We both know what today is; it is May 12, 2003…
I am in the “treacherous stairway” at the Tricou House at 711 Bourbon St. I am carrying a large black plastic bag of wasted food, left over and careless tourist nibbles poshly pushed off their plates to say, “oh, no, no, this Andouille sausage simply will not suffice, it is just too spicy.”
Twenty-four hours into the past I am on the phone with you, your voice is dragging the way too much alcohol, too many narcotics, too many anxiolytics, too many all at once taking control from a tongue and mechanically touching random ridges, bumbling over bilabials, stumbling a cough and glottal stop…
(I can hear breathing, shallow, breathing like seeing the leaves or gnats pirouette on the sidewalk and hearing nothing, hearing no thing, breathing like a wind vain, breathing like a hemispherical cup anemometer spinning only when I look away and it’s only a squeal, a squeak off in the periphery.)
Tomorrow I am working, I won’t have time to call, I’m sorry, I want to wish you a happy mother’s day, how are you?”
(I’m praying for the first time in 12 years.)
“Fine, I’m, somewhere and doing- ok.”
(I can hear your deep breathing, your dry mouth and too much saliva collecting around your tonsils. I can hear your eyelids like a diver splashlessly clearing water. I can hear your lips turn down, I can hear your mouth unable to open wide, lips like waiting over petals, lips like turning the page in a book that I’m not sure I will keep enjoying)
“You don’t sound very well.”
(You sound like you are dying, you sound like a voice I will never hear again. You sound like I am now lost–losing you.)
“I think I took the wrong. Something pills that shouldn’t mix. The Dr. said I’m fine, I love you.”
(“I love you.” The words come out hollow in a Milton form of vacant chaos… There is nothing I can say to convey how much I need you.)
“Happy mother’s day, if I find time- can I call you tomorrow?”
(It is already 24 hours into the future, I know this is our last conversation.)
“Yes. Tomorrow. Thank you, I love you. Don’t forget.”
It is 24 hours into the future, 5:15pm, May 13th, 2003. I am in the “treacherous stairway” at the Tricou House at 711 Bourbon St. where a woman, Penelope, is said to have lost her footing decades ago and fell to her death, I am carrying a large black plastic bag of wasted left overs, careless tourists nibble poshly at pushed off plates to say, “oh, no, no, Oysters Evangeline simply will not suffice, how is this even palatable to these southerners?”
I can feel my mobile vibrate in my right pocket, there isn’t anything I can do. It vibrates again, 5 more times. A voicemail is left. I’m pouring water down the cobble stone hallway flushing vomit into the gutters of Bourbon St. Errol, the porter, hands, under table, to me a shot of Glenlivet and with index finger to lips he exhales with a tongue pressed against his alveolar ridge, “shhh.”
My throat and belly is burning.
My phone is vibrating again.
“Hello? Dad, what’s up?”
(It is 3 minutes into the future- I can’t even breathe to speak)
“Are you busy? You sound like you are at work?”
(It is 2 minutes into the future- my boss is just telling me, “go, you’re covered, whatever this is, go home, you’re fine.”)
“Yes, but I have a break, what’s up?”
(It is 1 minute into the future– I am nearly asphyxiating.)
“Sit down, light a cigarette, if you can- light two.”
My father is on the other end of my mobile in broken words, no sentences that I can understand, “your mother,” a ringing presents itself in my ears, temporary tinnitus, “it appears to be suicide, she hanged herself” (I didn’t call her), “are you ok?” (I didn’t call her, I said I would), “I will call Molly, Jason? Are you there? Don’t go anywhere, I’ll have Molly come get you. Just stay where you are.”
It is 5:25pm, May 13th, 2003. I am at the corner of Orleans St. and Bourbon St. watching a kaleidoscopic of vomit and tears pool into fractals between my feet. A man is approaching me he says, “can’t be that bad, and this, this you can not do here.”
“My mother,” I can barely gasp, “suicide, mother’s day, I didn’t call her.”
It is 5:30pm, May 13th, 2003. A man is taking his hand off the shoulder of a crying boy, he is walking backwards and trips over the curb. Speechlessly he mutters something rhyming with compassion.
Through a haze of a chiaroscuro, almost sfumato, blur of tears, white hyperventilation stars dance in my vision and color, for the first time in my colorblind life, is all I can make sense of…
Neon, cardinal, agate quartz, Ares red.
Vitreous humor, bone, teeth, lightning white.
Acorn, hawk, bear, haire, duck brown.
What I am is a fragment of jumping leaping skipping falling and flashforwards, flashbacks, flashups and downs and flashsideways. (I didn’t call you.)
I am in the passenger side of my 1987 Chevrolet Cheyenne like leaves carried from corner to building, to hawk eyes, and birds, to lakes, and rivers, to corner by your
death breath rattle.
I am bones strung together by too thin wire in an opaque translucent skin sack centripetally, centrifugally, moving like a marionette guided by a motion puppeteer and vacant.
