portion of the artwork for Andrew Tibbetts' fiction

Excerpts from 100 Posts About Death
Andrew Tibbetts

Death Post #1
Somebody I’ve never met is dying. A mutual acquaintance told me her story. This person is a teenager with cancer. All treatments have been tried and have failed. She has moved to a place for dying people. I find myself fantasizing about her, this girl I’ve never met. In my imagination she is a willowy brunette, a girl who loves horses. Her hospice is at the edge of a lovely forest. It has cushiony window seats. She sits at the window and reads, looks out at the woods, reads, looks out at the woods, reads. There is a great deal of sunlight and the smell of marmalade.

This fantasy is comforting and makes me strangely happy. But as I catch myself softening into dreams, I force myself to admit the world. The young woman’s reality is more likely pain, numbed pain, disgusting smells and sudden fluid shifts in the body. Her hospice is more likely a medicinal box in a dreary city, beside a McDonald’s somewhere, full of crying.

If I can’t handle the reality of a stranger’s death, what will do I with the deaths of my own loved ones or with the death of me? Of course, I will imagine my way out, a window seat beside the woods for everyone. Look, a rabbit. Here, have a bite of crumpet. Catch that drip of butter with your tongue. Turn the page.

Death Post #2
The death that hits me hardest hasn’t happened yet. Every once in a while, I realize my mother is going to die. A flap in my middle opens. A black moan slithers from deep, deep down. Something enormous and vibrating rises like evil dough. I slam everything shut and whistle.

Death Post #3
This morning in the group therapy program I co-lead, one of the clients, a “strong-silent” fellow, revealed suicidal feelings.

When the other clients encouraged him to let his wife and daughters know how he was struggling, he said, “I don’t want to spoil their Christmas.”

Of course another group member pointed out that his suicide might “spoil Christmas.” And another said that it would probably spoil a large part of the rest of his family’s lives. And then other group members shared their stories of being left behind by fathers, uncles, nephews, brothers, husbands: Men, mostly, who took this most permanent of solutions and spoiled things.

When people says they don’t want to bother someone, they often mean that they don’t want to endure all the feelings that will be stirred up inside their own hearts: guilt for bothering, shame for being needy, worthlessness if the person they tell isn’t bothered after all, and all sorts of other interpersonal friction.

If only we could spoil things and not have to deal with the repercussions. And that is what suicide allows us. Death, from an interpersonal perspective, is a blissful release from social anxiety, from love and all its failures, from the consequences of our actions and inactions, from looks on other faces, in other eyes.

Anything else involves Sartre’s hell: other people. And requires bravery.

Death Post #6
I think about my father more since his death than I ever did when he was alive. Perhaps it’s safer.

He left my mother when she developed breast cancer. I thought him cowardly, and cut off communication. For ten years he lived on a different continent with another woman and I never thought about him.

Except when my sister would tearfully relate a drunken phone call she’d received: I love your mother; I hate your mother; I couldn’t care less about your mother; I never think about that bitch, that angel, that ridiculous woman who is always on my mind.

His brain bubbled random drama whenever he drank. There was never any real meat to his conversation. My sister would chew and chew anyway: What could Dad possibly mean? He said he never loved her, not once, not from the beginning. Do you think that’s true? He said he’d always loved her from the bottom of his heart and that he wanted to come back to her. Do you think he would? He said she drove him away. He said another woman lured him away. He said he’s never really left. He cried. And then he passed out. What should we do?

Nothing.

I wish he’d said: I left your mother because I was frightened. I was not brave enough to face her dying. I’m wracked with guilt. I did a weak and shitty thing. And I’m ashamed.

Given his propensity to say anything, it would have crossed his lips eventually, like the monkeys left alone with typewriters will eventually come up with Hamlet. But he died before he got there.

Strange: because he died of cancer himself, it’s as if he’s cut loose of obligation to my mother, who did not die. She is as healthy as a horse and has been since her lumpectomy over a decade ago. So, instead of being my mother’s deserting husband, he’s back to being my father. And so, I think of him often and to my surprise quite fondly. Also, he’s dead now so he can’t hurt anyone.

The crux: I never managed to tell my father that I’m gay. I’m sure he knew. I’m even sure he would have been OK with it. He was very much an iconoclast with the self-contained swagger of the drunken rebel, cared not a fig for what society thought. I know he would have accepted me completely. But “knowing” is different from hearing it out loud. I wish I could have him back alive for that one conversation. Me: I’m gay. Him: I know and I love you.

I guess that he would reach out to hug me, just like that one time I remember when I was young and distraught over something or other and my mother wasn’t home and it was down to him. And he did it. He wrapped me in his arms, pulled me into his warm and sober core, and healed me.

The talk that we didn’t have is often on my mind. For me, it would have been another healing connection; for him, a chance for redemption in the family, to do something right and brave, to die proud instead of ashamed. But the news came that he was sick and wanted to see me, and before I could arrange my passport, he was dead.

Death Post #8
For a few days, I haven’t thought about death, not even my own. That means, for a few days, I’ve been immortal.

Death Post #14
Only fourteen entries in, I’m worried I’ve exhausted death.

Writing 100 Posts About Sex, I had the opposite reaction. There was so much to say, I ran out of time and posts. I barely mapped the tip of the iceberg at the top of the stack of icebergs, which appeared to be bottomless. Sex was everywhere I looked. The closer I looked the bigger it got. My whole life sprang from a drop of it, was inside a drop of it.

I can’t find death anywhere.

I trawled my pigsty apartment. Last year, I had a rat. I put out poison. If it didn’t get far, it’s around somewhere. It definitely smells like something died in here.

I did find a tiny fly corpse. A spider was eating it. Was I looking at death?

