In a season’s shift your wheels had turned
And you came to me in the afternoon
Your beauty always took me by surprise
In a spell of days I pulled it through
The thread of hope I clung onto
Always knew the body would win
~”The Way Sound Leaves A Room”
by Sarah Jaffe, from “The Body Wins”
Dustin had been gone only a week or so before I realized there was a very real possibility that my mind would crack under the strain, and perhaps already had.
The initial threats to my sanity were obvious: our future vaporizing before my eyes with nothing to replace it, the knowledge of how much it would hurt and how that pain would be something I’d carry always, the realization that I was now profoundly alone in this world. Other things ebbed and flowed as the weeks rolled on: the soul-consuming anger and rage, the loneliness and the fear, the anxieties and the panic attacks, the sheer relentlessness of the grief.
But a week into Dustin’s loss, staring at my phone, I couldn’t bring myself to delete his phone number. How would I know he was calling me if I deleted it?
He wasn’t dead, you see. He couldn’t be. It was an elaborate plot, a desperate ploy to get himself out of whatever trouble he’d gotten himself in this time.
I couldn’t delete his text messages, his emails. I couldn’t delete his numbers or those of his mother and his local contacts.
I wasn’t alone now. Of course not. I just had to get back to the places he had been, talk to enough people that he had known, and I would conjure him back to my side. He was coming, he’d never leave me. It was all just a mistake. That’s all. Just a tragic misunderstanding. I just had to wait, and hang in there, as I always had. He’d be so hurt when he came back if he thought I had lost faith and had begun erasing him from my life…
I knew he was dead. I had felt him die, felt his spirit bid me good-bye. I knew he was never coming back. But at the same time, I believed just as firmly that he was out there, working his way back to me.
I believed two utterly contradictory things at the same time, with equal conviction. My mind had come undone, split in two.
I didn’t know how that was possible. I didn’t know how long I could maintain that dichotomy without losing what was left of my already fraying sanity.
I didn’t know if I’d become insane or not. Nothing I did seemed to sway the hopeful half, the half that had run off from reality and did a wide-eyed swan dive into magical thinking.
That half ruled my dreams, where he came back and took me in his arms, kissed my forehead. Said he was sorry for scaring me but it was all over now, we were together now, it was going to be okay.
Then the sun would rise and I’d wake from my fitful sleep, and in the burning of that drought-ridden summer, I’d be alone as I ever was. But I’d check my phone, just in case.
Every time my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. Every time the notification for an email would chime. Every time I left work, checking for him in the parking lot. Waiting for me in the driveway at home.
Every letter. Every voicemail. Every instant message and Facebook post. I’d look for him in the street. In the places we’d been. Haunting the corners of my eyes, sitting beside me in the car.
He was everywhere, and nowhere. All the while, I would watch and wait for the final straw that would push me over the edge into outright madness. A part of me hoped for it.
I now know that this dual-mind magical thinking is common among mourners; that grief itself is, in most respects, a kind of temporary madness. The only reason it isn’t classified as an illness outright is because most people eventually overcome it. Logic comes home to roost, fanciful dreaming is given up.
I stopped looking for Dustin behind every car in the parking lot. Stopped expecting his arms to be around me when I woke up each morning. Stopped feeling phantom kisses against my hair, the pressure of his arm at my waist. Stopped jumping every time the phone rang.
Behind my eyes, the magic died.
But I still have his number. His texts. His emails. I can’t give them up, not yet.
He’d be so hurt, you see….