Tag: grief

Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 5

 

This story is much too much to be one blog post, so it’s broken into parts. Here are the links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

I’m going to stop apologizing for how long it has taken me to get here. Each of these parts has been painstaking. It’s a lot of untangling, trying to separate the threads of hurt from my actual experience and then from the place I am now, hindsight. There is so much floating around in my head that I need to un-puzzle, to understand, to get out of my fucking body. You know?

Have you ever had company coming, and without time to clean, you just shove everything into the nearest closet? It’s a temporary solution. I mean, some of us are really good at forgetting about the mess behind the door. It’s easier to keep the door shut. But the longer you wait to confront the closet chaos, the scarier it gets, the harder it is to deal with the mess.

So here I am, opening the door to the monster that’s been living in my closet for the last year plus.

***

 

People show you who they are.

Whether it’s through their actions, inactions or reactions, people will always present themselves… eventually. The problem is that we don’t want to see them. We want people to be who want them to be, who we need them to be. It sounds gross, but it’s actually a very human thing that we do. Why wouldn’t we? In this world, we find ways to cope. We are survivors.

And maybe this is too much of an aside, but it’s something I need to say for others just as much as myself. If this is too much for you, just skip to the next section (the bolded date)—like a choose your own adventure. haha. I just couldn’t find a way to not say this.

For those of us raised by people who didn’t/couldn’t give us what we needed emotionally, we are especially good at shaping those around us into what is lacking. It’s all so confusing growing up this way. Everyone disappoints you or leaves you or “turns into” someone else. If this sounds like you too, don’t be hard on yourself. You made it! You are here. Your brain did what it needed to do to get by. And we all do this to cope to varying degrees.

Anyway, the good news is that once we become aware of it, we can better avoid The Big Hurts. For most of us, our 30s are when we hopefully get good at sniffing out the people and things we want in our lives. We only have so much energy and time, so we have to ration it out carefully. (Oregon Trail, anyone?) This isn’t to say that The Big Hurts won’t come knocking ever again. I guess that is my lesson here. I really thought no one would get by my bullshit sniffer ever again. Who do I think I am? 

No one is invincible. See, it’s tricky. Sometimes you find people whose actions do not align with their words. They are good at knowing what you want to hear, but not so good with the follow-through. This makes people sound malicious, but I don’t think they are 95% of the time… just careless. Most of us genuinely want to be good, to do right by others—right? I’m sure they want to live up to this potential, but just fall short. Malicious or not, it still hurts. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we let them hurt us again and again. Even if they “didn’t mean to.” Even if they apologize (but especially if they don’t.)

What you go through with careless people is pretty much always the same bullshit. You find someone you connect with. The beginning is good. But then, the tension arrives. They ditch plans, offend you, forget your birthday—whatever it is. And before long, you find yourself questioning everything and putting up with crap you’d never dream of swallowing before. But then, at some point, something they do (or don’t do) knocks the rosy glasses off of our faces and it’s like we are seeing them for the first time.

That feeling is the worst.

But is that person really to blame? Who are you even mad at? Sad at? It’s a confusing twist cone of emotions that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Friday, July 29th —9:00 a.m. PST

When K told me she had COVID, my first reaction was relief.

It seems so silly now, but I thought that maybe I could just file the whole unfortunate event in that thick, ever-growing folder labeled “COVID: Collateral Damage.” If only I could just forget the last 24 hours or so of weird and disappointing communications with her. If only I could just erase her carelessness and avoidance and tell myself that we didn’t connect this trip because she got COVID. It would be so much easier to blame the virus.

But I wasn’t giving up yet. This was my second reaction. Hey, I came all this way and if it meant I might catch COVID (after avoiding it for 2 years), it was worth it—wasn’t it? It would ruin my writing workshop days and I might not be able to get back on a plane to go home, but fuck it.

Me:  Damn, dude. Well, I will go outside and masked with ya anywhere. So.

Me:  How’d ya get it?!

Me:  Hope you don’t feel too bad… ugh. What a nightmare.

She got it from an event, she said.

K:  And I feel super icky but thought it was just in my head.

K:  I’m so annoyed.

Annoyed?

