A Casualty of Death: Friendship and the woman I loved like a sister

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I have this friend…or had this friend. She was beautiful and spontaneous and alive with philosophy and theories and spiritual prose. We knew each other when our kids were really young…when we were really young, actually.  And we weren’t alone. There was a whole posse of us single moms-raising our kids on a dime, buying clothes from thrift stores with minimum wages from whatever-job-we-had-at-the-moment, having drinks at the beach while our kids played in the shallow waters.   By all accounts, this friend and I, despite the fact that most of our interactions/in depth conversations were had with a drink in hand, we kind of lifted each other up. We expected more from each other than the other single mothers our age.  Maybe we felt like we had made some bad choices along the way but we knew we were smart enough to beat the odds.  Maybe we thought that if “she did it, I can too” and that was all the reason to keep trying. Or maybe we were both just great pretenders….

Regardless, we had been through just about everything two friends could go through.  We saw each other love and lose it and love again. We congratulated each others’ children as ardently as we did each other on accomplishments, and we embraced when family and other friends were not as present or understanding.  Above all we always, always recognized the strength we had as women, as friends and as mothers to overcome whatever muddled situations we’d put ourselves in. We vowed to each other we’d rise to the top and not only achieve our respective goals but we’d look good doing it.

We had lofty goals and expectations for each other.  We would get nice jobs with benefits and feed our kids organic food from Farmers Markets and philosophize and talk about art projects. We would contribute in a real way to the community. We would travel and show our kids the world!  We would be old friends in wheelchairs chasing old men with canes at the Sunnyside Nursing Home. (We loved to joke about how that would play out.  Old and wrinkled but still young at heart. Chasing tail as earnestly as we had chased our youthful dreams.) We would be real, good, and true.  We would overcome together- Always, somehow together. Sisters of the slums we’d put ourselves in.  And perhaps that was the difference between us and the others. We had embraced the struggle. This path, for us, was somehow escapable because we were never really meant to be there in the first place. But the sad truth is that we never really made it out…not together, anyway. Somehow we failed at the end and it feels like something bigger than the death that tore us apart. Leaving her where she is, feels harder than watching him float away.  The man I loved died but the woman I compared myself to is still there is still there, clinging to that ledge.

This friend I had once was beautiful.  Did I say that already? Well it’s so true that it should be said twice. Her beauty radiated so brilliantly that I never really questioned her. Someone that beautiful and knowledgeable and charismatic could not possibly have malice or delusion. She was after all, nicknamed The Truth.  And that’s how I knew her once. True. Honest. Real.

After all those years together- those pee-our-pants laughs and “aha” moments, and cheers for each other and hugs and kisses for our children….. My dear friend became lost to me.  It could possibly be my fault and it could also have nothing to do with me at all, but she began to fade away the day my boyfriend died.

She held him for a long time. He was already dead, but they were sort of stuck together –her treading water, clinging to a ledge, trying not to give him up to the current, trying not to let him go. HIM- this dead man she clung to for a long time.  I think she held on for me. I think she held on for my children.  Because that’s how close we were. We would have done anything for each other.  Blood sisters. Prick our fingers, jump in front of a bus.  As long as you’re ok, I’m ok.  Best Friends. And we would have done those things because everything we had, we had struggled together to acquire.  So while my other son, a child she’d known since he was just a baby, struggled to find his way out of the current, with my dead boyfriend in her arms, a man she’d watched me slowly but surely fight to fall in love with, she prayed and begged God or the Universe or whomever/whatever she could channel.  She pleaded with the sky “not do this to her” and I have no doubt that her desperate, genuine pleas for my son to live helped him find his way out. There is not a moment more real and more true than her terror that I might not be ok if my son didn’t make it out. There is no other friend who could possibly have understood what the loss of my child -whom she’d essentially helped me raise-what his death -could have meant to me and therefore no greater plea I could have asked for than hers in those moments.

