3/06/2021

Some stuff on my mind. Some of it about death. Some of it about WandaVision.

I want a word for the feeling when someone you lost touch with dies. You always think there’s more time until there’s not. I want to explain how off balance it feels when the nebulous “later” disappears and that “how have you been?” email you never wrote is never going to get sent.


I’ve only experienced this with acquaintances, former colleagues and bosses who were much older than me. I can’t imagine how it might feel when it’s someone who was important to me.


This is one of the unsettling things I’ve thought about because of COVID. My friends still follow their exes and ex-friends on social media. They see pictures of their new girlfriends and wives and kids, their new cities, their new homes. I don’t. The lives of almost everyone I’ve ever loved remain obscured to me. 


When I was a kid, I remember those human anatomy books that had transparent overlays. Each plastic sheet added another system, revealing another layer of the body. Every once in a while I don’t feel like a person, but a book of layered images. 


It’s hard to put into words but here’s an example. I interact with a lot of professional groups. Once, I learned a member of one of those groups was the boy I fell madly in love with in the seventh grade. I had a very embarrassing unrequited crush on him for years. Through circumstances somehow even more embarrassing, we ended up becoming close friends. And then we had a falling out and never spoke again. 


Skip forward 15 years. A lifetime later. I see his distinctive name while I’m just going about my business, and suddenly I’m right there, seeing right through me to that layer. I’m 13 again, playing “The Red” by Chevelle on repeat, feeling alone in the world because he doesn’t notice me. I’m 16 again, smoking my first cigarette in his car. I’m 17 again, and I say something about him that’s true but it ruins everything. Telling the truth has always been my problem.


I see this familiar name in an incongruous context and it’s funny, uncomfortable, surreal. What’s going to happen when all the familiar names are in memorial posts on Instagram? In obituaries? I’m 32. It seems like such a ridiculous thing to think about now, and it might have been ridiculous a year ago, 500,000 deaths ago.


It’s less ridiculous now.


***


Like a lot of Americans, I’ve been captivated by WandaVision for the last nine weeks. Now that the show is over, it’s clear that it wasn’t what anyone expected it to be. 


I don’t just mean that because so many fan theories fell flat as the showrunners trolled us with red herring after red herring. I mean it felt like Jungian shadow work as zeitgeist. It feels eerie to reflect on the show as a whole now, because more than anything it now seems to be a mirror. A mirror of those early days of COVID when we took refuge in Netflix and Zoom hangouts and sourdough, reunion specials and the novelty of wearing sweatpants during business hours. How quickly we realized the darkness under our desire to cope. How quickly we saw this was years of grief and trauma metastasized to a monstrosity we couldn’t hide from anymore.


Elizabeth Olsen stole my whole heart as Wanda. I know in my bones that anyone who watched the show could pinpoint their own baggage, could reflect on the harm broken people cause others. Of course a show about refusing to accept a crushing loss became a hit.


There’s so much I want to talk about related to the show. But there’s this one line that is so devastating in its truth that I think tattoo artists are going to get sick of it in the next six months. In a flashback, as Wanda mourns the loss of her brother (by watching sitcoms as a distraction, naturally), Vision tells her, “But what is grief, if not love persevering?”


Grief is love persevering. Nothing has ever made more sense to me.


Does this relate to anything I wrote above? Yes and no. I think love perseveres. I also think even milder attachments retain some hold on us. I am an encyclopedia of losses tiny and epic, enough miscellany and myth to fill a museum. I’m not special. We all dress up our tragedies in the wardrobe of sitcoms. Like Wanda, we all need to be reminded the people in our lives are not side characters in our shows, but entire universes of their own.


No one can really know someone else’s life. But I think the past year has shown us we’re all just putting on a show. Something about that veil being lifted feels really comforting.