This starts out about one thing, and then becomes about some other things, but ultimately is all the same business.
Today Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic sudden death from an apparent heroin overdose has been all over my social media feeds, vastly overwhelming the Superbowl (or Puppy Bowl)-related posts, or the usual buzz of “come see my show!” and “my friends are/this food is really phenomenal.” Instead, my friends–many, many of them actors and directors–are posting clips from his films, photos of him, even fond memories of meeting or knowing him. He was one of the most universally admired actors of our time. I have by no means seen his entire body of work (I kept saying I would wait until I finally read In Cold Blood before watching Capote), but have always greatly respected him. Synecdoche, New York is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I thought about what to post, what to say. I kept scrolling through my feed.
And there, nestled amid the PSH posts, and the sports talk, and the usual business, were a couple of posts from members of my family. Three years ago in early February, my cousin Denise died suddenly. We saw each other rarely and were not close; she lived in Alabama, and was about fourteen years my senior. But I remember vividly the last time I saw her, a family gathering down South a few years ago. She was a kind woman. A nurse. Two young children.
I don’t recall the medical details, just the mental image that flooded me as I cried into the telephone: a woman alone in a hospital bathroom, falling to the ground.
I didn’t really know her, barely at all, not enough for the phrase “missing her” to make any sense. But I see the words written by her younger child, now, I think, in the seventh grade, and weep. I think my own strange thoughts:
Sometimes when I’m lying in bed with you and you’re asleep, I stare at your body, waiting for the next slow breath of deep sleeping, and when it comes I realize I’ve been holding mine, heart racing, because any one of us could die at any second, but if it was you, if it was you I think every bone in my body would break at once, giant carrion birds tearing through my mouth for weeping. Every screen would go dark, a last twitch of static spelling out your name. The sun, burning out and dropping, like a peach pit in the snow.