From Grief

All going but gone

Cheswick, PA (2018) - © Meghan Tutolo

There aren’t too many things in this world that last.

See: high school friendships, fashion trends (though they are bound to cycle back), ska music, your favorite cologne, all seasons of The Office available on Netflix. No matter how much you love something, no matter how tightly you squeeze to it… longevity is an illusion.

But we know this, don’t we?

In fact, transience is a truth that is smacked into us from the moment we can want, need, desire things. Days end. Snacks are eaten up. Markers run dry. Toys break. The sun sets and you must go inside. The End couldn’t be a surprise, shouldn’t be. Yet, the anticipation of an end never made it any less devastating. When we were small, we would cry and whine and stomp… and hell, those were socially acceptable things as a kid. Besides, if we were convincing enough in our pout, the tides could turn. Our parents—those minor gods—could grant us more time and more things to prolong these ends.

Still, we came back for more. It didn’t stop us from going back outside or hoping or wishing, getting excited about every last thing we could do. Hope. Possibility. I don’t know what changes, why we can’t live there forever. Was it just that we just needed to accumulate more losses? Or maybe we were more buoyant then.

I write a lot about loss. I can’t help it. It’s the truth that defines me most. The why is another post, really, but the short of it is that I can’t compute. My brain cycles over it… over and over. It’s like that mechanism in me is broken. Move on. Let go. What? And up until recently, I mostly scoffed at the tender fears of others, that empty ache to remain guarded. I couldn’t understand ones need to shut people out, to shut down the world, hide in stuffy apartments without the lights on. You could count on me for handing out the advice TicTacs:

“What are you afraid of, anyhow?”

“What’s the worst that can happen? You’re alone now.”

“Rejection? We’ve all been there.”

“You’re just jaded. I mean, how will you ever be happy if you can’t take the risk?”

It was less judge-y and more “I don’t understand.” Because I didn’t. (I don’t?) I’ve been wounded, waded in chaos, really, but I still willed myself into the day and into people the way a hungry cat might smash itself into your leg, purring: half-hungry, half-doting. It didn’t mean I wasn’t sad or self-loathing, but that I was unhappy with my situation (a.k.a. The Never Enoughs) and so I needed more. I needed (need) more to toss into my bottomless pit. Of course, now I realize that this isn’t how everyone processes unhappiness and grief. Likewise, this can’t go on forever, right?

Admittedly, I’ve been struggling with reconnecting. It feels almost beyond my control.

My question is, though, what if the only way to process loss effectively is to avoid it altogether? And what if this style of coping isn’t a choice, but a mechanism, physiologically speaking? What if, over the years, our body learns without us?

It makes sense that, at some point, the body would take over. It does that, the body—it acts and reacts to its own tune, at times, reminding us we are not in control. For instance, maybe you don’t think you’re nervous, but then your hands shake, your breath quickens, your heart knocks in your ears like a marching band drum line. Likewise, the body has been known to do things in its best interest, to protect itself from common stressors and provocateurs. Hello, survival. But who says it must inform its host—for lack of a better term—on a conscious level?

At some point our body is all: “F you, dude. If you can’t take care of me, I’ll take care of me.”

You know the body—that cocoon we abuse endlessly with chemicals and gluttony and sleeplessness and… need I go on?

No wonder we’re 30 with budding armor: afraid to take risks, afraid to connect, afraid to love. And maybe those protective brain juices have convinced us subconsciously that we don’t want these things, that we’re fine. Why try? You know the hurt that follows. The body doesn’t let us.

Raise your hand if you’ve been the hapless victim of some half-assed solace like this:

“The only constant in life is change itself.”

Ugh. Gross. (Besides, Heraclitus of Ephesus was kind of an asshole.)

But the point is… shit doesn’t work. We know this. We’ve known it. But it still cuts. And you can cry or stomp or sing or whiskey it away, but it’s there, loss—as big as an anvil swinging above from a clothesline.

This thought comes to me, because yesterday, as I sat in my car at a red light, my eyes tried to leak on me. Perfect. A cry triggered by some trite line in a song that I hear often—nonsense, really. But it reminded me of someone I lost, a pain I should be immune to by now. And so I realize again (and again and again) that grief might be the thing that goes on forever.

