Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Journey Into Night"

Not normally the biggest David Sedaris fan...

In an effort to appear respectful, I’d already missed the first movie cycle, but I didn’t know how much longer I could hold out. Up ahead, in the cheerful part of Business Elite, I heard someone laugh. It wasn’t the practiced chuckle you offer in response to a joke but something more genuine, a bark almost. It’s the noise one makes when watching stupid movies on a plane, movies you’d probably never laugh at in the theatre. I think it’s the thinness of the air that heightens your reactions—and not just to comedy, either.

Take my seatmate. The man was crying again, not loudly but steadily, and I wondered, perhaps unfairly, if he wasn’t overdoing it a bit. Stealing a glance at his blocky, tear-stained profile, I thought back to when I was fifteen and a girl in my junior high died of leukemia, or “ ‘Love Story’ disease,” as it was often referred to then. The principal made the announcement and I, along with the rest of my friends, fell into a great show of mourning. Group hugs, bouquets laid near the flagpole. I can’t imagine what it would have been like had we actually known her. Not to brag, but I think I took it hardest of all. “Why her and not me?” I wailed.

“Funny,” my mother would say, “but I don’t remember you ever mentioning anyone named Monica.”

My friends were a lot more understanding, especially Barbara, who, a week after the funeral, announced that maybe she would kill herself as well.

None of us reminded her that Monica had died of a terminal illness, as, in a way, that didn’t matter anymore. The point was that she was gone, and our lives would never be the same: we were people who knew people who died. This is to say that we had been touched by tragedy, and had been made special by it. By all appearances, I was devastated, but in fact I had never been so happy in my life.

The next time someone died, it was a true friend, a young woman named Dana, who was hit by a car during our first year of college. My grief was genuine, yet still, no matter how hard I fought, there was an element of showmanship to it, the hope that someone might say, “You look like you just lost your best friend.”

Then I could say, “As a matter of fact, I did,” my voice cracked and anguished.

It was as if I’d learned to grieve by watching television: here you cry, here you throw yourself upon the bed, here you look in the mirror and notice how good you look with a tear-stained face.

Like most seasoned phonies, I roundly suspect that everyone is as disingenuous as I am. This Polish man, for instance. Given the time it would take him to buy a ticket and get to J.F.K., his mother would have been dead for at least six hours, maybe longer. Wasn’t he over it yet? I mean, really, who were these tears for? It was as if he were saying, “I loved my mother a lot more than you loved yours.” No wonder his former seatmate had complained. The guy was so competitive, so self-righteous, so, well, over the top.

But periodically I appreciate him, because despite his newfangled Parisian pretensions, he sometimes really skewers a point. I do feel so self conscious these days, about everything, and this speaks to one aspect of that sensation.

via the New Yorker, but more accurately because Peattie reminded me of it tonight and it inspired me to read it before bed despite the Greyhounds and the tiredness.

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