Melanie Franklin Cohn
Cinco de Mayo
Miasma Closing Procession Performance
SIcoLab's Dubyaville Shantytown
LUMEN Fest 2011
What Passes Between
Alice Austen House
@Make_SI @JohnnyMDeVito @TimeOutNewYork @MsRemixt @StatenArts You've been quoted in my #Storify story "LUMEN 2013" http://t.co/P9MLj7gHNJ
RT @Earthdog56: @ the LUMEN event. Staten I has become very Williamsburgy tonight.
RT @woelfelz: The Lumen festival is one of the most creative and thought provoking things I've ever seen. What an awesome night, will be ba…
RT @JillWrites: Everyone in NYC should go to Lumen. Today. RT @melaco: LUMEN: A Staten Island art festival: http://t.co/X8tihstZVU
RT @creativetimeNYC: This Saturday is @StatenArts #LumenFest2013, performance & video art from 6pm til midnight. Last year was great fun! h…
Unveiling of the fish tanks, repairing damage after Sandy thanks to BP Molinaro and Chase Bank [pic]: http://t.co/O0003x8iJK
LUMEN: A Staten Island art festival: http://t.co/puyFRJqdil
Bump Lock https://t.co/CCbU0sXmWD
Carl Gallagher & the Off Track Bettors at Full Cup as part of @statenarts Summerfest! https://t.co/XVqsuijTWT
Leila Hegazy performing as part of @StatenArts Summerfest! (@ Full Cup w/ @gmimz) [pic]: http://t.co/WvcBJfwO0X
Leila Hegazy as part of Staten Island Arts Summerfest at Full Cup. https://t.co/W72yffoizT
One Story Gala at Roulette https://t.co/E1kGkYaJrD
A New Home for Staten Island Arts | Staten Island Tourism Officical Website: Visit Staten Island http://t.co/L3UUHCMoK7 via @sharethis
"Today is the anniversary of your death. Do you remember, when you were alive, telling me what you thought death might be like? I remember. I was so young, and growing up in Missouri. I hadn’t met anyone inclined to dream strange dreams and share them. That night it was as if the universe cracked open—I had found someone like myself. It was the first time in my eighteen years of life. I had thought I was the only one.
That night you said to me, 'Maybe when you die you are like a shell on a sandy beach. And you lie there reliving your life over and over. So your afterlife may be heaven or it may be hell. It depends on how you live your first life.'
2011 – 1989 = so many years. Twenty-two years.
If you are on some shore, reliving your life for a second time, we are together. We have just met. We are courting—those lovely wonderful days. Maybe we are near that night when you told me what you thought death might be like.
We have difficult times ahead. But we have wonderful times ahead, too. And I love you, I love you, I love you. I am too damn young in 1985. So silly, so selfish I don’t even realize it. And you, you are awful, too. Awful and brilliant and young. Too young to have had your life end so early.
Kelly , on your shore, at your 22nd birthday. Happy birthday, love. I am there with you, as a young girl. As your true love getting drunk on gin in a parking garage, listening to The Doors in your attic room, making out on a blanket on a patch of grass by a country road."
She met up with an old friend by accident. She was standing in a crowd, sharing a story about her attempt to "urban farm" by raising snails when she heard a snort. She knew it was Mike before she saw him, he had always greeted her crazy ideas with that sound and to her it held his appreciation and disbelief.
"Mike!" she greeted him, "it has been so long! What have you been doing?"
"Hanging out in libraries," he said.
"Reading?" and as she asked, it dawned on her that Mike had been dead for over five years.
"No, there's a lot of music in libraries. I'm there for the music."
"Huh. You look good, Mike," she said.
And he did, he was dressed in black, with bright, colored fabrics at his joints and peeking out from his collar, sleeves, and pant legs. Solid patches of red, yellow, purple, and blue, even his shoes were brightly colored.
"I want you to remember something," he said looking at her intently, "Make your life a series of excellent extinct moments. Excellent Extinct."
"Excellent Extinct," she repeated.
"Excellent Extinct," he said back to her.
