Hope is the thing with feathers

1221 pic 2

The 21st happened.  I am still here.  It was a hard and soft day.  Hard in the moments when I missed Tony so much that my heart hurt.  Hard when I thought back and could feel every sensation of that Friday night a year ago: the cold concrete steps under me as I sat waiting for the police to break in and find Tony’s body, the warmth of Sheri’s car as I talked to the medical examiner and crisis counselor, the harsh bright lights of Bristol Farms where Sheri took me to get something to eat and I stood helpless, unable to remember what it was to eat or to fathom what one might eat after the end of the world.  Wasn’t all the food radioactive?  Wouldn’t it hurt me?  Wouldn’t my body reject it the way it tried to reject this horrible, horrible news?

Hard when I remember emailing Tony’s cousin to ask her to call me in the morning, because I knew I couldn’t give his sister that news over the phone. 

Soft when I hugged my sisters, my mom and my nieces and nephews.  Soft as my eyes took in the beauty of the drive: the tall trees, the snow softly ploshing from them onto the windshield of Stephanie’s car.  Soft when I felt the love of my family and friends, who checked in throughout the day, fold around me like the warmest blanket.

And then there were the other parts, the ones that were messy and unexpected and foggy.  The first place we stopped along the river, we saw no eagles.  The river was breathtaking beautiful, and the cold itself somehow felt right too.  river sidewaysWe stayed a while, soaking in the beauty all around us, and then moved on to another spot near a fish hatchery.  Just as we pulled in, a huge eagle soared right by us.  We were still in the cars, so none of us got a picture, but it was gorgeous and so big and gone so quickly.  After that our only glimpses of eagles were from a long distance and through the fog.  three eaglesEven that, somehow, felt right, because isn’t that what it’s like when we’re grieving?  We are lost in the fog and it feels like we’ll never get out.  But then, somehow, we get a quick glimpse of something beautiful.  It’s far away, or maybe we get a little look at it up close, just for a minute.  But the point is that now we know it’s there.  We know the beauty is still there, and we just need to wait for the fog to clear to be able to enjoy it again.  There’s no way for us to return to the way things were, not exactly; but the beauty is still there, waiting for us to be able to see it.

We finished up at the hatchery and went back to our first location, because I still had something to do.  On my favorite television show of all time, Northern Exposure, there’s an episode that deals with grieving and closure.  The character Maggie is turning thirty, and she’s sustained quite a few losses in her young life.  Another character, Ed, suggests that she go camping and mail letters down the river to those she has lost.  It’s a Native American ritual, as he describes it. 

I wrote a letter to Tony yesterday.  It was not long, and I didn’t keep a copy.  It was for him alone.  I wrote it, and carried it with me.  We worked our way down to the river’s edge and perhaps not surprisingly, even this most simple task ended up being complicated by the presence of a socially inept adolescent boy who wouldn’t take any of our cues that we wanted to be left alone and grilled us incessantly about our mode of transportation and offered up unwanted advice about what we should do.  Even that seemed like a metaphor for the grieving process.  Sometimes we have to put up with a lot of unwanted advice and platitudes along the way.  Finally he wandered off, and I crouched down and kissed the letter and let the water take it.

I’m not done grieving.  I have a long way to go on this river.  The river is carrying my message to him, and it will carry me, too, through the fog.  One day, and there’s no way of knowing when, I will be able to see the river and the trees and the eagles and my own future under sunny skies.  One day.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep swimming.

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In the Bleak Midwinter, Long Ago

snowy road

One year ago tonight I spent my last night with Tony.  I didn’t know that, of course.  How could I?  He didn’t tell me, but I’m sure he knew.  I’m sure he knew because the two weeks preceding his last day were awful in so many ways, most of which I could only understand after he had died.

I haven’t written about this here before, but the day that Tony chose to end his life was one that he picked, I believe, close to a year before he actually did it.  I remember on New Year’s Eve, 2012, he said to me that the world was going to end on December 21st.  The movie 2012 had come out late in 2011, and was about the Mayan calendar.  When Tony said that to me, as he did many times over the course of 2012, I thought it was just because he was fascinated by the subject.  We had a screenplay idea that involved the leader of a doomsday cult, and we had talked about that subject quite a lot.  I didn’t think anything of it; but he did mention it frequently enough that I started to get impatient with him.  It seemed like an excuse for letting things go, not trying as hard to be happy, because hey, the world was going to end anyway and why bother?