How cruel is the world when everything leaves, but the pain of what is gone.

Even if you stop moving

scoot

Life keeps going.

If nothing else, that’s one thing we can bank on. Even in our stubborn complacency, our unhealthy comforts, our black-hole grief—even if the first thing you think about when you wake up every day is what you are not, or you don’t have, or worse, what you have lost.

This year has been a fierce, really, and in all the ways. Since D died, I have inadvertently split my life into two distinct time periods, before she died and after. Yeah, there are a ton of pivotal moments in my life that could’ve created a similar divide, but they didn’t. Mostly because of who I was before and after, and who I continue to be.

Three years this July.

The anniversary of her death came on so suddenly. It was physical. I was readying myself for a Chicago trip (the same location I headed to the day after her funeral), fussing to finish work assignments, worrying the semester, but then it came on… a wave over me. Not sure that I believe in much, but I do know when I feel her there. She kind of knocks you know. I’m sure you know. I’m sure there is someone you lost or miss and though often it’s the intensity of the missing that conjures them, sometimes they come uninvited. It’s a surprise. And no matter what your beliefs are—god or no god, spiritual or black and white—you invite them in. You invite them because it’s warm and nostalgic, the kind that hurts in the best way.

Do you speak to them? Out loud? A whisper? Inside? I do. I’m not embarrassed to say it—three years later I’m still sneaking in chats. Not like the daily texts and phone calls we engaged in, but car rides and bathroom breaks and walks to the coffeeshop. In that way, I never feel so alone. Not like I used to.

But for some good? Facing fears… and hopefully not foolishly. I got a scooter! It’s a “barely” used guy, a Yamaha Vino 125. It’s honestly been a source of pure joy. I can’t explain it. I’m just glad this summer weather is holding out as long as it is.

Latest poem published by Arsenic Lobster, “ONCE I DIDN’T DROWN IN A LAKE.”

And I finally scored a poem in my white whale of a lit mag, my favorite, Rattle. Scoop up a copy of your own.

But this. This is something that’s been haunting me, this poem and it’s sentiment. It’s so vital. While I wish I’d had discovered it long ago, I don’t think I’d have the Life Equipment to really get it.

Leaving you with it. Here.

mt

 

After Twelve Days of Rain – Dorianne Laux

I couldn’t name it, the sweet
sadness welling up in me for weeks.
So I cleaned, found myself standing
in a room with a rag in my hand,
the birds calling time-to-go, time-to-go.
And like an old woman near the end
of her life I could hear it, the voice
of a man I never loved who pressed
my breasts to his lips and whispered
“My little doves, my white, white lilies.”
I could almost cry when I remember it.

I don’t remember when I began
to call everyone “sweetie,”
as if they were my daughters,
my darlings, my little birds.
I have always loved too much,
or not enough. Last night
I read a poem about God and almost
believed it–God sipping coffee,
smoking cherry tobacco. I’ve arrived
at a time in my life when I could believe
almost anything.

Today, pumping gas into my old car, I stood
hatless in the rain and the whole world
went silent–cars on the wet street
sliding past without sound, the attendant’s
mouth opening and closing on air
as he walked from pump to pump, his footsteps
erased in the rain–nothing
but the tiny numbers in their square windows
rolling by my shoulder, the unstoppable seconds
gliding by as I stood at the Chevron,
balanced evenly on my two feet, a gas nozzle
gripped in my hand, my hair gathering rain.

And I saw it didn’t matter
who had loved me or who I loved. I was alone.
The black oily asphalt, the slick beauty
of the Iranian attendant, the thickening
clouds–nothing was mine. And I understood
finally, after a semester of philosophy,
a thousand books of poetry, after death
and childbirth and the startled cries of men
who called out my name as they entered me,
I finally believed I was alone, felt it
in my actual, visceral heart, heard it echo
like a thin bell. And the sounds
came back, the slish of tires
and footsteps, all the delicate cargo
they carried saying thank you
and yes. So I paid and climbed into my car
as if nothing had happened–
as if everything mattered–What else could I do?

