Self Actualizing Shit Show

The phrase, “I really love you,” in American Sign Language is awfully similar to the sign for the Shocker, which is funny because that’s the same phrase my ex kept telling me while we recounted all the ways he fucked me over during the span of a year. He, like other uninformed hearing-abled people who might not understand what a person is signing to them, got the phrase, “I really love you,” confused with fucking me over. It’s the twist in the ASL sign that throws people off, I guess.

The day after the Super Bowl, my boyfriend texted me to tell me that he wanted to hang out before he had work that night. I welcomed it, because he went home early from his brewery job the night before and I didn’t get to spend much time with him. He said he’d felt sick that whole weekend. I felt bad for him. He worked so much we’d barely seen each other – I even wrote down in my journal that most of our time spent together in December was asleep in bed. So, I welcomed his visit. When he showed up he looked like he had two black eyes and like he hadn’t slept. I asked him to tell me what was wrong, but he just held me. 

“I haven’t been honest with you, Kait.” 

Weird, how I almost knew it was coming. Strange how I have a habit of stuffing down bad vibes because I find difficulty trusting myself, even though I knew I should have walked away from him the first time he “lost his phone,” or, “didn’t really use Facebook that much,” or even, “I don’t know why my mom didn’t accept your friend request; maybe she doesn’t remember your last name.” Funny, those rose-colored glasses that make all red flags look like flags. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have broken up with him when he returned one of my Tupperware containers before washing it out. Disrespectful.   

I sat next to him on my bed and found myself unable to cry. As someone who can practically cry on command, I couldn’t understand where this physical response was coming from. His whole explanation felt rehearsed. I realized it when he blindly handed me a tissue.

“I’m not crying.” I handed it back and he looked at me with giant, wet eyes and blew his nose with it. I saw a tinge of disbelief on his face; he knew I was a crier.

Maybe, at the time, my mind simply couldn’t process enough of what was going on in order to make appropriate reactions. Maybe it was shock; maybe I could see through his bullshit and even my subconscious knew he was undeserving of the same tears I shed for my grandfather only three weeks earlier. I truly believe for a while that night that I was just cried-out from all the heartache I endured in January. All the vulnerability – all the trust – I allowed someone to see me in a light that very few people witness, and he accepted it and moved onto others with the same goal of emotional conquest in mind. I felt betrayed, let down, defeated, and foolish. He lied about Pop. In that moment, his deceit held the upper-hand on my self-assurance. And that’s when I cried.

I hate not understanding things, on a whole. People, though, absolutely blow my mind and I am in a constant internal struggle about understanding and trusting them. Back to my extreme frustration in math class; to what motivated my mother to drink herself to death. Not knowing how or why a thing operates always dwelled on me. It took years to accept that I’m just destined to write and not worry about calculus; I still have not fully accepted why people do the things they do. 

Loyalty though; honesty, commitment – should be clean cut. That I understand. If I tell someone they can trust me with something, it’s because they can. If I don’t think I can be trusted, I don’t accept the responsibility. It comes down to morality. With my ex, it made me question my own judgment and how bad I thought I was with trusting who I thought was the right person. Eventually I took my head out of my hands and wiped my face. 

“How am I supposed to trust someone again?” The question was rhetorical. I stared off into space as I said it. He stupidly answered.

“Don’t worry. You’re an amazing person and someday you’ll find -”

“Shut the fuck up.”

His clammy, guilty hand retracted from where he placed it on my knee and he recoiled into himself. Something deep inside me snapped in that moment and I swear to God it’s what a Pokemon must feel like when it’s evolving. I turned into a motherfucking Charizard. I inhaled a room full of hot, gross lies and self-doubt and sadness, and exhaled and absolute hellfire bitch-rage of done with this. He started to sob. I felt the veins in my neck pulse as I screamed and shook the walls and maybe a light bulb blew out I don’t really remember. He kept crying and turning his head away from me. I didn’t care.
“I can’t look at you. I can’t look at what I did to you,” he said through sobs. That made me angrier. This escalated inside of me to something that surpassed just my relationship with him. It was a dissemination of my self-doubt. It was a double barrel, sawed-off shotgun point blank at my past.

