Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: four days after through eight days after

Four days after it happens, the Colonel and Miles find that it is not getting any easier to cope. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Looking For Alaska.

four days after

Okay, I know this was written after my father died, but seriously. GET OUT OF MY HEAD, JOHN GREEN. It’s like he took these small details from my life and made a book out of it. I AM SUING FOR THOUGHT THEFT. And I would like four puppies as payment. This is reasonable y/y/y/y.

The Colonel walked eighty-four miles. You might scoff and say this is ridiculous and unbelievable, but at night on the day of my father’s funeral, I walked out of my hotel in Honolulu, headed down to the beach and walked east until I couldn’t find away around this lagoon off of the Kalanianole Jighway. It took me two to three hours to walk in either direction. Granted, this wasn’t Alabama in the dead of winter, so it was nowhere near as miserable as that weather. But I walked because I could and because I could be distracted by the unfamiliar world around me and because it just felt right. Foolish? Of course. I could have easily gotten lost out there, but I didn’t care.

This chapter also includes an image I found sweet and touching: Miles holding the Colonel’s freezing hand simply because he asked him to. Male affection is so lacking, and it was nice to read this without either of them making a fuss about it. I’m a fairly affectionate person, and I know that when I’m upset, this sort of physical support can genuinely help me calm down.

It’s nice. That’s all.

six days after

Funerals are weird, aren’t they?

My father’s family wanted to have a wake of some sort before the funeral, and it was held here in the mainland so that those who couldn’t make it to Oahu could say goodbye to him. Well, his body wasn’t there, just the small little vase of ashes that represented who he used to be. This had less to do with his own customs, so my mother, my twin brother, and myself used humor a lot that afternoon in order to cope with the sadness. The funeral itself was more serious and run by my dad’s side of the family. It was the first one I’d ever really been to, and even in hindsight, the day seemed so nonsensical. One of the things John Green captures so well in this is how little details unravel once you start thinking about them too much. Just the smallest things can unhinge us; here, Miles breaks down when Takumi tells Lara the story of Alaska getting her boob honked over the summer.

For Miles, it represents this poetic finality; that was the first time he’d ever met her, and now his last real memory with “her” is about to happen. I’m sure Takumi meant to make everyone laugh, but you can’t control this sort of thing, and you certainly can’t control how the heart reacts. One of the things I told myself the morning of my dad’s funeral is that I wasn’t going to force myself to control my own emotional reaction to it all. I knew that I was the kind of person who’d been raised to keep my feelings to myself, but this was a whole new kind of pain that I was experiencing. I couldn’t fight against it because it felt too large.

So, like Miles, the day of my father’s funeral was full of a whole lot of moments like this. I would just put my head down and cry. And I swear to you, by the end of that day, I actually felt better. I don’t think Miles holds back here either. He meets Alaska’s father and despairs over the fact that Alaska requested not to have an open casket. But I think it’s one thing that her father says that does Miles in, that just hits him so hard that all he has to do is just touch her coffin and be with her for that moment:

“Anyway, son, she’s not in there. She’s with the Lord.”

I don’t find Miles to be particularly religious, but it’s such a simple statement about the fact that Alaska is gone. So before any of the other students can arrive, Miles and the Colonel mourn for the loss of Alaska Young.

This shit is rough to read.

seven days after

More so than Miles, the Colonel is giving into his own anger over Alaska’s death. In one way, he clearly blames himself for contributing to it. The Eagle asking him about the fireworks certainly doesn’t help, but it feels like this is how the Colonel is going to continue coping with this all. It’s only going to get worse.

The two of them go to clean out Alaska’s room before her aunt arrives to get her stuff, tipped off by the Eagle. I know from personal experience just how absurd and depressing the experience is to go through someone’s stuff like this; it tricks you into thinking they’re alive. You’re so used to associating these objects with the person that you entertain brief notions that they’re simply away on vacation or at work for the day. The smell is probably the worse, both because it provides such an instant trigger for memory, and because it’s the quickest of all to fade.

I can’t ignore the parallel (intended or not) to that day when Alaska and Miles rummaged through the personal items of different classmates during the Thanksgiving break. It’s one of a few things that Miles shares with Alaska alone, like the bottles of wine buried at the edge of the woods, and Miles decides to treasure these things as something between just himself and his dead friend.

