“I go to seek a great perhaps.” -Francois Rabelais’ last words.
Our friend told me that your mother died. I am truly sorry. I was sitting in my car, remembering the only time I met her. We had stopped off at your house on the way up to
. I remember the cookies: the little black sandwiches with cream white and sweet. She offered them to me in a Tupperware recovered from one of the cupboards in the big kitchen. It was evening. Boston
I remember the sun was low, kissing its reflection in the lake. The water was a darker shade of gray, almost peppery. I remember this sunset out of most, though I have seen many and most of the times I spent with you were in the evenings. It stayed with me since that kitchen conversation because I’ve never been able to describe it as easily as I can the rest. The sun was its own body, its hot color contained in its orb. The sky around it was a dull sunless blue. It wasn’t beautiful. It didn’t steal my breath, or anything else from me. It was unremarkable. It was very un-sunset.
The cookies were also just OK. Common-sense and meet-the-parent etiquette had me knowingly praising them for being “really good Oreos!” But I knew there was a secret about them. Not about their quality. It was apparent to all three of us that I was shamelessly exaggerating, obliging to the code of conducting one’s self before those so high ranking in your girlfr… in your friend’s core familial. But this secret, only you and her knew and wanted me to find out—or not find out. I think either outcome would have pleased you two. I couldn’t tell whether it was a game or a test. I didn’t want any Oreos, but I could tell that she, or you, really wanted me to have one. So then I really wanted to have one. Because I really wanted her, and you, to like me. I had one. Maybe I had another. I don’t remember. Just that they were OK and that both of you watched intensely while I ate them. I realized, mid-bite, that we weren’t judging the cookies anymore. Are they fresh? Are they sweet? Are they good? Can he tell that they’re different? Yes. Sort of. I guess. Not really. I realized, mid-another-bite, that you all were judging me. Do you like them? Can you tell that they’re different? Are we staring too hard? Sure. Not really. You’re staring too hard.
I was at a loss, licking the sticky chunks stuck up in my teeth, looking past the two women before me, out through the wide window, out at the wide lake and its resemblance to grape Jell-O, and at this sunset that didn’t look like a sunset but like what exactly? I couldn’t poetically put to pen. I surrendered.
Everyone seemed pleased. Then one or both of you, the memory’s shaky, explained to me they were “special” Oreos. They were sugar-free, or something to that effect, made for people sick of sugar; ill because of it. I never really caught on what your mom was sick of, but I understood that she had special Oreos. I just met her and I was happy to leave it at that. I’m sure you told me, I think. But, again, the memory is lost and not really important anymore. And now, I’m afraid, I’m going to wander here.
I don’t know what your mother believed in. We can call ourselves Christian, wear crosses and talk to our ceilings. We can call ourselves Jewish and do the same thing without crosses. We can even call ourselves Bokononists, believe everything is a lie and press our soles together in existential ecstasy. (That last one is from Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut) My point is we can know what someone believes in, outside with other people, but we can’t know what they believe when they’re alone with themselves. I’m not calling people liars or worse, actors. I just think that people have two sets of truths. Each person has two “bags” of beliefs: the one they carry around and the one they keep tucked under their pillow.
It’s possible for you to look inside both and see the same items, but it’s just as likely for you to find staggering dissimilarities. This has nothing to do with lying or acting. People are inherently bipolar. We can’t be completely ourselves in front of other people. They can’t know everything about you. There would be no you. No individual you. The bubble burst. The wall exploded to make a pass-through from dining room to kitchen, from them to you. But there are supposed to be two rooms: one for the cooking, one for the eating, with a wall between to separate. If your guests can see how the food is made, smell it still in the pan, talk about it, you might as well all eat in the kitchen. Turn the dining room into a second living room because it no longer has a purpose.
No. We need to have two bags. That one tucked under my pillow in my bed in my room decorated to my taste, that bag holds my meaning, my secret, what I believe in when I’m alone with the lights off. That’s true integrity.
But let me return to the Oreos, the un-sunset, and your mother gone. First, I’ll let you peek under my pillow, a quick look inside my bag. I don’t know where your mother went. I don’t know where any of us go. I don’t want to say I believe in an afterlife, because I almost don’t and I want not to believe in one. I don’t want to live life waiting for a second chance at it. I can admit though that it’s possible. I can admit that in life there are many deaths. I mean not about the abundance of people dying outright. I mean that we each go through countless “deaths” in countless ways in this immeasurable existence until we eventually and actually die.
If you look at all the transitions as “births” and the time after as “life”, ultimately that life will carry you to another transition, which is its own death. (fuck! I honestly can’t believe I’m writing this. I sound like a priest on his second Sunday-morning sermon, or a strip club scholar reading out of a community college Intro to Psychology textbook.)
