Memory Lane

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The Art of Drowning

You’ll bury your sorrow
Deep in the sea,
But sea tides aren’t tamed
That easily–
There will come a tomorrow
When you weep for me

The breaking of waves on a long shore,
In the grey morning the slow fall of rain,
Oh love remember, remember me.
~”Rachel’s Song” by Guy Gavriel Kay, from “The Summer Tree”

If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s the futility of dodging memory.

I had hoped that I was finally beginning to heal, that the wounds were stitching shut. That I had become, in a sudden burst of optimism, possibly capable of finding a way through to something new, of being open to new blossoming in my life. That I still had the courage that Dustin had inspired in me. That I could move on.

What a load of bullshit. There are no shortcuts. There are no easy ways out, no early parole.

The first anniversary of Dustin’s death is bearing down on me, coming next month on May 26. Already I can feel the tides of grief pulling at me, winding tendrils cutting like wire as they wrap around bone. It’s a water torture exorcism as I’m wracked by the ghosts of the past, the could haves and should haves, our lost future as suffocating as dense fog.

I need you like I need air to breathe.

I can’t breathe around it. My lungs are full of sand-again-the burning pressure has returned.

I’ve had offers of help. Tell me what you need. I don’t know!

I have no idea how to make this hurt less. I have no idea how to ask for help, because I don’t know what will help. All I have are gritted teeth and burning lungs and so very far to go. I can’t outrun it, I don’t even want to try. All I know how to do is to just be in it, to give myself up to it. To drown in the short term so there might be a chance that I’ll be whole in the long.

This is a very solitary process, heartbreakingly so. I can talk about it until my limited air runs out, but in the end, I’m the one left alone in the dark, staring down the void. Asking someone to keep me company in the dark…I don’t know how to deal with that. I’m afraid it would be a distraction. I know it would be, because it requires a witnessing, a physical presence. All other forms of communication require words, and there are no words for this.

Grief cannot be rationalized. I can’t think my way through this, or around it. Grief is an experience both visceral and emotional; it is not a thought process. Which means, of course, the only way over it is to experience it. To sit in it like a stone in the river. To dissolve into it, to flow.

To be like water.

“Be Like Water” From “A Pefect Dream” by Sarah Fimm

How Else Can They Become?

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“Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?”
~Death, from The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett

I’m not very good at believing in things I can’t touch, but I’m getting better at it.

When I was blasted onto this journey through love and grief, I didn’t have a lot of support, emotional or otherwise. There was Sara, my Chicago friend with her own pain and generous heart, and there were a few others, but for the most part, I was on my own. I was directionless and without focus, my world and heart blown to such pieces that I had no hope of making them whole again.

I had written in The Longest Road about my desire to find something, anything, to help fill the void caused by Dustin’s death. I knew it wouldn’t be a new lover; I was not then and am not now able to pursue that path. But I needed something larger than myself and my grief to believe in; I needed to know that this pain wasn’t all there now was to me, to my life. I needed hope.

Enter Ms. Sarah Fimm. An independent musician and songwriter, she is the leader of a merry band of dreamers, artists and like-minded folk centered around a Facebook group called Inspire Art. There are also companion pages at Tumblr and Pinterest. It’s a global call to thinkers and dreamers, scientists and artists, writers and poets, of all kinds, of all stripes, to band together against human trafficking and modern slavery.

It’s also the group that quite probably saved my life. Although I would not have taken my own life, I would almost certainly have stopped living it, which is basically suicide that doesn’t violate an attendance policy.

Sarah was one of a handful of people encouraging me to begin this blog, to open up the howling wound and let it pour across the internet before it killed me inside. And make no mistake, it was eroding me from the inside out, all that stray dust and pain blowing through me until nothing was left but bare walls and gritty floors. A hollow shell.

At Inspire Art, I found a group of beautiful, caring people who were willing to listen, to hear my words and try to understand. People who offered no criticism, just empathy and unwavering support. They came, they read, and I imagine a few of them even cried along with me. And in return, I came, I saw their artistic efforts, I read their poetry, and they helped ignite a spark in a cold and barren place. I found that some were even encouraged and inspired by my words here, by what I have wrought out of an ageless grief and endless love.

I picked up a paintbrush for the first time in almost 15 years. I began drawing again. I began talking more, reaching out, making an effort to connect I would not have dreamed I had the energy for. I now string together a few mornings in a row that find me excited to get out of bed, excited to try. Something, in other words, that gives me joy amidst the darkness and loneliness. I relearned how to play.

This summer, our merry band will come together at an event dubbed “Powered by Dreaming,” also known as the Sparkle Park. In upstate New York, we will put our collective heads together with scientists, learners, and other inspired thinkers to make this world a better place, to help make ourselves and others better people. We will learn, we will connect, we will grow, and we will share this light with the world. And everyone is welcome to join us.

