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In a sleep, the wound wept its tears
Bloodshed
Seeped from itself without knowing
But I knew
I saw your death a million times before you did

But then you said
In a sleep, all around was death, death, dea th
You knew bloodshed
Wept for us both before I ever did

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who would choose the fate of fire
the apathy of plunge
blade for blood

in the face of death
some of us shine
brighter
as if destruction was our calling
in life

A few years later
I’m ready to revisit
the statement I made
years earlier

People with January 2nd birthdays die and I do not fear for their deaths.

Truth is
people with January 2nd birthdays
lie.

Aunt Ty died years ago. I did not witness her death but I witnessed her dying. Aunt Jackie and Aunt Celia, in that order, were the next closest kin who watched Ty suffer. Now they are all dead. I’m the only one who remembers and there’s something devastating about that. At Aunt Ty’s funeral, everyone was grieving properly, crying quietly, nodding yes to the preacher who spoke well of her even though he didn’t know her. And at the end, there were terrible choked sobs that broke out. They were my sobs, bitter and miserable. Then there was a collective intake of breath and they all joined in, sobbing as they rightfully should have, assuring me I was not alone.

my heart is going
slowly now
it gave a good go of it
beating and all
those moments of bitter retreat
ebb and flow of blood
coming in and out of spite
until
slowly now
the organ is engorged
swollen, dying of itself
pumping painfully
ruefully spasming
giving a good go of it
slowly now

I took my leave because there’s nothing left to do. I thought I’d be more upset, saying goodbye for the last time and knowing it was finally, truly the last time. She moaned in agony. I patted her shoulder and left. I mumbled “I love you” on the way out.

I thought
I’ll be glad when she’s dead.

The guilty thoughts—wishing my aunt dead, not paying enough attention to her, not caring enough, thinking her a chore—I take them out of context so that I suffer more. So that I’ll suffer longer. Because she’s dead after all and I’m not. I tell myself that I wished her dead, as if I wished her dead in a vacuum. The context is she was dying. The context is she suffered and I wanted it to end. The context is I was selfish, but most people are. The context is my thoughts and reactions were completely understandable for a caregiver over the long haul. Death sucks, you do what you can.

The context is
she had cancer,
motherfucking, no-cure cancer.

The context is
I wished her dead, yes,
but. the thought. did. not. kill. her.

the grief of loss
digs in deep
wedges between the joints
arthritis for the psyche
aching on good days
screaming “fuck you” on bad
hollowing out
the hollowed out part of you
who knew
there’d be so many
echoes

I’ve been crying since I was eight years old. Blame Lurlene McDaniel. I do.

In the summer of 1987, I found death on a shelf at the Lee County Library in Sanford, North Carolina. I had been looking for those pre-teen romance novels, the ones where boys didn’t have naughty intentions and girls said no to drugs even in the midst of the popular kids. I had devoured these sorts of books all summer and had finally exhausted the library’s moderate selection. So, as any other little girl would do, I began perusing books for the coolest, hippest teenage girls on the cover, the girls I wanted to be.

It was time to go and I was desperate to find something to read. By chance (or was it?), I saw a really pretty blond girl, whose hair was crimped and massive, sitting with her mother. I hastily picked up the book and ran to the check out.

Later, I examined the book more closely. The book was called Mother, Please Don’t Die. Which, of course, meant Mother was, in fact, going to die (but I wasn’t a savvy reader back then so I held out hope things would end well). The book followed a girl’s journey through her mother’s dying and her own grief as well as the difficult transition from being a little girl to being a teenager. Megan made sense of her mom’s worsening symptoms as best she could as a young girl; she told me about the terrible pressure and the anger bubbled to the surface at baseball practice, resulting in her consequent suspension. After her sister’s wedding, Megan sat with her mother and they had the first truly frank conversation about death that I had ever read; Mother was not going to be there for Megan’s wedding. She was dying.

And when she did die, my heart was shattered and I sobbed out loud. I’ve been reading and sobbing ever since. I developed a voracious appetite for the dying genre. Through my middle and high school years, I learned about living with diabetes, juvenile arthritis, kidney failure, and AIDs. I felt enlightened with each page. I groped for all the empathetic artifacts in the words that were written. I began to live with all of these hardships. I felt I knew what it was like.

The year before, 1986, had been a bad year. In January, my grandfather died of lung cancer. It was the first death I’d experienced. It was scary flying from North Carolina to Arkansas, only to see a dead body, dressed in blue and not breathing in a wooden bed. Two weeks later, I sat forward with the rest of my class, eyes glued to the television as the Challenger exploded and everyone on board was killed. They sent school counselors around to speak to us about dying and grief. I felt terrible for the teacher on the Challenger, but I cried terrible, painful tears for my grandfather.

Weeks later, I randomly asked my mother if she had had any other children before my brother and me one night before our bath. She hesitated and told us she had given birth to a little girl when she had been previously married, but the girl had died when she was a toddler from cancer. I nodded and soon forgot about it, as children will. It wasn’t long before my subconscious mind kicked in and I began to wonder if I had cancer, too, and asked my mother if I was going to die. Months I asked her and for months I must have drove a stake in her heart.

Little girls don’t understand these sorts of things. I didn’t. By the time I held a copy of Mother, Please Don’t Die in my hands, I needed to read about grief. The only problem is I never stopped grieving. The reading and the grieving is a question of insignificance; no matter if the chicken came before the egg, the chicken and the egg exist.

When I was eighteen, a very receptive former teacher gave me Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt as a graduation gift. Since then, it’s the real stories of laughter and pain that have touched me the most. Into Thin Air. Devil’s Knot. Young Men and Fire. Books about the Holocaust, 9/11, surviving freak accidents, OCD, alcoholism, depression. The stories are compelling but they are most important to me as conduits for processing my own life (and grief).

In a nutshell, I read books that are too sad for other people. A book is deemed good if I cry. It is deemed brilliant if I can still sob thinking about it a year later. There are many brilliant writers out there.

Right now, The Dark Tower: the Gunslinger is impatiently waiting on my bedside stand for me to finish it. The sojourn will be short and I will soon return to form. Stacked in the corner are my standard fair, books about the Taliban, mental illness, murder, the Mormon lifestyle…all await me. I can only think greedily of the sobs I am soon to cry.

I can’t help but think I’ve made Lurlene proud.

Just yesterday, I was struggling to come up with something to blog about. My Aunt Celia died early this morning.

Tuesday
a day of extended anxiety
“on” for the job
“on” for my class

and just for kicks
when I’m tired
enough
to rest my head
a phone call
cancer is terminal
again
nothing the doctors can do

six months
twelve months
lungsthyroidbonemarrowandmoremoremore
cancer is a carnival worker
smiling to my family, leering at them
a two for one special
and if you’re really nice
a third for free

SOB with me

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