Fair warning: this is going to be a loaded post.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my precious friend Cate, who took her life just over a year ago. I miss her terribly and confess to having undergone a minor existential crisis in the months following her death. A year on, I suppose I must feel her absence a little less sharply; I no longer reach for my phone every time I think of something I need to tell her or require her opinion on. I’m slowly getting used to the idea that she’s really gone. To make this easier for me to digest, I sometimes tell myself that she’s gone travelling indefinitely and will come back one day. Eventually, I suppose, I’ll be able to tell myself she’s relocated permanently. Obviously I know the first part of this isn’t true, but it’s rather nice thinking of the adventures she could be having. More recently I’ve tried to reimagine this so that instead of gallivanting through this mortal realm, she’s in her own unique heaven.
Because this is a blog about books, I promise it all relates. Fear not; you won’t have to endure my angst through every single word.
It’s funny, I never really thought of heaven much until I started trying to picture Cate there. I don’t know if I even believe in the place, but I hope there is a heaven, and I hope that she is there. She’s not the first person I’ve been close to who’s died yet she certainly seems to be the first I’ve really tried to keep alive in this way. Anyway, in the absence of any knowledge of what heaven might actually be like, if it exists at all, I have inelegantly constructed my own ideas. Drawn from (you guessed it) books.
It’s been a long time since I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I read it in my pre-note-taking days, and daren’t reread it in case what I can take from my memory of it isn’t there at all. I beg you not to correct me on this if I’m wrong. My memory tells me that the protagonist is in her own heaven, both separate and a part of every other souls’. You can run into other people who have died; the various heavens can intersect. But on the whole, her afterlife is completely her own. Drawing from this, I picture Cate in her own little world, which is possibly the best place for her. Her cat, Button, is there. She has a twelve-string guitar and a massive amp, the noise from which disturbs the neighbouring heavens, which she finds hilarious. And all of this is on a boat.
Not that Cate harboured a particular penchant for boats, you understand. (Please laugh at my pun; this post needs some comic relief.) In fact, I don’t know if she had ever been on a boat in her life. Anyway, she and I were both fans of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. I remember spending an afternoon discussing it together, and my joy on discovering she was a note-taker too. She wrote down one of my favourite quotes in her little book. There was something particularly poignant in the fact that she wrote it out by hand when she had an iPad right next to her, and I knew then for sure that she was one of us.
Rosencrantz: We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no… Death is… not. Death isn’t. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not-be on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.
Guildenstern: No, no, no – what you’ve been is not on boats.
What a novel way to imagine death, and yet I realise I’ve created a paradox here: if death couldn’t possibly be a boat, and Cate is most definitely dead, then it stands to reason she’s not now living it up on an ethereal boat. If she could choose her own afterlife, I’m sure it would be vastly different to my description. At the end of the day, I think the point is that part of me needs to keep part of her alive, and that part of me is able to do so if she’s on a boat.
For all the note-taking she did, she liked to make unsolicited amendments to mine. Without invitation to read what I had written, much less alter it, she once took it upon herself to make her own adjustments to something I had written and carelessly left lying around. Ordinarily I would be pretty unimpressed for someone to do this, but I was heartened by it just this once. I was recently out of a troublesome relationship, and had written a page of disjointed thoughts that no one was ever meant to read. The last line was something like,
“They end. That’s what relationships do; they end.”
Just between “what” and “relationships” was now a caret (upwards arrow ^) and the word “ephemeral.” In purple ink and her familiar handwriting. I think she was telling me we’d be friends forever.
I don’t think either of us knew then how things would turn out. I certainly didn’t know she’d be dead within the year. While I was slightly mortified she had read my private papers, part of me was glad she did, and all of me now is grateful for it. I’m glad she told me our relationship to her was no fleeting thing. I always had the feeling she and I had some history together that just hadn’t happened yet, that there were bigger things in store for us. I really wish I hadn’t been wrong on that one.
Nevertheless, by her own admission, she and I were stuck with each other. Little though she may like it, to me she’s in a heaven based entirely on what I’ve pieced together from unlikely sources. My ideas on the afterlife will no doubt change with what I read in the future while continuing to look for answers, but this pastiche will do me for now. It keeps her alive, it keeps me sane, and if I ever needed any motivation, it keeps me reading.
Catherine Anne Kavanagh: 15 June 1984 – 22 April 2015
Goodbye and hello, beautiful soul. May you return in a longer and happier life.