Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I'm barely fine.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, please don't ask me how I am. And especially don’t ask how I’ve been. I know you mean well and it's a simple, kind inquiry. Or maybe it's just what you say without thinking with a quick smile, as you rush to your car, or the coffee shop, never really stopping your forward motion because you're not actually trying to invite conversation. As the words come out, you’re already nodding and getting ready to say “Good!” You’re expecting just a quick, simple "Fine, and you?" which is perfect because you're cordial, and nice, but let’s face it, you're also in a hurry. Which I get, I'm not trying to give each person I see at Starbucks a full ten minutes either.

Now, none of this applies to those of you who say to me expectantly "How. Are. You." because you've read my heart and you're sitting down with a full cup of tea, ready to hear it. Because you know that question is for you - and to me - an invitation to let it fly. To you, I can say (and probably have said well before 8:00am or after 10:00pm) that I'm doing pretty well as long as I don't have to say out loud "I miss her."; that I'm shredded and raw and puffy, and I can’t stop eating noodles; that I dreamed of her last night because I heard that song on the radio that reminds me of her and I cried, even though I hadn't cried in two days which I thought meant I was past the crying. And you nod, and wrinkle up your nose, and quietly shush your kids and let them watch a little more TV because you’re listening. And I have loved that lifeline. I have clung to it and will continue to do so, even as weeks turn to months and things get "easier".

I can see that while it's been a very, very sad few months (year?), I should be fine. Better than fine. I mean, tomorrow will mark three months now and shouldn't I be fine? Shouldn’t I be better than fine? I haven't lost an arm or my sight. I haven't just sent someone off to fight in a war. Nobody – thank heavens – has been abducted by pervs or aliens or anybody. I know this in my head, and I recognize my loss isn't unique or special in the realm of Life's Lessons And Loss. I get it. You're born, you live, you die. And yet, I'm still stumbling around off balance. I can steady myself as I go but something is off. My world is officially rocked and as one friend’s note described so perfectly, I am untethered.

I read somewhere that our grief is our love turned inside out. That's why our grief is so big and deep, because our love is too. We know loss is coming and yet in one of life's great miracles and mysteries, we love anyway. We love all the way down into our bones, knowing that we will one day lose, and those bones will shatter along with our hearts, and we will desperately long for that which we can no longer have. Ever. 

We run along like children, skipping in the sun, laughing and loving and fighting and gritting our teeth. We make plans and drinks and memories and dinner and babies. And then one day, suddenly, we find ourselves frozen in the dark.

Or maybe it's not so sudden.

Maybe instead it’s realizing the bright light of life is on a dimmer switch you were too busy – or distracted, or dysfunctional, or afraid – to notice until now. Slowly you're able to take off your sunglasses without squinting, and then as it gets darker, you find yourself nearly holding your breath and straining to make out the figures you see slipping away into the purple, dusky distance. And finally it's pitch black and cold and nobody feels like playing or skipping or laughing anymore, least of all you.

Or me, as it were.

I suppose I always knew it was coming, but especially in the last year or so it became unavoidably apparent that not only could it happen, but it would.

And it did.

And I'm trying to be grateful, and cheerful, and pep talk myself into exercise and smiles and an unclenched jaw, I really am.

And some days I'm okay. Some days I'm even better than fine. I'm rolling along, moving forward, checking all the boxes, and then...boom. A huge iron gate slams shut in front of me with a crash and a wall closes in right behind me (thud) and the realization that she's only in my heart and not in my world anymore takes me by the throat, puts it's cold mouth over mine and inhales me out of myself. The sun is gone and I don't recognize myself because who am I if I am only what's left of her. I've never felt more like a lost, trapped little girl and yet I am also now all grown up.

I still can't catch my breath in those moments. I can't look at my feet or hands without seeing hers. I see her in my freckles and nose and in the way I put on lipstick, and I see her in my daughters.

Some days it's so comforting I want to wrap myself up in it and let it warm me through.

And other days, it leaves me barely fine, stuck between that wall and that gate, with only my unrecognizable self, just trying to breathe without falling to my knees, because carpool and homework and making dinner is hard enough without a complete breakdown attached to it. Seriously, 5th grade math makes me want to cry as it is.

And so when you ask how I am, my real answer is so complicated that it leaves me sputtering through an uncomfortable “Well…? I’m…uh…”. You’ll have to slow your forward motion and miss your coffee date, and really, even if you wanted the whole story, it’s way too much for a passing sound bite. Especially pre-caffeine.

So how about I spare you the awkward silence (and the cold latte) and you spare me the question that used to be so easy to answer. Let's instead just switch it up. Throw me a “Hi...nice to see you.” I’ll take a “Hey, great flip flops.” Possibly, “Good morning, you have spinach between your teeth.” Anything but “How are you?”

Just until I can get past those crashing iron gates.

Or, forever.

Whichever comes first.

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