She knew from experience that time with the dead is always very short, and she felt herself begin the journey back, movement like propelled air rushing at her feet. She reached to grasp his hand, but his arm simply fell away from his body. "I don't want to leave!" she thought. And the movement stopped. She could make the decision to stay. But then it occurred to her, "I have a child, I must go home to my boy." And she moved again, and then found herself conscious in bed.
"Make your life a series of excellent extinct moments," she said aloud. She had understood it as "distinct" when he said it, but as she repeated it she realized he had clearly said "extinct." She wasn't sure what it meant, although it struck her as Mike's humor. She got out of bed to find a pen and write it down before she forgot.
I was at a party with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and we were dancing. This meeting and flirting with strangers—a touch of a hand on a hip or a thigh, a meeting of eyes, a quick exchange of words—excited me, opening up all kinds of possibilities.
Then the building shook catastrophically, and I watched as it began to collapse. A girl was several feet away with a camera in hand, taking photos of the cracks developing in the ceiling, not realizing the danger.
‘Run to me!,’ I yelled, ‘Run to me! Run to me!’
I could see her imminent death under the falling concrete, I wanted to save her. She lowered the camera, but she was frozen in place. And it was then that I realized I was doomed too. There was no place to go, no time. She and I were fellow victims. I wasn’t expecting to die. I wasn’t ready. I looked up at the ceiling falling down on me.”
Sometimes having a child felt like she had put her DNA into a little paper boat, and that she was pushing it out into a stream to see how far it would make it. Go, kid, go. Keep the genetic material alive.
That’s part of it, she thought, at one level…passing the genes along. But there are the other parts. Like trying to share basic life lessons, the ones her parents had told to her and the ones hard-learned:
Need to make small talk, with your peers? Pop culture is a good starting point. Want popularity? Rebellion is key when you're young because kids want to be free of adult rule, but play it smart and keep yourself safe.
Things seem bad? Hang in there. Times will change, the tide will turn, it eventually gets better. When thing are at their worst, take joy wherever you can find it, even in the smallest things.
People are capable of the very worst behavior, but they are also capable of great kindness. You want to be ready for both—the worst and the best.
Try to be one of those who offers the best.
Most importantly remember that, no matter what, your mother always, always loves you.
"The last one. Is it most important? Perhaps, most important to me," she thought, "But why is that declaration of love, the inept attempt to capture all our caring and emotion into a sentiment, why is that often the final message we want to impart? Is the love we give, finally, what we believe is our biggest legacy?"
Years after Kelly's death, she had spent months reading books on grieving and death. Subconsciously, she was hoping to get a handle on death so that it could not hurt her like it had before. She poured over other people's experiences, reading about the five stages of grieving and how to accept the inevitable.
None of it helped her when her grandpa, father, grandma or her dearest friend Mike died. Her mind could logic things through at one level, but there was a whole other level of emotion that was left confused, and numb, and grieving, a part of her that couldn't make sense of it. And so the same lesson appears: people, of course, hurt you, even if it wasn't on purpose or intended. And trying to prepare yourself or protect yourself from that? Futility.
Her friend, Todd, told her about a chance meeting he had with his sister, with his nieces and nephew in tow, while he was out with a group of the college students he teaches. His students were excited to meet Todd's sister and one of them said to her, "You two are nothing alike!" And his sister responded, "Yes, I'm outgoing, but Todd has always been shy and withdrawn."
Not only were the students shocked (they were thinking the difference was more along the line of Todd's urban artiness and his sister's middle-Americaness), so were Todd's nieces and nephew. The Todd they knew was not shy. Their Todd was outgoing. He made friends easily and naturally. But the Todd his sister had in her mind was the one that had been frozen in time when they were growing up.
Like all of us, Todd's sister had a certain permutation of Todd that got caught in her mind. A person doesn't see it unless something--a wayward comment, a surprising moment--shocks them out of that view. But it wasn't only Todd's sister. Todd also felt that person inside himself, even though he knew that it was no longer who he was. His identification with his past self still hurt him as deeply as ever. And so the moment was painful for him, an unveiling in front of students and relatives that he would have preferred to remain hidden.
