Orlando

If you’re wondering why I haven’t written about my vacation, it’s that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is complete sensory overload and putting it into words is not the easiest thing in the world. Your brain goes haywire the moment you walk into the park, because in terms of describing it in writing, where do you even start? It’s having eighty thought processes running at the same time, and on the page, you only have room for one. Everything you’ve heard about the park is true; you step out of modern day Orlando and into Diagon Alley and it feels so real because you can literally reach out and touch it. All the shops in Hogsmeade are exquisitely done, and the only one I didn’t go into was Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shop, because I spent most of my time eating dessert, anyway… and when I wasn’t eating dessert, I was eating lunch and dinner… and second lunch and second dinner. I know it was because I was with my dad and sister. I don’t really eat when I’m alone, unless I realize either that I haven’t eaten all day and I need blood sugar, or my stomach reminds me of it. Eating socially is so much easier for me, and I took advantage of this fact. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten more in my life.

In addition to eating my weight every day, the rides were spectacular. I haven’t been on a roller coaster in years, and interestingly enough, the Dragon Challenge had the most comfortable seats- and was just about the scariest ride I’ve ever been on, which meant that I could have spent a whole day riding it again and again. I didn’t, because there was so much to see, but just for the record, if you like roller coasters that scramble your brain into your stomach, it is totally worth it. The other rides are stomach turning as well, but not like roller coasters. They move, but mostly you’re watching a screen like IMAX so your heart drops, whether it’s riding alongside Harry on a Quidditch pitch or escaping from Gringott’s bank. Gringott’s has a dragon on top that shoots fire, and the first time I saw it was at night, and nearly jumped out of my skin because it came out of nowhere.

As you can imagine, the gift shops are fantastic, but I only got one souvenir. It’s a baseball shirt with a minimalist design that has the street sign for Grimmauld Place. There were many, many things I liked, but my inner design/font nerd fell in love quickly. It is totally the Jakob Nielsen of fashion. That being said, I spent more time in the SpongeBob SquarePants store than anywhere else, even though I didn’t buy anything.

All of the parks within Universal Studios are done as well as WWoHP. Walking through Jurassic Park was probably my second favorite. The rides aren’t as intense, but it really feels like you’re there. Incidentally, that day I was wearing my DC United jersey, but under it was a t-shirt picturing a T-Rex trying to eat a piece of pizza that says The Struggle is Real. It seemed appropriate, even though that wasn’t the only attraction we visited that day.

At The Simpsons park, I tried Duff Beer, but was more impressed with Buzz Cola (Duff Beer is awfully close to PBR, which is why I only took a sip… not a Portland hipster anymore). I think it’s cola with strawberry Squishee mixed in… but of course, it’s proprietary information so I could only guess, but I think it’s a good one.

I was also going to save this for my autobiography/case study, but I’m going to leave a breadcrumb here. The book is entitled Staring at Myself, which I believe Dana named because I told her that the only 3D I could see was both sides of my nose at the same time. The breadcrumb, given the last sentence, is that when we emerged from the King Kong ride, I was absolutely sobbing. You’ll have to wait for me to finish the book to find out whether they were tears of joy or frustration.

Outside of the park, we spent time talking about my mother, and Lindsay brought me the one thing I asked for from her house- my old Postman Pat doll I got in London when I was eight… and then she surprised me with my Yakko Warner plush. It was dad and Lindsay’s idea to have a vacation in memory of my mother, because not only did we have a great time, it was good to reminisce. Some of the stories I’d heard before, and some were new… it didn’t matter. Family stories are supposed to be told over and over.

The other piece of good news I received is that Lindsay’s job is going to be bringing her to DC and Annapolis (not sure if Richmond is in her territory) a lot more often… just balm for my grief, and I’m sure for hers. Because Lindsay has worked on mayoral and congressional races, it was not lost on me that if I moved here, she’d either be here often or move. I am so glad that of the visions I’ve had, this one has come true. It was even better than realizing I’m a Hufflepuff.

 

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The Tommy H. Suit

The copy of the slideshow on DVD came with a case that has her picture on it. I keep it in the top drawer of my dresser, where I keep my meds, so I “have” to look at it every day. Have is in quotation marks because I could move it, but I don’t… even though every time I open the drawer, I get a frightened feeling in the pit of my stomach like I am seeing a ghost for the first time, every time. Shock and disbelief flood my body every single time, because I simply cannot believe that she is dead. Logically, of course I can. Emotionally, especially because I haven’t seen her in so long, it is as if she is still in Houston and we just haven’t talked in a while… but we will when she’s not too busy at the teacher’s center making her little cutouts of jazz musicians and eighth notes. Logic does not override emotion very often, and there have been several times that I have thought of burning the suit in effigy that I wore to her funeral. I haven’t- in fact, I wore the pants to church week before last… but I can’t put on the jacket.