No, the spider was sickeningly alive, sucking the blood out of its food, food that will turn into spider cells as it grows to spin more webs to catch more food to live and breed more spiders. It’s not death that salivates with longing and joy. It’s life that digs its teeth into the world, rips off a chunk and chews—the ecstasy of the jaw, the bliss of the tongue.

Everywhere you look there’s life. Look harder, squint. There are tiny insects. Look harder, use tools. There are germs, bacteria. Look harder; go deeper with your imagination. Probably, there are life forms smaller than we’ve seen with our most powerful microscopes. There is as much space going inward, as going beyond the edge of the known universe. Both directions infinite.

And where is death? Nowhere.

Death Post #15
My desire to write about death is dead.

Death Post #17
What about the death of dreams? Born incorporeal, comfortable floating around the skull, dead dreams haunt without exception.

In my youth, I often thought: I speak seventeen languages. I probably picked it up from some TV spy. I enjoyed thinking it. I felt special and sophisticated rehearsing for when I could say it out loud, absolutely certain that day would come.

However, languages don’t arrive spontaneously. My dream died. Today, if you ask me, “Will you ever speak seventeen languages?” I will say, “No.”

But a ghost in my brain will contradict: In fact, I do speak seventeen languages. Oui. Sì. Hai. Da. Ja. Tak. Aña. E’he’. Balli. Jep. Ndiyo. Jes. Aap. Igen. HaaN. Vâng. Yes!

And then that seventeen-tongued ghost will hold hands with my boyfriend Kurt Cobain, fly to our luxurious hi-tech cottage, reminisce about the times we saved the world from evil!—Quick, before our best friends Grace Jones and Dolph Lundgren arrive, I better whip up my Nobel Prize-winning gazpacho! Do you like my llamas? I have eleven! My body fat is seven percent. And also: I can autofellate.

Death Post #19
Today I heard about a widow who washed her husband’s body before cremation. This struck me beautifully. I couldn’t stop imagining.

Pick up a cloth. Dip it into warm soapy water. Go slowly. These are the last caresses. Start at the forehead you tested for fevers so often. The eyelids. The earlobes you nibbled. The lips. The neck you tucked your head into at movies.

Wring the cloth. This penultimate dirt dims the water. The next dirt will stay forever.

Wash the shoulders your children sat on. Wash the chest you laid your head on at moments of deepest connection.

Wash the armpits—how sexy you always found them! A secret tuft of hair and stink. Reach into the little caves; pull the cloth along the length of each hair.

Wring the cloth. Smell it. Yes. Remember that smell.

The belly. How it’s changed over time. Softened. It moves as you wash it. The fat rearranging itself inside the skin. The navel tucked inside a roll of flab. The lint tucked inside the navel. Consider saving that lint.

The pelvis. Use your fingers to lather up the pubic hair. Rinse. Repeat. It’s so fluffy. There’ve been times when it’s seemed sharp and prickly on your face or your belly, but now, it’s soft.

The penis. Wash the little tube. It doesn’t harden in your hands. It’s so different limp—small, self-sufficient, unambitious. Remember when it pierced.

Ask them to come in and help roll the body over to do the back. Ask them to leave again. You do this alone. No—you are not alone. Soon you’ll be alone, but this last moment is a moment of togetherness.

The back is so broad. How big is a back? You don’t know until you clean one. Well, you sometimes know when one is turned against you in anger—wash all that away. Anger, it’s a bit of dust now. You have to stretch yourself to wash it. You are a bit sore. Reaching.

The little hairs gleam with soap. Rinse them. You have another cloth with fresh water to rinse. You want to do it right. You want to clean the body of dirt, but leave behind no soapy residue.

You’ve curled against this humanness so often for comfort. Take a moment to curl again. For comfort.

The anus is never completely clean in all its long life. Scrub, scrub, scrub. There is a faint smell of shit. The cloth gets brownish. Wring it in the water. You don’t mind; just the opposite. You are so glad you thought to do this. You feel humble. Never so much in love.

Change the water. Reach in as far as you can and scrub with the soap. Get it as clean as it’s ever been.

Change the water again. Change the cloth.

Do the legs. Behind the knees. Do the feet. Between the toes. Behind the toenails. Linger. Take your time.

As you finish, sadness wells up against the bliss. They dance together, these feelings. Bliss is a clean pool of shining water. Sadness dips in, swirls, and colours it. Make a last graceful swipe of the arches. It is a dance of going.

Nothing will ever be the same.

Dry the body. Dress the body. Lay your head where you used to hear a pulse. There isn’t a heart beating.

Hear it anyway. Hear it anyway. Hear it anyway.

Everything will always be the same.

Death Post #23
Last night I called my friend Matthew because his partner, Michael, died over the holidays. I asked him if I could do anything for him and he said, “Have you seen Avatar?” That’s what he wanted: someone to see Avatar with. So we went, even though I’d seen it already, just the day before. I can count on one hand the number of films I’ve sat through more than once. I’d rather be hit with sticks.

As a certified western intellectual I should hate this movie. But I don’t. I enjoyed myself immensely, both times I saw it. It’s as much an experience—like a theme park ride, or a video game—as it is a narrative—like a book, or the reason you give for calling your bereft friend five days after he’s e-mailed you about his loss.

So, Avatar. You can live inside this movie. It’s big and in 3-D—a new system of 3-D, not like the old one with the two colours. My friend Matthew explained it; he used to be a science student. He said, “It’s two separate movies which alternate quickly, flicking back and forth. One lens of the glasses you wear blocks one movie and the other blocks the other. The mind combines the alternating images into a single three-dimensional image.” The end result being that the silvery jellyfish seeds from the goddess tree float right beside your head.

