Sunday, May 14, 2017


Definition of surreal
1: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; also : unbelievable, fantastic surreal sums of money
2: surrealistic
surrealityplay\(ˌ)sə-rē-ˈa-lə-tē\ noun
surreally adverb

Use a word for years and you're never really sure if you're using it correctly or not.  You're reasonably certain but there's always that element of doubt.  Then some shit happens and you find yourself living it. 

Kind of like this.

I'm sitting in an AA meeting in a church basement and there's a congenial guy sitting up front relating his story, or rather in this case his mother's, as it was his early firsthand experience with alcoholism.  It was a rather uproariously funny, if dark, tale of his mother hallucinating that hundreds of spiders were crawling across the carpet... and even better... his father decided it was best to humor her by pretending to stomp all over the imaginary arachnids.  Even being in the company of someone who can retell a true story like this might be surreal for some, but that's my life.  Hello, welcome.  Won't you come in?

Surreal for me is when he was continuing on with his story of bottoming out in a gay disco in Houston (no pun intended), and a fat motherfucker of a spider strolled out across the church basement floor (I don't go to church but I've been in a shitload of church basements.)

Aaaaah, now fuck me... I've lost it..  

That's what's going through my head.  It was a big, juicy specimen and may or may not have been pregnant, as it's hind quarters, or hind 3-quarters because it's a fucking spider, was dragging.  Spiders give me the willies, by the way and had I been 100% sure it was real I would have gotten up and taken advantage of its disability and killed it.  So in lieu of action I sat and let a deep shudder roll out across my shoulders and down my arms.  I noticed at that point that a few other people saw it too.

Thank you god who lives upstairs, or maybe not.  One person looked doubtful of what they were seeing.  A woman, a friend, looked up at me and nodded and I saw her mouth slowly:

It's reeeeal!

She must've seen my doubt?  Or was she asking?

It took 5 of us looking at the spider and then looking at each other, to decide that we couldn't all be having the same nightmare.

No, nightmares are a solitary experience.  Each one is yours and yours alone.

But this isn't about nightmares.  It's not about dreams.  It's about the waking shit that each person faces in their lives that perhaps confirms that they've indeed been using a word incorrectly or correctly all along.  It's a small consolation in this case, but it is what it is.


Surreal is having a telephone conversation with a fucking wombat at American Airlines about whether or not you could bring the cremated ashes of a loved one on an international flight, and what if any paperwork you might need, and do you check the ashes or carry them aboard with you.

But there's a back-story here.


Jesus fucking Christ, Natalie.  I miss you!


Devon is Natalie's son.  If I'm to be honest, I can't even quite put together how old he is.  I held him when he was a baby.  There were always photos.  The latest school photo, or a candid, seated smiling broadly behind a birthday cake or  a Christmas present.  My relationship with Natalie wasn't like that.

What she and I had was over here, in a corner of each other's lives.

Devon and everything else was over there.

So the living, breathing definition of surreal might be talking to Devon on the telephone a few days after I got the news that she was gone.  It wasn't a call I was expecting, but I knew who it was maybe even as the phone rang at 5:30 in the morning.  The bill collectors and tax vampires only do the 9 to 9, and it was an unfamiliar UK number, so there was no cause to do the "let it ring through and Google after" dance.

"Thrill me."  (It's dickish but old habits die hard.)

"Is this MacGregor?"

"It is."  The lump came up and tears started instantly and I restrained a sob.  Hard enough for the boy, right?  How old could he be?  Early 20s?

"Mum asked that I should call you, when..." and he stumbled and why wouldn't he?  Part of his world had just collapsed and what was left was colliding with another decrepit universe.  "I hope it's not too early."

"No, not at all.  "You've caught me by surprise... I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry..." And what could I possibly say to the boy at this point?

"Mum asked that I should call you.  She said you are her best friend."

Sharp inhale... hold... one... two... three... four... five... exhale as quietly as possible.

"I know that it was more..."


"No, it's quite okay.  Mum and I had no secrets.  You are special to her."

And we talked, Devon and I.  We talked.  We talked for several hours, me and the small boy from the photos.  Me and the baby I held more than two decades earlier.  Me and the child that could have very easily been mine, I learned, because there were moments where we got taken in the moments and left good sense on the floor beneath the birdcage with our clothes.

Me and the young man who knew his mother was coming to England to be near him as she got progressively more sick and the cancer took her bit by bit.  He knew why she was coming.  She knew before she left.  She knew and didn't tell me or anyone else.

Me and the grown-ass man who was the repository... the library for her life story.  That she was one of a half dozen children that grew up one of six children spending most of the year with no shoes while their father drank what he earned, and what their mother earned.  And when he came home drunk he turned his attention to his daughters who were growing up quickly.  That she ran away at 15 with a much older English man who abandoned her in New York when he was forced to flee after being caught with yet another child.  That she lived with a distant aunt and uncle and cleaned their house, and the houses of others, turning all her earnings over to them while she finished school.  The girl who started nursing school and would appear in Murray Hill and Kips Bay boozers to haul out her uncle, an acquaintance of mine from said establishments, and that's how our worlds first came together.

Everything else though remained a mystery to me, until now with this conversation.  Everything was a secret. I asked so many times.  So many times I tried to open her up.  To know her.  To get some sense of who she was and exactly what it was that drew me to her.  And Natalie would just smile and roll over. pressing her body back against mine, and pull my arm over and around her.

"Mum loved you very much, but I think you know..."

"I do... did... shit."

"She never told me so.  That's not her way."  And he laughed a bit.  "I think you know that."

"Your mother was... "  I couldn't finish the sentence.  There was something there that wasn't words but it was bigger than I could have forced from my mouth anyway.

"She wanted me to connect with you.  I'm bringing her back... " He broke up and I knew he was crying.  "We're having her... She's being cremated, and I'm bringing her ashes back with me.  I don't know what they allow.  Customs and all.  Rules... I mean laws."

"Devon, let me see what I can find out."  It was a silly offer in a way.  I am, after all, somewhat of a wreck, and it's pretty certain that this young man, notwithstanding his grief, has inherited his mother's brains and will.  But I will help.  What he needs is an ally, and perhaps the ally he needs is me.

"Bigga... Mum called you Bigga..." and he laughed a bit.  "Mum asked would you come with me when I bring her back home?"

"From England?"

"No, she asked that I take her... her ashes... back to Jamaica."

So, surreal.  So surreal.  See what a comma can do?  So about surreal.

Hours later I'm on the phone with British Customs, and British Airways, and all things British.  No worries there.  They can accommodate everything.  It's not a body (and I welled up every time they used the word.)  It's not actual remains.  Travel with a death certificate just in case.  No worries at all.  That I was having this conversation seem so... surreal.  That I'm talking about a... a lover...  in the context of ashes and a ceramic pot.



So surreal.

American Airlines was another story altogether.  It bears mention that I've never flown American without some mysterious delay.  They say weather, but Google says there isn't a cloud in the entire fucking Western Hemisphere.  That's another story too.  The guy on the customer service line is the bad combination of dim and stubborn.  He doesn't know.

And he's reluctant to find someone who does, so he's talking.

"You're going to have to check the body."

"There is no body."

"I'm sorry.  You said someone died."

"It's cremated remains... ashes... in a sealed jar."

"Oh, I'm not sure."

"Can you pass me on to someone who might know?"

"You can't bring that on a plane."

"People transport remains all the time."

"I'm sorry, Sir."

"Wait.  Please.  Can you find someone I can talk to who knows?"

"You can't bring that on a plane."

"It's not a 'that.'  It's the cremated remains of a person, who if you don't mind, meant a lot to me."

"I'm sorry for your loss.  Who was it?"

"Oh Christ!  It doesn't matter!  I... just need you to find someone who can tell me how I can get the bod... the urn from New York, to Kingston!  Can you get a supervisor?"

"Will the fit in the overhead or under the seat?"

"Oh fucking hell..."

Had he been in front of me, and not some undetermined distance away beyond a telephone line, I would have plowed him into the earth with my hands.

"You have to call Customs, Sir."

"They told me to call the carrier."

"Sorry, Sir."


Writing teachers told me that sometimes stories write themselves.  That events drive the narrative, beginning, middle and end.  Or that sometimes I might be stuck for an ending, and a new element is added, thereby completing it.  Telling it.

Natalie said the same.  She also , said, when I took her to JFK, to forget about her story and our story, and tell my own.

"Seeyum ting!"  we would joke when we were together, and we would laugh.  There will  be one last ride though.  Me, Devon... and whatever fits in the overhead or under the seat.  Fuck me, I'm crying again.


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