In a way, it reminded her of roaming around New York City. She was always surprised to see what buildings remained and what one's had come down, what businesses had made it after five, ten, fifteen years, and what one's had disappeared. She could never make accurate guesses beforehand as to these changes. The street scape reconfigures through some mix of rational and random causes and what is left is a pastiche of old and new.
Her own memory, which was pretty good, was a similar pastiche. Why do some memories stay so clear and easy to identify with, while others disappear as if they had never happened, and others change as new experiences are applied to the old and re-examined for meaning? She wondered if the memories we haul around with us for years--and their impact on our ideas of self--are our humanity?
She sometimes still has the urge to escape her own past, the things that have hurt her. But to lose the past completely is catastrophic.
She remembered a book her Aunt Kay had given her when she was in college. It was a book that encouraged internal reflection, suggesting great value in knowing oneself. The exercise that stuck in her mind was one where she was supposed to examine her future self: "Imagine yourself as you would like to be in ten years, and write down a description."
She remembered wanting to look impeccable and wanting to be aloof, so that no one could find fault with her. And even if they did, they would not penetrate her thick skin. This was perhaps typical of someone in their early 20s, at least certain someones, a desire not to be hurt by others, to be protected from the self-consciousness that is the plague of teenagers.
But having written down this ideal in a book, she had worked really hard to make it a reality. She created a habit of focusing upon her own self and on ways to protect herself instead of reaching out to others. But no matter how hard she tried, people would still get to her with a pointed comment. And she almost always felt others were better at things then she was (the world is filled with talented people, after all, more beautiful, more experienced, more successful).
Now, after all these years (twenty at least!), she believed that the strategies that she worked hard to put into place then, have acted against her. She would have been more enriched by looking outside herself to the culture and people that surrounded her.
The book itself is long missing.
She had a child almost five years ago, a boy. He was a delight and a challenge, as all young children are. Mothering didn't come naturally to her. In fact, the boy often went to his father when he needed comforting. But when he wanted adventure, when he wanted to learn how to tear something apart or put it together, it was her he came to. She would let him stray further away to explore the edges of his independence, to the place where he could see danger and test it, something her husband would never have done. She taught him to challenge authority, to think critically about his creations, to find outlets for his anger.
She was also hard on him. She held him accountable, held him responsible for his actions, ignored him when he threw a fit, stopped talking to him when he made her too angry. She would walk away if he threw himself down on the sidewalk, she would keep walking until he came running to catch up. She did not remind herself of her mother. She reminded herself of her father.
She was sad today for no reason. Perhaps it was the trip to SoHo and the nostalgia that came with it. Memories of days she had spent there flew past her, like someone fanning the pages of a book.
Was it a coincidence than that she received this poem from Kimba remembering their life together?
Brooklyn, Our Love a Memory 6/1/09
Brooklyn, it’s the curried goat, man, it’s the pall of BQE exhaust diffused in summer steam, the playful flat of a tar rooftop, the bubbles of gas from the fried Polish breakfast we shared, the walk, walk, walk upon the earth because I didn't get the bicycle off the fire escape that morning, the seductive smell of paint and plaster dust in cool spots of artist spaces, making sex talk, dreaming of green point green
Brooklyn, it’s the baseball bat by the door of your flat, it’s the rat ‘scapade along the edges of the L train stations of the cross, it’s the coin toss dropping in the horn player’s hat, it’s the great stew of black, Italian, Pole and Jew, it’s me and you together smiling, dragging our bags along the Bedford way, with a bead of sweat painting the film of dirt on your summer naked arms so pale, bitten twice
Brooklyn, it’s my bankruptcy, my salvation, my vision of beauty in a nightmare, it’s our unfair care for one another, domestic partners unknown to your mother, it’s the rainbow sticker on my leather case, it’s fireworks exploding in the East River on the Fourth, the taste of black powder blowing in the kitchen window, the landlord joking he would throw a Jew off the roof, proof we said nothing, roman candle
Brooklyn, it’s the queen size bed with two red heads, it’s the white tulle drape to bury our love, it’s the heat, the street, handle your big German feet, the pier without peer, it’s love on the edge of a child size porcelain sink, it’s a bottle of whiskey, a clawed leather couch, a stray who came in cause the screen was up while you were away, so he died in the outer wall crawlspace of our home, think pink, oily stink
Brooklyn, it’s a great bloody steak, a saint riding on a dozen shoulders like Italian cake, abandoned banks and pickle tanks, it’s the turkey smoke, a mountain of recycled poke, dust blowing off the top making you choke, your clean making you mean, the polyurethane plant, the invite to play crochet in the empty lots of cinder dust and chewed foam, it’s the beer, the fear, the me so queer, the fuss about us
She was not impressed by celebrities. She had observed the glow in other people's faces, heard the thrill in their voice, when they announced that they had just spotted Brad Pitt walking into a restaurant in SoHo. But, it was a response practically alien to her.
