Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Where You Have a Choice, Side with Kindness and Optimism..."

~ Me

In Amy Bloom’s “By-and-by,” the narrator deals with the death of her friend and roommate, Anne. The five-and-a-half page story begins after Anne, a young woman living in New York City, has already been kidnapped and killed; the reader doesn’t know this yet. We see the narrator and the roommate’s mother having “interstate, telephonic rum-and-Coke” parties as they wait for news about Anne. But we quickly learn details of the murder, the trial, and the murderer. The narrator, whose name we never learn, doesn’t reveal much about herself. “Every death is violent,” she begins. She later describes what happens to the body as it dies:
The brain cells die fast, and blood pools in the sot, pressed places: the scapula, the lower back, the calves. If the body is not covered up, it produces a particular smell called cadaverine, and flies pick up the scent from a mile away. First, just one fly, then the rest. They lay fly eggs and ants come, drawn to the eggs, and sometimes wasps, and always maggots. Beetles and moths, the household kind that eat your sweaters, finish the body; they undress the flesh from the bone. They are the cleanup crew.

She even quotes something the killer said at trial - “Everyone dies of heart failure” - and she seems to agree with that statement as she describes various people in her life dying: no matter what the cause, it equally hurts. (I’d already quoted Bloom’s final paragraph – “I don’t miss the dead less, I miss them more” – for its precision and detail in an earlier entry).

Throughout the story, the narrator is quite morbid; detached. On first read, my students actually thought she might be Anne’s killer – “She seems disturbed,” they said. That’s a valid response, but closer inspection reveals how consumed the narrator is with grief.

Stories and poetry reveal truths in ways that non-fiction cannot.

Anyway, so where is all this coming from? I’ve had a light schedule at work this week – Monday I didn’t go in to the library because of my eye (now fully open, if a little swollen), and yesterday I finished class early because of the exam – and so I’ve had that time and space to get reflective while experiencing righteous indignation. Yesterday, Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, affecting one-third of its total population. Estimates for those made homeless, injured, or killed are likely to be in the thousands.

And then we have Pat Robertson, supposed Christian, believer in Christ, God, and heaven, saying that the quake is a “blessing in disguise” and that the country was “cursed” for a pact it made with the devil centuries ago. Seriously!

Fourteen U.N. staffers, on the agency’s Haiti mission, have been killed in the quake. I’m not going to waste time arguing with Robertson’s outrageous statement. But along with the failure of our media to treat issues seriously, the muck and gamesmanship of politics in general, and my own inability to understand how people can be anything other than kind and grateful to one another, I find myself indignant. We’re surrounded by so much death and sadness that’s not of our own making, whether by accident of man or nature. How dare we diminish others?

We have no control over so much. We have no say over when an earthquake will strike or when the cells of our body will turn against us. But we can control what we say; we control how we treat others, how we conduct ourselves.


Anonymous said...

Yes, and as time goes by, sometimes the grief gets more intense, rather than less.

What a great entry. Honestly, you dazzle me to the core so often these days. :-)


August said... the full scope of what's lost becomes more and more apparent - you dazzle me too, dear. Please don't get too down on yourself. Each of us has our own timeline :)