#20 Is that all there is?
Death, drag shows and dogs
I hope this week’s edition of SIL finds you well in what’s shaping up to be another strange and scary year. We expect nothing less.
I’ve been grappling with the nihilistic tendencies that make me think that everything is pointless, and that really, the last thing I should be doing is writing about whatever inane bullshit that’s preoccupying my very specific mind. I mean, the threat of nuclear war does that to a person.
But I went to a drag show on Friday night and scream-sung the lyrics to Vanessa Amorosi’s “Absolutely Everybody” with a bunch of sweaty strangers. It was so wholesome and joyful and reminded me that without the fizzy distraction of music and writing and film, life would quite literally, not be worth living.
Then on Sunday I found out a friend had died, someone really special, someone I really liked. And so the weird circular on and on-ness of life was made apparent.
This week is a disjointed essay on death and the ordinariness of life.
Watch your step!
The last time I saw her might have been in around June last year. We stood in my parent’s dining room and talked about dying, so strange. That was before she was diagnosed with brain cancer, before she was feeling sick at all. I remember asking her, “are you afraid of dying?” and she looked past me, squinted at a painting on the wall and then back at my face, “no”.
We always had capital-b-big conversation like that, about love and drugs and death and dreams. She came into our family in a strange way and she was one of my sister’s closest friends.
I found her kind of mesmerising. What was it about her I loved? She had a laugh like a bedside bell; she’d clutch her long slender hands just below her chin and her blue eyes would crinkle. She wore tracksuit pants and faded t shirts; she never wore makeup. She was beautiful in a tired, thin, high cheek boned way. Like a small bird. She was inquisitive, she asked me questions. Why do you do that? How did that make you feel? What do you want?
And when I shared with her my worries, she’d lay them out in front of me and soften them, like, see? It’s not so bad. You’re doing good.
When my sister texted me to tell me she had died, it felt so odd to think of her not being in the world anymore. It is strange to love someone when you’re a few dominos down from them. I wrote her a letter about a month ago and my sister took it to her, I don’t know if she read it, and really, I guess it doesn’t matter.
In her death there’s the quiet gift that you can take when anyone you know or love dies; death is coming for you too. It’s not some unreality and it’s not so far away, it could be quite close.
My friend laughs when I say, “you could be dead tomorrow”, which is nearly every day. She’s right when she alludes to its extremeness, it’s an intense set of words to throw around most days. But she also admits that these words are comforting when she’s agonising over something trivial. Don’t fret over your frown lines, you could be dead tomorrow. Don’t worry about what people think of your attempts to be known, you could be dead tomorrow. Don’t live a life that makes you unhappy, you could be dead tomorrow.
Easy to say, harder to do.
I was in the 2-dollar shop on Chapel street when I heard it. The kind of meteoric bang that you know means a terrible thing has happened, and then came the deranged commingled screaming of a dog and a person, together. I stood in the craft aisle and said to myself, don’t go and look, don’t go and look. I glanced over at the entrance, a crowd had formed, hands were clasped over mouths, variations of oh fuck, a whispered chorus. And then I was on the street, looking too. I saw a version of the scene I’d expected; the boxy head of a bull mastiff dog, her body caught beneath the rear wheel of a Mercedes, the person who loved her, punching the bonnet of the Mercedes and screaming, you bitch, you fucking bitch and 3 tradies in hi vis, directing the driver to reverse, partially back over the dog.
As soon as the car reversed, the dog leapt up, fuelled by a manic adrenalin, all her legs seemed to be working, she was sniffing the air, the ground. Her person ran after her wailing, oh my baby. The crowd dispersed.
The other night I went to see the film C’mon C’mon, a celluloid beautiful thing, with writhing city scapes and long takes of big-eyed faces staring into each other.
I cried more than I’ve cried in a movie for a very long time, maybe ever. And in that self-conscious way you sometimes cry next to someone at the cinemas, I didn’t dab my tears with my finger pads. That tell-tale sign of a person moved in public.
Instead, I let them roll over my lip, into my mouth. Over my cheek, over my chin.
I can’t say why I cried so much, maybe it’s that someone I’d known had recently died, or my period, or Putin. But the film realised something, ordinary life is beautiful because it’s all there is. Spit soaked streets, boredom, washing dishes and yelling at someone you love, parking fines, a slightly burnt latte, watching the same TV show as everyone else. Focus on these granules and life can feel puny and relentless.
But stand back and the whole of it becomes a broad stroke work of art. Of tears in a cinema, driving on freeways and eating day-old birthday cake.
Of people dying, kissing someone new under a black sky and swimming in the ocean.
It really is all there is.