I don’t know exactly what Green is leading towards, though, with the introduction of the “Straight & Fast” note that Miles finds in the margins of The General in His Labyrinth. Of course, it introduces a new idea: Did Alaska Young actually commit suicide that day, or was it an accident like the Eagle said? I’m always weary towards narratives about suicide because so often they become really gross or victim-blaming. I’ve said before that I’ve been suicidal and tried to commit suicide twice, and Miles and the Colonel both start to do what I hate about suicide discussions: rationalize them to their own lives and experiences. If anything, we’ve learned that Alaska’s been dealing with a lot of horrific trauma due to the death of her mother, and there’s probably a lot more that she’s kept a secret. We don’t know the nature of what might have led her to kill herself (and that’s still an if, by the way), so it always feels really gross when people say shit like Miles does.

He calls her a bitch again (PLEASE SHUT UP) and then scorns her for not thinking of him or her father before doing it. Which blows me away, for the record, because he’s starting to pull that familiar line: why was she so selfish? The terrible irony is that I can’t imagine a more selfish reaction to suicide than to demand that a person who’s suicidal think of someone else before doing what they believe is best to them.

But the section is brief, and both Miles and the Colonel put the idea out of their minds. It’s probably just a weird coincidence, they surmise. But if it isn’t, I hope that John Green doesn’t treat this poorly.

eight days after

I really do love Dr. Hyde, and he made me miss Alaska Young. Her obsession with the labyrinth was what she chose to focus her final on, and that quote adorns the chalkboard, a reminder that the events of recent days are more relevant than ever:

“At some point we all look up and realize we are lost in a maze, and I don’t want us to forget Alaska, and I don’t want to forget that even when the material we study seems boring, we’re trying to understand how people have answered that question and the questions each of you posed in your papers–how different traditions have come to terms with what Chip, in his final, called ‘people’s rotten lots in life.’ “

Whatever it is that we come up with varies from person to person. I think that my writing is a large part of what’s helped me come to terms with my own rotten lot in life. It’s helped me face being bullied, the homophobia, being outed, the racism I experience, and the years and years of abuse and suffering I went through. Of course, it’s also led me to being an atheist, one who adores the existentialists of the past, and who pursues social justice as a way to prevent the same things that tormented me from hurting other people. I suppose that’s my religion, in the most basic sense of that world, and I’m perfectly okay with that. It’s what I’m attached to, and it’s what helps informs my own grasp on the absurd world around me.

But all of it comes down to the context of experience for me. A million theories from a million academics will never quite explain why I am the way I am, and certainly not over the things I’ve had happen to me. Again, I’m so increasingly impressed at how well John Green is able to convey the complicated facets of coping with death, and yet another one of those pops up here: feeling angry at people mourning for someone you loved. I remember feeling just like the Colonel does here when my sister, who’d treated my father abusively while he was alive, suddenly changed her tune about him, extolling his virtues and what a wonderful person he was; my family, we knew that she had never told him that herself. We knew that Dad died believing he’d failed her, and we were largely silent in our distaste for this behavior. (I say “largely silent” because I finally cracked at the funeral at my sister’s bizarre and disrespectful sense of loss. WOOPS.)

In hindsight, I overreacted, and it was unfair of me to assume that this was not genuine. That does not absolve my sister of her actions, but we all mourn and grieve is such different ways. Maybe his death did trigger these reactions in her. I have no way of knowing. But I was selfish about my love for my dad in the weeks after his death, and I foolishly wanted him all to myself. The truth is that I was overcompensating for his loss, and nothing I could do would bring him back.

He was gone, and now Alaska Young is gone, too.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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29 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: four days after through eight days after

  1. Shiyiya says:

    I really, really hate the narrative of "suicide is so selfish". No, YOU are selfish, person who thinks that someone else should have remained in unbearable pain for your sake. Gah.

  2. guest_age says:

    I really like what you said here about writing being a way to work through the past. Without going into too many gory details because this is your story and Alaska's story, not mine, suffice to say that I, too, attempted suicide and spent the next few years being shuffled from one therapist to the next. I say shuffled because none of them helped, mostly because I wouldn't let them (I want to be super clear that therapy not working for me was my doing, not because therapy is a bad idea; it's a great idea and it can and does help plenty of people, I just refused to be an active participant in the process and like they say: no one can help you unless you're willing to be helped). Eventually I stopped going altogether, and that's about the same time as I started writing. Lo these many years later, I'm a happy, confident, well-adjusted person, and I owe all of that to writing. It helped me work through my past, helped me discover the ideas and traits that I value, and put me on the path to helping others.

