Tag Archives: grief

One AM in Tokyo

I was laying in my bed in a Tokyo AirBnB when I got the news that he had died.

And there is a sentence I never thought I would write, to start a story I never dreamed I’d live.

And yes, this is another post about someone dying. Mental illness is involved. People die in my life with alarming frequency, and if you are bothered by my talking about it, best you move on now.

So, let’s break this down.

I was in my bed in a Tokyo AirBnB…
Yes, I was in Tokyo, which is only a little (maybe, actually, a lot) related to this story in that it’s the setting for this news.

I was up late with a stomachache. Something in the Ramen we’d had for dinner hadn’t agreed with me. Considering my impressive list of food allergies and intolerances, I’m still amazed that that was the only meal that made me feel ill. And I remember the next day was supposed to be Tokyo Disney because I was trying desperately to sleep and I couldn’t.

I never thought I’d be in Tokyo and the whole trip felt unreal. I was there to visit my partner who is teaching English in northern Japan for a year. If you know me, then you know this trip was a triumph, a giant FUCK YOU to my mental illness. Scared of flying, scared of new experiences, but finally strong enough and driven enough to take a trip of a lifetime.

If it was the day before Tokyo Disney, that means (I think) we spent that day in Akihabara. Time gets a little blurry on vacation and it’s even worse when you’re seventeen hours off your home time zone. One AM in Tokyo is eight AM the previous day in Portland, just in time for my friends to be waking up and looking at their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

After untangling myself from my sleeping partner and digging my phone out from under the bed, I logged into Facebook.

I got the news that he died
There’s a cadence to social media posts, and if you spend any time at all on those annoying necessities of modern life, you start getting a feel for what’s happening even before you see the posts that actually spell it out.

At the top of my feed was expressions of shock. Disbelief. Concern.

I went cold and hot all at once.

I’ve been down this road before.

Penny. Slash. Mitch. Anne.

That ghostly shadow of death.

Thoughts and prayers. Gone too soon. So young. So sudden. What happened?

The news of an untimely death spreads like wildfire in a dry forest in this age of instant messaging and social media. I knew before I found his page, knew with a stomach-churning certainty, that he was gone.

I don’t remember a time when Brant wasn’t in my life. We were in every year of public school together, never close, but never not together. We did plays together, went to speech tournaments together, were in the school TAG program together. He was brilliant and funny and burned so damn blindingly bright. We made fun of the same teachers and stupid assemblies and talked about drugs and life. He was the reason I started listening to the Doors in middle school. I was the reason he got into the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

We fell out of touch for a bit. I got married, so did he, he went into the military around 9/11 and I moved to California. He had three kids, I had two kids. He got divorced, I bought my house near Portland and opened up my marriage. He was a knitter, too, and we’d talk about patterns and yarns and projects and he’d ask advice of me for colors for a scarf for his daughter and how to make a hat for his girlfriend. He read my blog and opened up to me privately about some struggles in his own life. We messaged back and forth often, but never had a chance to meet up.

Sure enough, that ball of dread was correct again.

He was dead.

And I cried. And I hurt. And I tried to wake my partner, who kindly but firmly told me he couldn’t deal with that right now baby-girl he needed sleep can it wait til the morning, just like that, one run-on sentence mumbled into his pillow, and he started snoring again and I was left alone in a foreign city with the knowledge that my childhood pal was gone.

One AM. Daybreak in Portland, so I messaged my husband.

“Remember my friend Brant? He died yesterday. Today. Erm. Anyhow, he’s dead. I don’t know yet. I’m trying to find out. I’m gonna message someone else, she probably knows. No, I don’t need to call. It’s the middle of the night here and I don’t want to wake anyone up.”

I was restless but uninterested in walking, knowing I’d get lost, not trusting my scarce knowledge of the streets in our neighborhood or the complete lack of knowledge of the native language. I wanted a bath, maybe, but likewise didn’t trust my rudimentary knowledge of Japanese plumbing, not matter how nominally Westernized our little bathroom was.

