Dear Mother Death: What is war?

Greetings Santa Muerte,

It is so, that always when I return from holiday I fall into this funk, this depression—this war with myself. People say it is the post holiday blues, but I know what it is. It is guilt. The audacity of me to enjoy life, to frolic, despite my best friend being lost to me and not able to enjoy the goodness of life with me, like we once did. The guilt of men and woman far away at war being slaughtered like cattle. My own mother tells me in her hard way, I am being too sensitive, to hard on myself. Mother Death, am I too sensitive to feel this way? Mother death, can you tell me what is war?

I think often about that afternoon alone in Condesa, in the Distrito Federal, recently suffering the loss of my friend to her own war and trying to enjoy the beauty of the city in spite of my grief. The labyrinth grounds of El Bosque Chapultepec drew me out of my own thoughts, and for the first time since her suicide, of correspondence between my soul and hers, I felt calm. Or at least I did while I was outside.

The hike up the walls of Castle Chapultepec was a fifteen-minute uphill plod that left me panting like a lost cow. That castle really is magnificent. Even before you walk through the teeth of the white porticos and stand surrounded by murals of combat and nationhood, the castle’s colonial geometry has an authority. “Now you’ll walk down the colonnade,” she said to me, “here is our independence. Here is war.”

There was war, according to Siquieros. Inside the air-conditioned halls scenes of cavalry and farmers stood meters tall above me, each face distinct and solemn. They are memorials to the dead. Then, the inescapable thoughts alighted. I will be left with only my memories. I did not say goodbye as I meant to. I felt individual hairs shift as a bead of sweat ran down my head. A young soldier is painted on the domed ceiling, his face greying as he drifts down toward you, into death.

This is where I should have prayed to you, I should have said, “Mother Death, what is war? Where is my best friend, my love? Touch me, help me understand.” But I did not pray, did not ask, or maybe I could not, but in any case I chose to freeze and convince myself that everything will be alright. I was breaking, though. I could hear the crackle of my heart like pieces of already shattered glass being stepped on. Come to think of it, it was my soul. It was my soul, Mother death, being crunched under the weight of love. Love is so heavy like death don’t you think, Mother? How do you collect souls, are they in pieces or are they whole?

I wonder if you have ever experience your mind getting the better of you. It must be exhausting to be not only death, but to be the Santa Muerte, the Mother Death. You are the Queen of death, and the mother of all darkness that is alive in the world. Prostitutes light candles for you as often as Zeta infantry, as often as mothers worry for their sons working the late shift picking up garbage. What do you think about war?

I wonder if you were the silent third party to so many great conversations of history. Just as the Devil of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita stood on a Jerusalem balcony the day of the crucifixion of Jesus, and noticed Pontius Pilate’s dislike for the smell of rosewater. Did you take refuge from the blanching sun at Kurukshetra inside Arjuna’s chariot? Did you hear Krisna give the Prince the most dangerous divine secret that has ever been told?

“Nought better can betide a martial soul than lawful war; happy the warrior to whom comes joy of battle–comes, as now, glorious and fair, unsought; opening for him a gateway unto heav’n.”

I imagine that you remember Krishna telling Arjuna that some wars are righteous. I imagine that you remember me just saying it will be okay. If you could appear to me, just a little while and tell me how death feels about all this. I know that isn’t how this works; I just pray and wait. But I don’t know what war is, only that it spreads, everywhere. I know what death is, but I cannot comprehend.

Were you there? Was I there to battle with her? I remember her saying that she reaches out for you in the weeping night. I remember me just saying it will be okay, will all work out. I remember the doctor telling her “next time you’re going to die.”

Next time? How did he know that there would be a next time? I know now that there is always a next time, the next compulsion toward violence, another war–another dark vein that comes awake. A wicked thought that sinks its teeth into minds. Is that you? I know that, strictly speaking, war isn’t your domain, that you don’t do the killing, rather that you watch over everyone who lives with death near-by. Has every generation of humanity been as fixed as this one on vindication through violence?

