialogue and in song. It twists up my stomach, the way I first remember the shrinking episode of Lois and Clark (yeah I know, of all things!) doing. That kind of vulnerability (its exposure?) makes me a little nauseous, but it’s so worth portraying. Self-awareness, people! Self-awareness. Even if it turns you a little green.

“Chasing the love of these humans
Who made you feel wanted

You tried to be tough
But your armour’s just not hard enough”

heart