I am fascinated by how relationships transform as people move in and out of one anothers lives. I came across an old photograph and was struck by this idea: the story of a woman contemplating the changes in her life and how she will live always anticipating the death of someone who was once close to her but is now far removed. The digital age often means that though we are protracted from one another, we are never fully removed from the circles of relationship that connect us.
Sometimes I see your photograph and wonder how Death will come to you. Once, when we lived around each other I worried about what you ate and how you drank. I fussed over your posture and lack of concern for fibres. Fibres to keep you warm, woven to cover your skin from the elements. You never wore enough clothes in winter.
You had that one navy fishermans sweater, with look-a-like suede patches on your elbows. You wore it with those black jeans that swooped over your non-existent backside. It’s a trade-off, I suppose, for those long legs. Your toes, long and sparsely covered with hair, poking through the sandals you profusely expounded upon. You have always chosen the strangest idioms to be passionate about. You are still a curiosity in that way, I suspect. Ranting about finding the perfect fit, as if it was some revelation.
Oh, yes, that’s it. You have a gift for making the mundane into a revelation. That’s why I always enjoyed you, being around you even on the fringes of a conversation you were orchestrating.
It makes sense to think of you as a conductor, commanding the music by script and form with your movement and sheer presence; a force of will on the earth. I wonder about your body now as it ages, your shoulders that must fall even further forward. You always curved yourself in to type, or cut or do anything with your hands. You have always had this way of wrapping yourself entirely around an activity; until it lost your attention. I wonder if you have slowly suffocated your hips and lungs from fully functioning.
I see your face through other people’s eyes now. They capture you in fleeting splashes of light; in cities I once traveled before I knew you. They frame you walking those streets as if they are your own, but you don’t really care for possessions. I think even now, you probably care mostly for the objects you’ve made symbols of this new man you’ve become. A notebook and a beard are like weapons of war for you.
But I see you truly; the proud tilt of your hips tipping your belly forward. Sometimes I wonder if you are eating anything to sustain your endless body. It is long and lanky but when you stand still you make remarkable curves. There is nothing soft about you but you curl around the atmosphere and air you breathe. You are rebellious in your being; for the sake of it. Or, I should say – you were. I remember that you were.
I shouldn’t presume to know such things now. That body and those eyes I have stared at, fought with and known for a dozen years; I wonder how it will decay? I no longer observe you daily so each glimpse is like the passing of an age between, you change so much. You age before me and my reflection ages too, but the sight of myself does not shock or rattle me. I wonder now if our character can change as quickly as our exterior? We change so much when we are young and it leaves no mark upon us and then we collapse into middle age. Do our bodies simply begin to catch up with the people we have become?
How will Death come to you? I wonder what it will be like to walk past your coffin. Or will there be a plaque that signals where your ashes are spilled into the ocean or air? Air, I think although you professed to love the ocean so. If there is a funeral, I wonder where I will sit and how far back before I drift into the shadows.
Your wife, as beautiful then as now, will probably say carefully chosen words in her soft voice. Her tears will be fresh and new. Mine will be decades old and dry, they may not even fall. I’ve been wondering for such a long time how Death will find us, my grief already feels ages old. Oh, how I grieve you, bright light. You are a wonder to me still. I miss the smell of you in the room; leather and musk and determination.
I hope it’s quick. I don’t want to hear of your decay coming slowly by protracted illness. It’s all so ungraceful at our age, to go slowly from infection. No, I prefer to think of that hardened fat from late night burgers laden with bacon and extra cheese snapping at your arteries and taking you quickly. I always worried about how you ate. I hope that it comes to some good and spares you the indignity of hospitals and 16 pill-a-day regimens.
I couldn’t bear to hear of you slowly fading from the earth. You should at least, in this one thing, be definitive. It always took you so long to commit to anything, you can do this for us, at least. Go quickly and follow through, don’t leave us wondering. Death may at last, be the one thing that unveils you and forces you to be true.
Yes, I wonder how Death will come to you, and then to Us. I have been waiting so patiently to say goodbye. You’re barely over the cusp of 40 years. The scales are about to tip, you know. By this time next year, you’ll have been gone from my side longer than you stayed. What a curious and puzzling thing. I do not think about your dying or your pain or your absence, but I wonder how, how will it come to be? Perhaps it is because we are a story; a book. Someone has crept in and torn out Chapter 19.
Chapter 20 is some lesson, some goodness or inheritance you leave behind. The meaning for those that will know you at the end, but I have known you up til now. I have not found the meaning yet. In death you’ll be revealed at last, but people are always too kind then. Still I want to know how it goes and what they say, when they know at last what I know.
Yet, sometimes I feel you curled around me – shoulders slumped forward, legs tilted into my hips and your hands close to my face, as if I am a thing that requires your entire attention. When I see your photograph, there is a moment of claustrophobia before I remember that you have unwrapped yourself. The bonds are cut so I breathe and regain myself. I remember what it was like to be the centre of all that chaos and energy in the world and what it is like to watch from a distance.
Your photograph sometimes changes, the streets a different version of the city you are in. Your countenance is the same. Your eyes still sharp, watching and anticipating. I see you hungry for what you will wrap yourself around next. I remember that look; I wonder how Death will come to you and if you will look Death in the eye before you wrap yourself around it, the sole focus of your attention; counting how you could make dying an achievement too.