Month: February 2018

Alternative Timelines: On Presently Dealing.

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.

Corpse Pose: On Unashamed Public Grief.

“It’s embarrassing,” I told Danielle.  I was sitting in a parking lot in Albuquerque, my Someone inside the laundromat so I could have a couple of lone hours in our camper to talk to someone outside of ourselves.  “This is the embarrassing part of grief.  The kind that’s still there.  It’s embarrassing that I am still so sad,” I said.

I am still sleeping with that stupid dog’s smelly blanket in my bed.  I am still jangling her collar on harder days.  I am full to the brim with tears, and the wrong swing of my head erupts my eyes with them.  There’s a big brown dead dog sized pressure in my throat.  And now, I am angry, too.  This isn’t the cute and cuddly sort of sad that has me wrapping myself hungrily in my Someone’s arms.  It’s not the kind with Ben & Jerry’s new vegan ice cream in my lap watching Old Yeller or Megan Leavey.  This is the brutal part where the amount of shit on his side of the bed is suddenly unmanageable and taking over all of the space in the entire camper and MY ENTIRE LIFE.  It’s the kind of grieving that strikes a match on a gasoline trail toward my Someone.  A trail I leaked myself.  It’s the kind of grieving that is eating its own tail becoming angrier that I am still so angry.

“It’s been three months!” I said.

“It’s only been three months,” Danielle said.

It’s only been three months.

“After seven years,” she added.

I felt my anger subside.  Tears again.  This old hat.

Two weeks before, I was on the winning side of my losing cycle.  I had answers.  They looked like this:

  1. eating.
  2. doing yoga.
  3. breathing.
  4. petting my dog.
  5. drinking water.
  6. no thinking.

Armed with these forces, I was prepared to finally let go.  I was going to stop my crying.  I was going to be happy.  I was going to forget my dead dog.  I was going to take a yoga class.

I found one in Alamagordo, New Mexico.  This is a town of in betweens, a dusty monologue between the exclamation of high rolling mountains on one side and White Sands National Monument on the other– where the dunes are a perpetual hot winter snowscape.  And in the middle of the town, we found a perfect Walmart parking lot spot where our front door opened to a makeshift backyard,  just over the fence from a yoga studio.

Hannah was warm and welcoming and curious and calm.  In a small room of strangers, she instructed us to breathe.  She instructed us to find space somewhere.  She instructed us to think of a place we need space, and to breathe space there.  I placed Butter in my mind.  And then, I told her goodbye.  Go on, get out of here, I willed her, I don’t need you anymore.  My best attempts at White Fanging her weren’t working, but I was persistent through the practice.  I was going to let this dog go.

By the time we hit savasana an hour later, that damn dog was panting in the front of my mind.  And it was in savasana, also known as corpse pose, that it occurred to me for the first time: it’s only been three months.  Hannah reminded us to breathe again– to evaluate the place we needed space, and to accept the space.

“Spend time every day breathing space in.  Be intentional,” Hannah coaxed.

Every day.  Every.  Day.

Maybe in living with grief, just like living with people, it would get easier to co-exist if I just acknowledged it was there.  At the very least, it would make it less awkward.  Less shuffling and pretending and more eye contact.

I began breathing life into my grief instead of around it.  I let myself be sad.  I started crying onto my mat.  I didn’t flinch.  And then I felt something move in me that hadn’t been there before.  I felt the claws of this grief roommate untangle and uproot.  It felt less stagnant.  It seemed to be transforming from a heavy oak bureau in the middle of my chest to a floating ball of mud.  More messy, but less mysterious.

What was I thinking?  I didn’t want to be separated from Butter.  I wanted to be closer.  And I can’t be closer to her if every time I think of her I cry.  I can’t breathe life– I can hardly breathe at all– into our relationship if I’m always pushing it down or crying out the window quietly while we drive through a dark New Mexico sky.  It’ll rot my insides.  And she didn’t rot me at all.  Why would I have her do that to me now?  Why would I make her the villain?

It happens the same time every night.  And it was time to engage with it.  The grief.  Otherwise the sadness leaks into dreams which leak into mornings which soon will take over not just my days, but weeks.  Then years.  Then my life.  I began rolling up my mat.  There is no end in sight.  No goal.  Just breathing.  Just trying not to rot.

But the first step is to not be ashamed that I am so fucking sad.

“Mallory?  Can I show you something real quick?” Hannah said, “I think you are maybe hyper-extending your Downward Dog.”

You don’t know the half of it, lady.

It’s working, but it’s also not working.  Which makes me think that I am recovering at exactly the speed that I am recovering.  That’s the thing about grieving.  You can’t hurry it.

But I am also learning that while I can’t stop grieving, I can say that I’m sorry to my Someone after I lash out.  And now, sometimes, I can even keep from lashing out.  I can call my friend and tell her “I am so sad” and not have to add “still.” I can even, on some nights, talk to the night sky and almost catch the feeling of that missing big brown dog nearby.  The floating mud ball of grief keeps rotating and splattering around, but it might be getting smaller to make space for her.  She was never one to keep her paws clean, anyway.  So I think she feels welcome here.