Forgive me, dear readers, if I take a pass on writing a post this week. Finding Jeff’s obituary last Sunday, the photo in particular, really knocked me for a loop. My response reminded me of how I reacted on learning of my brother’s death in late 2019. Though we had been estranged for five years, I nonetheless always assumed he was out there in the world, alive and going about his daily business—you imagine, in W. H. Auden’s words, that he “is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.”
But when you learn of the death of someone you’ve once loved, even if’s been years since you’ve seen him, it’s like a soccer ball to the solar plexus. Whomp! Your breath is snatched brutally away. For days, thoughts of Jeff kept drifting through consciousness, most often when I was driving, which is perhaps a function of the way memory works when the mind is idling.
I could vividly remember the face of a man I had not seen in more than 20 years. The way he looked at me when I was applying mascara: “I love watching you do that.” The way his hand encircled my wrist, thumb and middle finger touching, and he said: “You are so finely made.” His lopsided smile, which sometimes flashed a glint of gold from a back molar. The way we shared a similar wry, understated sense of humor.
And now he is a little pile of ash and bone on someone’s bookshelf.
What I’ve been feeling is pure grief. And maybe a little guilt. Could I have done things differently? Not left Seattle but stuck it out for a time? Then I remembered that one of his relatives mentioned in the obituary how much Jeff enjoyed all the travel for his work. That would have been cause for serious conflict, especially because what was home to him had become alien territory to me.
So, to borrow a line from another Auden poem, written in a wash of grief, “I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
But life goes on, as does the search for love. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” said Samuel Beckett, another great 20th-century sage.
And so I did. And it just got curious and curiouser.
I’ll be back next week with more rollicking tales of midlife rotten romance, including my first adventures on Match.com and my liaison with the anal-retentive architect.
The painting at the top, Pieter Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1560), is the one referenced by Auden in his poem “Musée des Beaux Arts,” quoted in the first paragraph