Probably yes, right? Probably more. Probably the thrill of looking into your eyes is like the feeling of being thrown, blurry and blood slack, from the passenger door of a truck. I remember reading that the Peshmerga forces in Iraq and Syria were being met with young men who wanted to fight, but they’d never seen war. “We’re babysitting them,” an anonymous soldier told the BBC. “They’ve only seen war on an X-box.”

To my mind, the war the Peshmerga fight is just. ISIS are/were raping six year old Yazida girls and beating pregnant women until they miscarry to display racial dominance. Mass graves have been found to contain entire villages.

Dear Santa Muerte, beautiful Mother Death, skeleton with my mother’s dark, luxuriant hair, let me beg you. My best friend is gone to me totally, casualty of her own war, casualty of my cowardice. I cannot be real to her anymore. She is in that next place. Here, her memories are starting to tumble away into the night like dissipating cigarette smoke. I am the civilian, the friend that abandoned my post. I need you to help me. I need you to watch over her. Lay a path of black roses before her that leads her to safety. Let each flower turn to ashes as she passes by, let it burn and each small life lift a burden from her shoulders, from my shoulders.

I suppose all that I can see from where I am is war in the anthropocene. I see images of death, of sniper nests and sandbags on twitter. Home-made “war-films” of men on either side standing with each foot on the bodies of the enemy face down in the sand like water skies. I am possessed. I watch it all, I look to see if there is some trace of you, of her. In my silliness I look for some fleeting snippet of evidence carried to me in binary that she is by your side, safe. What a far cry from the memorialized, sensuous figures of Siquieros’ War of Independence. I see vines of disembodied heads, cutaways to likes of pick-up trucks with heavy artillery bolted into beds. Images of young women carrying RPG’s with the hashtag “#realfeminism.” It is chaos. It is ethnic violence. It is genocide. It is war. It is an invitation. It is the creation of the human race. Come, Mother Death, collect these images of pure violence and destruction of life. Put them in a montage; find an aesthetic parallel between these men and the freedom fighters of the past. How can we live in a world in which a boy from Nottingham invokes the image of Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela in hopes of recruiting for the task of joining ISIS?

I wish I could say this is an offering that I could worship you wholly as she did, that I could see the world as a warrior sees it. But I cannot. I can see the beauty of Goya’s dark paintings, left in secret on the walls of his own home, horror and beauty contiguous. But I cannot worship this drive to death, this entity that threatens to take from me the most sacred thing I have yet known. I could feel her over me, within me. In the deepest parts of my mind I hear her. She wonders why I did not war with her. Tell her, I felt fear. Undefined fear. Tell her I was cowardice, and did not understand she was at war.

13 thoughts on “Dear Mother Death: What is war?

  1. On the 22nd of March, 2016 my mother was hospitalized, rushed into emergency surgery for septic shock. I woke up at 3am to a phone call from my older brother. The doctor’s didn’t think she would make it through the night.

    I bought the first plane ticket I could, $700, to sit in a confined box with only my thoughts. Thoughts of what if I didn’t make it in time? What if I never got to say goodbye? What if my phone call from a week ago was the last time I would have ever heard her voice?

    When I got to the hospital she was in ICU. She had made it. As the days progressed she fought her way through the drugs. She was able to answer my desperate question, my plea, of “Do you know who I am?” And my heart broke with joy. She was still here. She was still with me.

    I stayed with her every night for two weeks as she got better. I stayed with her through the second surgery. I slept in horrible hospital chairs and loved every second, every moment, because I was with her holding her hand, running my fingers through her hair as she slept. The sound of her breathing was the sweetest sound I had ever heard in my life, and even with IVs and tubes and wires all over her, my mother was the most beautiful creature on Earth in my eyes.

    On April 4th, 2016 she passed away. I was at home sleeping because everyone told me to go home. To rest. To eat. To take care of myself. I slept while my mother coded and didn’t recover.

