Thursday, January 21, 2010
"Cryin' All the Time"
Last Friday I was enjoying another lovely dinner with a charming fellow, when I began telling him a story. A friend of mine from college lost her brother just before Christmas. I was explaining how many parallels there are between her family and mine. She is the oldest of three, the only girl, there's a bit of an age gap between her and the boys, it was her youngest brother who died. I don't actually know the specifics of what killed him, but my impression is a life-long (oh, how horrible that terms sounds now) struggle with drugs and alcohol played a role. At dinner, I wondered aloud if that might add a bit of rage to the grief. Does one end up feeling like the loved one valued his life and the love of his family and friends so little that he was willing to court death? Does one end up feeling angry at the loved one, like he acted selfishly?
I know how addictions work; people addicted to booze, pills or cigarettes are rarely consciously trying to kill themselves. I know too that suicides are usually a result of a despair so unrelenting and overwhelming that the loved one isn't thinking clearly on any level. I'm not saying rage would be a reasonable reaction (like so much of this experience is reasonable). Still, I couldn't help but wonder if I would feel some significant rage at James, had he died this way. Hell, for a few days after his death, I realized I'd been hoping that we'd learn the driver of the cement truck was being charged with vehicular homicide or some such, as if a conviction for murder would somehow make the loss of my baby brother easier to take.
Thinking about my friend and her family, about James, about all the people I know who died too young, I got rather worked up. For the first time in a while I found it hard to talk, or hold back the tears. For reasons that seemed clear at the time, I launched into a tirade against various players on the world stage.
"FUCK George Bush," I announced, just a teensy bit too loudly. "I don't want to hear ONE WORD from him about how much he suffers when soldiers come home in body bags! And Fuck Al Qaeda too! Fuck the jihadis! Fuck ANYONE who holds his own life and the lives of others so cheap he is willing to cause this grief for oil and money and greed and all sorts of bullshit reasons hiding behind words like honor and patriotism and religious devotion and national security. Fuck them! Fuck them all!"
My dinner companion reacted to this disturbing display with admirable grace. He held my hand, let me take the last of his Pinot Noir, and said the one thing that a raving lunatic like me could handle at that point.
"All I can do is listen."
A bit later I went to the bathroom to pull myself together. This particular restaurant has a music theme, so all the single-seater bathrooms have the names of pop icons on the doors. I went into the Elvis room, where I found a life-sized mosaic of him on one wall, and his voice playing over a private sound system. As luck would have it, he was singing In the Ghetto. It was near the end, right as the child in the story, now an angry and armed young man, is gunned down in the street.
"And his mama cried."
"Are you fucking KIDDING ME?" I asked the room at large. "In the Ghetto? We couldn't pull out Love Me Tender or Blue Suede Shoes or, I don't know, Viva Las Vegas maybe? Old swivel-hipped, eye-liner-wearing sexy Elvis, we couldn't have that guy singing for the three fucking minutes I was going to be in this room? "AND HIS FREAKIN' MAMA CRIED"?
After a few more minutes of nose-blowing, inarticulate ranting, crying and a bit of (perhaps slightly hysterical) laughing, I calmed down. I hoped that the thick bathroom door, combined with the (loud) piped Elvis, the different (loud) piped music in the restaurant, and hell, the different soundtracks coming from each of the other bathrooms all had muffled the whack-job in the Elvis room sufficiently. Of course this is New York City. People ignore crazy folks all the time. It's what we do. I do it almost every day.
Again to his credit, my mellow dinner companion, bless him, hadn't taken advantage of my absence to make good his escape. He's a good guy.
This is the second time my brother has given me the experience of laughing and crying at the same time. It really is an odd sensation. Before we left the restaurant, I stopped by the bathroom to blow my nose one more time. Fearing what I might hear in the Dolly, Cher, or Barbra rooms, I went back to Elvis. I figured the chances were good In the Ghetto wouldn't be back on.
This time the song was Hound Dog. Much better.