The Message

Nonfiction / Lisa Marie Basile

:: The Message ::

I nev­er meant to call you the night before you died. There, I’ll admit it right here.

I wouldn’t have called you on my own because I thought you were filthy. In you I saw cheap beer and dia­betes. Chopped fin­gers and clots. In you I saw a heavy black tool box. Tack­le. Mag­gots and pills and cig­a­rettes smelling up my mother’s hair. In you I saw less than noth­ing. You who pulled my moth­er down into your suf­fer­ing. You who loved her so much you had to destroy her. You whose T-shirts were always dirty. Me whose life was pure and clean. You who called me a “famous writer.” You who abused my moth­er. You who put her out on the lawn. Me who lights a can­dle for you at night. Me who nev­er said hel­lo. Me who judged your god. Me who cursed you when you weren’t look­ing. Me who hoped you’d die. You who gave me $20 on Christ­mas when you had noth­ing else to give. Me who judged you, me who wore plain­clothes to vis­it, me who stared through you with dis­gust. You who slept with a bed­pan, you who my moth­er loved with her whole bro­ken might, you who suf­fered silent­ly into your last night. You who picked up the phone with such grat­i­tude and igno­rance. You who believed I’d call you to see if you were alright. You who spent a year in the hos­pi­tal dying. You who got out and just want­ed to pay the bills. Me call­ing from a city—my life so bound­less, my body and skin free of dis­ease, my insipid hatred—me call­ing from far away on my pedestal, you hack­ing blood late at night, me pret­ty, your lungs aspi­rat­ing, me far from you call­ing my moth­er an angel, me far from your last grasp, me swim­ming in cool blue water as you died in a bright, emp­ty room.

*

I wake filled with an engine of divine stuff; I am heav­ing it. It is an arm from the sub­ter­ranean reach­ing up, up, up. It whis­pers: you will grieve today. I walk list­less­ly through the day, pup­pet-stringed to it. Chthon­ic, a black well, me puls­ing through the water of vul­gar, unwant­ed prophe­cies. I keep pre­dict­ing death; my body knows it before I do.

*

Of course I called, I lie. Because how do you tell a sick man you weren’t actu­al­ly think­ing of him.

*

I move and move and move and reg­is­ter noth­ing. I touch the desk and the fab­ric and the win­dow ledge, but I don’t feel any of it. I can’t reg­u­late my con­scious­ness. I’m latched to a holy fun­nel. I am sit­ting on a beat up black leather couch with a box con­tain­ing your body. A per­son that exist­ed last month is now inside of a box. That box is on a cig­a­rette-holed square of sofa. The sofa in which he used to sit scream­ing loud­ly for can­dy or Nat­ty Ice. My moth­er would bring it, her wavy gold­en hair too good, too angel­ic, for him. Some­times he’d kiss her like a teenag­er kiss­es. He’d kiss her like he meant it. Some­times she did too because she nev­er loved her­self. Now he’s sit­ting inside of a box and I’m all bile and shame. Why couldn’t I have called him on pur­pose? Why am I not a good enough per­son to call a sick man? Who are we to judge anoth­er man? Who am I to leave town like I deserve to leave town? Who am I to wish bet­ter for my moth­er? Who am I to make a sound while some­one slow­ly dies? Who am I in this funer­al dress? Why does it hurt so bad to have hat­ed you? Come back, let me fill your pill box. Let me speak loud­ly over you chok­ing. Let me clean up your blood this time.

*

I am being pumped up, bloat­ed with your death. These days I wake with an empti­ness that feels like the sea. It’s con­stant, and it moves in and in and over. It nev­er stops. The shore is me, and the water is indeli­ble.

*

I wake up with the reverb of you. Today you will die. I have nev­er been close to god, and I have nev­er known god. I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe in a sem­blance of god, but this may be just a resis­tance; this may be why I keep being bul­lied by the angels; maybe they want me to lis­ten in. Lis­ten in. I don’t want to lis­ten in. Some­thing wakes me; it’s sit­ting on the far end of my bed, press-push­ing into the cov­er­let. It’s the feel­ing of some­one on the edge of your bed, but there’s no one on the edge of the bed. It’s a frag­ment of a per­son or a person’s spir­it detach­ing in parts. One part of you came over to me. Was it your leg, was it your arm? Were you try­ing to let me know you had to go?

*

There is a hole in my chest, and inside it is a part of you. I car­ry it with me, I peek in, peek in: hel­lo; I check if it is still alive. I go swim­ming to clean myself out. I go swim­ming to move like rib­bon, to hold my breath for a while. I think that this is a dying we can con­trol. We can pull it back, we can wake it up. But when I come out from under the water I feel I can’t get enough of any­thing.

*

He couldn’t do any­thing but die in white sheets. The room, I know, it smells like iron. I can nev­er not know it. Every­one in their sheets dis­ap­pear­ing from the face of the earth. Every­one miss­ing out on the agony down here. Every­one slip­ping through, mak­ing waves. His name was Mar­co, and Mar­co is gone. And before that, the oth­ers. The oth­ers are gone. And before that, some oth­ers. And those oth­ers are gone. I hold their gone-ness in me, hun­dreds of feet of gone-ness, but it’s all gone now. Even the gone-ness itself.