    I don’t think of it as war, as your writing describes, but maybe it was. We were fighting to go uphill. To get better, recover. We were fighting to go home where I would be her caretaker. Where I could give her love and devotion, a small fraction for everything she gave in me in my life. And now I can’t do that.

    We did everything right, and we still lost, as if the Universe is some sort of game using cheat codes to foil our efforts.

    She was my mentor, my guide, my best friend. She was my sun that helped me make it through the darkest times in my life, and now she has set, passed over the horizon of the circle of life and I will not see her until, I too, track along my path and finally come to that tipping point where people cannot see over the curve of the circle.

    I found myself getting angry as I drove back from LA. I had gone to visit friends I haven’t seen in four years. Something to pass the time, something to help with the pain, something so I wouldn’t be alone. On the drive back, surrounded by the vastness of desert and mountains I started getting angry, and I cried from shame.

    I don’t want to feel anger. I don’t want to be angry at her especially. She did nothing wrong, and if she where here I know she would hug me and tell me that it will be ok. I still don’t know how I am waking up in the morning, taking care of life, showering, brushing my teeth, eating, going to the gym… It’s like an auto pilot mode that I didn’t realize I had. I’m not able to stop even though I’m not really putting effort into anything. I don’t think. I don’t feel, at least not often. I just do. I try to sleep, hoping that I won’t have dreams about thousands of spiders invading my room.

    I don’t know what I feel right now. It’s still new. It’s still not fully real, and most likely won’t be until the first time I want to tell her something, the first time I pick up the phone to call and realized that she won’t answer. She can’t answer, not that way. Not any more. And I will shatter, I’m sure.

    I’m sorry for your lose. I’m sorry for both of our loses. I’m sorry it hurts and that I can’t help you any more than I can help myself at the moment. Maybe knowing that someone grieves beside you can provide some small measure of comfort. We are both fighting ourselves, but at last we are not fighting alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am deeply sorry for your loss my dear. I am at loss for words, and do not have them that will make any of us feel better. I can’t even tell you if it will get better or not. I hope it does, but I know the feeling of sometimes not wanting it to get better, not wanting the hurt an pain to go away, because you feel as if the pain, the hurt connects you. I am going through similar feels, and emotions over a loss I’ve had. I try to put it in it’s place, but it is impossible. All I can offer is a listening outlet. I am here for whenever you want to talk. Even get angry and yell. Again, I am deeply sorry. Hugs. Big Hugs…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. *hugs back*

    Thank you, Ridge. There are no words, for either side. “Hugs. Big Hugs…” was the kindest thing you could have said even though it made the tears come back. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As much as I hate crying I think it is needed. A friend of mine wrote a quote to me, “the soul of the departed must ride in the canoe of our tears to make it to the other shore. If you can weep heartily for dear mum, telling her story and singing her on to the next world, in a safe place where you can do such things freely, that might be the most beautiful thing for her and for you.”

    It helps. Compassion helps. Understanding helps. Thank you for your kindness and for replying. Thank you for letting me post my feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I lost my first Mother, my aunt who had brought me up from a baby to cancer. It was a terrible war because she didn’t want to go and leave me alone. I too was sleeping when she went and still have anger that no one woke me. I then lost my uncle who had brought me up, then my biological Father and finally my biological Mum. I rallied and shouted at death, it was a terrible, dreadful time, I was on auto pilot for ten years. I still haven’t made my peace with death for taking them all away over a period which all councillors and psychiatrists have said was too short. I have made a figure out of death, given it power and I don`t want to do that, so slowly I`m learning, and I still light candles for those who are left. I am so sorry for your loss, people say time heals all wounds, it doesn`t heal but it does give you the time to think about what happened properly. I hope this makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There is little that anyone can say when someone is grieving that doesn’t seem hollow somehow because we are numb. You don’t get over it. Time doesn’t heal the wound. We learn to cope. We learn to forgive ourselves for continuing to live and maybe even for allowing ourselves to be happy. We cherish the memories and keep their picture near and maybe a favorite item of theirs because it is what we have left of them on this side of the veil. If you need to talk you know where to find me.

    Liked by 2 people

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