Mourning Glory

As I sit down to write this, a commercial for St. Jude Children’s Hospital is playing in the background. I never knew until she was gone just how generous she was, giving so much to those children without fail. She went without before children she never even met did.

Dammit. Not even two paragraphs into this and I’m already getting weepy. It’s been a year since the last normal day of my life, the last day before After, that new reality that I still can’t say I’m used to. But, in the course of this last year, I have learned that grief is not something I will “get over.” It is something I will learn to carry. Though I have realized it, it is still something I admit I am working on accepting.

A year ago today, I sat down to write a blog and it started to the effect of, “today feels like the first day of a great new life.” I began my community restoration project, Back to the Bay (www.backtothebaymi.org) and I was so excited to tell her about it. I was going to see her after work, going to tell her how people were already responding, going to tell her how nice it looked, how much I looked forward to seeing it grow, sharing that with her, telling her about my day… I looked forward to replacing her old flowers with new ones. I looked forward to watching Mark Harmon in whatever he was in that day on the few channels she liked. I looked forward to hearing her voice and hugging her goodbye and telling her goodnight. I looked forward to hearing her say “love you, too.”

I miss her.

It was hard to stay here. She’s everywhere. At first I sought her out, I lived in the memory of everything that drew me back here. Then it became unbearable, like a fist gripping my throat tighter and tighter as I drove down streets we used to walk on the way to some adventure that would inevitably end up with candies.

Last summer was awful. The literal worst. The longest, darkest, most unbearable summer of my life. I hope to never relive another like it.

This summer has been… what’s the word?

Forgiving.

I have chased the stars looking for the twinkle in her eye. I have cried into the same waters I can only guess thousands of other sad girls just like me have cried into, as waves washed the sand off my feet and the sun shone on my face. I have turned up the songs that tear my heart to pieces and driven through the pain. I will never not miss her and it will never not hurt. I will never be the same person I was, but I don’t doubt that I’ll be all she knew I could be.

The other night FGL and I went meteor-hunting. We drove up and down the roads through the backyard of the city, in search of the perfect viewing spot. The moon hung in the sky perfect center, a strange oblong orb of orange. Even as I grew frustrated with the mistrustful and inconvenient lights, even in the cornfields, I still had room in my heart to remember to look. I thought, “that is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen – and I’m with him. This is fucking special.”

Those moments were hard to recognize for a while. Laughing from my gut, breathing. I can lay my head on his chest without mine stopping.

But I miss her. I guess I’m not sure how to end this, but for now, I’m okay. Even if just for today. Tomorrow might hurt a little more. Eight days from today, I may hurt a lot more. But today, I am okay.

-xoxo

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a manifesto for my friends

I had a thought today and it stopped me in my tracks. Finally, something I didn’t have to cling to – the rampant runaway train of thought in my head actually halted and allowed me to really consider this question I asked myself.

I wonder if people remember me the same way I remember them.

Was I as important? Was I as special, as influential, did I play a role in the clips of your evolution that you store in your memory? Do you roll me around in your head and wonder all the what-ifs and regrets as I often do?

My initial reaction was doubt. I love simple things about complex people and it results in obsessions over nonexistent relationships with real people who can only stand by and watch as I play my version of reality, quietly pitying me and wishing I’d leave.

I’ve created many an awkward moment with my overestimation of friendship. I’ve poured my heart out and felt it slide like egg yolk off my face. I’ve been too forward at times, and I’ve assumed things I shouldn’t have. I’ve made mountains out of molehills and halted construction of bridges entirely. I’m not good at making friends, I’m worse at keeping them in the manner to which they deserve to be accustomed.

But there are moments in my memory I keep. They’re not even important, per se, but they’re remarkable. The smallest of firsts, but what I remember. I wonder if those little things hold as much weight for you as they do for me. I just wonder if I meant as much, even for just a fraction of the time.

Some of my worst decisions were anger-driven and out of panic. Some were overwhelmed exclamations of “fuck it and fuck you, too!” (Okay, maybe a lot were the latter and maybe there were a lot more f words.) Regardless, I guess I sit here today and feel less than stellar for setting fire to those particular bridges.

I remember letting a girl braid my hair in 7th grade. We’re not friends anymore and I can’t really tell you why except I felt jealous and irritated at a high point in her life when I was going through a low. I wonder if she remembers me like that – was I just a girl she used to know? Or does she remember being only the second girl in the history of my life to invite me to a sleepover?

