Friday, March 30, 2018

John 11:25



My girlfriend died last night.  She was 34.

I tried writing a personal narrative about it, and I’m just not up to th’ task yet.  My writing turning into a Frankenstein patchwork of bits n’ pieces that weren’t fully coming together into an animated whole, no matter how much electricity I pumped into it, so I’ll just say this.  Her name is Kristine (I’m not ready to use th’ past tense “was” just yet) and she is a Brother in my Franciscan Order. 

She’s transgender, as you might have sussed out, realizing this only within th’ last 2 years after th’ greater part of 3 decades of wrestling with self-loathing and feelings she wasn’t fully able to articulate or describe until it began to dawn on her that she had spent her whole life identifying as and trying to be th’ wrong gender.  That’s how we began to become closer—being non-binary and rath-ah Queer myself, I was able to be that one person she could wholly open up to, and after hours and hours of conversations and a few million words thrown back and forth across th’ Intertubes, we became close.  We needed each other, I think, in that way that most humans who come together in couplehood do:  loneliness was eating at us both and we discovered that we could somehow keep each other’s demons at bay; two people given long-handled spoons could feed each other in a way that one person, sitting alone with their spoon could not.

My marriage to E was over by then, and “this must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonder can come of the story I am about to relate,” to quote Dickens.  E and I were separated though we were forced by circumstance and finances to still cohabitate in th’ same house.  We were no longer married or a couple in any meaningful sense of th’ word (not even legally, for we never even file taxes jointly) and I left our communal bed to set up residence in th’ small bedroom at th’ back of th’ house; th’ kitchen being a sort of neutral, DMZ area that would be deemed communal.  We could not (and we still cannot) file for legal divorce until we have lived apart for a minimum of one calendar year, which is simply beyond our financial abilities; we cannot afford to maintain 2 separate residences for ANY amount of time.  In th' meantime, E and I have forged a new relationship; our friendship remains strong and she is my rock and my anchor-- she keeps me grounded and keeps me from drifting away.  I could not get through th' day without her love and support.  Besides, we have a house full of formally feral cats we co-parent; one must sometimes stay together for th’ sake of th’ children, even if said children enjoy cheap tinned tuna and poop in a box and motor about th’ house on 4 padded feet. 

Kristine was lonely ‘cuz a history of heart failure had left her weakened and it was physically taxing for her to get out much and she was unable to work; and I was lonely because… well, ‘cuz.  Our broken edges seemed to match each other’s in a way that brought each of us comfort and it felt like we could forge a kind of wholeness out of what was left of each of us.  We were perfectly normal, indeed boring in this respect, like th’ billions of couples that had gone before us.

Th’ differences, however, were still manifest:  she lived in NE Ohio, I in southern NC; I was an in-constant-motion kind of person while her illness forced her to be sedentary for long periods at a time; and of course her cardiac condition would undoubtedly cause her lifespan to be shortened.  We spoke honestly and openly of this, including how it was something of a common theme in Great Works of Western Literature—the old literary conundrum of should we open our hearts to love to someone who may have limited time, knowing that we automatically open ourselves to th’ heartbreak of loss?  Or do we shake hands and part ways?  I decided that I would love boldly, and whatever time we had together, short or long, I would treasure.

Aaaah, time.  Ben Johnson, a contemporary and rival of Shakespeare described time as “that old bald cheater,” and what better title might be bestowed?  We dreamed, Kristine and I, of a magical, not-too-distant time when things might finally all come together.  We built castles in th’ air together, dreaming of maybe one day coming together in one place, perhaps even th’ both of us moving back to Cleveland where we both went to college, and finding a small house, planting a vegetable garden and turning it into a friary.  “Well call it The Rainbow Friary!” we said, and we knew we would work to minister to th’ needs of the LGBTQIA+ community in need, perhaps in conjunction with the Cathedral of the Diocese of Ohio.  We joked about finding land enough in th’ city proper, close enough to th’ church where we could have a yard big enough to house a few chickens and perhaps even a goat.  We wove dreams of cold Cleveland winters and staying abed drinking tea and reading Agatha Christie novels to each other.  Far from sordid, erotic conversations, we spoke of th’ joy of bumping into each other in th’ kitchen as we made dinner or did dishes, or th’ simple joy of just brushing our teeth together.

None of these things ever happened, and thanks to Mr. Johnson’s Old Bald Cheater, they never will.  Not in this life.