I drove to the grocery store
and bought wheat bread and milk,
a candy bar wrapped in gold foil,
smiled at the teenaged cashier
with the pimpled face and the plastic
name plate pinned above her small breast,
and knew her secret, her sweet fear,
Little bird. Little darling. She handed me
my change, my brown bag, a torn receipt,
pushed the cash drawer in with her hip
and smiled back.

—From What We Carry. (If you don’t have this book, you need it.)

Honoring the magic.

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I’m going to go on and say it: There aren’t many things that can rival the magic of Santa.

As a kid, of course. And even as an adult.

Maybe it’s the kind of feeling we spend the rest of our lives trying to find or to imitate. It’s cause for cliff dives and drop offs. You don’t find it in filler stuff, like grocery shopping or bill paying or tv watching. You think it should be in other people, so you dig around inside them like lost and ancient treasure. You cast it in shadows on the wall, form it in your warm palms like wet dough. You have to make it up.

But maybe it’s the kind of thing you never have again. And you have to be ok with that. And you have to live every day knowing that magic is somehow gone and that might be it, as far as magic goes. But you had it and so you’re grateful. That so-very-adult word, “grateful.” Because damnit, that’s what you should be. YOU HAVE ALL THE THINGS.

Ok. And you breathe.

I met that one person, like a mother and a best friend and an everything, and she was magic. And I didn’t know her for that long, but enough to spend one of the best holiday seasons with she and her family, feeling like a real loved and wanted creature. Feeling magical, amplified, the kind you can’t glean from workplace successes, fame or even romantic relationships… which I try to explain to A.

So it’s this time of year, I’m reminded of that and that’s what I celebrate so hard. Because I felt it once. And so every year, for two months in anticipation, I listen to Christmas tunes, ogle wreaths and trees, daydream about holiday events, shop for ugly sweaters and puffy Santa hats…

And that’s what Christmas is to me now. Plus the lights, like hopeful stars in every color.

A little dark for December

BarrenFieldsGBG14

It seems like everyone is dying these days. Matt told me not to make a list.

“Please don’t,” he asked loudly from his bedroom.

We talk like this most days: through walls, overtop house static and the far-away rattle of Main Street just a few blocks below.

“Where are you going?” he asks on nights like this, seeming surprised. But he doesn’t need to ask. He knows. The parking lot.

“Geez,” he’ll say.

I say it as nonchalantly as “the mall” or “Giant Eagle.” He knows me by now. When you live in a house with someone, you learn these types of things. For me, it’s how Matt spends nearly every evening on the couch flicking undecidedly over Netflix movies, falling asleep there snuggled with the cat (about 20 minutes after he finally chooses a film or TV show to watch). He cleans with vinegar. He makes random late-night stops at the cupboard to grab a fistful of granola. These types of things. For him, it’s my rituals he learns—my gummy-bear binging, my space-heater occupying, my evening coffee, my tendency to leave the house anywhere between 9 and 11 for a restless Walmart run, or worse, the parking lot. We both talk to the cat in a demanding and unhealthy way.

But it’s already December. And stranger than that realization is the the unescapable truth that loss is in the air: the way the smoke from a blown-out candle lingers a little too long.

Who am I to comment on this? Everyone in close range to me is ok—fortunately, and fuck if I’m not knocking so hard on my wooden desk right now. It’s those on the periphery. And for as much as I’m not trying to make this about me, my heart is breaking all over the place, you know? For them. Am I allowed to say that? It just feels wrong to mention, like these aren’t “my people,” but “my people’s people.”  It’s just that death is a lesson I’ve learned, a lesson I grew up with and grew to. Maybe it stirs it back up like some sticky fingers reaching gut-level. I hate watching others learn it, whether it’s for the first time or not.

It seems to have all started with Robin Williams’s death and that awfully omen-like dream I had just days before about him. I still can’t shake that.

Anyway, battles everywhere are being lost—to cancer, to addiction, to suicide, to old age (even). And at this time of year, it’s all we can do to let the Christmas lights twinkle and the holiday songs play without feeling the cut of grief and loss, no matter what shape it takes. So instead of “bah humbug”—I’m being grateful. Let the magic in, for those who can stand it.

To everyone facing loss right now, my heart is with you. All the way. <3

mt

Blue hour

Yesterday, I reluctantly turned the page of my work calendar from July to November.

