I never meant to become a tragedy porn (star). Of course I don't think anyone does, really. It just happens. The first bad thing. Another. (And then another, if you're me, another after that.) How people turn to look, and they are nice about it, how they slow down. But you can feel it, the looking. It's human nature, after all. I have looked at a thousand tragedies myself, still do. The meaningful squeeze of a shoulder, faces crumpled in concern but also naked curiosity, relief. There's nothing wrong with it.
And maybe I did this to myself. After all, I write about it. Even when I sit down to write something funny, the sorrow spills out. Grief unspooling like those black snake fireworks coiled and lazily roiling, a sulfuric intumescent sadness that twists itself uncomfortably until it's just a pile of ashen turd on the pavement. Yes, that's what it's like. Sodium bicarbonate sadness in my belly.
Of course it's also like this: Alexa! I say. Play Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah by James Basket! And we dance in the kitchen, me, Bryan and the kids, Ozzy so proud that he taught himself to whistle. My oh my, what a wonderful day. I post happy photos on Instagram because I am happy. It is summer. I go out to dinner with friends. My brother recently died of a drug overdose, I am able to say now with what I think is a normal look on my face, knowing that they are getting the wrong impression of my brother. He was not a drug addict like that, I want to say but I don't, except I guess he was a drug addict like that. I'm sorry, they say. Thank you, I say. Plenty of sunshine, comin' my way...
I called the Medical Examiner's Office every few days to see if the toxicology reports were done. I couldn't understand how Chris Cornell's report took a week, but my brother's report would take over 12 weeks. We finally got my brother's report on the day that Carrie Fisher's toxicology reports were made public. Carrie Fisher had cocaine, methadone, ecstasy, alcohol and opiates in her system, although cause of death was sleep apnea. WTF? My brother's cause of death was listed as accidental, an acute hydrocodone, carisprodol, meprobamate, and gabapentin intoxication. A bigger WTF, if you ask me. I think I was hoping for something harder, like heroin, so I would know that he was in deep. But maybe that is me being naive, not understanding yet that an addiction to prescription pain meds, muscle relaxers and nerve blockers are just as hard as heroin. I have ordered the full toxicology and autopsy report, looking for answers that I know are not there. Sometimes I think if he was going to die doing drugs he should have at least had more fun. Again, me being naive, stupid, and I shouldn't think that.
Instead I think about how I look when I am crying while driving home from work. Stopped in traffic on Valencia Street, I wonder if anyone sees me. I put my hand to my face and feel dramatic. Then I think about how we are all on stage now with social media, or maybe it's just how it is being a girl, thinking about how you look even when you cry. That thought feels very un-feminist, and I push it away. Analyzing the crying makes me stop crying, but I try to squeeze out a few more small sobs because I can feel it in my chest all tight and kinetic. More than likely it's that I feel as if I am in a movie, that this is not my life, that this is not me driving down the street trying to cry in my car because my brother is dead, because I don't have a brother anymore, because I have no one to talk to about the smell of the rotten plums from my childhood. I poke at my insides with these thoughts as if they are a sore in my mouth.
Alexa! Play Poop in My Fingernails! says Ozzy when I get home, even though I asked him not to play that song. I take away his Alexa privileges but not before I hear, I wipe really hard, and my toilet paper is weak, sometimes I break right through and my fingernail is rubbing up against my poopy butt-cheek... How long is too long to not get over your brother dying? Oh, I know there is no right answer to that, and I know that even if there were, I am only 3 months out, so not even close to a time limit that doesn't exist. Still I feel like maybe I should get over it. Move on. Write about the way my hair feels now that it's long enough to brush against the tops of my shoulders, how Zoey is going to middle school next year. (!) I really don't want to be anyone's tragedy porn, but here I am, making jokes because grief is embarrassing, and because resting on it too long is annoying. Like the song says, you're never gunna get it completely clean, poop in my fingernails, poop in my fingernails. I grab Ozzy's hand and we dance, me hoping that him telling Alexa to play that particular ditty was a non-sequitur, not a segue of action into song.
Images of the incredible Chromatic Typewriter by artist Tyree Callahan, a conceptual art piece about the translation of art into words.