Holes in the bottoms of my Rocawears. Open seams on their sides. My socks soak up black rainwater from Times Square. Is Jay-Z somewhere out there in sunlight, laughing, in sandals?
I follow the ant-like path of commuters around the angry looking woman smoking a cigarette. She’s standing directly in front of a turnstile, her eyes begging someone to bring her day to cataclysm. Would it be a dark kindness to give that to her? Squishy steps to the uptown 2/3. The thought: all we go through and learn, from the most practical disasters to the headiest philosophies, is to make us better at taking care of each other.
At home, scrolling words up my iPhone screen. I know that doing this supposedly makes me sadder because science says so but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Am I weighing these images of hundreds of people against my memories of them? Remembering gangly teenagers or brutish dormitory menaces and relishing in the contrast of their profile pictures?
Electronic funerals, I think. Mass electronic funerals. The pictures of a bright-eyed actor, grotesquely spliced against smoky wreckage. The backlash from those I have dubbed the Grief Police: “damn your obsession! You aren’t paying attention to what matters!” Then the torrent of quotes from a national leader and the honorary profile pictures. The so-predictable-it-hurts backlash of that outpour, as if to imply that everything you care about via electronic media can only be false and showy.
The Grief Police don’t want you to share your feelings unless it’s about someone you know, or soldiers, or someone important, or not at all, or however they prefer at the current moment. They think you’re reprehensible.
I’ve been the Grief Police, I realize, toothbrush hanging out of my mouth. My own smoky wreckage inside, obsessing over newspaper articles about dead kids and damning you hundreds of people for not seeming to care in the same way. Getting drunk and going crazy on your comment thread and unfriending you. Anxiety under my bed sheets, fantasizing apologies and reconciliations, then switching the lamp off.
Of course it’s mostly because of a seventeen year old kid, gasping, clutching to his friend and mother in the hallway of the funeral home on Grand Avenue in Baldwin. And then a twenty-three year old kid, curled up in a ball in sobs in his tiny Brooklyn apartment, saying “fuck, oh fuck, fuck,” over and over again. Because of the closeness of those two kids and the distance I am trying to create for my self and them and how my face has barely changed through all of it. (I mean, guys, seriously, what are you doing to your faces that yours change and mine doesn’t?)
Sometimes I am your gentle friend, accepting all and comforting, asking what you need. Because I know what it’s like to lose. But then I’m a belligerent outsider, striking out and demanding more from you. Because you don’t know what it’s like to lose.
I’ve made you sit through ambling, clunky plot lines, shifting and coughing in your theater seats, preparing your smile and congratulations for the lobby. I’ve made you stop as you are about to exit the kitchen and find comfort in your bed because, oh, we’re talking about something serious now and he needs more of my attention. Made you like my status. Answer my text. Excuse me from my 12th grade English paper because I didn’t feel like doing it. Because my grief made me special, or so I wanted you to think. The dreams that come are blurry pools of anxiety in which he is still sick but hasn’t died, and I prepare to tell my loved ones that I was lying about it the whole time and he’s in the next room.
It stops days. Selling kettle corn in Bryant Park and abruptly it’s like I’m walking through concrete as it hardens. Every thought tinted blue-gray and echoing words from 10 years ago. Images of a decimated body – those arms that used to lift me from the ground, now twig-thin and poking out from a hospital gown. And of stuffy rooms of suits and broken promises and the way it made me see my self in the starkest light.
But more and more, experiencing grief became like chuckling over an old friend rather than whispering about a violent stalker. It made me look. At the teenage couple flicking drips of soda at each other in front of the frozen-over fountain. At the woman in pink sweatpants with green teeth asking people for a little help. They’re here. They’re all here: the handsome security guard getting his free coffee from the girl at the shop, hoping for her number. The parents holding their kid’s hands, telling me they’re going to be alright. They’re here. Oh god they’re all here and trying and wanting: the vendors shuffling to close up at night and calculating the day’s earnings and toddler flinging a penny backwards over his head into the water and then young woman who shows up every day to practice ice-skating by her self and making the elegant swirls on the ice while the middle-aged dad falls over his daughter next to her, and the baby, wailing and crying from his stroller in the grip of some anguish that will never have words, only to go still at some sight far up above that no one will ever know, his eyes still letting go tears but now open wide and peaceful like planets seen from orbit.
They’re all here, just for now. Just for this blinking moment. And I get to witness them.
And then there’s you. You squeeze your fingers between your jeans pockets to get your iPhone, readying some thought you want the world to know. You sit down in front of your laptop, late at night after you’ve broken a heart or made love and you want to say something, you don’t know what, just something and someone will see it. You grieve for someone you never knew because you don’t know how to do it for someone you did know. You tell us about what you’re eating or how angry you are about the Republicans or Obama and you’ll regret it but you did it, it happened. You tag your friend and how lovely she looks on her wedding day and it’s okay you wanted to look just as lovely. You share a song and we know you are the person in the lyrics. You remember your mom or celebrate your brother’s birthday with an embarrassing picture, you have an audience for all of this, you’re here, you grieve for Nelson Mandela because he tried, and you don’t really know the whole story but you feel that something has been lost, something exuberant and solid and worthwhile, and fucking 63 people liked your post and that’s worth something, 63 people saw you for a moment because you’re here, you’re here for just this moment and we’re witnessing you and your silly pictures of your dog.
You’re here. We see you.