John Candy died on a Friday. I was nine and a half years old, seated on the bed of a Red Lion hotel. Room 34. (That last part I only remember because it was March 4th and the room number matched the day.)
The bedding was the sort I didn’t like. The fall-toned coverlet was stitched with a thread that seemed almost plastic, and my fingers would find a way to their pattern and pick at the crease.
My fingers were nervous back then. They didn’t know the cool meditation of telling stories to a keyboard and listening as it snapped back its understanding of their disjointed form of poetry.
I chewed the nails. I bit the pads. I let them bully the bedspreads, scratching the polyester until it squeaked, finding every fault in the fabric and making it worse.
Eventually, my sister would take the coverlet out of my reach, saving it from me and my nervous ticks– and I would fall asleep in the soft white sheets and fluffy white comforter. But we had just gotten there, straight from school. She was eating room service pancakes and the rest of my siblings were huddled on the floor, playing Uno. My parents were already lecturing somewhere nearby and we were on our own till they came back.
The news was blaring, blabbering on about this and that– something horrible happened far away, something horrible happened close by. And then they said John Candy died.
I remember my hands stopped moving– the sound of nails scratching against polyester paused in the small room– and my brothers and sisters looked up at me. They had drowned out the anchorwoman, so I repeated the details.
Their faces reflected how I felt: a little confused, a little sad, a little afraid for no specific reason. Somehow, the shared reaction made me feel a little bit better.
My older sister recovered first, saying that she’d always remember that she learned John Candy died while she was eating pancakes. Twenty-four years later, I still remember that, too.
Compared to other things in the news that day, it was a pretty small detail. One man, known to my family only through a screen, passed away in Mexico. As far as tragedies go, it was a nebulous one. It didn’t fit neatly into a box in my mind. It was a tempered grief, measured out in parcels and divided among many memories and ideas.
I think of it when I eat pancakes, sometimes. I think of it in hotel rooms, or sometimes when my hands run across those polyester coverlets with nylon threading. I still pick at those threads when I find them. They are so flawed and my fingers are drawn to the details of those faults.
I still bite my nails when my fingers don’t have the ingredients to make poetry.
Last year, I took down plastic shower curtain rings from the forgotten bathroom in a friend’s new house, and could almost hear the scratching sound of fingernails on a hotel coverlet. Last month, I ran my hands over a heavy woolen trench coat with shoulder pads and could almost smell the syrup.
It’s an ending that’s woven into my mind without any real understanding of the beginning of the story. It’s flawed, and my brain picks at the faults when it is nervous.
And my brain is a nervous place.
I chew on ideas until they are raw. I bite onto truths and shake them until they shatter into more truths… flexible truths. Truths that are compact enough that I could maybe manage to digest them in a single bite.
My mind has become a piñata and none of the thoughts inside come neatly boxed or wrapped anymore.
And I wonder if there is any organization left in there at all. If there are any finished stories. Or if everything has just become another John Candy.
And I wonder if poetry slams wildly and grief stabs indiscriminately —
if a piñata’d mind can be shattered open from the inside.
And I wonder if I did open up entirely–
what my nervous fingers would think of all the flaws
in my sweetest truths.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Ra Avis is the author of Sack Nasty: Prison Poetry and the girl behind the dinosaur at Rarasaur.com. She is a once-upon-a-time inmate, a reluctantly-optimistic widow, and an exponential storyteller.
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