Just when you think you’re done…

One of my young cousins just had a baby, her first. Her mom mentioned how they would hover over him, making sure he was breathing, worrying constantly. I did that with my son. Every time he was deep asleep and breathing slowly, I would place my hand on his chest, just to be sure he was still alive. Even when he was a teenager, I would check on him, most nights, before I could sleep, or even waking in the middle of the night, just to reassure myself before going back to sleep. I was always so afraid. So many times I scared myself when he paused between breaths, or when his heartbeat was too calm to feel with a gentle touch, and I would press more firmly, and he would gasp, because I startled him, and I would retract my hand, satisfied that he was ok, and stand back and watch him breathe. And I would think how silly I was. But it didn’t stop me from doing it night after night after night. Until I somehow imagined he was too old for the breath checks, after he turned 18. Even then, although it wasn’t nightly, I sporadically checked in on him. That he died of asphyxiation by his own hand is just some kind of cruel irony, I suppose. And I don’t even know what else to say about that, except that either the universe is trolling me, or that I brought on some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Probably what brought this on was that very recently, I visited a friend who has a baby, who made light of her deep sleep mode, lifting her arm, asking, “are you breathing?” As her limp arm fell unresponsively. It was not funny. Not funny at all. My baby might have been 19 when he drew his last breath, but I never stopped hovering.

Here we go again…

A few days after the second anniversary of William’s death, I slept in. Having his birthday be a week before his jahrzeit makes for an exhausting time, though I’ll not lie, I don’t wake up early much these days anyway, unless I have to. When I woke up and looked at my phone to see what time it was, I saw a message waiting for me, telling me to call my friend Abby right away, and two missed calls from her with no voice messages. I always assume it’s bad news, but I couldn’t have possibly guessed what it was. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, and then I called her. She asked if I had been on Facebook. I said, no, I’d only gotten up two minutes before. She said that our friend, Shontael, had asked her to call me to tell me before I had to read it on Facebook. I gasped, “Shontael? What happened?” Before Abby could even respond, I started crying, “No! No! No!”, trying to block out what she was saying, to make it not be heard, even as I knew with the first syllable of Shontael’s son’s name, that she was living out that nightmare that I had tried so hard to avoid thinking about this yahrzeit. And in a flash, it was me and William, playing out again in my head. But this time, it was Shontael and Pale. But it was also me and William. And I shoved it down, as best I could. And I got on Facebook to find out more and texted my girlfriend, Linda, so she could come home and hold me.
(Note 1: If you don’t know the story about Linda, you probably don’t need to know, only that we recently celebrated our first anniversary, and she has been the best thing to happen to me in a long time, and has brought me back to life. Note 2: Abby and Shontael are dear friends that I met in grad school, the best of friends to each other, and who have both been a huge source of strength to me since William died.)

In order to log back into this blog account, I went to a bookmarked post from last year around this time. I skimmed the beginning and before I could get to the vivid remembering of finding William, I was already in tears, and couldn’t make myself read any further, because I do not wish, at this time, to remember that day in such great detail. But the day I found out, I started to remember again. And it hurts. Shontael texted me a few days later to ask if the physical memory would fade, or if she was doomed to physically remember holding her son’s limp body in her arms. As she asked that, I could remember exactly how heavy William was in my arms, so much heavier than when he had last asked me to carry him to bed. Thinking back on the last few weeks, I realize how far I’ve come from two years ago, but I also realize that I’m not finished grieving. I’m not finished being haunted by those painful physical memories. But they do come fewer and further between. And usually, they are not as intense. Though this is an unusual circumstance, because the same thing is happening to someone I love and care about.

More than that, Shontael had asked me, in the last year, for advice for dealing with her son’s depression. And she did everything right. She literally did everything right. And he was getting better, and planning a future, and taking joy from the present. And still her beautiful son ended his life. Forever. He is gone and that hole that he left in the universe can never be filled. And I am so angry. And there is no one for me to be angry at, except Pale. And it’s really hard to be angry at such a sweet, funny, creative kid. So I am angry at the universe because I don’t know where else to direct my rage.

There were two memorial services, for friends and family in the two regions he knew as home, and we went to them both. Poor Shontael was just numb, exactly as I was at William’s. I knew just what she was going through, and in hindsight, realize the busy-ness can be a good thing, to give you time to get through it at first. But there is the emotional exhaustion, too. You just can’t cry any more. You get to a point where you think you can’t handle one more tear-stained face coming at you, purportedly to give you a hug, but in actuality, to get a hug, to take comfort by hugging the person who is most affected by this tragedy. And yet, there I was, making a fool of myself with my incessant tearing up from about 30 seconds after we walked into the door at the first memorial. The second memorial was better. I only cried when Shontael got up to talk. I was a dismal failure at being remotely comforting or giving her strength in any way.

To cut this long story short, I don’t know what to do for her or her family. She has four daughters who are also horribly bereaved, and I want to do something, but I don’t know what to do. She has family nearby, thankfully, or I would have staked out a tent in her backyard. I am in so much pain that I don’t even know how to be sensible about this. But I suppose that is the same thing that all of my family and friends felt when William died. It’s everyone’s tragedy. But none so much as those who loved Pale best. Shontael asked me if it was like the scab had been ripped off from my healing of William. (She is so much more emotionally smart than I am.) It is like that, but, as I told her, at least it has let me know that there has been healing. And maybe her knowing that I have been able to heal some will help her know that she can too, when the time comes.

Hell

I’m not afraid to be tortured. I’m not afraid to die. I’m not afraid that there might be a hell, or that, if there were such a dimension, that by some readings of religious texts, I should be bound there forever. My religiousity-filled relatives annoy me, because they can’t seem to grasp what living in the here-and-now means, and they can’t seem to understand what kind of deep, unconditional, and unjudging love the diety they worship purports to offer. Do people like this even love their kids, I wonder, or would they sacrifice them on an alter of zeal in order to save their own wretched skins? And they don’t get that the after-life, if there is anything after you leave this life, is the thing that comes after, you know, living, this life, the best that you could. “Hell is real!”, proclaims a billboard along the highway I take to visit my kin, but they don’t need to advertise that fact to me. I know hell. I know what it’s like to revisit all of your life’s choices and re-evaluate them in light of how things did turn out. I know what it’s like to feel the weight of a thousand devils on your chest. I know what it’s like to be tortured, to have to re-live the very worst thing that you could ever possibly imagine, over and over, and over, and over. To replay a handful of minutes, like when a dvd skips and shows you the same scene, and you wish you could tell the characters not to go into the basement, but they never listen, and you know it is going to end badly, but, instead of some over-paid, poorly-trained teenage actors, it’s your son, whom you love more than the world, and his pain, his suffering, his end, are real, and permanent. And what’s worst, the monsters in the story are him and you. He is the monster who took your child’s life, and you are not only the monster who drove him to it, but the incompetent soul who tried and failed to save him.

I know what hell is. All others who think they have any right to judge or condemn either don’t comprehend hell or are sadists who belong there themselves.

I’ll see you in hell.

legos versus bionicles

I had promised my dear friend that I would bequeath William’s transformers to her son, who was only two and a half years younger than William, and who counted him one of his best friends for most of his life. I had forgotten that promise until a couple of days before his 18th birthday. Suddenly, the idea recurred to me, and I dug through storage to retrieve them so that I could give him something truly meaningful for his first adult birthday. He still plays with transformers (as do most 18-year-old boys whether or not they admit it), and thought it would be nice to be able to play with his friend again even though he is no longer here. They used to lend and borrow transformers back and forth between the times they saw each other, each having acquired a new one that was of interest to the other between times.

So, I went to my storage bin and located the tote that contained most of the s, as well as grabbing three totes of legos/bionicles/assorted toys that I had promised to other friends of William’s, who, like him, still actively played with their favorite childhood toys, and who had shared this pastime with him in better days.

Sorting through the transformers and pulling out the extra bits of legos and other toys to set aside was difficult, but i had waited until the last minute, so the time crunch was a bit of a blessing. I mostly stuck the other toy pieces into a shoe box to deal with later, though I did take some time to go through the journal that William had kept when he was 5-6 years old, and was once again amazed by the rate of his development from drawing 2-dimensional figures that were composed primarily of lines to figures that resembled 3-dimensional shapes, with articulated joints, and his sudden ability to write strings of letters that resembled English words. For example, this exchange:

Der Mom,
I love you. Ples clen my room.
Love Willam

Dear William,
I love you too, but I will not clean your room for you. I will help you clean it if you ask nicely, though.
Love,
Mom

Going through his things has dragged me back to where I was a year ago. I don’t know if that means that I have not been grieving properly, or if this is just a normal hiccup on my own development, but it is hard. As I sat there, trying to sort bionicle from lego as I used to do when I would help him clean his room, not so very long ago, it occurred to me how horribly unfair it was, that here was an adult child who could not decide on the difference between bionicle and lego, yet, he thought he could choose between life and death, and made the wrong call, and now so many are affected by his choice. It’s just so unfair. To William, who still had so much promise ahead of him, to his friends, who still want to play transformers and legos, and to me, who has to sort through the remaining toys, without being able to ask, ‘do you want this in the lego or bionicle box?’

erasable ink

The worst thing lately is that I forget. I knew this day would come. I have lost other important people in my life, and have forgotten them. And I knew that I would forget William. That I would go on about my life, and not remember exactly what he was like, who he was, what it was like to have him be a part of my life.

All of me, who I am, has changed for having had him in my life, but it is not the same as what I want it to be: that is, holding him in me, as part of me, as part of my life.

What do I mean by this? I want, so, so much, for him to continue existing beyond the short time and space that he occupied in his short life, but I am not at all convinced that there is any kind of after-life, that aside from the mark he has left upon this world, that there is any William left in the universe, or outside of it. I want to believe in a soul, in something ever-living, that he will continue to affect the world after his premature departure from it, but it seems like so much wishful thinking and my own projections.

But even so, if, as my therapist suggests, we have an after-life, in the minds and hearts of those we have touched during our lives, and if that is all that there is to us after we are finished breathing and doing in this world, then what kind of a homage, what kind of an afterlife am I giving to William, if I cannot even remember who he was, to those who I am closest to, to those who he was closest to?