After Jason was taken away, minutes and hours and then days and weeks passed with our fingers intertwined.  Watching me through windows, across a room, through puffs of endless cigarette smoke, she waited there, treading water.  She was right there.  She was with me as I tried to learn to breath and crawl and walk and run again.  The honest moments, the tried and true friendship, the concern for our families and our goals and our sanity. The Truth was still there….but I think barely. Faintly.  She was holding on, but the rocks were starting to get slippery and her grip was beginning to loosen.  She was clinging to something that had quite possibly died a long time ago- something that was extinguished by the same water she treaded in. As we began to crawl out and away from the waterfall where he died, she was was somehow still there in those waters. Still there with him dead in her arms.

I don’t know what happened after the third month. It’s probable that the more I started to run from the ledge the further I ran from her, from my past.  It’s possible.  We were all changed. We were all running a little. Trying to make sense of it all in our own way, yet still- always, together. But there was something not quite right about her anymore.  She was so vigilant that she was almost paranoid. So zeroed in she was almost unaware of anything but those final few moments on the rocks and in the water. After seeing it was possible to lose something – someone- some life- every moment and every anchor…she sort of seemed to let it all go.  And I was so consumed by finding myself again that maybe I let her slip away.  She was right there but it’s possible that her Truth and mine no longer made any sense.  And you see, it’s equally possible that I had no choice but to let her fall behind.  There was no room for self doubt in my world. I was alone with two kids now. I couldn’t start my day without vomiting at the thought of it.  It was just me left to carry them up over that ledge and I had to trust that the direction I was leading them in made sense to me. I had to trust in my own truth.  And as I discovered what that meant to me, the more blurred hers seemed.

One day, she’d fabricated some story about me sleeping with her fiance. She’d said it repeatedly to me via text, but would never have a conversation over the phone or in person. It wasn’t true. Not even close to true. But I think she did it to get away from me too- from herself, from her past, her own truths.  She blocked me from her social media.  She cut me off, completely. This friend of mine, this sister, this truth I knew, told me to go away- made up a lie and I was forced to accept it.  And my need to mentally overcome this loss and rebuild my family took precedence over my need to clarify and shake her and smack her and TELL her to be ok- for us, for her, for me, for everyone else.  My need to survive this left little room to fight her while I moved forward.

She has become a casualty.  And it’s not because she couldn’t make it.  It’s because she’s violent and vicious and a liar and we’re all a little too fragile to make her understand.  The Truth I once knew, is now knotted and hurtful and cruel and angry and …. a lie.  How ironic. And the cruelest part about her now is that she stands where he lay dead in her arms and she thwarts every attempt we make to climb away.  She’s down there in those muddied waters, screaming and hurling mud at every one who passes by. Telling stories, fables to anyone who will listen.  Making claim to a person and their feelings post mortem.  She’s clinging to a ledge he would never want her to hold in the first place. She holding a solitary, painful truth in her hands and it’s slipping through her fingers and it is as fluid and dirty and real as the mud her treading, tired, feet will never touch. She holds on to this place and gnashes and gnarls her fearsome teeth.

I feel that as she held my dead lover in those final moments I will forever hold her dead truth. And because she held him and because I loved her once, one day- when I have my strength again- I will go where other people won’t.  I will go back there and unloose her wrinkled hands, and her tired, treading feet and I will calm her gnashing gnarls and I will tell her that she can do this. I will show her that I can and so she can too. Because she is only stuck there on that ledge.  This can’t possibly be my dear friend’s fate.  We will laugh about this and philosophize and dream in sync…this friend I had once.

My only truth now is that we all make it out together. And she’s still in there. So one day, I will have to go back.

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Brother Love

The boys are in the living room playing a video game when I hear:

Younger Bother to Older Brother: “You don’t love me.”

Older Brother:  “Come here and I’ll show you a trick to tell you if I love you.”

(I’m in the kitchen letting this play out, but terrified that this is a set up!)

Younger Brother cautiously makes his way over to his Older Brother.

Older Brother: “Ok. Feel my heart. Do you feel that?” (Y.B. nods) “If you can feel it beating, then that means I love you.”

playing-ds1

A poem for the working mother

If I were a stay at home mother, I’d give BJs like no other.

The house would be clean, dinner cooked. “Here Schnookums, sit down, relax with a book.”