I was thinking of my first grade best friend today, for some reason, and recalled how we actually re-met in college. The world is such a smaller place than we remember to see. I wonder if she too, remembers me as her first grade best friend – or if I’m just another name in the yearbook she can’t recall.

I’ve had a few really great friends in my life. I’m so grateful for the two I met first – we don’t see each other often and I wonder if we’ll ever see each other all in the same room again – but I love you both so, so much. I am so thankful you guys were there to light up such a bleak existence for me back then.

I’ve had some that have grown into my life so elaborately that it’s hard to tell when their family ended and mine began. Coincidence after coincidence after coincidence built the electric current between our heads – you catch my drift and I catch yours. Thanks for the cousin, by the way. He makes a great husband. If loving you was training wheels for the rest of the family, you can imagine the amazing ride I’m on!

I am a self-proclaimed “Super Googler.” I am constantly checking in on old friends. I’m a creeper, for sure. I just like to know I still have time to procrastinate. I like to know if you’re happy, if you ended up with a hot spouse, you know. I want good things for you. (Except for a literal handful of people whom I’m very happy to report got fatter than me.) But seriously, I check local obituaries constantly. The sad thing is, browsing the internet is how I’ve been notified of the death of a former close friend at least 6 times, NOT counting Facebook.

It’s hard to make friends with girls. I could never read them as well. I couldn’t figure out the right things to say to sound cool enough to be friends with them. For some reason, I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to be cool with my own personality. I wonder if the voices in my head are all the people I pretend so hard to be? Could my auditory hallucinations somehow be directing some “Stranger Than Fiction” scenario? (Whoa, slow it down. That’s crazy talk.)

But I had a few. And I loved them fiercely – and still do. I just don’t know how to swallow my pride and admit that I miss them. I don’t know how to say the sorries that need to be said, I don’t know how to turn off the judgmental bitch in my head that continues to goad me on. “I just think it’s funny that…”

Shut up. It’s not funny, and maybe I had reasons to call it quits on our friendships then, but it’s been a few years now and I wonder often enough to think maybe it’s time to drop you that line I’ve been meaning to.

Facebook is going to kill me. It feels like a social cancer, infecting me with jealousy and making me delirious with envy. If only I could be that thin, that pretty, that rich, that smart, that funny, that confident, that lucky. If only I could buy a house, too. If only I could drive a new car, too. If only I could take my kids on the vacations they deserve. Man, if only I wasn’t such a whiny selfish brat I could do these things on my own, but instead I’ll sit here and be frustrated and somehow bring myself low enough to believe that you, my friend, somehow don’t deserve those things, too.

I don’t have friends because I don’t have patience. I don’t have time and I don’t have the heart to make time when I’m so afraid that they’re faking it that I can’t even fake it? Social anxiety is a lonely dysfunction.

But I do! I want to get together. I want to talk sometime. I want to meet you at a bar and do shots! shots! shots! and I want to take that trip Up North and ride down the river. I want to get our kids together and I want to cook dinner. I’d love to show you around my town and I’d love to see yours. I’d love to drive across the country and crash at your house. I’d love to remember those we lost together and I’d love to be invited to your wedding. And I’m so, so, sorry that I don’t know how to properly follow through on any of these things. And I do still love you and want to be your friend.

This isn’t for anyone in particular. This is for all of you – everyone on my friends lists – whether you’ve been with me since Buddy Lists, Top 8, or Someone You May Know. I’m just saying hi, saying I miss you, and checking in. Hope you guys are having a beautiful life and if not – I really am sending good vibes your way.

I love you all. xoxo

ps – Ben, you stole my cupcake pan and I want it back, you jerk. ❤

Can I Just Say…

I woke up this morning to so much negativity. Even the sky felt heavy as it dropped fat, splatting raindrops, filling potholes and cracks in the sidewalk. Yet even when I stared down the street at the depressed houses whose wooden sidings were soaking up the dampness, I still saw silver in the clouds above and thought today was going to be a good day. I breathe bigger when I drive through my town. I pull it inside me and inhale it completely. When I leave this life, there will be much of me left behind in this place and I am bound to it. If there is anyone out there whose heart is tied as tightly to this city as mine, I have yet to meet them.

Yet I witness exchanges daily that break my heart. Attacks on my home, slighting comments that dig at the flaws and exacerbate the sins of our neighbors. Things like,

“um, this city isn’t all that friendly. a lot of crime, drugs, and people on the registry.”

“welcome to high utility rates, soaring property taxes, aged housing, and a minimal selection of part time minimum wage jobs!”

