Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In A Big Country

My friend Molly died tonight, which was more of a shock than a surprise. It was both, really -- she was 33, and people are not supposed to die at that age, not people as wildly vital as she was or people who are any other way -- but the surprise was mitigated by a friend calling me on Monday to tell me that she was suddenly, shockingly ill. Her mother took over her Facebook account that night to confirm as much. It is hard to know how sudden all this really was -- she left town several years ago, boyfriend by her side, to return to the city of her birth; my relationship with her became almost entirely virtual afterwards, and vague even at that. I saw her at a wedding and we were both drunk, and we hugged. A way to say hello when you aren't talking so good, no way at all to say goodbye.

I don't know how long ago that even was -- I am pretty sure we saw each other at that wedding, although my wife is not so sure, and she was also there -- but anyway all those days collapsed at once and as one earlier this week. My friend called; Molly was sick, really desperately sick, on a respirator and in multiple failure and it was bad, it was really bad. The boyfriend was in jail, had been for how long I don't know and would be for how long I don't know. In however long it had been out of sight and mostly out of mind, the bottom had fallen out of their lives and they had fallen and fallen. I hadn't heard, I hadn't seen. I hadn't looked. I hadn't thought. I hadn't thought any of this was possible.

But more to the point: her liver failed, and then her kidneys. There were some short spikes of hope in the short time after that -- her blood pressure was briefly high enough for the hospital to attempt dialysis, which was important. If that worked, they would be able to attempt a liver transplant. If that worked, she might live. If she lived, we might get to see her again. It was all so contingent on such a thin fiber, but it was enough for a day or so. One hopeful email, forwarded, and there is our comeback trail, there is our fighter -- this was no stretch: she was truly tough, someone I would count out of no real or metaphorical fight -- and here was her fight. I know her, I knew her. I would not bet against her, against any odds or any opponent. 

But it was not really a fight, really, by the time she was in it. She was taken off dialysis. She was never off a respirator, as far as I knew. I don't know how or if she suffered and I don't know if I can bear to know. Friends started calling me: what is happening with Molly, when and how and holy shit. I was probably telling one of them what little I knew -- more than my friend knew, but not a lot and not up to date -- when she passed. When I got off the last of those calls there were already eulogies showing up on her Facebook page and my wife, tearful but weirdly purposeful, was refreshing the page. A click and the cascade poured on. 

Other people's mourning, let alone in public and with a LIKE option underneath it, feels and looks like any other thing; this is the queasily Aspergersian essence and definitional emotional bug of Facebook, that everything looks like everything else and can only be consumed or engaged in the same way and only in that way. Look at these updates, the same shape and color as ones complaining about traffic or sharing some fatuity or other, and the old reflexive alerts fire: buddy, you mean "you're" not "your" or vice versa; there is the hard secular impulse against trite spiritual treacle. Lord, all of that response-to-the-response so fucking shameful, so inadequate and so distant in this context. But also easy, also comfortingly familiar in the long shadow of the rest of it, which is so enormous and final.

It feels even worse in retrospect, this retreat into the editorial in the face of the inarguable and unwinnable. This is it, this is it. There is nothing to say about it, and anything and everything said about it -- sorry for you're (sic) loss, another angel in the choir, a beautiful person who sang of life's sly fun and bright purpose in every wild moment spent with her -- is all true. That is all, this is all, everything means goodbye, and goodbye is the sum and pale essence of anything that can be said. This is certainly not a perfect forum, either. I am saying goodbye now, but I can't quite quit saying it. When I am done, I will be done.

Look, look: I do not know how all this came to pass, how what failed came to fail so finally. It seems like things turned for her in her last days in New York, and didn't turn once she and her boyfriend moved home to Tennessee; I don't really know what she was doing there. I know that Molly's father fought and was finally undone by addiction. I worked with him briefly, during my time at Topps; this was a job I found for him through her, and he authenticated various autograph signings throughout the southeast, and was the best and best-loved at that strange gig for some giddy months; football players, especially, loved the man. He went, rather quickly, from being a star to being a late-arriving problem to being utterly lost and unreachable to being all the way gone in dreadfully rapid time. Her death would seem to have something to do with substance abuse. I don't know, and I don't know why I'd need to write about it here, except maybe for how all that reflects off me and my fears about myself and my appetites, and my fears of dying too early, of dying before I'm finished. And this is a retreat, honestly: back to me, into me, the questions of what I might or could or should have done, all those safe trails back home from this cruel outland and this cold permanence, the place from which my friend will not come back.

But here is a thing to remember, among all the other things, the many conversations and subway rides and baseball games and other insignificances that added up to this unscalable and unavoidable thing looming ahead. But this is a thing, when I talked about this with Kate, that as it turns out we both remembered. It was not a moment from any of the Mets games we went to with her, any of the many art shows or music shows or random nameless nights at various since-closed bars. 

As it turned out, we remembered the same thing, from the same party -- a going-away party, as it turns out, for friends who were leaving New York -- at Molly's apartment on Smith Street in Brooklyn. There were giant plastic jugs of shitty booze and a fridge tippy with pyramids of bodega beers; the floor was wet and the air was dense. The buzzer honked with new visitors throughout the night. Some friends got open-container charges on the stoop, other friends kissed each other for the first and last time -- "she's no-nonsense," one said to me later, "and I am interested in nonsense" -- and people danced and drank and talked and fought and made-out. It was one of the last peaks, in retrospect, of that part of our lives. People left the city after that, as well they might've, first a little and then all at once. This was one of the last times we were all together as those versions of ourselves.

What Kate remembered, and what I remembered, too, was Molly commandeering the stereo later in the night, to play a song that she loved a lot as many times as she felt it deserved to be played. The song was "In A Big Country," by the band Big Country. I always liked it well enough, and I assume I danced -- or, more likely, just sort of danced and sort of made out with Kate, which I realized later in our relationship was a thing I could do instead of awkwardly dancing -- while it played. Molly played it maybe twice, maybe three times, and everyone laughed at that familiar willfulness and kept dancing. It was her party, and she danced and laughed, too.

I don't remember how many times she ran the song back, exactly. I haven't forgotten, either. Some things stay with you, like the song says. These are the better things, the things closest to the heart, which are the last you let go. Those are what you keep, and you hold them close and tight. You hold them, I still hold them, because it is not nearly time to let them go, and because of the late realization that they're worth so much more than they seemed to be, back when we spent them so readily in the belief that there were years, yet, in which to spend them. I cannot give all that up, not yet. I am crying because I have to do that.

I can only wish her and her family and Tim some peace. I, we, can only love each other as much as we can; this is always true, of course. What is out of our hands is out of our hands. What we can do, we have to do. Good lord, rest for the weary, comfort for all of us, and only please as much life as we can take, and no more. It's enough. It's never enough. It's not enough.