There is a sidebar on my office computer, which scrolls down the top news stories throughout the day. Today it’s all about Wendi Deng’s billion-dollar spike, the exhumation of Rudolph Hess, and the search for the bodies of three tourists who ignored the fences and signs and tumbled into the frigid waters of the Merced River, where they were swept by the inexorable current over a 314-foot waterfall.

They had posed on the slippery granite ledge for a picture. I wonder what secrets that photograph might reveal. Would the spectre of impending death show itself in their eyes? Would the mist take the shape of a sickle, curving over their three shining dark heads? Was there something in the color of the dawn yesterday morning, some secret birdsong that went unnoticed, some heaviness around the feet when Death closed his hand around them and began to tug. How can a man be toppled over the rail at a baseball game and collected so tritely while his young son stands looking down, his small hand still lost inside a sweaty leather mitt? How can a woman hear a pop inside her head and decide to make one last run to the quick-mart while her brain begins to flood and swell and squeeze out whatever part of her lived within its convoluted folds. Did her lover see her leaving, really leaving when she walked out the door? Did he kiss her deeply the last time he lost himself inside her? Did he ride her like an apocalyptic horseman, roll out a dreamlike dirge-rhythm with his hips–did he whisper in her ear, Come with me, baby, come with me.

The tourists are still missing. Somewhere they will wash up, three soft torn husks on some tangled river-beach where the rocks are beaten smooth, shining in the sun. The birds will gather and sing for three lost souls who never heard their warning and never will hear again.

If Death came for you today, what would be left undone?

Photograph by Richard Avedon

32 responses

  1. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I would read any book you write. Have you looked at these paragraphs?? Jesus, Averil, you’ve got it going on.

  2. First of all what’s a Wendi Ding? American snack food?

    Big question you’re asking. Fluency in a second language. Dinner at the best restaurant in Paris. A night at the best hotel in Paris. Lunch with Gloria Steinem. A photo of me that I like. Plus my legs would be hairy.

    • Murdoch’s wife, who apparently has made news in America by thwarting a pie attack on her husband. We are the dumbest fucking nation in the world.

  3. Someone would have to eat all this amazing summer fruit in the fridge. Plus, I wouldn’t be able to raise my kid. And we’re *this* close to getting on a schedule.

    I’ve started reading my RSS feed again! :) Hope you’re well!

    • So many questions, so little time. Are there answers in heaven? Are there cupcakes? Will I finally understand physics and the mystery of dark matter? Will Einstein be waiting with an explanation for the continued acceleration of the universe outward? (How can that jive with the big bang theory, Al? How?) Will he offer me a cup of tea, sit me down, and show me a chalkboard I can understand?

  4. I’ve always felt this question hanging around. On some days I would say fine, I’m done, it’s been a good ride, the line is there to cross. On others it would be a different thing altogether, full of loss.

  5. How beautifully sad. It’s so easy to get lost in your writing.

    There are so many things in my life that would be left undone, that the thought of it makes me cringe. Most importantly though, I think I gave my daughter a good foundation (despite our reality’s attempt to subvert me.) But even at twenty-five she still needs me at the darnedest times. She’s the reason I can’t go yet.

  6. What would be left undone? I want my kids and my dogs to be well-cared for, and content with their lives. I would miss having grandchildren — I didn’t get to birth my kids, but I love brand new babies and desperately want to nurture my stepkids’ children.

    Selfishly, I would want to attend the giant parties that must be had in celebration, after my passing. I say “parties” in the plural because I’ve lived so many places that there are family and friends littered all about! I’ll be sad to miss these soirees. Champagne and fine food and lots of laughter required.

    • I’m also looking forward to being a grandparent. Not yet, you understand, but someday. I want to hold babies again, and kiss their damp little cheeks.

  7. I’m still reeling from those lines, too, Averil. Good god, there’s some amazing stuff in there. “three soft torn husks”–THAT is genius. Truly.

    I would have to say my children, yes. I’ve so much more to give to those precious little ones. And my husband, who I love more deeply and madly with each passing day. Lots more there too.

    Maybe it’s something in the air, but I too have been lately finding the loss of friends, some dear, some far, to have filled me with this same question. Hearing everyone’s thoughts is the best way for us all to be reminded of the joy of being alive. Glad we are all here, friends.

  8. Yes, your writing is magnificent. You always know just the right word. How the hell do you do that?

    I don’t know about leaving anything undone but if death came for me tonight, my family would most certainly become undone. My Beloved and I talk about this all the time. There would be no other way to slice it. They’d all be fucked.

  9. Daaaaaang. After reading that I want to just roll around in those words. To write like that is my dream.

    Plenty would be left undone and none of it would really matter.

    • I hear you. But I’m a selfish motherfucker, and there are things I want to accomplish, so many things I’ve left half-done. I want those, too. For me, for my own satisfaction, for my collection of experiences.

  10. I’m reading your post while listening to live BBC coverage of the Oslo bombing (and youth party shooting, apparently). And I don’t know. Just don’ t know.

  11. You could put all your random musings like this in a book and I’d be sold. Your words are hauntingly beautiful, even when you’re talking about something so tragic.

    I think we believe we have all sorts of loose ends to tie up. But it only matters to us now, while living, and it probably won’t matter much in the end. Life will go on.

    I tell my family often enough, that I believe they know how much I really do love them. My husband knows that if there does end up being an afterlife, I will be waiting for him. And if not, that it has been a pleasure sharing my one shot with him.
    As far as my kids go, there is so much of me in them, I will always be with them. And in a way, as long as they live, I’ll still be living.

    • I should just replace my post with your comment, Rey. It gives me hope, imagining how many people love and are loved like the members of your family.

    • Rey,
      This is just so beautiful.

      “…it has been a pleasure sharing my one shot with him.” There is no greater love note.

  12. Oh, man. You’ve caught me during a bit of a rough time here, and I’m not willing to focus on potential regrets in the midst of it. So, let me just confirm what everyone here has said–and what I’ve told you a million times–Damn, girl, can you write.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 157 other followers