It’s a Tommy Hilfiger, so under the collar, there is trademark red, white, and blue plaid. In my eulogy, I got a laugh by turning around, popping the collar, and in my mother’s Southern drawl (having been raised in NE Texas, so her accent was much thicker than mine), imparted the image of my mother shopping with me, saying something when we got home like “now that’s nice… I didn’t even notice THAT.” Everyone laughed because both the impression and the characterization were spot on, as if she were in the room. In that moment, nothing felt real because I’d taken enough Klonopin to ensure that I could speak without emoting too much. I wanted my sendoff to be memorable and funny, because that’s what I do in front of a crowd. I am comfortable in front of one person and a thousand, but hardly ever at a party… the former is too close, too personal, the latter a feeling of looking into a small city where nothing is. I am trying hard to find middle ground, but so far, I got nothin.’ I can either be leslie, heart on my sleeve, or Leslie Lanagan,™ suiting up for “battle.”

I am not completely inauthentic when I’m wearing the mask of protection, but there’s only so far I will let people in before the fence and barbed wire shows up unannounced. When I am speaking confessionally in front of a crowd, sometimes it’s like I’m speaking about someone else to get through it, because who cares if an entire congregation knows personal things about me, because they are unlikely to respond.

Although some do. It’s always a shock when people quote me to me. I am glad that I have imparted something meaningful to them, but tend to crawl into my shell after the conversation is over. When I’ve manuscripted a sermon, sometimes I know what they’re talking about. When I don’t, as the adrenaline wears off there are times when I have no idea what I just said. Martin Luther King, Jr. always said about preaching that if you have something important to say, write it down. However, more than one person has told me that when I preach off the cuff, I’m much more engaging. To me, though, it’s hit or miss. Sometimes I’m brilliant on my feet, and sometimes I walk away thinking, “well, that was awful.” The interesting thing is that sometimes when I think something has been a disaster, those are the quotes people remember as meaningful. Sometimes, I get nervous and talk a little too fast, which is probably why people tell me that off the cuff makes me more relaxed and easily relatable. Sometimes, with a manuscript, there are just too many words. Three of the sermons I’ve preached while manuscripting have been huge hits… but only one of them has made it to this web site because I didn’t save them… so even when I write it down, there’s a chance that later I won’t remember what I said…. but they will.

I have an incredible ability to read a crowd, and when I notice that people are staring into space, the feeling that I’m losing them, I can change tactics on a dime… and perhaps that is the point of preaching off the cuff. I am not looking down. Even though I am off the cuff, I can still remember the diamond pattern I’m going for, because as my dad has told me (I don’t remember whether it came from him or whether he was quoting his homiletics professor from SMU), in a sermon, you are competing with everything from a sunny day to lunch afterward to the memories that come to people’s minds as you’re speaking. In order to combat this, you have to tell them, tell them again, and close by telling them again. It helps to have a really good line that people will remember, especially if you say it three times during the course of your sermon, because at least one of those times, people will be present in the moment. It’s also not the repetition itself, but three illustrations of the same point, repeating the thesis statement either before or after each one. The diamond pattern is the three illustrations and the conclusion that ties all of them together… and sometimes, you unpack three seemingly dissimilar ideas and the puzzle pieces fall together at the end with what is hopefully a huge AHA! moment, something which usually leads people to come up to me afterward and say, how did you do that? Usually complete with fist bump and assurance of a mic drop, again, along with the deep knowing that I have no idea what I just said unless they tell me. Even with a manuscript, I have to go back and look it up.

However, just because I am speaking off the cuff, that doesn’t mean that I’m just winging it. In fact, it takes more preparation to speak off the cuff because you have to memorize everything you really want to get across without forgetting in the moment. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of stepping back down from the pulpit and remembering all the things you meant to say.

I didn’t manuscript for my mother’s funeral because I started and I sounded like a writer. Too many words for something spoken, so that there wasn’t one main idea, but many. No one would have remembered anything I said, because I wouldn’t have been able to keep people in the present. I could only do that by looking at the crowd, judging their emotions, and knowing when to show grief and when to be hilarious. At a funeral for one’s mother, those memories come in equal measure. You don’t just mourn the dead, but celebrate their lives. I think it worked, because I talked about how I was sad that my mother wouldn’t get to attend my own church… two pastors at different times came up to me at the reception and said, “in order to be a successful preacher, you have to have it… and whatever it is, you’ve got it. I’m going to hear great things about you, and your mother would be so proud.” It was interesting how two different men at two different times used the same words nearly verbatim.

