The Tortoise and the Hare

The most frustrating part of this whole process is its slowness.

After the first torturous four weeks, the meds kicked in and the raw, scraped skin of my emotions began to heal over. While I no longer feel like I am being slowly boiled in industrial acid, I am not sure this wrapped-in-wool feeling is any better. That being said, I had a full-on crying jag when I got home from work, so obviously the pain hasn’t gone anywhere.

I am still faced with sharp, cutting reminders of his loss every day. The music he particularly loved, or any reference to Batman. The food I love to cook, yet can’t feed him. Events I get excited over, then realize I can’t experience with him. They add up, piling up in my lungs like sand.

And I know this is going to last a long, long time. The first part was the sprint; my only goal was to get through it. This middle part is the marathon, and is a grueling process of trying to figure out how to live my life around a gaping hole. I am lonely, so lonely, yet spending time with friends just throws his absence into stark relief. I am wandering around in my own life: not moving back, but not moving forward, either. Limbo. Purgatory. But this is part of the process, the part that allows my new reality to settle, allows me to learn how to navigate through it.

Dating is not something I can even begin to contemplate at this point. The very idea is exhausting. As lonely as I may be, I can’t imagine spending time with someone just so that I’m not alone; my loneliness has a specific cause and an impossible cure.

I know in any relationship I try to have in the future I will have to explain the memorial tattoo on my ankle, and it’s not an explanation I am willing to give freely. Anyone who may come next will have to understand a part of me will always be in love with someone else. Ask yourself, if you were in that person’s shoes, would you be okay with that?

If I had been asked that question last year, I would have had serious second thoughts, and I think most people would.

The men in my life have my best interests at heart, but they’re starting to push. Move on, get out more, spend time with people, let it go, leave it behind. Again, they mean well, but in their zeal to help, they miss something fundamental about women in general and me in particular.

Men and women process trauma much differently. Obviously, there are individual differences, but in general, men want to leave it behind while women want to talk about it.

And not just talk about it. We will haul out every detail and wrinkle and pick it apart, put it back together, and take it apart again. We will examine from every angle, repeatedly. Whether it be an argument with a loved one, a breakup, the ruin of a marriage, death, or any other kind of trauma, we will pore over it like the answers to life itself will be found there.

Because for us, they will be. This is how a woman comes to terms with the questions that have no answers, how we reconcile hope with pain, how we learn to accept that which can’t be changed. We need to ask why?, and how?, and why me? until our new reality makes some sort of sense, or until we accept that it will never really make sense. In the case of loss, this is also how we remember and honor our loved ones. What may appear upon first glance to be wallowing and a refusal to let go is generally anything but.

With any process, it’s easily possible to get hung up in this phase and never allow it to come to its natural close. A lack of understanding from the people around us can do it; nothing motivates repetition of a message more than deaf ears. Rushing it and not giving it its due will often drag it out indefinitely.

For me in particular, I am facing a lack of understanding of how introverts work. I may split the extrovert/introvert axis of the Miggs Bryer personality index, but there is one thing that rules them all: I need to be alone.

I recognize the value of socializing, and I enjoy it. I can be outgoing and do not appear to be shy. However, being with people tends to wear me out, and when I take a hit-especially one as hard as this one-I need to be alone to process, recharge, and heal. I see and socialize with people every day at work, I have a therapist to help me navigate through this loss, and I am doing what I can to take care of myself properly. Forcing myself to do things I am not ready to do or frankly don’t have the energy for would not be progress, but a setback.

So please, well-meaning people, leave me be. I’ve got this.

The Wind Knows Your Name

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
~Lake Isle of Innisfree, William Butler Yeats

I  spent last week feeling like I was being hunted. Something wicked was coming my way, and I was jumpy, tense, waiting. It wasn’t until Monday that I realized that as of last Sunday, Dustin had been dead for three months.

Three. Months. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around that. I am still waiting for my phone to ring and to hear his voice again. I am still hoping that if I can just get back to the places he was, I can find him there, waiting for me. I am still waiting to wake up from this nightmare.

But I can’t. This nightmare is my new reality.

I am continually surprised by how physical, visceral, the process of grieving can be. The initial impact of his loss was just that: a physical blow to the gut, to my chest, that stole my breath and doubled me over. The next morning, I could feel my bones become dense, feel my joints shift out of place. Even now, I still feel heavy, and all my joints ache. My ribs feel bruised, my abdomen tender.

The anxiety has nested in my midsection, and feels as if someone has wound a ribbon around and through my organs. When I know I’m about to take another blow, feel his loss afresh, the ribbon is cinched tight, knotting and twisting. I wind up hunched over, and I have to remember to breathe, slowly, carefully, the way a person does after being badly hurt.

I deliberately tried to stop thinking about him for a while, but that is as futile as futile gets. He is too much a part of me, too much like me, for me to ever be more than half a breath from his memory. Even now, I turn to him like a plant to the sun. Every beat of my heart carries his name, every inch of my skin remembers his touch. He is with me always, every step, every moment. And his symbol is etched on my skin, just above my left ankle.

I was never a big fan of tattooing. Dustin had four, and asked me once why I didn’t have any. My answer? Because there was nothing in this world I could commit to that long, something I wouldn’t eventually get bored with. I have never been the committing kind. Until now.

I promised him forever, the rest of my life. That doesn’t change simply because he’s gone. So now my promise has been made indelible, with me forever. He would have loved it, and who knows? Maybe somewhere, he does.

A stylized version of Dustin’s astrological sign, Cancer.