I suppose you noticed.
It took me some time. Quite some time, as a matter of fact.
It took until the smoke cleared, and the air grew quiet. That’s when I looked over and realized it was gone. Peacefully, singly, slipped away.
I stayed like that for awhile. Still. Simply with it. I wasn’t looking for it to come back. I wasn’t looking for signs of life. I’d seen death before. I knew what it looked like. Even more significant, I knew what it felt like–the shocking absence of vibration. The almost percussive impact the loss of a single ripple conveys unto the rest of space. Irrevocable. Beyond me. Beyond anyone or anything.
I stayed like that for awhile because I was looking at the space it once inhabited. And the hollow container it left behind. And was thinking about it. Spending crucial moments. Remembering it. Fondly. What it looked like. What it felt like. What it meant. To me. To others. Branding upon my consciousness memories of images conjured by the mind’s eye. And then of its essence. All that was tangible and some that was not. Important. For too soon the Universe would recover, trawling otherwise into the void.
I then cleaved part of myself–my own energy, my own life force. And breathed it into what I’d assembled. I felt it stir inside me. Good.
I made a little room for it somewhere in the back of my mind. For soon was coming the point of no return, when memory would be the solitary means of any continued existence for it. I gave it a home. I would carry it. It would have at least some life–some existence–in another universe. That which is me.
And then I smiled. Feeling its familiar warmth. Now within me.
Thus, I bade farewell to TRUE LIFE.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I cannot express to you what TRUE LIFE meant to me. Of the many friends I’ve had in my life, it was certainly among the best. It came along when I needed it most and hung in there with me through thick and thin. It taught me how to write (and sometimes how NOT to write) and in many ways taught me how to live. And even when I ignored it, it was still there–it’s arms open wide.
If you’ve lived life at all, though, you know the feeling. Like something’s had its time. Like it’s time to let go. That’s been the problem with TRUE LIFE.
I simply couldn’t see it for awhile.
Which is, I guess, the way that these things go. People and places and things come inexplicably into your life and leave an indelible mark. The Universe presents them, for better or worse, as gifts unto you. And almost as inexplicably, one day the reason for their presence passes. And so do these people and places and things. And they are lost to you–maybe for good. But their mark upon you and upon your path remains. Always for good.
Some weeks back, I was talking to my friend and cohort in crime, Dean Hyers. I’ve made no secret to him my struggles of late. Not that anything is "wrong", per se. On the contrary, so much is right. But I’ve struggled nonetheless. Sometimes mightily. Especially in the "putting it all together" department. And the "getting things done" department.
And then, somewhere in our conversation, I stumbled on it. "I am born again."
In an instant, everything fell into place. It made perfect sense.
If you’ve never read Ann Rice’s masterpiece, The Vampire Lestat, I would encourage you to do so. All apologies to Ms. Rice, I could take or leave (mostly leave) her "Vampire Chronicles" books after Lestat, but the first two are, I believe, among the most beautiful and poignant–and true–works of the late 20th Century. And it’s amazing how they bridge the seemingly chasmic, raging incongruence that divides existentialism and theism.
Anyway, that’s not why I mentioned Rice’s book. I bring it up because of a particular chapter in it. You know those passages or chapters you read once and they stick with you forever? Enough said.
In this chapter, Lestat’s mother is wracked with illness. She is, in fact, dying. Wasting away. Lestat is beside himself, consumed with grief and despair. I honestly can’t remember if she knew by that time whether or not he’d received the "dark gift", or whether or not she begged for him to turn her into a vampire on her deathbed. I sit here and write, and I realize suddenly that I only read the book once (a shock because I adore it, and I think I’ve read Interview With the Vampire upwards of four times)…and that was (even greater shock!) 22 years ago. In the end, it doesn’t matter for the purposes of my illustration.
When he does finally take her in his arms and drain her, then open up his own vein to give her drink, it’s that moment and the moments after that remain so vivid–almost visceral–in my memory. First, she latches onto his wrist with such gusto that it almost overwhelms him. He’s knocked back utterly by her ardor, and the duality embodied in her frenzied feeding: the desperate clinging to life passing juxtaposed against the fervent groping for the possibility of afterlife at hand.
And then it comes. And when it does, it threatens to unhinge the vampire Lestat. His mother is thrown into convulsions. Her body shudders and shakes and is tossed about hideously. Impending death assaults her, dealing her blow after crushing blow, in spasms of such uncompromising violence and pain, it leaves him uncertain of the outcome. Even though he, himself, has experienced the same thing in the recent past.
I don’t remember at this point in the story whether Lestat is crying or I simply remember it that way because I, myself, was weeping. I do know, though, that he was undone. And so was I. And as suddenly as the fit had begun, Lestat’s mother was still. Stone still. Dead.
There was a moment. He blinked. What happened? Did it work? He stands there lost, not knowing if he should continue to wait or if he should let go and howl in rage and aguish at the heavens.
And then. Her eyes pop open. Wide open. And then such a gasp, like never before. Like there’s not enough air in the world. And she springs up. Anew.
But more. Beyond anew. And then some. Different. Altogether.
She declares to Lestat that she is to be known as "Gabrielle". Save for the vessel that houses her spirit and the hair she can’t cut (and have it stay cut–she had long, flowing hair in life and now wanted nothing of it) and the memories she can’t shake, she dissociates from the life that was. She revels in her newfound preternatural gifts and promptly launches herself into the world–all of the deepest, darkest, wildest places imaginable. And some unimaginable. No wringing hands or gnashing of teeth, wallowing in some grotesque gnostic cesspool, like some other vampires (no names…merely a comment, not a critisicm, Lestat and Louis. Ooops! Sorry, guys). Screw that! She’s off in a flash, like a bat out of hell. It’s all about the embarking on an adventure of the ages for that one.
I don’t do Rice’s glorious prose justice. My point is simply that, yes…Louis is a beautiful character. And the brat prince of darkness? Of course, everyone loves him. He’s like a Raphael painting on Ecstacy. What’s not to love about that?!? But for my money? I’m a Gabrielle fan. She is, and always will be, my favorite vampire.
I have been thinking about her a lot lately. I’ve even mentioned her to both Robbye and to Dean. Why? Not just because I like her character. Not just because that scene has stuck with me. It’s more than that.
It’s because I am she. And my "struggles" of late are the newborn’s eyes blinking, adjusting to the huge and bright world in all its terrifying alien splendor. And the stinging remnant of the world’s slap on my butt cheek just to make sure I’m breathing.
I know firsthand that death comes. And that to say it’s like passing through the eye of the needle is a bit like saying pulling your intestines out your asshole is a tad uncomfortable. I’ve been held in its clutches, helpless, tossed unforgivingly about, life thrown off in agonizing torrents. Pain beyond anything I ever imagined. Then I’ve been one with that moment of everything going quiet. Of the uncompromising dark night of the soul. Of uncertainty. Of not knowing what comes next, if anything. Of not knowing whether I can recover. Of not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Or to give up and surrender to the darkness. Altogether.
And then, as suddenly as everything else, of that first gasp. Of eyes popping open. And of the paradoxical pain and joy of coming awake into new life.
Of being born again. Into "adventure of the ages" and everything that comes with it.
I will miss my good friend, TRUE LIFE. I will always carry your memory with me, throughout every new adventure. Throughout this new life. Thank you for everything you have given me.
Everything lives. Everything comes to pass. And everything is born.
Sometimes twice. Like me.