No Comfort (excerpt from The Book of Mev)

by Mark Chmiel

There was the wailing wall in my study: How many minutes did I mediate on  those photographs of Mev, how many tears fell, how many screams of mine ascended to Cathy Nolan’s ears upstairs, how she kindly let me be.  Here I am, crying, remembering, wailing.  Only a year or so before, I had begun to learn with Mev  by enrolling in Screaming 101, and then rapidly graduated to the advanced seminars in screaming in solidarity. So, I was not shy about cutting loose, but it did make me a little self-conscious: “Was that last wail too loud?  Am I disturbing Cathy?”

Then, I’d crank the soundtrack from The Piano, the music that Mev and I listened to when she was recovering from surgery in the Alta Bates Hospital.  So this was the long loneliness of Dorothy Day.  So this was  being ground under with grief.  So this was  hitting the wall, howling before my wailing wall, the photos of Mev  divided by six months:  May 1995 beaming as she received the U.S. Catholic Award, and November 1995, seated between two old high school classmates, besieged, drugged, muted, crippled.  So many times, I chanted Bob Dylan’s lines from “All Along the Watchtower,” about how there had to be someway out of here, I couldn’t get any relief.

Relief, there was none, and Mev was not coming back.  Father Kavanaugh reminded us of the resurrection of the body, as he preached one night at the Karen House Mass, looking directly at me. John was trying to offer me some comfort, but, say it’s true, there will be a resurrection of the body, Mev’s body, my body, Aunt Leah’s body, 6 billion, 12 billion, 18 billion human bodies to be resurrected as Christ oversees it all. When is this supposed  to take place, the resurrection of Mev’s body?  It’s supposed to sustain me, give me something —  what? —  to look forward to?  When?  When I die, is that when the resurrection kicks in?  OK, I grant, I should know my Catholic doctrines better.  And then knowing them, believing them, will that  make me cheerful on a night where the void has knocked on my front door and invited itself in, a night when  I am struck by an absence, and voila, the resurrection of the body, God in God’s good time is going to settle the scores, and since the Incarnation’s a big deal, the body’s a big thing, and we’ve been told this is the way it will turn out?  So Mev’s in heaven (one friend wrote to say that she knows Mev is in heaven conversing right now with Jesus — what? In Aramaic or English or Italian maybe?) right, O.K., I’m trying to follow, and she is now presently resurrected or will be when Christ comes in his glory, and which body will it be, Mev’s pre-tumor body or her post-tumor body, how will it be glorified?

But I was alone that night.  There was not going to be any spooning, there was not going to be any  legs intertwining as we drift into sleep, there was not going to be any bells ringing even signaling a pee necessity — I’d give anything even for one of the repeats of Thanksgiving Eve, to be able to look into and rest in those eyes that have tracked me, tucked me, touched me, resurrected me.

Ah, an Arco angel.  I phoned one down the street and admitted, “I’m so miserable, I miss my wife,” sobbing, babbling, and the Angel asks, “Do you want to come down, we can talk?”

“No, thanks, I can’t.”

I hung up, feeling I was exposing myself and others to the emotional vomit that was a fairly constant companion in the weeks since Mev died.  Why puke on someone else?  I made another resolve to stick it out.

Five minutes later, I broke down and called my next-door neighbor Sharon.  “Sharon, I miss Mev.”

I was crying uncontrollably, when she said, “Oh, there’s just no comfort for you tonight.”

Like a Zen Master, Sharon kicked me in the mud of reality, and, in a few seconds, I  exclaimed, “Yes, that’s it, there’s no  comfort for me tonight.  That’s exactly it!”

In three seconds, I went from immersed in misery to a named liberation.  “There’s no comfort, Sharon, but I feel so much better.  No comfort, and I feel so much better.”  I thanked her, hung up,  and looked at my wailing wall, there’s no comfort.  The truth set me free, a little more.  I took it.

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