Perfecting Your Memory in The Alex Era

  • Feb. 18, 2024, 12:16 p.m.
  • |
  • Public

I am surprised to turn and find you in the passenger’s seat as I drive home from my date. There’s many reasons why I’m startled to see you there. For one thing, you weren’t with me on the way there. You weren’t even invited to come along. Also, you’ve been dead since March.

But there you are. Your mess of curls. Your eyes of green, snappy with arrogance. Your crooked, wide grin of clamped teeth. The sickle scar above your lip.

You greet me with a “hiya, Bunny”-that voice full of swagger & smirk, your Brooklyn accent spinning around me like the Coney Island Wonder Wheel. You pull a pipe out of your over-sized leather jacket pocket. I immediately recognize the coat as the one I spilled beer all over the back of at Old Main Inn, the last time we visited my college town together. I remember you once pulled a glass bluebird (identical to one my grandmother had owned) out of that same coat’s pocket to surprise me after a day of antiquing. You pack the pipe with pot before taking a toke, holding your breath. You then look side-to-side before blowing smoke out the right hand corner of your mouth-all mock stealth and Acme Corporation. You shrug sheepishly as I stare disapprovingly at the silly charade, “Look, you’re the one imagining me—not sure why you’re surprised that I’m smoking.” It’s my turn to shrug. Sometimes I forget that in the years without you that my mind has tried unsuccessfully to perfect your memory.

“Soooo, how was it?”
“What?” I’m caught off-guard by your question.
“Earth to bunny—how was your date?” you ask, laughing that goon laugh of yours. I’d forgotten how much I loved the sound of your laugh. Often the two of us had our own jokes that the rest of the world would never find funny. I think about how you and I were verbally tussling once and I told you, “Don’t look at me all…..pissy snake eyes!” You laughed till I joined in & it became a phrase we would utter to make the other one laugh. Pissy snake eyes. Pissy snake eyes. Sometimes I still want to use that phrase, to laugh about it, but there’s no one left who understands the joke. So much of our existence is like that, a stretched out space and heavy weight in me that no one understands the significance of. Our world was so small, it only had room for each other.

I feel guilty being honest, that it was a great date.
“Come on, Bun, you can tell me. We aren’t together anymore &, more importantly, I’m fucking dead—so spit it out. Was it a good date?”
“Honestly? It was great. And we didn’t even DO anything. Like, we got mediocre brunch at that diner we’ve commandeered as ‘our place.’ We went to an antique store Then, he surprised me by taking these back country roads out to this cider mill and gift shop where I could feed ducks and geese. Did you just fucking yawn?”
You grin, saucily, “Sorry, it just surprises me that this is what you’re like now, I mean all things considering.”
“Me too, but I’m older now, Al. And I’m tired.”
“Well, as long as you had fun, I guess. Gotta be better than what I’m up to these days,” you say, drawing a distorted cartoonish face on the window with your meaty finger….a sudden feeling of melancholy flowing like air conditioning through the car. “Of all the places to be dead…why couldn’t I be a ghost in fucking NYC or something?”

I want to tell you that I did have fun on my date. I want to tell you that I love that mediocre diner-even though they forgot my home fries & gave me a coffee cup with lipstick stains on it that I had to send back. I love that diner because it’s where I sit and hold his hand, while he happily chats with locals and the waitress…and brags about what a talented writer he thinks I am. I want to tell you that even a trip to an overpriced antique store is fun with him. Today, we rifled through a bin of ephemera, riffing on the oddities we found…old black and white photographs of grumpy looking elderly women, old holiday cards with notes in spidery cursive of old schoolmarms, ads from eras where sexist messages were commonplace…after, we spent our time there trying to find the most racist memorabilia, the creepiest Santa and the child’s toy with the facial expression that showed it had seen the most shit. Sometimes he finds something I say particularly delightful and laughs a high pitched balloon pop of a laugh that makes me proud of myself. After that, I am happy to ride out to the cider mill, listening to his song parodies and jokes as he constantly caresses & squeezes the joints of my fingers-even if the heat in his car is always on too high. When we get to Fly Creek, he gets change so he can buy corn for me to feed the fowl. I shriek happily when the birds approach the gate at the sight of the corn in my palm. I yell, “hello, you glorious assholes!” as I throw the corn to them and I can feel his affection for me radiating from him as he watches me cackle over their flocking and furious pecking. The deelybopping of their feathered heads. I love him, the way I can see myself refracted into a colorful spectrum of light through his eyes. I love how he puts so much effort into making me happy. He kisses me how I like to be kissed, how I need to be kissed–tenderly mostly, with an occasionally passionate roughness. I love his crazy brain, constantly plucking punchlines out of the ocean of his own misery and that of this world’s. And his writing? God, his fucking, beautiful, cleverness on the page. I love him, want to be with him for a long time, always. But I don’t tell you any of this. How could I? I am getting a second chance to be in love with someone special….and sadly, your chances are all spent.

“He reminds me of you, the good parts of you, Al. All the parts of you I loved so dearly,” I tell you instead and I turn and smile at you for a minute. Seeing the person I met in the hospital, the man I fell in love with the minute you smiled at me. The man who never left my side there…who kissed me till my lips felt swollen & raw, between the nurses’ rounds…The man who I attached everything to and still have been unable to completely detach myself from. I want to reach out and caress your cheek, feel the thick ever present stubble that seemed to regrow within 5 minutes of shaving…but I know it will only break my heart when my fingers feel nothing…just a swipe of absence.

“So he reminds you of me, eh? But is he as funny as me? I mean, I’m fucking hysterical,” you tease.
“He does stand-up comedy, so .... ”
“Oh ok, well fuck me very much, I guess.”
We both laugh. Then are quiet. I feel your frequency getting weaker. Your presence thinner.

“Yeah?” You ask softly, gently. A cradle rocking.
“I’m sorry,”
“For what? Being a junkie? That was me, remember? Or did you forget?” You poke your tongue out at me, rascally.
“I know, I just wish I had been a better person when I was with you.”
“If you had known how to do better then, you would have done it. You did the best you could with what you had then. You only had a couple colors on your palette back then, but you tried to paint something beautiful anyway….it’s not your fault it wasn’t a Chagall.”
“I’m still sorry….for everything, except loving you..”
“So’m I.”

We drive past the electronic billboard that has a glitch in it…just a square of flickering red in the middle of it, like a doorway to hell. Even though the sky is heavy laden with rain clouds and the trees are bare, spires & spindles against the skyline, the valley looks beautiful. Gray November surrounding us. You strum air guitar on your thigh as you hum along with my radio. Your voice was always surprisingly beautiful…your higher register pure. I had put that detail in a box and packed it away somewhere in the back of my crowded mind. It feels weird to air that memory out.

“I have to start to let you go somehow, baby,” I finally say—the words suspended in the air like birds on a wire.
“I know,” you say, picking at the frayed hole in the knee of your jeans.
“I don’t want to. But-”
“You have to. I know,” you finish. There is no sadness in your voice. Just a matter-of-fact quality. A teacher reading a history book to a classroom.
“I’m just afraid. I don’t want to forget you, Al. You’re important to my life story.”
“You won’t forget, because you can’t.”

It’s no surprise that when I turn a minute later, you’re gone-almost like you’ve parted the curtain between this world and the next and walked through it. Even though I know I was only imagining you there, for the 3rd time in our story, I regret not getting a chance to say my goodbye.

So much to be pissy snake eyes about….

And yet…
Written in Nov 2020, about 8 months after he died

No comments.

You must be logged in to comment. Please sign in or join Prosebox to leave a comment.