After Nick died I tried to drown myself in booze. I drank and drank and drank. I grew scales. I became unable to walk on land. I became water.
Water to a comet. Nick was my comet. My starlight raging through the night sky. The celestial body which drew my center of gravity off-kilter. His living affected my orbit. How could his death not?
At night in dreams Nick haunted me, and I wanted to be haunted. I wanted his ghost body next to mine since his human body was rotting away, slowly working to make a return to earth, becoming food for worms and microbes, in his natural-burial resting spot on my family land.
But more than wanting his ghost body near me, I wanted to be worms, I wanted to be microbes.
Nick shot himself in the face and I became a sea-going creature, one with tentacles where my arms had been and a tail instead of legs. I had a hard time surviving on dry land. Every waking hour was spent dousing myself in libations. Tears anointed the outside, booze assuaged the inside.
When Nick died I was quite sure I did not want to survive the event. I wanted to be the mushroom spores in the casket designed to consume his body and turn it to another form. When Nick died I wanted to die too.
When Nick died I buried my heart – made of cinnamon bark and tears, and filled with shreds and threads and leather bands and beads and – almost – my fingernail clippings, and spells and an orgasm and my breath – with him. I buried my breath with him. I buried my heart and my desire and my will to live.
The fucked up thing when a forever person kills themself and a community mourns is that you might find yourself wanting to kill yourself too, but if you give a shit at all you know that you cannot because you know how you feel and you see the devastation left in the wake of suicide and if you care at all you know you cannot opt out because you would just be passing the pain along.
After Nick died we held day-long wakes on Zoom where we cried for hours and laughed occasionally and made each other promise not to die. At least not now. At least not by our own hand. At least not yet.
After Nick died we sat by his decomposing body for days in a well-ventilated barn. The subtle stink was inelegant but grounding. After Nick died I carried his casket. I bruised my leg. I got a tattoo.
Each bit of pain brought me closer to the life I felt distinct from. Each risk, each parasuicidal note, brought me back to living.
The tattoo was of a Pabst Blue Ribbon label (his beer, my beer, our beer) with the words “Nick Forever” and the years of his birth and death. I got it on my right bicep. I got it against my spouse’s protestations. I got it despite the pandemic.
It was about a week out from the news of Nick’s death.
“How can you be thinking of getting a tattoo in the midst of COVID?”, my spouse asked over the phone as I sat in my car, where I was sleeping having come home for the funeral. “Are you trying to die?”
“Yes,” I whispered into the phone, my voice like wind in dry grasses, volume well below any risk of actually being heard.
Beneath the protestations about COVID were the deeper protestations about another lover’s name inked on my body, with no discussion, no negotiation.
I knew that I needed to do it. I needed the pain-kiss, the blood-letting, the permanent marking, the ritual, the release.
I made the appointment. I designed the tattoo. I went to the shop.
In the tattoo parlor on Thursday, my friend the tattoo artist had his face right next to mine as he worked on my upper arm, and I realized I probably was actually trying to kill myself without having to kill myself. And I decided that maybe I wanted to not die. Maybe.
But it was Saturday before I decided I for sure wanted to survive Nick. It was like a lock clicking into place. It had been ten days since I found out. I hadn’t inhabited my own skin except for moments in the intervening days.
COVID notwithstanding, I still went to the funeral. It was wet and grey and there were maybe 50 of us there (of the hundreds who loved him – the numbers had been limited due to the pandemic). We wore masks mostly. But being honest, most of us were drinking most of the day. Drinking and masks are not compatible.
We hugged each other. We held each other up on the slick ground. Some of us fell into the clay-slick mud, will to stand lacking and gravity so, so robust. Some of us wanted to dive into the deep, deep hole.
After an aching ceremony where we read poems or told stories or sang songs in the rain, over a crackling mic – which finally shorted out under the weight of water (kind of like my body), and threw dark tobacco, red roses, and flaxen hops on the hand-crafted white-pine casket (inside of which was my heart), we shoveled damp dirt into a too-deep hole. The rain fell on our funeral-proper outfits, now speckled in ochre clay, steam rising in the cold drizzle of a Northern California February day.
We buried our love.
After Nick died, and the burial was over, and all was said and done, I drove home to Humboldt to wait out the possible incubation period for COVID before going home to my family. I hid myself in a mermaid’s grotto. It was a tiny, shoebox Air BnB. The walls shimmered in opalescent blues and seafoam greens and foamy whites. The light, shining through bottle-glass windows, was translucent. The electronic fire in the high-tech, wall-mounted furnace, which warded the damp and cool February Humboldt air off my languishing body, was blue.
I was submerged. My tattoo was peeling. My scales were shedding.
I woke in the night with tears streaming. I woke in the morning gasping for air. I woke and reached for the open PBR can next to the bed, and drank. I drank with the first light, and the last. I drank while I skipped class. I drank while I skipped meals.
Then I drank while I attended class, via Zoom, flailing to salvage my grad school straight As; PBR in a coffee mug.
I was grateful to hide in this watery den. I didn’t want to have to try to pretend I was human. My sea creature form bloated, grew whale-like.
I turned 50 four months after Nick died. My first realization was of survivor guilt. Not just Nick, but so many of my loved ones who fell before their time, so many shooting stars buried in the firmament.
At my birthday party, held in the precious moment post-vaccination and pre-Delta variant, I poured libations on the ground as an offering to my beloved dead. I made an altar in my heart to my dead lovers. Then I made an altar in my room (of one’s own) to my dead lovers. Then I made an offering of my life to the fact that I am still breathing.
Then I gave up drinking.
It’s been nine months since Nick died. My fish-tail is slowly growing back into legs. Every step aches.
About the author:
Lasara Firefox Allen, MSW, (they/them/Mx) is a writer, Witch, nonprofit executive director, and coach. Lasara currently resides in Oakland, with/in the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Ohlone people. Lasara practices from an intersectional and anti-oppression-focused feminist framework. They are a co-conspirator for our collective liberation. Find out more at: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.