Shedding

Detail from "Shedding Vapor"

Detail from “Shedding Vapor”

And then you cry fresh tears, because you do not miss him as much as you once did,
and giving up your grief is another kind of death.”
~Laurell K. Hamilton

This endless undoing has left me raw. I am honestly not sure what is worse: that I still miss him so, or knowing that the pain and loss I feel now, as wracking as it is, is a dim shadow of what I experienced last summer. Knowing that when this bottleneck is done, a large part of the grieving process is done, or at least as done as it ever will be. I am losing him all over again.

Last week and the early part of this week were as rough a period as I’ve had in a long time. In my dreams, he came back and we picked where we left off, planning a future together. In my nightmares, I screamed at him for all the things that hurt then and still do now. Either way, I woke gasping for breath in an airless room and an empty bed.

The anxiety came back, thrumming along the nerves. I felt hunted and trapped. I know what’s coming. I know it’s going to hurt.

All I can do is wait. This already hurts so much, how much worse can it get? Sleep has already once again become something that happens to other people.

I finished school for the semester yesterday, earning A’s in both the classes I took. I am proud of myself, and relieved it’s over, at least until summer semester starts in four weeks. I need the time to pursue art. I need the freedom to stop compressing myself into a stable box in order to function well enough to meet my obligations. I need the time and the space to let this roll out of me until I’m wrung out and empty.

So many layers to peel back. So much emotion to open myself to, to allow to run through me, to leave me clean and empty and ready for what happens next.

To help, I scheduled a spa package on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the day before the first anniversary of his death. I’m getting the works: full-body massage, facial, manicure and pedicure.  The luxuriousness and the decadence of it is something he would have loved. He had very expensive taste, did my beautiful boy.

My spa day is also probably the only way for me to receive caring physical touch at a time when I will rather desperately need it. Sometimes that’s the way it goes, so I found another way to deal with it. Yes, I know it’s a sad commentary on my life, but I am trying very hard not to dwell on it. I start wallowing in self pity and I will really start disliking myself.

He is a part of me, always, indelible. This process, one that began the moment we laid eyes on each other, is the internal rearrangement necessary to finish making room for him in my heart, soul and mind. His physical self is gone from me, but not his heart and spirit, but the integration with mine is incomplete. I have a feeling by the time this anniversary period is over, we will have gotten there. I will be able to move on, carrying him and our love with me seamlessly.

Always.

Haunted When The Minutes Drag

Sadness Sees You, charcoal and pastel on paper, Fumbling For Light, 2013

Sadness Sees You, charcoal and pastel on paper, Fumbling For Light, 2013

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Ye gods, these nights just won’t quit. I keep clinging to the idea that this won’t last, but damn, I’m not sure what’s going to be left of me by the time I come out the other side.

I hold together fairly well during the day, although I seem to be on the verge of tears a lot of the time. But once the sun goes down, I start to unravel.

I stare wide-eyed into the dark. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I listen to the sound of my own breathing and the ghosts inside my own head.

I hate being alone at night. I’d give almost anything to have someone’s arms to curl up in at night: for comfort, for support, for the sense of safety and security.

But that wouldn’t be fair, so I sleep alone.

I dream of him, every night for the last week. Last night it was as if he’d never died, and we were back to trying to figure out how to make our lives work together. I woke up feeling like my chest had cratered in, my head aching. I am sleeping only five to six hours a night.

Every night I struggle for air, every morning I wake feeling hungover, exhausted and in pain, both literal and figurative. My joints are aching again, my ribs tender and sore. Grief slides within the muscle, twisting and binding. It wraps the bones, invading the joints. Every night, I am being unmade.

My friend Sarah urged me to get it out on paper:

let it spill
charcoal
grab it
make a mess
get it out

So I did. I picked up some charcoal, scribbled with some white pastels, and the drawing above is the result. It is only the second time I’ve ever created art from an emotional place, and the first time I think I nailed it perfectly. The eye is open just a hair too wide: startled, staring, haunted. Disbelief and pain.

