Theory 18

It was with unutterable anguish I left my home. A home I had built from swampy, barren earth. Sodden, murky, empty.

Or not quite, but like it. First: empty home, ground-stricken sleep, then bed then couch then the walls were filled, the floor cluttered. Room for every empty heart that needed rest, a seat for every party guest.

And then lost, all in a blaze, in that one broiling hot July morning, he set my home on fire and in seconds it was so lost, so scattered. Beyond my grasp. All I had built. All the space I had made to welcome others. All the nights I had spent, marveling at the beautiful wood floors, the french doors, the sun burst windows, the mantel, the fire-less fire place. I loved that home. I loved every knotted wooden board. I was in it, in all the dusty windowsills and scratched linoleum tiles. I watched her burn, I banished her image as I wept. Do not come here, I cannot bear your beauty. I could not remember. My mind full up with grief, I had no room, but that one room.

How could I have decorated for any holiday in my room- the new room, the grief room, the room I refused to call my home.It wasn’t my home. My home had evaporated. All that could have brought me physical comfort lost. I could not in good conscience decorate. What decency could be found in this cell? I was what it was to suffer, the walls that contained my un-masked sorrow, they couldn’t have been made bright. It would only have burned too. To love was to lose, to watch it stream away in bright, 104 degree heat. Like a mirage. It wavered and disappeared.

It can all go in one second or, it can all go in however long it took him. So fast to lose so much.

It seemed reckless, foolhardy, to imagine my home was safe ever again. I would feel it in my bones every time I made my new home more comfortable. Don’t get too close. Don’t love this too much. Don’t sit here too well, don’t let this creep in. It will be gone, it will be gone, it will all be gone.

And then, somehow, tonight I put an old stuffed penguin with a Christmas sweater on my mantel, nestled in the new faux-evergreen, next to the dollar store tree I bought years ago.

Like a sapling sprouting. Like clockwork re-wound. Like contentment arriving, unannounced. Sorrow is my soil. I make room, I grow. Up, even now, up.

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Theory 17

The images start around the time the sun sets. I guess that’s earlier now, so in-specific. The images start when I am settling, the kitten purring on the far edge of the bed and the world dimming. The room foggy, my mind bleary and teetering. Then, that moment, it flashes, and I am upright, rigidly awake, grasping at the cat. No, no, I tell myself, she is not suspended by her little furry, fat neck from the ceiling. She did not mysterious become entangled in the cords for the fan, nor has she thrown herself face first out of my 7th story window. I touch her, and am mildly settled. She is a cat, after all, and I am not so far gone. Only that layer of my mind is, that layer that shoves these violent images in, unannounced, unprompted, over and over again, for hours until I relent and take a pill to ease the worry, my cat cooing by my side, unawares. She doesn’t see the terror in which my mind situates her, nor the violence of my fear. She is content, plump and soft. Dreaming of her next treat, while I daydream of more death and decay. If I lose sight of her, the image comes barging in, laughing at me, with the ridiculousness of my terror. I am petrified till I can put her in my sights again. Sometimes, I’ll awake out of a deep sleep to panic, convinced she has died, perhaps even by me, as I rolled over in my sleep.

This new room has not abated my chaotic under mind, the section of my mind that remembers, that only remembers, that is stuck in remembrance gear: be afraid, be afraid, be afraid. Death lies only beyond that closed door, looped around a handle, ready to knock you out. Death will steal, will leave you naked, will lead you into a colosseum so empty it crushes you- the vastness of your isolation bursting you apart. I do not grasp, though occasionally I try to pry up this ugly grey carpet, hoping my old hardwood floor lies underneath, that this all an elaborate and cruel joke. No, I do not grasp at the pain, to bring it closer. To make myself tolerable I keep it all at am arms length, til at last I come “home” and sit still. The stillness corrupts me. Or, no, the stillness betrays me. I think, “now I live in a rather large hotel room”. Dispossessed. Still dispossessed. STILL! It just continues on and on, day after day. I do not know how to be comfortable here. The artwork, the family photos, the new couch, none of it eases the terrible ache, the ever present fear. No rest can be had in a bed I do not want. My dreams translate my mind for me, presenting chaos, destruction, loss, fear. I awake, and in my 3am grogginess I plant my feet on the floor in despair. I still hate this floor, no matter how hard I try. My weary mid-night body allows me to be morose. Do I win this battle? Can I love a home again? Now I wake up every morning to a headache. Again, I think. This, again. 

Perhaps you think I wallow, that I cling, but the paths down which I’ve chased contentment have lead me in a labyrinth of circles. I am ill at ease here. I do want rest and honest comfort. And I want a night, please just one night, one fucking night without the image of my cat hanging from my ceiling. 

