Eulogy For Marcela Torres’s Cuicatl anyolque’ / You lived as song eulogy letter writing campaign
I start the year in a hospital bed, my phone dead, my underwear cut into three, uneven triangles in a sealed plastic bag on the bedside table, staying up all night watching HGTV’s Property Brothers alone since visitors are not allowed with the new Covid-19 restrictions. Morphine helps me slip easily through the night like a large needle piercing both ends of an egg, the yolk and egg whites pouring out in a wet rush. In the morning, I silently cry while sitting on the toilet because it hurts so bad to piss. I am mostly bedridden for a few weeks, convincing myself not to take the painkillers I was prescribed just because I’m bored. My roommate and I decide to rewrite Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream together and spend the afternoon inventing our own characters only to abandon the project as we realize how much mental labor it will require to rework the story. We are like caged animals during the early weeks of quarantine, both of us taking progressively longer walks each afternoon. I walk along the wooded banks of the Chicago River’s North Branch to avoid other passersby. My father and my three younger sisters drive to Chicago to bring me back to Michigan, arriving with two dozen donuts from Kalamazoo’s Sweetwater Donuts, our family’s favorite. We stop at the Art Institute, so I can run inside and retrieve the laptop the museum purchased for me. I tie a silk scarf around my mouth for the first time since the CDC urged everyone to wear face coverings in public a few days earlier and use my staff ID to enter the loading dock.
Working for an art museum becomes meaningless to me. What is a museum without visitors to admire the art? It is a vast pool of unpayable debt accruing interest while the board of trustees watches impassively as the museum sheds 51 employees while still itching to build new architectural feats by Spanish architecture firm Barrozzi Vega, not unlike ten years prior when the museum had to let 87 employees go, despite spending $294 million on the Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing. I spend a week paralyzed by doom, checking my Google calendar every fifteen minutes like standing on the porch before a storm, watching the jaundice-colored clouds roll in. No one ever officially tells me I have been spared: I grow resentful like a balloon swelling with helium until its latex walls stretch too thin and split open with a harrowing scream.
I miss aiming for the same seat each morning on the train to work—the single seat in the corner where I could read uninterrupted on my commute. I miss hanging out at my friends’ apartment until 2:26 am, knowing that the last brown line train ran north at the same time each night, hurriedly running to the train to avoid paying for an Uber. I mourn the last few nights I spent deliriously drunk at Smartbar’s Queen! with all the friends I only knew from the smell of our booze-ridden bodies sweating and oozing and grinding and groaning against one another. My mouth is like the faucet of a public drinking fountain, inviting anyone and everyone to drink. I doubt I could recognize any of these people if I saw them in a fully-lit room, and I lament the joy of our bodies swarming underneath the strobing lights and deafening music. I dance at my brother’s wedding with a mask on, my own sweat and the powder of my makeup collecting in the cotton fabric and causing me to break out the next day. The ceremony is intimate, beautiful, and melancholic: our grandparents wisely decide not to come because of Covid-19.
I see my grandparents during Labor Day weekend on the porch of their trailer in Mecosta, Michigan, and I’m unnerved by my grandpa’s worsening dementia. My family didn’t mention his diagnosis to me until recently, and I find myself trying to remember if I noticed the gradual onset of his symptoms, but I can’t. He looks at me and I’m not sure if he recognizes who I am. I feel a heaviness in my body, the realization that we are being pulled apart mercilessly by time and by the cruelty of geography and my own negligence. My roommate tells me I should call my family, but I don’t; Guilt wracks and immobilizes me. I never established the precedent, roleplaying pariah, exile, outcast, and now I am trapped by the consequences of my own actions, unable to even help care for them from across state lines.
I help my friend move across the country to Albuquerque, New Mexico, visiting the Southwest for the first time. We drive me to a park overlooking the city, which they lovingly refer to as their makeout spot, so we can watch the sunset on the Sandia Mountains. “Sandia means watermelon in Spanish,” they tell me as the mountain range turns a vibrant, fleshy pink. We pass through Zia Pueblo on U.S. Highway 550 and I notice concrete roadblocks planted at the mouth of each side road with signs declaring, “Community Closed,” which I learn later were installed by the state of New Mexico to keep non-tribal members off the reservation as it experienced a major coronavirus outbreak, more than 11% of the reservation testing positive for Covid-19. When I return to Chicago, I resign from the Art Institute and hurriedly empty my desk while my roommate waits outside with her car. The museum is as quiet as the funeral of an unloved relative as I carry my box of papers and books through the galleries.
Adopting a morning ritual, I listen to the news podcast DemocracyNow! while making an omelette, listening to host Amy Goodman ominously announce that the U.S. continues to break record after record: record number of infections, record number of hospitalizations, record number of deaths, record number of people facing housing insecurity, record numbers of people facing food insecurity, record number of people unemployed and without healthcare, record number of billionaires growing their hordes of wealth. I unexpectedly start crying while washing my dishes. I cry while my roommate and I watch The House of Flowers when two characters cuddle in bed together, Julian nuzzling his puppy-eyed face into Diego’s armpit. I cry and cannot sleep for a week straight, glued to Twitter and Instagram, refreshing again and again, unable to stop looking at images and videos from the police brutality and anti-racism protests across the country. I cry after Zoom class, a little inebriated and embarrassed because I couldn’t find the motivation to the do the week’s readings and feel like asked a stupid question. I cry and become soft like a slice of bread soaking in soup broth. I cry and realize my body is filled with grief, swelling with it. I cry because so much has disappeared into the smooth-throated, ravenous sinkhole of this year. Yet, I also cry because I notice the persistent, doleful buds of soft-skulled flowers clambering up through the rubble.
Over the last 6 months as a community, we have lost so many individuals. We’ve lost so many experiences and hopes for our future selves. There has not been a moment to stop and rest, because at every turn, we were fighting for our livelihoods, against police brutality, fascism, and a deadly virus that created a fear in us of each other. Marcela Torres’s Petición; for Exorcism recreates “flower mountain,” a beautiful, serene afterlife in nature where we can rest outside of colonial belief systems and its god’s judgment. Instead we are unified with our ancestors and surrounded by beautiful scents, a rain of flowers, and a solar light.
Torres is asking the public to join us on flower mountain by sending in written eulogies for the loved ones we lost due to COVID-19. You can also decide to write a eulogy for the hopes you had for 2020 and hopes for 2021. Join us in creating an archive––a memorial––to each of the individuals affected this year.
Send your letters to Recess, to flower mountain, and they will hold space for you. In exchange, they ill send you incense to burn in your home and transcend to the flower paradise in your body.
- As a self-exorcism, write a eulogy to those you have lost, whether it be a loved one or opportunities and experiences you’ve lost due to COVID. Create a written archive of this person and/or your feelings. State whether you want this to letter to be opened and visible to the public or not, you’d like it to be read out loud by the artist, and if you’d like it to be released, burned, at the end of the exhibition.
- Mail the letter to Recess at 46 Washington Ave., Brooklyn NY 11205
- Provide a return address to receive your flower mountain incense