I wonder what you would say if you met my Brian. Would you look up at him and say (head cocked like the dog on the victrola commercial)
how? how are you so good? why are you so good? I see how she loves you. Everyone does.
And he would look at you with kindness in his eyes and his voice would drop and he would say
aww sweetie because you are me.
I want you to feel the love I feel I want you to know what this feels like because I don’t know that you ever have. I don’t know that I have ever felt this love for you before now. now, when it is un/complicated.
It hurts me that this is here and you are not. That I am here, That you are not.
I never heard your voice again that last day, today.
By now (8:18am) you had already had a stroke, you were already being prepped for neurosurgery. I never heard your wonderful, delicious, boomy voice that day again, today. That voice, when it was being clever and kind, I could listen to for hours. The last time I heard your voice, a few hours earlier as I was leaving your bedside for some sleep, it was pure and true and you told me you loved me and I take that with me into Oblivion.
I have the words you wrote to me, I have the texting we were doing about the kitties, about your anticipated relief from the meds they gave you every day to soothe your terror, I told you that “they will, my love.” You did not tell me about the stroke. You saved me from that. You gave me the most selfless gift of not having to worry when worry wouldn’t help.
I know that the last words of mine that you saw were that I was coming to you and that I would see you when you got back. I have that unbelievably beautiful post that you put on Facebook that morning. I didn’t know then that these would be your last words. You were so concerned with last words you had a whole book of them on your side of the bed. You didn’t want to end up like Pancho Villa.¹
I know the last words of mine that you heard were from my mouth to yours, to your ear, my head on your chest, your hand in mine. I know you heard me because the doctor told me you could hear me. I told you you were safe, that you were loved, that you were okay. That everyone was working on you to help and that you were okay. That you were still going the right way and that I would see you soon. That I wasn’t going anywhere. I told you that I loved you. I told you that I loved you. I told you that I loved you.
I am posting this to you directly because I want certain people see it. I want to know (even though I won’t) that certain people are aware of what today is, that certain people are thinking about you.
Of course I won’t know. Of course I know that that part is a useless, useless exercise and one that will not bring me any joy. I know that that part is petty and small. And still I feel the need to do it. Perhaps someday I won’t. I believe your memory deserves to be cherished in a way that perhaps your life was not.
I have been learning how to exorcise from my life the things that do not serve me. I have been learning how to be more patient. I think you would be amazed. Truly. And yet I don’t do these things to amaze you, I do them because I am finding my way towards happiness, for truly the first time ever.
I know that every breath you ever took in and exhaled is still out there in the air, circling and eddying and dissipating and coming together again.
I know that the electricity that powered the supercomputer that was your brain and that faulty thing that was your heart is still reverberating out here in the ether, in here, inside me. I know that the ashes and broken bits of bone and teeth that I have on my bookshelves, in the room where I spend most of my time aren’t indicative of who you were, that even at their most concrete, these remains are the most ethereal ones.
Things are still so hard. The pain is getting easier to bear. I have people who love me who are helping to ease the weight. There are times when I feel you in the room with me, when I am transported for a moment, and it is comforting.
There is so much I have to tell you; so many things I need to say. So much I need for you to hear.
I am learning so much. I need to tell you everything.
Last year I turned off Facebook memories for 2017-2018-2019 for this week beginning today. Today is the beginning of the end. Today is the beginning of the last week that Gary was alive.
So much in my life has changed in the last four years. I am not the same person who I was four years ago. I am not the same person I was forty years ago.
Forty years ago is when my bipolar disorder began to truly manifest in ways that other people could see. When my behavior became outwardly observable. Things that only I could see and feel and experience from age five were finally coming to the surface. The person that I grew into, the person that I became was by necessity, a damaged, broken, angry, fearful thing. I was shaped by my experience, by the storms inside my brain that no one could understand, but the results of which everyone could see.
The person that Gary met, she was a powerhouse. She had divorced her first and second husbands. She was taking care of her cats. She was running her own shop, she had an employee, she was working a lot. She was working out a lot. She was taking care of everything around her. She was not taking healthy self care.
She was, however, manic 24/7 and hella cute and driven. And on fire.
She is still here, in my brain, part of The Committee. She listens mostly. Doesn’t have much to say anymore, more an observer. She sits back and nods knowingly, joint in hand, smoke curling from her lips. She is Rosie Revisited, captured in a portrait, hanging on my wall. There are times when she does speak, a forceful, if gentle “STOP IT.” I have evidence.
