Saturday, 27 December 2014

A Lesson in Transience

This is an aside.  It doesn't have to do with my travels, it's just something I've been thinking about.  This happened a long time ago.

I had been stood up at a "date" at a sexy party earlier that night.  I traded emails with some random person on the internet, I don't remember her name, and we talked about it as a way to meet.  It was a public space with lots of people, and the community surrounding was very clear about the need for consent.  It was safe and interesting and would've made a good setting and story for a first date, if she had ever shown up.  Somehow even though I was surrounded by people in sexy costumes seeking attention I managed to feel really sad about being stood up and barely talked with anyone.  I walked out before midnight with the costume covered by a trench coat.  I transformed into someone mundane, just another winter pedestrian in a long black coat.

After I left I met someone random on the train ride home.  I don't remember how exactly we struck up a conversation, but I remember that I asked her specifically if she was interested in talking with a stranger.  She looked upset and I wanted to distract her from it.  She didn't say no and we started talking, and she only clarified much later that the answer was yes.  We got to know each other slowly, little by little.  She liked guns, and frequented gun ranges.  She was ridiculously flexible.  She blogged and wrote poetry.  She rode her motorcycle around.

One day she came over to my house and we sat on the living room couch and heckled terrible movies.  Making fun of Britney Spears in Crossroads is the only part I remember, plus wondering whether or not this beautiful dark-haired woman was coming over to my house as a friend or as a date.

She talked about her ex-partner a little bit, just enough for me to know that the relationship was complicated and the separation was also complicated.  They had been together for a long time, she showed me pictures of a much heavier version of herself playing sports with him, and her eyes looked sad and a little vacant when she talked about him.  The process of getting to know her was so slow that I didn't ask many questions, I just noted that she had broken up with her ex recently and still had some intense feelings about it.

We talked frequently.  I knew when she had a dental emergency and helped her find an anesthetic (clove oil) when pharmacies and dental offices were closed.  I knew when she had a challenging conversation with her family.  I knew when her heartstrings got tugged on by her ex, although I didn't know details.  She had opened up to me in ways that felt a little bit special.  I didn't know any of her friends or family, she and I had a little bubble of friendship too new to have those factors woven in.

We went downtown to have dinner together at a Japanese place that she was especially fond of.  We went back to my place afterwards and had a drink.  I felt like this might be the kind of special that means friendship, but it might also be the kind of special where something  more might happen.  We were sitting in dim light in my room with wine glasses at 1:30 in the morning, and I asked her if she was interested in dating me.

A friend of mine would later ask me what it was like to be a man who time traveled from the 1950's.  People who aren't old men on the inside just make out with the person they're interested in and use that as a litmus test. 

She turned me down gently, but without any room for misunderstanding.  She just said no, she wasn't interested in dating, and that was that.  She drove home.  We were definitely still friends.

We made plans to go hiking and kayaking.  She was asking me what I was doing on Saturday or Sunday.  She asked me if I was superstitious about Friday the 13th. She told me that when she and I went out for a Bellini after work it made her day.  In February on her Facebook page someone posted that she was in a head-on, hit-and-run collision with a towtruck in the suburbs and was pronounced dead at the crash.

I was too startled to be sad.  I didn't know her well enough to know whether or not it was a prank.  I waited, and when no one corrected or withdrew the update I understood with a kind of sharp finality that she was actually dead.  A car crash had killed her.  I tried talking to a friend of mine about it and he assured me that identity is insubstantial and that the only thing lost was transient anyways and that her loss was primarily a mental construct.  I got angry and told him that no matter what mental construct I had I was sad that I would never again get to do any more things with her.  No hikes, no heckling bad movies, no figuring out who she was as a human being, her story in my life would never advance past what had already happened.  No mental or emotional gymnastics could undo the fact of her absence.

She was just gone.  Death is final.

The details of the funeral were posted on the same Facebook page.  The bubble of our friendship had burst - I had never met any of the other people who I was sharing grief with.  She had never talked to anyone about me; not friends, not family.  I was a stranger at a stranger's funeral.  They gave out the spent bullet casings from her time at the gun range, wrapped in little ribbons, and a lot of people I didn't know gave me dirty looks.

Her mother was understandably teary - weeping and holding hands with a twenty-something man.  When people were invited to tell stories about the deceased, he was announced as the boyfriend who's heart was broken by this loss.

Before she died I heard a lot about her tumultuous separation and about some of the challenges of being single.  The man standing in front of me, holding the hands of a grieving mother, seemed pretty sure that when his girlfriend had passed away they were still a couple.  There was no purpose to adding confusion to grief.  I left, and carried out with me all of the conversations about breakups and separation that appeared to be inaccurate or at least seriously misrepresented.

I have questions.  Why did she mislead me about her (ex?) partner?  Did that have something to do with why I never met any of her friends?  Was this just her way of her relating to a new person, was I reading too much into it?

She's dead.  During the crash a piece of debris in the back window of her car hit her neck at the 3rd vertebrae and cut off her brain's connection to her body.  Whatever other damage a head-on collision did to her was incidental in the face of a severed spine.

Mostly I remember walking with her, taking the long train rides downtown, the surprising sweetness of a new friend.  I wondered idly at the mystery of her now and then.  Her departure from my life was profoundly abrupt.  Her funeral was a ceremony of closure for some but a ceremony that, for me, only moved closure further away.

I have questions.  They're like an itch.  I miss her.  I feel a little bit ashamed that I also wish I could get answers.  But she's dead, and there are no answers.

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