Very superstitious: domestic omens toward the end

Almost from the moment Gavin was diagnosed, I was more superstitious than usual. Perhaps it's the absence of any formal religion in my history, perhaps it's just a safer way to "admit" what I could see but not say: the writing on the wall, that he would die. A way to externalize the stresses, and pretend that the rational observations I made (a medical establishment without solutions for his cancer, a man running out of 2nd choice options, a husband under 100 lbs) were actually spooky, perhaps even a bit silly and therefore somehow less real.

Is superstition a sign that your rational mind is falling apart, or manifestation of uneasiness, or a way to really know what's true?

The first sign was domestic. Setting up my studio, above his studio, Gavin wrestled with reinstalling my Ikea shelves. "Ivar," he said. "They should call it Beelzebub. Damn thing tried to kill me again today." I'd installed it once already, inside what was now the baby's room, and it wasn't easy, but he was not very handy. I was 8 months pregnant and had given up on moving big pieces of wood, no mattter how bad he was going to be at it, he'd own all the heavy work from this point out.

One day an Ivar upright smacked him in the shin for a bruise that lasted weeks. It was only January, but when he was diagnosed in September I felt sure, somehow, that this injury had led to either the cancer (no one dared guess for us how long it had been growing in him) or its metastasis (which happened before we found it out).

Why? I needed something. LIke the what-if's of a widow whose lost someone to a car accident, I had to have alternatives, objects, other parties to place in my story, whether or not they could hold blame well or be held to account.

Then there were his careless placements of aesthetic objects that might be good or bad, depending. The first was a Bolivian devil mask I'd purchased for him one Christmas as an apotropaia.  (I think I felt entitled to buy one solely because I alone knew what the word meant.) I wanted it hung facing our busy front door to keep bad spirits out, but he thought that was corny, and hung it in his office. It was staring down his neck.

After diagnosis when he wasn't looking I unmounted it and hid it in the attic, then after he died, exiled it farther to his vacant studio, where the oil smells settled, cold. I wrapped it in silk to keep it from hurting anyone else. 

1997_Decay_of_the_Angel_The_Body_Ceases_to_Give_off_Light_409686D-R01-043 Another was a drawing of his own, one of my favorites, beautiful and striking but: one in a series of 5 illustrating Yukio Mishima's The Decay of the Angel. The drawing is called "The body ceases to give off light," and he hung it, again in his office, looking down on his right shoulder. What could be more wrong? He could not see the problem.

I let him stare at just the picture hanger for the rest of the year, till he'd gone so far downhill that he was never in his office.

To compensate, I placed two works of his that I'd sort of considered "too good" for us: his two lamps. I think he had to frame them himself, displacing lesser works and cutting mats, to get them to me, and unsell one that had been promised, for a pittance. But they were my favorites, and I hung them above the bed. The light that swelled from the paper in these drawings at least let me know we were doing our best, even if he didn't see the difference between one and another.

I've written about these lamps before -- they were a great comfort to me for a long time in that bed after he was gone.


(Now you, too, can see why he hated the way his work looked in photographs: they look gray, dim. These lamps are absolutely glowing, silencing more than one viewer with a gleam that comes from inside the paper).

Nature gave us one more sign, just awful in every single way, but that's a story for tomorrow.


carolyn said...

Oh God, now I can't wait for tomorrow! And that decay of the Angel is positively evil. I still can't stop thinking of that photograph you posted a while back, the one of the empty chair facing out onto the empty patio. It spoke so much to me. Even if it was just one of many.

Sandy said...

TJ was diagnosed on Friday the 13th. We laughed about it often. He told every doctor he saw the exact day of his diagnosis, often leaving out the month which I would insert for him.

Hira Animfefte said...

The beginning of the month my (maternal) aunt died--which was also the same month I turned 16 (sixteen was in no way 'sweet')--I dreamed of another (maternal) aunt dying. (My mother had four sisters. I want to put that in the present tense.) My aunt died the week before my sixteenth birthday. I immediately thought of the dream. Had it been some kind of warning? Because if it was, the warning system was really messed up. I woke up, realized all my aunts were alive, and felt much better. When my other aunt really died, there was no waking up and feeling better.

There were no omens before Nelson's death. It was the car wreck you don't see coming til you see it bearing down on you. In retrospect I remember conversations about his health, his complaining of dizziness and so forth, and wishing I'd hit the panic button. But would that have done any good? I'll never know...at least not in this life...Those remembered conversations were the source of so much guilt in the first year. If only I'd. But no...

Retroactive bargaining is a funny thing. How I wanted--how I still want--a do-over. Ain't gonna happen.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Carrie, Thank you -- glad someone else responds to these images the way I do.

Sandy, this sounds like TJ! Love to hear your stories about his attitude and your time together.

Hira, Yes, I do think it's all part of that "what if" thinking... the kind that is just SO useful, but sadly, hard to go without.


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