In truth, she rarely recognized famous people, although sometimes when she passed them in the street she would feel like they were someone she knew--perhaps a former classmate or someone from the gym. Once, after a ride in a NYC elevator, she had turned to a friend and commented on the beauty of the woman who had shared the ride with them. Her friend had laughed, "Of course she's beautiful! That was Naomi Campbell!"
There had been one or two times when she was awestruck. Once, when working on a museum exhibition, she had picked up the phone to find Patty Hearst on the line. An ache filled her chest, her eyes teared up, and she had to fight to keep her voice professional as she explained the loan form for an artwork Ms. Hearst was lending to the exhibition.
She had been a small child when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. Not even 10 years old when Hearst had faced trial for her acts as the "urban guerilla" Tania. Too young to understand the details of what had happened, she intuitively understood that this woman had made a radical break from the life she had been born into. It may have taken a kidnapping, but Hearst had been able to escape the life she had been straddled with. And this was a revelation to the young girl. This was something to admire. It was something already desired.
Reflecting back as an adult, she wondered why her childhood self--a country girl with good parents, clean air & clean clothes, a sense of safety--would have found this idea of extreme departure so exhilarating and ultimately necessary. Her childhood self had talked playmates into acting out the pretend game over and over again: You kidnap me, you brainwash me (don't let me escape!), and eventually we'll share adventures together.
The allure of breaking away would stay with her until she had completed her own substantial break with the world her parents had brought her into. Now she wondered, would it have happened at all without her childhood love of Patty Hearst?
She grew up in the country, a little red-haired thing. Her family had deep roots in Missouri, her great, great, great, grandfather had trapped in the territory and married her great, great, great, grandmother, a Native-American. She was always told that her great, great grandmother was the first white child born in the county, even though she was obviously only half-Caucasian.
Her grandparents were farmers and slaughtered hogs each fall on the day after Thanksgiving, when the weather was cold enough that the fresh meat wouldn't spoil if left outside. Even the children were expected to work on slaughtering day. She and her cousin would join the women in a cramped wood shed to clean the hogs' guts so they could be used as sausage casings. They'd try not to gag from the smell as they scraped the slimy, white translucent organs with a butter knife. Later the casings would be filled with ground pork that her grandmother had tasted raw to make sure the spice was right. And she would watch as her aunts and great aunts would tie the sausages into small paired links with quick twists of their wrists.
She felt that the last few months had aged her a lot. At the beginning of the summer she thought she could pass for 26 or 27, but now she looked well past 30. Haggard.
She was mourning a lot these days, with the rest of the world. She dreamt of family gatherings where everyone was happy. She'd catch the eyes of her father, grandmother, and grandfather and think how wonderful it was they were all together. Then it would hit. They are dead now. All dead. And in the dream she would cry until she was sobbing uncontrollably.
She had gone to New York City last weekend, after a three-day visit to Philadelphia. In a Goya-esque dream, she saw a huge brown bat hanging from a dead tree. She was lying down, so she turned over onto her stomach and covered her head to protect herself, in case the bat flew off. She heard the bats screech, as its wings unfurled. She heard it approach. Suddenly a heaviness landed on top of her. Warm. Furry. The bat had settled on her back. She was horrified.
