Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Craig Rimmel: A Tear in the Fabric of the Fathomable
The world is a story we tell to ourself, and stories must make sense. If our stories didn't make sense the world would be chaos, random and unlivable. And so we shape our lives, creating structures and order. We stitch beginnings and endings, triumphs and losses, into the fabric of what we know, of what we have experienced.
And we read this story into the future. Our life is as much about prediction as it is about this moment. Because the chaos brims beyond the line of our sight. The future is like the ancient belief about the earth: it is flat, and at some point we reach the edge and there is blackness beyond as the waters of the seas pour off the edge of the world into the vast empty of the unknown.
Unless, of course, we weave the story out further. Our lives are constructed not just on what we have seen and known, not just on who we are and what we are living, but on what might be and what we might predict, creating a future woven out of threads of expectation.
And this future we see ahead of us is usually strung together out of certain rules and beliefs. I will be fine. Nothing bad will happen. It will be like this, like this story I see in my head. We do not see the vast empty beyond. We do not let ourselves.
And yet sometimes things happen. It happens to all of us at some point, I think. Something happens, and there's a little tear, the fabric of the fathomable peeling open to reveal the vast seething blackness beyond. The rules, the orders and patterns of our life, of the future we shape for ourselves in our heads, tumble down like matchsticks. Was that all they were? Such tiny, fragile pieces of wood? Little splinters tumbled down. A breeze, just a little breeze, will blow them off the edge of the world.
It is not always the worst thing in the world, though it can be. It happens to some people very young: a parent dies, a matchstick house tumbles. It happens to others only as adults. And the moment may not have arrived yet for some people. They wait in their matchstick houses, smiling at the future, hands flashing as they stitch together bright matchstick quilts of possibility.
My moment came when I was twelve. We got a phone call. My friend, Craig Rimmel, was dead.
He was not the first person I knew to die, but I had already fashioned little rules around death, built little matchstick fences and road signs: One Way Only. Death Goes This Way.
Death was natural. You were born, you grew up, you grew old, you died. This was sad, but this was inevitable. This was the way of things. This was the rule.
(Matchsticks and glue, so much glue... it is harder to weave with sticks than you think)
My grandfather (my father's father) died when I was only one. I remember him and I don't. It is a memory, but not clear--it is more like an impression, a powerful sensory aura, the essential glow of a person. A feeling. My grandfather holding me. Big. I'm sitting on his tummy. I feel the idea of a smile, feel him looking down at me. An impression of warmth.
That is all.
I was too small to understand, but all understanding thereafter was tinted with his lack, with his death, with his absence in the world I knew. This is the possibility.
This is how the rule began.
My other grandfather died when I was five. He'd had a few strokes, and they believed he had another while driving a tractor, and the tractor tipped and he was killed. An accident. But I was small, and he was old, and this was the rule.
When my grandmothers died the rule was cemented. This is the way the world works. I knew, of course, in my head, that it didn't always work this way. I saw it on the news. But I didn't feel it or know it. This wasn't my story. These bits of news, these images on the television, these other posssibilities, these were just the minor backdrops to the story I saw before me, to the story I told myself about the future.
But Craig was different. I was twelve. He was twelve. He died on his paper route.
I had delivered papers, too, the Pennysaver. I remember cutting the plastic ties. Sorting the ads. Ink on my fingers. Having to scrub them, watching the ink swirl down the drain, but never all of it. So hard to get them entirely clean. The ink left a stain.
Craig was on his paper route. He was twelve. It wasn't even an accident. It was an aneurysm. Something inside just broke. A little balloon stretched and popped, as if the colourful balloon animals of his imagination that danced through his future had been too much. The balloon animals of highschool, of college, of marriage and adulthood. They were too much, required too much air, and the balloon popped.
A boy falling down on his paper route.
We had played soccer together. He was our goalie, his father our coach, the best I ever had. He had a round face, curly blond hair. He had a nice smile. He was nice. He was like a cherub in soccer cleats.
Craig would have known, though, that my rule was not true. He knew, I think, that these houses of possibility were built only out of matchsticks and twigs, glued together with hope and faith and necessary naivety.
His mother had died a few years earlier. Heart attack. And now him. A little tube, ballooning. Popping. A boy falling down on his paper route.
Ink on my fingers. So hard to wash off.
I remember the funeral. I remember his father standing, beside the coffin, with Craig's older brother. Just two of them left now, a family cut in half, a punnett square going nowhere.
I remember sunlight through a window. Motes of dust drifting in the light. Hovering. A room full of children crying. All dressed nicely.
I hated dress clothes for a long time. It was the last funeral I attended for a long time. I avoided them, as if this would somehow allow me to ignore the blackness hiding beyond the present moment.
The coffin was dark, solid. All too solid. A dark, burnished wood. Is this why I have a fascination with dark wood?
A rent in the story, in the fabric of all I had predicted, and all I might predict in the days and years to come.
There was a great void in the four corners of that family, and some of that leaked into my own life. A touch of the chaos, of the unknowingness of things.
I was not a teen that took risks, that felt invulnerable. In every story I could think of, could weave of the future, there was that wooden box, the possibility of it.
What was fathomable had changed.
I was quietly haunted by this for years. I was quieter for years, perhaps.
And yet I remembered, too, that light. The light through the window, the motes of dust hovering in the midst of a slow dance. There was chance and randomness there, too, but of another kind. A glimmer of light, a path, however narrow. Something to follow.
I was an adult when my father died. One day, though, in the dark of grief, I went outside. A winter sky of blue, white sun on white snow, a moment of sublimity, amd perhaps, even, of grace. A gift of hope, of the idea that we can see even in the darkness of what is to come. And in that light of a late winter morning I remembered Craig's funeral, the light through the window, the dancing motes of dust, suspended in a moment and holding off the future.