I don’t even know what grief is any more, I am lost here. It continues to be unreal. I’ll catch myself during the day thinking- no, now, that didn’t happen, did it? It seems less like an event and more like a state. I didn’t just find him, I continue to find him. He isn’t just dead, burned up, but he is ever-presently dead. Confoundingly, persistently dead. Maybe some day someone can explain that to me in a way I can understand. For now, my fear and I remain entangled, wrestling for the control. 

 

Theory 16

I am a thick, dark, molasses-dense rage. I am a fire and a scream sitting just beneath my collar bone, molten and hot and consuming. I am tipped over into thrashing, screaming, sobbing anger by you, by anyone, by accident, all the time. My song is hatred. My tone is rage. I come home and lay on the ground, allowing myself to convulse with maddening fury. I grasp and see I am alone, my disconnection burns inside my arms. I refuse to reach out and I seethe with perceived misunderstanding, and feel so desperately alone with this twisting, shedding, contorted mass of rage. I am exhausted by anger, I wake up to anger, I sit in my work in anger, I can only stay on the ground so that the fury can be still. Inexpressible, uncontrollable, this rage is my jail keeper. I am in stocks, strangled by it.

I want this to end. Why must I forge through this fire? I know there is no moment where I will emerge, triumphant, a fine steel blade, ready for battle. I am always as I am now, concave, empty but for a dark, twisted mass of barbed wire, whirling around in my center. You must touch me, please, oh god I am in so much need of touch. How does anyone do this, all day, every day, for so many years without some real contact? It hurts incessantly.

What did you want? Is this it? To hurt me? I am so goddamn tired. My dreams are mangled messes, frightening and angry and unheard- forgotten- moments after I wake, but for the feeling of fear and the tight grip of my jaw as I try to gain control. Why would you hurt me? I long to forgive you, to forgive myself, to feel genuine joy for longer than a moment. The summer sun cannot touch me in here, and I need it- have I not earned it? Can I not win this round? But life is, as we know, not fair, not a give and take.

I am exhausted by your shadow, deprived of the sun, no matter how I claw towards it. I know you were sick. Your mind not functioning as I am so lucky that mine does. I can sit and sulk in sobs and gasps of rage and pain, but not desire to leave it all behind, as you did. You felt it was your best choice, but god I wish I could know why, in a way no one ever can, because it does not exist. It scalds me, now I am skin grafts and “afters” and time is demarked by your moment, not mine.

I carry on, setting goals, anticipating a time when I won’t be held hostage by this exhausting, confusing anguish. Weight loss, grad school, pull ups by January. May my insides be cooled, my mind able to trust, my heart soaked in love.

Theory 15

I did not know what it was to wake in gratitude. To swim all day in the joy of graciousness, of gratefulness guiding the beat of my heart. Grief is as death, forever. We do not reach a finish line and declare ourselves done, our loss subsided and subdued. Instead we use grief as the tool, the trowel to tunnel a path towards the surface, to raise our faces to the sun. The dirt above my head broke today, the summer sun filtered through my memories and glistened in my eyes. I have made it one year, though time would, as it does, pass anyway. I faced it, drowned in it and, remarkably, surfaced again, steeled for more.

And more will come. Death is constant, his death blunt force trauma to my mind. He leaves his mark, in ropes and ties and closed doors and my anxiety-crushed nightmares. But I do the work, I wake up and wash in the sorrow, cleansing it with my body. But I am changed, my mind awake now, I open my eyes in the morning and no disbelief fills my soul. I know he is dead, I know what I saw, I know I will never understand. I know I have lost a home, and I know I will build a new one. There can be no fuller gratitude than to awake knowing today I will find no destroyed bodies in my home. And that I can endure, I can come out whole, I can love with open arms and foster new friendships.

And what of love, of the family and friends who reached out to me to speak to me of my strength, of my endurance. Friends, I have not endured alone. No one can. It is on your backs, satisfying my emptiness from your wells, allowing me to soak in your joy, that I have stayed afloat. There is no thanks that could encompass my gratefulness. Your beauty is captivating, your generosity boundless. I love you and I love because of you.

I am strong, I am a fighter, I am loving, I am embracing, I am whole-hearted here, I am alive. I am alive. We, together, are alive.

Theory 14

I’m lacking a word. It’s lost somewhere between “miss” and “love” and “fondly recall”. It’s jumbled, full of meaning and speechless. “I miss you” rings of swollen hearts, full of fire and life. It says, “without you, I feel the lack most strongly.” I do not feel a lack. I feel, perhaps, directionless, seeking, exhausted? But I was ready to say good bye to seeing you every day. But still, something… tugs. Something feels incomplete, a crossword puzzle left abandoned, the clue missing. I do not miss you and I miss you intensely. And you slip, I hate how you slip. You sneak, slowly, out of the room, leaving the party too early, not requesting permission to be excused. You are not excused, you must stay. I need you to stay. And I don’t. That is the space in-between. The curve around, the snake slithering past the right word. Reality slips in and around the comfortable places, like water, or mold, it will unearth itself everywhere. Like roaches. The reality of you is like a cockroach. It is tough, it will be around in me forever, perhaps undetected until disturbed. Until ever so intensely inconvenient, you spring up, ruining a dinner party. But stay then, please stay. Let me be fully immersed in the agony, let me grip the memory that you may feel closer as these minutes, inexplicably, leak by. They will keep rambling past you. You will become dusty, and heavier, sinking, the weight of the infinite number of minutes ahead that will not include you resting on you. You could not bear them, is that why? Is that why? 

