To recap if you’re stumbling across this site for the first time: my sister, Alex, died two months ago. I’m trying to get over it. I’m having trouble. This is a blog of my attempts to find happiness in the world through my grief. There. Now you have it, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Sorry for all those who have faithfully read the first few blog posts and didn’t need those first four sentences at all. It’s over. Now:
This all started two nights ago. Friday. I’d gone to a cafe around five o’clock to get some grading done before Friday night, the night when I do nothing significantly different from any other night, began. There’s always the promise of some dastardly deed, some collegiate-style obscenity that might happen, some high school level prank. Sadly, the life of a teacher often kills all desire to commit such acts while inflaming all desires to dream of such acts. Bizarre and tough to live with. Shake a teacher’s hand for that hell the next time you see one.
Two nights ago I was walking into a cafe, and there were two strangers behind the counter. This is weird, because this is a place I’ve been frequenting for the last three years, and a place I’ve come to know, with its barristas (?) who know my simple order (coffee, for here, no room for cream, and what’s the internet password please?) and have casual conversations with me. It’s quite delightful.
What was delightful was that these two strangers, new hires, and kind of obnoxiously positive the way new hires can be at any job, seemed to want to engage in conversation. I shouldn’t have let them. The woman (there was one woman and one man), immediately shows me her phone and says, “Good, isn’t it?” It took me a moment to process that she was talking about the photo on her phone. It took me another moment to notice the picture: a man with his head being chopped off. The man: George Harrison. The caption: Off with His Head!
“It’s quite good,” I say. “Is that supposed to be George from the Beatles?”
“Yes!” the woman (24 years old at the oldest). “He painted it. It’s gruesome isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, I guess. I mean, I’m a big fan of the Artemisia Gentileschi kind of gruesome with the blood spurts and the tensing muscles bulging as they cut into the muscle and arteries and sever the spine in the man’s head in, what’s that painting, ‘The Slaying of Holofernes,’ or ‘Judith and Holofernes.’ Whatever it’s called. Nothing like Caravaggio’s dainty Judith sort of slicing open. That’s kind of what this reminds me of. It’s a little gentle, all told.”
I couldn’t stop myself. How was she to know I was a big fan of art history? How was she to know I teach art history?
They stopped. The man said something like right on, or nice point, or something vaguely and generally polite, all the while not leaving the conversation open for further discussion. The woman just stood there. I’d like to think her mouth was hanging open a little bit, but I can’t be sure. But I’ll swear to it in court if it ever comes up.
I took my coffee that I ordered somewhere in the middle of that exchange, and promptly went away from the two of them. As far as I could get. No internet password, but not having the distraction would be nice.
The problem: Alex loved the Beatles. One summer she was working in London, and I was living in Paris, and when I visited her, we spent some time wandering in and out of shops, and buying our own Beatles singles. I bought Hard Day’s Night. She bought All You Need Is Love. She loved the Beatles. I like the Beatles a lot, but I know my fandom doesn’t stack up to a lot of people’s so I don’t claim to love them. But she did. And she died bleeding out from her neck in an automobile injury.
I cried quiet tears once I sat down, sipping coffee like everything was normal. Pulling out my laptop and papers and envisioning an evening of productive grading. Nothign happened. I remembered our time in London. We went to the Tate Modern, and walked across the footbridge, the Millennium bridge to take a picture by the school Daniel Radcliffe attended, and got a full English breakfasts and teas, and saw Les Miserables because that’s what one does when one is in London. That’s what one’s supposed to do when one is in London.
How unexpected. I’m not much of a crier, and I’m still not, so it was even more shocking to suddenly be crying, overwhelmed with feeling when I hadn’t seen it coming, hadn’t been wallowing in the shallows of grief. This was a dive right into the deep end and I hadn’t known I was on the diving board. Life can be cruel. Death can be downright disorienting. I sat thinking, “There is a way to be happy here. I’m just not seeing it.” I thought and I thought and I thought and I thought.
And then it came to me: The Beatles.
YouTube is an amazing resource, and I immediately searched for All You Need is Love, and began to listen to it. For a moment more tears started sliding down. I continued to sip coffee. Then I remembered that there were wonderful memories attached to this song. There was my sister taking me through the underground of London. There was my sister giving me lectures of art in London. There was my sister bargaining for Beatles singles in London. There was my sister, the indomitable woman, being herself and filled with love and adventure with me on another continent. She and lived a good life, and I wish she could have lived longer. But she was still here in my heart reminding me that all I needed is love.
I called my parents, had a rather mundane conversation, and told them I loved them.