Doors are closing again. For our own good. To slow down the loss.
One of the few television shows I watch is CBS Sunday morning. Last week marked the final episode of 2021. Half the hour was taken up with tributes to those who’d lifted off in the past twelve months.
Who by fire
When I was fifteen, a boy named Sandy shot seventeen-year-old Craig Smith in the head. That same year, a boy in homeroom, Phillip, old enough to ride a motorcycle, flew over a truck and broke his neck on a Stop sign. I move forward in time to the sweet gay men in the 80s restaurants where I worked, who were picked off one by one, and who did not go gently.
Who by water
Lately, Anne Rice, Michael Nesmith, bell hooks, Joan Didion, and Lina Wertmüller have made their exits. Some of them were old so you’d think, sure, that’s what happens. Instead, we are shocked and become weepy, even for dear Betty White who was 99 or Lina who was 93. I’m aware of this odd undercurrent of belief, despite all we know, that we aren’t supposed to die.
Who by very slow decay
When my parents approached their sixtieth wedding anniversary, my mother’s face collapsed as she surveyed the guest list from their fiftieth celebration. For that event, my sister and I had wrapped cantaloupe cubes in prosciutto, stuck toothpicks in spiced meatballs, rolled squares of cream cheese in smoked salmon, and laid out platters of fruits, vegetables, and dips for fifty invited guests. Live music, dancing, an afternoon of champagne, song, and laughter to commemorate the fifty years our parents had been married. She’d been nineteen, he twenty-two. Now, her hands dropped to her lap, the list slid to the floor. “Half of them are dead,” she said. So for their sixtieth wedding anniversary, they had a quiet dinner with another couple. Four months later, my father breathed his last arduous breaths. After a year without him, my mother had a stroke and drifted away with half a smile.
And who by brave assent, who by accident
Once, after Craig was shot, my mother told me that being sad when people died was selfishness. It was selfish since we were sad only for ourselves because we would miss them. So I stopped my crying about Craig. Maybe he was glad to be dead—how could I know?
Five years ago, Leonard slipped out of the dance. He was my north star, my guiding light, timeless, ageless. Before I could stop them, some tears escaped.
Who in solitude, who in this mirror
As my mother lay waiting, I brought my face close to hers to tell her what she already knew, that I loved her. She smelled so sweet it brought tears. But as I gazed at her calm face, I saw how close behind I was. As if we were all knots on a long, long thread, and my knot was only a few away from hers. It was different when my brother collapsed with a heart attack, got patched up, and then died that night from shock. He was sixty-two when he floated away in the night. I hadn’t considered that his knot might be so near to our mother’s.
This past November marked the first anniversary of my dear friend Trish’s departure. No one who knew her could imagine that one day we wouldn’t hear her throaty laugh, that there’d be no more poems about essence, no more profound conversations about the nature of true power or the sacred feminine.
Who in your merry merry month of May
Consciously, I know this body will drop. Every day its joints stick and its skin droops a little more, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when it gives up entirely. I’ve drawn up my will, made sure my son knows how to navigate this world, and so on. And within the contemplations of leaving this body behind is a kind of relief; a sense of freedom from the confining weight of embodiment. But my ego cannot imagine not being here. Not having a body, a thought, a plan. The sense of self, of me is pretty damn strong.
Joni Mitchell is still alive, remarkably, fantastically, still among the living. Like me, she’s slipped out of death’s seductive embrace more than once.
And who shall I say is calling?
Soon enough, all of us boomers will be gone, and the reins will rest soundly in the hands of the generations known by the last letters of the alphabet.
For now, doors close in the hopes of persisting a few more years, of not succumbing to the next lethal thing—a variant, a skidding truck, a cracked heart, porous bones, a belly full of poison.
I want my personal door to be open. I want to weep because I love, not because I’ve lost.
With deep gratitude to Leonard Cohen for the song…