Because there isn’t enough light in this world. There isn’t enough understanding.

I lost the love of my life. He is gone from me now. So I will make of my life a tribute, a living legacy, so that something beautiful and pure can come from this loss. And I won’t do it alone.

Will you help us?

Psalmish

Yea, though I walk
This valley, dim and grey
I shall not want
I will build a little house
Hang damp hope to dry
And subsist here

Still waters reflect a blank sky
Who needs light and love?
Grey has softer edges, a more gentle heart
I will build sandcastles in this ash
That blows and curls
I know they won’t last

Here in my valley, dear shadow
I will fear no evil
Yours or mine
I will build a sanctuary here
In this pale thin light
And rest

I know you will
Follow me all the days of my life
Your cool blue soul
I will dwell in the house of your love forever
And when I am ready
I will dance in the sun again

Words Support Like Bone

There in the midst of it, so alive and alone,
Words support like bone.
“Mercy Street” Peter Gabriel

I work in a medical lab in St Louis. As one of the larger labs in the area, we have dozens of employees, mostly women for some reason, all ages and races, sexual orientation and relationship types. And we’ve taken a beating this year.

The first was a young mother of two who was part of my peer interview when I was going through the hiring process here. She’s a beautiful woman in physical appearance alone, but what really made her shine is a vivacious happiness that glowed from her. Her eyes danced over everything she looked at, and I never heard her utter a harsh word, or get snappy or short with anyone. This was a woman who had everything she ever wanted: a happy home life, a career she enjoyed, and if that wasn’t the case, we didn’t know it because she was apparently determined to make the best of it.

Then, two weeks before Dustin died, we got word her husband had been killed in a car accident one morning.

When she came back to work a week and a half later, she was a different person. Everything about her now felt blank and flat; even her hair didn’t have the bounce and liveliness it had once had. Gone was that vital spark, gone was her ready smile and infectious laugh. What replaced it was a hollowness to her eyes, a distance in her gaze, that drove home the point Nietchze had been trying to make about staring into the abyss. Every time I looked at her, I could see hell staring back at me. This was a woman still upright and moving by the sheer force of her will and the dependence of two young souls at home who needed her, but a part of her wasn’t going to come back.

Within days, I saw the same hollowness in my own face, the same distance in my own eyes, my own hell staring back at me in my mirror. I was reflecting that abyss, now, for everyone to see, and I noticed how many people suddenly stopped meeting my eyes, even the ones who didn’t know exactly what had happened to me. My own appearance changed; I still wore makeup, but only the bare minimum. I stopped wearing eyeshadow. I stopped styling my hair. Even now, I still don’t bother.

And the losses kept piling up. A month later, another woman lost her sister. Another lost her mother. Then last weekend, someone I’m close to here lost her young cousin in an accident, and another lost her son to suicide.

Even the halls feel haunted now. Voices are quieter, steps are slower. So many people here have been staring into hell we may as well set up a viewing balcony and a snack bar. I don’t even know how to comprehend the scope of the losses that keep piling up here and I don’t know if I should even try. My own emotions are still raw, and once you’ve been marked my grief, it is devastatingly easy to see someone else’s mark. While it would be logical to assume we’re somehow banding together to support each other through our respective losses, we aren’t, and I, for one, don’t want to.

It’s not callousness or selfishness that makes me say that, but introversion. Sitting down in a support group-type session would not be cathartic or helpful to me, but nerve-wracking and exhausting. I can’t contemplate sitting down with strangers and acquaintances-or even friends-and opening up that way.

That may sound hypocritical in the context of a very public blog, but in reality this is the perfect outlet for someone like me. I can be as brutally honest and open as my situation demands, but the distance of the internet provides a buffer. I have time and space to chase the words I write, their rhythm and grace.

Some days, some nights, the words flow like water, using my hands and eyes as a mere conduit. Sometimes I don’t know the person who writes these words, who feels this emotion. Sometimes I read and reread a post a dozen times, knowing I felt it, knowing I’m still living it, but the words feel unfamiliar. This happened to me. This is my story. And on this scaffolding of word and rhythm and nuance, written by someone moving so deeply within me that I have only the vaguest grasp of her, I am trying to rebuild myself, my heart, my life. And every time I sit down at a keyboard, I do my best to get out of her way and let her speak. I hear her driving home in the dark, I hear her echoing in my mind when I wake, I feel her tides in the quiet spaces. Somewhere in that half-lit dreamtime, that part of me is waiting for the rest of me to reunite, to become whole again, instead subsisting on fleeting glimpses and the fading feeling of warmth.

So this space and these words are my meditation, this is my road within. This is Home.

Jerry U Untitled Hands Holding Water 2003 @ Jerry Uelsmann