I don’t remember him talking about it in the few weeks preceding his death.  What I remember is that he came into my hospital room right before I was going in for my back surgery, and told me that he wanted to separate.   I was on a very strong painkiller called Dilaudid, so my reaction wasn’t as strong as it might otherwise have been.  Nevertheless, I was upset.  A lot of times being married to Tony was very hard work, but I loved him and he was my husband, my friend and my writing partner.  I knew he was sick, but that didn’t stop me from loving him.  I could tell when he came in that he was upset.  I asked him what was wrong, and I’ll admit, I pushed him a little.  I could always tell when he was in a dark place.  He told me, dumped that on me right before they came in to take me to the operating room; and then said, “Well, you asked me!” when I pointed out that it maybe wasn’t the kindest thing in the world to lay that on me right before surgery.

When I got home from the hospital, he didn’t mention it and I didn’t bring it up.  After a few days, he brought it up again.  What I believe now is that telling me that was his way of trying to prepare me for what he was going to do.  He did love me, though, the best way he could; so when I got upset and talked to him about working on the relationship, about getting help, he backed down.  Then he brought it up again after a few days.  Those weeks were so hard for me.  I knew something was wrong, but in spite of his depression it never occurred to me for a second that he was planning his own death.

The last conversation we had about separation happened two days before he died, a Wednesday.  We had a horrible fight.  I remember feeling so desolate, so upset, so shattered.  I was up all night, crying all night.  No amount of concealer could hide my swollen eyes and face.  My coworker Sheri took one look at me when she walked in, and asked me what was wrong.  I confided in her.  She was shocked, because her impression of Tony was one of a loving husband who came in to my office over and over again while my back was hurt to keep me company and sometimes, to sit at my desk and type emails that I dictated to him so I could lie on the floor in a slightly more comfortable position.  She told me she was sure we would work it out, we were such a great couple.  I wanted to believe her, but I was so scared. 

That night, the night of the big fight, Tony tried to give me his video camera, the one I had bought him for Christmas several years earlier.  I didn’t know then that giving away treasured possessions is one of the warning signs of impending suicide.  I was hurt that he didn’t want to keep it.  I refused to take it.  The last thing he tried to give me, and I turned him down.  I had no way of knowing, and there’s no point in wishing that I could go back in time and recognize that as what it was.  Even if I had, even if I had pushed him to get help, chances are good that he would have refused as he did all along, every time I suggested it.

Our last night together was a Thursday.  I had been sleeping in a zero gravity chair I had rented, but that night – in retrospect, it seems like a premonition – I wanted to sleep in the bed with Tony.  I couldn’t sleep on the inside, against the wall, where I usually did, because I had to do a barrel roll to get out of bed safely.  We switched sides – he on the inside, I on the outside.  Through our marriage, even when things were difficult, one of my favorite moments of every day was when we went to sleep and I would curl into his side, my head on his shoulder, inhaling that particular smell that was his alone. 

I reached for him that night.  He pulled away.  As if that would hold my heart together when his was no longer beating, that I didn’t have that one last time to hold him close and listen to his breath and smell him and feel his warmth.

I grieve, but I am still so angry at him.  I know he was sick.  I know that he was in the grip of depression, a disease that lies; and I know that he had other forms of mental illness, too, ones that were never and never will be diagnosed.  What I’ve discovered is that a lot of people, even those who have lost someone to suicide, don’t want to talk about the anger.  We’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead.  I don’t think of this as speaking ill of Tony.  What it is, is speaking truth about him; and he deserves that.  We all deserve it, because in the end, we are all just human.

One. Two. Two. One. One. Two.

December twenty-first is just another day, after all.  One day like any other since he died.  One more day on the calendar.  Just because it happens to be the one-year anniversary of the day he died doesn’t make it different than any other day.  My friend Angela, who also lost her partner to suicide last year, told me that last weekend while we were Skyping.  My brain, logical brain, knows she’s right.  I grieve every day.  I don’t make grieving reservations, grief comes when it wants to and overstays its welcome and never thinks about what I want. 

Why then, as the days proceed inexorably toward that one day, that one day plus one year, a three now disrupting the line of ones and twos that precede it, does my heart clench in dread?  Why does my stomach knot?  Why does it feel so big, that day that is just a string of numbers, just another day in a long line of them; a line that started before he did and will end after he did?  Why do I not want to get out of bed in the morning?  If it is just a day like any other, why do I want to wipe it from the calendar, crush it out of existence?

When he chose that date, he took the shortest day of the year and made it into the longest day of my life.  He took the three big sevens in our lives – our first date June 7, our first day in San Diego November 7, our wedding anniversary August 7 – added them to make 21 and subtracted himself to make zero.  Every day now is another step I do not want to take, another anniversary of some horror, whether I remember it or not.  Every day of the two weeks before he died was its own kind of nightmare.  He was unraveling and I.  I could not stop it.  I could not stop it.  I did not stop it.  He did.

It is coming.  I hate it already, and I haven’t even met it yet.  I can’t predict what it will be like, but it feels like my enemy, that day.  It is a thief that goes by no name, only numbers.

One. Two. Two. One. One. Three.