I hand an older woman on the BART a couple bucks as she paces through the aisles, making an impassioned plea for support. She smiles and thanks me, and then as she walks away she looks back and says “watch yourself on that skateboard honey, we don’t heal like we used to.”
“We don’t heal like we used to”.
These words hit me harder than I could imagine. I think this is the first time a stranger has acknowledged me as an aging person, a mortal being. I feel like she has just told me I’m dying.
This is, of course, not what she is trying to say, but death has been on my mind lately. Or sometimes, at the least appropriate moments, its pouring out my eyes. My friends are laughing around the table at the bar talking about the new Star Wars movie and I am abruptly sobbing loudly, as they awkwardly stare. Less awkwardly than the strangers on BART who expertly avoid eye contact as I cry the whole way to work.
The morning I found out Ghost Ship had burned I was calm at first. I looked at the guest list and called my friends, checking that everyone was safe. I left a voice message for Denalda. “Hey hon, I’m sure you’re safe, but just checking to be sure. Let me know!” The calm was over quickly as I read through hundreds of messages from friends, panicking, trying to find their loved ones. No one had heard from Denalda. As the day drug on the hope that she might still be alive clawed into my chest and stomach.
We lost so many people. All at once. So many people.
Since Denalda’s was confirmed among the dead, death has hung heavy in every moment. Me and Denalda have a lot in common. Her nickname, Sea Crust, was the name of my old boat. We were both just getting into herbalism. We had a bunch of shared friends in her hometown in Nebraska, where I had stayed on my travels. We even fucked the same guy there. I know that because it came up while I was teaching Denalda to skate, about a month before her death. It was her New Year’s resolution.
While the Oakland I know broke apart, shredded by grief and attacked by the city politicians, Girlfriend and I left and drove toward the border, looking for healing in the desert. In a dark canyon we lit candles and prayed for our friends, those who died and those who live. We held each other and cried and fucked and whispered to each other. We got really drunk on cheap wine and played chess by candlelight.
Each plant, each insect, gave me so much in that place that looked dead but actually writhed with life. To see these creatures thriving in the most inhospitable places imaginable made me feel like we might survive. We might survive in the most inhospitable places.
Oakland feels more dead than that desert. Within 24 hours of being back I was sitting in bed as Sweetheart and I decided we should probably break up, and then did. And before the tears had even dried I found out I will probably have to leave my housing situation, again. Our landlord is fighting to get rid of our rent control, and it looks like he might win. And it became hard again to feel like I would survive.
Mortality is something I have played with my whole life. I’ve hitchhiked across the country, I’ve eaten food from the trash, I’ve tattooed my skin, I’ve smoked cigarettes, I’ve wasted time, I’ve taken friends for granted, I’ve taken family for granted. I lived in a warehouse that was shut down by the fire marshal and the landlord. Now suddenly death is in every moment. It’s there every time I get in a car. It’s there every time I walk past a stranger. It’s there burning in the fireplace at Christmas. I keep saying goodbye to myself, preparing for the inevitable.
It’s there, too, every time I see a friend. Our hugs last a little bit longer. We respond to texts more quickly. We say “I’m glad you’re alive”, and we both know what that means. We say “I’m sad” and no one even has to ask. I got back from the desert to find a care package from a new friend. Tea. Candles. Chocolate. A protection pouch. People I haven’t talked to in months say hi, say they care about me, offer cupcakes and open ears and liquor and cuddles and hiding under blankets watching Buffy kill vampires.
I feel like I’m dying. And I am. And we all are. We’re all dying everyday.
I just have to get used to knowing it. To feeling it. To holding that in the smallest bones and letting it feed my heart. And when I watch Star Wars and the characters hold each other tenderly as they melt in the sun I might just cry really loudly in the theater and identify with them and every moment I spend writing or singing or making art or making love or making eyes at cute strangers on BART might just feel like those last sweet caresses in the moments before the world ends. And saying “I love you” might hurt a little more gently.
I get off BART and get on my skateboard, and remind myself that I’m alive and that I probably won’t get in a fatal crash in the 5 block ride to my house, even though I forgot to wear my helmet. And about 10 seconds later I’m face down on the concrete, rips in my jeans and in the skin covering my knees, and my palms burn like hell. And I just sit there and bleed and cry and cry and cry because oh my god that hurt and also oh my god all of this hurts. Denalda is dead and Oakland is gentrifying and our safe havens are getting shut down and my Sweetheart isn’t my Sweetheart anymore and I don’t have a home and the woman on BART was right.
We don’t heal like we used to.
DYING EVERYDAY by INTROFLIRT – REST IN POWER DENALDA AND BEN