“Look me in my fucking face.” I was met with the eyes of a terrified boy. I suddenly felt disgusted. He was scared. He had no idea what he caused but he still caused a whole pile of shit. I didn’t feel bad for him. I pitied him – someone who was almost 30 years old and clearly never had experience in one of the greatest gifts on this earth – a genuine human relationship.  

“Who the fuck are you?”

The evening disintegrated. There was so much crying and him begging me to not leave his life – me foolishly considering taking him back because I still couldn’t entirely believe that he did all the things he did. After he left my house that night he told me he really loved me. I went back upstairs and sat on my bed, alone, with the stench of regret and the death of our relationship hanging in the air. The girl he cheated with reached out to me. He left her a two-minute voicemail on his way back from my house, begging her for a second chance too. I got my house key back three days later; he wouldn’t respond to me for fear or shame – I don’t really know. More tears, more anger – but most of all, confusion, and I was rid of the situation. I never deleted his number. I couldn’t. No one could hate him more than he hated himself, and it felt good to know he knew I was still there, existing in the world. His actions were unforgivable. Then again, even Mark Twain asked, “But who prays for Satan?”  

For who she was

It was never a question of whether or not I wanted to be like the woman my mother was, but rather the fear that I would fade away into darkness like she did. The person I came to know was someone I hardly knew at all, and by the time she died I felt like I watched a stranger die. Her last breaths before me were foreign and unforgettable. It was a strange disconnect to feel like I stopped knowing who she was long before I ever lost her. Seeing her in the hospital bed, the shell of the fabled Super Woman all her friends talked about, but the shell that I learned to accept as my mother. I knew that who she became was someone I never wanted to be. But who she was – that was someone worth knowing.

The older I got, the stronger the hold alcohol took on my mother – the more sheltered she became. She projected a lifestyle onto me that was shrouded in projections of physical insecurities and gaslighting that I didn’t understand until my mid-twenties. Growing up in a household so toxic groomed me to believe that I didn’t know what I wanted – or needed for that matter. It was as if nothing was ever good enough if it was of my own design. No matter what I suggested, I was met with resistance and aggression; I told my mother I signed up to take Spanish in school and she was infuriated that I wasn’t learning French. When I was a teenager, I expressed the need to go to the eye doctor and she was insistent that I only “wanted” glasses to look cool, as if she forgot I had to wear an eye patch as a baby for issues with my vision. I didn’t get glasses until I was 17 and now I wear bifocals for my astigmatism and nearsightedness. And even when I was in college and separated my shoulder playing rugby, my mother told me my injury was superficial and as a result I lost the range of motion in my left arm from never receiving physical therapy. No matter what the issue was, if she thought she knew better then her word was bond. I was compliant because I was the child, I didn’t know better. She was queen because she was mother, she knew best.

My mother wasn’t always like that, though. She wasn’t the woman who was afraid to drive more than 30 minutes away from home and refused to drive on a highway. She was loud, funny, sharp-witted, and adventurous. She was a real estate entrepreneur who spent more than ten years making a name for herself in the industry as a broker. Her childhood friends – who I am still very close with – described her as a talented writer, a comedian, a partier, a road-tripper, and a wonderful, honest companion. The woman I got growing up was overbearing, sheltered me, body-shamed me, and eventually just expected me to do well for the fear of being met with something else that might trigger her to drink more. Part of me wishes that I grew up beside her and got to know the person her friends missed so much; When she died, so many old friends approached me saying how “like her” I was. I couldn’t believe that I was anything like the woman in the casket. She was angry and refused to take credit for me being successful in anyway. “You’re just like your grandmothers,” she wrote in the last email I ever received, when I was sitting in my bedroom at Oxford University. She never said, “You’re like your mother.” I hated that. I hated that we were so disconnected, especially towards the end of her life when I was growing into a woman who wanted nothing more than to relate to the one who made me.

After her death and following my graduation from college, I tried to learn a bit more about who my mother was before she became the alcoholic recluse who raised me. I knew she was skilled operating a sailboat. She learned to waterski barefoot when she was a teenager, something I never learned. When she was young, she told her mother that she was going to visit girlfriends in Florida but instead moved to the Southwest for three months to live with a boyfriend. She snuck out of her bedroom window enough times that my grandfather silently nailed her window shut from the outside. She went to concerts, smoked weed, and hung out late. Who was this person?  How do I become closer to someone who isn’t here?

