The Art of Leaving


In a strange yet somehow-exactly-anticipated respect, Jenny’s blog piece last Wednesday—her “Prolonged Performances of Grief,” the fiercely humbling tribute she wrote on losing me to Los Angeles—has made (the thought of, the act of) moving easier. She’s done the grieving, honestly, openly, already.

Her gift—not in the least because it went on for pages, and whoever ever has pages devoted to themselves and their (apparent) virtues—had me in tears, getting up from my spindly computer chair, waltzing into the kitchen to hug her half-sobbing. Editing the piece, in the face of this, felt like a kind of self-indulgent masochism: and so does writing even a word about the piece now. Nothing feels appropriate. Who, honestly, could follow something like that?

But here we are.

One of my favorite novels, Mark Merlis’s An Arrow’s Flight, retells the myth of Alcestis and Admetus in classic Homeric fashion: a story within a story, replete with its own anachronistic similes, colorful deities, and metaphorical significance for the primary narrative’s hero. The situation of this little diversionary tale? Pyrrhus—queer, sissy, go-go dancer turned army recruit, son of the now dead warrior Achilles—is talking to Phoenix, an old fart of a counselor, as they are marched by wind and engine on the ship of Odysseus toward some unclear destiny.

As the ship plugs steadily along towards Lemnos and (perhaps?) Troy, Pyrrhus asks Phoenix about Admetus, an old salt, one of the many of Odysseus’s’ crewmen. This is where Homer would insert the metaphorical significance: that’s what rapsodes do with stories-within-stories.

Simply put, as a young man, Admetus’s number was up—that’s the most important thing about him, as myth would have you believe. His wonderful life, his little fiefdom, his sons, the happy marriage to his dutiful and prepossessing wife: none of it matters beyond the fact that Apollo owes Admetus a favor and manages to trick the Fates (he gets them drunk) into allowing someone else to die in his place. Admetus asks around. No one, not his friends, not even his mother, agree: some are incredulous, does he think his own life more important than theirs? Until she… The mark for the Fates’ existential loophole ends up being his own wife. He grants her her wish to take his place in Hell, almost immediately—securing for himself immortality, watching as the oarsman comes to collect her and escort her to Hades’ depths. At our point in Phoenix's story, Admetus is prepping for her funeral. The text goes:

“During [Alcestis’] sojourn in Hell Admetus was busy, the way we keep survivors busy: getting the notice in the papers, reserving the temple, haggling with the caterers and the florists. All these activities that don’t just distract you from grief but positively affirm the central fact of your situation: you’re not the one who died, you’re still here doing all these things. I’ve seen mourners who were practically giddy, watching themselves with wonder and near-glee as they went through their humdrum duties.”

I’m sad, yes. Of course it’s sad. But if prepping for a move to Los Angeles is anything like prepping for Alcestis’s funeral, then it is impossible to ignore the central fact: it is plain easier to leave. It’s easier to be the one who’s leaving. (That LA is composed of equal parts heat, concrete, abs, and drought, makes it only all the more fitting a stand-in for Hades…)

It’s easier to leave: I’m busy looking for jobs; hitching rides downtown with my friend, Franklin, with boxes and boxes of books and clothes to resell; compiling lists of my needs/wants in a new apartment; figuring out who the fuck will foster my stuff for the month I’m couch-surfing before I can move in with Asaf. I’m busy. Maybe a little frantic. Maybe a little uncomfortable. Maybe a little giddy, too. Ultimately this is way easier than being one of the ones left behind. Like YA author, John Green, puts it in Paper Towns: “It’s so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it’s the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” It’s still its own sort of discomfort: but settling into a new place, with acclimatization on the menu for new landscapes and new people, is one of the more prolonged distractions from leaving that I can think of.

I keep thinking of the poster my 7th grade English Teacher had up on t