In real life, she visited PS 1 and took in the Janet Cardiff survey. She entered a room there that housed the work Forty-Part Motet. It was a room set up with a circle of 40 separate speakers. Each speaker played a recording of a single voice singing a haunting choral song (based on the music Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis). The forty voices sing in unison, but as she walked around she could hear each different part, as if the singers surrounded her. The music coursed through her, it was healing.
As the initial impact wore off, she noticed that there were groups of people already in the room. They were listening so intently, meditating, soaking up the power of the work. She watched as others entered for the first time. Their faces would change as they came in, like a burden lifting for a moment or a pleasant memory that had escaped them for sometime bringing a light to their faces. It was possibly one of the most powerful art experiences she had ever had.
"'The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.' --Samuel Beckett
My grandmother died early this morning."
"So should I tell you that here I sit waiting for the subway, three weeks from my last trip to NYC, but in a new New York with a reconfigured skyline? It looks old fashioned now--you really notice the buildings on the southern tip of the island without the World Trade Center drawing your eyes up. It's a beautiful skyline still, but I miss those damn towers.
The hardest part of the trip was going in through Staten Island. We got to Arthur Kill and you could tell the landfill was active again. I looked up to the top of the landfill--made from years of NYC rubbish--and there sat crushed cars and pieces of metal and a fire engine, red and smashed. Suddenly, it was fresh again. The sight of that red fire truck on top of the Kills made the whole attack real again. Kim and I were both silent for several minutes after that, even though we'd been talking about our love for NYC and our desire and need to move back home. It stopped when we saw the top of the Fresh Kills.
And then on the BQE an old man, my parents’ age, with a missing picture on his car of a young man, probably his son. The guy was beautiful and successful and had worked at Canton Fitzgerald. And I looked at the man to see if I could see the loss in him, because I've always wondered if people can see it in me, but I couldn't. He looked normal and everyday. It's possible that he did look older and more tired then he had before, but I wouldn't know that about him. And I wondered at how well our skin covers our pain.
I met Tats at Broadway and Houston and we went and had dim sun. Then we went and played a video game at a local arcade, then on up to Deitch Projects to see Michelle's show, then back downtown where I got closer then I wanted. There were signs at the Canal Street Post Office--pictures with young and healthy people who were missing, notes of best wishes, flags. Once you hit Canal Street things became noticeably strange. Everything was quiet and fairly empty. There were people doing everyday things, but there were too many police and the streets were cordoned off and there were trucks loaded with metal bars and tubes that looked remarkably unextraordinary. And then we'd turn the corner and find a firehouse with tons of people around with video cameras and signs. Sometimes while we were walking, Tats leading the way and me stumbling like in a bad dream, I'd lose by bearings because the towers weren't there--just sky instead.
And then Tats took me to J&R, which made me a little mad because I didn't want to go that close, but he was insisting. And it was so quiet. And there were lots of police around and the only vehicles were official cars, vans, and trucks and an occasional ambulance. And Tats told me he had a friend that lived two blocks away and wouldn't be allowed back in his apartment for at least another month. And then we hugged good-bye and as I went to get on the subway as tourist came out and asked which way was downtown and I said, "You are downtown." And he said, "I want to find Broadway." And I pointed in the right direction and he and his family went that way and I wondered what in the hell they expected to see.
And then I headed to Williamsburg. I met with Mark and Mike and I drank four beers, which is unlike me but I felt I needed them. What was I trying to wipe out? Everything, I guess. On the way back upstate I had a fit. It started out with being angry. I didn't want the towers to be down and so many lives affected. That new sliver of sky that you can see walking down Broadway came back to me and it hurt like hell. I realized that now millions of people were hurting as much as I did after Kelly's death and I got angry again over that because it is so painful and why should so many people be hurting so much? And then more raging and crying with only the explanation that our skin covers so much pain, until Kim tells me to get a hold of myself and stop."
She worked very hard all weekend on sculptures for a series that used the last words people spoke before their death as a jumping off point. She was startled by how dark and disturbing the resulting creatures were--they had an unexpected presence to them. They were powerful, but they were also discomforting and she wasn't sure she liked them. When she remarked on it Kim said, "We know your sculptures come from a troubled place, but we are dealing with it the best we can." The statement surprised her. She had never thought of her art as coming from a troubled place.