Now, at 28, I learned the best way to honor a relationship I never had is to live my life as the person she was before her disease consumed her. I experience life as if she was young and next to me, and living through me. I have traveled the world, gone on spontaneous, day-long road trips. I’ve encountered strange people in interesting places. I’ve been too drunk, up too late, and I’ve also gone to bed too early. I made a name for myself like I saw her do when I was younger. I forgave her for my childhood. I embraced her adventurousness and created my own adventures.

A Dialogue Between Death and Karma

Death and Karma sat across from one another, sharing a cheese plate in their favorite UK shop, The Cheese Society. Stores came and went – especially in the last couple hundred years – so when they found a place they liked, they’d make it a point to visit as often as possible; a hundred years was nothing to Death and Karma. The shop was quaint – and popular, according to its Google review that Death checked before this particular outing. Death found Google to be an incredible invention – almost as incredible as the wheel.

They liked to blend in every once in a while and food was always a good mixer. The name of the store gave them a sense of belonging, and the cheese was to die for. Death joined the cheese subscription, and happily received his packages when he wasn’t out collecting souls. He got to choose his delivery dates, too – so, win-win. Death stared over his brie at Karma as she sipped her tea and knifed her goat cheese, knowing he never had a shot with her, but always enjoyed the company when a like-minded astral being such as Karma was available for some small plates and conversation.

Death always found discomfort in the size of the tables in most restaurants. The restrictiveness bothered him, especially when he would reflect on existence before time. Everything was just one big open space, he thought to himself as he clanked his knees together, avoiding touching Karma’s knees or feet as she sat across from him. His distaste for tables was in contradiction to his fondness of a cheese plate. Death admired the way humans were so cute in their arrangement of food – making each slice neat and stacked, spreading the crackers as if they were playing cards, putting the knives on the proper side of the plate – it was so made up and so cartoonish to him. The food was to be consumed, all go to the same place, and the knife would cut and spread regardless of what side it was on. However, this presentation mattered to humans. His explanation for this behavior was that humans were aware of their fleeting existence on this tiny planet, and it was best to do as many things with care as possible, even if was arranging water crackers. He smiled, gently picked one up, and added some cheese to it.

“You know,” started Karma, “we really never do this enough. Or do we do this too much? I guess it doesn’t matter.” She had wild eyes. Death looked into Karma’s eyes and saw eternal, unbiased justice. He saw retribution and a tinge of macabre; it excited him.

It was difficult for them to gauge what was too much, or what wasn’t enough, because both beings were in a constant state of maintaining the living world. They were present when catastrophe overtook mortals in the first War of Wars. They collected on the people of Vesuvius – albeit a couple hundred years earlier than anticipated, but that wasn’t their fault. Death and Karma existed as a Bonnie and Clyde before Bonnie and Clyde, although collecting them was an accomplishment to hang on the refrigerator.

Death swirled his cup of tea, staring down and to the right of it at his dirty cheese knife. “I really do enjoy being around someone more my speed.” He continued swirling nervously, “It’s nice to discuss things that only you and I have been around for. It’s just – “

“No,” Karma begrudgingly exhaled, “we are not having this discussion again. You circle like existence on this, you know that right?” She gave him her eyes, except they were the eyes of retribution and unbiased justice and someone very, very tired of having to turn down romantic advances. Death felt sweat, but he didn’t sweat, he was Death. He was experiencing the illusion of sweat. Man this is bad, he thought to himself.

“Yes, this is bad,” Karma projected, “we are essentially the same, you and I. We have set purposes that we have adhered to since the dawn of time and our companionship exists in the way that we keep life moving. You collect the souls, I collect the debts on the souls; the souls are our livelihood.”

By this point, Death ceased his tea fidgeting and anxiously reached for another water cracker and some brie. He was always a stress eater, but at least he took a liking to human food rather than his previous diets of mass extinction. Nothing in the universe concerned Death more than Karma. She was his mirror image, and because of that, he was unable to always keep an understanding of her.

