Oratory of a mourning slave

November 27th, 2022

I. Invocation

Master. The numbers don't exist for how many things I still want to ask you, to tell you, to find and to forget with you. Oh monument unto yourself, large as ever, looming with I know not what expression, the way I feel you is terribly different, but its weight does not change, the dimensions and intensity are all the same. How I still yearn to be pressed by that weight into moulds I know are wise for they come from your hand. I let myself be pressed now into shapes I can't be sure are right ones, hoping from that font of gratitude, the things I know for knowing you, will come something sane.

But ever do I see and feel that demon 'round my shoulder, that small and mal-formed gray thing whipping up with ugly wings recursion to the mean. And so I look to that very place you formed in me to foster calm, and remember that I've nothing left to fear. What greater gift could anyone hope to ask for, in the end?

My heart, you were the beginning of me, and I will carry you to my end.

II. Realization

I don't know why I thought I could get by without writing it out. Sitting at my desk, three keyboards sit askew asking if I'd care to graze across them, tell the tale, and somehow...

...somehow a year after the death, I've managed to not testify it. It's come out in sobs, here and there, always by mouth, often enough after outright begging to just be heard, because no one wants to hear it. It's filed away in some obscure tendril of bureaucracy. I only realize now, in the wake of the thought that truly, I too died that day, that the deep obligation to recount what happened rests upon me.

What horror and what dread, scions of strange new nightmares come to me at the very thought of going back to that day clearly enough so as to report it sensually and not merely as a list of facts. The loss, wider and more profound than the ocean that caused it, stretches out infinitely before my mind, and I shudder at the sheer volume. The count. I'm outnumbered, and so vastly that it doesn't matter anymore what exactly comprises one unit.

Committing, then, feels like agreeing to a free tattoo; I've no idea how it'll go but I'm guaranteed it'll leave its mark, whateveritbe, forever.

III. Elucidation

How beautiful and elegant are those moments during which you realize, in perfect real-time, that you'll remember fondly forever. Such was the stretch and heavy hug that he gave me when I woke him up that day, well before the dawn. I can keenly remember the warmth of him, the softness of his pajamas against my skin, and the slight but happy groan that came from somewhere in the beard. He'd had maybe three hours of sleep, and I'd had maybe five. It was thin sleep but it was part of how we'd come to enjoy the beach after years of experimenting with hours: leave as early as possible. To leave at five am then, the earliest time to be on the road given the daily curfew, required rising at four. It was a typical pre-beach routine that day, with all the coldness and deep blues of the morning air, the crackling of aluminum foil around sandwiches, the faint scent of sunblock wisping out of freshly packed bags. The difference was that Nikki wasn't coming, and so our usual slit-eyed but smiling encounters were missing.

Descending the stairs to leave, he expulsed all trace of tired fight from me with the unabashed joy of his lens; he laughed back at a cackling gecko and asked if I thought they missed us when we were gone. He tapped with fondness the little felt frog hidden among the iron bars on the landing. He bent over the begonias newly blooming there and said how beautiful!.

The early morning ride to the coast was fertile ground for some of the greatest dissemenations that ever could be. We talked of games, of the soul of the sale, of the mind of the rube. But of the things I'll oblige to share and those I won't, strangely enough I choose to keep that day's conversation behind the curtain. I'll say I was as content and humble as at my best when, with the opening of the sky from somber grays to ecstatic tourmaline, we arrived.

Product of my own processes, I always felt a rush to get to the water, which meant changing, exchanging the heels for flip-flops, and moving the middling-elaborate baggage train from the car's trunk to the water's edge, some couple hundred meters away, in that spot just over the first sandy break where the high tide never surprise-hit to steal a towel and there was less foot traffic.

No foot traffic, really, as that was one of the prime attractors of this beach in the first place: at all hours but especially in the early morning, it was rare to come across anyone else. Maybe a spare surfer or two, or someone dwindling a slow shore walk, but in either case, distant, non-intrusive, barely visible. That particular morning I ducked into the bathroom of the little hotel where we parked, not really wanting to dash madly into the ocean to pee, but at the same time feeling guilty for adding more time to my set-up. He was already swimming; my first moves were to get him from cufflinked suit and lace-up shoes to beach shorts and sandals, then spray him down in that hated but necessary aerosol-delivered sunscreen. The one that smells like cupcakes, we called it. "See you soon!" he said sweetly as he took off to enjoy what he enjoyed while I worked to catch up.

