Abstractions

When I look back through my notebook, during my summer in London, the majority of what I wrote about was the Mazzulos. Not my own family, not my own adventures, but this family that I couldn’t get out of my mind even as I knew my grandmother was dying. I go back through these memories:

At 799 Wollaston Road, lasagna had been thawed, unwrapped; plates, forks, and knives laid out, waiting for someone to serve it. Noél stood at one end of the counter and I at the other. She stared at the lasagna, sipped from her glass of water, and I asked, “Don’t you want to eat?” But the answer was always, “No. But you should if you’re hungry.” But I didn’t eat much, though I was starving. Out of respect? I don’t know. Maybe I was just uncomfortable eating when no one else was. We ate a little, but mostly made tea, trying to keep our insides warm.

My mom and I were always at the Mazzulo’s house those days, reorganizing the uneaten care meals in the fridge, helping with the laundry, cleaning the house. Together we were standing on the tip of an iceberg, waiting for the inevitable.

After several days’ worth of prompting, Mom convinced me to sing to Mr. Mazzulo as he was dying in hospice: the cancer  from his kidneys was now throughout his body: it was only a matter of time. I didn’t want to sing by myself in the otherwise silent house (save Lexi’s constant sniffles), but how could I say no? The moment I was bold enough to sing, I couldn’t remember many songs— I sang the only thing I could remember:

     Dona Nobis Pacem

I was on the couch beside him, the IV between us, when I floated out of my body, through the ceiling, and looked down on the house, the whole Earth. I heard my voice, just my voice—fragile and self-conscious—and for a gracious moment time stopped. I sang for us as much as I sang for him, hoping somehow it made a difference either way, but not really believing that it would:

    Grant us peace

There was some peace, a few weeks later, the day that Delaware County Christian School’s Class of 2011 graduated. One particular graduate was spotlighted that afternoon of June 3rd, despite those who received awards and gave speeches. Every time her name was mentioned, I wanted to trample through the rows of caps and gowns, cover her with my own white cape, and make it all disappear. I think I might look more bewildered in the pictures from that afternoon than Noél did. Noél, Michael Mazzulo’s youngest daughter, and one of my best friends, was also one of the graduating seniors. We were so grateful that year was over; finally there could be a sigh of relief, maybe a bit of a respite. High school had been hard for us with my mom’s cancer, her alcoholism, Noél’s father’s cancer, both of our parents’ tumultuous marriages; we were ready to move out of our houses and away from our families.

Michael Mazzulo had died the morning of June 3rd, 2011, and in the afternoon, his youngest wore a white cap and gown. But in a few days, we were all in black.

At the time, I didn’t feel like I had much of a place to say or feel anything besides “I’m sorry for your loss.” I focused on what I could do for them with hugs and attempts at distractions from the grief. I didn’t consider how I had just experienced death as well. I felt guilty for feeling loss for a man I hardly knew. Then again, Noél said that she felt the same way—that he hadn’t really known her, or she, him. But her grief was justified because of a relationship that never was, despite their shared blood.

I’m dealing with the grief now, four years later, the same time I’m dealing with everything else I’ve suppressed until this point, because that’s how we do things, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me.

When Mr. Mazzulo was first diagnosed, I was asked to pray that God would allow for remission. When he got sicker, I was asked to pray that God would allow for a miracle. When he was dying, no one asked for prayers, but silently begged, anyone, anything, God, each other, for mercy. I said “okay” to these requests for prayer, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of it. I believed in God, and that he was powerful, but knew that what was going to happen, would happen—a miracle was not resting on my prayer. Much to my surprise, when he died, I prayed constantly. I prayed that Mr. Mazzulo’s widow and his fatherless daughters would feel at peace, though they ached with loss. I prayed for mercy; for them to be given a year, a few months, even a few weeks of respite. They’ve never really come.

Mr. Mazzulo’s dying was never a particularly spiritual thing for me—it happened, the way these things happen. I didn’t know what “these things” meant then; I had not yet experienced a close death. Last year was the closest I’ve come to that, when my father’s mother died. I had been in London—actually, I had been in Barcelona for a long weekend, but I didn’t hear of her death until I returned to London. I knew she was dying when I got on the plane on Friday, but what difference would it make if I were in England or Spain? It was too far from home either way, and plane tickets and hostels had been paid for.

