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every party is a twelve-foot-tall skeleton
hi griefbacon readers. happy october. to celebrate the season of ghosts and parties, I’m extending the secret sale from last week for just a few more days. subscribe at a discount until midnight on thursday. the most recent subscriber-only essay was one of my favorites, if I can say that about my own post, so I particularly recommend it right now.
anyway, here’s an essay.
Last night, the cold air struggled in through the window and smelled like October, with all the holidays and the coming winter coiled up inside it and waiting. So it’s here again. Everything is too fast. It’s still summer; it’s still spring when we had Covid and I was going to change my life as soon as I got better; it’s still the early part of May in England when everything was green and I had so many fresh-polished plans. It’s still last winter, last year, last fall, last summer, and everyone is still alive and no one is sick yet and no bad news comes down my phone. The clock runs back. It’s last fall and the one before that, the last innocent season. It’s three years ago and no one knows the name of the plague. Whole vocabulary lessons erase themselves. The years roll the carpet back over the floors and set out snacks and drinks for guests again. It’s four in the morning and everyone is still happy. It’s four years ago and I’m wearing all my sweaters and I have almost no tattoos. Downtown by the park near the church, huge flocks of birds whorl against the sharp blue of the late autumn sky and everyone is ok again, and in our building we still sit on the stairs from one floor to another and gossip about the neighborhood.
Except it’s now and it’s here, the year too far ahead, and all of us gone too far and too fast out into the future. The one after the next one means nothing. Last year we were all in the aftermath, even though we weren’t, not really. It was the last year we could still pretend to all be in the same story together. We weren’t; nobody ever has been. The great flattening lie of history trying to smooth the fabric down so it doesn’t hint that there’s a body below it is always just that, a lie and a cover, serving the people who need it the least and leaving everyone else hungry. There’s always a body underneath. There are bodies buried under the park and under the high-rises, under the colorful falling leaves and the Halloween decorations, and under that one block outside Macy’s where in the harshest daylight sun the pavement still lights up like diamonds.
October is coming; October is here, and under October the bodies are buried, piled up in rows like math or like laundry. This time of the year is about ghosts and windows. It’s about dressing up and about parties, which is just another way to say that it’s about ghosts. I write this essay every year, but that’s the thing about the seasons. They come back around and repeat every single time. No matter how many times you’ve done it, you have to do it all again. Every year the air smells like the cold and like the leaves and like the heater just came on in somebody else’s house. Every year the turn in the year smells like all the turns in all the years before it. Comparison is the thief of joy, but here we are in it again. Comparison and remembrance is all the calendar has to offer, and all it knows how to do. Here we are in every October before this October, and here we are in this one.
There’s that thing iPhones do where out of nowhere they pick a bunch of photos and play a little slideshow movie that’s designed like a missile to hurt you as much as it can. Autumn is like that, but only because all seasons are like that, and only because everything is like that: Here you are again, back at everything you have ever done. Line it all up and compare it, see if you can wrench it into the shape of beauty. If I can get to the next day everything will be better. The holidays will be good this time. I will throw parties and cook things and eat things and wear sweaters; I will get the ratios of participation and refusal right. My house will feel like a house again and I won’t think about where I am going to live next year or how I am going to live anywhere at all. Tomorrow, parties will be parties again. Tomorrow, all the windows that light up on the street in the early dark will be my own home.
It’s not that it never happens this way. It’s that it does, actually, happen, but only sometimes, and only for a brief flare of a minute. Happiness— that sense of having reached the place out of reach, having gotten inside the warm windows, having actually succeeded at going to a party—is like when one verse (1:20) on one track on one album is so good that I play the whole thing over and over just to get the forty-five second high in the middle of it. Sometimes the party really is a party, for half an hour, or for the length of one conversation, or in one corner of one room. Sometimes one single night out of the whole winter is perfect, and then for the next three days you are hungover and miserable, crashing from lack of sleep and routine, telling yourself that you just feel this bad because you are so very interesting, then crying inconsolably over FaceTime.
