Thursday, October 22, 2015

Infinite Jest

Cold and frosty morning
There’s not a lot to say
About the things caught in my mind

I’m not afraid of ghosts, but there is a Halloween display in a yard that I pass each morning on my way to school that bothers me. Human bones are scattered across the grass, while nearby a tiny dog skeleton stands, jaws open in an eternal yap. The dog is dumb-looking; little bony ears on its head are proof that it is a fake, but the other part is different. Perhaps because of the Yorick grin of the skull, for there is certainly no merriment there, the human skeleton gives my stomach a bit of a turn every day.

Damn my education, I can’t find the words to say
With all the things caught in my mind

I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard one or two. Back in 1985 my sister, my dad, and I moved into the second story apartment of an up-down triplex. My father had been given six months to live, and my sister and I were to be his caretakers.

We didn’t have much furniture at first; my dad was returning from several years in Saudi Arabia, and my sister and I were 19 and 23 with not a lot of worldly possessions. We bought a couch, a TV, and some beds to begin with, leaving the dining room between the kitchen and the living room empty and echoing. I can’t count the number of times I would be working in the kitchen and turn to see who was coming in only to find myself alone. Eventually, the sound of invisible footsteps crossing the dining room was such a persistent presence that we grew used to it. “Oh, that’s the ghost” we’d shrug when others heard it, too.

Later we found out that the tenants before us had been an elderly brother and his two sisters, and that he had passed away in the apartment, and so we assumed it was he who approached the kitchen. At Thanksgiving we got a table, and the footsteps stopped.

So don’t go away
Say what you say
Say that you’ll stay
Forever and a day

My father outlived his prognosis by over a year. Near the end of his life he ordered the As Seen on TV clap-on, clap-off, Clapper so that he wouldn’t have to get up from the couch to turn the lights on and off, but he was too weak to clap loudly enough to make it work. We left it plugged in, though, and in the days after his death, the lamp connected to it turned on and off all by itself on several occasions.

‘cause I need more time
Yes I need more time

It was just before 7 am on Tuesday when we heard the news that our friend Tom died. The last time we saw him was at our Buffalo marriage reception. He was the only guest we were allowed to invite ourselves, a fact he took such wicked delight in that he gladly flew from NYC for the weekend. “Are you kidding?” he told Heidi. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, especially if it’s going to be as awfully awkward as you say! I’d crash it if I had to!”

Then, as ever, he seemed larger than life, and even though we knew he had a grave illness, it seemed impossible that he wouldn’t beat the odds. He was confident, and so were we. And while his death was not a total surprise, it was still a shock.

The day passed shrouded in the disconnect between what I wanted to be true and what was true, and I fell into an exhausted sleep early that night, resting dreamlessly until a loud noise woke me. It took me a few minutes to realize that the TV was on, LOUD, downstairs. Before it could wake Heidi, I stumbled down to turn it off. The empty living room glowed in the flickering blue light of the screen. There no reason for the television to have come on.

As I reached for the power button, I saw that a sitcom funeral was in progress. I stood watching as one of the characters paid tribute to a person lying in an open casket. The joke was that the two were strangers, and in an awfully awkward moment, the eulogy was refuted and the funeral crashers humiliated.

Tom would have thought it was funny.

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