As the day of return gets closer, I try harder to write but feel less able to motivate myself. The time crush seems physical. Plus, there's my birthday. Cathreen says we have to go to see her grandfather that day. Her grandfather is dead. I ask her what time we have to go, and of course she says at night. She says because ghosts come out at night. I think about what kind of terrible juju this is. Birth and death. But it's a family thing, and I have to keep up the impression that I am a good man.
When we fight, Cathreen reminds me she is keeping up this impression. She reminds me how I reflect upon her, something I like to say when we aren't upset, how we are one, etc.
Okay, I tell her. I'm still young. Boise is older than I am. In cat years, he's twenty eight. (Though, in human years, he's three.) Cats mature quickly in their first three years. Or we mature slowly in our first twenty eight.
March third rolls around and I act up with all the stress I've been hiding--an asshole move, I know it, but I can't stop because it will soon be my birthday and on my birthday I'll be with a dead man.
I saw Cathreen's grandfather over a year ago, and he said he was trying to stay alive for our wedding. Then he said to let him go. He wanted to go for a while and couldn't, and when he went, it seemed to be a relief. I think I was back in America then. He lived through some tough shit.
War, for one. He was a policeman. Even his ghost could kick my ass.
I'm trying to be good to his granddaughter. I'm tring to be a good man. But soon after midnight, I go out onto the streets and feel sorry for myself. I drink alone. I come home hours later and the dogs wake up the house and I shiver and dream fitfully through the night.
The next day (my birthday) Cathreen gets in trouble because I woke up the house.
I agree to clean the bathroom and do penance. I clean the bathroom. I think about the graveyard at night; the idea grows in my head and fills me with resentment. I bleach the bathroom floor. I breathe it in, take a shower in the fumes.
I'm a year younger than my cat and I'm old and I'm about to be with the dead.
Except, in the afternoon, as Cathreen tells me she got scolded on my behalf, we realize I misunderstood. This happens to us, with the language and culture gaps. We're not going to a graveyard, only to her grandmother's where a ceremony will be performed and her dead grandfather will eat rice and seaweed soup.
I nearly feel at rest, but then there are the thirty or so relatives I can't communicate with, the social death. I say I feel at rest.
When we get there, we mill about and I try to associate myself with the children. We're the same cultural age. I'm not that much older anyway. But really, it's because they have a more fluid physical language and the same shyness and for once, the babies' vaccuuming of attention is comforting.
Preparations have been underway all day. Finally it's time. The men stand before a picture of the grandfather and a table covered in food.
At the last minute, I get pulled into the ceremony and find myself bowing to the floor with the others. Though they understand what they are doing and when to touch the floor and when to stand and I feel like a backwards puppet, voluntarily pulling my strings to commands.
Cathreen says it's proven that the food weighs less after the ghosts come to dinner. I don't talk back about matter and energy. I eat until my stomach slips out my navel and lies in the center of the table screaming that it's not young anymore. Actually, I get drunk and go home. I don't even get drunk.
the project has moved
Read more at matthewsalesses.com