My friend Matthew is a male prostitute. That’s how I met him. I looked up “male prostitutes” online and he had the cutest picture. Then I hired him to have sex with me.

This film isn’t racist like people say. But it is heterosexist. Some of those blue flea-bitten savages who live in a tree looked pretty gay to me, but that was left out of the vision. When a tribesperson is ready, he gets a flying lizard and a woman if he is a man; a man, if she is a woman. I wanted to put my little blue hand up and say, uhm.

People think this film is racist because so many fucking white people have posited themselves as the saviours of the people they’ve “civilized” while decimating their land and eradicating their culture. Here in Canada, where the director James Cameron was born (as was my friend Matthew), we sent out priests to sexually abuse aboriginal children while sticking pins in their tongues if they spoke their native language. And now they have civilized problems with alcohol.

But this movie isn’t that story.

This movie is Dances with Blue Teenagers because the aliens have long lanky limbs like puberty-burst children and they are blue. No viewer will blame the American Marine for leaving his own people and joining with this bunch. In a way, this movie is the John Walker Lindh story.

My friend Matthew was arrested and jailed in America because he used drugs and when the police came he admitted to it, like we do in Canada because we co-operate with police, and because merely “using” a banned substance isn’t an offense, only “possession.” Not so in America, where drugs are more terrifying. They put him in fag jail.

In L.A. County, they don’t put the gays in gen pop. Not because they’d get raped, but because they’d get killed. And if they got killed, the County would get sued.

In Avatar, they put the good guys in jail but a lesbian fighter pilot breaks them out (Michelle Rodriguez, who is rumoured not to be a lesbian herself, but always plays ones in movies). Only they don’t say she’s a lesbian. But I can tell because I have gaydar. And my avatar has avagaydar, only not in this movie where gays are not seen, even though the bad colonel threatens to kiss the good marine. The bad colonel is played by the incredibly awesome Stephen Lang who once played a gay in a different movie from a different time based on a different thing called a book. Did you see it? It was called Last Exit to Brooklyn and it was in 2-D. Rodriquez, Lang, CCH Pounder, all the actors in this movie do an exceptional job, which is most beneficial to Mr. Cameron, who cannot write dialogue. Luckily, he has on hand Sigourney Weaver who acts with her bowels. She digs it up from the depths. And everybody follows her lead. Sort of like life—half the time we don’t know what to say and mumble nothing much of anything even when we really, really care.

The best parts of the movie are the quiet parts where it’s just the H.R. Pufnstuf plant life. It’s so gorgeous. I’m in awe. Everybody is in awe. There’s no way not to be in awe. However, it cost five hundred million dollars so it should be awesome. My friend Matthew was in awe—I could hear him moaning and groaning every time a pink pinwheeled fern unfurled or a sizzling violet vole skittered across the aisle in front of us. His moaning is like Glenn Gould’s moaning throughout his Goldberg Variations recording. Identical. Matthew also plays the piano. As do I. And I moan. Pianists must be moaners. Canadian ones, anyway.

People say the story of this film is weak, but no. It’s pretty solid. The thing lasts five minutes shy of three hours and there isn’t a boring second. OK, I take it back, there’s one moment where the main character prays to a tree, which I found boring and my heart started to sink as it began. But it lasted only three seconds and then the wonderful girl (Zoe Saldana) pushed aside the fiber-optic Spanish moss to make things interpersonal again.

So many people die in this movie. I’d forgotten from the first time I saw it. And whenever somebody died, I cringed because of my grief-stricken friend beside me—his lover of seven years so freshly dead. Michael died in the sauna of a bathhouse. He was gone for six days before Matthew found out where he was. Matthew had been frantic. He was thinking that Michael might be dead or in a coma somewhere. Turns out he was.

When you die your body disassembles itself and breaks down into molecules which join back into the pool of molecules which everything else comes out of. Even if you died moisturizing with eucalyptus and sat dead in a hot corner shrouded with steam for hours until three twinks high on crystal meth shoved you aside for their threesome only to hear you tumble to the stone floor. (Other sex club aficionados had probably bumped up against Michael or even groped him in the steam, but he wasn’t exactly cold, so they probably just thought he was shy.)

In Avatar, it’s very beautiful and spiritual when your body disassembles and you rejoin the primordial stockpot—there’re choirs and choreography and one of those little jellyfish seeds is placed on your dissolving body. In real life your lover’s homophobic relatives from Edmonton come and take the body away and you don’t get to go to the funeral and you certainly don’t get some of the ashes from the burnt corpse. Even if you beg. You beg and you beg and you beg right into those hard Catholic faces and they look back at you as if you are farting in church. You are disgusting to want something like that. You are filth. You are the filth that took their baby. Who turned forty last year and died.

And they cremated him because they were afraid of getting AIDS from the body. And afterwards, they walked away from the burning homosexuality and maybe went to see a movie where it didn’t exist.

We queers hardly exist at all in the world and hardly-hardly-hardly in the movies. Unless you want to make a fuss about it with an issue-movie to win an Oscar. But not existing in an ordinary way in an ordinary film that everyone goes to see. Hardly at all. So don’t worry, Michael’s folks, you won’t be surprised by gayness anywhere. (Your son was gay but moved away until he died and now you can ungay him in his whitewashed obituary that mentions even a second cousin “who will miss him”—but not a “partner.”) In mostly everywhere in the world you’ll be safe from having to deal with us.

