Sometimes I hear Artie say “I can’t believe I’m dead.”
Walking along 5 Pointz the night after it was whitewashed, I thought I heard him say “It’s alive in your memory, baby, like me.”
I still hear him call me Little Person, Piglet, Baby.
One day, I happened to be on the phone with Irene and Ann. Irene was the cool mother figure and Ann is his actual mother. For some reason, they both spoke to me in that sing-song way that Artie does.
There was so much love in his voice. So much hope for others, if not for himself.
When I went out with him for the first time, I felt so lucky to be in the presence of someone who lived New York at a certain time. They were the generation that missed being drafted to New York by a hair. They were the burgeoning middle class that set out to do whatever they wanted. They started bands, raced cars and motorcycles, they were smart and daring rebels.
Meanwhile, he’d marvel at how I know every band name he’d talk about. He thought he hit a jackpot when he landed a cute Asian girlfriend who understood drum beats and saw the movies that he saw.
We were too good to be true, holding hands in Manhattan, being stared at, being wondered at. We laughed at the silliest things, we cried at how out lives would have been different had we not met each other.
My mind has gone to a place where it is easily convinced that he’ll call me. He’ll say he’ll see me again. He’ll say that he’s met my dog, found his cats, and met my amazing aunt Elvie. He’ll say that he’s hung out with Patty and that she thinks that I’m such a cool girl.
Because of his death, I feel like my existence has expanded. Someone who knows me, felt me, touched me, held me, loves me from beyond this familiar world.
Knowing that is sad and peaceful. But I know Artie.
In a matter of hours on Friday, Typhoon Haiyan completely devastated parts of the central Philippines. It was one of the strongest storms ever recorded. The death toll is estimated up to 10,000 with hundreds of thousands more displaced. The country has declared a “state of calamity.”
I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about this thing called Filipino resilience. Filipino resilience is beautiful, tragic, and painful.
It’s beautiful because we have the ability to smile in the face of danger as well as in the aftermath of it.
It’s tragic because that smile can be a defense mechanism that can often deny us the opportunity to face the truth.
It’s painful because one day, it’s all going to have to blow. If not, then dysfunction.
There was mention of desensitization, which hits the nail on the head.
The Philippines, being hit by typhoons more than any other country, takes so much shit. If there’s a typhoon in any other Asian country, we took it first. We saw it first. We hurt from it first.
And personally, I see the shit-taking qualities in me. Then I smile. Then I say I’m okay. Then self-damaging denial takes its toll. It feels monstrous and unnatural, cruel and cold.
It takes more strength to say “No I’m not okay”. Saying “I’m okay” or “I’m fine” is such bullshit.
My boyfriend just died. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. A storm just hit my country in the worst way possible and I’ll have to admit that seeing “back to normal like nothing happened” posts are disturbing.
Didn’t we just have an earthquake before?
Feel things, people. Look around you then look inside yourself. Things aren’t okay but it’s totally okay to cry.
Asking for help is as easy as it is daunting. In spite of school, church, work, roommates, and family, I still feel alone.
Joyce Carol Oates said “There is a terror in aloneness. Beyond even loneliness.”
On my way home from a birthday party tonight, I was desperate for someone to talk to. Highs from a social gathering more often than not bring me to lows of varying depths. While settling from the celebration, I found myself saying to myself: I’m not used to this!
The people at the birthday party were an amazing group of people. We celebrated a wonderful person tonight and it was gratifying to work and put this surprise party together as she herself has done a lot for everyone. The birthday girl leads several teams at church, and most of the people at the party are part of one host team or another.
One of the first responders to my moment of crisis were the host team of my church. A team leader immediately sent me an ecard. Electronic, yes, but it was heartfelt in its immediacy. I needed that at that moment.
I also received emails. These letters told me that they were praying for me. A few of them even said that they loved seeing us together, hands clasped, walking into church. Little did they know that Artie initially had mixed reactions about church. Most of these reactions were excuses that I’d ultimately not hear towards his final few weeks.
It was a struggle to get him to church sometimes. He knew how that made me feel. But whenever he went, people saw us and had no clue.
Whether or not they saw the struggle or knew of his apprehension, we were still seen. We’d still clasp tour hands together, and for some reason, this was the main attraction of our entrance into Hillsong NYC.
