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Don't Let Me Be LonelyAn American Lyric
By Claudia Rankine
Graywolf PressCopyright © 2004 Claudia Rankine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLife is a form of hope? If you are hopeful. Maybe hope is the same as breath-part of what it means to be human and alive. Or maybe hoping is the same as waiting. It can be futile. Waiting for what? For a life to begin. I am here. And I am still lonely. Then all life is a form of waiting, but it is the waiting of loneliness. One waits to recognize the other, to see the other as one sees the self. Levinas writes, "The subject who speaks is situated in relation to the other. This privilege of the other ceases to be incomprehensible once we admit that the first fact of existence is neither being in itself nor being for itself but being for the other, in other words, that human existence is a creature. By offering a word, the subject putting himself forward lays himself open and, in a sense, prays." When she comes toward me I stiffen. But it's all right. It's nothing. The pamphlet says in bold letters, BE LIKE JESUS. Because I was brought up this way, I wait two blocks before tossing it. Be your own Christ. I'll remember that or I remember that. As if it were a soul memory, I say aloud to Neo, be like Jesus. I am on my way home from seeing The Matrix Reloaded. The film's superhero, Neo, can't save anyone; Morpheus will have to have another dream: the one in which salvation narratives are passé; the one in which people live no matter what you dream; the one in which people die no matter what you dream; or no matter what, you dream- Because the foundations for loneliness begin in the dreamscapes you create. Their resemblance to reality reflects disappointment first. Then my father dies and I cannot attend the funeral. It is not possible. I telephone my mother. We speak daily. I recommend cremation. I defend my recommendation. I send flowers. What I want to send is a replacement mourner. It seems odd that I can neither rent nor buy this; no grieving service is available. I mention this to a friend. She says that as her father's funeral in China they hired many mourners-the more mourners, the better. Many, many mourners show many, many dollars, she explains. At night I dream about my replacement mourner, a woman. She has lost her mother years before and because she is already grieving she just continues attending funerals for a price. Like a wet nurse, the prerequisite is a state of "already grief." Still, all the narrative control in the world does not offer me insight into her occupation. One creates her motivations and her tears, but cannot understand why she stays by the corpse-"with him" is the phrase no one utters, especially not with him "gone." Or one looks into the mourner's face and wants life to matter more. In the dream we talk about what a lonely occupation she has chosen. No, she says, you, you are the one with the lonely occupation. Death follows you into your dreams. The loneliness in death is second to the loneliness of life. She's dying? From somewhere my sister, this character, hears this. Is she dead? She wakes to find herself wet; her nightgown wet, her face wet. Night sweats. In the day she understands. The pills say this is a possible side effect. They say in order to block pain sensations from being sent to the brain other things can happen. Nocturnal hyperhydrosis or night sweats happen. She calls me. No hello. Night sweats. Oh, the Zoloft? At 2:47 a.m. she wakes beneath the wet sheet and decides to take a cold shower. On her way to the bathroom she turns on the television. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him." Saddam Hussein has been discovered in a hole in the ground. Someone with latex gloves has a tongue depressor in Hussein's mouth. The inside of his mouth looks very red. She pauses because this is meant to be important. It is supposed to mean something about peace. The newscaster, speaking very quickly, hopes this will be the end of the killings in Iraq. He says something else about the tongue depressor, but the shower drowns him out. She closes her eyes against the water beating down. Would the natural coldness of the earth prevent night sweats? she wonders. Would a spider hole be considered a homeopathic cure for feeling like a corpse? (Continues...)
Excerpted from Don't Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine Copyright © 2004 by Claudia Rankine. Excerpted by permission.
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