“Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?”
~Death, from The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett
I’m not very good at believing in things I can’t touch, but I’m getting better at it.
When I was blasted onto this journey through love and grief, I didn’t have a lot of support, emotional or otherwise. There was Sara, my Chicago friend with her own pain and generous heart, and there were a few others, but for the most part, I was on my own. I was directionless and without focus, my world and heart blown to such pieces that I had no hope of making them whole again.
I had written in The Longest Road about my desire to find something, anything, to help fill the void caused by Dustin’s death. I knew it wouldn’t be a new lover; I was not then and am not now able to pursue that path. But I needed something larger than myself and my grief to believe in; I needed to know that this pain wasn’t all there now was to me, to my life. I needed hope.
Enter Ms. Sarah Fimm. An independent musician and songwriter, she is the leader of a merry band of dreamers, artists and like-minded folk centered around a Facebook group called Inspire Art. There are also companion pages at Tumblr and Pinterest. It’s a global call to thinkers and dreamers, scientists and artists, writers and poets, of all kinds, of all stripes, to band together against human trafficking and modern slavery.
It’s also the group that quite probably saved my life. Although I would not have taken my own life, I would almost certainly have stopped living it, which is basically suicide that doesn’t violate an attendance policy.
Sarah was one of a handful of people encouraging me to begin this blog, to open up the howling wound and let it pour across the internet before it killed me inside. And make no mistake, it was eroding me from the inside out, all that stray dust and pain blowing through me until nothing was left but bare walls and gritty floors. A hollow shell.
At Inspire Art, I found a group of beautiful, caring people who were willing to listen, to hear my words and try to understand. People who offered no criticism, just empathy and unwavering support. They came, they read, and I imagine a few of them even cried along with me. And in return, I came, I saw their artistic efforts, I read their poetry, and they helped ignite a spark in a cold and barren place. I found that some were even encouraged and inspired by my words here, by what I have wrought out of an ageless grief and endless love.
I picked up a paintbrush for the first time in almost 15 years. I began drawing again. I began talking more, reaching out, making an effort to connect I would not have dreamed I had the energy for. I now string together a few mornings in a row that find me excited to get out of bed, excited to try. Something, in other words, that gives me joy amidst the darkness and loneliness. I relearned how to play.
This summer, our merry band will come together at an event dubbed “Powered by Dreaming,” also known as the Sparkle Park. In upstate New York, we will put our collective heads together with scientists, learners, and other inspired thinkers to make this world a better place, to help make ourselves and others better people. We will learn, we will connect, we will grow, and we will share this light with the world. And everyone is welcome to join us.
Because there isn’t enough light in this world. There isn’t enough understanding.
I lost the love of my life. He is gone from me now. So I will make of my life a tribute, a living legacy, so that something beautiful and pure can come from this loss. And I won’t do it alone.
Will you help us?
There’s a moon rising slowly through the trees
There’s a moon shining bright upon my feet
And tonight the dogs are coming to capture me
Now I’m standing in the wake of forty years
And from this prison I have broken free and clear
And I’m praying that the morning won’t catch me here
I want to live like a kid with holes in his boots
I want to climb like a child in a tree
I want to love like the man with nothing to lose
I want to die with my heart on my sleeve
~Full Moon Song, Peter Bradley Adams, From “Between Us”
This song breaks my heart so thoroughly I haven’t been able to listen to the entire thing since Dustin died the weekend of Memoral Day. Now we’ve come to Labor Day. Two holidays neatly bracketing what will most likely go down as the worst summer of my life.
Labor Day weekend brought the remnants of Hurricane Isaac and desperately needed rain. The days were unrelentingly grey, cool and rainy, rumbly with thunder. And inside my chest, the pressure finally eased. I could breathe again, at least for now. The relief followed two long weeks of angsty unhappiness. I can’t even pinpoint exactly what among the myriad things it could have been that caused me to be so bitchy, but for whatever reason, I wallowed in self-pity and sadness. Until one day just before Labor Day weekend, when I’d abruptly had enough of myself. That’s it, I thought. It’s time to rally.