First, she was “bummed” and then “annoyed.” I, on the other hand, was devastated.

The tears ran from my eyes, some soaking into the black fabric of my n95 mask, while others cascaded around the top of the mask and down each side spilling onto my cheeks. I sat there, alone and unmoving, a sad-face fountain at a six-top table surrounded by plates of cold, uneaten breakfast foods. My phone was laid in front of me like a sword. The blue-bubbled text conversation stalled out.

K never responded to my proposition of meeting outdoors. In fact, she never said another word to me that day—oh, except when I accidentally texted her instead of Abbie. I was at Trader Joe’s (less than a mile from her house). It was benign, something about the color of Crocs, because believe it or not, I still didn’t tell Abbie what was happening. I mean, what if this was all some big misunderstanding and I’d unjustly ruin Abbie’s opinion of her? I didn’t want her to worry about me either. Besides all that, I was so so embarrassed.

Why am I including this accidental text in the story? Because. Even though I didn’t plan on it, the text let K know I was there at Trader Joe’s, a 5-minute walk to her house. Her response was another painful dose of avoidance, which should’ve been predictable at that point.

K:  I love Trader Joe’s!

What?

I drove to TJ’s after the sad hotel brunch, because I had planned to pick up some sick people stuff for K (crackers, soup, ginger ale, etc.), and then plop it on her doorstep. But in my twist cone of mad and sad, I talked myself out of it. I already felt stupid for coming this far, giving this much. I mean, she hadn’t even asked me if I was okay or if I found something to do or to eat or whatever. I stopped myself from doing more. Giving her another ounce of vulnerability just wasn’t an option.

Instead of that, I sat directionless in the hot black car with the windows up taking part in some seriously obnoxious sobbing. You know the kind that sounds like you’re coming up for air after touching the bottom of the deep end? Like that.

This was a me I didn’t recognize.

Friday, July 29th — the rest of the day

Sooo… I didn’t stop crying.

I don’t know what to tell you. I wish my story was different, about how I sucked it up and made the most of it in the Bay. But I didn’t. I did find one stationery store in Berkeley, because I always try to find postcards and things to send when I am away. It just made me sadder, though, wondering if this was the stationery store that K told me about in her letters. She loves Berkeley. As I read her words, I always imagined that some day I’d be there to experience all the things with her in person. She would show me around. And then, she would come here and I could show her my spots and all the places I find beautiful in my dirty little city of Pittsburgh. Saying this now, I feel like  an idiot. After 10 years without a proper visit, maybe I should’ve taken the hint? Maybe this was just another red flag that I missed.

Stationery Store -Berkeley, CA

The rest of the day, I drove around aimlessly, crying, talking to myself, frantically trying to piece together how I got where I was.

What was I doing? 

I wanted so badly to be with someone who cared about me. I was a new level of alone. Like, the kind you can’t just trick your brain out of. So I drove around, found a pensive spot by the water and watched the sun drop. It was the most exquisite pity party ever.

 

That night, I ate a Lunchable in bed and watched TV. I wrote out postcards to my friends back home, pretending things weren’t this bad. In the small rectangle of postcard space, I joked about corny hotel decor, the surprising chill of July in San Fransisco, the long masked plane ride here. What was I going to write about? How I came all this way to cry in parking lots, to chase geese around the lagoon behind the hotel, to eat a Ham & Swiss Lunchable alone in my hotel room?

If someone could see me now, I thought, as I dusted the cracker crumbs from my chest onto the pristine white sheets.

 

Friday, July 30th —morning and afternoon

Still, nothing.

Checking my phone became a ritual that I resented. I watched K switch on and off the “Silence Notifications” setting on her iPhone. (Yes, you can see this in the chat conversation.)

It was the day before my birthday, I reminded myself. Get your shit together. I got to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror: puffy eyes punched into a splotchy red face. The salty tears had burnt the skin around my eyes and it hurt to touch them.

Today would be different.

I made plans to meet up with Christine for brunch. Who is Christine? Our orbits bumped years ago on Instagram, where we ended up chatting in DMs, until eventually, snail mail. Abbie and I met her IRL in 2017, when we were in SF. I know people say this corny shit all the time, but it was like we had known her for forever, like family.

