I haven’t said anything about Coleman’s death, not because I don’t care, but because I didn’t know him as well as many of you, and it seemed somehow parasitical, like trying to reframe an acquaintance as a best friend.
But then my daughter showed up from school and said, “Hey, Mom, I ran into [teacher]’s wife in the bathroom, and you know what she said to me? She said she hoped she didn’t sound weird, but she thought I was beautiful, and she figured if you thought something nice about a person, you should tell them.”
So I hope I don’t sound weird, but here goes.
I can’t say what Coleman was like to those of you who knew him best, but to me, he was one of those people who makes your heart race a little, like when you know you’re about to get in trouble, or hear salacious news, or latch onto some new mischief. He’d study you with those dark eyes, a little hard, a little amused, but never, ever mean. And I know there were demons, but the stupid adjective that keeps coming to mind is “sweet”. Coleman was sweet, the troublemaker who’s still innocent, the pain-in-the-ass who stays charming, the neighborhood kid you want to throttle and hug at the same time.
I hadn’t seen Coleman much of late, just on Facebook, but I always liked when he’d comment on my posts, because I could count on it being mildly scandalous, or out of left field, or just funny as hell, cutting through the bullshit. Once, I posted a picture of my barely teenage daughter, and of course you want to get compliments, but Coleman wrote, “Yeah, she’s a hottie.” And it was funny.
So he’d fly off with things like that, hilarious things, and once or twice he popped up in my inbox, saying he felt stupid, or he was just being funny, and I knew he was honestly worried about hurting my feelings. And there’s just nothing else to call that but sweet.
The Sunday we found out, my husband and I took the kids to the new El Myriachi, and it felt right, and they were playing the entirety of “Exile on Main St”, which felt right too. I looked up at Rick and saw he was teary, but all I felt was flat, everything expected and impossible to believe. I sipped my margarita, vacantly gazing over his shoulder, and slowly processed what I was staring at. There, on a perfectly-framed billboard outside the window, was a beaming man’s face, cheerfully hawking funeral services. I nearly laughed, because anyone who knows Coleman even a little would suspect it was on purpose. Rick ordered another drink and the album ended, and I watched with tired eyes as our waitress set down food no one wanted. I recognized the beginnings of a Joy Division song, and snorted into my burrito as Ian Curtis lost control again.
I keep imagining the whole thing as a cross-stitch grid. You get into a groove, threading in and out until you hardly remember there were holes to begin with. Then you lose track for a minute, a needle skipping a pinhole, and it’s only looking back that you notice an absence where you never really knew a presence. As you get older, there are more and more tiny holes, the stitched-past casualties of heroin and car wrecks, disease or old age, life and death. You find you can manage, but the missed stitches still nettle, the pattern never feels quite the same.
I know this pinhole is a chasm for many of you. I feel like the kid in line behind me at visitation tonight, who looked up at his mom and asked, “What should I do?” She put her arm around his shoulder and gave the perfect answer: “You just hug them, and tell them you’re sorry.”
So I thought something nice about Coleman today, and I figured you should know.
I could live a little better with the myths and the lies,
When the darkness broke in, I just broke down and cried.
I could live a little in a wider line,
When the change is gone, when the urge is gone,
To lose control. When here we come.