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Appreciating the Void

When I see her, she looks like Santa Muerte dressed as the Virgin Mary in those robes designed after Isis' in an iconic Byzantine pose. So, she looks like Santa Muerte, who is what else but a pretend skeleton dressed up as her. I always thought her appearance--her gender even, and her anthropomorphism--were personalized just for me, based on my own arbitrary cultural associations and life experiences, that everyone else must see her differently, because she is actual disembodiment itself, but sometimes I read or hear a similar description of her by someone who has never met me, and my fragile flesh breaks out in goosebumps.

She is always here, no matter how we dress her bones, whether we appreciate her or not.

neon art by Martin Creed

I met her in a Mexican meat market once, and she stole my breath. I choked on my own disbelief.

She has no eyes, but she has frozen me with her gaze from inside the blank stare of a neglected child, the deadened flesh-mask of a drug addict, a loved one locked up inside of a disease that takes the mind and sometimes the heart before the whole body, dementia or psychosis or violent conspiracy. She taunts me with the slim chance that they will come back, maybe for a long time, maybe for a moment, or maybe never, and maybe if I wait too long to find out, it will be too late for me too, for my child and others who depend upon me to keep them safe from this walking death sickness.

She smiled at me from a newspaper once--surprise, your favorite middle school student and his mom were killed instantly by a drunk driver in broad daylight in your childhood neighborhood--and I was so startled I paid and walked away from the deli counter without my lunch and didn't remember I hadn't eaten until I was already back at work.

She came to me in childbed after a night and a day and another night of labor and held my left hand, just in case. I tried to kick her away and struck a nurse instead.

I saw her in a dream last week, and her breath smelled like my friend from college who I'll never see again. When I woke up I cried all morning, not because I miss him, not exactly, but because her insatiable hunger for hope and potential and redemption sucked out all the warmth inside of me, and it took all my strength to replace it so I could go on for my daughter, my husband, my friends, my own precious and fleeting self.

She is the ultimate betrayal and the only certain cure. She leaves eviscerating sadness in her wake, but also she is painlessness, silence, a rest so profound that it can seem like softness when everything else gets too hard.

She used to be a familiar guest in every family until we learned how to forget. In revenge she takes payment in $1 bills, US tender only, dry and rustling. She tucks them between her shameless ribs and offers in return a cold, blank space big enough for any hopeless delusion or sugared lie. Big enough to provide the feeling of having earned or paid for something we cannot lose.

Me, I thought I was too intelligent to get angry at her. Not to be afraid of her--everyone feels that way sometimes. We're wired that way. It doesn't make any sense to rage at her, but here I am, kicking at her face when she gets too close. I'm too attached to being alive, I guess. Entitled. Covetous of what I feel she has stolen from me, though none of it was ever mine to keep. I know better, though I don't always feel better.

She is heartless and mindless and none of us could live without her. She is the windfall apples wasting their sweetness, the mystery of the mushroom that appears overnight, the power of a sea change, the compost that feeds green shoots. She gives back more than she takes. But for how long?

One day she won't. One morning the sun won't rise. The day that isn't a day, she will no more tend her morbid crops, and all suffering will cease. All problems will disappear. One by one or all at once, she will take us all with her, whether we appreciate her or not, and we will all be together again, everywhere or nowhere or somewhere else than that, in the place where my college friend went first to wait for us, bravely or insanely, if there is even a difference. She can't be that bad, really. At her core, she is nothing. And in the end, she will be alright.

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