When I planned this trip, I had messaged Christine to tell her that I was coming to the area and that I hoped we could meet up, even if it was just to squeeze in a coffee. Honestly, it felt tentative. I didn’t have hour-by-hour plans with K, but I assumed we’d be spending most of my time there together. After over a decade of knowing her, I was dedicating this portion of my trip to our friendship, you know? That’s what it felt like.

I wasn’t sure how to talk about Christine in this story or if I should at all. She wasn’t part of the nightmare. Instead, she was the reality check I needed, a flash of brightness in this dark weird drain I had been circling for days. But I did (and still do) feel guilty about it somehow. I hope she didn’t feel like some runner-up to K. I also didn’t want her to feel like I was her problem or that she had to pick up the pieces to my shattered hopes and ego.

Christine and I met for brunch. It was chilly, almost winter-like, and the fog was thick in the distance. She greeted me on the sidewalk in front of her place, open arms. I remember her hugging me and how fucking amazing it felt. The tears formed a baseball in my throat (and even now as I recall this.)

“Oh, am I the first person to give you a hug? …or even touch you since you’ve been here?”

I don’t think I’d ever needed to be seen so badly. She didn’t treat me like I was being dramatic or foolish, but she got it totally. I just have no words for how much that meant to me, still means. I got to tell someone what was going on, to tell the story (finally) and to someone who I knew would give it to me straight. What was going on? What was I missing?

But even after telling the story, we never came to any great realization about what was going on. It was kind of a relief to know that Christine was just as confused.

“What can you do?” Christine asked. 

It was a rhetorical question, but I answered it anyway.

“I don’t plan on ever speaking to her again,” I said.

I don’t know if that makes me cold or crazy or a bad person, but I had come to this realization before meeting up with Christine, on the drive down. First, how can you make this up to someone? Some things you just can’t make right—especially with 5,000 miles in between. But the big reason for feeling completely donezo with K is kind of simple: she is not the type of person I want or need in my life.

If you’ve read up to here, I’m sure you don’t need me to clarify but…  it’s not that she got COVID. This shit happened to so many people during the pandemic. It’s how she handled it. It’s how she did not show a lick of concern for me and refused to take any type of ownership. Instead, she played dumb and bypassed all of my hurt. Fuck, she didn’t even call me. She texted me (barely)… and I flew across the country to be 5 minutes from her house. Instead of asking if I was ok, she silenced her phone at 7 p.m., hours after I arrived, alone.

Pssst: The insecure and forever-unlovable kid part of me still feels somewhat guilty for having expectations of a friend like that. Am I being too demanding? Do I deserve it?

 

After brunch, Christine let me hang a bit with her and her kiddo. The little one’s first day of school was approaching and she needed a haircut and a trip to the library. It was sweet and I could’ve followed them around all day, really.

This is about when I first spotted a footless pigeon. What you need to know is that I love pigeons. A lot. And so when I found it sitting like a little clump of bird on some steps, I got closer. Why wasn’t it running away?

Oh no, did you find an injured animal even on vacation? I could hear Abbie say.

I’m really good at this. I get myself into some real situations because I can’t just leave something hurt like that, you know? But as I moved closer, the scared bird stood up on two stunted legs and quickly wobbled a few feet away, where it fell again into a frightened clump. When I asked Christine if she saw it, she hardly seemed phased. Apparently this is a thing. Feetless pigeons. Later, I would cry about this too.

 

Friday, July 30th — 4:30 p.m.

I began my drive back up 101 to San Rafael, back to my strange hotel room. Just days before, I was flying up this same route, sleepy and mesmerized, with a dumb heart so full it could’ve split. It was just moments ago or else years. Thoughts like these burned now. Remembering that excitement, that overzealous fool that I was. It made me so angry with K. How could she? Why would she? Who was she?

Did I really plan to never say another word to her? Even if she texted me? …like I told Christine?

