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117_box_348x490_originalAutumn will always be associated with death. It’s the way the leaves turn red, then brown, then fall. It’s the colder winds, the longer nights. It’s the onset of winter. Look at the holidays: Samhain, All Saint’s Day, El Dia de Muertos, P’chum Ben, Famadihana, my birthday. I dreamt last night that I had an L-shaped gash on my thumb, from the tip down the knuckle, and that I could peel back my fingerprint to reveal what was underneath. And instead of flesh and muscle, there was instead what looked like the inside of a rotting, hollow branch. Thick cords of dark organic sludge, white spots of what I assumed to be mold. Something out of a Quay Brothers film. This is the inside of my body, I thought, I dreamt.

Nowadays, roadkill is more abundant. Sometimes there’s nothing left but a rusty streak that stretches from the blacktop and up onto the sidewalk, but more often, smaller carcasses line the gutters and the medians: raccoons, possums, the occasional fox. Whenever we pass one, Matthew coos, Poor thing. I no longer point out dead cats.

On the highways, deer obstruct the shoulders with their thick, dun bodies. Apparently, deer collision cause about 200 human fatalities a year. It’s unlikely that the deer walk away from these incidents unscathed. The carcasses of whitetail deer can be collected, if the gatherer files a claim with the regional game commission for a permit number. Without a permit, the gatherer is required to butcher the deer himself, rather than taking it to an official deer processing center. Delawareans donate more than 20,000 pounds of venison to charitable organizations statewide.

Hunting season has come again.

The landowner in Diary of a Chambermaid asks his son, who has been hunting, Aren’t animals more beautiful alive than dead? His son replies, Hunting… is hunting. The son then teaches his father how to hunt butterflies. As the father shoots one off of its flower, the son asks, I thought you liked butterflies? and the father replies, I do. I rather I’d have missed.

A few years before she died, Matthew’s cat, Gwinny, hunted butterflies in his backyard garden. He watched her, of course; she was 13 years old—elderly for a cat—so she never caught one, but her eyes grew wide and wild at their fluttering. She couldn’t meow, but instead squeaked, at times imploring them to come within reach of her paws, of her fangs. When Matthew moved from there, he gave the house a thorough cleaning.  In the living room, as he was vacuuming, he pulled back a curtain to discover a pile of butterfly corpses, a mass grave years in the making. There were a few intact specimens, dried and discolored, but most of them were in pieces: a wing flake; a torso; some dry, crisp antennae. Monarchs waylaid on their migratory path. Dismembered swallowtails.

Perhaps Matthew yelled at Gwinny. Perhaps he was secretly proud. Either way, I imagine her response would have been a single squeak: What did you expect? It was their season.

 

For Christmas one year, my sister bought my mother a copy of Brigette Bardot’s biography, Initiales B.B. In French, no less.  I sort of knew that my mother was a Bardot fan, the way I sort of know her birthday and sort of know about her life before we moved to the United States.

What I know for sure about my mother:  she keeps all the books we gave her on the headboard of her waterbed; she likes Sidney Sheldon novels; she watches adaptations of Sidney Sheldon novels on the same television where, every evening, we watched the news and, on Wednesday nights, Dynasty, and, once a year, the Miss Universe pageant.

When I was young, I scoured the TV Guide, looking for her favorite movie.  I found it once — the listing so small it was an inky smudge — showing in the wee hours, and I was so excited I wanted to stay up and watch it with her.  But I fell asleep during a commercial, around the point where the heroine falls off a mountain during a ski race, breaks her back, and is paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Years later, of course, I realized the movie my mother liked was The Other Side of Midnight and not The Other Side of the Mountain.  But she watched with me anyway.

I don’t know if my mother saw And God Created Women.  She would have been about 24 when it was released.  She still lived in Vietnam then — or she could have been at Southern Illinois University, I’m not sure which.  What I know of Vietnamese history of that time includes:  1) the French being driven out of Vietnam; 2) the Geneva Accords splitting the country in half; and 3) the mass exodus of Northerners fleeing southward, bringing phở with them.