    (It also, as you said, helps me deal with the absurd things in the world around me that I don't understand. There's a lot about the human experience that eludes me, and writing about those things helps me comprehend how other people experience the world, which is always a good thing.)

  3. settlingforhistory says:

    I agree, I don't like the thought of suicide as selfish, but I think it is just another stage of grieve.
    20 years ago my grandfather committed suicide and I still blame him sometimes, for the pain he caused my family, for not at least waiting a few more years so that I could have some memories of him that are more than just flashes and pictures in my mind. The more time passed though, the better I and my family learned to understand why it happened and then especially my parents blamed themselves for not noticing that something was wrong with him.
    It is a process, a really long one to get over this and maybe you can never fully get over it.
    I think Green is actually doing a good job with this, especially because Miles insults her in his thoughts and then immediately changes his mind and decides 'No.That was not her' , it shows he is simply angry and overwhelmed by the possibility of Alaska's suicide.

  4. elusivebreath says:

    "Which blows me away, for the record, because he’s starting to pull that familiar line: why was she so selfish? The terrible irony is that I can’t imagine a more selfish reaction to suicide than to demand that a person who’s suicidal think of someone else before doing what they believe is best to them."

    Thank you for saying that Mark!! I absolutely hate the "suicide is selfish" line that always seems to crop up. Suicide is sad, more than anything, and is it so hard to have some compassion for a person that believes their only way out is through death?

  5. Brieana says:

    Anger is one of the stages of death after denial and guilt. I think people justify their anger more when their loved one actually took their own life because, in their view, they chose to leave them. Having said that, I don't like any suicidal victim blaming either and I do wish that people would be more compassionate and understanding of what that person might have been going through.

    • flootzavut says:

      Thing is, I don't think it's really possible to really understand unless you've been there, you know? Having compassion is one thing, and I think we should all have more compassion for anyone who's in that kind of pain… but I think it's unsurprising that people don't understand. I've never really been able to explain what depression is like to someone who hasn't been there, and I think it's partly because depression doesn't necessarily make any sense whatsoever.

      • Brieana says:

        Well if you can't understand then it's a good start to understand that someone is going through something that you can't understand. There are people who aren't even affected by someone's suicide and for some reason, they're offended by the idea of someone who they don't even know killing themselves. (I am thinking about internet bullshit. I feel like whenever someone kills themselves, a nice flock a trolls crop up and are super angry and judgmental.)
        This is less clear than I wanted it to be.

        • flootzavut says:

          I think the problem is that some people think that they can – "Well, I've felt depressed and it's never made me do something so selfish as to kill myself." Unless you've been there, how can anyone really understand what it's like to feel so desperate that death seems like a better option? And yes, people "should" have the sense to think, "Well maybe I don't understand what they were going through," but human beings? Not all that sensible. Especially when it's such an emotive subject.

          I've been suicidal, I've lost relatives to suicide, I nearly lost a friend to suicide earlier this year, and my best friend's dad committed suicide when he was a teenager. It's not easy on anyone.

          I do sigh and roll my eyes at the online trolls who clearly do not have the smallest idea, but the fact is most people don't, sad but true.

  6. @lula34 says:

    "I was caught in a love triangle with one dead side." Yeah, I cried for Miles. For Alaska. And for Lara, too.

  7. rachel6521 says:

    well.. sometimes a suicide attempt can be selfish

    I know, because mine was. I just really wanted attention from everyone around me that I was fucked up and needed help.. and this was sort of my only way of doing it and actually getting attention. Yes! it was selfish of me, because I knew there were people who loved me (though you thought they were lying sometimes, on one of the really bad days). However, that didn't stop me.

    Ultimately, I think that it is a complex subject. I mean, if people around me hadn't been selfish enough to care only about themselves and not for me, my action could have been prevented. On the other hand, I was not very open about having problems, so I don't know if they knew. (in hindsight, probably, but before..?)

    I just don't want us all to think we have the answers, or there is one just way to answer questions like te selfishness of suicide (attempts). We all have our flaws. Doesn't mean we're not totally awesome, in fact I believe that it is our flaws and the fight against them that makes us such brilliant species.

