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January 5, 2014

There’s An Angel On My Shoulder, Murmuring “I’m Here.”

 

I almost called this “Everyone Dies,” and then I remembered: I don’t believe in death.

When I was 10ish, my mother lied to me. She told me Anissa Jones, Buffy from the TV show “Family Affair” died as a result of climbing into a refrigerator and closing the door. In truth, Buffy had died of a drug overdose at 18. Mom could have easily gone the route of the cautionary tale, which I guess she kind of did; I never did close myself in the fridge.

And Mrs. Beasely? She’s either in the Smithsonian, or she met her demise in a trash compactor along with Farrah Fawcett’s red bathing suit and the last bottle of “Charlie” perfume.

There’s never a good time to discuss death, no matter how old you are. The end of life is a mystery; the same goes for the end of relationships, friendships, etc. After a while, you’d think it would get easier to lose people, but each loss reminds you of something or someone you lost before.

If only you could take the entire memory of your last crush/lover/relationship and give it a proper goodbye, perhaps involving an iceberg to be sent adrift and some poignant words about the afterlife, your heart might not feel so heavy.

At 14, I knew I was doomed when I read the book “First Love And Other Sorrows.” Yeah, I was boy crazy and yeah, there were some major crushes that ended up fizzling out… and yeah, I took it hard. I was convinced it was all over for me before I was even old enough to drive.

It became a problem. I always hated saying goodbye.

That’s young love for you. It makes you feel alive, like after a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey. And it can kill your spirit, like someone is stabbing you in the throat.

When I was young, the only experience I ever had with death was visiting my grandparent’s graves. They’re buried at Westwood Memorial, a little cemetery tucked away in an L.A. suburb, the same place as Marilyn Monroe. We would visit sometimes on Sundays, and I would wander off to look at the movie star’s grave marker on the wall. My mother would ask me, “Does Marilyn Monroe have fresh flowers today?” And the answer was always yes, the fresh flowers were there, sent every week by Joe Dimaggio, the man who loved her.

I was 30 years old when my father passed away. He was an attorney, and the kind of man who carried himself with a certain kindness and respectability, not unlike a character in an old, black and white Frank Capra movie. He had a heart attack while walking up the Santa Monica Courthouse steps on the way to a trial one morning, and died before he hit the ground. That’s what the autopsy guy said.

My dad had his dog tag from the Air Force attached to his keys. I’ll never forget the sound it made when it all jingled together. That dog tag was on my key ring for years until I finally took it off for fear I might lose it.

I went through a phase, a reckless, dark phase.

That’s what happens when you get a glimpse into your own mortality.

I drove way too fast, slept way too late and I stopped believing in anything having to do with love. I spent a lot of time looking for even a slight bit of significance in things—my own nonsensical poetry, my father’s vintage Omega watch from 1953, Air Supply songs, you name it. But I was guarded, and I didn’t find much.

Last September, my mother passed after a long illness and three years in an assisted living facility.

When we spread her ashes in the ocean, I saw the most breathtaking thing I had ever seen: it was dusk, and the moment those ashes hit the water the sky turned a brilliant, unbelievable shade of crimson red, the undeniable color of passion.

It was just a for minute or so. And my 13 year old niece said, “look! she’s back together with Grandpa!”

That’s death for you. It’s prettier than you think.

You know how they say when someone passes away, they’re always with you? It’s true. That’s why I don’t believe in death. A billion Hindus can’t be wrong about that.

Does anybody know what happens after the last breath?

I know it’s a part of life, bitter-sweetly entwined, as inseparable as the the ocean and the wet part. These bodies we occupy are flawed, not to mention temporary. There’s pleasure, there’s pain and there’s karma. Watch out, baby. You don’t want to come back in the next life as a hideous, bottom dwelling fish who has to scrape its food off rocks deep down in the dark.

A year ago on New Year’s Day, I gave my father’s 1953 watch to my husband as a wedding gift. My dad would’ve loved that. He definitely would not love the fact that I crashed his 280ZX.

Talk to the ones you miss; it’ll keep them alive. Come with me to the cemetery. We can steal Marilyn’s flowers, throw the petals in the air and dance around as we offer up a “cheers, everyone!” and maybe a “see you in the next life!” as water and wine spill out of our cups and splash all over the thirsty graves.

~

They say we have soul mates that live in other worlds.

Two weeks ago, we put our boxer Shamus McDog to sleep. Up until the last minute I didn’t know if I could stay in the room, but I did. I had my hands on him when he took his last breath. I’m wearing his silver bone-shaped tag around my neck. And I wonder what world he could be in now, and whose shoes he’s probably chewing on.

I was alone in my house that night. Our Christmas lights were up, and I was outside in the backyard, crying my eyes out thinking about all of it, about Shamus, and my parents and everyone else. So much has happened, so many little deaths, and I still hate to say goodbye. And then I heard it. It was just a whisper: “I’m here. I’m here.”

Right now, I can see my father’s dog tag out of the corner of my eye, hanging with the keys.

That’s life for you. It never ends.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: elephant journal archives

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