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A container of stories


I enjoy telling stories, Tim. That’s one of the things I like to do.

Like this:

When Astro came to live with me, I embarked upon a long, ambitious campaign to buy him cat toys. That’s just what one does with cats, Tim. And after that, after the toys, I mean, whenever I sat in my reading chair upstairs and I began to read, Astro carried his toys up from downstairs and dropped them at my feet, even the large ones, like the stuffed monkey which is bigger than he is. Cats don’t do that, of course – I think you’re thinking of dogs – but no one ever told Astro the difference.

And one night, two or three days in I guess, you wouldn’t believe this, he brought me up a toy I had not purchased for him. It was this little ball, purple and white and very worn, that had once belonged to Stagger Lee. This surprised me and yes, it worried me a bit, because Stagger Lee had been gone more than six years and I would like to believe, for my image of myself, the one I’ve pieced together carefully and rely on to go on living, to persist, that I’ve cleaned my house entirely sometime in that time.

The next night he brought me another one. A black and pink soccer ball, and squishy, which had always been Stagger Lee’s favorite. And I got Astro as well the ball in question up onto my lap and I proceeded to tell him of his predecessor, of his brother-in-claws, as it was. I told him how Stagger Lee lost most his teeth, and how he used to hump pillows, and how we had to feed him female hormones in order to short-circuit him in his ongoing attempts to murder me.

Astro appeared to listen. Cats don’t do that, of course – I think you’re thinking of lovers – but no one ever told Astro the difference.

Stagger Lee used be a cat but now he’s just stories, and they’re my stories which no one remembers but me.

And then a week ago, you died, Tim.

You’re dead now.

I drove up to Goodrich, Texas, to a graveside service. I stood with your dad and some people who never knew you while they said now you were with the Lord. And they asked me to talk so I talked and they, Baptists and Masons all of them, pretended they were listening. I couldn’t tell them your stories, Tim, it would not have been appropriate, you know. I wanted to be appropriate, always.

Then I drove back to Houston and Astro came to me and so I got him up in my lap and told him stories of you. About how you danced on the cash register and those awful Menthols you smoked. About the time you hung out with my other friends and you talked in an Irish accent for no apparent reason, so even years later my other friends all believed you were actually Irish.

Astro appeared to listen. Cats don’t do that, of course – I think you’re thinking of best friends – but no one ever told Astro the difference.

You used to be a person, Tim, but now you’re just stories, and they’re my stories which no one remembers but me. So you won’t die until I die, really, when there’s no one left who remembers your laugh.

Me, I remember it all.
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“Here is how a great escape goes
When you can’t take your dead friends’ names out your phone.”
– Aesop Rock

“I am a container of stories about you.
I bring you up repeatedly, uninvited to.”
– Mount Eerie

Comments

  1. I like to think that remembering him affects you enough to leave a trace of his existence in your own. And then even when you one day pass, the both of you still live on in the memories you have created for others. Nobody is ever truly forgotten, their remembrance is just made less and less explicit.

    Great post, Harry. Hope you're managing to celebrate what was left behind.

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    1. Hey, Fang. I am, which is surising to me because I usually move on very quickly from things.

      I remarked to someone the other day that I'd forgotten just how much time I spent with Tim in the Nineties. He made a bigger mark on my life than I'd ever given him credit for.

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  2. I'm sorry to read about Tim. When someone dies that's all we are left with the stories, but of course people that knew him will all have different stories, or the same ones but all slightly distorted to fit their own memories.

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    1. Thanks, LL Cool Joe. Tim was really isolated during the last few years of his life, and I had just attended my uncle's funeral this week, too, so the contrast between my uncle's funeral (extended family and friends galore) and Tim's (strangers, his dad, and me) was shocking.

      I suspect mine will be more like Tim's than my uncle's, but I'm not iving for my funeral!

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  3. Sometimes it's only after someone dies that many of those they knew find out who they really were. Sometimes not even then, and sometimes that's OK. We do a lot, sometimes, to protect and preserve the characters in our minds that we have built out of the people we know.
    Cats do this same dance with us, only faster. I still have stories I like to tell about Kitters, and my friend Sara still has the name of her former cat Charlie Murphy in some of her passwords, so he visits her every time she logs in.
    Cats also live on on the internet.
    Every Saturday I listen to a podcast recorded by a couple of liberal bloggers who live in a cornfield in Illinois, and they have a weekly feature they call "Internet Kitty of the Week."
    Charlie Murphy was IKotW back in 2013. Raven's cats Molly and Tikal were IKotW last year. And this year, six months after she disappeared, Kitters was IKotW.
    I thought it might make me sad to see her picture on their website, but it didn't. What it did was give me another excuse to show the picture to everyone and then tell more stories about her. "Remember how we used to call her Rip Cat Razor Toes?"