So, I sat on the toilet and cried and messaged with my husband and another friend of mine who I knew would be awake because she has a toddler and, even better, she knew Brant and could maybe, possibly tell me what happened.

Really, she didn’t have more answers than I, except he was struggling with his own demons. And it’s not my story to tell, not this one, but it seems his demons won.

And another of my fellows-in-arms against that fucking Bitch of mental illness had fallen.

And like a switch, I flipped from sorrow to anger and then guilt.

I have survived when so many people have not.

What makes me so special?

Here I am, winning my battle, or at least winning it a little, enjoying the hard-won freedom of a foreign vacation, and he fucking dies. How selfish of him.

I’m sorry, he wasn’t selfish, he was broken.

It could have been me.

But it wasn’t.

I feel guilty that it wasn’t.

His kids are the same age as mine. What are they going to do without a dad?

I’m glad my kids still have a mom.

What makes me so special that I get to survive this hell and others don’t?

Why has my ideation never turned to action?

Why am I strong enough right now to fight?

Why wasn’t he?

The hamster wheel of my thoughts turning and turning.

One AM in Tokyo. Disney in a few hours. My first glimpse of the other side of the Pacific. Many adventures still ahead, a life change that I’d never dreamed of which I’ll write about another time. Each moment a giant middle finger to that Bitch that still lays in wait in the corner of my mind.

I knew I couldn’t process his death. That would come later. If I stopped to grieve then, my trip would be ruined. So, I boxed it up and packed it away, to deal with again on American soil in the weeks following my vacation.

I took an Ativan and matched my breathing to my partner’s as I big-spooned around him, my feet finding a perfect tangle with his and my breasts against his ribs.

Finally, just after one, the ghosts fell silent for a short time, and I fell asleep.

 

Advertisements

February 1st 2017

There’s a spot on my drive to work where reflective thoughts always seem to hit me.

The route is simple. I leave my house, and I often stop for coffee on the way. I chat a moment with my favorite cashier at New Seasons, if he’s working, then straight down my road to the freeway and then I’m at work. If I catch it just right, and the day is perfectly clear, I can see Mount Hood to my right, Mount St Helens straight ahead, and OHSU and Portland’s West Hills to my left.

I don’t remember what I saw that morning.

I wore a dress to work that day, though I couldn’t tell you now which one it was. But I wrote in my journal about an icy wind against my legs.

It’s an easy drive, usually the traffic is light, and I can let my mind wander as I drive.

Unbidden, a thought of you lodged in my brain. And I missed you with a fierce ache, though it had been years since I’d seen you and months since our most recent Facebook conversation. I thought of our first date, at a yarn shop in Sellwood, long since closed down. My daughter was 2, so it was 2009, I think? I had the driest coffee cake I’d ever eaten and you ordered a plate of apple slices and brie. You were unconventionally beautiful. Slightly crossed golden brown eyes behind thick glasses. A mop of curly brown and henna hair. You laughed that the brie and apples were perfect for you, made a comment about them being a favorite snack. I showed you my new tattoo. It was my ladybug, the first one I got. Which puts us for sure in 2009, as I was 29 when I got that tattoo.

And that was it, just that little brush of a happy memory.

I got to work and turned off the alarm and turned on the lights and since I had several minutes to spare, I did what I often do on the mornings I don’t stop for coffee; I started a cup of tea for myself and sat down to check my social media feeds on my phone.

And it was there my worlds came crashing down; the first post on my Facebook was the news that you had died.

My heart contracted painfully and suddenly my stomach hurt. I knew without a doubt that the brush of a memory as I travelled to work was your soul’s final kiss before you moved on. I heard a whisper of a giggle, and felt the brief tickle of your lips upon my neck in that spot where you used to love to kiss me. You’d sneak up behind and nibble that soft skin and whisper wicked things in my ear and giggle and leave me aching as you danced away to tend to the children or some other minutia of your ever-busy life.

