Grieving So Far
Nothing really makes sense if you think about it too long.
I’m not a nihilist, but it can be difficult to look back at your life and look forward and realize that no matter what happens in the middle, all of us begin and end the same way. There are some differences, of course. We might enter this world through a C-section as opposed to a vagina. We might be conceived through a surrogate as opposed to our biological mother. Some of us will die in terrible accidents, others at our own hands. No matter what, all of us are born and all of us will die. With this information in mind, how can I not ponder my mortality so much that I forget to live my life?
It’s about to be nine months since my best friend, Reed, died in a car accident. I’ve made something of a spectacle out of my grief, if only because without him, I am desperately missing a certain brand of human contact and connection. It’s not a romantic connection, though that is certainly on my mind. It’s that unqualified understanding; that unquestioning loyalty and affection. I’m not just missing it from him — I miss giving that to someone, too. As a consequence, I embarrassingly announce his death every month on the 8th, reminding everyone that I am a grieving girl, a sad girl, a lost girl. More importantly, I am reminding everyone that he existed, even if they didn’t know him at all.
I have this recurring thought: ‘I am not the girl I was yesterday.’ I first had this thought on November 9 as I was riding the Dartmouth Coach to Boston Logan the morning after Reed died. I’d covered my face with my sweater so no one could see me crying and leaned against the window. I distinctly remember this moment between outbursts of tears when I felt utterly still. I imagine that my mouth hung slightly open and my eyes looked flat and lifeless. The swirling mess in my head stopped for a brief moment and I could hear the rumble of the bus and I realized that something had shifted in me. I was not the girl I was the day before.
The words never change when I revisit the thought. It doesn’t adapt to ‘I am not the girl I was before 8 a.m. on November 8,’ but that is always what it means. ‘Yesterday’ has become ‘when Reed was still alive.’ I know it worries the people who love me. They tell me that it’s understandable, that it’s okay that I still cry about it, but I know part of what I do is unhealthy. I know I shouldn’t allow myself to re-announce his death every single month — I am just so scared of him being forgotten. I am so scared I will be the one to forget him.
My grief has manifested in a few things. The first was a haircut, my first in years. It didn’t seem like much, probably; my hair went from my the bottom of my shoulder blades to just above shoulder-length. To me, though, it was a dramatic decision. It just felt right.
The second thing my grief has produced is actually multiple things: songs. I haven’t had a chance to write much music in the past couple years. Not good music, at least. Nothing completely on my own. In the past nine months, I’ve written about ten, and they’re all about him. My best friend says it’s a part of my grieving, that he can see me processing my emotions through the songs and poems I’ve shown him. They almost feel like gifts from Reed, albeit ironic ones. I’d never been able to write a good enough song to show him while he was alive, and now I’m writing my best stuff because he is gone.
The third thing is a tattoo on my right arm, the most recent manifestation of my grief. It’s a night scene with the moon, mountains, trees, and a single black buck; all within the shape of an arrowhead. Despite my love of this tattoo, I still have a hard time accurately articulating what the design means, even to myself. I know the deer is Reed; I know I chose an arrowhead because he collected them and that’s something his mom connects with me in some way. I also know there is another level to both of those things. The deer is alone, and I think part of me sees it as waiting for me. The arrow signifies direction, purpose, clarity, connection to the Earth. Every piece of it is him and the things we gave each other at different times.
I am not looking forward to the one-year anniversary of his death. I am also not looking forward to his birthday on the 17th of this month. I don’t want to think about how he should be turning 24 and I should be with him, celebrating with him for the first time. I don’t want to have to think “Reed has been dead for one whole year”. I don’t want to eventually have to tell someone, “He was my best friend. He died five years ago,” when they ask who the man in the framed pictures is on my walls or why my future daughter’s middle name is Reed.
I think the worst part of grief is the unwillingness to face that future with something so glaringly absent from it. I think about eventually maybe getting married one day and my immediate reaction is a sense of revulsion. I get angry with myself for thinking I could ever marry without Reed here to see it (or be the one I marry, because the brain and heart have ways of making you mourn things that weren’t there). No matter how beautiful and bright the future I construct is, I still hate it the moment I remember Reed isn’t in it. I am angry that my future children won’t meet uncle Reed, so I wonder what the point is in having children at all.
In the same way that life doesn’t make sense to me, death doesn’t. What is the point of all these atoms coming together in a miraculous display of life if these bodies are so easy to destroy and decay? Why is it so easy to kill something so beautiful and full of potential?
I really am not the same girl I was yesterday. In the past nine months, I have grown and changed so much despite feeling stuck and stagnant in grief. I moved to Oklahoma, started a job in early childhood education, bought a car that promptly died on me, left everything behind to more comfortably become this new person. I wanted to kill myself and got help for it for the first time. I spent five days in inpatient care, coloring and watching TV and writing page after page after page about the storm inside me until it became clear enough to see through. I’m on three medications to try and combat this constant self-hatred and inexplicable misery. Surprisingly enough, it’s working.
Grief is tiring. I’ve lost sense of time and space. November feels like last week, yesterday feels like days ago, five minutes passes like an hour, hours flash by in seconds. I can’t tell you exactly what I’ve productively done with my time in the past nine months, but I can tell you the self-destructive shit I’ve been up to, the movies I’ve watched, the Fleetwood Mac songs I’ve listened to countless times, the moment I discovered Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and found peace within it.
Grief has allowed me, for the first time, to be selfish. I moved to Oklahoma only thinking about myself. When I look at my future, it is for myself, despite how much I hate doing so. Being without Reed has helped me understand what he wanted for me, funnily enough. It has helped me understand that my happiness is mine, even if it will never be pure or unblemished. I will always have this ghost beside me (within me, behind me, ahead of me, etc.,) and I will always have this trauma and grief in my mind, warping my thoughts and potentially sabotaging everything I do. I won’t pretend that it isn’t disheartening. I won’t pretend like I’ve magically had a realization that has brought me acceptance. I am still stuck in this grief.
But maybe as I continue trying to move forward, I can figure out a safe way to carry it with me.