You are not gone, you cannot be.
“It’s a suicide, she hanged herself.”
It is 7 years into the future. I am on my road bicycle leaving my North Side apartment to go to work. The route I take is from the North Side up California and down Allegheny Ave. When I hit the tail end of the hill on California ave. I am, always, all ways, experiencing the exercise high that people talk about. I do this 7 miles to work and then 7 home.
I am at the peak of California’s hill and my mind is nothing but an LHC of thoughts I couldn’t even begin to describe. The distances between all neurons are collapsing from minute distances to–no longer measurable. The bike is the road is the path is the commute to work is the responsibility of a job is the reason I have a job is the reason I live in Pittsburgh is the voice…
That shouts from within to ask me, “why?”
“Why did you leave New Orleans 7 years ago anyway?”
(I can only imagine what the residence on Lincoln ave felt when they saw a solitary cyclist maudlin and weeping over his handle bars.)
“Because… It should have changed.”
I am convincing myself that moving back to Pittsburgh, staying in Pittsburgh then somehow, someway, somewhen– you’re suicide did not happen and if it did, I can reverse it.
It’s 5 minutes into the future and my truck bed is full of everything I own. It’s 30 seconds into the future and I am driving down Route 376 to catch a connecting road to take me to New Orleans again.
And In the French Quarter I see your face
in ever middle aged women in passing.
My face turns down, embarrassed, you
take a picture of me while blushing,
I tell you to “stop, put that thing away,
you look like a tourist, turn it off.”
In the backs of women shorter than my
slouched shoulders – I see you. Black hair,
curls, walking away from everywhere I am.
I want to grab them, embrace them all,
saying “stop, no, wait, let’s go home now,
there is the market we must stop at first.”
You wave a hand waving away my face
telling me “it’s just a picture, I want some
thing to remember you by, this town is
the oldest form of beauty, there is a gallery
I want to see, I’ll be back in a minute.”
At my desk I sit with cigarettes, myriad
cloves driven into an orange, Nag Champa,
like a scent mobile, a swamp in the air,
a typewriter, Abita beers, my cell phone.
At night it stays on, plugged in, waiting
for you to call saying, “I’m sorry, got lost,
which street do I turn from if I’m on
Chartres? Are you busy? I found this
wall, the hurricane must’ve damaged
it. I took pictures, it has a wonderful
scene in it. The rocks, displaced, are
children playing red rover. Or maybe
it’s a willow tree. No, now that I look
harder – these rocks, it’s two lovers
but the man is kissing himself, she’s
not really here. He’s pretending. Well,
I’ll back soon, I love you, don’t wait up,
make sure there is still some whiskey
left over so I don’t have to run to
the store at 4 am. Goodnight. I love you”
With the sun and hooves clopping upon
Decatur St. each morning my eyes adjust.
Sleep rubbed from the corners of my face.
2 more years blink with my open balcony shutters,
since your death, since we last spoke.
I keep wondering when you’ll be
back. Still and calming words. Telling me
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know how much you
needed me. I didn’t think this would hurt
you this bad. I just needed a break. This
was just a joke. Some paperwork got
mixed up. I’ve been on vacation. Can you
forgive me? How have you been? Are
you teaching yet? Are you in love?
Can I hear some of your most recent
poems? Do you still look away every time
someone makes you smile?”
John is now convincing I am convincing myself that there, really, is nothing more besides grief and mourning that I can approach this. John and Blake are convincing I am convincing myself that people exist in our minds and hearts. That we project who we believe who people are onto them, onto things they left behind, onto ourselves. You’re dead and no one can change that. It has been 7 years since this happened and I am now stepping slowly out of denial’s fire escape.
It is 2 years into the future and I sit on my flat garden roof at midnight on mother’s day. The anniversary of your death–mother’s day.
I couldn’t ever hate you, I couldn’t ever stop crying, I can’t ever stop mourning the loss of our future together.
The thing is– I do carry you within me, I carry your heartache, your bipolar, your depression, your suicidal ideation. But I carry something more; I carry what you left between the lines, what dad came to be. I carry your heartache in the pocket next to my notebook, I carry your bipolar, your depression, your, “danger nights,” next to my phone with Emily, Kitty, Blake, John and my father on speed dial. I carry your suicidal ideations on my back, like a mule, away from razors, away from drugs, away from guns, away from alcohol.
I carry my mourning into the evening tonight hearing you whisper that, “this year will be better than the last,” because– it always is. I am tumbling, like an echo, far away from the pain of feeling I could have saved you. I am mossless and tumbling away from–could have, should have. You are gone, you are missed, you are loved and you are right… I can get better at being me even if it means tackling our genes.
I love you more than the day I opened my arms, slap footed and screaming bloody on your chest. I love you more than every ocean visit we took.
Happy Mother’s Day…
PS. If you were here… You would know…