Tag Archives: death

Sasha Blue

14469902224_f85d0f3d09_k

The streets were dark and Sasha remarked that he’d always found the electric blue of a car’s dashboard “brights” indicator to be an especially beautiful one.

A friend died this year, too far away for me to get to the funeral. He had a chronic condition that I knew would contribute to his early death, but I was still taken by surprise to hear he’d been found unconscious in his home. Sasha never recovered. He died in the hospital about a week later.

When I was in my early twenties, Sasha was my closest friend. He was there when I was figuring out so many things about myself. Sasha was clever, sarcastic, smart, and graceful, making him welcome wherever he went. And because I was his trusted friend, he let me cross some of the boundaries in his life: between the straight world of Tampa and the semi-secret world of gay bars and dance parties, between the youthful university culture where we met, and the eighty and ninety year old ballroom dance students Sasha taught. Perhaps most importantly, he told me once that it is necessary to sort out what one desires from what one wants to be. It wasn’t more than a few months later that I began to transition from female to male.

Sasha was color blind. Color blindness of the most common sorts, like Sasha’s red-green version, mean that some colors are difficult to distinguish, not that there is no color at all. One night, I was riding home in Sasha’s car with two of our friends in the back seat. The streets were dark and Sasha remarked that he’d always found the electric blue of a car’s dashboard “brights” indicator to be an especially beautiful one. He wondered if we saw the same shade of blue he did. He might have also wondered if it stood out for him more than it did for us, because he had fewer beautiful colors in his visible spectrum.

Sasha had a way of being “on,” entertaining but not permeable. This was a different kind of remark, one that invited us in. We all craned our necks to see the shade of blue that Sasha found so captivating. And we agreed that it was, indeed, a beautiful shade of blue. I’ve wondered at times why this moment stuck with me, what it said about Sasha or about me. It is the one that came back to me most clearly, in the days after his death.

For the years that we were friends and roommates, Sasha let me tag along with him to the ballrooms where he gave dance lessons, to Denny’s to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee while we studied, and to the bars where he sang karaoke and danced and tried to score. I’d roam the dark rooms as if searching for someone. In the small country western bar where we threw darts with Sasha’s straight friends, drank Budweiser, and sang, I relearned how to be on stage, close enough to make eye contact, so near to the speakers that I couldn’t hear the sound of my unamplified voice and had to trust my experience in hitting the notes and what it felt like to vibrate at that frequency. Sometimes I failed to polite applause. But sometimes, it was like flying.

My transition put a wall between Sasha and me. Sasha, who studied gender performance and whose books were the first I read on the subject of transgenderism, thought I was making the wrong choice: that I was confusing what I wanted with what I wanted to be. My new identity felt fragile but real and worth protecting, so I pulled away from my closest friend, began making new friends who understood and respected my identity. I dressed more conservatively as a man than I had as a woman. My voice began to change and the songs didn’t come as easily, dropped out of my repertoire as the highest notes escaped my range.

It’s been years, now, since I’ve sang in public. After Sasha died I thought about going out again and giving it a try, to remember him, but it isn’t the same. I’m out of practice and too self conscious to sing anywhere except when I’m in the car alone. I haven’t had my own automobile in more than ten years. When I need to go somewhere, I borrow my husband’s car, and if I’m driving home late at night from wherever I’ve been, sometimes I will sing to keep myself awake. And sometimes, if I’m on winding country roads and put on my brights, the periwinkle glow of the icon on the dash will transport me to my twenties, the streets of Tampa, riding in the passenger seat of Sasha’s car.

Image credit: johnthoward1961/Flickr

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Queer, Trans

Death In Spring

My yard in riotous June.

“I hate this wallpaper,” Wilde was supposed to have said, just before he died. “One or the other of us will have to go.”

My therapist told me this quote from Oscar Wilde, supposedly his last words. We’ve been talking about being outcast, and queer, and of thoughts of death and suicide. Wilde had been ill after his imprisonment, and his last months were spent bedridden, in a room with ugly wallpaper. When Jason tells me this I think of “The Yellow Wallpaper” first, because of the literary connection, then of the wallpaper in my own home, the lower half of a decrepit Victorian. “I hate this wallpaper,” Wilde was supposed to have said, just before he died. “One or the other of us will have to go.”

It’s a season of death and illness, even as it’s undoubtedly spring come early. Everyone’s mental health and immune defenses are at their lowest ebb, in the pause between the last of the cellared rations of tubers and the first greens of spring. My husband claims to be nursing at least his third consecutive cold. The snows have melted, unlikely to return. The banks of the river are pits of sucking clay. In the yards and along every path, snowdrops have been supplanted with crocuses; this morning I walked the dog through the neighborhood, and saw a forsythia in bloom.

Anything growing in my own yard, besides grass and trees and some shrubs, is thanks to Abby, who had been our neighbor when we first moved here. As I go in and out the door to the porch where I garage my bicycle, I pass the particularly sprawling and accursed yew that Abby had a vendetta against. Now that the snow has melted, I can see the pile of sand and yard trash she had deposited into the middle of it, in her attempts to kill it without uprooting it outright. She hated our landlord, but would not defy him outright, only in her sidelong witchy way.

Abby, her teenage daughter, Micah, who had ferrets, Abby’s wife, Janet, their neurotic dog, Ziggy, and their cats constituted the family upstairs when we moved in. A couple years after we arrived, Micah graduated and moved into her own place in town. Then, a few years ago, Abby and Janet bought their own house in the next village. Within the year Abby, who had never been well, became seriously ill. I saw her in the hospital the day she and Janet got the news that Abby had stage IV cancer, but I didn’t realize that I would never see my friend again. There is no fifth stage. Abby died within a couple of weeks.

After Abby and Janet moved away, we had other neighbors, but they come and go, all college students, and we’ve liked some of them, but never had the fondness we did for our first neighbors. We were “the boys” to them, just a little bit younger than our upstairs matriarchs and an all-male household beneath their all-female one (except for cats and ferrets). They were the ones who made relationships with our neighbors in the houses on either side of us, gave us a way to piggyback into them when they left, so that we share dog talk, snow removal equipment and labor with them, watch their houses when they go on vacation.

But mostly this is Kevin who does this work of being neighborly. I’m planted in the past, still picking Abby’s raspberries every May and freezing them. I make desserts from them and bring them to Janet’s potlucks. I admire, photograph, and report upon Abby’s roses, her black irises, the daffodils and crocuses that are thinned each year by the squirrel population. No one feeds the birds, now that Abby’s gone, but they still come to raise families in our trees each year.

Even that fucking shrub is still alive, still gaping where it has spread instead of being pruned, full of grit and trash. Oh Abby, I think, as I pass. She had such a cheerful way with what was ugly, happy to bring home boxes of plants, plaster stickers over her loud and tiny sherbet-orange beater of a car. Abby made things with her disturbances of fertile grounds. Her perennials still bloom. Micah still has Janet. So does Ziggy, who is a calmer animal than she ever was, reflecting her mistress’ unflappable demeanor. Abby was the loud one, spiky-haired, covered in piercings and dressed in purple, though there was always something calm and fixed about her gaze. She was actually shy, but went to pains to hide this. She loved the beautiful and the tender ones, hated bullies and the resistant, persistent ugly things that can’t be scrubbed out or ripped out.

How Abby hated that shrub. One or the other of them was going to have to go.

1 Comment

Filed under Health