Ashless, loverless, my friend Matthew—who I was once so in love with I cried for hours in the cold rain outside his apartment while he and Michael were inside cuddling and watching Cops—spontaneously leans over and rubs my thigh somewhere during the movie, as if to warm me. He’s not good with dialogue either. But I know what he means. He’s grateful. He’s thankful for me. What I’ve eventually turned into. (It turned out I couldn’t have sex with someone without falling in love. And then it was difficult between us for some time. But after a hellish year, I “came to my senses.” I think.)

Afterwards we go for a bitch ‘n’ chew. The movie was great, we agree. And then that’s pretty much all we say about it. It’s not great in any kind of way worth discussing. It’s not take-away great. It’s in-the-moment, had-to-be-there great. An experience, like I said. Instead we talked about Michael alive and Michael dead and Matthew left behind—Matthew, who hadn’t cried through the whole week he held the comatose hand of his long-time companion in the bleach-stink hospital ward until the plug was pulled, was soon crying into his fish and chips. I make people cry for a living, so this happens to me all the time. “Sorry,” he said. “Sorry. I think I’m coming out of shock.” “Wail,” I said. “Wail away.”

I rubbed his arm vigourously. There wasn’t any dialogue springing to my mind either.

This is a review of wordless things. This is a piece about Los Angeles, where people worship Al Gore and take drugs and make giant bloated movies and suck the life out of young boys from Canada. My friend Matthew used to be a blue teenager in Hollywood fag jail—a failed model, a drug enthusiast, a felon, days away from becoming a prostitute. Now he’s a different kind of blue. A man, pushing forty (he says he’s thirty-four, but he used to say he was twenty-eight only last year; one day he’ll trust me with something even closer to the truth) with a dead lover.

This is a review of death: I give death the thumbs down. Fuck death. Fuck you, death. You keep taking people. What do you want with them? This is a review of genocide: Genocide is badly cast, poorly directed, and everybody loses in the end—the world so much less than it was. Less Jewish. Less gay. Less blue alien. This is a review of the taste of pins: permanent silences may result. This is a review of my own flickering feelings, one burning blinding set still painfully in love, the other only calm and friendly, and how my mind brings them together into a strangely dimensional companionship: awesome.

I told my friend Matthew I would check in on him next week. He said, “Good, because I won’t call you, even though you said to. I don’t call anyone. I’m worried I’ll bore them. I’m worried I’ll depress them. Nobody wants to hear this.”

And then I felt sad, because he hadn’t noticed that I had wanted to hear it, that I took his tears into my body like a glowing tree springing from the heart of the universe.

I sent him home in a cab. I threw myself in bed and wailed. I tried to remember the feel and the heat of his hand on my thigh so much sweeter than any sex we ever had. Make a movie about that, Mr. Bigelow.

Death Post #30
Sometimes the pain of my depression is so bad that I think quite calmly of suicide. It’s mere logic: I don’t have to live like this.

But how is depression painful? Not “why?” “How?” How does it work that I consider killing myself to make it stop?

It’s not even tangible. It’s not in my body: a stubbed toe or a fingernail bitten to bleeding or the first faint sensations of a coming sore throat. Physical pain is palpable in comparison. But eventually it does root in the body, this psychic pain.

If I’ve been sitting with the sweaty rats running around my mind long enough I start to feel a tightness in my muscles everywhere, settling in. Also there’ll be a held-in-check spring that is beginning to form in my hand. I become aware that I am struggling not to punch myself. Or that I am backing away from the compass on my desk or the butcher knife in the kitchen because there’s something so compelling about the thought of grabbing it and stabbing it into an eye. My mind is longing for an idea of relief. And my body is hardening to protect itself from a sudden impulsive burst of motivation.

There are days when I stand back from the subway platform until the train has stopped. My body is on fire. I don’t trust it to hold firm.

By then I do feel pain in my body; then it’s tangible. But this is only secondary pain, like the way anger can come after hurt, come and cover it up, a secondary emotion.

But what is the original psychic pain of depression made of? How do some thoughts hurt? What is it exactly that I want to stop when I am coveting death?

I want to answer: “these horrible feelings” and “these terrible thoughts.”

But really? Where are they? I wish I knew. I’d throttle them, surgically, and keep the rest of me alive.

But they come from everywhere, like an infestation. They come from the past. Remember how you fucked up before, loser? Remember all those weasily things you’ve done, you good for nothing piece of shit? They come from the future You don’t think anything is going to change, do you? You’ll fuck that up too, you know. If you get anything good, you’ll spoil it. They come from inside, these black rats, and from outside. The room, the night, the world. These thoughts and feelings, of shame, of self-recrimination, of loneliness, they can feel like they don’t come from anywhere, that they’ve been here all along.

I’ve always been unhappy. Sometimes I believe I can find a way to be happy. And sometimes I lose faith. Scurrying nipping burnt-smelling eternal vermin everywhere. And then death is just the rat poison, the shining answer, the ever-present blessed escape hatch, the only thing that will end my unhappiness.

Death: my hero.

Death Post #34
Somebody died who is my friend on Facebook. Even after her death she continues to be my friend on Facebook. Just this morning Facebook had a suggestion for me in a box at the top right of the screen. They suggested I say hello to Nancy.

At first I was weirded out. Facebook wants me to make Facebook a better experience for my dead friend. Are we all destined for this in a future of cyber services? MySpace, Facebook, online workshop sites—none of them have provisions for next of kin to come along and delete accounts. Our cyber lives will go on forever.

And then I wasn’t weirded out anymore. I was happy—happy to say hello to Nancy. In fact, I’ll be happy to have Facebook prompt me to say hello to her every few months for the rest of my life.

