No one tells you, when you’re small and immune to the intricacies of true loss, that grief never ends. Perhaps it’s because when you’re five and your first puppy dies and the pain feels interminable things change so quickly and growing-up happens in such a flash that life’s rapidity obscures how sad you are that Sparky isn’t around anymore. Or you realize that Nonna was a really old lady who had to die sometime, and if you were only 7 or 8 when she died, then how much of a relationship could you have had with her anyhow? You’ll probably miss the smell of her pasta sauce and the way she pinched your cheeks after she “caught” you sneaking Hershey’s kisses out of the candy bowl in the dining room, but after crawling under the table in the funeral home entryway and crying for a little while, the pain ends fairly quickly.
But then you grow up and the relationships get longer and more intense and more meaningful, and with that comes more painful heartaches with deeper cracks. My grandmother – whose 88th birthday would have been Saturday – has been dead since April 14, 2000, and I haven’t yet had a happy or sad moment over the last 13 years that I didn’t wish she were still alive to share with me. And during the sad times, I lull myself into believing that if she were still alive she’d be the one to make everything OK, the one to hold my hand and stroke my hair and know just the right thing to say at just the right time. Never mind that when she was alive, she only did those things about 75% of the time. The important thing is that (at least in my hazy recollection of my childhood, teens, and 20s), she was quite nearly the only person who did any of them. So when she died, it was as though all most all of the love that I’d ever known in the universe had been sucked into a black hole, never to return. In many ways, I still feel that to be true.
I suppose I was lucky that no one else I was close to died before Jack was found dead of a heart attack in Jan. 2010. My grandmother’s death nearly killed me, throwing me into a depression so suicidal I was nearly involuntarily committed (avoiding such only thanks to intervention on my behalf by an attorney friend). And had I not been sober when Jack died, there’s no telling what would have happened. But that’s a silly statement. Had I not been sober, I never would have met Jack. He was the prize for getting sober, which makes it all the more ridiculous that his death was also the biggest challenge I’ve faced in sobriety. And it’s a challenge that crops up in the most insidious of ways, namely any time I experience loss of any kind. Lose a freelance gig? I’m reminded of Jack. Lose my keys? Jack. Can’t find an important piece of paper? Jack. Guy doesn’t text me soon enough after a date? Jack. Didn’t get the job I wanted? Jack.
And normally (as if “normal” is something that can even be approximated after the man you love dies, unexpectedly, under circumstances even your grief therapist can only describe euphemistically as “complicated”) these little losses are things I can handle well, or at least well enough that my whole world doesn’t feel as though it’s being up-ended. But then – beginning Friday morning – a deep friendship takes a turn for the different (not worse, not bad, just different) and it feels like a rejection and it throws me off-kilter. And then an accusation at my internship makes me feel insecure about choices I’ve made in changing my career. And then I come home, already feeling battered and broken by the world’s storms, wanting only to put an ice pack on my head and take a long nap before a date, to find out that I need to find a new place to live (with very, very few resources at my disposal as it is). And I cry it out, and I put the ice pack on my head, and I take that nap, and I suck it up, and I go on the date, upon which I find out that the date (our 4th) has his ex-girlfriend “temporarily” (ahem) living in his living room (ahem) because she needed a place to stay.
None of these things are major. None are the sort that, individually, would leave me despondent or dejected. Well, the friendship changing would. Or, rather, did. That alone had me crying through most of the day at my internship. That alone broke my heart and set off the chain-reaction; it’s likely I could or would or might have reacted better to the things happening the rest of the day had Friday not started off the way it did. In any case, the past 63 or so hours have been spent mostly crying, sleeping, avoiding work, desperately wanting to drink, crying some more, missing my boys, wishing Jack were still alive, convincing myself that I’ll never again find anyone to love/love me, crying even more, panicking about how I’m going to get the money to get a new room to live, sleeping some more, and generally feeling like I want to fall off the face of the planet to escape this inescapable grief and suffering and pain that I can’t even begin to describe. On Twitter on Saturday I said it felt as though I were being poked by needles from four different dimensions, and that is, I suppose, an approximation. I’m in pain inside and out, in my soul, in my brain, inside and outside of my skin; even my hair hurts.
I went to the grocery store today, figuring that food would help. (It did, a bit, though I do have to force myself to eat when things get like this.) And for some idiotic reason I thought listening to Damien Rice’s O would be an excellent idea while I was grocery shopping. This was THE WORST IDEA I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Or at least since I’ve moved to New York City. Because Amie is on that album. And that song makes me cry Every. Single. Time. I hear it. Because, of course, the lyrics:
Nothing unusual, nothing’s changed
Just a little older that’s all
You know when you’ve found it,
There’s something I’ve learned
‘Cause you feel it when they take it away
kill me, just break me up and break me down and it’s almost impossible to recover from feeling like song lyrics have punched you in the solar plexus and the next thing you know you’re standing in the checkout line with tears streaming down your cheeks sobbing and unable to breathe, really, and some old Dominican lady behind you in line is asking if you’re okay (you think?) and you can’t answer because not only can you not breathe but you don’t speak Spanish.
So, yeah. That happened.
I want to know when the grief is going to end, even though I know the real answer to that question is “never, and then some.” I want to know when this heartache is going to heal, even though I know the answer to that question is “never; the scar just gets fainter.” I want to know when I’ll forget about Jack, but then I remember that I don’t want to forget about him; I want to remember him without it hurting so much. Some days that’s easy, and I’m happy thinking of all the good times we had together. Other days it’s impossible and the picture I have of us on my bookshelf gets turned face-down, like when life takes a turn for the different, and a chain of losses is strung together in the course of a day, and then a weekend disappears under a rush of tears and grief and wondering whether the future will be any different than the past (it will be, you just don’t know how). And it’s horrible. It’s really horrible. But somehow – and god only knows who put this crazy idea in your head – you know that if you quit now you won’t ever know how the story turns out. So you cry and cry and cry until you wonder who the hell designed tear ducts to be so damn efficiently self-replenishing (do they ever dry up?) until you tire yourself out, like a newborn who just can’t cry anymore and falls asleep out of exhaustion, and hope that Scarlett O’Hara was on the right track when she said that tomorrow was another day. Because if it’s the same as this one, you really just don’t know how that will turn out.