I am a little startled at the result, actually. But I feel a little better, and I’m hoping against hope I won’t dream tonight.

I still have 22 nights to go.

Besieged

You are the hole in my head
You are the space in my bed
You are the silence in between
What I thought and what I said
You are the night-time fear
You are the morning when it’s clear
When it’s over you’re the start
You’re my head, and you’re my heart
“No Light, No Light” by Florence + The Machine, from “Ceremonials”

In the night, the voices echo: his, mine.

I am curled onto my side, staring blankly at the wall, listening.

I’d marry you tomorrow if I thought you’d go for that kind of thing…

I swear to god, if you let anything happen to you…

My eyes close. Open. Darkness, pale light. Haunted in the silence.

I don’t know how you do it, but you calm me down, every time…

I need you like I need air to breathe…

My left hand is open on the sheet, palm up, fingers curled, unmoving. My eyes shut. Open.

We’ll be old people together, I promise…

You don’t get it, do you? All I want is you…

There is no sound other than the whirr of the ceiling fan and the hiss of air between my teeth.

You’re the anchor that holds me to the ground…

You are the love of my life. You always will be…

Open. Close.

I never knew it could be like this, how it is with you…

You say all these beautiful things and I want to turn around to see who you’re talking to….

Inhale. Exhale.

Open. Close.

Drown.

Cosmic Rewiring

A falling star fell from your heart and landed in my eyes
I screamed aloud as it tore through them, and now it’s left me blind

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
You left me in the dark
No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight
In the shadow of your heart

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat
I tried to find the sound
But then it stopped, and I was in the darkness,
So darkness I became
~ “Cosmic Love” by Florence + The Machine, from “Lungs”

Darkness, like light, like love, has no end.

Grief is an infinite experience; I think I’ve mentioned this before. I was just coming to terms with how much I loved Dustin, just getting a grip on what a soul-expanding experience being in love with him was, and still is. Then, over the course of a night and a detox gone wrong, I lost him and discovered that grief is every bit as soul expanding, and not nearly as nice about it.

The varied facets of pain and anger and all the other weltering emotions are limitless, and the initial planet-busting impact of loss and grief took my spirit and blasted it apart. The spirit that had barely begun to stretch enough to hold that love was forced, too fast, to expand enough to encompass the grief that was the flip side of that love, its cost. My conscious self began to unravel, too much for the mind to take. In a very profound way, I died that morning, too.

The sun came up each morning and poured down fire. It didn’t matter. It burned up the trees and the crops and the grass, too, and it didn’t matter. It dried up the lakes and the rivers, and it didn’t matter. My light had gone out, no sun rising in my eyes, no moon to light the nights in wonder and in joy. I had come undone.

Like any great explosion, each new rupture was preceded by an intense compression. Arms wrapped around the midsection, curled up small or on my knees on the floor, struggling to breathe, I’d struggle to keep my insides from quite literally tearing themselves apart. Muscles moving and locking into place, heart ramming into my ribs, lungs seizing, back spasming, fists knotted, nails digging into palms.

Breathe, dammit. Breathe!

Since the expression of the grief had no other outlet than tears, all that force was driven inward, the bulk of the damage done to consciousness and spirit.

On the surface, of course, I looked like a wounded animal in pain. Inside, I looked like a galaxy torn asunder. Pinpoints of light, love and trust and happiness and hope, scattered thin across a dark and airless sky. But the center had held, that deep mass of love and loss where we had been us.

And it hurt every bit as much as it sounds like it would. It still does.

But for all that, grief is still a valuable lesson and powerful tool for growth. How many of us spend our lives locked up inside our own minds and bodies, never knowing a world beyond our own noses? How many of us live small, and love small, because we’re afraid? Afraid of shame, of being seen as we truly are? Afraid of being left, being alone, of being lied to, of being hurt? How many of us spend our lives scuttling under the useless umbrella of self-protection?

How many of us never learn we are infinite, with endless capacity for love and trust? How many of us never learn how to be brave enough to open ourselves to it, to encompass it?