I fail him again. And again.

His memory is like a writing in erasable ink, that has been rubbed over, and only the outline of the bold parts has been preserved. And as I search for the outline of where he used to be, I get lost, again and again, as the story is re-written over the old script.

The blue caboose

When I was a kid, riding in a car with my grandmother, she helped me and my siblings to patiently wait out the train crossings by telling us to try to figure out what color the caboose was going to be. (On a side note, I am very disappointed that they did away with cabooses, for many reasons, but most especially the disappointing denouement that is the end of a train with no caboose to herald the end.)

Whether she was trying to train us in some kind of sixth sense, or hone our powers of deduction, or introduce us to statistical probability, or most likely just get us to sit through the train crossing without hitting, spitting, or breathing on each other, it was actually a valuable lesson that I did not fully understand until today.

The first several times we played this game, I was actually successful at guessing the color of the caboose. After a while, however, I was overwhelmed by my desire to see a blue caboose, because I felt that they were underrepresented and because blue was my favorite color.

(Another side note: in the second grade, my teacher was taking some interesting education classes, and they tested us to see what our “power colors” were. They made us hold our arm out and push back against a downward force to see which colors made us strongest. I got blue and yellow. They then let us decorate our desks with construction paper with those colors. I have no idea if it helped, but I appreciated that they were willing to dabble in strange methodologies to help us out, and I learned that I really, really like the color blue.)

The lesson, that I should have learned then, but did not appreciate until now, was that if you are too busy wishing for something to be just the way you want it, you are less likely to perceive what is coming down the tracks, and less likely to appreciate what is actually in store for you. It is not until you let go of any expectations of what the universe has in store for you that you can begin to get a sense of where you are going. And it is not until you give up trying to make it be the way you want it to be that you will learn to appreciate what you actually get.

When you let the universe move you without resistance, you go where you will best gain that which you need.

 

“We own nothing. Nothing is ours. Not even love that burns as bright as baby stars. But this poverty is our greatest gift. The weightlessness of us as things around us begin to shift.”

-Indigo Girls

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjZmyMeCnGQ

the memory game

On the first anniversary of William’s death

I keep finding myself standing in front of the door, pausing, hesitating. I knock and there is no response. There can be no response, I know this to be true, even as I allow myself to knock time and again in memory. I stand there, knocking and waiting, afraid to push the door open because of what I will find there, and what it means to the rest of my life, William’s life, my everything. While that door remains closed, William is like Schroedinger’s cat sealed inside the box, both dead and alive. While I allow my memory to stop here, while I am still afraid, I am almost optimistic. I imagine that on the other side of the door, William is seated at his computer, playing minecraft. Or perhaps he’s lying on his bed, reading a book. I listen in memory at the door, and I know it is silent. There is no clacking of keys on the computer, no flipping of pages of a book. There is not even the sound of a phone opening and closing to read text messages. There is no sound of steady breathing, neither nose whistling nor mouth breathing. Though I can remember all of those sounds at one time or another. I can stand there and imagine that William has simply left, except that I noticed his shoes are all by the front door, and he doesn’t leave the house in bare feet. I can stand there in front of the door and imagine all the possibilities, but I prefer to think that he has merely fallen asleep, exhausted from crying and being angry.

When I do finally allow myself to gently push on the door, it doesn’t budge. Many times William has sat in front of his door when he was angry with me and didn’t want to talk, and especially didn’t want to see me or for me to see him crying. I can pause here and remember the times he has pouted just like this, and how each time before had played out, with my pushing in the door just enough to slip inside and his jumping up to try to push me out the door. The older he got, the more difficult it was for me to get in, and the easier it was for him to push me back out. But the wrestling match that would ensue, once I got the door open usually helped to resolve whatever tension there was between us, as I would make my case as he struggled to move my weight, and often made him laugh in the process. Still, I stand before the closed door in memory, allowing myself these optimistic fantasies.

Eventually I have to tell William to knock it off and open the door. I just want to talk. But, of course, he does not relent. And so I am left with no choice but eventually to push open the door. I can stand in front of it for as long as I like in memory, but eventually I must open the door. The resistance on the other side of the door is great, and I can only get it open a few inches. And I can see his shoulder and arm, and I panic as I realize there is no muscular tension in his arm, that he is not holding the door closed. I yell anyway for him to open the fucking door. And I throw my weight against it. And then it is too late. I cannot unsee or undo what he has done. And, without painful suppression and active distraction, I cannot pause the memory as I am thrown into action.

 

***Trigger warning! Do not click on read more unless you really are psychologically prepared to read about the gory details. I wouldn’t, if I were you. Seriously, do yourself a favor and just leave it.

The point is that I need to stop waiting in front of that door in memory, and allow myself to process the most painful traumatic memories so that they can become less traumatic, less raw, and incorporate them into the rest of my memory. So, on the anniversary of my beautiful William’s death, I am actively allowing myself to remember and feel. And for me, expressing emotions is easier with words because that, in itself, begins the process of abstraction which I desperately need to happen to these traumatic memories.

 

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