Had my mother already met my father by then?  I don’t know.  In the dining room back home (Aurora, Colorado, not Vietnam), there’s a black-and-white photograph of my mother.  She wears a white áo dài, like a schoolgirl’s.  Her face is tilted down towards the left, and the soft light picks out a luminous feature.  Her nose.  Her cheekbone.  She’s possibly as young as Bardot herself when she starred in And God Created Women.  Director and then-husband Roger Vadim writes of Bardot:  “She comes from another dimension…. That’s down to her presence, which comes from outer space somewhere.”

My mother calls regularly, and I return them irregularly.  She calls with news, with gossip, or just to talk.  Her voice reverses time:  here we are watching Alexis and Krystal getting into another catfight.  Miss Venezuela wins again?  But the conversation now veers towards different topics:  her weakening knees, the regimen of capsules and multivitamins that she dutifully splits with a plastic pill-cutter.  As she speaks, I imagine her sitting up in bed, phone extension in hand, leaning against all the books I’ve bought her:  intergenerational Asian mother-daughter sagas, Vietnamese novels in translation, poetry — the unread stories in our lives.

In Blood for Dracula, the titular count suffers withdrawal and cries out for “wergins!  I must have the blood of wergins!”  Anything less makes him puke.

I can relate.  Until this evening, I had a sealed, mint condition copy of Blood for Dracula (now out-of-print).  With trepidation, I peeled away the skin of cellophane like it was a prom dress and picked away the top edge sticker.  The DVD breathed a sigh of relief, and it was done.  Breaking that seal lost me $50 on the resale market — it was no longer pure.  I had deflowered my DVD.

I blame the fetishization of purity on comic books — the collecting habit for young obsessive-compulsives.  I had never worried about keeping my toys in pristine condition.  Out of the package they came, and I abused them until their decals wore off and the plastic weapons broke off in their hands.

But once I got into comic books, it was less about the content than the condition of the object.  Bent spine?  That’s $5 out of your pocket.  Corners bent?  30% of value gone.  Accidentally spill your drink on the cover?  My friends, you now hold nothing more than colorful wood pulp in your hands.  I referred to the price value guide books like they were a holy codex.  The book itself became sacrosanct, something to protect, reliquary-like, in poly bags outfitted with acid-free backing boards.

Then, in the early 90s, comic book publishers decided it would be a good idea to pre-bag comic books with trading cards or such.  But that meant you couldn’t read the comic book without opening the bag, which would downgrade the value from mint condition to near mint, at best — much like taking your clothes out of the dry cleaning bag make them slightly less clean.  So for those of us obsessed with intact comic book hymens, that meant buying two copies.

But the real problem was that I had fooled myself into thinking that these comic books would be worth more than I had spent on them initially.  Someday.  I heard stories all the time about secret treasure troves of comics, worth sums that would comfortably pay for major surgery in the  United States.  The comics I had organized and filed away in long, white cardboard boxes were a retirement fund.  A four-color 401(K).

Of course, I hadn’t counted on that fact that millions of other kids probably had the same idea.  As well, their comics books were most likely in better condition because they had had turned the pages with tweezers under a low-radiation light bulb.  In short, the market was flooded and my four-color investment was entertaining but worthless.  Better I had learned about complex derivatives instead.

But all this presupposes that the primary motive for collecting is for financial gain.  People collect things in order to enjoy them (psychological disturbances notwithstanding).  With that in mind, I undertook this project knowing that all those perfectly sealed discs would have to be opened.  I had two choices:  I could be snobby and say that I own the entire Criterion Collection, or I could be unbearably pretentious and say that I’ve watched the entire Criterion Collection.  Let it be said that I’m always interested in ways I can be more insufferable.

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