“I understand,” he lamented with lowered eyes and a mouth full of cracker. Death wiped the crumbs from the corners of his mouth with a thumb and forefinger and reached again for his tea, which at this point had gone cold. He took a sip, displeased, and returned the teacup to its saucer. With his right hand, he covered the top of it for a moment. When he removed his hand, the tea was once again hot as if straight from a fresh kettle. Death returned the lip of the cup to his own and carefully drank. “Better,” he said to himself, satisfied.

“What’s gotten into you, anyway?” Karma looked at him with a furrowed brow as she reached for more goat cheese.

“I don’t know – I had a personal call to a stroke victim not too long ago, and he was so concerned about leaving his wife behind. It got me for some reason. We were talking in his head and I was seeing his thoughts as well as hearing him; I haven’t had to do that for some time. It was so… intimate. I usually have my reapers out on the job.” He sipped again, “The guy was just motionless there – aware. We’re always moving, you and I, and sometimes it feels like we’ve been moving for so long that we aren’t actually in motion.”

Karma understood. “I get it. But that’s what we’re here for, to collect on debts and collect on lives; it’s how the world balances. If we didn’t do this, people would live forever and souls would turn to poison; the world would crumble.”

“I feel like they do it to themselves already, with or without our guidance.” Death frowned. “They do have free will, you know. The Creator was nice enough to throw that ingredient into their evolutionary process. Like giving a toddler a pair of scissors, if you ask me.”

“Oh, you’re just bitter.” Karma let a smirk peek out the left corner of her mouth. “You’re starting to feel things, aren’t you? Is that – compassion – I smell?” From her forefinger and middle finger, she tossed a cracker across the table in his direction. It bounced off the cheese plate and landed in his lap. Death picked it up and ate it in one bite. The table suddenly felt smaller, “I do not feel compassion, that’s impossible. I pine for you every couple millenia, sure, but I do not feel for humans; if I felt for every human I would have figured out a way to kill myself by now.” Karma threw her head back and let out a singular Ha! “If you could die, a human would have figured it out by now – selfish lot, they are.”

The cheese shop was silent, as well as Death and Karma for a moment while they replenished their mouths with cheese and crackers and gulps of tea. A symphony of crunching, knife to porcelain, porcelain on porcelain, surrounded them and encased their lunch in a bubble of sound. Death got tunnel vision and realized how frighteningly beautiful Karma was, even as she picked goat cheese crumbles off her lap, returning them to her plate. Too bad it will never work out.

“You ever hear of the ‘Red Thread?’ Or the ‘Twin Flame?’” Karma looked up, still chewing, and nodded. Death took this as a cue to continue on his explanation, “The Red Thread is two people always connected at the heart.”

“But we don’t have hearts,” Karma said very matter-of-factly. She was right, of course. Her and Death were astral, ancient beings. They were made up of everything and nothing; there was no room for a heart.

“Right. So, I guess I consider you my twin flame. We’re made of the same material, both give off heat and light, but not the same purpose. One of us heats, one of us destroys, etcetera…” He trailed off as he caught himself rambling; Karma always made him ramble when she made eye contact.

Karma nodded. For the first time that afternoon, she actually agreed with what Death had to say; she liked that analogy of their relationship. “That makes sense.” She liked it when things made sense to her.

When a Heart is too Heavy

My grandparents taught me growing up to leave things either the same or in better condition than when they were originally borrowed. Pop and Nana both grew up during the Great Depression and they seemed to have an incredible understand of what the word “value” meant; they knew if something could be fixed it would be fixed, not tossed to the side. Watching how they were during my childhood reflected greatly on who I am as a person today, and I try to place those values into every part of my life – not just things.
Where am I going with this? The heart, of course. When someone gives you their heart, it is your responsibility to either say up front, “No, thank you,” or take it with the intention of holding onto it or returning it in a condition the same or better. Relationships don’t always work out, this is a given. I for one, have way more experience thank I’d like to admit in receiving my heart back in need of repairs rather than having it returned at factory settings. Short and simple, if you – or whoever – are not ready to take on the heart of another person, don’t fucking do it. I feel like it’s in-part ingrained in the younger generations of new and more and upgrades, that we need the latest and best thing and just trade in or toss aside the things we had previously when we no longer desire to use them. We beat our cars and phones and possessions into the ground, because we know that one day soon, sometimes to the date, the newest model will be available. In this world of trading up we take advantage of our material items, and more importantly we take advantage of our health, our time, and our relationships with others.
I constantly wonder if I am so foolish to just bear my heart, or if it’s simply because I was raised among a generation that prized something so invaluable? I was told one time, “You wear your heart on your sleeve, and that is something I don’t take lightly.” This turned out to be untrue, and ultimately I was hurt in the process, but I don’t regret taking the word of someone who I believed to be worthy
Your word is your worth and your worth is your word.
If you are uncertain of holding a heart, admit it.

