Take Your Own Arrows

cremains

I went to my first therapy intake in years the other day. All the hours of my life cried out to be seen and heard and accounted for. I’m never in therapy at my darkest moments so I come with some unintentional armor guarding my heart and my entrails. It takes so little to dent the anger-tempered metal.

It feels important to tell every psychologist that my dad once told me to vacuum the lawn and that though it filled me with doubt about the order of the universe I did it because I was too scared not to. The words always dry up in my throat because it’s ridiculous to tell anyone that I have, in true fact, vacuumed a lawn.

I know I could use a silent ear regarding Zeke’s death. I’m not sure what I can say when a thousand things are always trying to speak at once through me in a giant coagulating mess of noise. I miss him. I think the hardest thing is that I expected to die before him and yet, here I am. I would have taken every pain in his stead, but that’s not how life works. I have to take my own arrows, collect my own offal in pails arranged carefully under a thousand leaks in my body.

I believe our personal power and our greatest weaknesses always stem from the same source. The things that make us vulnerable also makes us strong. Perhaps I think of it in too simplified terms for some, but for me it comes down to the idea that light can’t exist without dark, that cold is meaningless without heat, and good has no context without bad. I even named my company after this concept; sugar and pith – the sweet and the bitter. I don’t believe in fairy tales because they’re obsessed with vanquishing the dark so that light can prevail, but morning is nothing without dusk. Fairy tales are incomplete stories, bastards of the truth which is ultimately more rewarding as well as devastating than fantasy.

I need a therapist to help me swim to the bubbling sunlit surface of water from a thousand feet deep in the alien darkness full of changelings and dancing muscles. Can therapists do that?

The greatest gift in my life has been the long slow discovery that I’m not alone in this dark.

It’s peopled with a thousand spirits kin to me. When I stop struggling to swim and let the waves tow me under I can hear all of them speaking with buoyancy at the same time; with joy and love and the fear stripped from them like it was nothing more than thin streams flooding porous tidal stones.

Can there be reconciliation for as many selves as I have been?

 

Blood is the Dual Source of Life and Strife

the fight night

I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on realizing fresh that someone you loved will never walk through your door again and being abjectly sad about it. I’m tired of it already. But every time my life starts to feel almost normal again I realize it’s because for a second I forgot my brother is dead.

Then my brain chants “my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead” and I want to shout this at everyone around me and I want all this to be over with. How people deal with loss like this over and over and over again is a huge dark mystery to me. One I know will visit itself upon me if I don’t die before everyone else at this point.

I’ve known many people who’ve died, folks, but I’ve never felt this way about it before. No anger, no feelings of unfairness or anything like that. This shit happens every day, and yet, this time it’s my brother and a part of me is also dead because of it.

This is the story of life, right? Everything about it is normal, rational, ordinary, and necessary. We all gotta do this thing where we let go of our skin and bones and become something new. Air, maybe, dust probably. We feed the fishes or the flowers or we pollute them with all the chemicals we’re pumped full of if we’ve been embalmed in the modern way. This is not an ad for ecologically sound burial practices, but it could be. My brother was cremated without being filled with toxins first.

I don’t want to cry any more. I know I’m going to cry some more. I know this is normal for most people. This is the story of loss. Our feelings erupt out of us at inopportune moments, we jockey for privacy and concealment in grief because it’s uncomfortable for everyone.

Zeke’s memorial is this Saturday and I’m terrified of it. I’m so tired of grief and realizing at weird moments that he’s dead, as though I hadn’t totally realized it before and my brain chants “my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead” until I want to give myself an Appalachian lobotomy*.

It’s only been a month and a few days. Pretty fucking fresh still.

I love that my brother and I shared a taste for taking candid and distressing pictures of ourselves bleeding.

bramble legs

I have so many pictures like this I’m too tired to search for. Me bleeding. Anything bleeding. The Scenes my kid has left me to find where I’m looking for bodies stuffed in closets because of the giant pools of blood spatter he leaves me courtesy of his epic bloody noses. We both loved to take pictures of the underbelly of life. Around us, but also using ourselves as absurd disturbing subjects.

what's left at night

There’s a great photograph of Zeke sitting on a toilet outside with his pants down and smoking a cigarette. I love it. I don’t have a copy of it, but I cherish it because it captures his enjoyment of the natural theatrics and humor of life without an impeding vanity.

I admit that I will take a hundred selfies to get one that’s flattering. That’s vanity. But I also have taken and shared a million unflattering pictures of myself for the humor of it. Life’s a stage, so have fun with it and with yourself. Take yourself too seriously and you miss so many opportunities to let go and laugh, to discover and rediscover and then dig graves for our ability to revel in the ridiculous.

