I finally died
I've been thinking a lot about death? I remember when it started, almost exactly a year ago at the MLK Day march here in Seattle. Ligaya rode in the stroller and Noli walked, carrying the sign she'd made the night before: LET THE CHILDREN LEAD. (No doubt inspired by this book we'd been reading regularly for weeks.) As we walked down 23rd Avenue, I ran ahead to snap a photo and when I turned around, there was Noli (in my mind she's standing directly in a sunbeam) chanting, stoked to be surrounded by her people. It made me want to die.
Not instantaneously. Not anytime soon. In that moment I just felt so clearly that I was seeing the future. A future where someone like Noli is a leader. A better time than now. I thought about our babysitter Penelope (for whom I just wrote a college recommendation letter to my alma mater because the universe really supplies infinite ways to feel older), who just a few days before had been sweetly complaining to me about her girlfriend and whose stepmother had just shown me a video of Penelope performing a poem she wrote at the dedication of a mural she painted with her high school Art of Resilience and Resistance club. The mural commemorates the Seattle Black Panther party. At the end the poem, which concluded with the line by any means necessary (!!), Penelope raised her fist above her head.
I've pretty much lost faith in institutions (what little I had, anyway) and every day that passes in America feels like one more day until we can make progress. I'm basically just waiting for people (not just Mitch McConnell) to die, myself included, so people like Penelope and Noli and others who are growing up laughing in the face of the gender binary run the show. The things I wish for probably won't happen in my lifetime (though I won't stop working for them), but I still think they could happen during theirs. They give me hope.
This fall, during the week following Dia de los Muertos, I dropped Noli off at her dance class on the top floor of an old building that’s part of El Centro de la Raza, where the girls go to school. The long hallway was filled with ofrendas made my local organizations to honor those who have passed. I took my time taking them in, wandering the hallway in a bit of a state, crying at the altars remembering the Latinx children who died in detention centers in 2019, as well as Oscar Alberto Martínez and Angie Valeria, the father and daughter who drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. When I looked up from an ofrenda, I was face-to-face with a brujo. On an easel sat a vibrant colorful painting, half-skeleton, half-living flesh face, arms outstretched, cursive words whirling above the fingertips: to live is to sleep, to die is to awaken. It was a spell and I felt comforted.
More recently, we spent the week between Christmas and New Year with Will’s entire immediate family in the mountains of Colorado, a dry and frozen place. Will and his brother took Noli skiing (her first time, she was very into it) the first two days we were there. Because I don’t ski (“that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” someone reassured me as I fought the urge to say that actually I feel zero shame about not wanting to be cold in hundreds of dollars of equipment that mediate and limit the feeling of comfort I have in my body), I stayed home with Ligaya. She's exhausting these days. She is willful and determined and sweet and wonderful and does only what she wants which includes a lot of screaming and has generally been kicking our asses for months now. In Colorado, in front of a new audience, her behavior was what can only be described as extra. On her first trip to snowy lands, she also exhibited a wariness of the cold and wanted little to do with being outside, even sledding. So we mostly stayed indoors where she tornado-ed around and screamed at me for snacks every four minutes.
I love our family, but visits can sometimes be isolating. In those first couple of days, I had to get used to being surrounded by whiteness (literal, metaphorical, impenetrable) and by day three, I was feeling defeated. Over beers at a bar, I tried to explain to Will how I was feeling, how I've learned that the the easiest way for these visits to go as smoothly as possible is for me to show up at 50 percent of my full self. I was feeling sorry for myself, maybe egged on by the lilting strings of the music playing in the background. I trailed off and Robin Gibb's voice took over: "I finally died..." It was as close to a ludicrously perfect moment as I've had in a while, my personal comic mini-ascension.
This year Washington became the first state to legalize human composting, which I find thrilling. I like the idea that the last thing a (dead) body could do is something truly productive--and simply by decomposing, exactly what it's meant to do! I'd like to be absorbed into the living things and people still in the world, maybe give matter back in return for all that's been given to me. I'm not trying to over romanticize this, though. In fact when I picture it, the image is always the same. It's an image that passes through my mind regularly these days (going over free writes I did this summer and fall I found I invoked it at least four different times), most often after I've put the kids to bed and feel so spent and old but also proud and accomplished that I think I could just happily expire.
Improbably I'm Homer Simpson, calmly receding into a bush. Just fading out, just fading in.