“Do you remember our first / January at Eagle Pond, / the coldest in a century? / It dropped to thirty-eight below— / with no furnace, no storm / windows or insulation. / We sat reading or writing / in our two big chairs, either / side of the Glenwood, / and made love on the floor / with the stove open and roaring. / You were twenty-eight. / If someone had told us then / you would die in nineteen years, / would it have sounded / like almost enough time?”
“You’d find certain archetypes that would appear no matter what. For instance, the haunted merchant’s house in New York plays off the mythology of the unmarried woman, the spinster, as does the Winchester House. Things like this would crop up unexpectedly across the country, despite their radically different places and stories and cultures.”
My latest partner in the ERV speaks with a Dixie drawl. Val is not her real name. Born in Missouri, reared in Flint, she has lived here over forty years. A former nurse in her late fifties or early sixties, she reminds me of my Aunt Doris; the cigarettes, dry barking laugh, dip of the chin inviting flirtation, conspiracy, or both. She is among the first residents hired by the state to keep the city supplied with potable water. Standpipes, I call them, people who bypass compromised plumbing, conveying the most basic of needs into Flint homes.
Diski’s essays on death hold these things together brilliantly, somehow even beautifully. Her writing, which weaves without warning between a methodical, detailed account of treatment and the daily life of the dying and more ethereal, abstract passages, suggests the experience of losing lucidity and finding it again that a drugged body undergoes. It is to the LRB’s credit that they let Diski, who has been writing regularly for the publication since 1992, do whatever she damn well pleased. And in this way, Diski transcends her clinical status as body-cum-puzzle-piece to be wedged in a machine; she is throughout an active observer and writing subject, who tells us on the other side of chemo that, “the entire process makes me think of clubbing baby seals.”
Once upon a time a boy named Bobby Watson drowned at my summer camp. This was in 1968. Thirteen-year-old Bobby had been playing an all-camp game of hide-n-seek when he spotted an old Kenmore refrigerator stationed on the far side of the docks. Indeed, it was a peculiar place for a fridge, but Bobby never questioned it; after all, where others saw a fridge he saw a perfect place to hide. He pulled the door wide (caree-eeek), and then pulled it closed behind him (click).