We put so much faith in our bodies, which is actually kind of funny, because they’re such sorrowfully flimsy things. A bundle of sinews and bones, a fluttering pulse, a damp, rolling eye – we’re really not made of much. We might be built from star-stuff, but we lack the sturdiness of stars, the predictability. It takes a huge gravitational collapse to kill a star; it takes tens of thousands of years for a star to die. But a human body breaks so swiftly and unexpectedly, and there are so many ways for a body to break.
A body can be broken with a spiny virus to small to be seen by the naked eye. A body can be broken by a handful of cells gone rogue, or a heartsick sadness, or a screeching collision between flesh and something hard and intractable, like concrete or metal or time. All bodies break eventually – they shatter or snap or quietly crumple. You can’t trust a body to be an adequate vessel for the complex network of thoughts and feelings and beliefs and memories that make up who you are, but on the other hand you don’t have much choice. A body is all you’ve got.
I went to my friend’s funeral today. I know it’s weird to drop that in here just casually, but I don’t know how else to do it right now. My friend died on Thursday. She had been sick for a long time, but even when you know it’s coming, a death like this still guts you. She was really young – or, rather, she was my age, which I still somehow consider really young, at least where death is concerned. Today was her funeral. I went to my friend’s funeral today.
There was a graveside service, and I shivered through the whole thing because the coat I wore was too thin – impractical, my mother would say. But the coat looked good, you know? I don’t mean that in a vain way; I just mean that my big, puffy down coat seemed wrong for a funeral. Not formal enough. I take a certain delight in the fact that there are still a few occasions in life solemn enough to warrant fancy dress. Marking the completion of someone’s life seems like an appropriate time to break out the finery – sombre finery, of course, but no less fine for that. Black silk skirts, high-heeled boots, neatly-pressed black trousers. Black leather gloves. A black cashmere scarf wrapped around the head, babushka-style. Black pantyhose so sheer you might as well not be wearing anything at all. And, of course, row after row of black wool coats.
So it was cold there, out by the graveside. I kept crossing and uncrossing my legs, pressing my thighs together, trying to keep my thin blood flowing. I had a hand-warmer in my glove because the friend who had driven me there had thought ahead and brought enough hand-warmers for everyone. The burial was in a meadow, and we had to tramp through tall, brittle grass to get to the grave site. It was an overcast day, but then midway through the sun broke through, that hard, molten-gold late-autumn sun. The light and the wind cut straight through us.
The coffin was unfinished pine, and there were sharpies passed around so that we could write love notes on it. I guess that sounds sort of grim, but it wasn’t at all – it was lovely. Later, after they’d lowered the coffin into the ground, we threw flowers on top of it. Mine was a pale pink Gerbera daisy; I looked down as I dropped it in, and I could see all these bright flowers in the darkness below, like a field of stars reflected in a lake. I made a note to write that down later. She would have liked that, my friend. She loved words – scratch that, she lived for words. She wielded them with an economy and precision that made me deeply envious.
Maybe she wouldn’t have liked that comment about the stars. Maybe it was too ham-fisted, too obvious, but I can’t even check with her to see what she thinks. It’s the little things like this that sometimes make death seem the most brutal – that you can’t just casually tell someone something. You can’t even write them a letter. You have to store all the things you want to say to them up inside you, and then what do you do with them? You just have to live with them, I guess.
I thought about how we must have all looked, standing out there in that meadow. I imagined us from an overhead shot, like we were in a movie – I pictured the camera arcing over us, its blind eye recoding this clutch of dark-clothed figures weeping and shivering. I thought: I bet we would look like kids from above. I felt like a kid – a little kid playing dress up in someone else’s fancy clothes and stiff dress shoes. I felt like a kid trying to process a feeling too huge and overwhelming to name – the kind of feeling that makes toddlers have howling meltdowns because some enormous wave of emotion has just washed over them leaving them screaming, flailing, trying desperately not to drown.
I felt like a kid this afternoon, but I also felt like a grownup. Or, at least, the situation felt grownup. I thought, this is what adults do. They watch their friends die. They go to their funerals. They stand in cold fields as their friends are lowered into the ground. This is what the rest of my life will be like.
Because bodies break, and they’ll break harder and faster the older I get. This is where I live now.
I miss my friend.