badness, life

Grief coma

a staple of my childhood in Los Angeles

a staple of my childhood in Los Angeles

When someone I love dies, it feels like falling asleep. The volume gets turned down on almost everything, but my keys in the door are deafening because I know that, when I go inside, I’ll have to pretend I’m not asleep or else Boyfriend will worry, and I can’t handle babysitting his emotions and mine at the same time. When he is gone, I swim through the apartment, hovering, hardly breathing. Nothing moves, nothing reacts, but the chair seems almost offended when I sit down, so I stand, not knowing what to do, not caring because in a dream, these things don’t matter.

A friend sends me a link to an online comic with a skeleton. My eyebrows jump up and I exhale quickly through my nose in a spontaneous imitation of the beginnings of laughter, and then the heavy, slow-moving pall settles again; the dream returns, wraps itself around me, neutral and insulating, and the skeletons are just lines on a page.

That night I am a boulder with open eyes chiseled into its side, under a thin blanket in the dark, a long stone on an uneven mattress, and suddenly it occurs to me that I have been nudged toward awakening. My eyes crunch like gravel as I blink.  Do stones move?  No, I decide.  I shift.  Oh. Then, I decide, I am not a stone after all.

At the moment it means almost nothing. Months later, a friend will kick a magnolia seed pod into the street, and I will realize I did not move myself that evening. A set of poorly-assembled bones brushed against me, and the first sounds of my awakening whispered in the dark: fine-grit sandpaper finding a nail, a match that won’t light, a bony finger drifting across a human-shaped stone.  I’ll watch the seeds scatter and bounce across the blacktop and wonder, was there a moment when I started waking up?  Yes, I decide.  That was it.

 

 

[for the record, this is my memory of dealing with grief.  I haven’t experienced this in a few years]

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family, goodness, humor, life

Halloween time is the best time

i love a good haunted house

A graphic designer named Mike Doyle recently caught my eye with his creation of abandoned houses built completely out of Legos.  These things are big enough to cover my desk, and rise about four feet high.  They’re serious business, and super cool.

I love Halloween.  I love everything about it: pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns, costumes, decorations, getting scared, all of it.  I also love having so many random encounters with people because of costumes, and asking for candy from (and trusting) one complete stranger after another.  What other non-religious holiday allows for that?  Everyone loves Halloween!  It’s the best!

JEALOUS

As a kid, I dressed up as a pirate for four or five years in a row.  I wore stockings, a red and white striped skirt with a jagged hem, and a thin white shirt and a pirate hat.  I also had a hook, if memory serves.  My mom would draw a curly mustache on my face at my behest, because apparently, even female pirates had to have Captain Hook mustaches.  Gender confused and full of sugar: needless to say, I was a typical, happy child on Halloween.

Sister dressed up as a candy devil one year, which involved Mom hot gluing candies to her tail, which she then unwrapped and ate before the end of the night.  I dressed as a werewolf one year (black clothing, All Star sneakers, and a mask), and as death another year (complete with armageddon cloak, scary face paint and scythe).  That turned out to be a semi-unfortunate choice, as I was invited to go to my first Halloween party by a 5th grade classmate where I felt forced to decline my first (and only) encounter with spin the bottle due to my awesome and really fucking creepy makeup.  I couldn’t believe we didn’t go trick-or-treating.  “What a waste,” I thought.  Plus, Sister and her friend both decided to dress as hippies, which only encouraged her to reiterate her favorite chant of “Angel, Devil, Angel, Devil” that she enjoyed cackling whenever she (often) wore pastels while I wore darker colors.  That shit went on for years.  I came to refer to her fashion choice as “Mug Me” colors, since I saw them as something that would make her look like a target.

But I digress.  Halloween is the best, even with an annoying Sister and friends trying to ruin my night with their stupid boys.

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life

The black cover issue

like that

From age 7 to 12, five people I knew died.  The first (1991) from AIDS, a family friend.  I barely remember him, but I do remember staying up late at night at his house so we could be with him when he died.  The second (1993) was my baby sitter Melanie, who was murdered by a family member (stabbed and shot).  The third (1994) was my music teacher and choir instructor, of whom we all had a kind of fearful respect.  He was the first grown man I heard sing often.  He was shot by some teenager who held up a 7-11.  The fourth (summer 1994) was my classmate, Kevin, who drowned in his family’s jacuzzi in front of another of my classmates.  The fifth (1996) was my best friend’s mother, who died of breast cancer.  Our whole class attended the funeral.  I can hear her sobbing in the front row with her older sister.  Recently, maybe three years ago, a family friend, Dick, died of an aggressive bone disorder (cancer maybe?).  His health deteriorated so quickly, we did not get to say goodbye before he was gone.

