In Advance of a Eulogy

I want to go home.
I want to go home to Carib Street.
—Marjorie Wright-Smith

You among all beings
have the right
to see me weak.
—“The Hurt,” Pablo Neruda

Marjorie in Uniform
Marjorie Lorna Wright, 1955

This is not a eulogy.

I think I need to say that, more as a confession than a disclaimer, more for me than for whoever reads it.

It is not a eulogy. I have to write one, but this is not it. I’m not yet in that space. The space where eulogies are drafted: where the salient facts of one’s doings are catalogued, and the careful threading of failures and accomplishments strain pathos from the everyday things that comprise a life. The onset of inevitable breakdowns.

There are conventions to the genre—rules. It’s good to respect the rules or, at least, be aware of them. But it’s snowing in Syracuse, and my aunt is dead in San Fernando.

The breakdown will come. But not now.

Not while I sit alone in this icy place longing for family—or the illusion of family. Not here.

Not when there is no one for me to hold, and no one to hold me, heaving chest to heaving chest (until one, and then the other, is calm). No one to sap my head with bay rum, to pray with me (though I do not pray). This is what she did.

Marjorie, a second mother, now dead.

When I dragged my exhausted self home for Lystra’s funeral, holding myself together as if with thread, it was Marjorie who bound me up: I, on my knees, her arms around me, patting me, rocking me, praying as I passed out on the front porch, as San Fernando went about its business (as places do when they know nothing of a death, or when they do). It is best to break at home, I think, where those who know how to hold you can hold you. There are other places to break down, I know. Safe places. But not here.

Not here.

Yes, it will come, sure as the tide, sure as a metaphor of an infinite ocean that washes, beckons, buries. It will come because it must come, because I have built my love out of sand (for it is only out of sand that love could be built), and the tide creeps or rushes in to do what it must.

And there is, in me, that very human impulse to weep, to grieve as my efforts to build things erode with every wave—even as those efforts dried, then hardened, in the sun. I have learned to wait for low tide so I could begin again, to build and craft, promise and celebrate. I have learned to wait so I could boast about how hard I have worked between the tides. See? And I have learned to forget, in the midst of my waiting, that I am standing in the sand, sinking into it, its grains between my toes.

I know, I know. The sand has nothing to do with the love I have built out of it, but I prefer to break where there is sand, and where I can hear spirits in the water.

Not here, though, in exile. And no, I see no melodrama in the term. It alone will do.

For, what is exile but the anticipation of grief? What is it but longing to sit in the deadhouse, looking around for mirrors to turn, touching the shoulders of the stricken, nodding painfully, holding vigil with the weeping, lingering with the loud drunk? What is it but the excruciating calm of consoling your inconsolable mother when she calls breathless to say that her sister is dead?

Here, in my exile, I have learned to count the breaths, the rhythm of sobbing, of waiting. I have learned to breathe so I can remind my mother how to breathe without breaking apart. Here, the tide is at its lowest—it is gone, in fact, leaving me to scramble for words and grapple with the urgency of shock:

Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy.
Ok, Mummy. Ok. Ok. I know. I know. Ok, Mummy. I know.
Ok, Mummy.
Ok, Mummy.
Ok, Mummy.
Ok, Mummy.

A thousand times until she can say my name.
A thousand more.
And again.

In the droning rhythm of a child reminding his mother to breathe, there are no satisfactory metaphors. They betray me, leaving me to wait in silence for a moment to speak my rhythm. And as I sit in exile, waiting to break beautifully for my second mother, silent enough to hear things hardening in me—my breath, my flesh, love hardening into bone—I try to look at my grief like a piece of art that no one else can see.

And here set about the work of standing—standing, when all I want to do is fall.