Content note: this post contains allusions to suicide. Please take care of yourself.
Daniel Johnston died, and all night you floated through my dreams. You were so close that I could almost breathe you in, could almost connect with the dry touch of your hand—but every time I reached towards you, you’d fade, or grow more distant. There’s always been this space between us, ever since you died.
At your funeral, they played Walking the Cow. I’d been holding it together until then, but the moment that harmonium started playing, so close-recorded & ramshackle one can hear the contact between Johnston’s fingers and the keys, I dissolved into tears. Doubled over in my seat, howling silently with a grief that has never calmed down, that has never gone away. In my head, thoughts swirled & cycled: It should have been me; and Why did it have to be you?; and What the hell am I going to do here without you?; and No, no, no. And Daniel Johnston’s voice, reedy & shaky & true, rising up in the background:
I really don’t know
how I came here.
I really don’t know
why I’m staying here.
I lost so much music when you died. It took me years before I could listen to Loveless again, or EVOL, or Fursaxa, or Sadie by Joanna Newsom. They all came back to me eventually, as I learnt how to carry the unspeakable weight of my grief, that deep wound in the centre of this thing called Me. But I’ve never yet been able to listen to Daniel Johnston. The sound of his voice reconnects me immediately to that moment in July, 8 years ago, when some faultline cracked inside of me and everything that ached came pouring out. And I knew that you were gone, and I knew that you were gone.
You’re never coming back. I still have to remind myself of that. Most days, I’ll encounter something—a song, a line of poetry, a picture or a flower—that I want to share with you. My impulse moves towards connection; sometimes I even pick up my phone, or a pen—and then I remember that you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone. And I think about the choice you made: how you refused the beauty of the world, because it hurt so much. It’s a feeling I can understand. It’s a choice I’ve considered making, so many times. But I’m still here, and you’ve gone, gone, gone beyond. I hope you were happy when you left. I think so often about your final moments. I hope that they were gentle. I hope that there was peace.
I’m getting married this year. I remember when we first met: we were young, and you were living with my then-boyfriend. He didn’t treat me well; and you were constantly trying to encourage him to do better. I found it a bit embarrassing at the time—I didn’t know what I (& everyone) deserved, and though I believed so deeply in love, I don’t think I knew what it was. But you believed, and you knew. I’ve learnt so much from you about that. From the ways we loved one another. Quietly and care-fully and without expectation or resolution. I think you’d be happy about my wedding. I think you’d laugh quietly, in that way you did, at all my idiosyncrasies and weirdnesses around it. I think you’d make me a mixtape, and it would probably have True Love Will Find You In The End on. It did, I suppose. I’m happy, so happy. And you’re not here.
Don’t be sad
I know you will
I woke up this morning with JC by Sonic Youth echoing in my head. A song we always loved, but which has unfolded into new meanings ever since you died. It’s about a friend of theirs who died suddenly, unexpectedly. His initials—J.C.—were the same as yours. The music shimmers and swells with the urgency of grief; Kim’s lyrics an incantation, hopeless and desperate, recursive and unfolding, reaching out across an uncrossable distance. I think of this song whenever I think of you. I breathe its closing lines like a spell, or like a prayer.
You’re walking through my heart once more—don’t forget to close the door.