I wish I could say that I waited until all three of them were dead before I began to sort through their stuff. I was battered and desperate and I needed to move past it all and so I began to donate this, discard that and sell the other with inadequate consideration for my impulsive self or for inevitable posterity. I needed to be unburdened and I needed for this chapter to end. But I should have waited.
It had been a shitty thing to happen to the baby of my family. Ten and a half years since she'd given birth to my brother, my mother was having another. A nurse muttered that mom was crazy as she pushed and pushed, because for 1965, forty was old for delivering. Mom told me of her wanting to rip the thoughtless nurses' tongue out. I was breached and mom almost died from loss of blood she spilled when they had to cut her and use forceps to reposition me and drag me out by my head. The paralysis is obvious in my first few years worth of photos....a smile left crooked by nerve damage in my right jaw. Painful TMJ and a crazy bite that took nearly six years of orthodonture to address. I still have a crooked smile but the rest of me seems to be setting into a place of relative balance. Glad we both survived that gruesome ordeal, where my first guilt lives.
Now the first to be diagnosed terminal, my mom was the last of them to die in eight months time. First my brother, then after mere months, my dad. Now her....just twelve days later. 9/11 right in between. I stood in the cluttered and dark apartment waiting for the sirens in my head. To be overcome with the rage that I'd felt building for months. Years. Decades. Rage that festered in my sleep and directed my dreams. I waited for the volcano of dispair to bubble up and blow, and thought about all the ways that I'd expected I'd freak out if something bad should ever happen to me. I'd spent many hours contemplating the deep end. I felt that I had earned a place there at the head of its table. The impossible web of manipulation and mutual enabling I'd witnessed for decades. The poor example it would be my cursed destiny to follow. The record I had recorded and tweaked for two years and that that might have changed my life but which I put on the shelf to tend to family. The marriage I had reprioritized. The dozens of hospitalizations and institutionalizations which I had thought were normal as a child and in which I later had become advocate and guardian. The caregiving, care taking, chaufering and intervening I'd taken on in order to keep the creditors away and the pain prescriptions renewing. The kiss of the cold, clammy lips of all three of them...our last good-byes.
I could fall apart or blow shit up, and who would blame me? I could lock myself away and forget how to speak and watch tv and rock forward and back and cry for sixteen hours a day (all things I'd witnessed in bunk mates of my fathers at one time or another) and everyone would understand. I could recluse and shoot dope and show up at someone's funeral or wedding in ten years, long bearded and intense and fielding cautious inquiries into my welfare and my mysterious elusivity.
I just needed to get away.
I lived in a school bus in Oregon and painted on found wood.
I fell in love with an alien princess and she dissolved into a star-marshal right before my eyes under a forty two full moons....and how are YOU? Your parents? We should get together! Crap....you know, I actually don't have a phone....
I still feel the allure of such a retreat.
But there I stood, broken hearted and alone. Sad and exhausted. Newly ordained only child and orphan. I waited for the madness. To strap on the seatbelt of the wild passenger on the crazy train. But it did not come. I picked up a small, heavy object...a carved marble turtle Id given my mother for her birthday some years before...and threw it at the wall. I screamed, "FFUUUUCK!!!" a few times. Then I realized that any mess I made...whether torn paper and broken glass or overdrawn accounts and credit card fraud....it would be ME having to clean up after ME. And to hurt myself would create a bigger mess for Jenn and I would not. It was already hard enough.
And so I made a pile. And another. And another. Books in one corner, some to give, a few to keep. Furniture. My parents clothes. Dishes. Tools. Linens. Cleaning supplies. Chachkis. Costume jewelry. Art supplies. Canned goods and pasta and pudding mix. Plants to distribute. Papers that needed to be dealt with.