“Bay Shitty blows, can’t wait to get out of here.”

and various other attacks solely based on religion that I won’t bother to give the validation of repetition or response.

And to those disgruntled neighbors, I implore, “why are you still here?” And I want you to really understand what I’m asking when I ask why you are here.

What is your purpose? What is your plan? It is plain to see you can identify the negatives – now what are you going to do about them? Continuing to point out the obvious does nothing but exacerbate those blemishes until they are a full-blown cancer, infecting the community with dissent and suspicion and killing the faith we have, not only in our leaders, in the people we had the opportunity to choose right into office, but in each other. In times like these when we are beginning to realize that we cannot depend on the government to take care of us on the most basic levels, it is more important now than ever before that we band together and become a community network again. Before we had OPTIONS of charitable assistance, we had each other. We had neighbors.

I say OPTIONS because I refuse to call them entitlements. That word has mutated into something negative, something shameful and selfish, which is the complete opposite of what the word means. Entitled means that someone should simply have those things – and I believe that basic needs such as food, shelter, clean water and basic health care are things that everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, orientation, disability, even criminal record… should have. Because regardless of our beliefs and our behaviors, we are still human. If you want to sit at your pulpit and spout Psalms and Proverbs at others, remember to look down at those pages once in a while and read them yourself.

This week alone, I have redirected several calls from desperate people in need of the basics. Turned away by faith-based charities for not fitting the image of their “mission.” Rejected by their neighbors because of the scarf on their head, or the shade of their skin, or the sound of the musical words coming from their throat, maybe in a song they’ve not heard before. Since when are the things we don’t know yet, things we automatically fear? As children we are encouraged to explore the unknown. How many public service announcements, how many PBS specials, how many classroom videos have started their message with a shooting star… “The More You Know!”?

I ask you, where did you go? It seems we all got lost somewhere between “all you need is love” and “then they came for me, and there was nobody left to speak up.”

Bay City, I will speak up for you. I will champion you because I know you are capable, you are deserving, and you are, at heart, the most “home” I will ever find.

I wish you could say the same. I wish you could see the bits and pieces of that beautiful tapestry I see. I wish the sun shone for you as brightly as it sparkles for me across the water of our river. I wish the buildings of the past hundred years would rise up to greet you as they do for me every morning. I wish the church bells that ring across the town sang the songs of your soul as they do mine.

And if it does not, I beg of you, please… go find what you’re looking for. If it is not here, I again ask you, why are you here?

Find the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Sometimes that means changing your attitude about them. Sometimes that means exploring it further and gaining a broader perspective.

Be courageous and change the things you can. If you want to see better things, do better things. Be a better person today than you were yesterday. When you are struck down, thank your hardships for the lesson and meet them as worthy opponents next time.

Have the wisdom to know the difference. This is where we seem to struggle:

Anything can be changed for the better. ANYTHING. We are Americans, we are human beings, we are lovers and fighters and neighbors. We are all in this together.

GOOD MORNING! – xoxo ❤

Unrest.

 

This is where “home” meets “lost.”

I keep you inside a museum where my faith used to be. I carry your memory everywhere.

But I can only find you in the empty spaces. You’re only where you used to be but you aren’t there anymore.

I wonder how long this museum will remain. I wonder if this shrine will always stand.

I just can’t seem to let you rest. I am still tugging at your shirt and loving the sound of your voice giving me one of my own.

I suppose you will always be somewhere in the everywhere else. I will still be here, in the places I wish you were.

-SMB ❤

Morning Ritual

It has been six months and I am still putting pieces back together. I have started by finding corner pieces – FGL, kids, mission, work. Slowly finding the edges. Some days are easier than others. I’ve sang in the car and not cried. I’ve crumpled to the floor in a shaking mass of anxiety. I’ve scraped my knuckles on rock bottom again but each day I keep waking up.

So there’s something.

The roller coaster I thought I had managed to disembark years ago has unexpectedly picked me up again. As I involuntarily lose my shit while I process the gaping hole in my life, I have begun to learn how to “go” with this “flow.” At least as well as one possibly can while careening through life at 150 mph without a seatbelt, or even a heartfelt desire to not fly into oblivion.

I loved her immensely and that never waned – how can I believe them when they tell me my grief will? Yet I follow the steps. Accept the things I cannot change. Build a new sense of reality though none of this seems real.

She’s always there in the dark, just as I close my eyes to sleep. She kisses me good night and wipes my tears when she’s gone in the morning. If I don’t open my eyes, it might be true.

here’s a short piece I wrote about what happens when I open my eyes. the sun always rises on a new mourning.

