A(n Open) letter to a friend whose beloved is dead.

Dear L.,

If you are talking to me now, or for the rest of my life, know that it’s not really me anymore. I just look like me, maybe. A good act. This person without Denali is someone I cannot recognize, someone I do not want to know.

The thing is, for everyone else – almost everyone else – it’s hyperbole.

Every fucking thing is hyperbole. So they come in with their platitudes, their fur babies and baby talk, their replacements and empty noise that is, to them, appropriate, because everything is hyperbole and so very little has actual meaning.

I want to kill them with these bare hands that have become the hands of a dead thing, unrecognizable and pointless.

Because it isn’t hyperbole.

At all.

You are lost, L..

There is no way back.

You’ll come to other places. You and the world will be unrecognizable. You will be loved. It will not help. You will stumble through in a dead fog. You will become able to go through motions. Some of the motions will be real. You and your life as it has been for twelve years will be dead.

I could say something here about the blank pages that begin to fall into our dead hands, crisp and white, and how they begin to fill, and it would even be true, but now isn’t the time for saying much about that.

Rage animates me lately. It’s that or paralyzing depression, so my psyche has apparently chosen rage for at least having more movement in it, and plenty of good reason, all realities considered. It makes sense.

I keep it mostly well under wraps, but I want to kill people with my own dead hands for saying stupid, well-intended things about Denali’s death on your Facebook page.

My own dead hands lunge for the keyboard to say something, anything, that could offer comfort to you & LD, then fall back, dead, because there isn’t anything.

I post a picture of Denali on my own Facebook page, with the Richard Adams quote from the religion of the rabbits, which makes more sense than most religions: my heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.

Then I delete it, because people start posting comments.

The point is, she was beautiful. The point is, she was your world and key and door. The point is, a great light has gone out and you are in darkness.

It was you I wrote to the next day, or the day after that, remember? Because we are kindred in this.

Yesterday I woke and there was no morning tail-thump, no one had to pee, no one wanted breakfast, no one needed me to say they could stay when I went up, or down (you don’t have to do the stairs right now, friend, I’m just getting coffee, I’ll be right back), no one needed a steadying hand on the sill or complained to summon me back from abyss when I stood deadened in the middle of the room staring at the wall, no one watched me like a hawk when I got dressed to see if it was going to be jeans or dress pants, then poked me in the knee with a nose and an interrogative whistle to celebrate the choice of jeans and report that the chance of awesome just increased by 90%, or had a ballistic explosion of joy when hiking boots were added to the jeans because now chance of awesome was at 100%, or got in the car with me (by ramp, lifted in my arms, settled on the dogbed in the back – or by more-familiar gravity-defying bound), or whined with backseat driver insistence when we didn’t take the turn to Greylock Glen, or grew even more excited than Greylock Glen when I took a new mountain road, steep, autumnal, dead-ending in mountain-foothill meadow of aster and goldenrod and a deafening susurrus of aspens.

And I walked away from the car, neither leaving him in it nor taking him with me, because he wasn’t there. And walked. And by the time I got across the meadow-trailhead and to the first woods-turning, he would have had to stop, pain ripping through him, making him shudder, making his teeth chatter, his feet knuckling under and tearing on the stones. I just shuffled into the woods in uncertain half-steps, crying, on this trail he would have done so easily and joyously even nine months ago but couldn’t do so suddenly, his body in this catastrophic failure even he, so stoic, could no longer ignore, compensate for, hide. And walked and walked, in forest-noise and the thousand things and places he did not see or smell, and stumbled, and tried to teach myself again and again how to walk without him, and knew he was behind me and knew he was not. After some hours, I found myself on the summit of Greylock, not having really meant to do that, and there was the bush he peed on when I drove him up two days earlier, and there was the meadow where he rolled and smiled, and here was where he loved his last dusk, and began his last night in this world.

And so I stumbled back down the mountain, dehydrated but still weeping steadily from some impossible, inexhaustible source, and got to the truck and sat in the back on his dogbed holding his leash, and smoked a cigarette he did not give me a disapproving glance about, and held a tear-shaped piece of quartz the mountain put into my hand at some point – until there was no sense in it, with him not there, and I went home, where he wasn’t.

By then it was 6pm, which is supper time, and dog help me if I’m late: and it didn’t matter because 24 hours earlier, he’d died in my arms. Fighting it. Not wanting to be separated, no matter how bad it got. As would always be true, no matter the cost to him: even if I’d let him go all the way down that road of paralysis, incontinence, freezing pain that even the thickest narcotic blanket could not warm, he would have done anything to stay with me. And I couldn’t let him do that, even though there’s nothing else I want.

