At some point I started thinking of them as how much closer I am to death. I’m not sure when. Maybe I was 35. Maybe I was 9 or 10.
My grandmother took me to grave sites. Her sisters. Her parents. A friend she had in her 30s when she worked in the USSR. And I became obsessed with beginning and end dates. Finding them on tombstones. Calculating how close someone was to their birthday when they died.
Tombstones seemed so final. I told everyone I didn’t want one. I didn’t want anything to be that neat or easily found. But my grandmother took me to church every Sunday. And I’d pick a saint and write them a letter. Then leave the letter in a red box in the church where people dropped off lists of those who needed prayers.
Ritual is important because it gives shape to that which is shapeless. And death is a wild grief. I imagine it’s like that moment, right after a party, when you’re alone again and have to return to the mind, which is an island so far from others.
But maybe death takes away the mind too. Certainly the body. Or maybe what I mean by the mind is the spirit. Whatever we’re in the presence of when we see another person and feel their heat. Their very particular human current coming toward us. Where does that go? I feel it could live outside us. Because it seems shapeless. And the body is a temporary shape.
On the two big birthday parties I’ve had—10 and 25—I remember dreading the moment when everyone had to go home. Because I like to leave parties. And I don’t like to host them. I don’t like saying goodbye.
The only way to escape saying goodbye is not to host anything. To slip easily out a side door. To wait for that moment when everyone’s finally comfortable inside their anxiety, and they won’t miss you too much. The evening has softened them. Whatever’s playing on the speakers is something everyone knows.
That’s when I like to leave. At what I imagine is maximum happiness. You tell someone you’re getting another drink. You walk toward another room. Maybe pretending to look at the books. Maybe just curious about the furniture.
How are we supposed to walk out of life when it’s the only thing we’ve known. You have to trick yourself. You have to believe you’re going somewhere else.
Me? I take a cab. I go to a bodega. Never straight home. Because it’s depressing to find your keys and hear them turn and see everything you already know is there. Unchanged. Unmoved. Real life doesn’t live up to a party.
This is a photo of a white leather jacket I wore (only once) to host a party called Wilde Boys for John Ashbery in 2010 in Greenwich Village. Even then I remember I left early. When things were still beautiful. And when this jacket hadn’t yet ended up on the floor of the Ace Hotel where I think I went next.