Hi, Nancy! Hope things are going well for you. I miss you. I think about you a lot. You made my life better time and time again since the ’80s—that’s a lot of bettering! Happy to have you around on Facebook still, in this funny kind of way. Since you probably won’t be reading this, I’m going to do something nice for somebody alive today, in honour of you! Love, Andrew

Gentle readers, when I’m dead and my cyber selves plod along without me, say hi! And take my pop-up memory as a prompt to do something nice for yourself, OK? Love, Future-Dead Andrew

Death Post #37
My mother has an appointment with an oncologist on Thursday. Then she’ll know the results of what they found. They removed her lymph nodes to take a look at, while they were inside cutting a bit of her anus out. She’s had cancer before. Twenty years ago. She had a lump in her breast. It was removed. She had radiation. She took pills. She got better. She’s been in perfect health ever since. She’s pretty confident that even though she’s seventy-six she can do radiation again if she has to, take pills again if she has to, and get better again.

And she has to. Get better again. I’m not ready for her to die.

I know she’ll die someday. I’m not happy about that but if it has to happen I want her to go being proud of me. She says she’s proud of me every time we talk on the phone. But lately, it’s been hard to believe her.

I’m currently single, (technically) unemployed, penniless, and living in a basement apartment (a month behind in rent) without phone or Internet. By even the kindest standards I’m a loser.

I haven’t always been a loser and I won’t be in the future. But what if my mother dies during this trough I’m in?

Death puts the finishing touches on a life—and not just your own death, but also the death of anyone who cares about you. How does that work? Well, if you die penniless, your life story is of a person who never could get it together. If you live two days longer and win the lottery, your life story is a rags-to-riches tale. It’s all about the ending, folks.

I mean my life to end well: surrounded by grandchildren, with a beloved, loving partner, my published works on a shelf by my head, some little acclaim, some little wealth, a good few years of joy and bliss and peace under my belt—and then take me!

But my mother may die before I get there. And then the shape of my life as she’s nurtured it and watched it blossom won’t be a success story. It’ll be the story of a man beaten down by homophobia, sexual abuse, oppression around psychiatric disability, and the naivete of his own character; a man who never learned to play the hand of cards he was dealt. She may even wonder if it was something she did wrong. She deserves better, but time is never on our side.

Death Post #53
Secret Death Post #1 (in silver memory key in green gym bag)

Death Post #54
The only thing that makes me happy is Matthew. Thinking of him, talking to him, seeing him, having sex with him, cuddling with him. Everything else is the gray soup.

I had a long chat with him on the phone this evening because I got paid for the piece I wrote about his long-term partner’s death (see Death Post #23) and wanted to share the money with him.

He said, “Hey, I wanted to call you so many times. That PDF you sent me. Wow. But, I have to say, it’s probably too late now, but I didn’t like the little changes.”

I said, “What?” Knowing what he would say.

“The bathhouse stuff with the twinks is gone,” he said.

“The editor cut it short. She thought it was too much,” I said.

“I thought it was so … painful …,” he said, “I just read it and … it was so … it punched me …”

“Well, I’m like you,” I said. “I think it can’t get painful enough. Life is so painful. Readers have such pain that they bring to reading. I think if it’s just mild they won’t bother as much because, well, it’s not true to life. But I think editors just get so much … that they like things more subtle than most people … I think. I’m guessing. But yeah. I will put it back for the book version. If I ever get to having a book.”

“OK,” he said. “But why didn’t you use my real name?”

“I didn’t think you’d want that.”

“Why? I’m not afraid of what anybody would think. I want you to be honest. I want to be honest.”

“OK,” I said. “Book version, real names.”

“I loved the title, though,” he said. “The Taste of Pins.”

“That was Katia’s idea. The editor. Good, eh? I said, Yeah!”

“I really want to see you,” he said.

My heart melted.

“Call me Sunday and we’ll plan something for Monday,” he said.

And then I died because that was hours and hours and hours away. Too many hours of the gray soup.

“OK,” I said. Mostly dead. But a little of me left alive to say OK. “OK. Glad to hear you’re well.”

“I’m not ‘well,’ just ‘better.’ I had a bad summer,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I can’t wait to talk to you,” he said.

“Sunday, I’ll call,” I said.

“OK,” he said, with the part of him that was not well, but better, “OK.”

Death Post #56
I consider myself a suicide even though I’m—obviously—alive and—actually—not someone who has ever made a serious attempt.

Since I first read Sylvia Plath, probably, and thought along with her how the tulips were stealing my air and the sea poured bean green over blue, I have been one. Since I first read Anne Sexton, definitely, and realized that I never asked of the do-it-yourself dead, “why build?” only “which tools?” I have been her kind. Or most likely since Freddie Prinze, who must have been my first suicide.

Do you remember him? Senior, not junior. He was the Puerto Rican actor and comedian who was such a huge hit in the ’70s. Chico and the Man. He made everyone laugh until he shot himself in the head. I loved him and it hurt that he died.

And Kurt Cobain, of course, our great complainer. His death ended my adolescence, which had probably been hanging around too long anyway. I stopped playing in a rock band. It was hard to get excited about anything. I became serious and dull. Adult. I began making contributions to a pension plan. Thankfully, it didn’t take.

I’m hurt every time I hear of it, but I’m never surprised by suicide. That people are happy, that’s what confuses me. I don’t get it. I like it, happiness; I wish I were a fountain of the stuff. I cultivate it in others and even in myself sometimes. But it’s strange alien stuff. What I am made of, is the dark familiar.

Last summer gay man after gay man jumped from his high-rise apartment in the gaybourhood and I walked to work down Church Street nodding. How many of my own clients have I held back from the edges of permanent solutions to temporary problems? Hundreds, by this point in my career. But that doesn’t change what I am made of.