My brothers writing (a wicker chest filled with notebooks, yellow pads, short notes, letters and doodles) was another story. These had been his treasured thoughts, questions, quotes, resolutions and hypotheses. He'd never have gotten rid of them. "I need them", he'd say. I hoisted it onto the couch and dropped myself beside it, opened the top and covered my lap with a few inches of paper and began flipping pages. Every one had blurbs and arrows, manic doodles and schitzophrenic parentheses. I estimated five thousand pages. Hundreds of thousands of words. I couldn't decipher any of it. I dropped it into my mothers bubbie cart, wheeled it to the compactor room in a most unceremonious shlep and then sobbed "I'm sorry" with each handful I dumped into the chute.
My moms paintings I laid against the walls and they went to whichever friend wanted them. I kept three. Not enough.
My brothers turntables, almost two thousand of his records and his three saxaphones... valuable classics. I'd retrieved them (again) from the pawn shop on Jamaica avenue where he routinely checked his prize possessions in for get-high cash. I eventually figured the pawn shop merchants....while overtly scummy and gross ...were good to my brother as had they not existed or if they'd refused to transact with him, he might have just sold his horns on the street where no ticket and ransom would have gotten them back. These pieces of my brother would mean something...make him more than just some stories and a stack of photos. Goddamn I wish I had those records and those turntables and the music that lived in them. Fuck I wish I had the horns to share with my musical sons now. How cool it would have been for my boys to know their uncles vinal. To breathe through the horn that played the song of his heart. FFUUUUCK!!!!!
The dust gave me headaches and the clearing bullied my brain. Emotional overload. I switched off for awhile. I needed to. Tears came. But no release.
I got the stuff sorted, the space emptied and went back to work.
Brett was getting a divorce and I drove across country with him in a terribly hot minivan so crowded with musical gear that the passenger seat would not recline and so I sat straight up at a 90 degree angle for hours on end, cross legged or slumping most of the way. I delivered him to LA, said good bye and rented a car. I showed up a few hours north at Adam's house....him tentative and surprised and concerned...where I stayed for a few days and wrote LA Burning on a hundred fifty year old piano. My first night there Adam just looked at me a lot with the same pitiful anticipation as people back home. Wondering when I was going to break. (Or was my sudden appearance three thousand miles away from home evidence that I had?)
The deep breakdown eluded me and I think I felt sort of ripped off. If anyone deserved to lose it, it was me. No one would have blamed me and I was attracted to what I imagined to be an opportunity for sharp redirection or a mandatory shift in passion management. I would waste time no more and I would claw my way out of the pit of my hell and into a transformed, more astutely qualified me.
Instead I woke up the same child as I was prior to being slapped by sadistic destiny...repeatedly and mercilessly...and I went to work and I went to meetings and I did yoga and I went to therapy and I stayed clean and I stayed married and I wrote songs and I sang them for people who cared to listen. I skipped my birthday and our little Simon-cat died and we reluctantly adopted twin kittens (who are still with us) and it was good and it was horrible and life sucked. Except when It didn't.
Not long ago I was in close proximity to someone who was right smack in the middle of a rough patch. She threw a phone, waved her arms, kicked a thing, ran out crying, slammed a door and screamed obscenities. I followed and shouted after her...something about pulling it together. She cursed back and told me I didn't understand.
But fuck you. I haven't been through every single thing. And I'm pretty sure she just needed to be crazy for awhile. But none of us will ever be anyone but ourselves and that uniqueness mustn't isolate and alienate us or lead us to think we're going it alone. Or that pain is permission to be an asshole. Alone is a silly place to fight for. We still have to behave ourselves. Like the air we breathe, we're freely given people with whom we can be. To teach us. To inspire us. To correct us. To love us. To fuck with our minds and be sure we don't get too comfortable with gravity or momentum or the armored confines of what we already know. And pushing people away and acting crazy and being mean makes no sense for any reason.
I guess i might have benefited from some more time. A retreat or a sebattical. But not a lockdown. I maintain that my greatest blessings have come as a consequence of my greatest struggles. But I could do with some smooth sailing from here on out.
So If there is a god, I hope she doesn't read this.