If I stayed home, the kids would be sweet. They’d fight over nothing. Their rooms would be neat.

I’d dress them in clothes you’d know I’d made by hand. Each little collar would have stitched a “domestic” brand.

The things I would do if I were home all day long!

I’d bake pies and cookies and have weekly meal plans. We’d have HBO, Netflix and of course, On-Demand.

I’d wait for your paycheck on bated breath. The thought of your cock would always make me wet.

If I were a housewife your life would be great! You’d be adored and respected. For sex- you’d never wait.

But sadly for you, I’m a working mother. I clock out of one job and start in on another.

No BJs for you ’til everything’s done. And who am I kidding? Sometimes, you take forever to cum.

The dishes are stacked high, the dog peed on the rug.  You want your dick sucked? Well, I need a hug.

I work all day and I hate every minute. But the kids need shoes and clothes and food. So I’m in it to win it.

When we were first dating, I promised the world but having a job has jaded this down home girl.

I’m sorry my darling,

Most days you’re forgotten and saved until last.  “Tonight if you wash the dishes, you can put it in my ass.”

*ding

Saved by Science

My 6 year old asked: “Mom, can I have some more of that delicious fruit?”

I was astonished that my picky eater -who typically only wants seconds of anything that’s orange and glowing so brightly it can be seen from outer space- wanted more of a healthy snack.  I enthusiastically (and maybe a bit frantically) started cutting up another piece of fruit!

6 yr Old: “Who made Kiwi’s, anyway?”

{If I say something like nature -as in the earth -as in it’s good for you, will it deter him? Think fast-what would my mom have said?}

“Hmmm.. God,” I say with a little smirk.

Pointing to the seeds, he says, “God? God made these? Where did he find these tiny nuts?” 

My 11 year old, sitting in the living room remarks, “God?! HAHA- I’m going with the Big Bang theory on this one.”

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Pressure’s a good thing, right?

I need to write. It feels great to have had a little momentum: posting consistently and getting some great, positive feedback.  In an attempt to feel like I’m being good and actually working on this, I have resisted the impulse to scarf episodes of the new Orange is the New Black, browse reddit, scroll facebook, stall on the phone with friends…

But despite my best efforts, I can’t concentrate for the life of me and as a result I have 5 tabs open with five words here and two paragraphs there- including the post I promised for today: Fifty Shades of Widow Grey (Round 2). {see https://thewintermakersbelt.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/fifty-shades-of-widow-gray-round-1/ if you’re interested}

I thought music would help get me in the groove, but my music has gone from streaming Pandora to YouTube and inevitably on to google searches about the song/artist i’m listening to  : /

I guess the lesson here is that you can’t make the mind do what the mind don’t wanna do…

IMG_1220 And then there’s this guy….Ok- I might have browsed online a little bit 🙂

Guilty pleasures

I don’t know what’s possessed me, but I’ve decided to spice things up around here and secretly wink at each boy individually whispering “favorite” while pointing to him. Hahahaha!! They each blush and smile and eventually one tells the other that their my favorite and they fight over it! They buy it every time! I need a hobby! Freud would have a field day with this :/

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Meanwhile….

…..In tweeny, book report, twilight land:
Me to my 11 yr old son: Ok. I’ve reviewed your rough draft.  You should be proud of yourself! There’s a lot here you can use! I did make some corrections and just a warning, this is not a copy and paste scenario. You will have to develop more of your original thought where you see an asterisk.
Him- blink blink
Me-a little red star
(still staring at me)
(I start again- slowly and clearly) You know?  I didn’t write everything for you. It’s not all grammatical changes. My notations are prompts for you to embellish what you’ve started writing.
Him- I don’t understand.
Me- You. Will. Need. To. Think. And. Add. More. Words.
He rolls his eyes and walks away.
I crack a beer and mutter “good talk” while I finish dinner.
That’ll do Merica. That’ll do.

fao schwartz

The Reckoning

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I don’t know when I started to lose control but it was just around the one year mark when I realized it had happened and I was shocked at how hard it hit me. I had been so strong for so long. For most of the year I had been open and honest about my feelings. I was frequently checking in with the boys- who in turn seemed to be honestly and commendably expressing themselves.  I was determined and people said countless times how strong we were. I was validated. 

