Paying Homage to Kurt Vonnegut
Health Wellness

To Billy Pilgrim

Sometimes, a book report doesn't quite cover it.


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

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

15 Black-Owned Haircare Brands That Cater As Much To Inclusivity As They Do To Your Locks

Championing Black entrepreneurs who make some of our hair favorites.

The haircare industry is vast. With the rise of social media came hundreds of thousands of empowered, niche brands. Single entrepreneurs came out of the woodwork with hair brands that now, years later, have dedicated cult followings.

Of those multitudes of brands, few cater to all hair types, most made without regard for curly or coily hair. These brands, however, are different.

Keep Reading... Show less

Minorities are consistently under-represented in our day-to-day lives, notably in the world of fashion. It's likely you're looking for a way to support black artists. Whether that's the case or you're just a fashion-lover in general, these brands aren't just some of the best black-owned fashion brands — they're some of the most innovative brands of our time, period.

From luxury staples to fun accessories and loungewear, these brands aren't just stunning names you should definitely be following on Instagram, each honors the founder's roots in unique ways with the power of storytelling through artistic expression that manifests in pieces we can't wait to wear.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

10 Home Items You Need For Stress Relief, On The Days You 'Literally Cannot'

Fill your home with peaceful, calming coping mechanisms.

I'd like to think that 2020 is teaching us a lot. Or will teach us a lot. Or will be a story we tell at parties one day. Ultimately, this year has been — and is probably going to continue to be — a bit of a mess.

At the beginning of the year, Australia was on fire and we mourned the death of Kobe Bryant. Then, coronavirus (COVID-19) took our spring and shut us in our homes, inciting panic over public health and sparking political upheaval at every decision made by local and federal officials alike. Now, a week after George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a nationwide conversation is reignited with protests regarding racial injustice in the United States. There is an enormous amount of tension, hurt, and change that is upon the American people.

Keep Reading... Show less

No matter who you are (an introvert, person of color, member of the LGBTQ+ community, Scorpio, TikToker, you name it), we want to hear what dating in America is like for you and the thoughts you have while working through the talking stage, first dates, navigating love, working through dating problems, etc.

Keep Reading... Show less

30 Black-Owned Skincare Brands Every Beauty-Lover Should Know About In 2020

They're not changing the game — they're making a new one.

Skin is something most beauty-lovers obsess over from our early teens, whether our aim is to be glowier, softer, dewier, or poreless, most of us are consistently tracking a new skincare goal. No matter how many products we try, we'll likely forage on with the goal of IRL Photoshopped skin, no matter how many dollars go to them.

The black-founded skincare brands below are the brainchildren of extreme dedication and resilience within the privileged world of beauty. Born out of resilient entrepreneurs overcoming circumstance in a world that does not favor business people of color, these brands have loyal cult followings, and with good reason.

Keep Reading... Show less

A huge part of being in a relationship is communication and, well, part of communication is listening. So, why not have a little fun with your partner and see just how well they know you?

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

7 Ways You Can Safely Attend A Protest In The Middle Of A Pandemic

Wear a mask, but speak up.

It seems like coronavirus (COVID-19) has been around forever now. Life before masks and with public sporting events is a distant memory, hoping to make a comeback sometime this year. We've all had to make some sort of life changes to abide by this pandemic's rules. But that doesn't mean everything has stopped. On May 25, George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, sparking a cry for justice and racial equality across the nation.

For the last week, protests have taken place in major cities like New York City, LA, DC, Chicago, Phoenix, Portland, Dallas, and Floyd's hometown of Minneapolis. Many of the cities experiencing protests have begun phased reopening, while others (specifically New York City and LA) have yet to begin phase one of post-coronavirus reopening.

As COVID-19 is hardly in our rearview mirror, there are extra precautions protestors can take as they advocate for justice.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Helpful, Effective Mental Health Resources Specifically For The Black Community

These organizations are qualified, caring, and acknowledging the mental trauma individuals are experiencing.

On May 25, George Floyd died after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer. In the last week, protests have sprung up across the nation, demanding justice for Floyd and accountability for police brutality. Social media has also seen widespread conversation regarding Floyd's death, Black Lives Matter, and racism in the United States. Today is #BlackoutTuesday, where many are sharing a single black square to represent unity and support for Black voices.

In light of the heavy climate that our country is facing, it is a safe assumption that many individuals' mental health may be suffering. We wanted to highlight mental health resources and organizations that are Black-owned and prepared to assist in whatever you're going through.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments