Dave has lost something very important. It feels quite literally as if some part of his interior structure is gone, so that he must hold very, very still. Any motion whatsoever cold cause his entire physical being to crumble apart, as if he was and had always been a colossal toothpick statue made with inferior glue that has been very dry for a very long time. And now, somewhere inside, a largeish chunk is just gone. But of course this is not true. No biological matter, no tissue, no fluids, no cells have been removed from his body, no part of him has ceased to exist or gone somewhere. And this is just the latest in a lifetime of losses ranging from the miniscule to the devastating that make Dave’s life exactly the same as anyone else’s. Toys he owned as a child are gone forever, in all likelihood scattered to atoms at this point. Comic books, T-shirts, a very small number of girlfriends, pets, jobs, homes, people. Dave is still reliably, undeniably, irritatingly here. Dave will be the very last thing Dave ever looses. Same as you. Same as everyone.
Dave experiences a grief of such tremendous proportions it must be transformative, except that it isn’t. Overwhelmed to such a degree that the tide of his grief is going, has gone out before he even notices it’s retreat, he finds himself no different but that he is sweatier and drenched in tears and mucus. Nothing essential has changed at all. His loss is still the same loss. He is still the same person. As if he had been attacked with special hammers that leave no hammer marks.
Sometimes Dave is talking to someone and he doesn’t stop, but his brain goes someplace else. It’s like some compassionate soul has taken over the talking for Dave so that he doesn’t appear to be crazy and Dave can pay attention to something else which is sometimes a dog and a butterfly who are pals. They take long aimless walks and talk about stuff.
“I’m not satisfied,” says the Dog, “with my life.”
“How so?” Asks the Butterfly.
“Well, like yesterday. I ate a poop. I did. No reason. I just did it. It’s like it wasn’t even me.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Ashamed, I guess.”
“Do you feel ashamed?”
“No. Not really. I feel like I should be shamed. Shouldn’t anyone, though? Good dogs don’t eat poop.”
“Are you a good dog?”
“Are you even listening to me?”
In fact, the Butterfly is not listening. It’s like some compassionate soul has taken over the talking for him so that he is free to imagine he is a rock on the edge of the ocean. The incoming tide rolls him up the beach. The outgoing tide washes him back. To all appearances he remains unchanged, but the truth is he is eroding. One day without ever having seen it coming, he will be a pebble. One day without ever having seen it coming he will be a grain of sand. Beyond that is the unknown.
“I’m sorry,” says Dave, “can you say what you just said again?”
Sometimes Dave finds himself smiling. He could be reacting to something or it could be a tic. He could possibly be involuntarily smiling at gas, the way a baby’s first smiles are always denigrated, as if anyone did that, ever. “Go with it” he thinks, and after a moment the smile is just a smile, and the chemicals of happiness wash his brain. It is such a relief, and Dave tries not to think that previous experience shows moments like these are transient, but he has already had just this thought. He is still smiling, though the feeling of happiness is fading. The fleetness doesn’t make the happiness unreal, but it never lasts long enough to be transformative.
Though there are literally hundreds of things on TV, there is nothing on TV. In contrast, the fridge really does have just two items in it, only one of which can loosely be called food and that is pickles and Dave doesn’t want a pickle. Is Mayonnaise a food? Dave has no memory of ever having purchased Mayonnaise in his entire life. How old does it have to be before it can no longer be called food by anyone?
When Dave was a kid, the seams in his socks frequently felt wrong to his toes. It’s been happening again lately.
Once loneliness was a crazy ass mean dog barking a thunderstorm of bees. Later when it became clear that nothing Dave did to ameliorate loneliness made it go away, it was transformed into the moment when you are going to jump off the loft and into the hay but you don’t. You’ll jump on three, but when you get to three you don’t, so you’ll jump on ten but when you get to ten you don’t because you can’t go back but you are not able to jump any more that you could fly off the loft and out into the sun like a butterfly. Now loneliness has eroded and is only a horrible unwashed old coat that you long ago stopped remembering you loathed the style of but you wore it anyway because it was a gift from someone whose feelings you didn’t want to hurt and now it is the only coat you own and it is too cold not to wear a coat most days.
The Dog and the Butterfly? The Dog and the Butterfly? Wasn’t that an album by Heart? And weren’t they once referred to as ‘the female Led Zeppelin’?
Dave does not feel rage. Only mild irritation over things like Mayonnaise and socks.
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.
Do they even make Fruity Pebbles anymore? Dave thinks not. Only Cocoa Pebbles, named for the Flintstone’s daughter and the shape of the cereal bits, which is vaguely pebbly. Cocoa Pebbles was Fred’s cereal, Fruity Pebbles belonged to Barney. Barney has no cereal anymore. No wonder he is compelled to steal Fred’s Cocoa Pebbles. Or was compelled. Dave cannot remember the last time he saw a commercial for Cocoa Pebbles.
Sure, love. Of course love. What else is there? It’s all love. Just, sometimes not the kind you like. A white sheet of paper is any color of paper at all if you shine the right color light on it. One of those colors is your favorite color. There are sixty four crayons in the Crayola Big Box. Some are stubs. Some have never been used, and in all probability will still be unused at your estate sale.
No one is worthless. Not truly. Dave believes in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But if people can be said to have worth, doesn’t that mean human worth is quantifiable? If worth could be broken down into worth units, how many worth units does Dave have? Ten? Six? Is six a large number in terms of worth units? Is six enough?
The grain of sand believes it was once a pebble. But so does its twin, torn by erosion from the parent pebble, and so does every single one of the eight billion grains of sand erosion scraped off that pebble over the lonely years. Is grief transformative or merely redundant?
Dave clings to the bedpost believing that his grief may tear him to pieces, but of course it does not. Rising out of his weeping body, beholding it dispassionately from above, it becomes clear that Grief is gently eroding him, carefully removing tiny bits of Dave that all believe they are Dave and carrying them away, scattering them like stars in the heavens, like pearls before swine. Dave doesn’t know it yet, but experience will eventually show him that moments like this are transient. He is already coming back to his body, almost forgetting, fleeting but real, what if anything he just learned.
Once there were Fruity Pebbles, so there will always be Fruity Pebbles. Once there was Quisp and Quake and so there will always be Quisp and Quake. Once there was Cap’n Crunch’s Vanilly Crunch and yes, Mr. T cereal. Once there were Dog n’ Butterfly Checks and Page n’ Plants’ Leddy Zeppelins with a real plastic stairway in every box, and terrible grief was transformative and all those things always will be because once they were.
That coat makes you look like a transient. Wear it fleetingly.