I didn’t have to worry about him after all. I didn’t have to worry about having those differences. I didn’t have to worry about what he thought of super nice people saying hi to him and calling him by his name.
Then, like a Greek chorus singing assurances, upon his death, these church volunteers who see everything, laud the way we held hands in church.
I’ve been coming home exhausted every night for the past to weeks. After a classes end at 6:30, it’s either church, work, or physical therapy. It’s a full life, but I can’t seem to catch up. I can’t get up from my seat. When I do get up from my seat, walking is like the evolution of man.
I fear that if this keeps on, I might find myself on the landscape of another nervous breakdown. I don’t know how long this can keep up. I don’t know how much I can handle it.
I promised myself that I’d write more, or more specifically, blog more. Every little bit of writing I write is cathartic but every aspect of it brings their own contribution.
It’s so fucking hard, grieving. Lately, I feel so pulled apart. My mind is on point but my body can’t catch up with it. My spirit, on the other hand, is numb. But the absence of the loved one seems to align everything so cruelly. As if his death is the only thing that aligns me, the only thing that brings me to the present moment but can’t move past sorrow.
However, alignment doesn’t necessarily mean healing. The same way grief doesn’t always mean pain or anguish. Getting used to grief doesn’t mean it’ll go away; it never will. It will morph and change. Grief is a longing and a desire so tragic in its permanence. Grief happens because they were worth it.
I miss him. It hurts missing him because he was worth it. It hurts knowing he died alone. It’s bittersweet because he had that final year of redemption.
Meanwhile, I’ve been eating junk. I’ve been feeling exhausted by 9 pm but not falling asleep until 3 am. Finding someone to talk to can be difficult. Reading can be difficult. Cooking a meal for myself gives me more anxiety than Meisner emotional prep. Holy crap this belly of a shapeless gut on my body will never go away.
All that said, it’s odd to say that grief makes me feel alive, though there would be nights when I didn’t want to wake up.
Last night, not really wanting the evening to end just yet, I walked around Grand Central. The day being busy, fruitful, and eventful, Artie still flies in and out in my mind and thoughts. But Grand Central station is bigger and older than he is.
I needed to feel small for a moment, because I know that I’m not the only one who went through what I went through. I also needed to just be. Let the shuffles of everyone else melt into some sort if baseline of silence. So I walked around, looked at people, walked into stores. I even bought cake for dinner. I felt like I needed to celebrate something: the end of a deserved break from school, the fact that I didn’t cry at being overwhelmed.
Everyone seemed more preoccupied than I already am but that’s okay. Megan told me that as human beings, we are not designed to handle grief and loss because we are designed to always be with the one we love. That assurance is tremendous in its wait, making time irrelevant.
At the end of my brief excursion, I felt like I just saw a Manila sunset, happy to be alive.
So all of a sudden, I got nothing to do. In the last two weeks, I went on an overload of things to do based in free time. I haven’t done everything in my list because there were things along the way that were meant to be done.
Artie would be antsy on the weekends that we didn’t have anything to do, especially in the winter. It’s the kind of anxiety that doesn’t want to watch tv and waste the sunlight. I’m not totally sure if I picked up this anxiety from Artie or if this is a New York sensibility. Idle time isn’t so fashionable.
Maybe I’ll go to Queens Library in Flushing. I’ve always wanted to go to Inwood Park. Maybe I’ll walk around Williamsburg. Or maybe I’ll go to Saint Pat’s and light a candle.
I get a thrill when I weave in the final thread of a circle scarf, write an epic email for friends and family back home, fold a paper crane, or make a paper fox puppet.
The first time I made a paper fox puppet, I giggled. I can only imagine how God felt after his creation sequence in the Genesis poem. The Bible bookended each creation period with feeling pleased then finally, at the creation of humans, God wasn’t just pleased; he was very pleased.
It’s an amazing concept to understand that we humans are not exactly immortal in the way we expect. Our bodies will be corrupt and will deteriorate and waste away, but anything we put our hands and labor to will live forever.
I have a certain psychosis when I unfurl the wings of the paper cranes I create. Unfurling the wings are the last step, which is a glorious metaphor that the Japanese may or may not have put into tradition.