This time, as the inevitable tears plopped onto my cheeks, I sucked in the sadness and blew it out of the open window like a goodbye kiss. It was my last night in the Bay, in San Rafael. The next day, my birthday, I would leave for the writing workshop in Pebble Beach. Despite the grief, the homesickness and the plight of my pigeon friends, I felt a little lighter after my visit with Christine, a little less unlovable. Maybe I could actually do something tonight—you know, other than eating a Lunchable in a hotel bed while crying intermittently during the commercial breaks of a Forensic Files marathon.

Just as I had the thought, it was interrupted by the sharp ding of my phone: a text message. I waited a few minutes before checking the screen—partly out of defiance and partly out of self-preservation. I wanted to sit in that moment of ambiguity for as long as I could. I held my breath as I picked up the phone to read the screen. It was K. 

K:  Hey, I hope you’re enjoying your time today in SF with your friend…

How did she know where I was? Who I was with?

K:  …I wanted to acknowledge our conversation yesterday because it didn’t really sit well with me for a couple of reasons.

There was a large block of text glaring up at me. I only looked briefly since I was driving, but it didn’t take much skimming to realize the slippery tone of her message. As I looked for the next exit to pull over, the heat rose from my chest to my cheeks.

Would this be the stuff her silence was saying, her explanation? Coming through the night before I was leaving? In my mind, there was nothing left to salvage. I was done holding back. I pulled into a random plaza parking lot, unbuckled my seatbelt and conjured as much courage as I could. I knew it was going to hurt. I pulled out my pocket bandana and laid it on my thigh, anticipating the tears that I could feel inside of my chest filling buckets.

Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 3

It was the moment I'd been waiting for, for months. Between the excitement and the exhaustion, I felt like I was either dreaming or a high-functioning zombie. It was in this sleep-deprived surreality that I got my luggage, signed for my over-priced rental car and stepped out into the ...cold?

Read more

Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 2

“If I love you, I’ll love you forever, you know?”

Once, I said that to someone as a warning. By that point, it was probably too late, but I do believe love is a choice. Even if we aren’t aware that we are making a decision in the moment, there is a moment. We can choose to jump from that cliff. Or not. Unfortunately, for some of us, loving someone isn’t an action that can be undone.

This is part of what makes this story so hard to share. But there is more to it.

For one, the story isn’t just mine. Part of me feels guilty for throwing it out in the world, but this is what I do. I am a writer and probably for this very reason: to figure shit out, to process, to share with others, to connect, to heal (hopefully). So yeah, I want to be as respectful as possible. I know that my intentions are good, and I want to make sure my writing reflects that. But because of this, it feels like I’m writing in Pig Latin or something. If anything here seems cryptic or too elusive, please know it’s only because I’m trying to be… kind-ish?

Secondly, a move like this definitely has some Mortal Kombat “Finish Him” vibes. Whether my blog is read by the person or not, putting this out there gives a certain finality to our relationship. I’m pretty sure those coffin nails have been hammered in, but like I said above, when I love, I love. There is no “off” switch, so maybe I’m stalling, wading/waiting?

Lastly, it’s just downright embarrassing. Who flies across the country and invests so much time, energy and money into a person (and for all those years, really) when it must’ve been clear all along that the two of us were not on the same page? Who could be so foolish (?), naïve (?), unlovable (?) …if not those things, then what? I honestly do not know.

So. Here we are.

I am relentless in my need to figure out everything and anything. This is no different. While I risk being too reductive ( and annoying tf out of anyone who is actually trying to follow this), the story truly relies on logistics.  So I’m sorry for all of the prefacing, but this is the last of it.

Here is some scene setting in the form of pre-trip communications, Exhibits A through C. Ha! It sort of feels like that, evidence. Bear with me and the next part will be the full story. I’ve been stuck trying to figure out a way to explain this without just blatantly sharing the full texts of text messages. And I think maybe that’s just too invasive and unkind, right?

EXHIBIT A

In Part 1 of this tale, I describe planning the trip and the hotel while discussing it with K through texts. I would consider this Exhibit A. This direct quote from the conversation seems necessary to later revelations. K said this in response to my excited nervousness for traveling solo:

“While you’re here, if anything goes sideways, I’m here to help! You’ll be travelling alone with bowling alley bumpers.”