She thought she might do a similar series based on words from her dreams. But given the dreams' nightmarish quality, she wasn't certain the sculptures would become any less unsettling.
She received her free student ID from Mejor Vida Corp., a Mexico City artist project that offers a variety of free products via the internet. She thought the products--including subway tickets, lottery tickets, and bar code stickers for cheaper groceries--were meant to protest discrimination because of income and race as found in government and corporate worlds, but she found the project more successful in terms of its playfulness then its political content.
After her swim she was struck by the realization that she was afraid of her own grief. Whenever she would begin to feel a wave of sadness come over her, she would put up a big mental roadblock. It took a lot of concentration for her to let herself feel the sadness. In order not to shove the emotion away, she would have to stop whatever she was doing, sit down, close her eyes, and be attentive to her feeling as she allowed it to well up inside her. Otherwise, a feeling of fear would come up right behind the grief and push it away out of her consiousness.
She felt the reaction must be in response to the heavy toll Kelly's death had taken on her years earlier. At some deep level, she must fear that her grief will be so great that if she let's herself experience it unchecked, it will destroy her world in the same way it did before.
She dreamed of her grandfather who had died two years ago. He laid on his bed at the house on Crest Drive. He was very ill and close to death. She was worried about him and wanted to spend time with him. She leaned down next to the bed. "Melanie," her grandfather said, "let your light shine through."
While she slept she heard a loud noise. She woke up convinced the ceiling had fallen in one of the rooms. She got up and began turning on lights in the house looking for signs of destruction. After looking downstairs, she went upstairs and opened the door to the guest bedroom. The cats sat on the floor watching a bat fly round and round near the ceiling. She screamed and slammed the door to the room. She didn't know what to do--it was 3:00 am, after all--so she went back into the bedroom.
She must have fallen asleep because she began to have a dream that she was at a family reunion. She saw a man in a National Guard uniform with all kinds of ribbons on his chest. Her heart leapt because she thought it was her father, but when she got closer she saw that it was her uncle. She realized her dad was dead and she began to cry. She woke up crying in her bed. As she looked up towards the ceiling, she saw a bat circling above her. She jumped up and grabbed it with one hand. Before she could do anything, it bit her between her thumb and index finger. She squeezed its neck until the bats eyes bulged out. It was then that she realized she was still dreaming.
When she woke up the next morning, she let the cats out of the room where the bat had been. There was no sign of it anywhere. She grabbed her swimming suit to go to the gym. When she got out to the car, she noticed the driver's side door wasn't completely closed. As she looked inside, she realized that everything in the car had been opened and ransacked. The contents of the glove compartment were on the floor, cassette tapes and maps were everywhere, the ashtray was open, and even the door to the fuse box had been torn off. Someone had been in the car, but after a quick run down she could find nothing missing. She got in the driver's seat, put everything back in its place, and went to the pool.
Last night she packed for a weekend on the Jersey shore. As she rummaged through her bags, she came upon a piece of paper with a note she had written on the plane to Missouri a few weeks before:
“There’s a lot of fear with death. My heart is hurting. It has been since the call yesterday—that urgent message on my answering machine that told me something was wrong. My heart hurts like it is tight and small and cold in my chest. Hard like a rock, but painful.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. My shoulders held their tension fighting my intentions to try and relax. And then after napping fitfully for a half hour, my back got ice cold. At one point during the night I got confused. Dad dead or not dead? A dream? Reality? I got up to use the restroom and I heard a sound—a rhythmical swishing outside. I looked out and saw a blur of orange, a boy riding his bike around in circles in the street. It must have been 3:00 am. I went to get my glasses so I could see more clearly, but when I got back he was gone and the focus made me dizzy. I took the glasses off, returned them to their case, and went back to bed where Cleo and Kim were sleeping.
