Two days into the beginning of the end of my life as I knew it, I went to a tattoo parlor and had a Maya Angelou quote inked onto the inside of my wrist: But still, like air, I’ll rise. I love the Angelou quote, and I stare at it often – but I also remember the exquisite pain that came with its etching. It didn’t take long – maybe 10 minutes – but those 10 minutes relieved me of the excruciating ache that had infected my heart and soul.
At the time, I had no idea what was to become of me and no idea what the coming months would bring. I’m glad I didn’t. I surely would have taken to my bed like an 18th century mademoiselle in need of smelling salts and spent the next several months curled into a fetal position watching reruns of Law & Order SVU and Little House on the Prairie.
Thankfully, grief isn’t like that. It doesn’t detail its visitation plans.
When I first started writing, after What Happened, I wrote the following piece of brilliance: Grief does whatever the fuck it wants. It’s worth repeating. Grief does whatever the fuck it wants.
Grief is like a friend you don’t want, someone who makes you go out to the bars and do shots of tequila because sometimes you just need that. It leaves you with a hell of a headache and red swollen eyes and a longing for life as it was before those tequila shots, and you can’t recover because grief keeps making you do more tequila shots.
Eventually, though, Grief disappears, the hangover goes away, and you start to feel good and spry and so very grateful that you’ve recovered. But here comes Grief, back with a sucker punch and another round of shots and you suddenly find yourself on all fours, tears bubbling up, screaming internally, “Not again! Not again!” and this time you have to eat the worm at the bottom of the bottle, too.
I’m not at all sure this grief-tequila metaphor works. What’s true is that Grief has become a character in my life, a kind of dark brooding presence who looks a little like the girl in The Exorcist after she gets possessed and vomits up green stuff. Grief jumps on my back and makes me heavy and weak. Grief pushes me backwards from the progress I’ve made. I have a sign that reads: Taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster. It’s more like a cha-cha. I love the sentiment. But when Grief is manhandling me, it doesn’t feel like a cha-cha. It feels like I’m lurching around, disoriented, kind of like I would be after doing shots of tequila. There, I think I’m making the metaphor work.
I was speaking recently with a friend about all this. She went through something similar years ago. I told her I feel guilty talking about it now because I worry people think I should be over it at this point.
“Really?” she said, with a fair bit of sarcasm. “Is there a time limit?”
I guess not. But shouldn’t I be used to it? For the most part I am, but then something unexpected occurs – a decision is made, a piece of mail arrives, a stupid goddamn Facebook memory pops up – and OH, HELLO, GRIEF! I thought I’d banished you to Siberia.
Its most recent visit came in the wake of an email from the person who no longer lives here, informing me that he was moving on with his life in a way that’s not important to you, but struck me like fever. It wasn’t an envy or a longing, but rather sorrow for the stability of a life now past, the funereal anguish of saying goodbye to the hopes and dreams our family had shared.
Grief grabbed me and practically poured those shots down my throat – remember, we’re being metaphorical here, I actually didn’t drink anything – and suddenly I found myself driving around aimlessly, crying, despairing, wondering if maybe the end of the world might be less painful.
Honestly, the end of the world would definitely be less painful. I imagine it would happen instantly, so I’d hardly have time to fret about it. But I don’t want the world to end, and I don’t even want to destroy the inevitable sadness that accompanies trauma. It hurts when it’s there, but after it dissipates, the birds sound happier.
The person who no longer lives here didn’t like houseplants, accusing them of gathering dust and me of neglecting them. I kept occasional cut flowers in the house, but no plants. Now, with me as the sole master of my domain, I’m gradually turning my home into a mini-jungle. When I’m having bad days, I sit close to my flora and breathe it all in, and I conjure up a botanical spirit who whispers to me, “We’re alive! We’re alive!” It’s so beautiful.