Friday, January 14, 2011

Last Gasp in Chelsea

These plans, anyway, were circulating. The one that seemed close to a paying off, the light personal experience book, Twins in the American Century, this funny situation of my twin an I traveling the world but always on opposite sides, the people he was connecting with wanting, and sometimes trying with success, to kill the people I was connecting with, and vice versa – it seemed funny when I talked it, but not when I tried to do the sample chapter. But anyway the worst of the plans, the travel series on the West Indies and the dull Bahamas, was ready to go and an offer seemed on the way and Amy was coming from Rome to join me in this first leg – something like the way I thought life should be. It should be like Amy looked.

My cousin Elizabeth, who until this year I rarely saw but with whom I had had a black sheep’s bond, died just before our departure date. It had seemed like the bone marrow transplant was a success and then she had fallen apart, wound up on a respirator not in the city but in Westchester near her tight family’s little Scarsdale world. Died on a respirator after saying she would not be well for she wanted to die, because of the things they had done to her.

I went to Scarsdale for the funeral, where not long ago I had gone for my uncle’s funeral, a big stone Episcopal church that actually had a British Union Jack flag draped off to the side of a tidy stone alter, and where they read from the Book of Common Prayer, which we knew was so British, and it reminder me of childhood in the New Hampshire summers, this church where my brother and I took up the collection and where they would actually sing God Save the King. These people.

It also reminded me of life outside the family. Once Nana has told me that Aunt Marjorie had had a bad experience for there was a problem in her church. At a Scarsdale country club a boy one of the girls had invited to a dance was asked to leave when it was discovered he was Jewish. Later I heard the story from his perspective, for I later discovered it had been my old friend, the brilliant Walter Karp. The problem for Aunt Marjorie was that her Episcopal minister had criticized the country club, and so the parishioners has had him removed.

After the church service everyone went first to Elizabeth’s mother’s house for drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Aunt Marjorie pointed out that this had nothing to in common with the wakes that other sorts of people, like Irish and Italians, staged. My wife was there. She had appeared at the church. We had been Elizabeth’s friends. This was first time I had seen Mary since that violent night in Chelsea. But she decided not to go along in a limousine caravan to a sprawling Brooklyn cemetery where, it was constantly pointed out, prominent people were buried, and where Elizabeth’s three little children looked like children who had been left by the side of road.

I hardly paid attention to these children, however, as if they had nothing to do with me.

I had gone 36 hours without sleep by then for I wanted to get the island plan right, more for possible publication than for this immediate sojourn, before we left. I went back to Chelsea to sleep to a few hours, and then met Amy at the airport.

Cousin Elizabeth dead. The others still alive, except for Cousin Paul who had been killed a few years back, The others still alive but, I thought, but in precarious lives. Cousin
Richard back drugged our and sexed and back from California to spend the rest of his life with his mother. Lawrence, whose theatrical ventures were getting more and more precious, Jonathan always on the verge of being caught out , because of his kleptomania, even though he had a PhD now and had once been an Eagle Scout.

I knew without knowing exactly how I knew, that Elizabeth’s death was only one of many death’s looming. And I kept thinking, even as circumstances seemed so different, of death in the air. My twin brother had sent me a letter suggesting I give up everything and find a dull job because I should remember that we had nearly 30 years left to live. Peter always had it figured out. Fifty years when we were 21. Then for a time 40 years, and now 30 years, and the time shrinking fast.

Was that what I had to fight? That in the family I came from, as made clear in the present by Peter, death had always near.

And I did not feel depressed. No clear path ahead, nothing like what I would have predicted, but nonetheless alive and invigorated, as in a dash to outrace death.

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