I wonder sometimes why the deaths of those people I knew still bother me after all these years.  Naturally, I loved them and cared about them.  I realized today that they were all stolen from me in some way, taken before their time.  I suppose Dick wasn’t young, but… still.  Even so, if he were twenty years older and had died of old age, would I still be so affected?  I’d like to think so.  As for the deaths surrounding my childhood, no one ever talked to me about them.  I was completely alone, and I’m a little surprised I’ve turned out as well as I have as a result.  But I still cry thinking of them, perhaps because they were stolen, particularly Melanie and my music teacher; they were literally stolen from me by someone else: murdered.

People talk about healing after the death of a loved one, and I suppose I don’t burst into tears at the drop of a hat like I used to.  I think I will never not cry, though.  Which I’m becoming ok with.

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life

Poverty = death = tattoos

that shit is forever

I have only one relative with more than one tattoo, and minimal regrets about them.  He has good taste and I like most of the tattoos he’d gotten, so I was shocked to hear that he wanted to get a portrait of his grandfather tattooed to his arm.  My knee-jerk reaction: “Wow, that’s ghetto.”  Tattooed Cousin: “What?!  Why is that ghetto?”

I love my cousin.  He’s a smart guy and a good person, so when I saw how bothered he was when I blurted out my (admittedly harsh) opinion, I figured I owed it to him to give it some serious thought.  The following is written in the language of huge generalization.

It starts with poverty.

People of similar economic status live among each other

Whenever I look for an apartment, I’m struck by the fact that at the end of the day, I’m exchanging money for safety.  Apartments in Koreatown, Compton, and Crenshaw are cheaper than apartments in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu.  In order to live in what I would consider a safe neighborhood, I must pay more money.  Poor people are therefore more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods.

The poor stay poor

Everyone in the neighborhood is in similar economic straits.  They can’t afford to send their kids to a school where everyone gets their own books, or personal attention from the teachers.  Some don’t finish high school as a result of the terrible school environment.  They can’t afford higher education, so the kids who graduate high school don’t go to college.  Instead they get crap jobs with crap pay that doesn’t cover basic costs like rent and bills.  It’s a cycle of poverty = lack of education = poverty.  Some find some escape through alcohol and drug abuse, resulting in the occasional DUI (eventually resulting in the death of the user, or innocents caught in his way).  There seems to be no way out without joining the armed forces (where they may die in combat), or breaking the law.

Poverty makes for a shorter, harder life

A percentage of the neighborhood turns to crime as a last resort.  They arm themselves.  A gang is formed.  Rival gangs pop up nearby.  They kill each other and are hunted by the police.  Innocent people get killed during burgalies, hold ups, drive-bys, etc.  The rest of the community are now a group of impoverished people living among criminals because they can’t afford not to.  They are trapped by their own circumstance in a cycle of poverty and danger that lowers their life expectancy based solely on their geography.  In addition, health insurance is a luxury most cannot afford.  Preventative medicine is non-existent, so people die younger than they need to.

Collateral damage

As a result of all of these circumstances, poor people are very likely to know more than one person who has died in their life, often far too young.  Ritual commemoration surrounds the death of loved ones.  Decals are placed on cars.  T-shirts are printed.  Tattoos of the dead are seen as a genuine gesture of loss and love.

But everyone dies

Why don’t rich people get tattoos of their kids who die in car accidents, or drown in pools, assuming they love each other just as much as the poor?  For the middle-to-upper class, tattoos are not accepted as a civilized form of expression of any experience or emotion, death and grief included.  The constant reminder of the dead is not necessary to demonstrate a sense of loss.  In fact, the tendency by the poor to constantly remind themselves and others of their beloved dead is seen as a callous, somewhat selfish and attention-seeking gesture.  Grief is viewed by the poor as a public experience, but is decidedly private in more privileged circles.

Is it the sense of community that causes this?  Rich people have the luxury of complete independence.  They don’t depend upon each other for survival, while the poor may need to borrow a neighbor’s car to get to work, or loan money to a friend so he can make rent.  For the poor, death is a group experience because everything is a group experience.  For the wealthy, a WASPy, reserved attitude is the most acceptable response to just about everything

even after you die... it'll still be there

SPOILER: Tattooed Cousin got the tattoo recently, and it looks amazing.  I mean, it looks ghetto, but portraits are some of the most difficult art to pull off, especially in a tattoo medium.  His is really well done.  I guess another qualm I had was that there’s nothing worse than a bad portrait tattoo.  I guess I was a little worried it would turn out to be a fucking disaster (see pictured).  And that shit is forever.

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