Monday, August 10, 2020

If Six was Nine

Among the thousands of stories and heroics of ER and hospital personnel we read in the news daily, there was yet another recent version of the Jimi Hendrix tragedy.  More last-minute accounts and conflicting narratives of his final night:  the number of pills he took, the one found on the floor, the testimony of Eric Burdon, bad decisions of poor Monica who was scarcely a reliable or competent 'nurse'... whether the Mafia or the CIA or his own greedy management was responsible.  We read, we go back to that moment-- What if, we wonder-- and repeat our frustration and sorrow at the cruel loss of one of our cultural icons who in a few years changed rock guitar--- opened up a door, as these people do.  It is like a record-- it goes round endlessly and really we cannot see between the vinyl lines.

Beneath the veneer of this pandemic which has become 'life' for so many of us, there are other layers of existence-- one being made up of the lonely and otherwise sick, because death does not kindly stop for a global illness.  He rages on, tormenting his victims with cancer, allowing motorcycle accidents and fires-- terrifying explosions and bullet wounds.  And then the secret dying-- the suicides and sleepers, the debtors and evicted unemployed, the ones too confused to apply for government aid-- the panhandlers who can no longer survive on what frightened people do not put in their cup... the sidewalk singers and saxophones, the crawlers and street-barkers who have lost their place.  For all of these on the underbelly of the city, things have become more difficult.  Some reach out a hand for any substance anyone will spare-- bets are off, fear is the black cloud that follows their evening dread.  I see many sitting on the park perimeter, where they can still find the rare city benches that allow a person to lie down.

Many of these people surround themselves with things--- carts and strollers-- anything with wheels that will allow them to transport their possessions a short distance-- to the public bathrooms by the Meer, to food sources which are plentiful these days, ironically; at a bus shed the other night I found three small shopping bags with wonderfully packed dinners inside-- 'Please Take'  the packages said.  I did not.   But most of the homeless still scrounge through trashcans, scavenge outside fast-food stores where lines of people often eat quickly and discard scraps.  Yesterday a girl on Park Avenue and 111th Street was sitting on the curb eating from an old KFC bucket... a Citibike lying next to her-- she was filthy-- her lovely skin streaked with street soot... how do we save these people, I thought?  She looked up at me with eyes that rolled in her head... Yo, Mama, she said...  I kept walking.

I've been going through the possessions of a friend who passed from the virus.  It's a huge daunting task and even his family cannot manage.  He is of that 'race' of people who become a kind of hoarder... we are all guilty in my generation-- we collect things-- we are sentimental-- records, cassettes, cds, photographs... old clothing.  For those who are celebrities and musicians-- fans give them things; fans make them things.  When I was 15 I had a crush on Dustin Hoffman and waited outside his stage door to give him a careful portrait I'd drawn.  I met him at one point as adults and he claimed to still have it... who knows?  People with money have storage spaces and large homes-- on the street one must carry on their back or their carts.  Who is to say what is precious and valuable?

As we go through things-- postcards and pins and guitar picks-- each one opens up a little storybook-- a memory we might otherwise have lost... and some of these things, as we age, become 'orphaned'.. we have lost their identity, that moment... which boyfriend, which pressed flower.. which country?  When people die suddenly, they leave behind a flood of information, of sentiment and even secrets...
back it flows-- out to a vast sea of lost time-- the achingly beautiful moments and the useless unworthy junk... altogether.  Writers and artists sacrifice their lives to unravel these things-- to sort them, rescue them... because we failed somehow to rescue the deceased.

I remember a friend's father who was a compelling but complicated man;  he went home one night when he was in his alleged prime and put a pistol in his mouth.  Just before, he'd been at a diner and had a grilled cheese and coffee, smoked a cigarette... tipped the waitress modestly, as he did.  She spoke to me afterward-- how she could have saved him, had she only known.  Oh, but you did, in a way, I reassured her... perhaps many times... and she did not understand.

The death of my friend's son is the current knife in my back.  He belongs to one of the underlayers of these times-- the privileged happy, with the so-called 'everything'-- and yet they take their lives.  We spend endless nights tossing and regretting and wondering-- if we only-- just to go back-- those minutes-- he was alone and did this thing-- or perhaps, as I like to think, crossed a line-- knew immediately he wanted to go back-- the way jumpers who survive often describe the moment-- and was unable.  If only... Jimi Hendrix... Kurt Cobain... the sad suiciders full of brilliance who deprive us, who cannot bear their burden.  And then,  perhaps we have the story all wrong.

My mother always used to tell me, when I brought home sick or stray animals-- You cannot save everything.  It happened with men, too-- so many worth saving but so little time-- I eventually gave up.  Still, in my evening rounds of the Meer, I meet eyes with those who are willing;  I wave at the ones who seem 'parked' semi-permanently in the dusk with their packages and odds.  The pond is becoming greenish and murky at the edges, like the pool of New Yorkers who remain stubbornly in their city.  Please, I repeat to myself at night, please do not... to all of those who may be teetering on the edge of another world that beckons.  Do not leave us here, wondering, missing... beating ourselves, the way women in ancient cultures beat themselves in mourning... I understand this ritual, now.

I have on my table here a cheap little box with a metal pick inside-- the souvenir of my friend... equal to maybe one single cell in a massive organism that was his legacy.  He died of the virus, not his own hand, although we are left with the same sense of helpless failure.  In the multitudes of minutiae and memories, I realize he was saving himself, in a way, knowing that there is really no one at the end...  who will save us, tragic as it is.  If Six was only Nine....

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Blogger BB said...

I’m always taken into deep reflection when I read your words, whether in poetry or your essays. It always has a way to take me somewhere I have been before or perhaps where I will be going. I stop and think and I read it again. Sometimes over and over..... and yes, your mother was right; we cannot save everyone. But the little things you do for someone, anyone, makes it worth it for that person. It could just be listening or smiling; it means something... it really does. This is very profound Amy, and really makes you think. ❤️

August 10, 2020 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Amy...This blog entry is simply, painfully, perfectly... brilliant.

"...'cause I got my own world to live through, and I ain't gonna copy you"


August 10, 2020 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What the two before me said.

After I read your reflections, I always see things differently.

Yong Guan

August 12, 2020 at 10:12 AM  

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