I know I am not close to you now. I know I am no closer to you than I was the moment I looked down and saw that mop of dead, dead hair. But- I wish to be this close in time to you. In bendable, wavering, unfaithful time. Time, curving to change with gravity, with speed. Meaningless and the only thing that matters. I’m afraid I’ll lose you, and afraid I’ll never lose you. You are not a puzzle, I cannot solve you. I cannot piece together the shattered glass, restore my old furniture and regain what I mourn. You are forever unchanging now, unnatural. This is not what I want, I don’t care if that is petulant. I saw you, in confession, in pain. You were so kind. You thief. 

I echo, I reflect like twin mirrors. “Why?” “Why?” Unanswerable. “You didn’t deserve this.” Like a tea kettle, I release. Over full, I scream til empty.

The anniversary of your death is soon. You will not appear, and yet I am afraid.  

Theory 13

It smells of summer. It smells of death and chaos and an infinity of unknowns. Of loss and burden and shame. The warm sun and budding trees foreshadow devastation and darkness. I cannot escape a scent. The summery perfume of his death is pervasive. It seeps in my windows and hides around every unopened door.

And the cascade of anniversaries. I sit, celebrating his birthday, looking at pictures of his warm body and dark head of hair. What has he become? Into what ashes has his beating heart dissolved? I remember. I remember your birthday and how you felt under my hand. I am the record keeper, the scribe with no authority. He was born, 29 years ago, yesterday. He died last year, and yesterday. And every night in the crush of my desperate dreams he dies, only after he chases and suffocates me. This bed is still not my own, and in every detail I cannot escape what my life has become. “I used to” is my response. How common a thing, how ignorable. I used to have a laptop case, I used to have a place to store my bike, I used to have a beach towel and a couch and a kitchen counter and space and light and the ability to cope without the exhaustive energy I put out to just get through the goddamn day.

I am not myself, or I am myself on hold, I am stagnant. I fear what was easy, I hold too much to myself. I used to think of the infinity of possibilities, of the chance for change and now I see death and despair around every corner. We are not safe. We are not immune. We ought to count the seconds til the inevitable, til the moment hits you that you are not the select few who make it, unscathed, to the end, to the ashes. Tragedy will strike, and you too will suffocate under loss. Will it be this train car that crashes, this plane that burns, tonight will my ceiling finally cave in on me? I am not who I am, I cannot be one single entity, but that I am all things loosely bound together and collapse is imminent. I am, we are, without control. We hold on to smoke.

 

Theory 12

I am out of poetry. It’s days like this when I wonder, honestly now, when can I go home? I’ve been on this trip for so long, and I need the comfort of my deep couch cushions and the table covered in yesterdays plates. I try so hard not to remember the way the sun lit up the wooden floors, recently covered in cat hair, or how warm a spring day like this would feel sitting in my bed with no reason to move. The trees were so full and a deep, fleshy  green. How do you mourn a home? On the train last night, I stared out the windows and tried to spot to her, my home, now so full of someone else. I want it all back, that I may feel rooted and singular again. What candied path did I follow as a child that lead me here, now, in unfamiliar sheets and the constant lie of “comfort”. The food I bake and make doesn’t smell right here. Bread is lackluster in its promise and my body too soft.

I am knee deep in the sucking sand of my past; so knowable and a deep rose color. If I wasn’t happy, then at least I had a kitchen and glorious full windows in every room. Here, everything is unfamiliar to me. The sun can barely penetrate. It is all gifted, every thread a straw on the mounting pile of un-payable debt I owe. None of it earned, none of it proud. The walls are even unwelcoming- what of my “own” can I hang up, without the help of someone else. I know now the pictures from my past won’t work. They are all unrecognizable. I don’t have room for people any more, not here. I let them in, but like an over-full corset, something else cracks and bursts out of place. Surely we all know that at the bottom of hatred is the dissatisfaction of incorrect math. This room does not add up for me, and the longer I sit here, the further into an erroneous equation I fall.

Oh, if I had a full table right now. With six or eight or ten of you sitting, ripping into bread I made. I would welcome you, I would feed you, we could be joyous in our companionship and youth. Instead, I sit here, carpet-floored and barren white-walled. Everyone is moving forward, so quickly. I fell so far back, and so hard, I don’t recognize any of you any more. And what I have to offer you now is a person not fully present. Surely you, like me, are exhausted by this grief, and don’t care to be in its presence any more.