I’m alone with what’s left of my life
while the moon cuts the night like a knife
I am starved as the sigh of the stars
You’re the pulse in the rhythm of the hours
turned to years but the night never ends
You heal me you open the wounds again
and any promise of dawn of day
is so far so far away
The lullaby of loneliness
The lullaby of loneliness
~”The Lullaby of Loneliness” Aaron English
There are nights, and then there are nights. The cold is coming on, the days are dying, and the dark is rising, rising.
Fall and Winter were never my seasons, despite my birthday being buried in the depths of December. I take a chill easily, and the grey days and the long, cold nights make me sad and sleepy and lonely. And that’s during good years. This will not be a good year.
These two seasons were Dustin’s time, the time he was the most comfortable and alive. Ironically enough, his birthday was in July. But he was water, and there was something about the chill and the quiet that appealed to the deep, still places in him.
Spring and Summer are my time: the heat, the light, the fire. Life is everywhere; not slumbering, but running rampant, clinging and climbing and growing and being with an intensity that makes me feel alive. The warmth, reaching deep inside, wrapping my bones and pulling me inside out, a quickening.
But summer this year wasn’t any of those things. It was a drawn-out death, a drought. All that promise, all that potential, all that life: dead, gone, ruined, destroyed. Dustin….
So now I am girding for a fall and winter that promises to be among my most brutal-and I have already survived more than one brutal winter. Mostly, I am doing what I always do: I am getting nesty, withdrawing into my spaces, both internal and external. This is when I clean and organize and personalize my living space, and curl up in it with hot tea and soft afghans and Netflix marathons and good books. I cook and bake more and go out less and less.
I have been alone before. I’ve been lonely, both within and outside relationships. But this…this will be different.
When I left my abusive ex-boyfriend in the fall of 2010, I spent the winter afterwards in ruins. I was rebuilding my sense of self, my self-esteem and confidence. I had been wounded but I would not, could not, let him win. My intermittent sleeping problems became chronic, I had nightmares, but I knew all I had to do was slog through it and I would be whole and happy again. I knew whatever he had tried to do, whatever poison he spread, I could beat it and be better than I was before.
Dustin knew all of this, of course. I could not hide the jittery remnants of abuse from someone who was even more intimately familiar with violence than I was. He was always careful to touch me with gentleness, even in passion. He was giving and genuine and supportive in every single way that the other had not been. He could heal with a look, a touch, a kiss. And he did.
So now, as I withdraw into my hobbit hole for the season, I am more acutely aware than ever of Dustin’s absence. He should be here with me, we should be cooking together, snuggling, sharing hot tea and silly movies and popcorn. His heat should be warming my bed, like his presence warmed my soul. Beyond a physical chemistry that could set stone afire, we found an intelligence and depth we’d never known in another before. We fascinated each other, and now it’s gone.
I don’t feel the optimism I felt the winter of 2010. This loneliness cuts like nothing else. The sun goes down and I am colder than the temperature warrants, and nothing I do seems to warm me. I am cold in my core, in my soul. I vacillate between wanting someone, anyone, to talk to, and wanting to be alone. But I don’t want to be a burden on someone else. This is exhausting enough to go through; dragging someone else through it with me seems unfair. So I struggle on and try not to wear out the ones I can talk to. But I don’t know that I’ve ever felt this lonely before, and I don’t know how to fix it.
I have no earthly idea what I’m going to do.
In just a few days it will have been four months since I lost you.
I don’t want to believe that you’re gone, that you’ll never hold me again, but it’s hard to win an argument with reality.
Our anniversary is coming up, and I can already feel the tenuous progress I’ve made so far start to come apart. I’m crying almost every day again, having trouble sleeping despite the trazodone. I don’t know if I can do this, but I don’t really have any other choice.
I am also fast approaching the story of our first meeting, and I’m scared. I have to let it out, let it go, because inside that perfect day has grown thorns. The only way over it is through it, and that journey will be dark, and it will hurt. It will hurt like the beginning, the volcano erupting again, because I am losing you all over again.
You told me a year with me wouldn’t be enough. That a lifetime wouldn’t be enough. We just never had enough time, and that cry beats in my head and my heart like war drums. And now, painfully, ironically, all I have now is time. And I don’t want it, any of it.
Don’t tell me if you had to choose, if one of us had to go early, that this is the way you would have wanted it to go. I know that. I don’t care. You aren’t the one left behind, left to pay the price. You got the easy part.
So now, on the day that should have been a celebration, I will be alone. On that day, I’m going back to that place. Our first date, our first kiss, our first acknowledgement that something big and beautiful was happening between us. That seismic shift in our souls, making room for the half of ourselves we never even realized had been missing.
And I will try so hard not to cry in public, to not make a spectacle of myself, and I will fail miserably. Some things are too big, too important, to hold inside. And I know you will be there with me, and I’ll know how much you’ll wish you could hold and comfort me. I’ll know.
I’ve always known.
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.
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.
Tonight I stumbled across a letter written by Richard Feynman to his deceased wife 16 months after her passing and sealed until his own death in 1988. For obvious reasons, the letter resonated with me, and poignantly illustrates why I write my own letters here. I include it here in its entirety, via Letters of Note:
October 17, 1946
I adore you, sweetheart.
I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.
It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.
But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.
I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.
When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.
I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.
My darling wife, I do adore you.
I love my wife. My wife is dead.
PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.
We need to talk, honey. I love you, baby, always and forever, but I can’t keep being so sad all the time. I’m wallowing, and you know that’s not my style. I miss you so much. I’m so afraid of what I’m forgetting, what I’m losing every day. I’m afraid of losing you.
I can’t keep starting and ending every day fighting tears. I can’t keep remembering you more for your loss than the good times we had together. I am haunting my own life, not living it. My mind is starting to creak from the strain.
You should know by now that there is no one in my heart but you. The place you occupy in my soul will always be yours. You will always be first in my heart, and if, by some miracle, someone else should enter my life, it will only be because you have gone on. Anyone brave enough to try to share my life will always be second to you.
We are together forever, now. If you can’t be here to live your life, then I will have to live mine for two. But I am struggling every day, and I need to let go some of the anger and the pain. I want you to be proud of me, I want to live a life you would be proud of. I am so proud of your spirit and your heart, and how hard you kept trying, despite everything. I can’t bear the thought that I’m letting you down. I know how much you love me, and I want to be worthy of it. I will have bad days, I will cry for as long as I need to cry, but I can’t go on feeling guilty and sad every time I laugh. I don’t love you any less, but I can’t love you at all if I lose my mind completely.
Help me. Help me find a way to keep loving you, to keep you, and have some hope of happiness. Show me how to live again.