By December, I was writing, running regularly, losing weight and feeling pretty independent and capable. Yes, I might have been drinking a little too much and there were plenty of sad, drool and snot filled cries on the kitchen floor..  But I was also dancing in my kitchen at night and felt proud of the grip on reality we had developed. We had survived. We had faced something terrible but it wasn’t beating us.  But the strings that were holding me together unraveled without my even noticing. As the one year mark approached, I became more and more unbalanced and started feeling the weight of my entire body and I began to droop-like a sad, lonely puppet. All of it- the running, the healthy food, the sex, the “holy shit, we’re actually doing this and doing it really well” -All of it was erased from present consideration and became, very clearly,  some part of “the first year.” I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I had been held up by my will to be ok, to make this ok for my kids…and then all of a sudden, without notice…all of my weight fell to floor with the strings, mocking the term “widow” in a loose web out around me.  Productivity had been replaced with anxiety and anxiety was now replaced by anger and self loathing.

Some days I could barely get dressed.  I sleep in yoga pants a lot, so I’d roll out of bed and throw a dress on over my pants, straighten my bangs, throw some crap in the lunch bags…and we were off for another endless day. I’d become addicted to the sleep between snoozes. It felt to me how I imagine heroin feels…dozing in and out of consciousness…coddling the newly developed disdain I had for following structured time. The only belief I held firmly to was that time wasn’t a thing I cared about anymore. It didn’t apply to me and my life anymore. I was falling asleep at my desk at work.  The phrase “I’m depressed” started sneaking out from my lips in casual conversation with family and friends and once I became comfortable with the sound of it in close company it was as if the words were jumping from a sinking ship or out of a burning building. I started using it in casual conversation with parents and coworkers. “I woke up at 4 am and just laid there awake…I think I’m depressed.” “I started smoking cigarettes again…I think I’m depressed.” “No, I can’t make it tonight, I’m too depressed.” There was no hiding this.  And really, I didn’t want to.  I’d become the sad stories I’d heard about over the first months: The wife who’s husband died and she couldn’t get out of bed. The mother who was never really there for her kids. The friend who couldn’t listen to anything but her sad, lonely heartbeat at social events. Everything was noise to me. Laughter was a cheap thrill- Escaped breath exuded by unwitting fools. But I’d developed my own cheap thrill… completely freaking people out when asked how I was doing.

I’d been asked this question a lot over the span of months- “how are you?”  It had been used as kindling for a thousand conversations in both earnest and passing encounters. In the beginning, I was so grateful that people cared and thankful for their support that I never really paid much attention to the question. There were only a handful of times my reply was anything other than a thoughtful, albeit, cautious…”Ya know? We’re really doing ok.”  I guess I always thought the second half of that reply was obvious: “… Considering my boyfriend drowned in front of us and my other son almost died, himself… I mean, the fact that I’m not in a straitjacket and they’re laughing and playing means we’re really making it work, right?”  (check out: https://wordpress.com/post/84570752/20/) Right?…..But everything was a little different now. I would get a little giddy when someone unknowingly stumbled into my black widow web with that peppy little question – “How are you doing?”  My eyes, widened and the hair raised on my arm… “Well Susie, not fucking great, to be honest. Between my kids, the bills, my damn dog and having to carry her bags of shit up and down the street EVERY SINGLE time she has to crap…things are really not going well for me. There’s that job I hate (check out: https://wordpress.com/post/84570752/41/), summer camps to pay for and parent teacher conferences that only I can attend.” And just as they’d start to leave, I’d seal the deal so they’d never ask me that stupid, Betty Crocker question again.  “I’m fucking exhausted. Susie. I need to sleep for a month. I need one day in your cookie cutter life where your biggest problem is that the crazy widow lady scared you speechless when you asked her how she was doing.”  People stopped asking, started avoiding eye contact, quickly clearing space for me to pass.  I wanted it that way. “Back off.” I reveled in the thought that maybe I was their worst nightmare. Someone who made them all hold each other a little closer at night. Black eyeliner, black nail polish, black dress over black yoga pants…paint it black. Paint the fucking town black.