I’ve always thought I would die by my own hand since I heard of the idea. My mind is made of self-destruction. Even when I’m trying hard to think positively about life, a snarl of it leaps up between the cracks in my happy. An image—stabbing myself in the neck with scissors—makes me step back from a colleague’s desk on an ordinary work day.

If death takes me with its own devices, and it may—I’m getting old—I don’t wish to be wiped from the register of suicides, parted from my beloveds—Virginia Woolf with her pockets full of rocks; Shaquille Wisdom, the black teenager from Ajax who was thrown in the trash can for being gay last year and who then hung himself after school; Christian Fox, the straight actor who starred in gay porn through the ’90s all the while being so deeply attractive and unhappy; Martin Kruze, the man who was among the boy sex abuse victims of the Maple Leaf Gardens and who made the scandal public and then threw himself from the Bloor Viaduct—I won’t be parted from them. These are my people.

If death takes me with its own devices, and it may—I have high blood pressure and brain abnormalities and the propensity to wander into accidents—don’t ever let them say, “He was no suicide.” Every day of my life I was a suicide.

Surely a random death won’t trump my essential self-annihilation. Being hit by a truck and killed on the way to the restaurant doesn’t mean that you weren’t hungry. Count me among the death-starved. Cover me with the luminous veil from the Bloor Viaduct. Float me out into the Thames with flowers in my hair. Yes, that is a smile on my bluing lips. Know that I am free and would have freed myself but for circumstance.

Death Post #59
The sunshine is reaching me. A cloud has lifted. My body feels light. A boulder has lifted off my back. I’m a John Denver song!

The physical sensation of happiness is quite different from the dull lull that is not-depression. Like the difference between walking through water and walking through air.

I can’t believe how seriously I was thinking about killing myself over the past few weeks. All the things I have access to right now—imagination, hope, love—I was totally disconnected from.

I could form a conceptual object in my consciousness, like “grandchildren,” but it had no emotional connotation. It would thud to a standstill amidst the nothingness, bleak, isolated, unable to be any kind of meaningful. Now I think “grandchildren” and suddenly I picture my daughter beaming with sweaty hair plastered to her forehead lying in a hospital bed with a tiny baby in her arms! And I soar like when she was a just-born baby in her mother’s arms. And that’s just one of the many sparks that go off. Beautiful sparks like fireworks. A sky full of perfect ramifications.

And I have no idea how it happened, how the regime change was achieved.

Well, I have a little idea … but it seems impossible that such a small thing could flip the switch and turn my soul from off to on.

That’s what it feels like. That I was: soulless—everything was nothing. And now I am: soulful—anything is everything. Yes! Any little thing—because of how it all feels plugged in—is vital.

There is something, a current, running between all things, with my soul as a nodal point, but not necessarily the center. Depression feels like I am the center of the universe. Happiness feels like there isn’t a center at all. Because it’s infinite and everything is connected so it’s a happy tangle of Christmas lights, an endless ecosystem, each planet made of atoms which are planets made of atoms and then deeper and deeper forever and ever all bursting with life and humming with the current, and our planet an atom of a bigger planet in a bigger planet and then wider and wider and wider and forever and ever all humming with the current and bursting with life.

Happiness has no edges in any direction including time.

And death, from this view, seems just a transition from level to level. A breaking down, a floating up. The body disintegrating into a broth of little life-forms, consciousness reverberating outwards like a pebble dropped into the pond of time, shaking history and the future both, and then spinning in a 360 panoramic turn so that history and the future are revealed as not the opposite ends of a stick but mistaken views of something much bigger, something wonderfully impossibly possible …

Death Post #64
I tried the street druggie sex thing again. A super hot shifty guy caught my eye on the way home. He looked like a big-nosed Taylor Lautner. I slowed. He slowed. I stopped. He stopped.

He said, “How are ya? How’s your night?”

“Shitty,” I said. “I’m drunk from after-work pitchers of beer. My colleagues all went home, leaving me horny and alone. Poor me.”

He smiled and grabbed my arm, “Wanna fool around?”

“Sure!” I said.

“Where can we go?” he asked.

“Your place,” I said.

“I live too far,” he said, “St. Clair! But I know where we can get a room if you’ve got twenty bucks.”

“Twenty? Sure. What’s your name?” I asked.

“Trent,” he lied. “Yours?”

“Steve,” I lied.

He looked Portuguese or Greek—giant eyelash awnings over soft brown eyeball puddles, a crag of a nose that a cartoonist might draw on a tough guy, a mug, somebody pointing a Tommy gun at Dick Tracy.

“OK,” I said, and went to the bank machine. I took out forty dollars because I figured he’d be scrounging more soon enough.

“You smoke weed?” he asked as he took my twenty.

“Sure,” I said. “Occasionally, if I’m with somebody who smokes.”

“Let’s get some pot on the way. I’m so horny,” he said. “I’m glad I saw you.”

I said, “You’re so hot; you could find somebody in a second.”

“You think I’m handsome?”

“Very!”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah!”

He scuttled down the street, smiling, beckoning me to follow. He walked with a jerky lurch. I scrambled after him; everybody walks faster than I do.

We took a cab, which I paid for. We got out in the middle of a quad of concrete towers. There were pockets of people pooled wherever there was shadow.

He said, “Wait over there. They’ll think you’re a cop.” He points out a distant curb, but then, suddenly frightened, said, “You’re not a cop are you?”

“No,” I said. “How long should I wait before deciding you’ve taken off on me?”

“I won’t, man. You got that twenty bucks?”

“I gave it to you.”

“That was for the room.”

“What room?”

“We aren’t there yet. I’m just picking up some pot along the way. You like coke? Cocaine?”

“Never tried it.”

“You should!”

