"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

18 November 2012

Letter to a Phantasm

"And I miss you
 like the deserts miss the rain..."
-Everything but the Girl

The girl on the bench had long, thick flame-red dreadlocks. I could hear her laugh as she spoke into her phone. I had to double-take, then a triple. I knew the truth even as I scanned her features and listened closer to her voice, her laugh; it wasn't you, just a cruel trick of the light, memory, and a fool's hope.

I fucking swear, mon ami, your phantasm haunts me more than that one x of mine, visions of my mother, my grandmother, or even Jibril. Part of me considers disliking you-strongly-for it. But can I really blame you? You've been dead and gone two years now, and I cannot imagine you wanting to unintentionally torment me with your ghost at every other turn.

It's not like I've not dealt with death before. I grew up on a farm. I began to understand the First Nobel Truth, the realization of suffering, of death, by the time I was six. I danced with the dead for money once, hearing some horror stories of the reality of disease process-some of the drinking nights I had from those tales border upon mythic.

Jibril had four kidneys in his body, and not one of them worked, despite my efforts to help him get a new one transplanted. My grandmother tried an aces over eights bluff against mythical death gods with an experimental surgery instead of accepting the sentence delivered by the aneurysm slowly chocking her eighty-one year old heart. My mother was devoured by a rarer strain of cervical cancer by no other reason than bad things happen to good people, even if good and bad are constructs invented to make sense of the roll of the bones chaos.

All three of those deaths rattled me profoundly. You know that. Be that as it may, when it comes down to brass tacks and bedposts, I can say I saw them coming.

But, you, dearheart, were Hell and gravedust, and cobwebs, and razorblades, and maggots. You were the surprise. Right the fuck out of nowhere, wrong place, wrong time, surprise! you're dead! You know how much I loath surprises.

I suppose if you'd survived the experience, you'd probably had been far more upset about it and I'm just being selfish. After all, I only lost a friend. You lost your unborn son in the deal too.

The First Noble Truth is the realization of suffering...

It's taken me years to reconcile my heretical faith, it seems. That had started with my mother's death, the year before. We were just starting into corresponded discussions of our theological evolutions shortly before your rollover. Even though the first Noble Truth of Buddhism speaks to the chaos inherent in the universe, I confess, I was getting a little nihilistic right after we all put you in the ground. It took some time for Humpty-Dumpty to pull himself back together again.

I remember that tarot card oracle you cast for me, four months after my grandmother died, when you said I would find enlightenment. You once referred to me as your mountain bodhisattva. Both statements I found a bit ballsy, and giving me far more credit than I might want or deserve. Although, amusingly enough, Lee agreed with you about my enlightenment once, by virtue of how and where I choose to live and who I choose to share my life with.

Of course, I've often maintained that the cat who says they're enlightened clearly isn't. The only way I could really accept your mantel of being enlightened is if enlightenment means I don't know every fucking thing and content myself with the mysteries, knowing for every question answered, like weeds, ten more spring up in its place. Every time I think I know, that I've arrived, as the buzzword goes, I find more riddles and set off to solve those, because ignorance leads to suffering, which perpetuates samsara.

I'd say it's because we stand upon the date of your accident, and those five days your family kept your shell alive on machines after the fact that is why you've been within the mathematics of my thoughts as of late, why I saw your phantasm in the shape of a traveling girl in a set of dreads. That would be a lie. You're within the walls of my skull a lot. I think of you as the one friend who didn't think I'd completely lost my mind when I announced I was over and done with the city and moving to the mountains and if anyone got in my way I'd eat their fucking liver. Slowly.

"Ah so. And you find why I disappear into the mists of mountain tops and people who breath the word zen as deeply as they breathe the air," you said.

It endeared me to you. But there were so many tiny things you did to do that. I could get so angry with you I'd want to spit coffin nails-you fucking up and dying on me is a shinning example-and you'd go and do something and I'd remember why you were my friend. Why you've always meant so much to me.

You didn't wear your seatbelt, and I can never forgive you for that. But, you very well know I do not believe in forgiveness. Forgiveness implies that it never happened, when, oh, but it did. That is denial, and not in the context of the great African river.

I believe in acceptance. The understanding a thing happened and cannot be made to unhappen. So it goes.

I accept that you're gone. That we'll never finish those theological discussions we started. That we'll never have that teahouse date we always spoke of. That your son will never address me as Dirty Uncle Bob. That we'll never swap any more stories or I'll never get to skeptically harass you over the tarots. I accept that all I have are the memories and the stories.

And, although it rattles the fuck out of me every time it happens, I accept seeing your memory ghost superimposed upon the flesh overcoats of strangers. Were I to allow myself a moment of superstition, I would theorize it's your way of letting me know you're about, perhaps making sure I'm still reptile zen as ever. Even if that isn't the case, I find myself grateful for it, if, for no other reason, it keeps me from even trying to forget you.

Not that I could, even on a bet...     


  1. Brutal and touching, Robbie. You have a gift for speaking to the departed.
    Sometimes I hear a musical laughter, and I spin around to see my friend...but it's never her.

    1. I question whether or not it's a curse.

      Thank you.