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. I am almost nostalgiaed out right now. My uncle died two weeks ago tomorrow, my friend died one week ago yesterday, and I spent today going through my parents' storage unit so they don't have to plop down so much money every week to store my old college papers.

      I hope everything moves forward this week. Looking backwards has worn me down.

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  4. I want the story in which Astro meows in an Irish accent.

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    1. Me too! Might be easier just to write the story than actually treat him how to do it. His accents are pretty bad and mildly offensive.

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  5. Worryingly many people of our age group - middle forties to middle fifties - are dying. I don't know the reason. We aren't exactly old enough to expect obituaries as a natural event.

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    1. Seems like it ought to be a few more years, especially with the some of the biggest causes of premature death (like smoking) supposedly falling off. But in the States, at least, there has been a slight downtick in life expectancy in recent years.

      I go when I go...

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  6. As Dad used to say, "as long as someone remembers you and speaks your name aloud you never die"...I make a point of saying his name often...so sorry for the loss of your friend and so happy there is an Astro to listen to your stories.

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    1. Thank you, only slightly confused!

      Astro has been great to have around. People say I'm acting less spastic since he moved in, so... maybe it was a good decision to bring him here.

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  7. So sorry to hear about your loss. Forty-eight is way too young. Also, lovers listen? Not in my experience.

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    1. Haha... That was actually a placeholder word I was going to replace later, to keep the repetition elsewhere. However, I couldn't think of three categories of things that listen. Oh well.

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    1. Thanks, Donna. The past few months, I've been writing things that actually hold some emotional bang for me and it's an entirely new experience...

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  9. Remember as long as you can. I've been trying to keep my grandparents going that way, but the kids don't want to carry the stories forward. I don't know how much longer they can hold on. Each day they fade a bit more.

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    1. I don't have any kids and my brother has one. I sort of feel sorry for my nephew because he is going to have to be the repository of all our stories and mementos.

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    2. When I think back on it, most of the stories I know were told by my elders about themselves. I only know a handful from generations before that.

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    3. Same here. I'm hoping that my relative literacy in comparison with some of my ancestors might make the difference. I'm leaving plenty of writing. Of course, once I'm dead, technically it doesn't matter,but one does like to dream that something will live on.

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  10. What a Beautiful piece craze.it's soft and emotional.when I finished it I felt bad for not reading ur stories nowadays.this one really rekindled my interest craze.I am happy for astro.I love that line very much which no one remembers but me

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    1. I know - I'm getting all sentimental in my writing!

      I have a couple weird pieces planned that I just haven't written yet. They're not ripe quite yet, actually.

      I need to kick things up here a bit. It's been pretty dead - probably because I've only been posting 3 times a month!

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  11. Sad. You know your speaking there even if they didn't all listen was still important his dad and family. My wife reminds me that we attend services for the living connected to the deceased. So that's it - we just become stories, memories. If so, we probably all wish to be someone's good story.

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    1. I hope someone has some good stories about me when I go. I have no spouse nor kids and I'm a bit of a recluse, so the blog might be all that remains behind...

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  12. I'm so sorry for your loss Harry! I'm glad you have Astro!

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    1. Me too, Stacy. he's been a big change for me and I'm glad he's around!

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  13. Sorry for your loss, my friend. Had to attend a coworker's funeral a few months back. He had plenty of people at his service which forced me to leave early. See, the guy was a total delusional A-hole and I couldn't stomach everyone saying how he was such a great guy.

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    1. I try to give people a pass on praising dead jerks, at least for a couple weeks after their death. I might just be saying that because I'm a jerk, too.

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  14. This is beautiful. I'm glad you have Astro, and stories, and thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa! I used to wait a few weeks or months to write about current events in my life. But I'm finding that if I don't wait until events settle, there's a little more punch to it.

      It's rough, but I need to get some things down...

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  15. This is so beautifully written. I'm sorry for your losses, but happy you have Astro.

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    1. Thank you. I wanted this year to be different and so far, Astro's arrival and Tim's death have certainly made it different.

      It's like Lou Reed sang: "There's a bit of magic in everything / And then some loss to even things out."

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  16. Sorry for your loss, Harry. I enjoyed reading your story and appreciate you sharing it with us. Best of luck with Astro and continue telling those stories about Tim.

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    1. I'd say, "We're all stories in the end," but I'd have to say it in the voice of the Eleventh Doctor from"Doctor Who," so I won't.

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  17. Two deaths so close together will rattle anyone. Good you have Astro to talk to. I used to stretch out in bed to touch my cat with my toes, tickling her while she was sitting at the end of the mattress. I still do that...and then I remember she died about seven years ago.

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    1. After the death of two people close to me, I started thinking about that - I know how quickly animals become part of my life and routine. But Astro is about 9 months old and I can't spend my life worrying about deaths or disappearances far in the future.

      So I'm trying to appreciate everyone who is around now.

      Bad things are going to happen someday, but it hasn't all happened yet.

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