III.i Delerium

"Is that your dog?" Some scruffy dude asked as he walked by my freshly-laid towel (the one Master had specially made to comfortably fit five or six, a truly luxurious expanse of terrycloth) and small city of bags. A pair of mongrels had trotted by to investigate, probably lulled by the scent of the sandwiches in the icebox. "Nah." He walked on. I put my hair up, I took my glasses off, but not before seeing where the master was, at his usual distance, further out than ever felt controllable --but I knew too that the firmly crossed line of comfort was part of the ocean's appeal, for him.

I walked into the waves intent on reaching him, but felt the usual dread as I got closer. A few times I'd sensed we were being carried out by the current, in the past. And once, we had very much found ourselves in a pull. But we always overcame it, even the time he'd gotten so thrashed and spun around he came out with blue lips and had to rest a half hour before moving again. I was confident that he could handle it, but less confident about myself, and so while we were almost always in the water together, we weren't quite together. I kept my short distance, a decision I fight to not hate myself over every day and imagine I always will, like a thousand other choices that morning that replay over and over in my head. I can't know if things would've turned out better if I'd acted differently. I try to stand on the logic, to listen to those who tell me that his death was not my fault, to follow the lines of reason, but they're often enough washed away and scrambled in the chaos of the water.

Floating on my back, I heard him yell something. "What?" I uselessly replied over the roar of the waves. "Master, I can't hear you!" How desperate I felt in the water, with my vision and my hearing both tamped down to nearly nothing. But the next thing he said, I heard, as I paddled closer --"Help."

III.ii Defeat

I fought against suddenly angry waves to get closer to the hazy image of his head, the occasional flash of a hand. "Master come to me, come towards the sound of my voice! Here!" The water crashed with greater and greater fury, and I felt the clean, hard strength of the current's pull as I got closer. I saw his head go under again and again, and knew he was in actual trouble this time, unable to keep his head above the waves. I pushed myself to him as hard as I could and in what must have been less than half a minute, but what felt like an eternity, I found his hand and pulled. I pulled as hard as I could; I felt him grip my hand. We both went under and I felt myself shoot up again in a rage of determination, my hand iron-clad to his. "Help!" I screamed as loud as I could once I broke the surface.

Many are the particular moments that play in loops in my head, deliberately and on some background, subconscious screen I can only really make out if I stop everything else and focus on it. Those few seconds finding his hand, feeling it respond to mine, and pivoting the law from "get to him" to "get him the fuck out", comprise heavy hits. I can't help but try to see and feel it from every possible angle, to hear and taste it on all sides, to ask it somehow, as though a moment is something with which one could actually converse -- "Did he die because I wasn't enough?".

Over and over again I screamed as I tried to move us back towards the shore. For a moment it'd seem we'd made progress; the next we were further out, and always new waves were crashing over us, inching us away from whatever direction I was trying to move in. I saw distant rectangles in the far distance that I knew must be people; I screamed and screamed, and eventually felt my foot hit the bottom. Still latched to his hand, I pulled as hard as I could against the current, still yelling frantically, trying to signal with my free arm, aware that his face had gone in the water, nothing in me but saltwater, panic, and the dead, no-thought, racing need to get us the fuck out of the ocean.

As I collapsed the third or forth time in what was now only waist-deep water, I saw a man running towards us. He tried to take my arm, and I barked at him to help me get the man out of the water. We pulled, each with one of his arms in tow, struggling awfully against that hungry riptide. At knee-height I fell again and couldn't rise, the acid in my legs too much now to move. The man dragged him over my useless body. I crawled to them; we started trying CPR. His eyes wouldn't open; his chest wouldn't rise. I slapped him, I talked to him, I screamed for more help.

And more help came; I can't say how many people rushed to us to try to offer their technique or animate him as if by sheer will. Maybe six? It felt like a crowd, and I wanted them off him, but I also wanted someone to know exactly what to do. It didn't occur to me that he might die. It just wasn't something on the list of possibilities, even if it was always possible. A few minutes passed (another eternity), and the sickening idea that he might actually suffer some sort of neurological damage here started to set in.

The ambulance was coming; they'd called it, any second now. They'd come with the Right Equipment, the Correct Methods, they were coming to make this shit stop so I could see his eyes open again and he'd say oh holy shit what a wave jump that was, maybe we should call it a day and go home? Just a tiny bit longer, I told him, they're coming, hang on. But foam was starting to come out of his mouth when our hands pressed against his heart.

III.iii Denouement

The Red Cross guy ran over to us from somewhere up on the road, directed by an apparently gathering crowd I heard on the periphery. He kneeled in the sand and started to administer the Official CPR that my flooded head imagined would fix everything. He asked me how long he'd been in the water. "I don't know, twenty minutes," I answered, before realizing he meant how long had the man been drowning. "It was maybe two or three minutes, with the problem." I stumbled over my spanish, willing everything to just stop and make my Master breathe again.