 

Conflicted

Next month will be six years without my mom in this world, and for some reason I still find myself becoming anxious, irritable, and melancholic in the weeks preceding her anniversary. Honestly? I wish sometimes that it wouldn’t happen this way. I’ve gotten over the pangs of Mother’s Day; holidays seem easier than most other situations. My birthday approaches in November, following her anniversary, and I have found solace in spending time alone, getting a new tattoo, or just living my life as another day. It’s usually the week after my birthday, though, where I feel lonely. And now, as I approach September 26, I feel those heavy, painful reminders of what was happening to me emotionally and physically leading up until her death.
I begin to question a lot. More now than ever, it crosses my mind as to whether or not I am / have been putting my mom on a pedestal when I write about her, ignoring all of the horrors and negatives that happened to me over the course of my upbringing – a lot of which was brought on by her heavy drinking. Now, obviously, I don’t take it all too personal that she had these demons. I accepted that her drinking was no my fault, that her addictions were her own battle, and that she was the best parent she knew how to be. Then, on the other hand, I look at a lot of the emotional and personal struggles I have now with who I am, my image, my anxiety, and almost deny the fact that her words and actions towards me were what sculpted my thinking into what it was – and what I sometimes struggle with today.
I refer to them as emotional flare-ups. Like a chronic condition that never really goes away, I get these feelings that are initially indiscernible to me in origin and I spend days, sometimes weeks, trying to target exactly what I am feeling and why it’s happening when it is. All I’ve wanted to do since her passing was better learn about myself, better understand this brain inside my head; I lived the first 20 years of my life for her – trying to heal her, trying to save her, trying to make her proud of me. In reality, I should have been making attempts at being proud of myself and my accomplishments. Now, I have no problem admitting when I feel accomplished. I don’t see it as cockiness or arrogance, rather, recognition of things I’ve worked hard towards achieving.
These anxieties and insecurities were ingrained in me from a young age when my mom insulted my pajamas, because she said I was getting fat and needed to go on a diet. Her micromanaging of my image, of who I was (or was to become for that matter) was definitely a reflection and projection of her own insecurities and desires that she had when she was younger but never got to live out. I noticed that a lot of times, parents tend to blur the line of what they want for their child, and what they want for themselves to be carried out by their child. These pressures gave me a loss of identity at a young age, only recognized now when I look at the plethora of various clubs and activities I was submerged in. Partly to stay out of a toxic home, and partly because I was so unsure of what I liked, what I was talented in, that I tried everything and became a master of none.

What I’m getting to in this roundabout trip down a traumatic memory lane is, I get anxiety and questionable feelings, because I obviously miss my mother, and I would give almost anything to have her back. Alternatively, do I make her memory less ….memorable…. by acknowledging that her pressures and style of raising me were large contributors to the things I struggle with today by way of identity and self acceptance? I inquire to myself some nights: if she did make it out of the hospital that September and sobered up,  would she have remained sober? Would she have relapsed? Would she have killed herself? I wonder to myself if she lived, would she have continued on her path of berating me for my appearance, my hair, my style, my likes? Would I still be on this slow, backwards-moving path of self-undiscovery where my decisions were essentially made for me to be produced in the image of her?
As soon as I graduated college, I spent the money and took the classes to get my real estate license in order to be like her. I put so much effort into earning a piece of plastic that allowed me to sit in the desk in front of where she used to sit in order to make deals and sell houses. I quickly realized that I would never be like her, and part of me was relieved. There was something inside of my soul that reminded me I possess something unique only to me – something I ignored for so long, because I was conditioned to be what my maker told me to be. It makes me think, am I an asshole for being grateful for my circumstances? I’m obviously not happy for the death of my mother, but if she was still here, would I ever have found my spark? Would I ever have gone head-first into writing? Would I have ever learned to love myself?