Four years ago I was forced to stop. I became incapable of movement in any appreciable direction. The formerly driven, push-through-ahead-no-matter-how-miserable-it-makes-you person could not go any further. The “attack wife” had no fight left. I had no accountability to any other human. There was no one there for better or for worse. My life spun completely and totally out of control. I lost things, am losing things I can never get back. And yet…
I have found a new self, a calmer, more even self. I am finding the capacity for euthymia, for a happy evenness above my emotional equator. A firm-yet-squishy pleasantness that exists beyond the edges of what I smoke and carries me through the day and into my involvements with others.
I am no longer miserable.
In voicing this thought, however, there is such exquisite pain for the reality that Gary could have been helped. That perhaps he too could have finally found some measure of relief, as I have. That we just hadn’t gotten here yet in researching. That given enough time, we would have.
We didn’t have enough time. But I do.
I miss you so much. I wish you could see me now. I wish you could hear me now. I wish I could talk to you. The only thing you can do is listen.
And all I really want is to hear what you have to say.
There is an incredibly talented artist that I love, and who loves me. I am proud to call Jar my friend. They post their work on Instagram here: @artbyjar. In every flash special they post, there’s always at least one piece that catches my eye, but never anything that has spoken to me. Until now. So this little beauty comes up on my screen and I zero in on the whale. Whale! A humpback whale! needneedneed send the DM get your spot. DONE. I look up from my text to see directly above the whale is a bee. a bumble bee. ughneedNEED. Here’s why:
Songs of the Humpback Whale, on vinyl released in 1970, was the first record I was given as a child, I was maybe six or seven. It opened like a double album, had a book inside that talked about the people who recorded it (Roger Payne, after research by Frank Watlington in 1966) and highlighted the problems with the whaling industry. There was a graphic photo of a dockside with the aftermath of a slaughtered whale. There were also five pieces of the most incredible abstract music I had ever heard in my (admittedly short) life. I have since listened to that album countless times, no bullshit new age music muddling the perfect pitch of whalesong, no dumb “inspirational” assholes spewing useless tripe. Pure, mournful, insistent. Funny, at times. Comforting. Reliable.
Over the years, I replaced the album with a CD, then digital download. I still have the album, probably warped from the heat in the attic but still.
1988. I was working at Waldenbooks in the Galleria. We sold movies on VHS and played them on continuous loop on the two overhead monitors above the cash wrap to entice customers. My friend Stef and I had the movies memorized and would run lines along with the videos. National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Dirty Dancing. And Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Featuring the whalesong discovered in 1967 and recorded by, you got it, Roger Payne.
(somewhere between 2007 and 2014) One day after Gary and I had been at couples’ therapy with a woefully underskilled and underwhelming therapist named Gil, we sat in the car, I’m imagining warming up the interior. I’d just gotten the aforementioned CD in the mail, and wanted to share it. I explained why it was so important to me; Gary, impatient, gestured “all right, already.” I hit play.
I closed my eyes, feeling the familiar cries wash over me, smiling as they filled the cabin. Shortly, I heard an intake of breath, and opened them. Gary was wide-eyed, tears spilling down his cheeks. “Stop it. Please. Make it stop.” his voice breaking. I stopped it immediately, grasping his hands, terrified. “Tell me,” I pleaded. “What’s going on?”
He took time to catch his breath, dry his tears, drink some water. Took another breath, let it out. “It’s absolutely excruciatingly obvious that these are incredibly intelligent creatures, communicating with each other. It is abundantly clear that we have no way of communicating with them. We can’t understand them; they can’t understand us.” The enormity of the parallel intelligence of these beings with no Rosetta Stone was too much to bear for him, that the only thing possible was to appreciate the song for what it was: abstract expression. As we would discover, that was something possibly impossible for him to do.
I never again played that album where he could hear it. I’ve played it a lot in the past twenty-two months. Mojo goes on high alert. I wonder how whalesong translates to him.
Bumble Bee. My nickname for Gary, one of. The Bumbliest Bee. The Mister. Mr. Grumblebee. I was glitterbug to him, his Glitter Girl. He used to mimic John Belushi in the Blue Brothers “King Bee” bit. He could be soft, and fuzzy, and sociable, and helpful, and he also had a very painful sting. It made perfect sense that the only medicine that helped for his allergies was honey, lots of local honey. He was my Bumble Bee for years. Forever.