And that’s how it is now. Everything is wrong. It’s going to be that way for a while, I know, because – you know.

I loved him. We were one life in two bodies. He was the best of it.

And how little I knew then, of how bad it was going to get.

I thought I knew.

I didn’t.

Fuck, I still don’t.

I didn’t eat, really, for six weeks. Started to get really sick from that, wasting and shrinking and having a hard time staying conscious or upright, and had to go to a new university, to teach, an unfathomable thing, so I shoveled food into my dead body to stave off the sick, to be able to go through the motions.

I didn’t bleed, really, for six months.

I don’t write except about him, and that endlessly, never able to breach even the meniscus of the life, or the death.

I don’t really do anything but work, without him.

I fucked someone a while back, because now I live in a world almost entirely without touch, too, and that doesn’t work very well. It was vaguely nice, and useful, like necessary calories to keep me going across the ice, some psychic Iditarod. It began and ended with me saying: you know I’m leaving right? And this goes nowhere. I went home at dawn and said to Gilly’s box of ashes: well that was kinda weird, but okay I guess. And went to sleep and dreamt of Gilgamesh telling jokes about the cookie jar and starvation, of mud puddles and puddle stomping, of our rich silences, the weight of his head on my leg, bike rides and the first seizure, the first time I knew some terrible corner had been turned.

Beauty causes me physical pain.

My single shadow pierces my eyeballs and they bleed through the rest of the ghost walk.

There is nothing I can do or see or feel that isn’t riven.

More recently, I can fake it better. More recently, I’m not always faking.

Mainly, in the classroom is the only place I’m not faking, and thank dog for that, because I had to go teach, as you’re going to have to: those students were like puppies, needy and loud and demanding and weird-smelling and funny and obnoxious and fiercely, stupidly, innocently alive and in need of my attentive presence, so I gave it. It was the only uncomplicated thing I could find.

I know you and LD must be scared.

How to go on, when the pack of three, the tripod, is broken?

I’m a rationalist. A skeptic. An atheist. I know, when I see Gilly beside me, that my brain is generating him. I know, when he comes to me in dreams, I am comforting myself.

I read Ursula Le Guin’s lines about how some bonds, some loves, are so deep the beloveds cannot be kept apart, even by death: like quicksilver, they will pool back together across any barrier, no matter the cost to the nature of things – and I know this is a metaphor. I know that if it was true, it would be about me and Gilgamesh. I know that if we lived in a world in which death wasn’t really real, and ghosts could stay, he’d stay.

I know the Japanese word shugorei, the guardian spirit who chooses to remain, to be ever just slightly behind and to the left, eternally watchful over their living. I know how this fits with the inugami, and the inugami mochi, some of few words that always seemed to tell something true about me and Gilgamesh.

I know the epic for which I named my beloved is more true than most anything else I’ve ever read, and that Gilly, at the end, was actually Enkidu, and it’s me, the poor stumbling fuck in the wilderness, shorn and in lionskin, mad, completely mad with grief and a stupid, irrational plan to go to the ends of the earth and kill death myself with my own pointless hands, that’s stuck with this world without him, without The Us, without the perfect love that is almost a cruelty to have had because then how the fuck do we go on without it?

And sure, I know that is precisely what that stupid story I love so passionately is about, and I when I teach it I say so: how do we go on, open hearted, I ask my puppy-students, in the presence of death, of such unbearable vulnerability and inevitable loss? That is the question this story asks of us.

And I tear my finery and cut inches from my hair and cover myself with ashes and filth and rail at the sky in the dark wild. I go mad. I wait for him to come back, madness. I still look for him. I hear him. I smell him. I am less obviously mad now, but I am still mad. I’ve gone mad and to the ends of the earth as I have done for no human who has died. Not my best friend who burned alive trying to save her fucking kitten from her burning house when we were kids. Not my beloved grandfather, the only goddam safe person in the entire world. Not my father. Not my lover C., who died sitting up in bed, blood streaked down her chin and over her shirt, alone. I have not grieved this way for my own injuries, no matter how bad: no rape, no violence, no terror comes near it. I don’t grieve this way for our whole planet, which we’re killing.

In comparison to Gilgamesh’s infinite, boundless being ending in a soft puff in the palm of my left hand and the vet’s voice saying gently he’s gone, every loss is explicable.

I know that vanishingly few people in this world will ever, ever comprehend this.

So I know that if I didn’t take ghost walks, didn’t talk to him, didn’t reach for him, didn’t try to feel him with me still in some way, I would die. Or at least go mad in a way that shows, in a way that stops me from being able to work, constantly and endlessly, for the needs of other people, meeting them constantly, endlessly, because all I can do now is work.