What my mother wouldn’t necessarily be so proud of is the way I have completely fallen apart, because she never would have wanted her death to hold me back from getting out into the world and creating new experiences. I don’t mean that she wouldn’t have wanted me to miss her, just that she wouldn’t have wanted me to completely stop functioning, walling myself off in grief and taking to my room like a hermit. However, sitting alone in my room without trying to numb myself out has probably led me further in my grief process than anything else ever could’ve. If I’d been a social butterfly, I would have drunk more and thought less… not that there’s anything wrong with a glass of wine with friends, and sometimes necessary. I probably haven’t done enough of it, because while there is room for deep introspection, there’s also room for distraction from it for a few hours. I’ve completely skipped over that part, except in the confines of my own room, watching videos or playing games.

Because sometimes distraction with friends is not helpful, so therefore I am afraid of it. I am afraid of those moments when people don’t know what to say to me that will help, and they unintentionally gut me… and if there is anything I hate more than sitting alone, it’s being hurt and inconsolable in public, afraid to come undone… because what would people think? Why do I even give that part of it attention?

Because I’m afraid of becoming the woman whose mother just died, treated differently and with kid gloves, everyone asking how I am doing way too much… because the answer hasn’t changed in the last few months, much less the last few minutes. I am afraid of it because it’s happened before, not an unfounded or untested fear. I think it’s because only one of my friends, Dan, has lost a parent, so therefore my other friends have absolutely no frame of reference as to what I might be going through. What’s interesting is that people think they have to say something, when the reality is that just hugging me and sitting next to me in my silence is enough. I don’t need them to do or say anything, just to show up… because there is nothing to say. There’s nothing that’s going to make anything better, there’s nothing that’s going to bring my mother back, and there’s nothing that won’t tap into my entire range of emotions, which at times I feel as if I have no control. There’s nothing I’d want less than to isolate the friends I already have, showing emotions that have nothing to do with them because of redirection. They may not be able to see that I am having a hard time with my disbelief and take it personally, when it was never personal.

I am afraid of letting shit roll downhill, also not an unwarranted or untested fear, because in the last few years I’ve lost both the great romantic and the great platonic loves of my life… people I counted on to be my family and both cut and ran when it all became too much. I am not blaming them for anything, because it was too much. No one should be expected to stay in a relationship no matter how bad it gets. I can’t apologize enough, I can only take the lessons I learned and put them into practice now. It’s no excuse that I was not mentally well, because just like an alcoholic, the fact that my disorder spiraled me out of control doesn’t mean that I have no culpability for my actions. I can make amends all I want, but it is not up to me that they accept them, or even acknowledge their existence.

This creates a drive in me to never let it happen again. I can’t afford to lose more friends, because I am already in deep grief. To add to it at my own hand is unacceptable to me, and always will be. As I have said before, James told me that if I stopped writing about my grief regarding Dana and Argo, it would stop feeling like death by a thousand cuts… and as I replied, true change does not come from seeing the cuts they left, but by emotionally taking a chef’s knife to myself, cutting out the parts that made me capable of my own actions, because there’s nothing I can do or change about theirs. They did what they needed to do for them, and I see myself as no different. When you have a tumor, generally a surgeon cuts it out. When you have an emotional mass, it is imperative that you cut it out yourself… because with emotional wounds, the responsibility of surgery does not fall to someone else.

One of the lines that I keep repeating to myself came in a letter from Argo, who said that my bedside manner sucked. It unlocked me, and I sobbed for hours when I read it.

First, do no harm

Coming from a medical family, not respecting the Hippocratic oath and knowing deeply that I’d done it was the first cut, damn near cracking my chest. Of course, in my illness, it didn’t change me overnight, but I didn’t forget it, either. Now that I’m stable, those words mean even more as my future begins to take shape. It is as if those words from Argo opened a door that had been locked for decades, one that had remained closed for far too long. My defense mechanisms were at Defcon Oh My Fuck, even though the stimulus for it was gone… emotional fibromyalgia that got a lot worse before it got better… indescribable pain, fear, guilt, and shame even though I’d seen the thing that caused the PTSD and surgically removed it so that there was never a chance it would come back.

It is in those moments, thinking about what happened, I realize my own shortcomings in knowing what to say to people, speaking off the cuff and causing more hurt than I know. I am just as fallible as those who accidentally hurt me with their comments regarding my mother’s death, because even though the subject matter is different, the reactions are the same. With Dana, because she was not a writer, speaking off the cuff has led me to forget a lot of what I said to her… perhaps the reason Argo has gotten more of my attention in my grief because there’s a manuscript, so that when I forget what I’ve said to her, I can go back and look it up. I think it’s for the best, though, because with a written record, I have benchmarks for how far I’ve come and just how far I still need to go to make the wrong path into the right one.

But the first step is admitting there’s a problem, and I did that long ago. Now, I just have to say the words for the first time out loud that I will say in perpetuity until they work.

I have made all the amends I can, and now I forgive me, because at least I can say I tried.