 

Morning Ritual

embedded in the silver lining

of each day spent seeking lost faith:

your memory, the ache in this

newly-found canyon of myself.

the burning star I hope

to think you became

shines something fierce

in the morning sunrise; blue

meets glorious gold.

the street corners scream your name

like applause. My gratitude

for the city you left me

holds these fidgeting feet,

clenches this fist

around this heart.

-SMB 2017

 

have a good night. thank you for reading.

 

Rough Draft 1

Since I have tried to go back to paper journals, I cannot bring myself to write with honesty. I don’t have it in me to put it in ink. Someday, I’d like to lose this all and forget how bad it felt during the time of my life when the sun burnt out.

Okay, let’s get this out before I can’t remember so exquisitely and lose the details of what’s been rotting in the carcass of the soul I had before everything fell apart.

I have been smoking like a chimney. Part of me still very much wants to die. And because I have seen death, because I know now what is going to happen, I’m derailing myself early, I suppose, knowing that the inevitable is in fact inevitable. I wanted to be there. I selfishly needed to know she knew how much this hurt me. Because maybe she’d understand how much I loved her. It was fucked up but it’s how I felt I needed to honor her. I just needed to hold her hand.

But I saw something that

I can’t even say it. I can’t even tell you what it did. I watched her die and I felt every drop of faith I’d had in anything go down the drain. It was gone. It felt like my insides just stopped and I could do nothing. I had to go on with nothing. I still had so much in my life and so much to live for.

But I felt nothing. And let me tell you what nothing feels like: it’s fucking awful. It’s the saddest, angriest, most awful hurt in the pit of someplace so deep you can’t even comprehend. How is a person so much a person that they hurt so infinitely? Like every cell is so cold it burns. Like the galaxy that was inside you just burst and burnt out. The lightbulbs of all the things you imagined in your mind, now blown. Just broken glass and a faint puff of smoke. What the fuck?

I could not lay my head on his chest. I could feel his heartbeat and my own would stop. I could hear it thumping, functioning, living. I could feel his chest move up and down in the most comforting way and it made a resentful lump of childish anger rise in my throat. Everybody was alive except her. All I could feel was her chest under my hand, so

I can’t find the adjective and if I could I couldn’t say it aloud for fear the dam would break.

It was still.

I wake up with a song in my head every single day. On a good day, the bells are ringing that hymn in my head, the one that will not give me peace. When the bells are ringing, I can listen. On the other days, I wake up with an ache in this newly-discovered canyon of myself and nothing makes it go away until I sing it in my head, sometimes even aloud, an involuntary hum that springs forth. Then sings my soul…

Like taking a breath you know will lead to a coughing fit. Like taking a swig of a cold Pepsi and knowing you swallowed wrong. Like knowing the train is going to hit you but you stand on the tracks anyway.

And every day, I’m finding it easier to stand still.

 

If I write it down, maybe it will go away. I am trying. I have jumped into everything I can to give me something good. I have tried to cultivate this pain into the beauty I have been told it will become. I am trying to be my own advocate.

I’ve never had a plan. I don’t now. I’ve never written a letter, and I don’t want to. But if I did, and if I had, I need to know I did it right. I need to know I left a paper trail. That I reached out and I asked. That I did not fail myself yet fucking again.

I will be okay. I know that. But thank you for your concerns, or at least for your readership, or at the very least your curiosity, while I shift in and out of the moments when I doubt it.

 

-xoxo

An elephant never forgets

“I love you in the morning,

and in the afternoon;

I love you in the evening,

and underneath the moon…”

The Elephant Show, 1984-1989 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

I waited in the tattoo parlor for an hour, nearly an hour and a half, before we were ready to begin, my skin nearly itching with anticipation of catharsis. When I sat in the chair, I watched as he carefully dropped the ink into the tiny wells, fitted the needles to the gun and with an almost agonizingly forced patience, sat still as stone as he prepared the stencil to the whitest part of my arm, the place I hold close in my sleep.

I thought about what I could display, what I could declare, what I could do to shout in polite silence how much this hurts. I wanted to carry her with me, never lose an opportunity to remember her. For 70 days, I have woken up, and she has not. That has been the first thought in my head for 70 days. I cannot wake up another day, and let that be my first thought. So I needed something good to remember.

I have too many words, and not enough skin. I wish the words I felt showed through, words that I could see. I wish I had something left to see. I can feel her, I can almost hear her voice. But I cannot see her. I have waited and I have begged. She has shown her presence in more than a few ways since her death, but I have never dreamt of her.