    • breesquared says:

      I feel like a lot of people think being selfish is always a negative thing. Sometimes it is, but in the case of self-preservation it's not. It's expected to do things for yourself. You were selfish in that you did something to bring attention to your problem to get help, maybe not in the safest way but it had a cause that makes sense.

      • breesquared says:

        i think it may be odd that I'm calling a suicide attempt 'self-preservation' but I feel like it's the logic you were using at the time, from your explanation. Sorry if I'm wrong!

  8. Bumbledoor says:

    Suicide is fucking tricky to discuss and to deal with. As someone who has experienced the aftermath of three close friends completing suicide, I have to say that it stirs a lot of feelings, and anger is a strong one. Whilst I agree that suicide and suicidal thoughts have to be treated seriously and respectfully, the mixed and terrible feelings of grief people have afterward also need to be treated respectfully. No I don’t think Miles is “right” in what he is saying and feeling, but I do think he has a rght to experience the full spectrum of emotions on this one. Afterall that’s a huge part of how we learn isn’t it?

    Personal disclosure, my first girlfriend used to threaten to commit suicide nearly weekly. I struggled to do what I thought was right by her, offering ear, shoulder, support, and eventually involving adult/professionals… The difficult thing was that she would always tell me that it was because of me, because I didn’t love her enough, because I wasn’t there for her enough, and the more I tried to be there to show her I really truly cared for her, the worse it became. Eventually I ended the relationship, figuring I wasn’t helping her and I was definitely damaging me.

    I was so angry with her and with myself for a long time afterwards, I never acknowledged that anger until after we broke up, but it was something I had to experience and process.

    I guess all I’m trying to say is that, with death and loss of any kind, our feelings are often too big, to raw and too confusing to be argued with. We have to experience them before we can even try to live (and live well) with them.

  9. Becky_J_ says:

    For the last week or so, I've been stuck in this crippling depression, and this is going to sound ridiculous… but it's over the end of a play. Yes. A play. I was in a production of Romeo and Juliet as Juliet, (just as a fun fact, it was in french and was a musical) and I made some of the best friends of my life. But then, it just ended last Friday… and I can't deal. I have always been bad at change, but this is getting ridiculous. I know this doesn't really seem to fit in this conversation, but it does for me because it almost is making me feel like someone has died…. little things break me down into tears, I can't stop thinking about it but thinking about it makes cry, and random things like someone's hair or a name will kill me.

    Grief is a strange, cruel beast, isn't it?

    • flootzavut says:

      It's not stupid. You're grieving a loss. Pain is pain. *hugs if you wants 'em*

    • breesquared says:

      Look forward to the next show? If this is something you do a lot. Yes one communal experience has ended, but it's not the end of communal/theatrical experiences!

      • Becky_J_ says:

        Thanks guys! I will ALWAYS take hugs ๐Ÿ˜€

        Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'll be in a musical again, or even a play… hopefully I will, but as I'm graduating soon, I'm not sure I'll have the opportunity! But you're right, there will always be something else, something better… I just need to remember that! This wonderful older woman in one of my art classes came up to me and, without even knowing what I was going through, said "I just think you should learn this lesson young…. Remember the past with fondness. Be happy it happened. Take the lessons you learned, and the smiles, and the good times…. carry them with you always. But never again live in the past. Now is not the time for the past…. now is the time for the future." I swear, some people are just brilliant.

  10. @MeagenImage says:

    Thoughts that are also selfish: "Mark, hurry up and finish your extremly emotional book about grief and loss so I can enjoy your reactions to Lord of the Rings already."

    Sadly, I don't think "this one Internet blogger isn't writing about the things I want to read about" is the kind of sentiment you can base a profound and life-changing book on.

    • saphling says:

      I agree. And… I share your selfish thoughts, I admit it. *hangs head in shame*

      *still making grabby-hands at LotR, though*

  11. flootzavut says:

    "So, like Miles, the day of my father’s funeral was full of a whole lot of moments like this. I would just put my head down and cry. And I swear to you, by the end of that day, I actually felt better."

    You were so wise. My brother grieved when dad died, fell apart during the cremation and funeral. He was pretty much a basket case for a few days. And then he started to put life back together again.

