For example, this morning, I was cleaning out the bathroom sink drain. It hadn’t been cleaned for, God knows, five years maybe, and water had started backing up every time I washed my hands. I was digging down in it with a bread knife, pulling up huge swampy clumps, thinking, all of this was once me—hair, dead skin, not to get too dramatic here, but in a sense this is a picture of what my own death will look like. And death, what it looks like? Gross. But then my knife got tangled in something, a thin chain, and it turned out it was the St. Anthony icon I’d once owned. My mother had brought it back for me after a business trip in Italy. I’d been planning to visit a girl in Poland I was in love with, and my mother gave it to me for Christmas, in anticipation of the trip. But I never made it to Poland—me and this girl, our plans kept getting crossed, and somehow it never came together. Then a year or so afterwards I lost the icon, when I took it off while making out with a girl I’d met at a tattoo parlor in Greenville. We spent the night in her basement apartment, drunk and infatuated, and fell asleep, finally, with sun coming through the small slit of a window high above her bed. I woke up not long after to the sound of shoes on the sidewalk above us, people on their way to work, occasionally mistaking her basement window for a gutter and tossing down cigarette butts or crumpled sheets of paper. It was like getting messages from God, she told me, half-awake.
The St. Anthony icon, which for years I thought I’d forgotten somewhere in her room, is covered with dreck, but it comes clean fairly easily in a solution of water, vinegar and baking soda. A small oval of beaten silver shows the saint, staff in hand, making his way through a forest filled with what I, non-Catholic, can only assume are symbols of the faith—a fat bird that leers upon him from the branches above; trees and flowers in bloom, but covered in thorns; a lion, who seems to look the other way. St. Anthony’s face is flat, without detail, like a mask. The thin silver chain connected to the icon is undamaged after all these years, free of rust or blemish. Even the delicate clasp that fixes it around my neck still works, just fine.