THIS EXTINGUISHED BODY
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED]
BY RUI CARLOS DA CUNHA
The day before Thanksgiving, her aunt died. When she told me, I had gotten less than two hours of sleep. It registered without much emotion, information to take into account. Later that night, I gave her a big hug as I'd seen she needed some affection. Her cousin had given her a big hug soon after we arrived together for dinner. After we'd settled in, I'd noticed something changed. She seemed emotional, affected by this world. It took some time for me to see once she had a moment to relax for a bit. This fragile world, hearty at times, cracks in slivers.
Her aunt left us. We'd seen her just two weeks ago, nothing seemed strange. We were at a wedding, a second wedding mass for her cousin, yet another cousin. The virus made her get married again before God and family, but this time with her extended family. We saw her aunt with everyone else on that side of her family. Not everyone, some people couldn't come.
That was two weeks ago, maybe more, but just less than three. Say less they say when they mean say no more. Such is this gift, the gift of speech, we play with words. Her aunt left us, she passed away. Passed into the ineffable, the indescribable because no one can experience it in this lifetime and convey to the rest beyond lame metaphors. And so, I hugged my love knowing I could not console her. A hug, even a big hug, lasts but a moment. A kiss on the cheek has the same effect. A band-aid to cover this short lifetime of memories. And who was I but an interloper in the lives of a Midwestern family. My girlfriend was visibly affected.
I was completely at a loss. Struggling with my rage and frustration at relationships within my own family far away on the West Coast. I would not call them up, nor would I hear from them. I was tired. Tired of lies. For decades, I remained broken, under their spell, the dysfunction of alcohol. I did not drink at the dinner. Maybe it was a second sense. A memory not to imbibe when emotions run high. I brought a bottle of tawny port wine and another bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. They remained unopened by the time we got home. That was for the best, I believe. Fatigue got the better of me after working until almost morning. The loud music of the nightclub keeps me awake, my ear ringing, my thoughts unable to settle down for a rest.
I ate and drank and watched a movie after work last night. I took a shower and brushed my teeth, to be ready to leave on time. Funny thing was, we got to her cousin's house an hour early by mistake. No worries, her cousin was cool about it, no big deal. It was cold outside and we were early. The art of remaining relaxed, chill, so to speak, is a club life ideal. Neither overjoyed, nor upset, an even keel. To strive for this in my own life, this detachment, and yet, still thoroughly engaged with the world before me without getting bothered or excited, this way of life, I seek out as philosophy to guide me past the darkness of what lies behind closed doors, the emptiness of my life.
Perhaps this is part and parcel of my mid-life crisis, with marathon training and writing out vignettes of a memoir no one will want to read because it is all imbued in a dye without luster, tarnished like a mirror in an abandoned house. People die, my father passed away in California over eight years ago. That was the last time I saw my family, my mom and my brother.
I have run the Chicago Marathon six times since my dad died. He would be proud of me. My mom snickers on the phone with contempt, wondering when I will get a real job that helps pay the bills and live with some accountability. I have to laugh at her petty judgment, while I cry at my decisions. A poet, a writer, and an utter failure, unpublished, unwilling to fill the glut. Leviathan consumes and excretes all.
I used to want someone to discover something in me that resembled talent. But now, all I can do is write from time to time and let my overactive brain puzzle out the past and future in the present. This gift, language, of games and codes, enigmas to decipher as systems we make. My love does not show her feelings often, unless she is upset. Today, she was overcome by her loss, by the ineffable. When one person is overwhelmed, the other must listen and open their heart wide. Not quite open-heart surgery but something similar for two people. I don't know why her aunt passed away but I live this life with empathy of others suffering.
After we ate dinner, my girlfriend became calm again, pragmatic and steady, strong and solid, not fragile and open to the voices within the cracks, in the fissures and the slivers, the glass of the mirror speaks of past reflections, what has passed before it, the changes and people.
Food helps to settle us into new emotions. We become ourselves, no longer swayed by the wind that whispers through the leaves. In the fall, we are thankful and celebrate together the gift of passing time. Even if I am exhausted with this life of sorrow, I must hope that I can effect a change in my own mind to accept pain and suffering with equanimity and peace of mind. If I accept others judgments as their own thoughts, as feelings from their experiences, stemming from emotions of fear and from trauma, I can learn to accept their distress as their own and not my own.
This is where language wins the war of words, with empathy and a sound mind.