A fair way to go

It is the hour of 4, and the light is best for where I sit on the chaise-lounge, beside the scabby hot tub that’s been dry all summer. The hot tub is kaput because the large fir popped up the concrete and upset the balance of the plumbing. It works, but leaks and registers strange error codes, makes distressing sounds. An insect paddles on its side across my drink and I gather it with a finger and flick it into the grass. I am unemployed, and the first leaves of summer have just started to fall.

Paige died. I hadn’t thought about Paige in a long time, didn’t recognize the name of the guy who emailed to tell me. Looked him up on the internet and stared a good, long time into his eyes trying to place him, 20 years ago in the south of France.

I went back to that day, to reconstruct what I could of Paige: the sound of the intercom and her voice on the other end saying I’m here with some friends…can we come up? Now that was odd because I was living in the south of France and Paige was from upstate New York, and we hadn’t made any plans to see each other. And she had six people with her, and nowhere to stay.

It was mid-morning so we went to the gas station to buy some beer. And then to the beach, where I got stung by a jellyfish and they told me to put urine on it, which worked. And back to my apartment where I assembled dinner and opened all the windows, and we danced and got drunk and passed out and woke the next day, me beside one of Paige’s girlfriends thinking we’d probably messed around, but not sure.

Paige’s friend said that night was one of the highlights of their European trip and they talked about it often. He was groping for something to remember her by, that loss you feel for the dead and desire to fill it with something, anything, to bring them back.

It was that summer I read Carlos Castaneda and the teachings of a mystic he writes about, Don Juan. There was a lot of talk of death in that book, but in a positive sense: like, how to honor and acknowledge death to live a more meaningful life. I was 27 and single and working on my tan. The Mediterranean was so salty you could float on it without trying, and I often swam at night or in the morning before the sun got too high. I had a thousand dollars to my name and no responsibility, other than watering the garden where my mom and John lived, one town over.

Mom said one time she discovered a hanging man on that walk, hung himself from a fruit tree. But her French wasn’t so good and when she tried to tell the villagers she had to augment with charades, and they all just laughed and ignored her.

On that walk between my town and mom’s, every day I passed an ornate wall on the sidewalk by the gas station but it wasn’t until the end of the summer I thought to look on the other side, and there I found a cemetery facing the sea, an above-ground one with memorials, flowers, pictures of the dead. It confirmed what Castaneda was saying in his books, that death is right there with us always—not separate—faces of the same coin.

Paige wrote a year ago, asking how things were. She was fighting breast cancer, but didn’t say that in her note. Her husband had died from a brain aneurysm a couple years prior, and they had two young girls. I got that from the obituary. How do you spin death into some positive, mystical, ever-present force to two kids who lost both their parents before they’re even teens? There is nothing “fair” in nature. Fair is a false construct that sets us up for disappointment in the laws of the universe we have no say in.

Stubble of dead leaves at the base of the hedges on my walk to the lake this morning. In the book The Snow Leopard the village people were getting picked off by the leopard but then figured out if they wore hats with faces painted on the back of their heads the leopard got fooled and death rates dropped by half. The mountain lion, a personification of death itself, unseen but ever present. An opportunistic hunter who looks for the weak or injured, who also likes kids.

Autumn’s first spiders have now arrived; the grass is starting to brown. The cat has a new collar with a bell. The night’s first bats stir. Blackberries fatten on the vine, crying pick me.

Our lives are delicately arranged like this in some haphazard fashion, an accident of beauty with an undercurrent of pain, clear in its intentions if you’re able to decipher it. A riddle with a madman’s resolution, which is none.

Fairness is a ruse, a made-up luxury of man, and there is nothing natural about it. Its cousin karma is no different. We assign beliefs to fabricate meaning and for temporary relief. The cat hugs the rocks above, and you are not to break eye contact with it once encountered. You make yourself look big, and then fight for your life.





Categories: death, prose, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

24 replies

  1. Speaking of going dark…glad you are back! Now, I’m very curious about this walking between two towns every day business. How far apart were they? How long did it take? In the south of France at 27 with no responsibility (except watering the garden)… Oh man, oh man. I don’t suppose it would work to tell the two kids that Eastern sages say we are not the body, and therefore we are not born and we never die? Probably not. And you’ve got me imagining the Village People getting attacked while dancing to YMCA, now. Sorry this comment is such a mess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I love messes! You are aping our upstate sage friend, Robert! The towns were adjacent, a lovely walk along a footpath above the sea with those big cactus thingies. My friend Brad says we are nothing but a floating consciousness, with only memory and attachment. I think you two are reading the same book. Hi and bye for now, nice to hear from you. Bill


  2. Wow, W.P. is back in the WP house, with a vengeance. A touch of autumn and nihilism in the air. I can maintain eye contact with cats and project bigness and at least a pretense of a belief system, but if it’s spiders, forget it, I’m just gonna run. I never know which of their eyes to look at, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sounds like you’ve moved on to autumn already? I have a tendency to drag out summer as long as possible as it goes kicking and screaming.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here’s to good work coming in good time … “good” being unquantifiable, perhaps even unrecognizable … but meanwhile, time for reflections and writing. This piece is a really good bit of wisdom woven together.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautifully expressed. My thoughts on death have certainly changed over the years. Really enjoyed this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah yes…super to hear from you Ann, thanks for reading. Always great to hear your chime in my device here 😀 and hi to Paul…life is good. Bill


  6. Enjoyed this very much, Bill. The first paragraph pulled me in and the whole unfolded from there.
    Leaves like stubble. Huh.

    I noticed buds on our plum tree today. Blossom soon. I hope for lots but we never get any. Birds and fruit bats gorge while we buy stoned fruit in the supermarkets.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bill I’m going to start calling you Bam Bam because you really love to load the weapon and then end with a couple rounds going off. This was superlative writing and as already mentioned, autumn and nihilism makes for an interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was probably around 27 when I read Carlos Castaneda, which really means I don’t remember much of it except he took a shitload of peyote and had weird visions. Perhaps in those years I killed too many brain cells to retain much more – one expression of fatalism I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I probably read it initially because I was interested in those stories but fortunately, it was more than that with the spirituality and mysticism. I bought another copy last week to see how it holds up. I think I was 27 also when I first read him…will see.

      Liked by 1 person

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