I walk swiftly out of a room and pause.
My finger tips twitch – like the tail of a cat, like typing on a phantom keyboard, like…
I walk back into the room and sit.
I was raised by my parents to question authority and institutions. Or rather – they modelled it, punk rock kids turned into uncomfortable adults, while as parents they encouraged me to play nicely in the world. It’s taken me a few years into my own adult life to identify that sudden electric pulse of resistance that lights up my electrons every time I come across a rule, a form, a chain of command. I resist as a reflex.
You cannot argue with grief. No matter how intrinsically counter-culture, no matter how self-designed a whimsical rogue you may be. Cliches come, unbidden. Everyone’s loss is unique, a matrix of circumstances between two people that create a singular chasm of said and unsaid, of regrets and triumphs, of questions unasked. But grief visits in ways that are humbling in their universality.
It’s not necessarily what it looks like from the outside, per se, but the impulse.
Did you know there’s a ‘club’? There’s a club. They found me before I could recall whose battered membership card I have held for them on rough nights or intimate coffee dates. Like battle-worn nurses in a triage ward, they stepped forward, hands on open wound, applying steady pressure and checking vitals. I send texts. “What’s happening to me?” Mere minutes later they respond, always ready for the call: “You’ll see.”
I caught myself reading Hamlet on the beach. Shakespeare, a true and steadfast friend. Prose so visceral I had to put the book down and look at the thoughtless hot bodies parading on the beach, the exhausted, shrieking children wrestled by haggard parents, the fat seagulls feasting on abandoned fries. How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world. But I’m not one for melancholy. I rolled my eyes at the contrivance of turning to a famous dead father narrative for guidance. I texted a member of the club, looking for a better role model.
I can’t decide if I look older or younger.
I make lists. Is it a Virgo thing? I don’t know. I’m an atheist and a brutal pragmatist, but these days I look up, out, anywhere but inside for some lists and some answers. I buy plants and tend to their mysterious needs, watch their leaves reach for the sun, grow and fade. I download an app that shows me the stars and crouch at my window looking for planets. While trapped at work and spinning out, I make a list of things that I think I would like to do.
- paint toenails
- yoga video
- read for 30 minutes
When I get home, I have forgotten making the list. I lie on my carpeted floor and flip through Hamlet.
It keeps happening. I find myself moving, full force, having just summoned the strength to stand and walk, with no idea where I’m going. A perfect blankness of the mind as the body, a husk ruled by synapses, continues on its path.
Did I mention there are metaphors? There are metaphors.
- Plants: Helping living things to grow
- Cleaning out belongings: letting go of the past
- Astrology: finding a larger order to seemingly random events
There are more but they’re not coming to me right now. Also, some of those are not metaphors.
For someone who makes a living from the things they say (either scripted and memorized, or painstakingly crafted) I’ve been wildly entertained by not being entirely sure what will come out of my mouth at any given moment.
I have a friend who I worked with years ago who would make jokes constantly about their late parent. I found them funny and yet also inherently unnerving. Never sure if they were an attempt at levity, a cry for acknowledgement, or a signal flare for help, I just made sure they knew I was listening, and laughed if I could. Now in their shoes, I realize it’s a tough crowd out there. I am the orchestrator of the suspended drum fill, a creaky silence as my gallows humour swings confusingly in the social atmosphere. A tip for future members of the club – making a dark joke and then yelling “but I’m fine!” is the worst possible way to end your set.
I was barely learning how to be, and now I have to do it all over again. I don’t know anything anymore. I don’t know how to write, how to make food, how to talk to people. Who to forgive, what to forget. The script is blank. The stage directions are crossed out. I’m going from memory now.
I clutch old t-shirts. I turn pictures face down. I light candles. I spend sleepless nights. I cry to my counsellor. I stay home. I make lists. Cliches follow me like the frame of a Hallmark movie, but I am one parent down and no longer afraid of being just like everyone else.
We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
I walk swiftly out of a room and pause.
I take a deep breath, and wait.