I am indecisive on whether or not to take a chance and go surfing today. I have responsibilities, obligations and commitments, deadlines. Then again, whatever swell there might be drops off to nothing after today. It is already doing so.
Four years ago, on the first anniversary of my sister Melissa’s death, metastatic breast cancer, I was surfing. Some chop had developed on the water and the swell was, it appeared, dropping. I may have been the last one to get out. I was hanging on the beach with Mikel, nicknamed Squintz, and Bruce, the unofficial mayor of Hobuck. I had missed my sister’s funeral as I had missed our father’s eight months earlier. I hate funerals. I have been to as few as I could get away with not attending since the first one I attended, my mother’s, fifty-two years ago.
I did write about my paddling back out in a sort of memorial to Melissa. Writing may be shouting into the void, or not; it is how I process, possibly how I cope; even if it is difficult to partially process or cope with even the lesser mysteries of life, and knowing it is impossible begin to fathom that which no one has yet fully explained.
Death is the one guarantee in life. Death. We ignore death, we postpone thinking about death. It seems almost sinful to dwell on death. It is, certainly, counterproductive.
But people die. Some we know, some we’ve heard of. We cannot help but compare where that person was in life compared to where we are. But we don’t… dwell. We move on.
I didn’t remember that it was an anniversary. Trish reminded me. That it was five years surprised me. Thirteen years since Trisha’s father died, fifteen since her mother’s passing. She put the deaths of my parents in the timeline. Six, in December, for my father. Fifty-two, as I said, for my mother.
Surprising. Not shocking; yet I remember, easily, and vividly, the circumstances of each event.
The memories get blended into the mix, the redundancy and rhythm of the daily traumas and dramas, the routine of waking, and being awake, and trying to accomplish… something; oh, and dreaming.
Waves, I believed, during that mid-day, mid-summer, solitary session, came to me; I got into the rhythm of the sets; I believed that honored my sister. Though all this could be easily explained away, I still believe this. My sister was an artist. I have called on Melissa’s spirit to assist me, at times, when I am attempting to transform something in my mind to paper. No, I never produce anything as moving as the work she fretted and worried over and kept at until everyone but her believed the work to be perfect. No, I don’t blame her spirit.
Of course not. That would be ridiculous.
If I do think about death, there is a story I go back to:
Trish and I, twenty-six and twenty-seven, had lived in among farmland in Quilcene for a cold winter, during which the bridge connecting where we lived and where I worked sank. Workdays were thirteen and a half hours long for eight hours pay. It was spring. It was a Saturday. The sound of gunshots woke us up. We looked out the window. There were several trucks in the field at Irving Johnson’s farm across the road. I went outside, walked down the road, watched from behind the barbed wire fence.
The victim of the gunshots was being hoisted up on a chain, one of the crewmembers slicing into the carcass. The rest of Mr. Johnson’s herd, seven or eight head, was a ways off, chomping on the spring-wet grass. Each of the steers would look up, toward the truck, then at other members of the herd, then, perhaps hoping the killing/butchering crew wouldn’t notice him, resume the chomping. The butchering of the first steer well in hand, two of the crew members headed toward the herd. One had a rifle. The herd moved. Slowly, not a stampede. Jockeying for position. That wouldn’t help. The farmer and the lead butcher had already selected which steers would die.
Mr. Johnson, supervising from the butcher’s truck, saw me. He waved. I waved. He put his hands out to his sides, slightly cocked up at the elbows. It wasn’t a celebratory gesture. It meant, “This is what we do.” I turned and walked toward our gate before the next shot was fired.
I hope this doesn’t make me sound… I don’t really know- Maudlin? Fatalistic? It is just a story, a memory, but it has already made me think of other memories.
No, really, I have other things to think about. There may be some waves. I’ll check.