There was a twinge of guilt as I sat on the beach while my family hovered around a hospital bed. But my grandmother had never been to Spain, so I had gone anyway, and felt the sadness and the joy of life more acutely than ever as I walked and danced and ate and walked my way through the museums and the clubs and the markets.

On the plane back to London late Sunday night, I already knew. I had either felt her presence leave the world or I had rationalized that there was no way for Me-Mah to still be living— I’m not sure which. After a two-hour commute back to my apartment, I shrugged my backpack off, slipped out of my shoes, and opened my laptop. A Skype message from my mother was waiting for me, asking me to call her when I got a chance. I called, she asked how Barcelona had been– a cursory question, small talk before the heavy stuff. I didn’t say much, waiting until she said that Me-Mah had passed away the day before.

Mom said, “I had a few conversations with her over the years, and more recently, and even though she wasn’t very vocal about it, I know she believed in Jesus and is in Heaven now.” This was meant to be a consolation, but I cringed. I knew what she meant, but if felt like she meant that the only thing that mattered was that she was another soul admitted  into heaven. I said, “Okay.” There was the same consolation when Mr. Mazzulo died.

Thank God: my grandmother had wanted to die. She had said so to her husband, her son, her daughter, her son-in-law, her daughter-in-law, me. She was tired, and had lived happily, though her memory was shot in her last year. I didn’t visit her much that year; I wanted to remember her the way she was when she could remember me clearly.

God, why?: Michael Mazzulo was fifty years old with three daughters still in school when he died. He held on, for a time, but nowhere near as long as they wanted him to. It was awful, heartbreaking, of course, but I figured that some good would come out of it. There had to be some positivity in the death of someone so important to them and too young. Not a silver lining, but a yin/yang kind of fulfillment: they would keep going, and be stronger for it.

     God, grant us peace.

There is never really closure, even after the funeral and after years have passed. It took being in London and realizing that I had already lost the opportunity to see my grandmother one last time for me to realize that I never had any sort of closure over Mr. Mazzulo. I never left the stage of shock when he died. At this point, it seems ridiculous to start crying over something that happened years ago, but the Mazzulo girls will never have their father back, his widow will not regain her husband, and I was there before, during, after– as he was dying. I was another sister to Noél though I wasn’t another daughter to him, and while I was sad for his family, I never let myself be sad for his loss, for my eyes watching him deteriorate, for my relationship with him, however distant. I didn’t allow myself to move on through the phases of grief.

My phases of grief. Step 1: Asking Noel for permission to write about her and her family; “I need to process, and writing is the best way I know how.” Step 2: Start writing down everything I remember: Thawing lasagne, Donna Nobis Pacem, the yellow Ralph Lauren sweater Mr. Mazzulo wore, the bridal magazines forgotten on the kitchen counter, the nurse, the IV, the sound of Lexi crying, Mrs. Mazzulo’s red-rimmed eyes, Mr. Mazzulo’s hollow and bruised ones. Step 3: Realize that writing isn’t enough. Step 4: Start drawing: Their house, Noel smiling in her graduation cap, Mr. Mazzulo’s obituary, my scarred hand from the tumor that was not cancerous– in the middle of a project completely unrelated, so I thought, I started thinking about my own body, my own mortality, and the fear: one of these days, there will be a new strange lump and it’s going to turn out to be cancerous, someday I too will die. Step 5: Start filling in the lines with watercolors.

In high school art class, I hated working in watercolors. The soft pastels infuriated me– so faint and noncommittal. I wanted oils and wood and hefty blocks of clay– materials that were comforting in their solidity. But in college, as my fiction writing devolved to thinly veiled non-fiction, as I started explaining myself openly, as I started to feel comfortable with saying “fuck this” to pretending I was always okay, I picked up the old watercolor set from childhood and started living in color.

