And oh poor Atlas
Was a beast of a burden
You’ve been holding on a long time
And all this longing
And the ships are left to rust
That’s what the water gave us
So lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow
Pockets full of stones
I don’t even know how to begin to describe what this weekend has been like for me, but if I had to sum it up in one word it would be “numb.”
Somewhere along the line, a switch was flipped, something hit redline, and my emotional systems just shut down. For most of Memorial Day weekend, I didn’t try to be with him and his memory, I just existed.
Sunday was the anniversary of Dustin’s death. For weeks I’ve been haunted by that day on my calendar, and when it came, I couldn’t feel a thing. Not love or happiness, just a dull aching and a blank stare.
And this after I felt I had finally turned a corner with my last post, felt something profound settle into place. After months of gut spilling across the internet, “Alchemy” was the only thing I’d written that gave me a sense of peace.
On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if I was deliberately avoiding the issue that day, if I’d found a way to run from the pain and the loss and the longing, if I shut down in self-defense. I’m so tired of the hurting, of the tears. Now I am worried that on all the days I should have been brave enough to sit with the pain, I became a coward.
Given the whopper of a nightmare I had that night, I may be onto something there. Something dark is moving in deep places.
I need to find an outlet, a way to get through this. I am blocked creatively, couldn’t even write for days. My internal landscape is stagnant and still. When I look into my future, it’s through a dark glass.
Dustin gave me something I’d given him, unconditionally: he accepted me, just as I am and was, and he loved me for it.
I know I am not for everyone. My life isn’t where I want it to be, I’m carrying extra weight and have other physical issues I’m not pleased with, I have zero tolerance for bullshit, I can be a challenging partner, I can be logical to the point of insensitivity, and I can divorce emotion from a situation a little too well. I am intelligent-which should seem like a plus–but I’ve discovered the hard way that most men who say they want a smart woman generally mean only as long as she’s not more intelligent than he is.
And now here I am, having lost the one damn person who reveled in all the things that most other people think make me strange, who didn’t want to make me into someone else, who wanted to spend every morning of the rest of his life waking up next to me, who wanted to be by my side in the trenches as I tried to move my life–our lives–to a better place.
I would really, really love to throw something at the wall right now.
I had hope, for a while, that maybe something new was waiting to come into my life when the time was right, but no. I should have known better. Hope and I have always had a fraught relationship, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s let me down yet again. I am surprised by how much it hurt. Especially when I look at what I have to offer right now, and feel like a fool because I should have seen that coming.
And there it is. This is the reason I shut down, the one thing too many. That subtle rejection magnified the scope of my loss, drove home how lucky I had been, once upon a time. This, combined with the anniversary, ripped the bandages off the wounds, amplified the longing for what I’d had. I went back into survival mode.
And now I am going to pay for that.
Enigma ~ “La Puerta Del Cielo”
I am unfolding, collapsing like a house of cards designed by M. C. Escher, endlessly falling. I stroke the pillow where his head used to lay, whispering. Through a fall of tears like a grey morning’s rain, my lips still shape his name. I listen to the whispers, brush of edge against edge, fingers against fabric, disappearing in a silence that stretches through the horizon, trying to find the we that was in the spaces left between.
Oh, love…oh, my very dear. Baby….
I hear the calls of the night birds, feel the tidal pull of gravity. I am going under, eyes closed, hands open and empty. There is no fight left in me now. I am not giving up, I am just giving in.
Come to me…
I am adrift here, aching but unaware, lost in the reaches of time and hope, traveling the endless spaces left between. My lips make a mantra of his name. I am waiting, calling, conjuring.
There is only you and here…
No end to this, to what we were, what we still are. No beginning. Arcing above and below, filling the night sky, infinite. All my stars fall and collide.
Fill me. Make me whole again…
From behind my eyes, he sees again. My lungs fill with his breath, my heart with his blood. Thrill and pulse, nerves stretching to feel once more. Bones shudder and twist.
Oh ache, oh beautiful…
Love, endless. Seamless. Whole.
Come, love, we were meant to fly.
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.
“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
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.
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…
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….
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.