Dad had called me Friday night. I answered the phone and it was he. It surprised me. He never called. It was always Mom. It made me happy to hear from him. He was planning the trip out to see me the first week of July. We were going to fix the roof on the garage. I was going to make dinner for them—the virgin run of the mud oven—and show him the makeshift wine cellar I had installed. I thought he’d get a kick out of it—it showed how we were similar in the joy we both got from working hard, solving problems, and making things that were unusual, and yet different in our tastes and interests.
At the end of the conversation we said goodbye and I got in a quick, “I love you, Dad.” I’m glad I did.
I don’t like death, but I know it is always with us. I learned that with Kelly. No one is immune; we could all be brought down by the end of the day by some little misstep or by something larger, more inevitable. And we never know who or when. I try to remember it always. I try to hold people in my mind when I see them. I try to hold onto them because I know they might be gone next time I look. But sometimes I mess up—I forget, get rushed, get self-involved, or whatever. And other times I remember, but it’s just not enough.
It’s Midwest below me. There are fields for miles with farmhouses and very small towns scattered around. It’s on a grid system for as far as the eye can see. I guess the grids are roads. The grid is broken up by a patchwork quilt of fields in dark green, brown, and pale dirty yellow. Sometimes a diagonal road or river breaks the order. It’s beautiful really.”
The fog had begun to lift for her. She felt as though she had not really been a part of life for the past three weeks. Instead, it felt as though her memories were from watching a show on late-night T.V. She still had a hard time believing that any of it had really happened.
Most of the time, the travel mug was a quiet companion. But sometimes, after she filled it with hot tea or fizzy water, it would begin to chirp like an injured bird or a lonely insect.
On her way back to Syracuse last Sunday, she had caught a cold. Some opportunistic virus in the recirculating air of the airplane cabin had found her. Since she had not been eating or sleeping well for the past week and had undergone a lot of stress, she proved an excellent host and breeding ground for the virus. Her immune system was shot, so the virus went about its business of hooking into cells and using them as a mini-factory to replicate itself a million times. She was soon quite ill with a sore throat, cough, and congestion. Her body felt like it had been pummeled inside and out. She felt miserable. It was one of the worst colds she had ever had. Each day she hoped to feel better, but the illness hung in with no signs of change.
On Thursday night she spoke with her Mom. Her Mom asked her how she was and she answered, "It's hard to tell with this cold. I think I'd be fine if I could just get well." It was then that she understood that she could not distinguish between how bad she was feeling because of a virus and how bad she was feeling because of the death of her Father. She could not discern whether her lack of appetite, inability to sleep, tightness in the chest, lethargy, weakness, headache, dry mouth, and so on was caused by the illness or grief. However, at some point her mind had decided that if she were to get over the illness she would be completely back to normal. This was a type of denial, an avoidance of the truth, she realized. Even when the illness was gone, she might still feel horrible. In fact, the symptoms caused by grief could be the exact reason why this was the worst cold she ever had and why it seemed there were no signs she was getting better.
During the week, she had taken to carrying around a red plastic travel mug. She was continuously thirsty, so it made sense that she would have the mug with her at all times. But this mug held special significance and it was because of this that she made certain it was never out of reach. It was this travel mug that she had filled with coffee for her Dad on the morning her parents returned to Missouri after visiting her for a week last summer. She had given him the mug that morning--even though her Dad had said it wasn't necessary--as a way of showing her love for him, her desire to take care of him, in the same way he had done by working on her house during the visit. He had returned the mug to her during her Christmas visit. Now she carried it with her everywhere as a tangible reminder of their connection.
Since her father had died, people--even those she barely knew--had begun to tell her stories of when their fathers had died. Many of them shared memories of fathers who had died too young, by cancers, car accidents, or sudden heart attacks.
One woman's story particularly touched her. When this woman was a young girl, her father had died in a plane crash. The woman had turned twelve the week before and her last real memories of him were from her birthday dinner where they had dined at the best restaurant in their small town. The restaurant had a ballroom and the two of them had danced to music performed by a local band. Soon after her father’s death, her mother sent her and her two younger siblings to a friend's house to stay while she took care of practical matters. When the girl finally returned home, she found that her mother had cleaned out all the closets in the house and many of her own things--old clothes, shoes, and toys--were gone. She was immediately struck with the fear that her mother was preparing to send her away now that her father was dead.