Excerpts from 2012

What can be expected of someone who has no expectations in themselves? Apparently everything. I have been on this uphill attempt to extinguish all expectations from my life and just go with the flow in some sort of spiritual ohm-induced cleansing, however that does not work how I initially calculated. It is more challenging to consciously expel things from my life than I anticipated. I have Catholic Guilt syndrome where I feel responsible for the faults of others even if they aren’t my doing. I feel morally obligated to everyone I encounter. I am the product of an equation roughly twenty-two years in the making. I am a defect that kept running forward and now am dealing with those consequences. I’ve tried to expect nothing could hurt me, but then it does. So now I expect nothing could get worse than the worst – so far so good.
Next week will be a year since my mom died a very slow and arduous death – one that I would not wish on even my worst enemy. She is currently floating above this circular and monotonous purgatory that I have acknowledged as life cursing her misfortunes and apologizing for leaving me here. And although it’s been roughly a year, I still seem to feel all of the pain and anger that I encountered when I watched her take her last, laborious, and unwilling breath. I sat across from my grandfather eating a boiled pork chop with beans and spinach, pushing my food around my Chinet paper plate as tears rolled down my face. He was oblivious to my pitted heart and I didn’t expect him to notice, considering he’s been calling my brother and I completely incorrect names for the past month and a half. I felt a familiar, boiling sensation deep within the pit of my stomach indiscernible from the food I was blindly consuming. Although I was not hungry I kept pushing and eating, and pushing. My brain kept lurching forward to the front of my head every time I bent down towards the plate to inspect the spinach, and make sure that there was only burnt bacon in the beans and not dead bugs. A thought in my head kept ticking and festering as repetitive as the crickets outside my window, forcing through the haze and relentlessly taunting me. The idea that I have been dusting my mom’s urn on the mantelpiece and taking care of my grandfather for the past year made me nauseous. It was a decaying reminder, a repetitious mental sickness that pointed signs at me. It told me that I had no mother and for some reason I felt at fault yet again.
I wiped my face and my grandfather muttered, without looking up from his plate, “Take things with a grain of salt.” Confused, I just replied with “OK” and continued to push my food around for several more minutes. He lifted his head to drink his fourth or fifth beer, spinach stuck to his chin. I was going to tell him, but what did it matter? It was just the two of us. I ate the rest of my beans before I had to excuse myself to go sob in my room. And I did just that. I felt an overpowering hold that pushed my feet down and froze me in front of my mirror in my bedroom. I was magnetized to the earth, incapable of the flight my mother gained. I didn’t think that was fair. I felt like she killed herself and she should have been forced to stay with me for trying to and slowly succeeding in her attempts. I labored over my thoughts and cried and listened and hated and stared into the sky wondering where my turn would come from. I did that for so long; and now all I could do was collapse onto my down comforter, floating over my full-sized bed. The only attainable flight I would ever achieve. My grass green sheets swallowed my face as I rained salt tears into them.
I continued to sink into a self-loathing until worldly obligations prevented me from doing any further reflection. I sighed into my pillow, saving it for later, and rolled out of my bed to answer a text my friend sent me.

“What’s going on?”

I should have said “Nothing, you?” and attempted to socialize, but instead I was overly honest and delved into the gaping sores of my emotional being and divulged that I wanted a drink and to just get away from my house. He never responded, and I don’t blame him. I would have probably done the same thing as soon as the psycho flag was flown. I sat in my room, staring at the same perforated ceiling that I constantly envision, and bench pressing my emotional baggage only to come to the sudden realization that I had been longing for an existence that was seemingly dangerous yet less destructive than the sedentary life I stared down for the past several years. Being busy and not allowing myself to stop and listen to the constant ticking reminders were going to help me move on. At least I thought.

A Moment in Time

He never has problems reliving the moments with the ones he lost. If you ask him about the war, he … He doesn’t look you in the face when he tells the stories, rather, looks through you, at them, and at their faces. “We met on a playground in the city. I asked her for ice cream. She paid for her own, and I thought, hey! This gal’s alright.” The Great Depression was in its maturity, my grandfather a teenager, smiles so brightly, as he falls head over heels all over again for his now departed wife.