 

EXHIBIT B

About two weeks before the trip, COVID was running wild again—this time, it was the emergence of the Omicron subvariant, BA.5. This made me incredibly nervous, and so I texted K:

“Let’s not get COVID right now. I’m so nervous about getting it before I go. And the only reason I’m going for those extra days is for you! (alien emoji)”

I got no response, so the next day, I was sweatin’ it. I hate bugging people, but this seemed timely.

“You there?” I asked.

She answered. Whew. K explained she had some life stuff going on and the day before, when I texted, she was very “distracted.” I can understand that, of course. The conversation that followed, though, was about job transitions and the rampant BA.5. While my excitement was peaking for the upcoming visit, she didn’t mention it at all. Is that weird? Am I reading into something?

This is where I began to feel some sort of distancing. It’s hard to explain, but it felt like the focus of our conversation kept sliding into everything but the trip. These were texts, though. So maybe I was imagining it.

 

EXHIBIT C

About a week before the trip, K texted me. She asked what dates/times I’d be there specifically, so she could make sure our time together was “completely blocked off.” I was working, but I was so excited that I stopped to log into my flight schedule so I could double check and relay the dates and times correctly. She mentioned the crazy life things going on, but she seemed genuinely excited to make the time for us.

By this point, I was practically on the ceiling. Stupidly. Childishly. Like I was 11 again in the backseat surrounded by blankets and pillows and a brand of feverish anticipation that you can barely remember as an adult. The kind of excitement that makes you step out of your body and ask yourself:

Should I let myself be this excited? How bad will it hurt?

Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 1

San Francisco Bay Bridge in Fog 2022
Bay Bridge Fog, Meghan Tutolo (2022).

This isn’t the happy story I thought it would be.

I wrote and re-wrote this blog entry over the last month. It kept turning out as more of a chapter than a story—a brain mosaic of narrative tangled with memories and past traumas. Who do I think I am? Ha.

See, the San Francisco trip turned out to be more of a melodrama and less of a vacation, definitely not the event I’d been looking forward to for the last 4 months. The story feels important to tell, but it needs a little prefacing to make sense. So… buckle up? Or not. Boogie on out now, if you want. I totally get it.

Can we start with the song? I’ve had this song in my head since I landed at SFO on the 28th of July.

Hello, San Francisco, baby, I don’t ever want to die…

It was February when I planned the trip. In the middle of yet another Pandemic Winter, I was looking for a reason to keep going, you know? When you live in Pittsburgh—pandemic or no pandemic—February is pretty bleak. Groundhog Phil’s grim forecast didn’t help. So when the callout came up on my Facebook feed that poet Dorianne Laux would be workshopping at a four-day writing conference in California (on my birthday!), I perked up a bit. It definitely had those “meant to be” kind of vibes.

I love birthdays. Not just my birthday, but everyone’s. I love any excuse to celebrate the people I love in the cheesiest, gushiest, most ridiculous way. Still, July hits a little different these days. It was years ago now that Denise died 10 days before my birthday. If you don’t know, Denise was my soul sister—”my favorite person in the world,” I would tell her. So yeah, you could say there is some earned Birthday Abandonment™ trauma connected to this time of year. July rolls in hot and sunshiny, but with a weird ache. I feel it before I know it’s here.

Funny how it was her voice in my head as I was daydreaming about this solo trip across the country:

“C’mahhn. You have to live a little.”

There was more than one reason to visit the Bay Area: K lives there. K and I are what you might call penpals. We’d been posting each other (letters, postcards and packages) for over 10 years now, but she’s known me since I was just a silly, self-deprecating 14 year old posting on Tori Amos message boards online.  (In case you were wondering what kind of adolescent I was… haha. It’s a pretty good tell.)

I referred to K as “probably my best friend, though we’ve never met.”

In 2017, we did meet. And, you know, everything clicked. Though I was nervous as all get out, that same energy and connection were there from our letters. What a relief! It was a short first visit and I was looking for any reason to get out to see her again. This writing conference seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was the two things that convinced me to look into it further, seeing K and the conference. High-tailing it to the Left Coast for just a one activity seemed a little more than frivolous, money- and time-wise. So, two birds, as they say.

