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.