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.