I miss her immensely. I am sad beyond words. I can sit here all day and think of a thousand adjectives to describe the enormity of it, but none will come close. Some days I am caught between, “please give me oxygen!” and “please shoot me now!” and this is a living hell limbo I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Last week was my 28th birthday, the end to the tremendous disaster that was 27. It was the first year I did not open a birthday card with her shaky writing. Last year, she only wrote “Barb” but I know how much effort she put into it. It was the first year I did not have a birthday cake, or share a piece with her, as we remembered all the good things her mother used to bake. It was the first year I spent my birthday standing in a cemetery, 13 years to the day she buried her mother. It rained, and I cried, and none of it mattered.

I went home, and I crawled in my skin. I slept all night and I woke up angry. I woke up thinking, if this is the first day of the rest of my life, it can be the last goddamn day for the rest of this life for all I care. I wanted to tear off my own face, to rip out my hair, to reach in and pull out the pieces of whatever was rotting inside me that made me feel so wretched.

Instead of going to work, I nearly checked myself into the hospital. I was convinced I was losing my mind. In that moment just before a spinout, as you realize that shimmer in the corner of your eye was in fact, black ice, when you argue with yourself for that fraction of a second whether or not you’re still in control of your own life – that’s where I was.

I went to work. I had to literally remind myself to breathe, to blink, to pick up one foot and put it in front of the other. I thought about my options and rationalized with myself. I gave out my most professional information and kindest advice, and helped as many people as I could. I put my best foot forward and tried to fake it til I felt it.

On the way home, I listened to the same CD I’ve had on repeat for months. The drive is the only place I can cry – so if you see a blonde in a tan SUV talking to herself through her tears, that’s probably me. As I drove into town, I turned it off. I’d had enough. I drove through our old neighborhood and I slowly passed what’s left of her house. It wasn’t the house I remembered and in that moment, I was sick and tired of having nothing left here to remember.

So I stopped at the seedy-looking tattoo parlor between two bars (the kind of place you almost want to take a selfie to send your mom just to freak her out) and I walked in looking for a price on something I’d been thinking about for a while.

Let me take a moment and plug Electric Chair Tattoo in Bay City  – the guy at the counter, Painter, looked over the wall, looked back at me, and said they’d fit me in right then and there. He also quoted me an awesome price (further on that in a sec) and introduced me to the artist, Chris. They asked for my input, asked me about what I wanted and what it meant to me, and didn’t make me feel crazy when I told them I was in a place where I really needed a professional to do the skin tearing, instead of myself.

He took his time, and made sure it was perfect. I told him, “This has to be the very best piece you’ve ever done – this one is for Grama.” I generally don’t watch as they do it. It always hurts at least a little and the thought of watching my skin literally shred in front of me makes me a little queasy. But this one was different. I waited for the sting, waited for the sharp pain that always brought me down from the high of the panic. It never came.

Instead, I found myself watching closely as each needle expertly sliced into my flesh and left behind a perfect line of ink. It was strangely satisfying to see the picture come to life on my body and become part of me. Something I could keep with me for always.

After, when it was complete and my arm was slathered in ointment to protect my new art, I told Chris we needed to square up and I was prepared for the price. After all, this was for Grama. I told him I thought she would like it and he beamed. Then he told me he had fun working on it and gave me a much lower price than he deserved. I tipped him 25% but if I’d had a spare hundred, I would have gladly handed it to him. His work is wonderful, his manner is welcoming and non-judgmental and I can’t wait to go back.

gramatat

It has been a week now since that particular panic attack. Our house has been on an emotional roller coaster, what with a dog scare, then a cat’s miraculous return, to a crashing wave of “how are we going to pay for this?!” to the sweet relief of having at least three things off my plate, having finished them this week. This is it – this is my life. This is my plate, overflowing with good intentions and bad habits. It is mine, for better or for worse, and I have two choices in which I can handle this: I can wake up every morning and remember the things that hurt, and I can go through the day slowly decaying until I fall into bed, crumbling into the mass of nerves that has to do it all again the next day; or I can wake up every morning and find something wonderful to remember to put me back on the path this entire past year has thrown me off.

Three separate people have told me this week alone that they never had a doubt in their mind that I would make something of myself. I have been shown blessings I could not explain, and received some good karma that I have to wonder if I deserve. They say it will get better. It hasn’t yet, but maybe I might start believing them.

-xoxo