Every time he says her name it’s like she’s still here. Every time I see his old eyes, almost blind, well up and remove himself from the now and put him back with her, I see myself long for a love like what he has. He tells me that he’s lived 97 years, because he’s being punished for what he did in the war, and for what he did wrong over the course of his life. I think if that were true, the greatest punishment of all would be losing her. The saying “love hurts” is not intended for couples who break up, but for situations like his, where the woman he slept beside for almost 70 years is taken from him. It’s for the fear of and anticipation of who will die first, and wishing it was always you. I see it in his face – he always wishes it was him.

Life now, is simply to be endured.

The Affected

The hardest lesson I learned of grief was not how to grieve, rather, how to accept that everyone around me grieves differently. As relative as time, love, and happiness, grief is something only identifiable by name and felt to such varying degrees that it has no direct translation in my eyes. Grief means so much more than being sad, or depressed, or lost. Grief is a mindset, a state of being even, that takes over the affected individual for months and sometimes even years. After a certain period of time, when those affected feel like they have a grip on reality, and like they are able to turn over a new leaf – to rebuild – they are triggered. Sometimes the body catches it before the mind does. Sometimes, there is a cold tingle that starts at the top of the head and pushes down through the body and towards the toes and anchors the person into the floor where they cannot move and don’t know why. Their heart begins to race and their vision becomes erratic trying to identify where this thing is that must have caused such a knee-jerk reaction for them. What comes as a shock, though, is this trigger isn’t physical. It’s a smell, a sound, a feeling, or even a movement or passing memory that reminds the affected they are still vulnerable; there are still cracks that exist where the affected looked over, thinking it was safe, thinking they were fine, thinking that everything was copacetic because they were no longer crying for reasons unknown throughout their work week.

Grief came to me in the form of rage. Which is funny, I think, because rage (anger) is a side affect of grieving, and grief is defined as a “deep sorrow.” When you are grieving, though, your brain, your subconscious digs into that sorrow. It makes you question what sorrow is. It makes you reconsider all the things of your past that made you sad because what you’re feeling in a time of grief is a kaleidoscope of billowing colors and pulses that rip into your body, each wave a new feeling, destroying you and at the same time making you beautiful and human. Grief stripped me down to a vulnerable, raw core of a being where I lost recognition of myself each time I looked in the mirror. I lost sleep, I lost feeling, I regained too much feeling, and I lost more sleep. Ultimately, grief reached through me, and revealed to me the greater aspects of this life. It gave me a new-found perspective on emotions; it gave me a gauge of values deeper than the shallowness in which my glasses once only viewed.

Alternatively, grief can sometimes meet resistance of those unwilling to allow themselves to be recreated through tragedy.  I had to accept that members of my family and even friends needed to utilize their own form of self preservation. I had to accept that I could not save them anymore than my mother. Grief was an unconscious tough love I had no control over that forced me to look at myself, to focus on myself, and to understand that what was happening in my own world was necessary for me to be rebuilt. It was a sculptor to whom I relinquished all control. Through uncertainty, I emerged sure of myself. I became my own canvas, metaphysically reworked and renovated in order to ensure what I experienced would not destroy me completely for the rest of my life. Through grief, I became one of the affected.

 

To Die Smiling

I spend so much time thinking about my mother’s passing; how it could have gone differently, how she looked, how she smelled, how it all sounded. I remember the drumming in my ears of my own heartbreak when she stopped breathing. I remember sizzling yellow overhead lights and yellowed skin, bloodied lips and scabbed nostrils. I see her carotid artery pulsing through her neck; she was so frail I could see her body fighting through her skin. Her once-voluminous hair was matted all around her face, bangs fallen to the sides like wilted flowers. Her death itself was so anti-climactic and quick and so final, that although the end of a chapter, was not the saddest part of the story.

When I think about those two weeks of  pain and torture and confusion,  I no longer cry. I no longer weep over death, and I no longer fear it. Death itself is one of the only things that we as humans have in common besides breathing, and seeing someone die made me fear it less. What I fear now, is suffering. I fear that uncertainty when you are suffering and do not know if you will wake up again. I fear not knowing if your last words will, in fact, be your last. I fear saying something and never being able to touch back upon it.