I texted K and a couple of my SF friends to see what they thought. To my excitement, K was super into the idea of getting more time together. And boy, not to be too dramatic, but I really needed it. The pandemic era has made mashed potatoes of my sanity and so much has felt overwhelming: health stuff, roof, chimney, a lawsuit?, the thousand small cuts of homeownership, etc. And just like any small business owner, I’d been working overtime to make the money to take care of this shit. The point: there was an excitement there that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I mean, I don’t really allow myself that kind of anticipation anymore. (I swear it’s more practical than pessimistic.) But I wasn’t on my game. I was on E—physically, emotionally—and so very willing to push myself harder for this opportunity.

So BOOM. Just like that, the plans were made: I would fly in, rent a car, book a hotel for 3 days in the Northern Bay Area to spend time with her, and then, drive down to Pebble Beach for the conference. Once it was over, I’d drive back up to the airport and fly home.

Let’s throw our bones away, get happy, babe. ‘Cause I’m seeing blue again… 

I’m not sure how to tell the story from here. You can probably guess that things didn’t go quite like that, right?

Spoiler alert: I still don’t know what the hell happened, really, and neither does anyone I’ve tried to hash it out with. But I’ll explain more in the next part.

Until then, go listen to that Margot and The Nuclear So and So’s song.

mt

There’s no karma in weather

Old Toys // 2020 Copyright Meghan Tutolo

We get what we deserve.

Pffft. You don’t believe that do you? I don’t. I mean, I didn’t think so. I think… maybe somewhere deep down in there, I’m programmed to believe this, though. I know you’ve thought it too: If I do good, then good will come to me. We also like to tell each other: Bad people will “get theirs.” These delusions keep us going.

And why wouldn’t we think that? We’re trained from an early age to believe in rewards and consequences. Whether you grew up watching Disney movies and reading fairytales or learning the parables of the Bible, you were taught to be a good person through positive and negative reinforcement. This, then, evolves from the easy and superficial into the grown-up and severe—some omniscient score card, you might say. But if not your parents or teachers or older siblings looking over your shoulder, who is keeping score? The universe? God? You? Tallying up your good deeds and sacrifices, waiting to cash them in for some Get Out of a Jam Free Card?

You know this is complete bullshit, right?

But does that change the monologue you’re having inside your head? Are you still shocked when liars and thieves make it out seemingly unscathed? When bad people win the lottery? Get the girl? Do you tell yourself that their behavior will catch up to them? Does that make you feel better? Do you believe that?

No amount of hindsight rationalizing can blur the truth here. Life is wholly unfair. Bad people win. Good people lose. Good people die. Good people die too soon. Not just good people, amazing people die. Needed people. Talented people. People with so much to offer the world. People who inspire others. Good people who deserve good things die.

Fuck.

Some good people have died in the last few months. Amazing people. People whose lives meant so much to so many other lives. And I just can’t reconcile this in my brain. Even if I know what I know. Even then.

I know some of you have your religion. While it’s not my intention to shit all over that, religion isn’t a good enough answer for me. These are just my opinions, of course. “God” is so good at being a catch-all for the unknown and the unfair. It’s a nice way to comfort yourself, to bandage wounds. But that’s all it is. It’s something we’ve invented to do just that. And why? Because it’s too hard to believe in nothing.

The truth is… the world is precarious. Just because we have a conscience doesn’t mean the universe does. In fact, that’s what makes it so beautiful. We, as humans, spend our lives trying to figure it all out, expecting some predictable outcome… like how Cinderella wins her prince or how the slow-moving, but determined, tortoise finishes first.

But we don’t live in a children’s book.

We love our patterns and scales and even numbers. We spin our wheels trying to create some bigger picture from all of these random pieces, like trying to put together a bad jigsaw puzzle. So when shit doesn’t add up and the scales don’t balance, we’re left in the middle of the floor, sleepless, on our hands and knees, surrounded by all these pieces, thinking maybe we just aren’t getting it. Maybe there’s another way.

But there’s nothing to get. And even in knowing that, it doesn’t make it any lighter.

Hang onto each other. If we are all we have, we are all we have, you know?

mt

 

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.

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.