Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Life and death

I've been thinking about life and death. Middle age does that to a lot of people, but it started earlier for me - I've always felt like the end was uncomfortably close, and I've just been trying to put it off as long as possible. We're all slowly dying.

When I was 16, the first girl I ever loved died in a car crash. I have really never gotten over that. It wasn't while we were in a relationship - we had drifted apart, like kids do, often too quickly. But somehow that made it all the more shocking to me. We hadn't "broken up" or anything - we had one of those weird informal teenage relationships but we lived a couple towns over from each other, which made it difficult to get really serious, or even see each other as much as we wanted to. Neither of us could drive. So there was no big fight or formal declaration of separation. After a brief but intense period where we'd spend 8 or 10 hours on the phone with each other every single day, we had just gradually started talking and seeing less and less of each other, until she finally got a new boyfriend. But I still considered her a friend, and felt I could call her any time I wanted to. And I thought about her a lot.

She was not the love of my life, and this was a long time ago. But she was the first, and she was a friend.

One day in 1988, I got a call from somebody - I don't remember who - to tell me she had been in an accident. I remember he sounded pretty shaken up too, and he finally just blurted out "she's dead, man." I thanked him for calling to tell me, picked up a newspaper to verify what he said and then locked myself in my room and didn't come out for three days. I was a wreck.

Her name was Jean. Every couple of years, I do a search for her on the internet. There's nothing. (There are others who share her name, but she's not even lost in the shuffle... there's just nothing.)  There was nothing even back then; a news story the day it happened in the local paper, an obituary, and that's it. People had stopped even talking about her within what seemed like a week.

I don't know why I would expect any different - life goes on, and a lot of people have died that aren't mentioned on the internet. But it seems somehow... unjust... that a person can touch somebody's life like that and then just wink out of existence as if they were never even here. And I don't mean unjust in a cosmic way; I'm talking about the way we as people remember the dead. None of her friends have ever thought to even so much as write something about her and post it somewhere, in all those years? How do you just forget someone like that? I include myself in that, though others were a bigger part of her life when she died.

A few months ago, my dad died after a relatively long bout with cancer. I actually don't know if I've fully processed it yet; I think I'm still going through that, and trying to figure out what he meant to me (we had a complicated relationship). A lot of the things I've been thinking about lately are probably related to his dying. His death was a little different in that we all knew it was coming, and had had about two years to prepare for it. But still, it's always a shock when it actually happens. One day this person's there, and the next day they're not.

This weekend, I'm going to Portland to finally have whatever service my stepmother has planned for his internment. On the way, my wife and I are stopping in San Francisco, mostly for "fun", although I've realized that most of the stuff I want to do is retracing my steps from when I lived there as a kid... with my dad.  The strangest moment of the past few weeks for me was when I realized I remembered actually going out with him on his 40th birthday, at one of the places we're planning on going this weekend.

I turned 40 last month.

Not only am I practically reenacting that day as him, but I now have only as much time left in my own life as the time between that memory and now. (Or less, because hopefully I won't get run over by a bus in the meantime.) That's... weird.

I don't feel old. I feel like I was 16 yesterday, and writing songs (that I never finished) about Jean's death. But I'm 40, and I've had two collapsed lungs and I have a dilated aorta that could rupture someday. I look younger than I am, I'm as thin as I was in college and I feel fine, but underneath I'm in pretty sorry shape, and my body's working against me.

I feel like I'm building towards some sort of question here, but I don't know what it is yet. I don't think it's as simple and cliched as "what's the point?" I guess I'll have to finish this thought later... if I still have time once I figure it out.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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