I signed up for Chinese Ink and Brush Painting as a challenge to myself: to be still, to listen to what was in my head without going mad, to find some peace within myself, to relinquish my fear of soft brushes and pale shading. 8:30 am two days a week, I showed up with the other eleven students and we sat in silence as we learned to appreciate ink and water and the power in subtlety. It involved an amount of control that was different from other forms of art making: for the first time, I couldn’t slob the paint around, or throw down my materials and expect them to bounce back or retain their shape. I quickly learned that you can’t scratch out or cover up a mistake in watercolor. The paint can be watered down, but a shadow remains, and often, you must start over. I learned to appreciate starting over.

We primarily used black ink in class, but after I turned in my final project, I put down black altogether. I picked up blues and pinks and yellows, and built them up slowly, the translucent layers of color gradually creating depth. The layers are careful and not perfect: I started painting in watercolors to learn how to expose myself, become more abstract, more colorful, less linear, more variable, more overt in my composition.

I started writing about myself, about my fears, and about my unexposed, undealt with grief. In my attempt to write about Mr. Mazzulo and myself and my family, I came to the start of what I thought was a graphic novel. I started drawing panels and washing them over in watercolors: that’s what I thought this process of grieving Mr. Mazulo’s death was becoming. But then I lost the ink of the drawings when I discovered that it was too limiting to stay within the lines: I wanted to bleed shades of blues and purples and greens onto the faces of my friends and family, I wanted to splash some pink into a yellow sky: what I really wanted to illustrate was the colors and the textures of the emotions, not the faces of the scenes. This too is what I am doing in my writing: am I being indirect enough yet? Dear family, I hope you understand my strange mix of subjects here. They are all the colors of me.

Noél and I are graduating and she is moving away and I will work at the art museum and then I will probably move away too: I cannot sit still: there is so much to see: so much outside of Pennsylvania. I’ve lost touch with the creator somewhere in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and no, it doesn’t make any sense to me either. I’ve lost my faith in God entirely except for the fact that things seem more beautiful every day. I’ve lost my distaste for watercolors, for subtlety, for clarity.

I am going to watch my loved ones die of cancer, of old age, of freak calamities. I am going to go back to these events in my mind again and again until maybe one day I’ll find God again, and Mr. Mazzulo will be alive to see his girls grow up and graduate and get married, and I can say goodbye to my grandmother, and my parents will truly love each other for the first time in their lives. I am going to get there, and I am going to sing:

     it is well with my soul.

Grandfathers

One Friday, Noél texted me with the news that her grandfather was admitted to the hospital. I said I’d visit her the next day—she was in Hershey where he lives, a short drive from Lancaster. Up’pa is her maternal grandfather, and although we’ve been at many of the same family dinners and events, I am always introduced to him, and he is delighted to meet me every time. He communicates mostly by signing in ASL, which I do not know, so our conversations are brief.

I didn’t end up going to Hershey; Noél needed to drive, even a few miles away, so she came to Lancaster. We went shopping for clothes, books, whatever, and bought nothing besides groceries for her mom: resorted to dinner at that Asian buffet on Fruitville Pike, eating really too much altogether but especially her with all that gluten hiding in the sauces, ignoring the threat of it closing up her throat. Sipping on hot tea with a stack of plates, we laughed: this is all we ever do: shop, just to browse, and spend all our money on food. Afterwards, we stopped at the liquor store: something for her and her mom: a bottle of champagne: because why not?: it was Sunday: a long week: a diagnosis of cancer.

My grandfather also has cancer—he was diagnosed the same week that his wife died. It didn’t look good for him; we were crossing our fingers for Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year. Now it’s March and he says he’ll be there at my graduation—the best present.

Up’pa is not the closest thing Noél has to a father but he is blood: he is not allowed to leave yet, at least not until after her graduation. She said this to me on the elliptical at Planet Fitness. We went to the gym (burning off the calories from the massive amount of food we eat every time we’re together), both forgot headphones (yes, yes, we know); we were those people bobbing up and down on the ellipticals, trying to have a full on conversation, albeit staccato and breathless:

I want    to go    to grad school.

                Where    do you want    to go?

I think    maybe in    the South.

I think    I want   to too.

But only    in    the North.

And then: we talked about the hardest parts of the last several years. Upcoming graduation means celebration: means the anniversary of her father’s death: means there can be no crying for her grandfather too. Noél was frustrated at the prospect of not having her father at her high school graduation or her grandfather at her college graduation—no, not frustrated—perturbed, irritated at her grandfather’s body for daring to consider leaving her: she needs him there.

Noél’s grandfather and my own—both of them with cancer in their bodies: in the brain, in the pancreas—willed to live for their granddaughters’ graduations: see how far we’ve come, from when you held us as infants. I don’t know if they feel obliged to May 9th or 18th, our respective graduation dates. Maybe they just want to be with us for as long as they’re able, but not for those dates in particular. They are just other days, but they will be the biggest days in our lives so far, and our grandfathers will never live to see us engaged, or married, with children, or our dream jobs: those things they want for us, those things we wish they were here for.

My grandfather is doing better. He’s lost almost all of his hair but is playing his band jobs again (he’s in a folk duo; he sings and plays guitar). He says he’ll be at my graduation. I am glad of this for many reasons, but namely because he has paid for my college tuition and I feel so inadequate at saying thank you. But maybe seeing me walk across the stage to receive the diploma I worked for will be enough, and he will know how grateful I am because I’ve tried so hard to do well.

Noél’s grandfather is not doing better; I ask how he is, and she says, “he is not doing well at all,” and I don’t want to ask any more questions because maybe if I don’t ask them, maybe things won’t get any worse. But I ask anyway, and she says, “I don’t know, I just know he’s not doing well”: because she doesn’t want to ask any questions either.

It’s a routine type of relationship between the dying and their loved ones: in between the absence of questions are commands, refusals to die, attempts to guilt them into living, saying, “Hold on. Don’t you love me? If you love me, you’d hold on.” Maybe these strategies work in some cases, adding another few days, weeks, even years of breathing.

I want to look up the statistics for this, to give this claim more validity, but I don’t know what or where to search. No, that’s not true; I could figure it out if I wanted to. What’s really stopping me is the fear that begging people to stay doesn’t really work—it doesn’t make them stay. Because while I don’t feel right about guilting the ones you love to stay for you, I know that at some point in my life I will be on the giving or receiving end of these sentiments. But who am I to attempt to refuse someone’s body from relinquishing itself? It is unspeakably selfish, an adaption of unregistered godliness, when we pretend to have the power to prevent the natural cessation of breath. But we all do it, we encourage a few more labored inhales just to assure ourselves that they aren’t gone from us yet.

Gone: lost, dead, empty, absorbed, infatuated, past: all of these in gone. We feel lost, empty, absorbed by the fear that we are now dead in some sense, too, infatuated with the past when they were still whole, when they were alive, existent, existing, extent, living. Here. Still. Enduring. You’re either one or the other: no sense in trying to bridge them.

On the other hand, maybe some people do live longer when they are pressed to do so, given a convincing enough argument to continue pumping blood. And maybe living a little longer is what they really want; or maybe they live out of guilt of leaving. How sad, or, how beautiful that we sacrifice death for each other. But in due time, we will all die.

Everyone is cremated now; we go out in flames. And our loved ones will hold onto our dusty remains, which they, too, will become. So precious and so indistinguishable, both invaluable and valueless—what is the difference between my box of ashes and yours? The placard on the front? The veining of the marble? The sentiment attached to it? The chemical composition of the ashes? Ashes less tangible than bodies, less overt in their decay: more liberating from the body and more ignorant of it: sanitized, all the sickness and the tumors burned away.

My grandmother’s death was a bit of a scene. No one told my great aunt that her sister had died until days later. Then, she wanted a funeral for her sister, but my grandfather refused. My grandfather said that his wife hadn’t wanted a big fuss after she died, and he took that to mean no funeral, no memorial service, no burial. My father, her son, agreed. My aunt, her daughter, disagreed. My mother, her daughter-in-law, disagreed; she said that my grandmother had spoken to her several times about what was to happen after her death, and she had never given the impression that she didn’t want her family to have a service for her. Despite the outcry of the women in the Rhodes family, nothing happened. As the husband of the deceased, my grandfather had the last say.

