The body speaks
It’s been almost a week since I found out about Doug’s suicide and I am observing a profound new form of grief. I want to share my observations on this responsibly so I want to start by saying that no matter how loudly this appears to be begging for a kind of response, it is only an invitation insofar my entire existence has become an invitation, to you, for exactly what we have. Allow me a few notes of context before I share my grief reaction, then.
First, I am not inured to the injuries of death, though I may be incredibly used to the harms of life. I can barely feel the permanent sprain in my lower back and neck caused by the existence of a rapidly growing three year old in my home, and I love him to pieces but I have a feeling I’ll never learn to change my body or my lifestyle to accommodate his practice of depending on me. Death, however, represents a grief I can’t seem to get better at and I will be developing new personalities and practices around each death, till the end of time. I’ve already begun.
I believed somehow that because Doug is at least the third gay white man in my life to have committed suicide in his forties in the last decade—the fifth gay white man to die altogether—that I would understand the common notion of expiry. The opposite is true, because in fact this pattern represents a cruelty despite love. Each death is harder to accept, not easier.
Second, I still believe people have a right and will ultimately make the decision to die on their own terms. Culturally, I come from a place where suicide is common. This isn’t to make light of it. Quite the contrary—it’s forced me to think seriously about how it works. There’s an intellectual rigor to the transition that I think deserves some respect. It cannot be defeated. I hope beyond all hope that if you have any of these ideations, that you seek the help you need, and to the extent I may be an appropriate interlocutor, please do lean on me. If nothing else, I can play a guilt-trippy mom and say “look how much pain this causes me! Don’t do it!” I find that works just fine for most hard decisions.
Third, when I think about this kind of grief on the order of magnitude suffered by entire communities—Black mothers, Queer families, surviving children, survivors of genocide—my mind goes completely blank. How do we persevere? It is a minor miracle we do anything in the face of this much violence.
A minot miracle. The minor miracle is what I think I have been experiencing these past few days: an unexpected reaction to the visceral imagining of Doug’s last moments. When I would dwell too long on that painful moment of loneliness he must have experienced, I’d be so overcome with despair I could feel my heart slow to a halt. And then my body would react most absurdly:
I convulsed with sexual ardor.
On Wednesday, I kept crying and sleeping, but would wake up to the mild pulse of my pleasure centers. On Thursday, I simply allowed myself to stare at the ceiling for almost the entire duration of the day, and drift into a trance state of fantasizing you were there. Your mere presence—your scent, your voice, your appearance—caused friction in my body. When I closed my eyes, your skin was finally mine. In one elaborate sequence, you are running fingers down my spine and pulsing each vertebra lightly as if counting or marking a rhythm, and we knew it was not therapeutic. You were simply filled with as much or more desire than me. I could hear you in my entire body. On Friday, my period started. I went to a rave to bring the feeling to the surface of my skin and be surrounded by other people who might be looking for the same. I sought no transactions but merely to bear witness. Together, I finally felt the tips of my own finger on your back. The pulsing sound of a lower register of electronic music pierced my fingertips. Figuratively speaking, of course. Your back was an empty cup filled intermittently with alcohol; the only place I can put my fingers when I think of you. This went on and on. My intense grief for Doug would culminate repeatedly with the panic of touching you, and finally I allowed myself to finish at some point over the weekend.
I know that sex, or the orgasm to be accurate, has been described as a little death. So let’s skip the part where I draw the direct comparison and let me say I think the fantasy of touching you is the fantasy of being alive.
I did everything in my power to avoid talking to anyone at length during this time, because this was a message from the universe for me to stay inside my body. I am confident I have now graduated. I am confident I can speak this out loud because the grief has done its job.
I am so grateful to be able to share this with everybody but you. It is, like death, ultimately a secret and you must not become privy to it until you are ready to die.