And you were gone. Just like that. The biggest heart I’d ever known had simply stopped.

You were there, in the front row for my second coming out. When Jas and I decided to live open and poly, you were my first serious relationship outside of my marriage and the first relationship with a woman since my teens. I still remember the smell of you on my fingers and the apricot color of your nipples and the long scar on your chest from when your childhood doctors bought you enough time to make your world collide with mine for a breathless year early in the fresh milenium.

I was careless with that fragile heart as I fought my own demons. You begged me to come out of my closet, teased me bitterly when I wouldn’t and I said I couldn’t and you began to call it my walk-in closet for all the time I spent in there and how I welcomed other people to join me but I refused to leave. You loved me without reserve. I couldn’t do the same for you, not then, and that is something I always have felt sorrow over.

You taught me so much about love and about life. We stayed friends after we broke up in 2011. I was the one who broke up with you, unhappy with myself and unable to voice it. I lacked the words for my needs and I know I screwed up and I’m certain I hurt you, but there it is. I can’t take it back now. And in your love, you gave me the most precious gift.

You gave me freedom.

I learned to love the broken in myself. To see the sacred in everything. To cherish the love I was and am gifted with on a daily basis. We would talk via Facebook on occasion. I know you followed this blog and you would send me encouraging notes.

My last messages from you were about how proud you were of me for getting treatment for my mental health, how happy you were to hear I was taking care of myself.

The last picture I saw of you was from the Women’s march, just a few days before you died. You in your pink hat that I know you knitted yourself. Your sons with you, tall and strong and beautiful.

I’ve moved through the last year feeling rather numb. It’s been a huge year of growth and change for me, and I’ve wanted to reach out to you so many times, only to find a vastly empty space where you used to be. I think you’d be proud to know I’ve finally destroyed that walk-in closet. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin and in my own mind. I am building a life I love, a life that was changed by the tickle of your lips on mine and the contented sighs you would make when you’d snuggle into my embrace.

My dearest, I shall miss you always. You are always with me.

Thank you for the time you spent here, for the lessons taught, and for the legacy of strength and love you left behind.


At the Lighthouse

I want to write, but my heart is so full right now, and I don’t know where to start.

Mr Awesome and I visited my dad today. We made the long drive NorthWest from Portland to Cape Disappointment. We stopped for Snickers bars at a gas station in a small Washington town and had a lovely long conversation about everything and nothing, the way we do when we get together without the kids.

We had packed a lunch, and parked at the base of the trail, and hiked up, past Dead Man’s Cove and through the forest to the cliff face overlooking the Pacific.

There’s been some changes, in the past fourteen years. A fence around the Coast Guard station. Trees lost to coastal winds and storms. Erosion has
shaved some distance off of the path, and eaten the sign with the poem on it that I have always loved.

But he’s still there. My dad. Watching the ocean, laughing with the other old sailors, and listening to the voices of the children who visit this historic site daily. I could feel him there, still at peace.

And I leaned into my husband’s arms and cried.

We watched the ships cross the bar, and the waves strike the jetties, and the dragonflies chase each other. My mom will never make it up there again, to be near him, so I took lots of pictures to show her later this week. And she and I will probably cry together, and laugh, and miss him. I cherish this time with her… I know she hasn’t much time left, and soon, in a year or a few, I will be an orphan. No parents, no sister, no grandparents, no ties to the child I was, no people to tell me the stories of way back when.

And I look down, as I type this, and realize the hands I have are the hands I remember my mother having, except I have all my fingers, and I am the same age now as she was when she had me. She was 35; my father was 50. An age difference that seemed impossible, when I was small, but seems so much less so as I look at my own dating history, realizing the last date I went on was with a man thirteen years my senior, and somehow, we had a lot in common we could talk about.

