Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 21: Syllabi, Best Man, Classic Saint Marty

I am prepared for teaching.  My syllabi are finished, and my first writing assignments are prepared. 
It depresses me a little bit to sit down with a calendar and plan out my life from today until the second week of December.  Basically the rest of the year is contained in the two documents I created this afternoon. 

Not only that, but I took a trip to my kids' dance studio and signed them up for their dance classes for the entire year.  That's a commitment of six days a week for nine months.  Of course, all I have to do is drop off my son and daughter at the studio.  They do all the hard work.  I just have to somehow pay for it. 

There is a bright spot this Sunday.  One of my oldest friends is in town.  Brian was the best man at my wedding.  I've known him for close to thirty years.  We used to direct plays together at a local community theater.  We were so close that most people thought we were partners.  Not in the business sense.  Can't really blame anyone who came to that conclusion.  We were always together.  We directed plays and loved show tunes.  Yes, I know all of these things are cliches, but, if the cliche fits...

Brian teaches at a university in California, but he's led the kind of life that most people only dream about.  He went to school in Hawaii and New Zealand.  In Waikiki, he lived in an aquarium, taking care of the exhibits, feeding the seals and stuff.  He got his doctorate in oceanography in New Zealand and has dual citizenship.  He's a Kiwi and a Yankee. 

That's my friend Brian.  I haven't seen him for a couple of years, not since his recent move to California from The Shire.  Yet, when my sister passed away last year, he was one of the first people who contacted me.  Offered anything he could.  Told me that I could come to California for a vacation.  (He did the same thing when my wife was struggling with bipolar and sexual addiction.  That time, he wanted me to pack up my daughter and move to New Zealand for a while.  I thought about it.)

I'm sure, when I finally see Brian, that there will be questions about my sister.  He knew her well.  This weekend, however, has not been as difficult as I anticipated, and talking with Brian about my sister's death will feel right, like grieving with a brother.

August 22, 2015:  Sunglasses, Maggie Nelson, Invisible Horse, Confessions of Saint Marty

Walking down the street, Ives could not look into anyone's eyes very long without his inward pain bringing tears to his eyes.  He found himself wearing sunglasses all the time, night and day, and oddly, despite the darkness of his spirit, he wore a large crucifix given him by Carmen Ramirez and let it hang on his chest, visible to all.  He remembered sitting for hours inconsolably in his son's room the night after he had died.  He'd sat there examining a Revell model of a man that his son had kept on a shelf, the outer plastic shell transparent, the organs inside visible.  He remembered when his boy, then twelve and wondering if he might one day become a doctor, had asked him to buy that model kit for Christmas.  And when that Christmas had passed, Ives would find his son lying on his stomach in the living room, with a biology textbook open before him, dipping a brush into one or another small jar of airplane-model paint, trying to capture accurately the colors of the organs.  He saw the miniature liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines, and all the rest set into place, and thought about his son.

Ives finds it difficult being around people immediately following his son's death.  Even the smallest gestures or looks from friends or acquaintances or complete strangers bring him to tears.  He tries to build a wall around his heart, but it doesn't take much for that wall to crumble.  His son is with him always, in people, sounds, objects, toys.

I find myself in a similar situation when I go out in public.  If a friend or colleague gives me a hug or says "I'm so sorry," I can feel my walls breaking down.  It's a strange phenomenon.  I can be walking along, confident and strong, and, in the next moment, I'm an open wound.

I'm sure most of you are tired of me writing about this subject.  But I'm trying to understand grief on many levels.  I'm fascinated how I can switch from incredible sorrow to happiness to anger and back to happiness in the space of a few minutes.  It's as if the wires of my brain have been stripped of their rubber sheaths, and now those wires are pulsing and flashing with energy.

I'm sitting at McDonald's right now, a place my sister came to every Saturday morning before she got sick.  Most of the managers knew my sister.  One manager in particular, whose daughter is in the same grade as my son, came out to give all of us hugs.  And the wires snapped and popped and sparked in my head.  I could feel a flood of emotion rising.

Given time, I know these moments will happen less frequently.  I don't think it will ever disappear completely.  As long as I'm working at the medical center, going to places frequented by my sister, I will find her, in the surroundings and people.  I can't avoid it.  My sister is still a part of my life and always will be.  (When I'm working in the medical office, I still hear her voice in my head, telling me how to do things.)

I don't want people to ignore my loss.  There are a few people at work who have done this, and it feels even more alien to me, like watching the Titanic sinking and saying to a friend, "Isn't it a beautiful night?"  I prefer an acknowledgement, however small or uncomfortable.  Somehow, I find some comfort in those tiny exchanges, as if I'm not alone in my loss for a few seconds.  It's how my sister would have wanted it.

And that's Saint Marty's lesson in the anatomy of grief for today.

100 from Bluets

by:  Maggie Nelson

It often happens that we count our days, as if the act of measurement made us some kind of promise.  But really this is like hoisting a harness onto an invisible horse.  "There is simply no way that a year from now you're going to feel the way you feel today," a different therapist said to me last year at this time.  But though I have learned to act as if I feel differently, the truth is that my feelings haven't really changed.

Confessions of Saint Marty

1 comment: