Things Fall Apart

Last night I had a dream that I was with River Phoenix on the last day of his life. I was me, from the present, so I knew that one of us would not make it to daybreak, and I spent the night with my first desperate crush, desperate to change events that I knew I could not.

We were in a theatre and he was set to perform, but barriers kept revealing themselves, blocking his way to the stage, threatening harm. People with knives, falling set pieces, and I kept thinking, One of these things will kill him before I wake up. And, Why can’t I save him? But even in my abstract, impressionistic dreamland I knew why I couldn’t save him.

We weren’t at The Viper Room, he wasn’t in a corner of the bathroom about to ingest a fatal dose of drugs, but I was lucid enough to know that he was doomed. I kept looking at his perfect face and felt not like a love-struck, pubescent preteen who had stared many hours at a poster on the wall, but like a mother. In my dream it was a maternal crush, an internal crush, of my organs churning against each other that I felt in the hollow of my belly. I could tell that morning was approaching and I turned to look behind me, knowing that my children, my two real beautiful children, would wake up soon, and that they would need me.

I put my hands on his face and whispered, I’m sorry I can’t save you.
I opened my eyes.


My friend just lost her father. Of all the moments of all the days that I have spent thinking about her recently, one thought flashes brighter and more painful than the rest. It is the thought, the moment, residing between the incredible, dizzying realization that the person you love is going to leave you, and the stone-like, definitive understanding that it has happened.

It is the disbelief that death has come and taken away the person you love. The simple, defiant mistrust in simple, horrible information that catapults you into the very centre of the universe and all of its absurdities.

Why should I believe you? Why should I believe that my father is dead just because you say he is?

When you have travelled into the centre of the universe, the surface no longer seems as scary.


They are no longer the youth. They have grown up, married, have had children. They do not set goals and chat dreamily about where and how and will but grit their teeth and in beleaguered whispers accuse when and why and why not?

They see needs wants fears love change and see the space between outreaching hands grow more distant each day. They say yes. They say no. No. No.

At the dissolution of several friends’ marriages, Chris and I cling tighter. We whisper to each other that we’re ok, that we’ve been through our tough years for now and that we are stronger, that we will make it, that we do not want to lose this.

And I tell him that he is stuck with me, because I still don’t really know my way around here without him.



  1. Your writing is so beautiful, Karen.

  2. Loss is such a profound feeling and experience. I'm going to my grandmother's memorial weekend after next, and I know I will be struck by the roomful others to follow. It's a morbid thought, but I can't help but think it and cling, too, to what I do have.

  3. Lovely. Even though it's all very sad.

  4. My close friend just lost her father unexpectedly and for the past several years, I've watched my husband struggle to accept the loss of his beloved parent. I've caught myself watching my parents more closely. Wanting to memorize, to understand, to keep. It's hard to be at ease with the feeling of time sliding forward.
    Also, teenage crush o' mine? River Phoenix. All consuming. Felt grief and betrayal when he died.

  5. Amazing piece of writing, Karen. I feel this, too, this need to grip tight to what we have before it slips away.

  6. My husband and I have been together for 21 years now. We've only been married for 11 of those years, but I tell him regularly he's not allowed to die. I don't know my way around here without him, either.


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