California, 17 Sep 2015.
I have a very lousy memory. I can’t really remember what I had for lunch yesterday. Or what was the chapter of the book I was reading about a few hours ago. But I do remember some things clearly.
Growing up with my mother, she never told me what to think about death. She avoided the subject, as most of Western civilization (although recently I’m not sure if you’d think we share the same concept of Western civilization since I’m South American), but she also avoided teaching us anything about religion. She went to a very good Catholic school run by Yugoslav nuns that taught her how to write, read and think properly. She excelled in every course and she became one of the most intelligent (if not the most) intelligent woman I’ve ever met. It’s not just because she’s my mom. She had a sensible answer for everything.
Those same Yugoslav nuns gave her that education through an archaic but apparently effective method: fear. She once told me how they traumatized her about going to hell if she didn’t behave properly and that god was all seeing, all knowing and all judging. I don’t know what was going on my mother’s mind in her last days. At times I know it was fear, she said it at least once. But I don’t know if she was remembering the fear of hell instilled in her by the nuns.
I fear death. I fear death because I’ve had panic attacks. And I know, I just know, that when it’s my time to die, unless I’m heavily drugged and unconscious, I’m going to be in one perpetual, terminal panic attack. I’d give up many things not to have another panic attack again in my life.
But I’m not particularly concerned about hell. At least at this moment, while I feel no immediate threat to my life. Mom raised me and my brother freethinkers. “It’s your choice to believe in what you want to believe”. Still, I was in a Christian society. So my friends where Catholics. My school made me do the First Communion, although I did asked in Religion class how come dinosaurs were so impossibly old and that got me sent to the principal’s office (I loved dinosaurs). I knew only one prayer, the one my mother taught me: “Little guarding angel, sweet company, don’t abandon me, neither night nor day”. That’s the Spanish transliteration of what my mother said. The whole thing is more complex and has darker passages. “I’d be lost without you” it adds. She didn’t teach me that. I think she didn’t even told me to say Amen after I completed the prayer.
One day I figured out that El Ratoncito Perez (the Tooth Fairy) wasn’t real and then the whole superstructure came down and I saw the vacuum and the strings. So if Little Mice Perez wasn’t real, then Jesus wasn’t either (he’s the one who’s supposed to bring you presents in Christmas from where I come from), nor god or heaven or hell. For some reason that scared the shit out of me. Maybe it was my first panic attack. Maybe others have experienced this before. Maybe what scared me that much was that my own parents were able to deceive me for so long.
But they did their best not to do so, really. I understand it can come as cruel and maybe non adaptive to teach your children that there’s no tooth fairy and no guardian angel and nothing at all and that there are only very slight differences between you and a worm.
“What happens after we die?” I asked my mother anxiously one day.
“Nobody knows. But it’ll be in such a long time that there’s no need to worry”
As a kid, I worried a lot. Even if I died, I found out that the sun was going to explode. So not even the world I was living in would survive. And before that, I already knew about the Arms Race and the upcoming nuclear holocaust.
Death was an uncomfortable subject to me.
So when other people died, I didn’t know how to react. I went to my mother for answers.
“Do as you feel, dear, if you don’t want to go to the funeral, you don’t have to”
I haven’t gone to a funeral in my life. My mother donated her body to scientific research and the cremated rest was given to my brother in a standard mail-quality square brown box. It’s sitting in my brother’s closet waiting for the time we get the courage to go to Venice, a place she always dreamed of but never visited. A place she told us we would go when she got cured.
So not even my mother’s funeral. She didn’t have one.
But my memory’s not that good. I was closing down old accounts in old pages I didn’t use anymore and I found a blog I made titled: “My friend Viernes (Friday) is dead. Thank god I still have Domingo (Sunday. Also a name)”. It was full of the strangest writings I’ve ever found. It took me a few minutes to understand what was going on.
These were literally messages from the past. From a time when Domingo and I exchanged almost daily Burroughsian emails and chats. I don’t know if he understood anything that we were talking about. We didn’t do drugs. We weren’t trying to be hip. This was something actually extremely amusing to do. Shared stream of conscious with scifi, political, tropical nihilism and rock music themes.
Domingo’s father had died recently. Of cancer, like my mother would years after. I had no idea of how he felt. It was the equivalent of being raised a no-sex before marriage if-you-masturbate-you’re-going-to-hell and trying to imagine what sex felt like. Not even like that, really, because even those people get wet dreams. I had literally no idea. I thought it was bad, I said what my mother told me to say (an obsolete phrase everyone uses and that I still don’t have any idea of what it means): “Mi sentido pésame” (I’m not even going to try to transliterate that. To me it sounds like random words combined), patted his back and thought sadly about his father for a few weeks.
He wasn’t particularly sad. I don’t know if my empathy is a recent ability or if he was very good at hiding his feelings, but he just sang to me an Alan Parsons Project song, half-jokingly, half-seriously: “Time… keeps flowing like a river”.
I have much to say now about Domingo. Now that he’s gone.
It has been more than a year since he hanged himself. The last email we shared was a short story I wrote about mass suicide in my shitty Ballardian. He was doing his thesis on Ballard.
He also sent me, in an ultra secret email, his draft of Tristicruel, the best short story book to come out of that hellhole that is Caracas. It was published a month after his death. I bought it this year through Amazon. Somehow it made its way through Venezuelan customs and got into the US.
I was part of the people he dedicated it to.
Now I know a lot more about death. I’ve lost my mother and the only friend that could possibly appreciate anything I try to push out of my mind. I’ve had other losses too. And for the things that have been going on in my life, I know how bad it must have been for him to get to that point. Fuck Dante and his Wood of the Self-Murdered.
He was kind to children. He was bright. He was a great friend. He lived like an accursed poet, but he had strong values. His writings reflect that he loved and cared a whole lot more about humanity than most of the people I know who go to church every domingo.
Domingo Michelli isn’t dead.
He just “went to the France. To the Foreign Legion. Like Manu Chao”*.
*The last thing I heard from Domingo that made me laugh. I found it a few weeks ago in a YouTube video one of his hipster friends made when he visited Barcelona.