Towards the end of her life, my mom said very little. She never wanted to discuss her addiction, she never wanted me to help, and it was hard to try and speak on anything else when the elephant in the room was the person who raised me. I remember so vividly sitting in wicker chairs on the deck, the summer sun on the creek, saying nothing with her. The world around us spoke from the grass to the trees to the ospreys in the sky and she and I shared between us a silence that deafened them. I knew she was sick. She knew she was sick. She knew that I knew, and neither of us had to say it. I watched the water while she slowly dragged at her cigarette, using her free hand to lift a glass of ice water to her lips, bracelets dangling off her wrists and ice cubes clanking the crystal like wind chimes in the dead of August. She put her glass down and, without breaking eye contact with the shore, reached across and grabbed my hand in hers. We said nothing as I maintained a steady gaze on the world before me, and we agreed in our silence that we knew.

A month later, I stood in the darkness of the ICU, looking at her while she looked around wildly, incoherent and afraid.

“Please stay with me, just in case.”

I said nothing back. I couldn’t say anything back. I stood frozen in the doorway while her bottom lip quivered in fear and she called out, the nurse telling me I couldn’t stay past 8:30 PM. “I love you.”

I love you. I love you. I love you. I don’t know if she ever heard me say it that night, because she was so beyond a steady stream of consciousness. I was escorted out of ICU. She slipped into a coma alone, in the dark, sometime in the night. And I made sure I stayed with her until she drew her last breath beside me.

I think of the fear and the uncertainty. I think of how, in that moment, I saw how much she didn’t want to die, and that her last words to me were of a helpless child, finally asking for my aid her after months of defiance and silence. When I think of her death I no longer cry, yet when I think of her last words, I fight to control myself. I do not want my last words to be those of fear – I do not want last words at all. I want my last exchange to be like the silent embrace she and I shared on the deck in August. I want to look up at my loved one, and smile. I want them to know. I want them to smile back.

I am Grateful

Recently, I encountered a piece of writing – about 70 pages – that I scribbled out in 2012, eleven months after the loss of my mother. It encompassed the dark, secluded, depressed state that I was in for so long after she died, and I read it for the first time since I wrote it. When I wrote this particular novella (I guess), I did so out of anger. I took my insomnia, my fleeting thoughts, my questions, my hate and confusion, and poured them out of me like hot lava over the course of about two weeks. I remember, when I finished this piece, not feeling angry any longer, which is exactly why it stayed a mere 70 pages or so. It hurt me to read it. It rubbed back over all of the emotional scars that I spent the past five years allowing to heal while I tried to figure out how to trudge through the hell that was the death of my mom. The writings were so raw and painful to recognize – to see it as myself, as I was. I cried throughout the Intro (released onto my blog before this post itself). I cried for the girl who I was and for the amount of hurt and loneliness she experienced. The entries lashed out at the world around her; at neighbors, at family. They were paranoid, twisted, irrational ideas, but they were natural and real for someone who feels like they have everything ripped from them at once.

It’s certainly difficult for anyone to lose a parent, no matter what way, or at what age. Loss as I have observed simply within my own family is perceived, absorbed, and handled, dealt with or otherwise, differently by each person. It is a relative experience, felt on a varying scale. I do not share my stories – my loss, struggles, and personal insight – with the idea that how I coped is the right way, or how I survived is the only way to do so. However, I share the stories I write with the hope and intention that someday, somewhere, someone will read what I went through and actually feel like they aren’t alone. In the end we are all looking to feel like we belong, and I know for myself, the hardest time to feel like you’re part of something is when you’re torn apart.

I am grateful. I am grateful to have a passion for writing. I am grateful for the small community of individuals I know who tell me that the things I write about helped them get through something. I love when someone tells me I made them laugh, and I have a mildly sadistic joy inside when someone tells me I made them cry. I love telling stories, and other people’s stories, and I am grateful I can tell them. I lost fear of judgment for writing and being read because, in the end, my writing is my feelings and no one can feel those feelings except for me. The goal now is to have others respect those feelings, or relate to them in some way. If someone feels less alone, then I feel I’m doing something right.