Sunday, September 22, 2013

It took me until today to listen to the This American Life episode about David Rakoff that originally aired on August 12, 2012. An episode with many of his essays and interviews, compiled after he passed away. He'd been on the show only three weeks earlier. And then he died. Of cancer. [Because who doesn't?] On August 9th, 2012. Driving home tonight, the moon was no longer full, but it was huge, bouncing around from palm tree to palm tree, hanging over Hollywood, a spotlight, yellow-orange, a ghost, on this day which is, for me, filled with many ghosts. I remember that one of the first things I ever told my therapist is that I hate September 22nd more than any other day. I remember that she told me, September 22nd is my wedding anniversary. I felt bad. I wasn't saying that I hated her wedding anniversary. September 22nd is, every year, the first day of fall. On September 22nd, I begin to notice leaves changing color. Even here in Los Angeles. My jalapeƱo plant, yellowing slightly, the end of its season. I see in my head the image of leaves falling in that graveyard in Connecticut, where my grandfather is no longer buried. A story I can't tell without betraying my hatred toward a lot of things and people I shouldn't hate. It is a tradition in my religion to bring a stone with you to the cemetery, to place it on the tombstone of the person you're visiting. I did this this summer in Ohio. The small cemetery we finally located off the side of a rural highway south of Logan. Where my grandmother's parents are buried. Died six months apart in 1931.

It took me until today to listen to the This American Life episode about David Rakoff because incredible people seem to always die far too soon. It's not that I'd even lost Jake when this episode aired. In fact, I'd just seen him two days before this episode went on the radio, on his 40th birthday. It's that I knew that if I heard David Rakoff's familiar voice again after he was gone, I'd hate radio. Even if just for a moment, I'd hate the thing that brought this person I never knew into my life, then took him away. This is child like logic. This American Life even did an episode about that once. But really, because the radio was where I knew Rakoff, then the radio is what took him away. And I didn't want to hate the radio. Because I love radio. I love radio as much as I love books. Sometimes I drive around the country, around my state, around my hometown, listening to radio and I think to myself, goddamn, I love radio. I love radio and radio is what I should be doing with my life. No more teaching. No more school. I need to be in radio.

I saw my best friend go on as Hermia today in A Midsummer Night's Dream. We did that play in high school. I remember everyone's role from back then. I think about how Cobweb didn't make it. Took himself from us. Incredible people seem to always die far too soon. I picture the person I've spent the last 11 years loving, dressed in his fairy costume, all blue and green, waiting backstage.

When I finally listened to the David Rakoff episode of This American Life today, I noticed how sad Ira sounded. But also how confident, and calm, and together. I imagined that he must have been completely devastated. And I've heard him be devastated on the radio before. But in this episode he sounded strong. I had just listened to another older episode right before this one. #470. Show Me The Way. About a teenage boy who had no friends. Who was excluded for being different. Who ran away to the home of his favorite sci-fi writer. At the end of this story, one of the storytellers reads a quote from that famous sci-fi writer that the writer wrote in the back of one of his books in his author's note: One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we're not that way from perversity. And we cannot just relax and let it go. We've learned to cope in ways you never had to.

I started sobbing at the end of that story. Driving through the canyons up to the theater in Topanga, I broke down and cried. But I didn't cry because I felt bad for myself for being someone who identified with this sentiment. I cried because of and above all survivors. And I cried because, at exactly that moment, I drove by a parking lot I'd forgotten about. The only other time I'd been in Topanga. Over three years ago, right around my birthday with the person I loved. I remember that I was disappointed. Because I'd wanted real nature. This was before I knew that the mountains I grew up in couldn't be found in the greater Los Angeles area. And I was disappointed because still, after all these years, one plus one wasn't adding up to enough.

As I watched my friend perform brilliantly today in a play I've seen more than any other, I saw all my old friends on that stage with her. I saw my other best friend, who always kills as Puck. I saw high school versions of everyone. And of myself. I was an usher for that play, I think. I watched from the last row, every night. I remember the drama that went down when the cast list first went up. I don't know where half those people are, now. But for a second, they were all on stage in the canyon.

Lately I've been having this thought. It's not really fully formed. And it feels cruel. Like a betrayal of my heart. Or like the exact opposite of a betrayal, which is a betrayal in itself. My life is bigger than everything that's happened to me. My life is bigger than this person I've spent my life imagining the rest of my life with.

The thing about the David Rakoff episode of This American Life that really gets me is that David is still alive in all those clips that were compiled after he died. If you'd never heard him on This American Life before, you could go to that episode and get so much of him all at once. And only after he'd passed away. Before that, he was scattered moments on different shows, small but powerful essays here and there over the years. It didn't hurt me to listen to that episode tonight like I'd thought it would. It made me happy. David Rakoff left behind so many beautiful words for the rest of us, that it felt wrong to be upset while listening to them. Because his life and his work were both bigger than him, and yet he was somehow as big as those things. Came to meet the largeness of his life, in his death, and in that way, created something infinite. I can only say this because I didn't lose him personally. And I'm sure, having lost a hugely important figure in my life personally, that it's different for those who knew him. But this realization about life and size is an important one to me.

After one of the essays included in the David Rakoff episode, they play Madonna's "Like A Prayer" in the background. It came on right as I was leaving Hollywood to get onto the highway home. I saw the moon stuck between two palm trees, bright. I remembered a video my friend made this summer. It's set to this song. I'm in it. Splashing in the watering hole where my grandmother used to swim, somewhere off the side of a rural highway south of Logan. And when I think of that video, and of the person who made it, my life feels bigger than me. And I feel bigger than these things I've been through. And I feel like something more than just a survivor. I feel like I can be a creator. Like I can move forward into the largeness and let myself go.


Abbi said...

So, I stumbled across this due to facebook, and I have to say: this is beautiful. And I'm now feeling really emotional. So, thanks.

(Not sarcasm. I don't know if that came across.)

Ali Rachel Pearl said...

Haha, thanks, Abbi. That's sweet of you to say :)