For the ones who left us behind
This article was written over the course of several months. A material that I kept returning to when unfortunate moments of death and dying entered my life. As I mourned the deaths in my own life, my mind would return to Annie Wilson’s performance.
“It’s the hardest for the ones left behind.” The words still echo in my head as Annie Wilson so bravely bared her soul to us in her brilliant solo At Home With the Humorless Bastard, this winter at the Fringe Arts space in Philadelphia.
At Home With the Humorless Bastard is a public mourning. Annie Wilson plays the Bastard and this performance catches her trudging through the most difficult of times: Wilson mourns the loss of her sister. Where does loss take us? What gets left behind? Alongside her, I can’t help but be depressed by the recent election results/ the country’s anticipation of a fascist leader taking the highest office, but the piece isn’t pointed at that. But together, shit has reached the deepest low.
The weight of this journey with Wilson is cavernous and emotional. From the start Wilson offers the audience the choice to involve ourselves in this journey or divide ourselves from this Bastard that guides us. I choose to head on the freefall that lies ahead with the Bastard.
We/ she are glittered. There is a shift.
We/ she spiral out of control. There is a shift.
We/ she reverb, moan. We let it out together.
Wilson screams. She dumps herself in a see-through tub of water filled with glitter. She spirals. She is often spiraling. The weight in her hips, reverberating from her center to the edges: the fingertips, the toes. Her hair swings wildly. And always with an odd shimmer from the glitter stuck to her naked body.
I think about my grandparents who have died. My grandma Eleanor died nearly a year ago and I wasn’t able to make it to the funeral in Indiana. My family planned the funeral a quick two days after she died, making it impossible for me to even plan a hurried trip to the funeral. On the phone my Dad says I didn’t need to come to the funeral.
I cry alone.
Only in Bastard, with strangers, was I granted an opportunity to mourn my grandma’s death with a collective.
The Fringe Arts space is cluttered with giant tubes and pillows. These are vague abstractions to the body. A giant blood bag hovers ominously over the space. Perhaps a menstrual cycle? What if it drops? The anticipation. The waiting. I imagine the spoils and spills. However, we don’t need it to drop as the spills manifest in Wilson’s body. The bastard has been dug into this site for years.
The bastard is chaotic, but careful. We see her selecting her place. Cleaning up after herself. Strategizing where her body belongs now. Her voice echoing into a tube or her purposefully reorganizing a set of clip lights. Each shift frames and outlines her often naked body. Her nakedness is more than literal. The rawness of loss attaches itself to the furthest edges of her muscle and crevices. The glitter doesn’t let go of her skin. Her dancing spirals send her body slowly down stage at an angle. Her spine bends. Her hair whips through the air as if conjuring something into the unknown. Once there is no further place to go downstage she wanders back upstage, catty-corner and continues. The loss, the seeking to expel something that is unable to be stopped, or perhaps which she is unprepared to let go of. I feel it with her. Frustrations of my own exhausted body bubbles emotions to the surface.
It is December. Months after my grandma’s death I return home and ask my family that I want to go to my grandma’s grave. “Really?” is the response. I push. I really want to see her grave.
The cemetery is windy and bitterly cold. I bring a candle to light, but the frantic wind makes is impossible to stay lit.
When do we just need to let go? These are the checks and balances of emotion. The where and when we control our voices and have the choice to involve ourselves or completely disengage. I engage thus, with the Bastard, I sing. “It’s the hardest for the ones left behind.”
We all become naked as we sing. We can’t help but bare ourselves in the moments that we cannot control the tears.
I cry in front of my grandma’s grave holding my boyfriend’s hand. I’m finally saying goodbye.
Others (audience members) assist the Bastard on stage re-enacting a particular moment in the Bastard’s past. The Bastard catches us in the most awkward of moments, hugged by a stranger. The bastard sneakily guides the audience to “secretly” drink whiskey. It is a document of what is seen and unseen. The raw human condition of what we want to/ are willing to share. It is also us becoming the Bastard as well. Being placed in her shoes. I'm in her shoes.
More months have passed. I am far from home and my boyfriend calls to tell me my pet parakeet Pidge has died. I ask to Facetime to see Pidge. I am flooded with uncontrollable tears as I stare at the broken, tiny body of Pidge in the corner of its cage.
I am distant staring at its feathered body through a phone screen.
Why am I not there?
I am spiraling. There is nothing I can say or do, but spiral.
How deep are we willing to go with the bastard?
There’s excess. Indulgence in many things: too much glitter, mock drunkenness that Annie singularly inhabits an entire bar of drunks, a horrific figure skating injury. Death. It almost appears simple, however it is rather that it has been lived for so long that it appears effortless.
We hit the gut.
“It’s the hardest for the ones left behind.”
I am not there for Pidge. Hundreds of miles away from my baby bird. I have no words. I try to sidetrack my mind by beginning a story, but barely get a few words in before I break down again, crying. There’s no use but to accept this moment. Accept this weakness. But I cannot accept this loss.
Annie’s sister’s death. We cry, we mourn with her. She sculpts a coffin from the set: tubes, clip lights, pillows, and blankets. She screams “Get up.” Over and over.
Get up sister.
Get up Grandma.
Get up Pidge.
Individuals from the audience help the bastard clean up. A shrine is created from the mess. Wilson invites us to add to the shrine.
We continue to mourn. We moan. We sing.
It ends. We breathe together.
I wipe tears from my eyes. I see others do the same.
It never ends. “It’s the hardest for the ones left behind.”
In mourning of Pidge, alone in a hotel room, I try to sing:
“Now I'm FourFiveSeconds from wildin'
And we got three more days 'til Friday
I'm just tryin’ to make it back home by Monday mornin'…”
Unable to go on. I’ve choked myself up over a cheesy pop song.
The bastard returns sweeping the stage, the leaves, the shrine begins to pile from audience members leaving something behind. I leave a Metro Card. I’m sure there’s still some money on it. It’s meant to be a gift in this moment. Not because there is money on it, but because it can be left behind.
Yesterday I buried Pidge in the backyard. Again my boyfriend is there with me as I cry. I bury them with their bell. When I ring it one last time it reminds me of so many mornings uncovering Pidge’s cage as we bump or tap the bell together. This bell was theirs, their essence, their sound. This will always be theirs. This memory will always be ours.
Now, audience members are talking gingerly in the space, in the seats. The bastard continues to sweep. I hug a friend who remains. We can’t but be affected, we digest what we have just seen. Most of the audience has left by this point. But the Bastard still remains.
The light shifts, coloring the menstrual blood bag unlike ever before. A silence reaches those who have stayed. We perhaps hold our breath as the bastard has also paused.
It’s the hardest for the ones left behind.
Wilson sings one last time. This deep visceral song is marked on me even though I have no memory of the words.
These things stay with us. They are imprints for today. Tomorrow. And the next day. It shifts. It breathes. We choose when we let it take us. Make us angry. Seek support. Spiral. And keep going. We must keep going because we can get up. We get up for them.