I realize this may seem out of context for new readers. Here is an earlier post
The other night I turned to G and said “remember when you were a kid and you thought your parents were such sellouts? Didn’t they care about the brink of nuclear war or acid rain or the fact that our reproductive rights were in jeopardy? What the fuck was wrong with them — bustling about making dinner and reading their stupid books and going through the days so apathetically. We weren’t them. We were going to do something. Be something. Be different. We were never going to be them.” And then I put a pillow over my head with a degree of self loathing that I haven’t felt in a really long time.
There are the tiniest of moments: when I take a china coffee cup from the sideboard and my hands reach out for it and for a moment they are my grandmother’s hands and I understand her in a way, a direct transmission, a lifted veil, a fold in time — how much she wanted or how much she felt hemmed in by uncontrollable things. My grandmother knew me even in childhood, even with how little she saw me — she saw something of herself in me — that I was a thinker, a mind first and foremost, that I had a steely and stubborn resolve — my own mother is embodied — she lives in the physical world — but me? I’ve always lived inside of my head. I asked my mother a few weeks ago — in talking about Z and her temperament as she adjusts to school — and I asked my mother if I was that way — so overwhelmed by social stimulation as to sometimes seem to physically withdraw — and she paused and said ” you. You were always very. Self contained.”
I was and remain self contained. There have been years where being in this space has been filled with promise, my mind a productive whirring of what it could churn out, what it could busy itself with, what it might create — and there were a few dark years where all my mind did was scramble around, clawing at the walls shouting at me (in a tightly controlled hysterical shout/whisper of course) that didn’t I understand there was nothing beneath us and by the way it was a long descent. Good luck with that.
And then there is now. My mind has just been silent since May 24th when I sat at the feet of my best friend, holding her right bare foot, when she died. I escaped to her. I try to explain to my husband — a wonderful, kind and ridiculously stable man from a really solid family; he understands but the sympathy and the empathy — the sympathy sees it from a distance — and the empathy is inside it — yes, I know what its like to be that abandoned and terrified girl, that child who, had she more anger than the need to please, would have ended up sleeping under bridges — to be so completely alone — no extended family to call on, no one but a mother sunk deep in her own grief and rage — and how dark the world was — and she came into it. We were twelve. In her eulogy her father spoke of how she was a ray of light, lightness in everyone’s life who knew her — transcending what words we use or what we do — the very heart of who she was — light.
It was her birthday yesterday. She would have been 42. I cried on the phone to her mother. She was my touchstone. From the moment we met I saw the world and wondered what she would make of it. I am realizing that I will never be the same person I was before May 24th. I can’t believe how often my brain returns to her, something to tell her, something she should know.
In a way I feel a strange calmness. It was one of the worst things I could imagine ever happening — after my father’s murder that shadowed my childhood all I could fear was that the people I loved most would continually be taken from me — that I would continue to live life alone and lonely — that I would be unsheltered.
Last April we drove around Lake of the Isles — the branches heavy with a spring snowstorm. As children we’d skated at night on the rink there — the lights from the mansions throwing squares of light onto the snow — and we’d walked around there so many days of our life, these city lakes, this city I ran from and returned to — and we drove away from Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, she was in pain and exhausted, walking like an 80 year old woman. I told her as we drove how my life had changed, and publishing was changing, and all the dreams were changing.
As we neared her house I said that I used to think I would be a failure if I never became “that person” — you know the writer with the accolades and the well-reviewed books of literary fiction, the small office at some liberal arts college but I didn’t feel that way anymore — and she said “I know its a deep question and wer’e almost home but why do you think that is” — and she had that tone in her voice where she knew why… but she also knew that this exchange was something I needed, something she needed — “because of you.” I said “because of your illness. I used to think that if I accomplished ‘x’ I would be happy, and now I realize that the only thing that matters, ” and I clasped her hand ‘the only thing that matters is how we love one another.”
I can’t seem to summon much energy to think about work or much else other than the day to day needs of my family. I do know that I will have to figure out a way to access joy again — and maybe through that — a return to writing, but for now there’s just this.
When she was sick I joined a support group of caregivers and women fighting cancer. In my mailbox yesterday there was a link to a thread of how one woman’s husband wasn’t supporting her in the way she needed. People wrote about how often we don’t know how to respond to illness, what to say, what to do. Words of support streamed in. And one woman wrote that her husband never cried in front of her but that she would look out to the window, to the garden, and see him there, sobbing.
We are so fragile and don’t know how to reach one another.
But in those few sentences that woman has left something behind that has lodged in my heart, that I’ve held onto in my own grief — and that is the best of what words can do.