I’m not crying right now, for anyone who’s curious. I’m listening to Bob Dylan while I write this and am simply enjoying counting the things I had in common with my brother.

I have other brothers I will never know the same way.

I don’t have room to be sad about that right now. If any of them were to seek me out and want to know me I would throw my arms open to them, my world of little brothers, but I am separated from them by an expanse larger than mere oceans.

I truly thought I would be able to handle this mourning better than I actually am.

I’ll tell you what, though, it’s constant balm to me to know how deeply loved my little brother was by so many people.

I have to believe that he always knew, his whole life, how much I loved him because I never lost an opportunity to tell him and show him. Except between 1987 and 1989. I have to believe that he knew there was never a moment I didn’t value him and love him and wish I was cool enough to spend time with him outside the family paradigm. I wasn’t. He never chose to spend time with me outside the family paradigm.

It’s okay, it’s alright.

Goodnight.

 

*A quarter of my ancestors were uneducated Irish Appalachians so fuck you if you feel all offended. My mountain people were ignorant and seriously unhappy people who enjoyed visiting their misery on others almost for sport. So fuck them too.

How’s That Grief Coming Along?

Mom Zeke and Tara in Portland

While I was in Los Angeles with my mom, sister, and Ezekiel’s roommate and best friend, his being dead was surreal and visceral. I knew it was real because we were going through his things and everyone around me kept crying (myself included a few times) and we had to arrange for his cremation. After four days of intense shock and grief I was ready to come home and not think about my brother’s death every waking moment of the day. So I watched every youtube episode of the Great British Bake Off I could find (WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I FIND EPISODE 4 OF SEASON 4?!) and re-watched nearly every episode of Poirot ever made (EXCEPT THE LAST ONE WHICH SUCKS). My sister went home. Life kind of returned to sort-of normal-ish.

I started feeling like maybe it was all a dreadful nightmare and my brother might drop by at any time toting some chardonnay or cheap beer since we can’t be trusted to have such things on hand. I didn’t see him that often anyway, so it’s not unusual that he’s gone. So how can it be much different than him being gone now?

To keep things more real my brain launched itself into an obsessive thought mode. It sounds like this in my head:

Remember when my brother wasn’t dead? My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. I liked it better when my brother wasn’t dead. My brother’s dead. I will never see my brother again. My brother’s dead. (On seeing someone pass by my house I resist the urge to shout “Hey, my brother’s dead!”) Zeke’s dead. (Philip walks into the room and I say “remember when Zeke wasn’t dead?” He remembers.) My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. (Resists urge to post this all over social media because everyone already knows my brother is dead and it’s a bummer to be reminded again and again of someone’s recent loss and also – it makes you look like you might not be handling it well) I’ll never see Zeke again. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. My brother will still be dead tomorrow. My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead. Etc…

So it dawns on me that maybe part of me doesn’t totally accept that he’s dead and my brain is there to make sure I remember it and swallow it and deal with it every waking minute of the day.

Self-inflicted lobotomies aren’t recommended.

I can’t seem to stop my brain from saying obvious stupid shit like “All of my life up until now, Zeke wasn’t dead”

The problem with saying something a million times is that at first you may be pounding a truth home into your psyche, but eventually words repeated too many times in succession lose meaning. (Say baboon really fast 20 times in a row and tell me if it doesn’t start to sound extra weird and meaningless)

At least we didn’t find any porn among his things or on his computer.

But really, death is something that happens to millions of people every single day. It’s the only thing more inevitable than birth. You might not be born, but if you’re born, you WILL die. The blessing for me is that I’m not tortured by the concept of heaven or hell or reincarnation or the belief that there’s a reason we’re born and a reason we die and that somehow our death is connected to the quality of our virtue. I don’t have to sit around worrying about the state of Ezekiel’s soul. The state of his soul was never anyone’s business but his own.

The fact that millions of people die every day means that millions of people are grieving every single day, same as I am right now. That’s kind of awe-inspiring. This grieving experience is something most of us who are living will share in common at some point.

Being born into this world comes with a tremendous amount of baggage. And once you’re in it, there’s only one way off the planet, death.

I find these thoughts soothing to some degree. Death is what it is. So if it starts feeling normal that my brother’s dead and I will never see him again, it’s just because it IS normal. It doesn’t mean he’ll ever be forgotten or that his time here wasn’t remarkable (because it was). It will just mean that I’ve accepted what is incontrovertible and have decided to mentally and emotionally move forward through the grieving process.