In the Land of the Living

My sister would have been 42 years old last Friday.

I try to imagine Stephanie at age 42. Would she still be writing? Would she still wear leather jackets? Would she still have that michievous smile? I try to imagine how she would look now, if she had lived.

She died in 1992, a couple of weeks after her 28th birthday, in her apartment in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. She had given up heroin about a year earlier, and despite some setbacks, she was struggling bravely with the agonies of withdrawal. But she was also drinking heavily to ease the pain, and was probably anorexic as well. She knew that the alcohol was harming her, and she resolved to give that up, too, after she had the narcotic addiction under control; but her time ran out. The coroner said she died of liver failure.

I remember her body on the steel table, how small it looked.

She did not want to die. She even wrote it in her diary:
I don't wanna die. I was thinking the other day that I should have that tattooed someplace on my person, somewhere in small letters, like

I dont

maybe in the middle of my chest or inside my arm or my ankle, inconspicuous and small. I was thinking about the undertaker who with my cold and white body laying stiff on his stainless steel table would find the small tattoo and read it. I don't wanna die. A message for the undertaker, for my lover, for God, for my aging skin. I would like to see his face, the undertaker's.

When we were growing up, we didn't have much exposure to death. I don't believe we ever went to a funeral as kids. As I grew older, I began to think - with all the sophistication of a young adult - that this kind of insulation was unhealthy and stultifying; and that, therefore, people who had had contact with death must be privy to some insights that were denied to me. Now I know that this was wrong and stupid; that you do not learn anything from death, you only learn from life.

You can read Stephanie's poetry here and her fiction and prose here.

Cross-posted at Dreams Into Lightning - TypePad.