“Tomorrow, everything will be good again” is often a real promise, one that can be kept, one that comes true. It’s just that it means only that: Tomorrow everything might be good again, but after that you’re on your own. Fall smells like fall. I take the old sweaters that used to be Lee’s down from the closet, the dry-cleaner paper inside them crunching like bright autumn leaves. Everything is good again for an hour, for five minutes, for a day and a half. Everything is beautiful again just long enough for it to feel like I’ve solved it, and then it disappears. The dark rushes back in early, coming for the afternoon. I try to love it; I succeed at loving it; loving it changes nothing. Here I am again, up against the same October, accumulating the text of all the other Octobers.
It’s the season for parties, which means it’s getting dark early. We are all trying to do something about it: the dark, the cold, the speed of time, the old grudges, the helpless sense of being alone at the edge of the continent of history, staring out into a vast icy darkness. All the bands you ever loved are playing reunion shows. Everyone is playing at rebirth and retrieval, at rising up again. Everyone is going out into the early dark with a huge armful of lights, climbing up to the roof to string the lights gaudily around the house until the neighborhood shines. Everyone is buying the twelve-foot Home Depot skeleton. Everyone has spent years living with grief and loss and reality and small rooms, and everyone wants to be done with it. A line forms down in the poisoned town square, each person trading the world for a party. Everything is better as long as nobody talks about it. Everyone agrees not to talk about it. Everyone makes desperate bargains. Everyone is doing all the things they always planned to do, living in the movie, wearing the short skirt, kissing whomever they want to kiss, covering the house in lights and putting the twelve-foot skeleton up in the front yard. We try to celebrate until something worth celebrating appears, summoning the world up out of the cold earth by way of a dance on its grave.
Everyone looks so great now, even the people who look like shit. The people who look great also look like shit, and that’s why everyone looks so great, in this disaster of the year, in this lost cause of a city where nobody can afford to live. We have lived beyond consequences, or lived into the eye at the center of them, here in this October when nobody talks about it, barreling toward a meaningless new year. So very many people are dead and all the street are full of bones, but here we are wearing our biggest heels and our brightest faces, smoking cigarettes on the street and batting away the ghosts. Bars are good again and everyone is having a party; everyone is a party. No one is old if they don’t want to be, and even young people aren’t young anymore. Everything is new which means nothing is new; even the new things already feel used up,. Everything is so ripe it dissolves in your hands, the juice running down your arm. Parties only start in the middle; every good party has already started, already in full swing by the time you arrived. Parties happen at the ends of things —graduations, birthdays, marriages, funerals, New Year’s Eve, Saturday nights— which means that living in the permanent end of things must be a non-stop party.
Crowded rooms spill onto the street, and all the party dresses look like a zillion dollars in a world without currency. Somehow we all lived out past the end of the world, and now everybody is a hot girl. The desire to be transformed is pitched at the high keening note of desperation. Change only happens we’re cornered, when we reach the place where the road runs out. 2022 has gone too fast, but here we are. The waiting is over, and all the catastrophes have arrived, crashing in through the unmarked door of the party, arms full of good liquor and cold beer.
But at least there’s still fall, and leaves, and sweaters, still Halloween and then rest of the holidays. There is still time, maybe, between knowing about the end of a thing and arriving at it. Maybe this year it won’t happen. Maybe this time we’ll all be ok. Tomorrow all the parties will be good again. We’ll live in the nowhere of a house party when sweat comes down the walls, and no one will think about the end of the night, and the door, and the street outside and the cold and the dark there, and the next day and the Monday after and what happens next, and if anything does at all. Outside it smells like fall, and all the other years rush in and ask for attention. Tomorrow I’ll walk outside in a big sweater, and forgive myself for every October that came before.
thanks for reading. this is griefbacon’s weekly-ish public essay. there’s a sale on yearly subscriptions going on for a few more days. subscribers get extra essays most weeks, essays on the weeks when I don’t send public essays, and access to the conversation-pit themed discussion threads, which are sort of like an old-school chat room. xo