That pretty much sums up the last few months. I think I’m still stuck there… in July. I wish I were going backwards. Like I’ve admitted before: everything in my world is split into before’s and after’s. Anytime I find a letter, go to trash an old email, find a photo online, or open up to an older entry in my journal, I think: What’s the date? Oh. That was before. And I sit in awe of my younger self, because—albeit months—I am so much older.

I think this experience has dated me to, at least, 50.

Maybe it is the change in time, “falling back,” and the earlier sunset, or simply the missing. Not only do I miss a friend, but the pain of “without” seems like it will never let go. And do I want it to? Maybe I’m just sick of the pain. Either way, things have been extremely difficult lately [i.e. getting out of bed, conjuring motivation for responsibilities, breathing].

So there’s that, as my roommate would so aptly mimic me.

Last night, as we sat across from each other at Panera, Kelly blew my mind.

“Like twilight?” she asked, after I tried to explain the part of the day that is the hardest.

“Well, I call it sundowning, but… yeah, I mean, yeah.”

“Hm. You know, all day long you’re body is in control. At night, your soul takes over, so, during twilight, you’re most vulnerable. You’re in transition.”

I think my jaw dropped, for real.

My soul takes over…?

“I’m scared of my soul, then,” I answered.

Rather than go on to explain or rattle off a list of the whys [I’d rather smush myself into a tiny hole for the rest of my life and never emerge], I’ll stop. I’ll just stop here.

mt

Carrying

Some days it’s all I see: the people hurting, the people not getting enough of what they need. The need itself is startling. I guess I’m just amazed at how much we do need—how much we need and hate owning up to it.

Pride stands in the way of many things, but this shouldn’t be one of them.

I know what it’s like to need—to need so badly you want to rip your guts out and cuddle them yourself. It’s achy like your legs after a run. You know that feeling when you’re in bed and it’s late and you can’t stop kicking around, because… it isn’t a sharp pain, but it’s uncomfortable (your legs).

For me, the only thing worse than that pain (in respect to needs) is watching other people experience it.

Why? Why do I think I’m some Superman? I don’t. I know I can’t save you, as much as I wish, wish, wish. But I can, at least, be the pillow you rest your achy legs on or the rain that comes to sing you to sleep at last.

Sometimes it feels like I’m carrying around everyone with me: the pain and the disappointment, the insecurities most of all. It’s not about being a martyr or a saint or a Superman-wannabe. It’s about knowing how it feels, experiencing it so much (becoming a pro at it, even) that seeing anyone else go through it breaks my heart.

I am the thing I needed.

Isn’t that crazy?

Kelly once told me that we support people in the ways we want to be supported. We weren’t talking about emotional support necessarily, but I think it applies. And ever since she said that, I can’t forget it. The downside, though, is that sometimes the way we want to be treated isn’t the way the other wants to be.

Learning.

I don’t want it ever to stop, though: the supporting. I don’t want people to know how heavy it can be to carry them, and then stop allowing me to be there. Carrying heals me too. All the sad from before is slowly being washed away… the gently push of the tide (back and forth) until little by little, one sharp edge at a time, it reaches the sand. The sadness dries up there in the sun, the only happy. Constant.

mt

 

The new routine

Finally, it’s not as sharp as knives. I’m learning to live without my best friend. The routine is going back, back to a time when I didn’t know her or need her. I talk to her ghost less and less. I pretty much stopped journaling and poeming in.

I feel void.
I haven’t been back.

Without

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Two-grief kind of day, maybe?

Sometimes it feels like someone pulled the bones from my body. Like a walking (somehow?) jellyfish. Sometimes I don’t know how to stand up, don’t know how to breathe. I forget what beautiful looks like. Isn’t that horrible? Sun or rain, I don’t care to be outside. I don’t care to be a part of anything.

I guess it is that finite. Death. And that world doesn’t interest me, permanence, black and white. It’s forever that we all want, right? For everything to exist in a higher plane, for a better reason. And I think… for that year and a half it did. Finally. I had the feeling of “more.” And I’m not ready to go back to what this is. This is no substitute or alternative. Not after the knowing.

It sounds dead-ended. It sounds desperate and depressed. I’m ok. I’m living, doing that thing everyone else is doing. Yes, sometimes feeling like a zombie, sometimes a human shed of its skeleton.

