I don’t care for the aftermath. Taking action feels a lot more powerful, and living in the moment offers less time to consider one’s regrets. After is an ugly guy who comes for a visit, sleeps on the couch, eats up all the food in the fridge, and won’t tell me when he’s leaving. But After gives me an opportunity to arrange recent events in a framework that makes sense. Then I can move on. Then I can make peace with What Is.
My Daily After is the butt end of a day, and I’m the last two inches of a smoldering cigar. While I’m in the middle of teaching a class I’m usually caught up in the process of communicating with students, evaluating their work, giving advice and planning ahead for the next exercise. I sometimes teach Drawing I and II simultaneously and have little time for a breather. When a class is over I answer follow up questions and tidy the studio before making my exit. On the walk to the parking lot I download the emotions I’ve pushed aside in class. (An instructor must create the illusion of self composure at all times.) As I trudge to the car my adrenaline fades, and my books and equipment feel heavier the longer I carry them. Then I discover how much effort I’ve expended. My mood dips, and I relive each mistake just made in class.
My Rejection After varied during my dating years. Sometimes a girlfriend dumped me long before I was ready to call it quits, and my feelings for her lingered painfully for a month or two. Other break ups left nothing but a sense of relief and freedom. Time and reflection sometimes gave the realization that I had been mercifully spared. But in one case it took me three years to figure out that the object of my desire had treated me badly and always would.
The Grieving After: My sister suffered a long decline as she died from ALS. During a visit I presented an even tempered demeanor. I reminded myself as I talked to my parents, brother and sister that my emotions were not the most important thing. Time spent with my family was not about me. My true state of mind asserted itself on the plane ride home. I took an upgrade to first class if the ticketing agent made an offer, and I ordered a complimentary whiskey before the plane took off. I felt no shame as I gulped my drink even if the morning sun had just crossed the horizon. As we flew south I stared out of the window at the passing clouds, and a heavy sensation filled my chest. On the trip home from Orlando International my wife drove, and I sobbed. I became functional after two or three days passed, but during the down time spoke little and kept to myself. I found it difficult to adjust to the concrete realization, reinforced over and over during my visit, that dying is a process of losing everything.
My father in law died in 2008. The kind and solicitous representatives from the funeral home drove us from the grave site to my mother in law’s house. The man riding shotgun opened the door to let us out of the limo and quickly turned away without saying anything in farewell. I realized that the funeral directors had finished their work, and any compassion shown at the viewing, service and interment had been part of a contract just ended. We were on our own. My mother in law drove us to her favorite local restaurant for lunch. It had rained hard at the cemetery, but now the clouds scattered and weak sunlight brightened the wintry hills of eastern Pennsylvania. The crowded dining room hummed with conversation, and the checkered table cloth and vase of artificial chrysanthemums made our table insistently cheerful. Our group said little at first, but after the food arrived we chewed our salads, ate our bread, and told a few stories about the man we had buried an hour before. We even laughed at a few jokes.