I miss Kurt Vonnegut.
I never met him, but I may as well have. Each word he penned is a word I now breathe, the oxygen in the mitochondria of the cells in my fingers, accepting electrons, becoming water, and allowing for the creation of the adenosine triphosphate I now use to type.
My fondness began with a single story, about aliens and time travel and an ordinary man named Billy Pilgrim. And I want to share it.
A book report would never suffice. So I've written a eulogy for my good friend, Billy.
I got a call a couple of days ago that Billy Pilgrim was dead. So it goes. It was his daughter, Barbara. She was in tears. She was relieved. She told me she needed someone to give a eulogy at the funeral. She said it should be one of Billy's friends. Billy only had a handful of war buddies, though, and none of his war buddies had dignity.
Bernard V. O'Hare declined, and Roland Weary is dead. So it goes. Mr. Edgar Derby is dead too. So it goes. Paul Lazzaro just laughed. Paul Lazzaro is always laughing. Paul Lazzaro only ever stops laughing in the shower, when an invisible hand suffocates him with hot water.
So it goes...
Barbara said her phone smelled, and she said it only started to smell when she called me. My dog heard her say this, looked up at me, hid under my bed. I couldn't smell a thing - alcohol dulls the senses - but I knew what the smell was. It was mustard gas and roses.
She told me Billy Pilgrim had died. So it goes.
She told me how Billy Pilgrim died. He was giving a speech. Then he was shot. So it goes.
I am giving a speech during his funeral. Maybe he will give his speech during mine. Maybe he will be shot during mine. So it goes.
And so on.
You are here because you loved Billy Pilgrim, and maybe he loved you too. I loved Billy Pilgrim.
Billy Pilgrim held a gun the way I hold a pencil. The people loved him for it. He held it because it was there. The people believed he wanted to hold a gun, that he held a gun for them, that there was purpose behind that gun. They believed that he walked better when he held a gun. I knew Billy Pilgrim, the people didn't.
Billy would have walked just as easily on the moon as he did holding a gun. I suppose he would need a coat, though no one talks about the temperature of the moon.
I knew Billy Pilgrim. Billy Pilgrim was drowning for most of his life, but he called it swimming. He had been thrown into a river - and make no mistake, he knew it was a river - but he treated it like a meat cellar. And in that meat cellar he was barefoot, and he knew he was barefoot, and his feet were blue, like blueberries, and ivory, like milk. He was allergic to blueberries; there isn't much flavor in milk.
Billy Pilgrim only ever left that meat cellar at night, when he cried, or when he remembered a barbershop quartet of moonmen with open mouths. or when he rubbed his thumbs over old dentures. He knew he was drowning. And I loved him for that.
I got a package in the mail that smelled like mustard gas and roses. Billy had already been shot. So it goes. It contained a luftwaffe sabre, a diamond ring and spectacles. I had given Billy those spectacles. It contained a novel, a retelling of Cinderella by a peculiar author using peculiar words. It contained vitamins, and it contained a spoon. It contained a two carat diamond and a partial denture. I gave the diamond to Barbera. I kept the denture.
Sorry if any of your stuff is missing.
And it contained a letter to addressed to "Mr. Vonnegut". I thought it was meant for my father, but it wasn't. It praised my writing, and yours, too, Mr. Trout. It praised our pencils. It must have been written by a fourteen year old. Or myself. I threw it away.
The people didn't know Billy Pilgrim. They'd believe anything.
I have many memories of Billy Pilgrim. He never pretended to grow up, but he did marry a woman. And he had a little girl, and he had a little boy.
He was thrown into a war he had no part in, and he was just there. He is always there, too, people, make no mistake. He is always crying.
Right now he is sitting, staring at the prayer on the wall of his practice through a jade green owl.
"God Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference".
Our Tralfamadorian prophet, Billy Pilgrim, accepted everything.
Except when he didn't.
I accept that Billy Pilgrim is not sleeping. I accept that Billy Pilgrim is dead. He is as dead as Jesus Christ himself, and he is as dead as the champagne from my wedding. He will not be giving his speech during my funeral.
I accept that Billy Pilgrim had to walk on the moon, that he walked on the moon no easier than he walked through the meat cellar and no easier than he ran, that he survived the war and Mr. Edgar Derby did not.
What I do not accept is that you can accept Billy's life. Billy's life was not grand, and it was not marvelous. Billy acted in every scene. He only ever improvised once, and it turned him into a pillar of salt.
I cannot accept that he eagerly accepted everything, that he lived on an earth as inhuman as a Tralfamadorian zoo.
We cannot ungrow. We cannot unage. We cannot undo. What's done, is done.
So accept it, people. Move on, if you need to.
But find the courage to change the current later on down the river, and climb out. It is a river, mind you, not a meat cellar.
If you find yourself a pillar of salt when you climb out, spoon some syrup, and dive back in.
And do it again.
Because you can, people.
I came forward today, and I spoke today. Because you loved Billy Pilgrim, and maybe he loved you.
I loved Billy Pilgrim.
And I never spoke a word to him.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell Publishing, 1969. Print