“I should, should I?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t. Give me the twenty; I’ll see what I can get. And I won’t take off. I’m not like that.”

I sat on the curb. People walked by, ordinary people, old Asian women with groceries in trolleys, black men in cheap track pants and expensive running shoes, everyone alone. I typed the above on my iPhone, which is just an expensive watch because I can’t afford the phone service to actually activate it.

After awhile I heard a whistling. It was Trent. He was whistling from inside a bush. I went in. He was smoking a crack pipe.

“Where’d you live again, man?” he said on an inhale.

“Dundas and Dufferin.”

“Hey, I used to live there. Let’s go to your place; it’ll be nicer. This neighbourhood is gross. That girl’s place is a fucking mess, too. Where’s your car?”

“Where’s yours?”

“Ha, I don’t have a car, man.”

“I don’t either. I TTC it.”

“We could take a cab.”

“I’ll get some more money.”

“I’ll wait here.”

On my way to the ATM my head said, “Don’t bring that sketchy crackhead to your house. To your landlords’ house. With their beautiful newborn baby daughter upstairs.”

I got the money, noticed my balance was dangerously low. I was looking at about a day and a half without food before next payday. I walked back to the bushes. He was up and moving. I pointed out cabs. He walked past them, hopping side to side. “I’m too high. Let’s walk for a bit.”

We walked down alleys. He borrowed fifty cents to call someone. We walked down more alleys.

“Do I smell?” he asked me.

“Come here,” I said and pressed my face into his chest and drew a deep nose-breath. He smelled like a man. My body warmed.

“Fuck, you smell great,” I said. I rearranged my penis which was now painfully tenting my shorts. I laid the stupid treacherous thing flat along my waist.

“Let’s spend that money on some more shit,” he said, “and then take the bus.”

I didn’t know where we were. There was a dumpster and a lot of concrete. The entire world smelled of piss. We could have been behind anywhere in Toronto. It occurred to me that I might be moments away from being mugged or murdered. (Who had he called with that fifty cents?) It occurred to me that I could punch this fucker’s head in and walk away.

I reached in my pocket, pulled out the twenty, and said, “I want you to have this. And then I’m just going to head home by myself. OK?”

“What’s wrong?”

“This took too long. I’m tired now. Here.”

He took the money and bounced off down the street.

I went to the bank machine again, got another twenty, flagged down a cab, and headed home. I thought, “Loneliness is the lesson you can’t learn from,” and began to cry. The cab driver drove on, indifferent to my sobbing. A man from a country with real problems—his relatives butchered, his children macheted, his wife raped in front of him—now driving a weepy faggot home, boohoo.

When the meter said eighteen dollars, I stopped him so that I could tip a bit. I gave him the twenty and walked the rest of the way home, stopping to hork up phleghm into the odd bush, wiping my eyes with my shirt, gasping, shuddering, sobbing, shocked at the efforts of my body to expel my toxic mind. I threw myself at the ground. I am a creature of fury. Self-fury. I lay there in the little parkette around the corner from my house, thinking about dying, beautiful dying, beautiful ceasefire of everything that hurts.

Death Post #65
These days I wake up happy no matter how miserable I was the night before.

With depression you lose your emotional Teflon. Every bit of shit sticks, each prune-y look from someone you want to like you, each self-depreciating thought that flickers through your mind, every little way to fail the day—it all just adds to the pile you carry around and live beneath.

It’s possible—I’m learning to be unhappy, to be disappointed or hurt, and still not be depressed.

Into the fourth or fifth week of this strange remission from my depression, I notice that I’ve had up and down feelings of various lengths, from sound-bite to Wagnerian Ring Cycle, and all have fallen away.

I am revealed underneath, a cheerful fellow undeterred. Alive, happy to be so, wondering what the day ahead will hold, almost ready to believe that whatever it is won’t kill me.

Death Post #66
Despite the evidence of my happy month, I have had the sensation (and am currently having the sensation) that my happiness is slipping away. No, please, no, I beg the universe. Not yet.

It feels as if my happiness is a white sheet I have thrown over the wounded. And despite the light airy feel of the bright white world, I’m well aware of what’s under there, bleeding.

Death Post #67
This morning I could tell by the feel of my face that the happiness was over. I haven’t had this sensation in a month, but it’s an old one that I recalled instantly: my face feels tingly and heavy; it feels warm, in points; it’s as if there’s a tiny iron stove in every other pore. I just want to close my eyes and go back to bed. And doing a further body scan: I feel my chest has a hollowed out darkness in it, very familiar; I feel lots of shivers along my skin from head to toe. My chemistry is recalibrating. Depression is reclaiming me.

I’ve decided to stop writing my death posts for the time being. I want to pay less attention to death and depression for while. I want to pay less attention to myself, period. If somebody else dies, I’ll write about it, maybe. We’ll see.

Death Post #68
Except for that mid-summer blip (#67) I’ve been happy for months: no depression. I hardly ever think about death. I don’t mean that I hardly ever think about my own suicide (which I don’t); I mean that I hardly ever think about death, period.

Death crosses my mind but it doesn’t snag there. Happiness is a clearing. Depression is a deathsnagger.

Jackie Burroughs died while I was not depressed. Matthew became HIV positive while I was not depressed. These things were bad but did not snag. They moved along with the wind and weather.

In some ways, in comparison to depression, happiness is insufficiently respectful. In the mood I’m in, my mother could die without killing me, a prospect I find horrifying. Life is greedy.

Mary Todd Lincoln refused to stop grieving. She wouldn’t pull her husband’s death down from the branches of her mind. Her family, her friends, the newspaper columnists said: enough! Cast off the darkness, for fuck’s sake, Mary.

