I’ve returned to Provincetown after seven weeks away. I left on a warm morning, still summer, the town fully alive. It’s disconcerting to return after the season has turned. It’s cool, if not actually cold, and the sky has shifted toward winter’s depth. Fast on the way to gold, the salt marsh’s vivid green is gone; and while town isn’t shuttered, it’s sleepy. Summer’s vibrancy has passed.
While I was away, the bells in the library’s spire were fixed. Their toll, especially as the sun falls, evokes a particular sorrow.
I left in a hurry. Anthony called me on September 2d to tell me that Kurt was in the hospital. After some internal consternation, haphazardly I packed a bag and drove to Providence. A week later, fully knowing that I’d be in Providence for some time, I returned overnight to collect a few forgotten things. The next few weeks were oddly orderly; in the mornings with unusual focus I attended to chores, the afternoons and early evenings spent at the hospital.
Kurt died in the last hours of summer. It’s now Halloween.
It’s not actually Halloween. It’s the weekend before Halloween, one of those strange weekends when recreation and commerce conspire to indeterminately extend a holiday, unmooring it from its fixed place. I have walked directly from Labor Day into a week of Halloween. The interval between these holidays alternately feels ephemeral and devastatingly real.
Ancient Gaelic people celebrated these days as Samhain, a festival that marked the point between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, acknowledging our passage into darkness. Some suggest that it’s the moment when the veil between worlds, between the living and the dead, is at its thinnest. Others call it the day of the dead.
The structured days of Kurt’s hospitalization, as well as those leading to his memorial, are gone. I thought I’d faced my grief and moved past its potency. Now, having returned to the place I stood before his illness overtook my consciousness, grief has a renewed poignancy. It’s not just grief for Kurt. It’s grief for everything that is no more, what never was, and for all expired hope. I am back to the rhythm of my life; yet I can never go back to my life as it was, to what I simply want it to be. It’s confusing. It is sad.
I suppose this is what grief is.
Ten days before he died, I asked him if he remembered how we met. I don’t know why I asked the question, although I’d accept two answers. I may have been testing his coherence. I may have been looking for him to acknowledge my place in his life. Both are probably true.
With some annoyance, he answered, Of course I do. He then proceeded to give me three answers that were wrong. I corrected him, told him my recollection. He agreed that I was right, and we let it go.
One of his initial answers was, In Provincetown. I held onto that for a while, wondering if, perhaps, I’d been wrong. I wanted to be wrong. Yet, I only have one recollection of being in Provincetown with Kurt, dancing in the middle of the night to the B-52s in some bar that no longer exists. And I’m certain that happened after the first time we broke up.
A few hours after I asked him, driving home from the hospital, I realized something that I’d forgotten. Kurt wasn’t wrong. At least not exactly. He’d seen me in those three places, he’d taken note of me in Provincetown the summer before we actually met. He’d been conscious of me for several months before I was conscious of him.
And now, a month after his consciousness has passed, I remain conscious of him.