Saturday, February 22, 2014

knowing jill

I've been accumulating pieces of her these last few weeks, fragments like moths startling and taking flight and eventually whispering to ground -- quiet and sure-footed in the dark.

At first she was merely a void, an empty space at the core of someone I hold dear. It's been frightening, at times, to watch the gravitational pull her death has over him. As if now she's gone, he has no other escape.

Then it was pages from her diary paraphrased over glasses of wine, written years before the cancer settled in. I wish I could remember the exact words she wrote in the days after 9/11 -- there was something so obvious there, and yet so unspoken in the public sphere that it took my breath away when Bill read it to me. She apparently didn't think of herself as all that smart, felt that people didn't take her all that seriously, but she saw straight through to the truth of things.

Last week it was one of her favorite books -- Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, if you must know. I'm about half way through it myself now, and I hadn't quite understood before how opera could be so loved, but now maybe I can.

A friend insisted I take the remnants of a pack of cigarettes home with me last week. Neither of us smoke anymore, of course, but after a few beers neither of us could resist. At the end of the evening he had a girlfriend impatient with his odorous relapses to go home to, and I did not.

Camel Lights, of course, because isn't that what pretty much everyone smokes? (Not Mick. Mick always smoked Camel unfiltereds. I never could figure out how to smoke those things, how to be cool enough to smoke them, or maybe how to be quite that self-annihilating.)

This week it was old photographs, again over glasses of wine and before bowls of soup. Pictures of her from decades ago, everywhere, Mexico, Hawaii, Greece, Morocco, young and playful and tough. A small bright painting fell out from between the back pages of the photo album. Practice, he called it, and insisted I take it home with me.  The colors -- orange and pink, white and dark charcoal gray -- clash with everything, and with nothing at all.

I'd planned on giving the cigarettes to Lauren this week, my one last regularly smoking friend. They're her brand, after all, and lord knows I owe her a pack, or two, or three, but our schedules never quite meshed up.

Her art of course will outlive her now, caught behind glass, filling up storage units, trapped between the pages of old photo albums.

I've been sneaking cigarettes out the bathroom window as if I were sixteen years old again, only this time feeling very guilty instead of adolescently defiant. Jill, I'm pretty sure, never smoked a cigarette in her life yet it was lung cancer that took her down.

It's enough to make you wonder, isn't it?

So I've been sneaking cigarettes in the bathroom, burning scented candles, watching smoke curl and swirl and drift out into the winter air. I've been watching this smoke while thoughts of smoke-free Jill, of self-annihilating Mick, come swirling and curling in.

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