I wish I could step into the other timeline, now. The one that carries on in movies– the one that comic books are making a killing on. Where even if the hero dies, in a decade or so, a new timeline will emerge. The one where your hero is more like you thought he would be, and overcomes the obstacle with less than a scratch. And the first timeline? The one where he died? Well, that’s just the other timeline, now. It’s not real life. Not anymore.
“We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost…”
The really wonderful thing about grief is also the part that makes you wonder if you are losing your mind. Suddenly, the possibility of alternate timelines seems almost tangible. Afterlife. Resurrection. Marvel. Undoing. Jesus Christ in Hollywood. It would make so much sense. If I could just tap into the pattern, the prayer, the meditation, the loophole that would take me to the secret portal that would drop me into the video game that I could play to get my dead undead again.
I had a friend who loved La-La-Land— the kind of movie where it doesn’t work out, but with a little pluck and a little reframing, the other timeline– the one where the romantic relationship thrived– still somehow endured. Even if in real life it didn’t. Maybe I was a cynic or maybe I was a realist, but I didn’t love the lack of finality. I’m exhausted by options and open doors and maybe’s and what-if’s. I wanted to live my life now. To love what I had.
What I didn’t understand was that my friend, at the time, did not. Stuck in a place of indecision, working back and forth with a woman he wouldn’t love but didn’t want anyone else to love, either, he wanted the option of never having to make a real decision with real lives and real hearts and maybe even real love. Multiple timelines meant no one was ever at fault. And you never really have to choose. Like in the movies.
I was annoyed with my friend at the time. I was angry with his fantasy option while his real life option was treated so carelessly. But I get it now. Grief makes for the most wonderful fantasies. And there are occasional real life casualties.
“…Sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost, and sometimes we take it upon ourselves to burn them to ashes.” —Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk.
My grief timeline is continuing, lately in circles. I’ve exhausted alternate timelines, and my brain is piecing itself back together. But with magic portals closing, I have stepped back into a timeline I’ve already lived. My tiny, beat up heart is roused by songs from my childhood, Bible verses, and stuffed animals that remind me of something younger and older than I am. I am resolutely in the present tense, just like a kid again. I think that my curiosity of things that happened in my childhood is me trying to go somewhere far back enough where she wasn’t there, but I was still happy. Full. Interested in life. Where every moment wasn’t a bleak underside of my life without her.
Time is moving so slowly and so quickly, like as a kid, that I am forced to take things on one at a time again– to be single minded. To introduce new sensations slowly and to linger in them for fear that removing my focus on them will make me lose them altogether. I am treating my senses as though the world is a mystery– as though this coffee cup in front of me has an entire history that I don’t know, and has somehow miraculously made it’s way to my table. Who is to say it won’t be lost as quickly as it appeared?
I involuntarily apply this to everything. Like reading. Or hugging. Or looking at the sky. Or breathing long cool evening air. I can’t even imagine the next part– writing. Sex. Daylight. Summer. It’s all a faint memory and a dark future at once. And if I try to cram in the next with the now, it tips my already sensory overloaded heart– the one so full already– and the acid pus of grief spills to the rest of my body, burning. And then my eyes leak again. My throat burns. So I am forced to stay in the very much now.
This is the wonderful and terrible thing about grief. I am a child. And a child can never comprehend how much growing up is left to do. Only the long and short of right now. Like a kid, even when presented with the next, if it’s too soon, I can’t hear it. I can’t see it. I resent it, or I block it out. I cringe. I turn my head. I recoil. I can’t embrace what I’m not ready for.
But then this. It is daylight again. I am watching my fingers type on a keyboard. It is raining in Tulsa and I ordered coffee without crying. I thought of her yesterday and didn’t feel the pang, anymore. And she was not in an alternate timeline of resurrection, romping over a rainbow bridge. Neither was she slumped on a gurney while I signed a paper with euthanasia in the title. It was just a regular memory of her. I didn’t feel her close or far away. I must be growing up. The timeline, it seems, has started again.