So I see this juxtaposition, and I dive in. Book the appointment. Right around the 22-month mark. I woke this morning of the appointment after not managing my expectations the night before and am still feeling the sadness of it, even though I know what happened and why. Knowing how to not have that particular scenario play out again, while not scolding myself for allowing it to happen in the first place. The weight of summer is upon me in full: soggy, homicidal, blanketing, dysphoria and depression cycling out of control. My good friend John reached out, early this morning, asking how I was. I was honest. “I can’t get out of bed. I don’t want to.” He was gentle with me, as he always is, asking if I was off work today, what I had planned (not if I had plans. Important distinction), being empathetic as I wound through feeling frozen, not wanting to leave. Listing all the things I still haven’t done. John asked, “Do you feel like leaving means he’s really gone”, to which I replied, “I know he’s really gone. Yes. I won’t be able to look around and see him here, hear his voice here.”
Unprompted, he budgeted my time for me. Told me what to do; gave me guidance. I explained the meaning behind the whale and bee. That I need the physical pain that will come with this new tattoo, this catharsis. Even as I dawdled, started the shower and returned to my bed, John pressed, gently nudging me to get ready. That yes, you need this. I showered, dressed, drove. Started listening to The Ethical Slut on my way. Liking it a lot.
The pain is sharp, and necessary. For the first time ever it doesn’t take my breath away; no, it rides alongside the pain inside, keeping it company, letting it dissolve. Allowing it to be free, to let go. As we talk, as she works, as we work on ideas we’ve shared, plans for a future in which strong women help each other grow. In which good men are welcomed and embraced. This future that I am embracing whole-body, whole mind, whole heart.
I get to Jar’s, walking a few blocks in the 90° heat. It feels like a steam room, the entire Bronx is one big sauna. We can’t even embrace for a hello it’s so hot. Upstairs, their AC on full, greeting friends, settling in, discussing the artwork. Telling them the story I just told you. Feeling the weight and weightlessness at once, knowing that this is perfect. We settle in to our positions, discussing the next piece, and the next. They begin.
I take a few pictures of my new ink, send them to friends of all flavors. Obviously I do this for validation (miss me with your armchair therapist observational diagnosis of codependence, savvy?) and not because I want to share my happiness. OBVS.🙄🙄
I’ve been obsessed with this piece, as I see it as one piece, not two. Whale + Bee, that’s how I have it in my calendar. I’m running through names, permutations for a website, something easy, something memorable. It isn’t gelling. The Whale and The Bee. Nope. Nuh-uh. And then, a question from someone I’ve been spending time with recently. He asks, “Is that like a blessing: Be Well (bee + whale)?”
I didn’t think about the visual pun. That never happens. I don’t know how that happened. I relayed that to him. Then I said, “The whale and the bee are much more personal images with very specific meaning. Be well. It’s fucking brilliant.” The more I sit with this revelation, the happier I become. I promise everyone who asks for context (because I’m not the type to get inked for no reason) that I’m writing a blog post about the meaning. TL:dr “Be well.” It’s something I say to people instead of the ubiquitous “take care” (ugh), or “be good” (vom). Be well.
Be well. I keep saying it. Be well. It hits me again; my current favorite ceramic glaze (well, the past three years, my entire high-fire career anyhow) is a beautifully imperfect thing, a Bruce Dehnert recipe called BwhaleD. Be well.
Here ends the first part of this tale.
Stay tuned. And be well.
Whales Weep Not!
They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.
All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs. The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of the sea!
And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages on the depths of the seven seas, and through the salt they reel with drunk delight and in the tropics tremble they with love and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods. Then the great bull lies up against his bride in the blue deep of the sea
as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life: and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale blood the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and comes to rest in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whale’s fathomless body.
And over the bridge of the whale’s strong phallus, linking the wonder of whales the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and forth, keep passing archangels of bliss from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the sea great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies. And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-tender young and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of the beginning and the end.
And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat encircling their huddled monsters of love. and all this happiness in the sea, in the salt where God is also love, but without words: and Aphrodite is the wife of whales most happy, happy she!
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.