In January, the nursing home where my grandmother had stayed gave a memorial service for all those who had died in the last year. Six months after her death, there was finally a memorial service. My grandfather invited us, but I didn’t go; I was away at school, and it was too late.

All that is to say, even after the memorial at the nursing home, my grandmother was never buried, at least not to my knowledge. Her box is somewhere in my grandfather’s apartment, collecting dust on the top of her ashes.

Last week, I woke up with the horrible realization that I had no idea what people meant by “being in love”, and I’d probably be unable to recognize it even if I was. So I walked through the cemetery—the one where Thaddeus Stevens is buried—to get my head back on, to realize my own mortality, to regain the freedom to call love whatever I damn well please. But as I sat with the gravestones, I realized that I was not just there for me, but for them. I wanted to honor the strangers buried there that day; to sit with them, to be with them outdoors, in the nature they have become. But all they said was:

stop overthinking things, do you think we do that?

if you want to makes sense of love, lay down and join us; it’s going to take a while

I think that’s what my grandmother would say too. But I can’t go sit with her in that cemetery or any other. My mother would say that even so, we’ll see her in heaven. But I don’t know anymore if there’s a heaven or that we’ll all end up there: this might be it. I might be imagining the voices of the graves.

Where are you, voices from the graves? Where do you speak from? Delaware County Christian School did not prepare me for this: what is the use of apologetics class now? I cannot give a good enough argument to defend my faith to myself. My grandfather is not religious; mom asks me and my brother to pray for him. But she’s stopped asking me to say grace at holiday family dinners, which I am thankful for, and also saddened by. I feel like I’ve lost something I never had—my faith. Real, imagined, missing: I do not know.

Neither do I know what my grandfather does or does not believe; its not something we talk about; it doesn’t matter to me, but I have been told that it should matter. Approaching old age, the need to know exactly where the soul will be after the body gives up increases. My faith is aging, so quickly: our bodies age, our spirits age, our souls age, our faiths age: all in different ways: all at different rates: these all happen. It will be okay, I tell myself, it is already okay. I imagine that is what my grandfather tells himself too.

My grandfather and Noél’s grandfather are going to die of cancer, of old age, of an accumulation of life: we have been preparing our whole lives for this: we are preparing our own lives for death too: this will happen. It will be okay, though it is difficult.

Noél messaged me: “I am so tired of hospitals”: In again with her grandfather. We’ll never cease to be tired of hospitals; and we will never tire of grandfathers, though they grow tired.

Tactility

I’d been living with a scar-tissue stain on my hand from a tumor that was not cancerous for six months before I started obsessing: It reminded me of the cancer in remission in my mother’s body, and the cancer that took my best friend’s father. It reminded me of my own mortality, my aging body, my limitations. It reminded me of everything that is not flawless: It reminded me of my frustration in trying to create something beautiful with my flawed hands.

The mass that I had tried to pick at and freeze off with an over-the-counter treatment did not, as I had hoped, shrink or fall off or disappear in the middle of the night. Pretending it was just a persistent wart did not improve the situation, so I scheduled an appointment with a doctor, and he scheduled an appointment for surgery. The mass needed to be removed as soon as possible. Though it looked benign, it could become cancerous. I wanted to know where it came from, why it crept up on my body, but the doctor explained that the cause of soft tissue tumors is unknown, and they always have the potential to metastasize or become malignant.

I had first learned the word “malignant” when my grandfather was diagnosed with skin cancer and needed to have some moles removed. But I had learned the word “cancer” years before. It was 2006 in El Dorado Hills, California. A hot day, like most days. It was summer. My mother called me and my brother into her bedroom. I ran in and rolled up onto the Ralph Lauren bedspread. Nathaniel walked in and sat down on the bed. How did the conversation go? She said “leukemia” and my first association was the movie “A Walk to Remember” with Mandy Moore– she was young and beautiful and dying. And wasn’t my mother the same– young and beautiful and-– I was dizzy but didn’t cry, though she did. Dad stood by with his arms crossed, and explained that she needed treatment soon. Nathaniel didn’t seem to understand; maybe he was too young, or too effective at hiding his fear.

