By the time Howard O’Brien died of bladder cancer I had already figured him dead. By the time I learned he was dead, the tasks of building his memory house were well underway; there was a party in there I couldn’t get into.
He had stopped answering emails; his voicemail was full. I’d grown accustomed to thinking that these were the real handles by which a person was grabbed, like luggage off a carousel (for unpacking later).
The lags in understanding indicate that I have a space in me ready to make room for death, a space prior to/apart from death itself.
There’s this idea of the Unspeakable; we act like we’re foreign to the worst that can happen – but there may be rooms in us with the lights turned off, whole rooms we don’t know we have. We may not have words (lights on) but we have more space than we think – we’re living with all this potential hospitality. We’re built bigger than history; there is an inner architecture that accepts life as a stranger, as a guest, as a series of guests, beds for even the horrible heads.
Likewise this terrific repetition of Howard’s loss suggests that I’m in love with more than I know or understand – more can be taken from me than I realize. I don’t’ want to pretend that I love Howard like a brother, or even like a friend; I love him like a ghost or a problem or a movie star – abstractly. The pain in his loss then also teaches that I am irresponsible to love; I relate to my own love the way email relates to the world – notationally, electronically.
We an accommodate more than we think; we’re delinquent from more than we acknowledge
For about 30 years I’ve maintained that Howard’s one of the best playwrights I know… Not necessarily for the scripts he turned out, which are great – but more for the dare in his voice: “this (blasted, clotted thing) is drama because it starts deep and goes deeper, you fat f***.” Thinking so insistent that by the time it drops to the center of the earth, the whole world has changed, astrology has changed, we’re subject to changed fates and illiterate amidst the newly ordered signs in which we’re adrift.
Disaster may be unspeakable and unreadable and nonetheless lived, as specifically, splenetically, as O’Brien the bitter, potent elf.