He took a pulse. He shook his head. I heard the machine hooked up to master's chest beep, but only when the medic's hands pressed against him. After yet another eternity, he shook his head again and said, "it's difficult." And he stopped the CPR. "What?!" I didn't look at him as I bent back in to keep pressing against his chest, keep inflating his lungs with the the mask. "It's difficult," he said again, and in some twisted back and forth he managed to tell me that there was nothing for it. I kept pumping and felt the crowd around me getting closer, a hand here or there landing on my shoulders. The medic started to pack up his shit.

I stopped. It's not clear to me at all what constituted apparently reasonable criteria for me to stop. I somehow knew it was necessary. I remember seeing the mist rising from the tide in the distance against that jungle bluff that formed the delicious curve on the road to the beach. I remember feeling the sun getting hotter as it rose higher. I remember a few people offering me their bottled water, saying they were sorry, reminding me that riptides were dangerous, asking if I had any kids. I sat there bewildered, more truly bewildered than I'd ever been, and I stroked his hands, and I kissed his feet. I buried my face against the soles of his feet, pruned by the water, cold. I kissed his toes slowly and rubbed them softly, curled there beneath him, overcome by the daze.

I don't know how long we laid like that. People left; occasionally new ones came by. Eventually the police showed up, and with them watching over him as though that somehow counted for something, I hobbled to our towel, so far away now, to get his hat, and to get my phone. I had to keep the sun off his sensitive head, and I had to talk to Nikki.

IV. Reality

The body of the Master was laid out in full suit, of course; nothing new for that fine and handsome form. It was attended by two naked slaves in heels; perhaps the only time that particular parlor ever had or will have such a ceremony.

Life since those moments has been unimaginably different even if in many respects it's very much the same. Everything that followed was full of thorns. Is full of thorns. Even if beautiful, they cut, they leak me, they leak the world. For the world is very much less for having lost him. What scenes have played on since that day, a year ago today1, and how familiar but how alien. Sometimes it seems I'd always known I'd have to act them out someday, though I can't imagine how I could've ever really been prepared.

?. Exit Music

I look at my hands and hate them for having been too weak to save you. But I love them for the memory of that last embrace, for what I imagine they received. For all the times you held them. For all the things they did well under your own. Your death is a filter through which I see all else, now; before and after, possible and hopeless, real and imaginary. How I long to be on your side. How I can't imagine anything sweeter than experiencing life once having been touched by you.

I will always be open to the pain.


I don't entirely know why I had to go back to that particular place on the shore one year from the day, but I did have to go, and so I went. The beach has changed somewhat; for one thing there are a lot more people about these days, even in the early morning. The sand is markedly blacker. But many things remain the same, like the slopes that mark location better than the endless tangle of leaves up by the road, and the presence of curious dogs without obvious owners. Two dobermans walked at my heel as I moved south past the place where we always laid the big towel, south to the spot on the sand where he died. Why is it I imagine he died on the sand, and not in the water, I wonder? From his own point of view, he lost consciousness in the waves. It's my own lens that perceives a hope, some chance, or even at times, something like a choice, as though he were waiting to see how the world would react to the emergency of his sudden absence and at some point on the solid side of that great divide, called it.

I walked to that point and the dogs sat beside me as I stood, staring into the surf. I don't know how long I was there looking, but eventually I had the urge to say something, and so I walked into the water, dropped to all fours, and waited for a wave to crash towards me. When it did, I leaned down my head, I opened my mouth, I took in as much water as I could, stood, and spit the ocean back at itself. Stupid, pointless, a cryptic message for an untooled enemy that could never summon the interest to care.

But the ocean is not my enemy, I realized as I walked and watched the horizon change moods. It is a force he loved; a place he loved; it is the challenge he took and many times enjoyed triumphing over. That I should hate the ocean for finally winning is as ridiculous as the loss itself, and the only thing they have in common is my own suffering. I will use it to learn. To do. To be better. That is what, after all, he taught me.

  1. It was a year past the day when I wrote this. In the intervening months I've waffled considerably over whether to publish this or not, but knowing all the while in some corner of the mind that I can't go guarding the expression of what I wish to keep in myself. I may be slow for a while, even as life progresses at breakneck speed, but I've decided not to plant my life in the mud, just yet. []

One Response to “Oratory of a mourning slave”

  1. shinohai says:

    This is possibly one of the most profound blog posts I've read all year, and I am certainly glad you aren't planted in the mud yet hanbot.

    Keep using what you learned to inspire us all to be more.

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