It’s stupid language, the ghost stuff. But there is no other language that speaks anything like the truth.

I need him to still be there in some way. Or I can’t even move.

People can’t see this grieving.

I mostly don’t talk about it, or let it be visible.

This is in part to protect them. Because when they say what they inevitably say, I want to kill them.

In martial arts training, a refrain, whispered by the sensei when it got hard: show nothing. Or, shouted into my face when I was pouring sweat and shaking and about to fall: SHOW NOTHING! And I would gather myself, and show nothing. And win. Or at least come out standing.

When I was training at home, practicing kata, Gilly gathered himself on the couch, attentive and vibrating with empathic energy and focus, watching me hawklike, and if I met his eye for a second, he’d give a ferocious, high-speed tailwag of support and enthusiasm for what I was making with this ball of energy that is my physical body, that is my being in this world: and his ball of energy, right there hurling itself into me, was part of it, and I part of him, and that is how it was, for twelve years.

One being, two bodies.

That is also what I killed on the floor in the vet’s office nine, almost ten months ago now. That is also what expired in his last breath in my hand: The Us. The world. The key, the door, the access to all beauty and joy, my own life as he made it possible and beautiful and an experience, daily, of living in perfect confidence of loyalty, love, joy, congruence, trust, alliance, well-being. An experience most people never have, with anyone. Human or animal.

It doesn’t matter that it was the right, the only, the responsibility to his singular and gorgeous life, etc..

It matters that We are gone.

I’m talking about Gilgamesh and all there is for you in this moment is your beautiful Denali and your unspeakable pain.

I guess I’m doing that because when you wrote to me about your dream of Denali the night Gilly died, I felt seen. And held. And like my madness was honored.

I do not presume to know, or be able to comfort, or say anything useful. But fuck, I wish I could.

This is one of the things I’ve written since he died:


We don’t live anymore in the time when there’s that woman who lives way up on the mountain in that crazy, ramshackle house made of equal parts barnboard and found-objects, surrounded by broken-down stuff and overgrown wildflowers; the woman who has an animal that is of her and with her and for her and from her, but even more clearly and unnervingly not of human origin at all and she is of it, with it, for it, and from it; we don’t live in that time anymore, and so when we meet her and her familiar, we both recognize her and cannot; she isn’t always a crone (though she might be, and eventually will be), she has high-speed internet run up the side of that mountain in fiber-optic cables, she works jobs that do not require her to speak of teams or corporate family, she buys in bulk, buying time during which she does not have to come down; her animal is always with her and humans always know that to her they are not as interesting (only a few of them don’t mind); we know tales of the woman whom no one could marry and call her a virgin goddess and tell about how she sicced hounds on stalkers at bathing-spots, but the woman, she’s just as likely as not to come to our beds, it’s just that she won’t be there in the morning because we are too loud, too extraneous, to cope with when fresh from the liminal, where she is all animal and awash in relief from her human form, and besides, she has to go home and feed her familiar, who wasn’t very comfortable on your bed anyway; we know just enough of her still that when we meet her with her animal we envy this thing we can see and feel but not understand so we do our best to demolish it, we hunger for it and try to stand close to the heat it throws but know always that the flame is not of our own generation and sooner or later resent it; we do not live in a time when there is that woman, the witch, the shaman, the inugami mochi and her animal with whom she is one being in two bodies; we fear them because if they are not magic or divine, they must be doing something we are not, and so we warp stories to say the inugami was created by us, by being buried alive or tortured to death, as if bonds of this kind could be forged in a crucible of anything other than unguarded, unequivocal, inhuman love that sooner or later costs everything, but always sooner and during is the key to everything; we do not live anymore in that time, and so when that woman’s familiar dies, we do not know how or why it is that she does, too, because after all, when a person dies, it’s not something that can happen over and over, daily, hourly, riven by minute and over a human span of decades, is it, unless you’re talking myths, it’s a final and singular thing, death, we know this, she knows this, the riven one whose grief we can’t fathom, after all, she lives there, in both the life and the death, in all times, and that is why she is not of ours, and why she cannot even bleed or eat when the inugami is gone, her circulatory system has turned to ash, her organs shut down; that pulsing you see in the inside of her wrist, it’s misleading; it’s the familiar’s heartbeat, not hers, pounding drums from an echoing cavern deep, deep underground, where Ereshkigal’s hooks are in the walls and there are many wrong turns, and where at the still and dusty center, a single, sickly pomegranate tree grows stunted from uneven rocks.

10 5 13

There are no words to say what I am trying to say to you.

There’s nothing, I know.
Maybe there’s just this:

As best as anyone can who is not Denali, I see you.




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