Three years ago a guy who was once the love of my life was walking alone by the side of the road in Macon, Georgia, when a truck hit him. He died, probably instantaneously. The driver didn’t stop. They found his body the next morning.

His friends and family knew nothing of this for five weeks. He’d spent the last years of his life homeless and very difficult to reach. If you texted him in May, he might get back to you in September, if he replied at all. It was normal not to hear from him for five+ weeks. If another one of his ex-girlfriends hadn’t spontaneously Googled him one day, we might not have learned about his death for much longer.

I mean it when I say “love of my life.” I knew we’d be together forever like I know the sky is blue. When we broke up I nearly had a nervous breakdown.

Until last Friday it hadn’t occurred to me that I should grieve him in a particular location. I’d gone to my local zendo for a Q&A with a well-known Zen-friendly writer. She read from her new book, In Praise of Listening, which takes seriously the practice of communicating with the deceased. I don’t know if she believes that dead people retain something like consciousness, like if she thinks they can actually say something back to us. Maybe she was describing retreats into solipsism vis-à-vis heaps of magical thinking. Pinging one’s own heart. Her metaphysics is irrelevant, anyway.

She told us that her parents and siblings are buried in her home country. She has to visit their resting places to talk to them.

I don’t know if my ex-boyfriend has a grave. I thought about it for the first time after hearing about this woman’s location-dependent encounters with her own beloved dead. From what I gather, the state mishandled Will’s death so badly that his family couldn’t make funeral arrangements. I know he was eventually cremated. If I had to guess, his ashes are in a house in Tennessee where I am neither welcome nor unwelcome.


My life has sustained a lot of what is sometimes called ambiguous loss. I don’t trust myself with the specifics. I’ll just say that there are a lot of people who I might be forced to mourn twice, like Will. Resentment poisons the data… what philosophers call Events… memories that make me go numb since I assume the other parties stopped caring first.

I can say this much: what’s decayed into pure quantity — data — was once alive and given to seemingly infinite creative rearticulation. So much unwritten music became isolated parameters. I’m not talking about food for ghosts. It’s inches of skin without nerve endings. I sleep in peace. 

When I try to be any more concrete than that I lapse into sentimentalism. But I can write about death and grief in the abstract: exhibits A, B, and C

Re: A: it’s still the case that images of decrepitude set me dreaming. When I was a little girl I liked to imagine the roof of my bedroom dissolving into the night sky. I could reliably thrill myself that way. To this day I still drift towards Zones, and I look for places that render the subliminal in more exquisite detail than any mental trick. Since the social relevance of the shopping mall dwindled to nil a long time ago, decommissioned mall buildings are doubly thrilling.

B was inspired by my mom’s second bout of cancer, which for a while looked like it was going to be a hospice situation.

C is political, which is where I wind up a lot these days. For the last year or so, I’ve forced myself to regularly think a thought that would have been very hard for me to stomach when I was younger. This is that the world will be in objectively worse shape when I leave it than it was when I was born. 

I do not believe in objective worseness or betterness. This is a contrivance that I need to accept as reality.

Because … the future will be more bearable to those who can mourn it in advance. 

Because … the future is a muse to those who can treat it like a roleplay partner. 

Because I want my mind to be spacious enough for absolutely anything to take place there, which is another way of saying I want to be seriously surprised. I am waiting for a surprise bigger than any thought to come along and clear the grief-slate.