Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Knowledge We're Born With

You know you really love someone when you start to worry about their death, when you've imagined the death bed scene so many times that if it ever actually unfolds that way, it will almost be a comfort. I think we imagine these things because in a strange way, if we bring their death into the fabric of our lives, we think we'll be able to have something of their lives woven into the fabric of our lives after their death-- a trade of sorts, a way of saving a bit of today for a hopefully distant tomorrow. How strange it will be if I am the one in the death bed with those I love so well gathered around me. I hope that-- as backwards a desire as this sounds-- I get to outlive them all.

There was an old Irish lady named Eileen Hull, who lived down the street from me on Tindle Ave. She was in her 90s and she only had one close friend her age who hadn't died yet-- Betty, who lived a few doors down. They had both lived there since the 1950s. Eileen told me things about the history of the neighborhood- what it had been like before they built the entry ramp to the 400. She told me-- a few times, actually, because she repeated stories-- about how one of the houses on the street had to be moved on a truck bed down the street, and how they had hoisted the thing onto the truck with everything still inside of it and moved it to a brand new lot at the tail end of the street. She remembers sitting on her front porch and seeing the lampshade in the living room window moving back and forth as it trundled slowly along.

Eileen held so much history inside of her. When she told a story, it was always a *good* one- something vivid, and painted with the perfect details to set your imagination alight. She was life personified- so beautiful. I never even said goodbye to her when we moved. I still feel guilty about that.

I was the one who had to tell Eileen the horrible news that her old neighbor's daughter, Patsy, had passed away in her 50s of Lupus. Eileen had watched her grow up and they still wrote letters back and forth.

Eileen has lost more people in her old age than I've had the good fortune of ever knowing. And when she found out that Patsy had died, she doubled over in pain at the news. I'll never forget it. We were standing on the sidewalk in front of her house and she had her Scottish Terrier on a short leash. She was wearing a thin  house coat and slippers. Her leg skin was exposed and her leg skin looked like melted candle wax because of her Diabetes. Her hair was always freshly dyed some technicolor shade of orange. And the pain of the news bent her double. Eileen.

It only took her a minute to recover, and when she did, she told me that Patsy had sent her a packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds with her last letter, just before her death. Eileen remembered this because she always remembered the powerful details. I think that's why she lived so long, so that she could be the one left to tell all of the stories.


The stars that we promised to gaze on
Burned out long ago. The comets that plummet
Like childhood visions extinguish
The knowledge we're born with
That all we perceive is already gone.

Not even stars, we imagine the arc
Of the comet as part of the present,
Yet the phantoms of stars that seem fixed
In the heavens are older and further
And fade much more slowly, so slowly

That we and and our children shall pass
Long before we perceive their absence.

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