I am not talking about God and religion. Regular church-goers have been some of the smallest people I’ve ever known, in every sense of the word. Religion has been particularly insidious at instilling a deep sense of shame and fear, and humans have a lamentable tendency to cling to anything that makes them feel superior to someone else. I don’t particularly care how anyone chooses to walk their particular spiritual path, but no one has got it figured out, and no one can claim dominion.

It comes down to surrender, as most acts of great bravery tend to do. To see that endless expanse and to enter it willingly requires sacrifice of both the ego and control, and a distillation of self into something else, something both more concentrated and yet diffuse. It requires seeing yourself as you truly are: not only the good and noble parts, but the ugly parts, the anger and the fear and the pettiness. It requires seeing it, forgiving it, accepting it.

It requires letting yourself off your own hook.

Grief is a particularly violent way to make that transition, but in the stripping away of self and illusions to the bare bones of who I am and was, I found an elasticity of soul that I might not have had otherwise. Our love was and is something extraordinary, but the day-to-day struggles with his addictions and mental illness could very easily have clogged the gears and eroded that capacity for the infinite.

Love and bravery aren’t vows you make one day and that’s it. You have to make them again and again, at every crossroads, at every temptation, at every opportunity to give up.

We were facing a lot of very hard crossroads, but we loved each other and we were willing to work and to try. Until one night he tipped the balance a little too far. He lost his life but gained his rest, and I was left with a staggering emotional price to pay, and pay, and pay.

I guess one way or another I had signed onto a lifetime sentence: love paid for by struggle with mental illness and addiction; or love paid for by astronomical loss. It seems like a pretty raw deal when I put it that way, but I will say this and mean it with every fiber of a being that has stretched to fold stars within:

He was worth it.

nebuleuse-de-la-carene astronoo com

Beneath a Pale Moon

Beneath a pale moon’s whispering
I wander again through the trackless night
Trying to find the we that was
Love’s fool laughing in the dark

Beneath a full moon’s staring
Down this road the bright edge of madness lies
Singing of the ribbonless wedding that never was
And the promise never delivered

Beneath a waning moon’s slipping
I chase our history through the broken stones
Of crashed castles built on the love that was
Fighting through the stumble and the pain

Beneath a new moon’s haunting
Peeling sanity to reveal bones lost in the founding
And the shards of a future that never was
Splintered in the night wind’s whistle

Come the morning sun’s rising
Good-bye in the night bird’s last song
Heavy head pillowed on dreams of what will be
Curled around my kintsukuroi soul
Love’s fool calling

Sunrise in the grass

Game Plan

It is a pretty good indicator of how fragmented my mind and attention are getting that I completely forgot that by this time next month, I will be a published poet. Who the hell forgets something like that?

Well, I do.

Decanto Poetry Magazine

Grief's Chaos, Eye Detail

Grief’s Chaos, Eye Detail

I can feel the regression speeding up, sliding further back into that dark place. I spent last night having nightmares that featured a lot of arguing with Dustin. I can’t remember what the arguments were about, or the things I accused him of. The things I blamed him for. For so many aching nights, for so many icy mornings, for so many tears.

In my dreams, I betrayed the strength he was always so proud of me for.

Then I came to in a bed that just gets bigger and colder every morning I wake up in it. My entire self is being pulled taut, the pressure building inside, the rage and the anger and the pain as present and as sharp as they ever were. I am condensing, can see hell rising in my eyes in the mirror.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me because I welcome the regression, welcome the chance to just give myself up to it so I can come out the other side sooner, and stronger.

And, frankly, because I miss him so much, and this is one of the few ways I can still feel close to him.

Everything I learned about surrender I learned from Dustin.

This weekend, I am going to make some good strong hot tea. I am going to curl up in bed with a cat. I am going to read “The Year Of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion and I am going to cry and cry and cry until I am exhausted and numb. I will stare sightless at the wall the way I did in the bad old days, but this time, I will sleep. All the time.

Yes.

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