It felt like January

A year ago this weekend, I woke up late and shuffled into my office with a mug of the fragrant and wonderful coffee Doug had made and checked my email, flipped through my RSS feed. It was a cool mid-September weekend morning, and I was feeling pretty good about things in the main. I was listening to NPR, and heard that David Foster Wallace had hung himself. And everything got strange there for a few moments: my forehead shrunk into a confused frown as the room around me receded, and my stomach hurt and there wasn’t enough air, where was the air? Then some tears, and I told Doug, and felt stupidly over-emotional plus kind of morbid, and then some cinders worked their way into my circulatory system and the hurt made itself at home.

My memory of that morning was that it was so bitter-cold. Wasn’t it in winter?

Hearing that David Foster Wallace had left meant learning to accept that he’d never, ever write anything else. And that all the things that he’d really tried so hard, over and over, to combat the Big Bad weren’t enough. Being scarily brilliant and gifted and talented was no help, and — maybe, could it be possible — it had made it worse.

And suddenly someone whose writing had connected me to being alive and staying that way during extended seasons of bleak was suddenly just gone. I felt awful for days and days, down deeper than I’d been for quite some time. And I felt stupid for grieving so much for the loss of someone I’d never even met. But I think he was about as honest as any writer I’ve encountered. And the smart but broken kid inside me felt like she’d found a distant cousin who’d battled through the worst of it and knew a way out. But then he left.

In general, I don’t feel hysterical when famous people, people I don’t know, die. As shitty as Kurt Cobain’s suicide was, I mostly felt furious at him for abandoning his daughter like that. And I do think that Elliott Smith should have stuck around a lot longer. But I didn’t feel anything about the news of Michael Jackson’s death except, “OK, hm, too bad, but man the brouhaha is going to be worse than all that nonsense surrounding Princess Diana.” And Walter Cronkite’s passing seemed like the dignified end to a long, productive, meaningful life.

It’s only in the past couple of weeks that I could even entertain the thought of picking up one of David Foster Wallace’s books. Spurred by Jen’s description of Oblivion, I decided I could at least try. Last week on the train, I read that shattering section of “Good Old Neon” where the narrator’s describing his suicide plan:

I had decided to take a whole lot of Benadryl and then just as I got really sleepy and relaxed I’d get the car up to top speed on a rural road way out in the extreme west suburbs and drive it head-on into a concrete bridge abutment.

And then, I got off the train and turned my iPod back on to Fred and Ginger Hussalonia, and heard the lyric, “But I’m at the neon now, and I’m driving straight through it.” So I think I need to reread Infinite Jest and just appreciate the hell out of what’s right here.

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