I am sometimes surprised when I find myself in my car, halfway through my commute, on my way to yet another day at work. I am surprised that I got up out of bed, into the shower, managed to dress myself. I am surprised that I keep trying, even on the days when I don’t see the point or don’t know why. My life has been bent, broken, and is being cobbled back together with chicken wire and glue and duct tape. Whatever it takes to be whole enough to function.
Right from the beginning, I did some things to rig up the best safety net for myself that I could manage, considering the inside of my head resembled a house after a tornado’s hit it: shredded walls and broken dishes and water fountaining into the sky from a broken water main.
In my opinion, if you break a leg, you go to the emergency room and get treatment. If you break your mind, you see a counselor until your head is back on straight. I never felt any sort of stigma about mental health care; I never saw a reason to avoid something that helps get me back up and running faster than I can on my own. My last serious relationship was not a healthy one, and I began seeing a therapist I liked and trusted to help me sort out what to do and how to break things off and move on. So when my life got utterly torpedoed, she was one of the first calls on my to-do list.
I have, however, been dead set against taking anti-depressants. I am ridiculously chemically sensitive at the best of times, and I didn’t want to turn into a shambling zombie, unable to feel the emotions I desperately needed to process. With my emotions splattered about like the aftermath of a bombing, I was even less sure what the outcome was likely to be. I was also terrified that I would be given something habit forming, like Xanax or Ativan, or made me act in bizarre ways, like Ambien. The last thing I needed was an addiction or to wake up one morning to find I had shaved my head or emptied the fridge. But every night was torture; I couldn’t sleep without a nightly pill cocktail that was approaching dangerous quantity, and every minute of every day felt like my skin was being taken off in thin strips, then liberally salted. Something had to be done before I lost control of my actions.
I set up back-to-back appointments with my therapist and my doctor. Once I had a list of recommended medications, my doctor and I chose one we thought would work: trazodone, at the lowest possible dose. A useful known side effect of trazodone is drowsiness, or in my case, a lovely mild buzz and a guaranteed coma. Sometimes I can be a bit of a space cadet, but all things considered, that may not be a side effect of the medication. That is more likely my mind trying to rebuild itself after getting completely scrambled.
In the beginning, I dropped everything that required any sort of follow through. I decided against the online course I was set to take this summer. I showed up for work, I took care of myself (more or less) and my cats, and everything else could just go hang. I avoided any sort of alcohol and hoarding behavior. I didn’t save the pages from my daily calendar that marked his death, or his birthday. When I finished using the household products he’d left at my house, I threw them away. I do have several things he’d given me, and I keep those safe and cherished. I keep the hoodie he gave me on my bed, near my pillow. One of my cats has claimed it as his spot, and sleeps there frequently. Dustin would have hated that-he didn’t like cats-but I get a ridiculous kick out of it, precisely because I know it would have bugged him. I take after my cats too much sometimes.
I know cats get a bad rap for being uncaring or indifferent to their owner’s mental or emotional state, and to a certain extent it’s true for Mr. Max*. But Miss Max is a different story. She immediately knew there was something wrong, and she took to sleeping with me every morning, so the back of her head is frequently the first thing I see. Even now, my usually standoffish cat takes every opportunity to lay on me or sleep near me. The first week, she followed me everywhere, her big green eyes anxious, meowing more in a few days than she had in the previous decade. And it helps. Every day, every little bit, it helps.
*I need to explain the Max and Max thing. Long story short, I adopted my beautiful black cat, Miss Max, in Detroit in 2001. Unbeknownst to me, my grandmother in backwoods Missouri already had a black cat named Max. When I moved back to St Louis in 2004, my mother’s stepfather died shortly thereafter. After about a year, my mother and aunts conspired to move my grandmother out of her huge, rickety house and into an apartment complex that caters to seniors. She balked, saying she wouldn’t be able to take both her cats. My mom and aunts convinced her I would be happy to adopt him, and presented it to me as done deal. They all already knew I had a black cat named Max, and apparently got quite the laugh over the idea that I was about to have a matched set. We have an identity-challenged household now, but we manage. And to answer the question you didn’t ask, yes, I can tell them apart. Only one of them looks half freaked out all the time.