During High School, which is what I suppose you would call Middle School, I went through a very hard time. Especially for the last three years. My Father died when I was fifteen. Not accidentally. Not suddenly. He had died slowly, painfully. Almost deliberately. He was an alcoholic. It took him six weeks to die. And after he died, I began to measure out my life in periods of six weeks.
“This is how long it takes a beaten liver to collapse.”
“This is the week his skin will start to go yellow. Nurse, why is he skin so yellow?”
“Your Father is a very sick man.”
He died on the day of my English Literature exam. I met with my teacher the week after to discuss the consequences.
“Your Father was a very sick man.”
Like a jaundiced dog, that phrase would always follow me; curtail me in the sixth week of my periodic life. Across every classroom table it would bounce, perch in my ear when it had ended its erratic pursuit of my memory.
“Your Father was a very sick man.”
The tense was like stretched veins across white skin; I preferred the present, but I was surrounded by the past. The year succeeding his death felt transitory. When will the past stay there? I remember writing in Leaver’s Books; I remember kind words and over fond niceties, surrounded by infinitive tenses. I will miss you! I’ll never forget the great times we had. I can’t wait to see you soon. They glimpsed at an unforeseen, unclouded future. What struck me, what lodged in the recesses of my fractured mind, cradling itself in a crevice that the year had opened up, was no future participle. It belonged to the past. Chloe wrote it.
“You were always the boy with a smile on his face.”
It bounced off the tongue like something in a poem I was to read four years later. I was sixteen; it was the year of façades, as I recall. Vogue lined their stands with airbrushed models in faces too pert for a person of anyone’s age (they’re still far behind the times.) “That was my mask”, I declared, hair strewn back, lips pursed in Byronic sorrow as I gazed across a field of blazers. I liked, for a long time, to think that it was. That my grief was conventional. Convention is always easy to understand. GETTING OVER IT: A NEW SMASH HIT COMING SUMMER 2009. I had seen all the previews.
It’s only now, in this chair, years ahead, swarmed with the present, the future beckoning through my now much shorter hair, that I realised it wasn’t a mask at all. We think so much about the interiority of our lives, digging deeper in, that our grief grows room to stretch inside of us. My mask wasn’t a smile: it was the tears at night, the sleepless nights, the plagues of self derision, self mockery, self conceited, asinine, moronic, insipid, vitriolic and defamatory hatred of everything that I was, am (were) and would be (are.) That was my mask; the smile did well to hide the fact that I didn’t yet know it. It was only on the floor with the empty half glass of a potent, unnameable cocktail that lubricated the thirty-two pills I had swallowed when I realised that rock bottom wasn’t a clichéd boulder we all eventually arrived at, but a populous sponge that some of us buried ourselves further into, with deceitful lies about our own comfort.
I smile still. Chloe, you were right. I’m glad that Freudian Id was not imposed by a super-ego of prosaic stoicism, mock grief in black suited splendour. I was happy. And then I wasn’t. And now I’m on a roundabout that grazes the pastures of a thousand grey feelings that mingle between the two, spun by an invisible force – Troilus, are you laughing? Michel, it’s not who you think it is. Ludwig, get to it in a less round about way. Virginia, I wish it could be you. Perhaps it’s the Old Man I wrote about in Denai, before I even knew who he was. Perhaps it’s the God that I used to worship three times a week. Maybe it’s the wind. Either way, it’s still spinning.