Grief, best expressed like sh*tting.
My mother ditched the stay-at-home-mother lifestyle when I was 9. So instead of coming home to some snacks on the table and the sounds of cooking dinner, I left school and came home to an empty house. My sister was at daycare, my dad worked late, and my mom worked even more late — from 7AM to 8PM every day.
In the summers, I passed the time after dinner at the park, pacing back and forth. Counting down the minutes until she was home and I could run back and hug her tightly around the waist. She occasionally bought groceries, meaning she came home at 8:30–8:40PM instead. On those days I’d come home with her nowhere to be found still, and it was definitely not pleasant.
I had mini panic attacks for much of that first year. I assumed every day that she came home was the exception, and on the days she wasn’t punctually back on time, I’d dread the rule had come true. The worst had happened: she was dead, a car accident taking her life, or a stranger with a gun to her head, or a freak accident at work I hadn’t heard of yet. My imagination rendered clingy in the anxious sense; if I didn’t hear from my loved ones, I was sure something had happened to them.
The thing is, the way my best friend Aasav went was not like that. He didn’t just not come home one day. He was trackable when he died on Nov. 5, 2016. He didn’t leave anyone hanging. The manner in which he died hadn’t merited any cause for worry. Oh yeah, he was home. He just didn’t stay there in the way we all wished.
The day I found out, a figurative wind carried the news into my life, like a physical force slamming into me, t-boning me in the middle of the Chelsea Market in New York as I paid for a necklace with my home state on it. As I heard the most horrifying news I’d probably hear for a long time, staring at the cashier with my mouth in a comically horrified “O,” grief itself became a physical filter, as if you couldn’t hear anything except through a hollow, echo-y chamber. It became a sensation, your head lifting off your body for a second, just like that for hours on end, uncontrollably.
I tend to go through life calculating the costs and benefits to feeling certain emotions. I’ve become very rigid and controlled over the years, never saying something I believe I’ll regret greatly. I try to model the same approach with my feelings, not letting myself delve too deep into vulnerability.
But now I couldn’t help it. I needed other people there. My independence was gone, with a newfound need to word vomit, “my best friend is gone,” when people asked how I’m doing. I find it too awkward to lie, but have just as hard of a time hearing the afflicted sputter, “wow, I’m so sorry.” I’ve always had honesty as my best policy for making conversation. Now, I have to reckon with feeling like a burden with the people who’ve insist I’m not one.
To alleviate the guilt and tell myself I’m dealing with it, I’ve had to take off a lot of my own restraints. Just as I had to let myself buy that cross-country plane ticket for the funeral, I have to remind myself I’m human and it’s okay to lose control.
Just as sometimes I must clench my bowels and run to the bathroom without warning, now, without warning, I must let it all out. Just like taking a sh*t, I must occasionally let out a furious wail, sometimes run the back of my hand across my eyes, lean my back against a wall and throw my head back, tears subtly tricking down my cheeks as I let confusion and pain overcome me for a few seconds.
And just as sh*ts and tears come furiously, usually relief can come just as quickly. And it’s like that figurative gust of wind carries regular life back to me.
But I’m not always relieved at the re-emergence of regular life. Sometimes I feel guilty, so I just relive the incoherency and helplessness I felt when I first heard the news I’d needed my friend to repeat.
And in those moments, I’ll need to randomly take the biggest, stinkiest shit because what I’m dealing with still is shit. It’s shit I can’t figure out, it’s shit I can’t get out faster, it’s shit I can’t do anything but rub my stomach and pray to god the emotional constipation passes faster.
Over the years, Aasav gave me sour patch kids, orange sodas, and pep talks as his hallmark gifts. They became recurring jokes in our friendship, secret loving gestures we shared, and even now he might have joked that at least his tragic death was his best gift. Now I’d have material for think pieces forever.
If I’m lucky, as the crying stops, I’ll remember more of what his voice sounds like, and I desperately cling onto that. I can still imagine his reaction to all of this, a “shit happens, mang” blasé reaction about his own death, his sympathetic but smug look at his best friends. Telling us that yes, this was a hard event we had to go through, but we’d be all the worse if we didn’t let him go and keep living life.
This meta-humility makes me miss him more.
“You’re traumatized, Crystal,” people must remind me. Am I? I assume they’re wrong because, I laughed today, I ate today, I thought about things that weren’t Aasav and the impact he left on me, how could I possibly be traumatized if I can carry on 90% of my daily life?
It’s the 10% that’s left a hole in my soul. I used to think that I could pretend Aasav was studying abroad, but forever, and couldn’t be bothered to contact me. It made sense in some versions of reality — because he and I stopped talking every day years ago, I could pretend.
But when I examined what ‘forever’ looked like, I didn’t like it.
I’m held hostage by grief, a new Friend I didn’t want to make. Everything constantly feels amplified — any emotion, whether it be happiness, anger, sadness, frustration, curiosity, and then it will go back to a dull equilibrium of, “Aasav is dead.” There was nothing that could change the big, fat Fact blocking my consciousness from flying free. The only person who’d probably ever 100% understood me no longer walked this earth. I’ve had insomnia for the first time in a decade, feeling like the bed felt emptier, the world colder, my insides more numb.
Personal loss paired with grief during this election has also been a strange thing. It is either a distraction or exacerbates it.
I’ll get in a heroic mood and feel good about helping someone process their fear and despair. That’s something I can control in the life I’m still living, I think. Aasav would be proud.
Then there’s the other days, where I’d probably be burned for thinking such ‘problematic’ thoughts. Every day, I hear people fear for their lives on their newsfeeds. Some days, I sympathize with them. Others, I want to shake many of them and scream, “you’re upset about shit that hasn’t happened to you yet! You’re raging about a possibility, a fate you can still prevent!” I have come to abhor resigned helplessness, because so long as you are alive and well, you stand a good fighting change of seizing the day, carpe diem or whatever, because it’s not too late for you.
Regardless of how I feel about external events, I’m starting to suffer a bit from the paranoid compulsion again though. Thirteen years later, it’s not limited to my mother — it doesn’t discriminate with who’s doing the dying. If I don’t hear from any of my friends after sending a message, I’ll randomly find myself choking down worry, fighting an urge to double text, “hey, you got home safe okay, right?” a feat that would’ve once seemed silly. But in those moments, anxiety washes over me because I cannot lose someone again. Again. Life has conditioned me to masochistically salivate at more drama, more pain, more uncertainty that it all just doesn’t make sense, to expect it.
I understand why people run from grief. Going toward it doesn’t change anything. You can’t understand death by analyzing the past. You can’t promise you can prevent death by changing your behavior.
All you can do is keep letting it out, letting your subconscious and your self digest it, and sh*t it out by crying as much as you can each time. The process repeating day in and day out.
Originally published at crystalduan.com on November 24, 2016.