I clenched my jaw and pretended not to be afraid, lying on the operating table six months after the seemingly overnight debut of the mass. I couldn’t look, so I stared over the head of the white haired doctor to the white wall of the room. As the scalpel met my hand between my index finger and my thumb, I sensed pain but did not feel it, and then I smelled the burning of my own flesh as the incision was sealed up. Afterwards, I met my mother in the waiting room, and as I showed her my stitched-up hand, the floss-like threads of the suture seemed to indicate that the worst was over.

A few weeks after the surgery, I learned the results of the biopsy: a benign spindle cell tumor. A bundle of cells, spindle shaped, long and slender— strange and unwanted. But not cancerous. It was a relief, but still unsettling; I didn’t understand why it had been a part of my body. I began researching soft-tissue tumors and retraced the signs over the last few months. The tumor began with some mild inflammation, at first no different than a bug bite— a small, somewhat itchy, bump. But then it grew, slowly, changing color, shape, and rising above the rest of my skin. I covered it with band-aids so no one would see. I bought Freeze Off, thinking it must be a wart, but nothing changed. My concern increased until I felt like I would do anything to have it removed; I considered trying to file it off with a nail file, dig it out with tweezers, scoop it out with– all these possibilities sounded messy, and if it isn’t already abundantly obvious, I wouldn’t really have known what to do.

What Mom had to do was abundantly clear: she needed to get treatment. After she broke the news to us, she and Dad went to Texas so that she could get treatment and my brother and I went to friends’ houses. I stayed with Alisha Woods’ family on their sleeper sofa in their stucco house that was much like ours, but with one more child, and their mom wasn’t sick. When we found out my mother’s lethargy was due to chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), she became fragile, and the radiation made her even more tired. I was too scared to ask questions about her treatment, and I’ve never offered to go with her– it is not something I can see. By the time I was in college, her cancer was in remission, and then I stopped thinking about CLL.

After my surgery, I tried to keep the wound clean, but I wasn’t quite careful enough. I could not avoid using my hands or avoid the infection that followed: milky yellow pus in a valley of deep red flesh. If I looked intently enough, could I see my tendons, my veins, the grain of the muscle? I went back to the doctor, but the damage was done even after the antibiotics were applied: the skin left puckered, pitted, unnaturally smooth with undertones of green beneath the red of scarring. I started thinking about cancer.

I started thinking about my mom’s cancer, and what it meant that she has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. While she’s read probably hundreds of pages on CLL since being diagnosed, I hadn’t read anything. But as I changed the gauze on my healing hand, I figured it was about time I learned some things about it. I don’t need to give you all the facts on CLL here, you can look them up yourself. But what resonated with me was this: CLL begins in the bone marrow, randomly, an acquired mutation. Each year, one-quarter of new diagnoses of leukemia are cases of CLL, it is the most common type of leukemia in adults, there are no known risk factors, the average age of diagnosis is seventy-one, and the average survival rate (tracked-over five years) is 83.5 percent. I know I wrote that you could look these things up yourself, but people need to know them. I didn’t know them, and my mother is part of these statistics.

With the cancer in remission, at least that part of her life is stable. But the cancer will never really go away, it cannot be cured, it can recur. Her immune system is shot. She should not be in hospitals with dying friends and relatives, or near me and my brother when an outbreak of the flu or meningitis is sweeping our college campuses, in any number of daily situations. But these things still happen; they need to happen because they’re a part of what it means to live. She cannot sit still, she cannot give up: she doesn’t know how to: she will go out fighting, and so will I, because of her.

After my surgery, we sat in the parking garage of the hospital and Mom gave me a bracelet from the gift shop, saying:

     Here is something for you to wear, it will show that you overcame this.

     But it will draw attention to the scar.

     It’s not something to be ashamed of. The scar will fade.

     I sure hope so.

     But if it doesn’t, you’ll still have something nice to wear.

                         Well, thank you.

I forgot to say thank you at first because all I could think about was the large white bandage on my hand: everyone would see the scar and ask questions, and no one would notice my hands anymore for their long fingers or slender wrists, but for the scar. It’s turned out to be true that everyone notices the scar, and they ask questions, and I’ve learned it’s nothing to be ashamed of– even though I sometimes answer “It’s just a burn” to cut a conversation short when dealing with strangers.