In the act of unfurling the wings of a fortunate origami crane, I am convinced that it will fly out of my hands. Or it could be a crane with a defect and it’ll just leap and hobble. I don’t really care. I just know, for some reason, that it’ll move and breathe.
More glorious yet, as I practice this art, I made a habit of making that one last step the one that matters, the one step that ought to take its time because for as long as I unfurl those wings, the excitement that says “it’ll fly!” sinks in and settles.
Strangely, it is also the one step where I become conscious if breathing.
Come to think of it, taking a breath before ever opening my mouth to sing opens up the moment for the song. Now that is something to muse about.
Today though, like any other day, I remembered Artie. As soon as a memory comes up, my mind says “he’ll call tonight.” For a second I believe it and it’s long past the grieving period to cry over the improbability of Artie actually calling me. Instead, I believe that he’ll call. That I will hear his voice again, or better yet, that I will see him again. Because I know that in some way, shape, and other heavenly form, Artie is as alive as the paper cranes I will set to flight.
Queens is just amazing. I hardly had the time to appreciate moving back here from a small diasporic experience in Crown Heights, but now that I have a few weeks left to myself, I am intimately getting to know Queens. And you really get to know a borough by figuring out its bus routes. True story. In the last week alone, I’ve gotten to know three bus routes.
1) I threw myself into our church’s Rockaway street teams. Danielle and I looked at each other and decided that our Saturdays will be devoted to this community that is just getting up on its feet despite a year after hurricane Sandy’s effects. We swept sidewalks, talked to a few people and got to know what they need and played with kids in the park at a barbecue. The commute to the Rockaways is by no means quick but the view is just wonderful.
2) Danny Nastyn, somewhat best friend in law by way of the late great Artie McKeehan, was in the neighborhood this weekend. His childhood friends Rich and Ray Romano wrote and produced a movie that premiered in New York this weekend and a lot of the kids from their generation came and watched it in Forest Hills. Danny and I had dessert right in Forest Hills and caught up. We still can’t believe that Artie’s gone. I can still hear the disbelief in the way his voice sort of trembles and in the way he shakes his head and looks down the way most people do when faced with not knowing what to do.
3) I got to know our next door neighbor. Damir is a year older than I am. I joined in the neighborhood chit chat between him and my roommate Yennifer. There have been a lot of burglaries going on the area and getting to know a neighbor is valuable. He’s lived next door all his life and he’s got a lot of stories. Maybe there’s a barbecue this weekend. Haha.
4) Artie left me, but he left me with friends I can turn to. I find myself confiding in people from his generation and them confiding in me. It’s strange but definitely special, this relationship I have with these kids who once grew up in Forest Hills. When Artie was stuck in the hospital after what was a stroke, Robbie, another one of his best friends said “Please know that you’re not alone. You got us to run to when you need someone to talk to.” Artie’s brother Dennis affirms the loyalties of someone from Forest Hills saying that a friend from Forest Hills is a friend forever. Most of them might think themselves too old and stubborn for Facebook but I just want to thank them. Thanks guys.
1) When I write to friends and family back home, it gets long winded. Long winded but not boring. When I tell a story, it’s often a good story but when I write a story, it seems to be funny in an epic way. Or told in an epic way. I don’t know. I do read all the emails I write back home. And I read them because innately, I know that I’ll be entertained. Aka I get a kick out of myself.
2) So I started writing about the late great Arthur Urban McKeehan II. In the first day of writing, all I’ve been writing about was myself. Everything is so dramatic and kind of glorifies the grief that I’m going through, or the circumstances following his death. I’m kind of sick and tired of that tone. Aka I should get over myself.
I love how I solve my own problems aka cancel myself out.
My break is going really great. Not one day is idle. Yoga has been a constant in the last three days, and tied with that are better eating habits. Chips and sour cream have not entirely disappeared though.
My reading habit has become more voracious. I’ve been finding myself devouring a magazine in a day. I started reading The Umbrella Academy and putting volume two on reserve on NYPL.
I started my Arthur Urban McKeehan II writing project. The awesome thing about that is I have no loss for words except that most of what’s coming out of me are internal. I worried about this last night until I realized that I’ll just have to write until it all comes out.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be filling my days with tasks, more yoga, more writing, and coffee dates.