Relationships are lives. They’re born and they die. This truth is why I can’t completely disbelieve in an afterlife. Because I’ve had so many: one for each dead relationship. That song “Your Ex-lover is Dead” should be renamed “Your Ex-lover is Re-born and You Might Meet Them Again”. I’m not being poetic or worse, sentimental. It’s true that we’re different people after a relationship ends. And that’s irreversible, as irreversible as death or a normal non-reversible jacket. You can try turning it inside out, trying to recapture what you’ve grown out of or never grew into, but it won’t fit right. It’ll be very uncomfortable and you’ll look foolish or worse, out of place. It’s better to accept that you’ve changed. Let dead dogs lie. Move on and live on.
So I guess I do believe in an afterlife. Not the same one that most others believe in. I wouldn’t even call it “afterlife”. I’d call it “afterdeath”. Because if after life is death then after death is life. I’d call it “afterhere”.
And so went we, you and me. We lived, shortly. We were over as fast as we were, well whatever we were. In my bag, under my pillow, I believe we were something. We were really something.
But that was three years ago. All three surrendered all at once one numb noontime in the summery Upper East. I lived on, had an afterdeath, after you. Then there was another. And I lived another afterdeath. Then there was ano… I think I’m on my fourth or fifth life since you.
But I have to get back to the Oreos and the un-sunset and your mother gone to her afterdeath. I really do believe that’s where she’s gone to. If it happens in life, here, it must happen after here. It must be better, or at least, different. It must be and it must happen because no matter what people call themselves or what they believe happens after death (except for those who believe nothing, they’re a little too cynical for me. Just a little.) there is a common theme: that there is an after. We all imagine it different and maybe it will be different for each of us, I don’t know, but I guess sitting here writing in my black notebook in black ink, checking frequently my black watch, sipping combatively my black coffee, at a black desk by glass double doors with black framing that lead out onto black pavement under the starless and blackened New York City night sky—on my fourth and fifth life since you, writing about you because your mother just died and I remembered her—I come to realize that I might believe in something existing after all this. In the same way that I existed after you, us, there has to be something after this, here. After life is death. After death is life. I guess. I hope.
It can go either way: an infinitely blackened unconsciousness, dreamlessly dormant, or we are washed ashore in a world of rivers, along with everyone who ever lived, past, present and future, on this earth of infinite life-repeating. (Riverworld: excellent series of books by Philip Jose Farmer, and two good sci-fi mini-series.) I choose the Riverworld. Imagine! Floating downstream on a grand steamboat, sipping bourbon with Sam Clemens! Laying on the shore, tanning next to Socrates while Van Morrison grills up some fish. Or walking along the water, the clearness, the stillness of it. The blueness of it reflecting the shapes and colors of you and your mother. I choose the Riverworld. But I could be wrong. It could be something entirely different, after here.
So let me get back to here, to there, to the kitchen three surrendered years ago. The sunset so unremarkable. I guess I’m remarking about it because it was like the special Oreos. It was not what it looked like. This un-sunset that was so much like something else, but at the time through those kitchen windows, I couldn’t think of it. And I haven’t thought of it since. Until now. Now I know what it reminded me of. It reminded me of sunrise.
, the sun keeping to itself, at first, when it’s that low. It’s just a great yellow ball as it climbs out of the ground. The sky around it is unaffected by its light, unpainted, un-streaked. This sunset was like a sunrise, the sun keeping to itself as it fell back into the ground. Sunrise
And so like the Oreos which weren’t Oreos and this sunset that looked like a sunrise, there I was, another deceiving contradiction, a confusion. I remember meeting your mom not just because it was the only time we met, or because of the unremarkable un-sunset, or the special Oreo game. I remember mostly because of how I felt in that big kitchen. I felt small and fake and as if you were offering me to your mom from a Tupperware instead of my flashy packaging.
I was your friend. You carried me in your bag as such. Even in the bag tucked under your pillow, I looked while you were sleeping, you put me away as your boy and not your boyfriend. That’s what I was to your mother. Your friend, a boy with black and white teeth, trying to crack the mystery of the cookie. And I wanted to be so much more. So I ate another cookie.
But that was lifetimes ago. Here, in my fifth or fourth life since you, I’m OK about it. And though it’s been three years, I am sorry that she’s gone. Since that one evening, those two Oreos.
But if I’m right, if she’s gone to her afterdeath, her afterhere, her Riverworld, then there’s hope for you too. There’s hope for Sam Clemens and Van Morrison. There’s hope for me. And maybe I’ll meet her again.
I’d like to tell her how I wanted to be so much more. How I tried with flowers and cupcakes and songs on pink guitars. I wouldn't tell her about that evening; the small-fake feeling. I would just tell her that you had so much soul and that you were one of my favorite lives.
But that’s all still a mystery, a sunrise un-sunset, a special Oreo. You and I have so many lives left. And so much after… And hope for rivers…
for You, brown eyed and soulful.