My first reaction to my mother’s gift was selfish: I can’t wear this because it will draw unwanted attention. My second reaction was not. I didn’t feel like I deserved the bracelet; the small tumor on my hand was nothing in comparison to the mutated cells in her body, coursing through her bloodstream, I never gave her anything after her therapy or check-ups: but what do you give someone after all that?

In the week before the biopsy results came in, I felt on a small scale how she must feel, waiting for results after each checkup. I am more sympathetic now, more willing to help her around the house even if she doesn’t need me to. I am more in awe of cancer, the sometimes visible, the sometimes invisible— the mutated cells of the surface, or soaking up the insides.

Week 8

The last week ends with much sweat and little sleep. This heat wave has caught me by surprise and so has the end of this study abroad experience. Today was my last day, and while this morning was full of the normal work routine, by lunchtime I was starting to feel the reality of it, sitting across from Luisa and toasting to wherever we go next.

I don’t tend to get emotional about these sort of things, I’ll accept the next phase and move on, but recently I’ve started to realize that’s not really what I do, that’s what I think I do. Instead, I don’t really like change at all– it is disruptive and unnerving, so I pretend to not be bothered by it and fake enthusiasm until I actually feel enthusiastic.

I came on this trip because I was starting to realize my fear of change and the unknown, and while I have been here, I have learned to step out by myself to places I have never been, and I’ve actually enjoyed it very much. I am still afraid of what comes next, but at least I know now that I have the potential to make it alone. I can go to another country without knowing anyone, I can work in a job I didn’t think I had any interest in, I can get on a bus and hop off and end up a little lost and be able to embrace it for the adventure of it.

I have always wanted to be viewed as an adventurous sort of person, and I don’t know if I am quite there yet, but I am trying to be. I know I need to continue to do things that I am scared of, and I am sure I will have great stories to tell because of it. So here’s to voluntarily getting lost, to dancing with strangers, to going on dates with myself — I’ll make sure that there are dozens of each in the coming years.

 

Week 6

Dear William Shakespeare,

Let’s suppose I could write this letter and you could read it, separated by hundreds of years and thousands of other, smaller life details. I could as a few things on behalf of millions of people who know your name, but I won’t, because in the odd chance of a reply, I think we’d be better with the mystery anyway.

From London to Stratford-upon-Avon, my friend said something along the lines of: “I know there’s those rumors about Shakespeare’s works actually being written by an earl, and I don’t think they were, but even if– it wouldn’t make any difference. What really matters is the idea of Shakespeare, and what the works say about the human experience.”

I’ve never really thought about that. I’ve heard those rumors too, but discounted them with no real reason despite the want of pride in one man and the controversy surrounding him. Then there’s this phrase thrown around, “the human experience,” and while I understand its meaning, I wonder if it misses the point. I wonder what you would say to it.

The experience: a day trip to a town and a castle.
The human: myself.
The human experience: life.
This last one seems to be a great leap, going from a series of events to encompassing a time from the beginning of consciousness until death, which perhaps may be the ceasing of consciousness.

I wanted more out of Stratford-upon-Avon. I wanted to interact with your aura, but if it was there, we must have missed paths. I wanted to understand you as a man, to have seen those streets as your streets, those buildings and rooms as places you had stayed in, lived in, cried and wrote and shouted in. But they were full of tourists, modern conveniences, overwrought descriptions and overlooked explanations.

But to see a play in your theatre– that was something else. Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Globe by the Thames. The bus had been late, and so I had run through the throngs of people, panting by the time I reached the gate and the woman who took my ticket. I slipped in through the curtains to stand with the rest of the groundlings and felt a glimpse of your immortality.

The crowd on the ground laughed together, sighed together. I looked up and the seated people seemed more stoic than those of us getting sunburned and with aching legs and thought: this is how it’s always been, this is how it will always be. A girl up there was nodding her head, falling asleep: “Don’t you know what you’re missing?” I shouted, “This is history: this is it. This is what it means to be human.”

So that then, I suppose, is the human experience– she was right, you captured it somehow.

Another human experiencing,
Kelsey