That resolve I’d had for so long to make it to a year was waning as the year was coming to a close. Everything was happening backwards. This wasn’t how I was supposed to feel at a year. This should have been happening in the first few months.  Moping and going way too long before showers. I had completely grown out my armpit hair- and everything else with it.  “What’s the point?”  Along with my health, my nearly non existent social and sex life, the laundry became the main casualty- with baskets stacked at the end of the bed and piled at the bottom of the stairs and crumpled on closet floors. Our diet was strictly frozen food, sprinkled with packaged cookies and whatever fruit was on sale at Shaws. The bills, the dog, the recycling. In a short time, my life had become a Shel Silverstein poem. “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out.”  And why the fuck would she? She was depressed. Bitter glares at couples walking down the street and sad, long stares out my window at the river…feeling my ass grow and fit the shape of my chair at work…when I bothered showing up.  I had started taking a day off a week. Sometimes sleeping until noon and sometimes driving an hour to have really dirty (50 shades-of-widow-grey) sex with this guy I’d met online. I was spending money I didn’t have on cigarettes and beer. I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.

Just a few days ago my boss, and friend, asked how I was doing. I like her so instead of trying to terrify her I told her I really didn’t want to get into it. She pressed with “well, how are you doing as a single parent?”  My bottom lip quivered and my scary, bitter, too-young-to-be-a-widow mask started to wash off my face. My tough girl facade smeared and collected in black, smudgey stains on my shirt. After all the time I’d spent applying it, it was a little unnerving to see it so easily wiped away.  I cried through explanations of past due bills and anxiety over summer camps and rent and the recent loss of sanity, security and hope. I NEVER do this. I may not like my job, but I respect the fact that it’s employment and haven’t broken down like that at work…well, ever. I left and went home. curled into a ball, in the middle of the afternoon and cried myself to sleep. I woke up an hour later, panicked, trying to understand how- after 369 days, I didn’t have a better grip on this.

I mean, really what had changed? The past few weeks, people have been reaching out, trying to help me-aware that this time might be difficult-even when I didn’t see it coming.  And they’re the same people who have been there all along. My kids are struggling and muddling through their emotions, but that’s nothing new and really, not exclusive to “children of grief”–that’s part of being human and growth.  Yes, we’re going to start therapy, but I kind of knew in my heart it would take them this long to get to a place where they needed different tools for coping and moving on.  My job hasn’t changed-maybe my desire to be there and the realization that life’s too short to loathe 8 hours of every day, but the job itself hasn’t changed. The bills are the same, I’m just tired of being in debt. And that question- “How are you?” That’s been there from the first few hours after Jason died and it’s weaved it’s way through a myriad of conversations and yielded a variety of responses and reactions. So what has really changed? Why was I losing it? 

The answer was simple and clear to me when I finally let go of the facade and put down the black paint. When I finally voiced that I wasn’t happy -not with something that had happened to me. Oh I had become very comfortable with expressing the loss of the person, the father, the friend, the love. I had done everything I needed to do with the unhappiness of circumstance. I had owned it and smashed it against a wall and I had wallowed in it. I had defeated it and It wasn’t mine anymore.  But now it’s not about my grief or the shock of it all.  Without knowing it, all these months of moping, I was scared of myself.  All of the decisions and plans-they are no longer ours.  And the time for being sad about the loss of it had come to an end and I can’t blame the state of my life on the loss of my love or my dismembered family.  Beyond the loss of a person and the sadness that that evokes, I was unhappy with a choice I had made and stuck with for years. My job. My path. My life choices before and now after “grief.” The decision to move forward and how to do that was mine and I couldn’t blame the results on anything other than my own motivation or talent.

I’m changing but in order to do that, I have to say goodbye to the grief. So… Adios grief-you saucy betch. It’s been real. It’s time to put you down and take ownership of my life. I have to step up my game, go to work, make money where I can, and start putting energy into what I want to do with my future and my family. It’s time to write 🙂