If I could only be empowered by this, take the lessons and the love and build on that to go forward, but those moments are fleeting. Minutes. Until the memories take over. And I can be in mid-sentence or mid-laugh and my guts fill up my brain and then… fuzz cloud.

How can I live now? How do I live now? How do I hold up everything, keep it together? I just haven’t got a clue. And this writing, only here…

This is me trying to figure everything out.

xo
mt

 

Screaming

I wish she were alive. I wish it every moment I get to think. It’s exhausting.

I guess it isn’t wishing. It’s more like pining. It’s more like the grief that everyone keeps telling me about like it’s a fucking diagnosis boiled down to atoms and gravity. Listen. I’m angry a little. I’m angry because I know everyone is just waiting for me to get over this. I’m supposed to take comfort in the fact that people die and I was lucky to have her for the time I did, blah blah. You know. Canned stuff.

When I open my mouth, I have to be careful I don’t let her name out. Sometimes it slips because, even when she was alive, her name was always on my tongue. We had adventures together. Big talks. Epic breakdowns. Vulnerability. Starry nights. Just me, her and the fish. And the moon always watching.

But I know it gets old. I know because I’ve watched people grieve. I’ve grieved myself. And with the same silly expectations I place on others, I place on myself: move on already. Right. I’m going between logic and heartache like it’s a fucking tennis match. And my brain, like I said, is tired.

I will hear everyone’s words. I will appreciate people thinking of me, the hugs, the text-message checkups. But it will stop. It will be a few months down the line. And that stuff stops and you feel like you’re supposed to stop too.

I remember when my dad died, over 10 years ago, everyone was pretty forthcoming with the support. Father’s Day was a big one. Year after year, I regrieved. And friends who thought of it would text. My mom would check in. It was nice. Not necessary but kind. After a while, I came to expect it. Because, just like all those kids out there remembering their dads, someone was remembering me. It was like celebrating no dad, the void that was always licking at my heels.

But then it stopped, slowly. And you know, this year. No one said a word to me. And when people did talk, they didn’t mention it. Like somehow he evaporated and time has “healed” me. I always want to scream, though, like a selfish asshole… “Hey! IT STILL HURTS! IT STILL MATTERS JUST AS MUCH AS BEFORE!”

The screaming never makes it out.

And now. I guess, I’m still screaming. Because of a loss, but also a lifetime of reliving it. Maybe that’s why I’m angry. Over and over. Grief.

You just…

Yeah. You just… keep going?

You just… wake up, get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, get in the car, go to work, work, go home… and this cycle continues. It continues because this is what you do. And this is how you stay alive. The bare minimum.

Since she died: I got a chapbook published. I rode in an airplane. I downloaded A Fine Frenzy’s album. I finished four paintings. I wrote two poems. I learned a new song on the ukulele. I had a birthday.

And everything before—the old receipts, pay stubs, shoes I bought—are reminders that labels themselves as such in my head. Like. Anything before July 22nd was safe. I was ok. No matter what I was doing, you know. Even if I didn’t get sleep or I had a bad day at work, my life was x58027 better. I long to go back there. I mean, it hasn’t even been a month yet.

People keep saying how I just have to go on, “move forward,” that this is life and it will hurt less with time. And this sympathy in a can, as my roommate so aptly puts it, is nothing I don’t know. I’ve been through this, remember? That is why I don’t want to do it again. I know. I know. I know.

Then, there are moments where I catch a big wind and my lungs fill deep and I am grateful. We had one of the most amazing friendships that I’ve ever known. We saw the beauty in things—like sunsets and songs—but we also saw the beauty in one another. I said: “We are two mirrors facing each other.” That kind of forever. And I mean it.

Don’t think I don’t know how dramatic this sounds. But imagine it. Now imagine it better than that. And this isn’t some realization I’m having now. I had it all along. If I can take comfort in anything, it’s that I always told her. All the things. All the time. And she agreed. Fate.

And so now is where I accept, allow her to get farther and farther away. “You’re getting smaller, getting smaller, but I still see you” (Jimmy Eat World).

This is me. Being big. Grieving. Not knowing how much longer it’ll hurt like this…

Breathing.