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