Kristine’s particular cardiac issue was that fluid would build up around her heart, creating a situation similar to that of a boa constrictor killing its prey:  th’ heart contracts and fluid seeps in to fill th’ gap, and th’ already weakened heart is not strong enough to push that fluid back out.  Repeat this process several thousand times in one day, and eventually th’ cardiac muscles would simply not be able to move enough blood to keep th’ body going.  A needle aspiration would only be a temporary solution, as well as a potentially dangerous one:  how many times can you keep putting a pointy metal thing into th’ space around th’ living pump that is a human heart to withdraw fluid that will just slowly seep back in again? 

Sometime roundabout Advent last year, some 8 months or so after we had become a couple, Kristine was having trouble breathing and was suddenly weak.  She was admitted to th’ hospital as she had been so many times before, but this time th’ recovery was slower than usual.  By mid-January the prognosis was grim:  perhaps only a year or so of life left.  By th’ middle of February that window had been effectively cut in half, and she was back in th’ hospital for several weeks this time.  By early March, she was becoming a shadow of her former self, and though she was discharged home with health care, she was only there for about a fortnight before needing to be readmitted.  Then, on Maundy Thursday at about 9:30 in the evening, after I returned from a mass celebrating Christ’s institution of the holy Eucharist, I got That Call from her rector that Kristine was gone.

Kristine was gone, and with her all of those tiny little dreams; no tooth brushing, no cups of hot tea in bed, no Agatha Christie and no Rainbow Friary.  Gone also was th’ chance for me to fulfil my promise to BE THERE when her end came.  I never got th’ chance to say goodbye.

Kristine, my Dearest Darling Donut, I fear I have failed you.  I was not there when you left out of this world; I didn’t even know what hospital you were admitted to.  I thought we had more time; I thought that there would be time to make those last minute arrangements—to throw clothes into a suitcase and find someone to take me to th’ bus stop (or, miracle of miracles, someone who would be willing to foot th’ bill to put me on a plane), and I thought that if we can’t be given th’ chance to sleep in on a cold Cleveland winter morning, then at th’ very least we could have me sitting by your bed and holding your hand one last time; th’ chance to touch your hair (which you were trying to grow out but decided to cut short because you needed assistance to get out of bed and shower, and it just took too damned long), to tell you that it’s OK to let go and to just BE there.  I had promised you that I would do everything in my power to be there, and I fear I didn’t do nearly enough.  I pray you may forgive me.

And may I be forgiven for my simple sin of greed, for I want more.  I want th’ whole thing to be turned topsy-turvy, th’ whole damned situation to be shaken up like a Christmas snow globe:  to redo th’ whole damned game and reprogram th’ damned Kobayashi Maru so we could win:  you would not have a failing heart, we would have time, time, time and all would be well.  There would’ve been money enough for me to come see you when your health first started to fail, and again and again, so even if we couldn’t find that alternative universe where you never had cardiac failure, I could’ve seen you again and held your hand and heard your voice.  I am greedy; I want, I want, I want.  And I want th’ worst kind of want, that one where you desire so badly that which you are apparently never meant to have.  May I be forgiven.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Prologue...

In the beginning, everything was alive.  The smallest objects were endowed with beating hearts, and even the clouds had names.  Scissors could walk, telephones and teapots were first cousins, eyes and eyeglasses were brothers.  The face of the clock was a human face, each pea in your bowl had a different personality, and the grill on the front of your parent’s car was a grinning mouth with many teeth. Pens were airships, coins were flying saucers, the branches of trees were arms.  Stones could think, and God was everywhere.

There was no problem believing that the Man in the Moon was an actual man, you could see his face looking down at you from the night sky, and without question, it was the face of an man.  Little mater that this man had no body, it was still a man as far as you were concerned, and the possibility that there might be a contradiction in all of this never entered your thoughts.  At the same time, it seemed perfectly credible that a cow could jump over the moon, and that a dish could run away with a spoon.  Your earliest thoughts, revenants of how you lived inside yourself as a small boy; you can remember only some of it, isolated bits and pieces, brief flashes of recognition that surge up in you, unexpectedly at certain moments, brought on by th smell of something, or the touch of something, or the way the light falls on something in the here-and-now of adulthood.  At least you think you can remember, you believe you remember, but perhaps you’re not remembering at all, or remembering only a later remembrance of what you think you thought in that distant time, which is all but lost to you now.

---Paul Auster

Report from the Interior