"Of course, I had it all wrong. My Mom was just trying to get things in order," the woman laughed, "Now, I'm struck by the funny things that went through my head."
But, the reflection of that young girl--so affected by her father's death that she believed her mother might also abandon her--could still be seen in the woman all these years later as she sat shaking her head at the memory.
Her father's heart stopped on June 17th, Father's Day. Her mother called 911 and did CPR until the ambulance came, but he never regained consciousness and by the next morning he was gone.
She had tried to get out of Syracuse as soon as she heard the news on Sunday night, but all the planes had left so she had to wait until the next morning. She knew her Dad wouldn't have known she was there anyway, but she wanted to be with her Mom and brother. It was the first time she had ever felt that she needed to live closer to her family home.
The week was painful, even with the numbness and shock that comes with an unexpected death. She had a hard time believing her Dad was gone. She had just spoken with him on Friday night and her parents had been planning a trip to Syracuse for the first week of July. She and her Dad had planned on saving the detached garage that sat rotting behind the house she had bought last August.
Her feelings of loss were magnified in her Mother, who had lost a life partner. She hated the thought of her Mom going through the brutal process of grief. She knew the next year would be hell for her and that it would take several years for her Mom's life to begin to feel normal again. Even then there would be a hole where Dad had been.
Her Dad, who had always had plans and energy and a love for life, lay gray-faced in the oak coffin chosen for him. He had a strange, closed-lip smile on his face. She kissed him on the forehead and then felt ridiculous for touching her lips to a corpse. It was too late to say good-bye.
On the day of the funeral, she wore the dress her Mother had worn to her Grandpa's funeral two years before. He had also died near Father's Day. It seemed to her that in her family, the Hallmark holiday to remember Dad's had become the day to bury them.
She found a site where artist Francis Alÿs is sharing his diary about not going to the Venice Biennale.
23 hours ago in Brooklyn, NY
23 hours ago
23 hours ago
@Panini Grill (538 Forest Ave)30 hours ago
@Joe's Shanghai 鹿鸣春 (9 Pell St)2 days ago
@Lyons Pool (20 Victory Blvd)3 days ago
@Lyons Pool (20 Victory Blvd)4 days ago
@Staten Island Ferry - St. George Terminal (1 Bay St)5 days ago
@Lincoln Center Plaza (Josie Robertson Plaza) (Columbus Ave.)6 days ago
@Connecticut Muffin (209 Prospect Park W)8 days ago
@Convivium Osteria (68 5th Ave)9 days ago
@Terroir Park Slope (284 5th Ave)9 days ago
@Full Cup (388 Van Duzer St)9 days ago
@Brook Vin (381 7th Ave)11 days ago
@Roulette (509 Atlantic Ave)12 days ago
@Connecticut Muffin (209 Prospect Park W)2 weeks ago
@60 bay street (Bay street)2 weeks ago
@Everthing Goes Cafe and Bookstore (208 Bay St)2 weeks ago
@Tompkinsville Park (Tompkinsville Park)2 weeks ago
@Ade Olisa Art Gallery (100 Beach street)2 weeks ago
@Park hill projects (141 Park Hill Ave)2 weeks ago
Melanie Franklin Cohn is an arts administrator and
curator. She is the Executive Director of the Council on the Arts
and Humanities for Staten Island and serves on the Advisory Committee for the
Urban Art Program for the New York City Department of Transportation. She spent
a total of seven years at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, beginning as a
curatorial administrator in 1996 and working up to the position of head of the
museum's publication program. She has edited major publications for the New
Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard
College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; and Creative Time, New York, among
Melanie has curated many exhibitions including the upcoming "Trans(Art)mation" (September 2011) at 601 Tully Project, Syracuse University; "Counter Culture" (2004) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, featuring site-specific installations on the Bowery; "Club 57: Where Are You?" (2005), a one-person show of Harvey Wang's photographs of the East Village from 1973-1982; and the zine and internet portions of the New Museum exhibition "alt.youth.media" (1996).