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Content note: death, trans femicide, grief
Image of Agnes Varda looking at her hand while driving. Text says: “My hand keeps telling me that the end is near.” From her film The Gleaners & I.
Death is in the air as I sit at my laptop. When I started to write this, my uncle had just died and I was not invited to the funeral. I decided to read “I Remain in Darkness,” Annie Ernaux’s account of her mother’s death. Well, to call it a choice is to inscribe more thinking than actually occurred. No, I didn’t think at all. I just grabbed it off the shelf along with a few other dollar books. The cover struck me, not a new slick one but a simple, low quality photograph of a woman’s lap.
My uncle was one of the few people in my extended family who did not critique me. He was a sturdy man, the kind they call a good in storm. At least, to me. I have no idea what his children thought, though one worked in gay porn, something he told me to my father’s deep embarrassment one night over red wine. My father said nothing, blushed, and walked out. I was the only other one in the room at the time, I think I smiled wide. We were sitting in his grand library. He always wanted to write a book on King Arthur, something I’ve thought about often—where did this came from?—and how much my own dreams seeped into his. When I was homeschooled, I went to his house for a weekend and he taught me all he knew about Arthurian myth. My aunt made a chocolate pudding so rich and bittersweet I have never forgotten it nor found anything comparable. They lived only about a fifteen minute drive away from me during college, so they often took me out to Thai food. I took up my aunt’s order—Massaman curry. One time they invited me to bring a friend, or so I thought. I brought a girl. I think they were disappointed, or at least confused. She wasn’t even a close friend. I’m not sure what—or who—I thought I was protecting.
The murder of Brianna Ghey happened the same weekend my uncle died. There was no time to recover or mourn. In a club a man tried to dance up onto me and my boyfriend shooed him away. I had to sit down. At work I had recently read an account of a trans woman whose boyfriend burned her alive. She called him her king. I was caught in the mourning, unable to take to a public forum. I suppose that’s why I wanted to write about Ghey so bad. To be reminded that there are public forums for grief. To complete a loop without getting pulled under.
Even earlier. An evening in February 2020 my friend Stella called me and asked if I was ready to hear something that might hurt me. I didn’t expect to hear that one of our college friends had committed suicide. Stella gave me the little information she knew. As we talked in hushed tones she reflected back to me it seemed as if I wanted more information. She was right.
I hadn’t heard from the friend in about a year. She moved around a lot and after some digging I found out she was back in our college town in Indiana working as a freelance reporter. I couldn’t get her obituary page to open.
After Stella and I got off the phone, it started raining. I knocked on my roommate’s door to tell them. They hugged me and offered to make me tea. As they started to boil water, I stared at the fridge and started bawling.
When I was close with her in college my friend was vivid, buoyant, and in love. She was in a long-term monogamous relationship with another woman, something I had rarely seen growing up in the Midwest. She spent a lot of her time at protests.
We almost always talked about politics and love. The two pillars. I interviewed her for a podcast about queer relationships, fascinated by her success. She came to my art shows and potlucks and I went to her house and Buffalo Wild Wings. We both had a love-hate relationship with Applebee’s.
After we graduated we both went our separate ways. She spent time abroad and in LA before returning to our college town. We kept up for a while on Facebook Messenger. I didn’t expect someone’s life to end like that despite my proximity to people close to the edge. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why she was back in our college town. I don’t why she felt so alone and isolated. Except, in some way, of course I understand.
I cried for all the people I knew who felt similar, for those who felt on the edge and went over. Eventually I left my tea to cool and went to the bathroom. As I was peeing I looked out onto the fire escape and saw what I thought was a creepy clown climbing through the window. I screamed. My roommate went to investigate and discovered a raccoon. Wet and fluffy, trying desperately to burrow itself into the crevice so it could stay dry. Survival is a puny thing.
There will be no end to death. Fragments are the closest we can get to death. That’s why so many memoirs about loss are told in such aching fits and starts. There is no solution to grief. No timeline. Hiding from it or drowning in it only block the river. Recently after acupuncture I asked if there was a grief point. My acupuncturist said yes, it’s part of the lung path. I was reminded of the time my lung collapsed, damming everything up. All the time I spent in forced solitude the past few years, the difficulty facing death, the strength required to keep moving forward. He inserted the needles, put on the Ambient Essentials playlist on Spotify, and left the room. My body was so tired.
That night, for the first night in many, I slept easy.
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Or, the Church Bulletin. As always a round-up of what I’ve written since my last Substack. I’ve also launched subscriptions in case you’d like to support my writing. Think of it as a tip. Any support is accepted with humble gratitude and my deep fear over the future of journalism.