    I sang at the cremation, spoke and played both clarinet and flute at the funeral, held things together. Then when it was all over I was a mess just at the time that everyone started assuming I was getting over things. Not good. Your reaction is infinitely wiser and better for you. *hugs on the astral plane*

  12. Leo says:

    I think a lot of things in this book that people seem to be disliking are very realistic. Mile’s attitude towards the girls around him (and while I don’t agree that the BOOK is sexist, Miles really needs to grow up when it comes to women), his and the Colonel’s reaction to Alaska’s death, their need to rationalise her possible suicide, their lack of empathy and their struggles with guilt – all seem to me to be bang on accurate, because they are teenagers. They seem to have enough trouble getting through a normal day without screwing up emotionally, so I wasn’t really surprised by them not dealing with Alaska’s death in a mature way? I felt it was very much the characters flailing around in a whirlpool of feelings, without much in the way of life experience or coping mechanisms, and acting like flawed humans, as opposed to flawed writing on the author’s part. I’ve seen adults handle situations just as badly, and sometimes worse, because they have money, power or influence enough to keep chasing and pushing and not allow people to move on.

    I’m very tired so this isn’t as coherent as I’d like, but tl;dr version: I think this book is an emotionally intelligent author intentionally writing about emotionally developing and unsure characters, and giving them behaviour that can be both identified with and criticised, and therefore discussed.

  13. Mitch_L_Grooms says:

    "And I would like four puppies as payment."

    Are you sure about that? Wouldn't you prefer four puppy-sized elephants?

    (Yes, I know. But I'm trying for levity because I can't really interact with the emotional facets right now.)

  14. Maile says:

    On the topic of Pudge calling Alaska a bitch and your dislike of the word, think of it this way:
    Anger is a stage of grief. Pudge is on some level really angry with Alaska for leaving him and the Colonel, so why wouldn’t he use that word? You said yourself that you were taught that bitch was the worst thing to call a woman– what makes you think Pudge was taught any differently? He needs a way to vocalize just how angry and conflicted he is, so it makes sense that he’d call her the worst thing in his lexical arsenal.

    In other news, John Green just announced his book tour dates and one of them is in Redwood City. I know I’m gonna be there, but maybe it’d be fun to have a Mark Reads/Nerdfighter meetup?

  15. @boatbuscus says:

    A really close friend of mine from high school, Boris, was killed by a drunk driver less than a year after we graduated. We did theater together and were very close. His senior year he played the main male character in Christopher Durang's "For Who the Southern Belle Tolls" which is a spoof on "The Glass Menagerie'. His character had an obsession with glass 'swizzle sticks' (those sticks you mix drinks with) and he was quite hilarious.

    About 9 months after Boris died, I found myself at the Secret Santa Christmas party that the college choir I was in had every year. My secret santa was kind of goofy and gave me a ton or random stuff, including four swizzle sticks. A friend from high school was also in this choir and knew Boris and his swizzle sticks and happened to be sitting right next to me. We both looked at the swizzle sticks, looked at each other, and both started to cry. It's strange how some things can just trigger such intense emotions like that. It all just hit the both of us at the same time how much we missed him and how tragic and terrible his passing was.

    My secret santa and the 40 or so other choir member were very confused. Here were two people, clutching swizzle sticks, openly weeping and holding each other seemingly out of nowhere. People didn't know what was going on or what to do and it was just hilarious. To top it off, another girl was crying because her secret santa got her a Prada purse or something like that. It all seemed to happen at the same time. Someone was like, "Why is everyone crying? What is going on?" It cracks me up just thinking about it. I'm sure Boris, if he was looking down on me at that time would also find the whole scene funny.

    I was reminded of this moment and thought I should share it. I think it's oddly sad and hilarious.

  16. @GalFawkes says:

    Slightly OT, but per chapter 8 where the French teacher insists that they say it in French: "On deplore la mort d'Alaska." (I wasn't able to put the accents or cedillas, but roughly, "We're mourning the death of Alaska." /nerd out
    Native French speakers, correct me if I'm wrong or if there's a better way to say it.

  17. @GalFawkes says:

    And now after finishing chapter 8: Yeah, this attitude of suicide being "selfish" is entitled and immature, but it's realistic, and as other people have said, anger is very much one of the stages of grief.

  18. Coughdrop01 says:

    I think Miles breaking down at the boob honking story is kinda perfect. I am the type to hold things together and not allow myself to feel my grief when these things happen. I remember one particularly terrible time I wouldn't let myself feel anything for months. Then at one point someone said something absurdly silly to me and it made me laugh and it was like the floodgates just burst open. Sometimes I think all emotions come from a similar place.

  19. Katelyn says:

    The post has been an eye opener, happy to have found it.

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