*

My moth­er calls to say she fell asleep on the sofa because you can­not sleep in a dead man’s bed. So she slept on the sofa, and when twi­light sleep came over her and she could still hear the voic­es from the radio, she felt his body sit on the chair beside her and lean into her. His lean­ing was real; that lean of death—that lean from where? In that moment there is only hor­ror. There is no com­fort. The truth is as loud as light. That the body isn’t there. That every­day, aver­age, nor­mal body. That dis­rup­tion.

When they were alive, you might cry out, “get off me!” or “I’m sleep­ing!” or maybe you move because “god damnit, you woke me up!”

That is not the case with a spir­it. The spir­it can take up space. The only prob­lem is its residue; how do you ever get it off you? How do you learn to hold its mes­sage?

*

He was always lean­ing. He was always col­laps­ing, and my moth­er was always catch­ing. He’d got­ten sick this past year, and the phone calls became tir­ing. He’d been in the hos­pi­tal, in and out, in and out, all year. One night my moth­er woke up and he was vom­it­ing blood, only it came from his lungs, and it was black and it was every­where, all over the blue bath­room. I’ve pissed so many times in that blue bath­room. Now I can nev­er piss in there again with­out all that black blood on me. Do you want me to send you some new cur­tains? I ask. A new bath mat? She says no, she prefers the blood stains. That she’d been awake in the yel­low morn­ing hours scrub­bing up the blood. That he’d stand in the hall­way mur­mur­ing, “I’m so sor­ry, I’m so sor­ry, let me clean it.”

But of course she would clean it; she will clean it long after you’ve gone.

*

My moth­er calls to say she is wash­ing his clothes: don’t bury me in a suit I want to buried in jeans and a T-shirt—so she’s wash­ing his shirts, but they have to be long-sleeved. They took his skin, she wails. They took all of his skin. He’s an organ donor but his organs were all rot­ten, although his skin was good and clean. My wound is filled with acid.

*

We find out about the bod­ies. They sit up when they’re being burned; they assume a fight­ing posi­tion, as if they know what is to come. It can take five hours. It can take five hours. Then he wants to be put out to sea, most­ly; we will wear a small part of him as a neck­lace.

*

There is a vacan­cy in me that rings out from some­where. Please, make a noise. They nev­er make a noise. They just sleep where the mar­ble is cold and always drenched in light. Full of forever—and me, and me, and me, stand­ing there knock­ing, knock­ing, ask­ing are you there? If you’re not, then from where am I get­ting all these mes­sages?

*

I stand at the font and rib­bon my hands back and forth in the water. I am catch­ing my fin­gers around the water; it’s a hand. I am hop­ing there is some­thing good left in me, that I haven’t been filled up with evil or empti­ness or exhaus­tion. That I haven’t let my loss­es turn into some­thing grotesque. I imag­ine wak­ing up and walk­ing down the stairs back­wards; I imag­ine my skin on fire. I say a prayer, but even that feels self­ish. We make death about our­selves. All this death makes a part of me evil. I place my head into the water, I open my eyes, I open my eyes and see.

There is only water; we are made of only water; we rip­ple, we flood, we toss up at the sand. We are bro­ken up. We are con­ti­nent. When I stop, I can feel the wave come in and pull back. That’s the mes­sage. That’s you. That’s the tide chang­ing.

 

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Dur­ing the sum­mer of 2017, my mother’s long-term part­ner passed away. He died incred­i­bly young after suf­fer­ing for a year. She, who’d worked in nurs­ing her whole life, took care of him in his last year. We didn’t know he’d die, but we knew he kept get­ting sick. She put all of her­self into him, into sav­ing him, into lit­er­al­ly resus­ci­tat­ing him. For her, the grief was and is end­less. And it was com­plex. Do we only mourn those who leave us with gold­en mem­o­ries? Can we mourn those who we, in part, hat­ed? Do they become absolved once they’re dead, lift­ed into some untouch­able lay­er of sky where sin is reduced to angel wings? I don’t know. As an athe­ist, I want­ed to write some­thing that explored my own grief and healing—while encoun­ter­ing the com­plex­i­ty of my sor­row. I felt there was no bet­ter way to eulo­gize him—his time in our life, his imprint, our hurt—without being unabashed­ly hon­est. Because I couldn’t lean on God for answers, I explored a lot of this through the lens of water. He was a fish­er­man, and he want­ed to be put out to sea. I am a swim­mer, and water is my holy ground; it’s the only place I feel spir­i­tu­al. While I was swim­ming, he died, and while I was swim­ming, I felt him die. So anoth­er part of this is rec­og­niz­ing that there’s some ele­men­tal con­nec­tion we all have—religious or not—that clues us in to the tick­ing of the uni­verse, to the ener­gy that comes and goes. It’s almost imper­cep­ti­ble, but I felt he would have want­ed me to write about him in some way that dealt with water. Like waves, which come and go, I used vignettes to cap­ture the mem­o­ries, as a pho­to­graph would, that kept me up at night. That moved through me like an engine. While I’d like to say this is a good piece, it’s not. It’s shame­ful, dirty, and unre­solved in some ways. But I tried.

 

Lisa Marie Basile is an edi­tor, writer and poet liv­ing in NYC. She is the found­ing edi­tor-in-chief of Luna Luna Mag­a­zine and the author of Apoc­ryphal (Noc­tu­ary Press, 2014), as well as a few chap­books. Her book Nymp­holep­sy (co-authored with poet Alyssa Morhardt-Gold­stein), is forth­com­ing with Inside the Cas­tle. She is work­ing on her first novel­la, to be released by Clash Books.