Andrew Holleran wrote a book about the aftermath of AIDS which is haunted by the life of Mary Todd Lincoln. It’s a novel. But it isn’t.

I skip past blackened Mary. “Hi!” Past poo-faced Holleran. “Cheer up! There are fresh men to be loved by!” Over the corpses of Jackie Burroughs, Kurt Cobain, and Freddie Prinze, Sr. “I love your work!” I skip. I skip. My pigtails flap against my shoulder. I’m Gigi, I’m Woody Allen’s joke about Gigi! I’m a happy middle-aged gay man in love with a virus-blasted whore!

Skip! Skip! Skip! My mother’s grave ahead. And Matthew’s. And mine—I want to hurl myself into it as happy as a moron. As happy as anything that ever lived. Nothing can stop me! Until the dirt hits my laughing mouth. And the worms interrupt—

Death Post #69
Sickness is the second cousin of death. You can see the family resemblance in the face.

For the second time in a month I am visiting Matthew in the hospital. Last time he was in because an ingrown hair on his scrotum swelled up to the size and shape of a third testicle, only purple. It was a colony of medication-resistant strep-A bacteria building a suburb for themselves in his nutsack.

This time a pimple above his groin has swollen up to the size and shape of an egg, only purple. Another metropolis of microscopic lives.

I arrive right in time to assist the nurses. They are putting an I.V. of the extra-duty penicillin into him to kill the inhabitants of Groinview. Matthew makes some suggestions to them about his veins and their tourniquet technique. He answers their raised eyebrows with, “I’m an intravenous drug user.” They joke with him that he could probably do it himself. Downtown nurses; they’ve seen it all.

He has me rub his back while they find a vein. Muniwza and Rozelle, from Africa and Asia. They are beautiful women. Strikingly kind. Matthew thanks them despite the fact that the bed is splashed with blood from their errors. He thanks me, too, for rubbing his back.

The nurses giggle, pet us, and leave. Matthew’s painkillers are kicking in, some of them self-administered in the washroom. He tells me a long story about his horrible roommate—a transwoman whose boyfriend pulls her hair out when they fight, who licks the wash out of his spoons after Matthew shoots up. “Leave my wash alone!” would be his catchphrase if they were a sitcom. He has to hide his spoons around the apartment while the wash dries. His doped-up Desi to her long-tongued Lucy.

I rub his feet as he tells me of their domestic woes.

His skin is tight to his skull and he is pale. Except for the angry pimples on his forehead and the greasy shock of black hair, he would be a skeleton. Health is sexy. Sickness is the second cousin of death. It is hard to believe people ever paid for the privilege of fucking him.

He looks at me. His droopy eyelids spring open. ”You’re so nice. You’re such a good listener. I wish you could cuddle up beside me and sleep here.” He pats the bed behind his ass. His blue eyes twinkle out of his skull. Instantly I get a rock-hard erection which stabs at my pants looking for a tunnel of air. I wiggle it free to stand.

“Are you sore?” he asks.

“Stitch in my side,” I say, turning my sprouted pelvis away.

I love him. I can’t stop myself. Death has no dominion. His body riddled with syphilis, hepatitis, HIV, and MRSA, he remains everything I want from life.

Death Post #70

Today Matthew looked handsome. In the hospital, he had bathed and shaved. He also had the news that his body seems to have rid itself of Hep-C. Twenty percent of people do fight it off. He also got the news that they do not know if the kind of syphilis he has is brain syphilis, so they want to do a lumbar puncture. He’s thinking of refusing because he’s scared of the pain. Testdrilling into his spine is better than into his brain, I point out. However, as I say it I remember that, pain-wise, the brain is an easy drill.

He looked so adorable I couldn’t stand just rubbing his feet so I asked if we could cuddle. He beamed and got right to readjusting everything and pulling up a movie on his laptop for us to watch. V Is for Vengeance. We lay in each others arms to the amusement of the dinner distributor, the nurse, and the doctor who came in fully gowned and masked (making me wonder a little about the sanity of cuddling this sick man). The doctor poked and prodded Matthew through layers of latex. He shook my hand, too. The touch of his glove was surprisingly warm. Matthew coaxed him into raising his painkiller dose in a way that made it seem like the doc’s idea. The doc said Matthew’d be in for six days, more or less, while the strep-A died.

Matthew phoned a dealer after the doctor left. He told me he wouldn’t be able to stay six days if he didn’t get some more dope, so he was going to sneak out and bike to his dealer’s during the nurses’ shift change. Thinking of how his purple bellyegg had cracked open just from walking downstairs for a cigarette, I came very close to offering to go and get it for him. Visions of Sketchytown held my tongue.

I left him shooting up to prep for his painful ride across town. As I walked out into the bitter cold Toronto night I had the sensation I was in a movie. The faces I passed were the kinds of faces that extras have. I felt superior to everyone I saw while simultaneously being aware of my sick narcissism. How in the world has Matthew’s hellish ordeal become about me?

How? Easy. Whose love is more death-defying? No one’s! I would hold him as the flesh rots off his bones, as the maggots consume him, as death pulls him into the darkness, as I’m left with a slick of him on my skin. Never letting go until my embrace is dry and empty. And even then a little bit longer. Just to show.




I have been keeping a death journal since 2003. In it I track death-related thoughts, feelings, experiences in preparation for volume four of my large novel, The Phenomenology of Loneliness. These excerpts, though hot-off-the-mind fresh, are riddled with evasions, half-truths, and outright lies, like most true stories. I declare it “fiction“ so that I will not have to apologize on television some time in the future for its lack of mundane veracity. Between you and me though, dear reader, something very much like most of this stuff happened to people very much like us.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 31 | Winter 2011