My mother’s light is flickering now, not as steady as it was even five years ago, and I realize it’s my turn to carry the torch, so to speak. To tell my children the stories of Portland-that-was and the world that used to be before 9-11 and technology and economic collapse and everything else that makes their world so much different from the one I knew. It’s up to me to fill their amazing brains with stories of the grandfather they will never know, so he isn’t lost, so the world will carry him for just a few more years. To let them know that when they see the ocean, he is there, with them always, laughing at them and loving them from wherever he is now.

IMG_0954.JPG


Lost girl

She hadn’t been doing well. I could tell this, even though I got a terse, “I’m fine…” The couple of times I asked.

Once, she asked to leave the sales floor for an unscheduled break, clutching her stomach. She’d just worked with an eccentric customer, an aging hippy wearing John Lennon glasses and a tie-dye shirt.

I knew, without her telling me, what was going on. But I didn’t want to push, for all that I wanted to be there, knowing that to get it out of her system would help the most.

I asked again, after the store was closed, no threat of customers or phone calls interrupting a conversation.

“I’m fine.”

Clink, clank, the rattle of money being counted into a till. The smell of one dollar bills and fresh printed paper from the nightly numbers.

I turned to my other register, closed it out, and handed her the till to verify the funds. Tears rolled down her face. And like a rainstorm, the words poured out.

I asked if she needed a hug, and held her there for a moment, while she loosed the demons inside.

That customer reminded her of her dad.

I was her, once. I lost my father young… 20, like her. And I remember being 24 and missing him terribly. A customer would remind me of him, or I’d smell Brut aftershave in the grocery store. And I’d feel like I was punched, hard, in the gut. My breath would leave me and I’d lose him all over again. I remember an older coworker who had lost her father young, telling me it would get better, hurt less, fade with time. And I remember thinking I didn’t want it to fade. That I didn’t want him to be a memory, because he is a person.

And now, years later, I come up against September 10th and I can’t remember why it should feel significant. Then, something will remind me of flying from San Diego. My layover in San Francisco and reading my bible and desperately praying that he would live long enough for me to see him one more time. Of my brand new in-laws driving me from the airport in Portland to my childhood home. Of the hospital bed that held the shell of the fiery, fierce man who raised me.

And now, I have more years of memories without him than I have with him. And he feels, a little, like a character in a book that I read a long time ago. I have to work hard to conjure up his face, although, oddly, I can remember his scent in an instant. Cheap beer and Brut, and a metallic overlay from all the coins and keys he carried in his pockets.

That’s what she was afraid of. That her dad would become just a memory, no longer a real person. And I assured her that as long as she had his memories, she carried him with her always. But I couldn’t tell her the awful truth… That someday, all she would have is his essence, the feeling of someone she used to know well, like a well-loved character in a book.

I couldn’t break her heart again, not as her tears dried and she gripped my hand and looked, achingly, like a lost little girl.

So I brought out that time-worn cliche and simply told her it would all be ok. That it would get easier, eventually.

Because it’s a cliche for a reason. It’s true, sort of.

And it was what she needed to hear.


For my Dad

20130910-061441.jpg

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

-Tennyson

It’s been 14 years today, Dad, and I still miss you. I hope you are happy, where ever you are.

Can you see the kids, Dad, from your place up high? My son looks and act so much like you. You’d be so proud of Lil D. She starts kindergarten this year.

My marriage is still going strong, Dad. We might not be making it work according to your standards, but I think you still would be happy for us.

I try to take care of Mom, Dad, like you wanted me to. It has been neat to build a friendship with her, since you’ve been gone. But I know she misses you terribly, and I feel certain that it won’t be much longer before the two of you are together again.

I see you, every time I visit the ocean. I see you in my son’s smile, hear you in my daughter’s laugh. Little pieces of you are everywhere.

I still miss you, Dad, even though you didn’t go far…