I have accepted all of my flaws, failures, and vulnerabilities.

I am popping my collar to expose the plaid, hidden unless you are looking for it.

I am looking for all the words I meant to say, and didn’t.

Galentine’s Day

My Galentines are the best ever, from the ones I know well to the ones with whom I’m beginning great friendships. I would be completely remiss not to thank them publicly, because their love has sustained me through an epic shitstorm, especially over the last three or four years. The ups and downs of both chemical and situational depression haven’t made me the easiest person to love, and yet, they still SHOW. UP. They are my poetic & noble land mermaids and my beautiful, talented, brilliant powerful musk oxen all at once.

I had a lot to process and get over this year, and they were there every step of the way, even when it got difficult. There’s nothing more I’d like than to be able to buy them all the waffles they could eat, or at the very least, love them by sneak attack by sending presents of unknown origin. But last year I was in a way better financial place than I am now, so you’re all getting presents, they just still live at Amazon.

Besides, there’s nothing that I could buy you that would say thank you enough for your words, hugs, and memories that stay with me, helping me to walk a little taller one day at a time. Because of you, I’ve learned that I am indeed lovable, and it isn’t necessary to keep cutting switches with which to beat myself up. I can let go of the past and make room for the future, in no small part due to the conversations we’ve had where you’ve looked into my eyes and let me see your hearts as well as you’ve seen mine. I hope that I have been even a fraction of the friend to you that you’ve been to me.

Things can’t have been quite equal since losing my mother, because you let me have so much room in our relationships to talk it over and process it out. Rest assured that I will never forget this fact, so that when your life is going sideways, I’ll be there, holding space for you, too. If there’s been any realization I’ve had over the past few weeks, it’s that living in community is far better than isolation, and when I isolate, it is a function of my illness and situational depression, because as my friend Phil says,   depression lies… and it always knows the very best lies to use against you.

For me, that lie is that I’m not worthy of your company, cleared up immediately when I am actually in your presence. You allow me to be, well, more than I am. Funnier, more relaxed, and never wearing the mask of “acting as if.” When things aren’t fine, I can say so. You call me on the bullshit of humor deflection, or at the very least, laugh and say, “let’s get back to the real issue here.” You are the ones that can pull me out of my own head, and it is something for which I am more grateful than you will ever know.

It is because of you that I know I have room for a family in my life, because it won’t happen in the future. The future is already here… my family of choice along with my bio family, joining together in an amazing safety net. But the other thing I’ve learned is my limitations, knowing when to talk to friends and when to talk to doctors. It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way, but often what is worth it isn’t easy. I know now when I need a friend and when I need a professional, sometimes because I can feel it and sometimes because you’re not afraid to call it to my attention.

You are the people I trust to be my Board of Directors, because sometimes I have my own back and sometimes I need a little help reminding myself that I am powerful enough to take charge on my own… but everyone does, no? Sometimes the best course of action is not to overthink a situation, but just to laboriously breathe through it and let the answers come organically over time. You remind me of this fact, that I do not have to keep tapes running at the forefront of my mind, that sometimes the back burner is even more helpful… or that after a good night’s sleep, a so-called problem is gone altogether.

You’ve sat with me through an enormous amount of pain, because there are no scars from joy… therefore harder to focus on it until you remind me that it is always there, around me and within me… that I am capable of letting chaos swirl around me rather than internalizing it. I pray to be the eye of the storm, because I cannot control it, or anything, really. I can only control my reactions to tropical storm wind.

My answer lately is to try and become the storm, because there are so many people out there that need help. To not try to help “the least of us” is contrary to my nature, and you’ve helped remind me of my bigger purpose, that when I cannot leave my room because of anxiety and fear, I can leave because my sense of social justice overrides it. I meet you at marches, taking in the power that people have when they band together, particularly the strong bonds of women who support each other. Though I have times through grief where I just cannot even, nevertheless, I persist. When my heart is in the right place, everything else in my life flows from its ability to beat, loud and strong.

From the personal to the political, there are lots of storms I’ve walked through and am preparing many more, but I wouldn’t have gotten here without you, your footsteps next to mine, occasionally dragging me into the future when I am lost in the thoughts of things past.

When my mother died, I sent Susan an e-mail saying, “sitting on the tarmac at Hobby, awaiting what comes.”

In that moment, the best thought in the world is that I was not sitting alone.

Thank you, deeply, with great sincerity, for picking me up when I feel like everything hurts and I’m dying. On this day, I wish you love, care, and waffles with extra butter and syrup.

You are mine, and I am yours.

Stupid is As Stupid Does

I hate to keep harping on the people that say stupid things to me, but today after the funeral at the reception, someone I barely knew in the congregation came up to me and said, “I know you lost your mother a few months ago. Is your father still alive?” WHISKEY. TANGO. FOXTROT?  I told her yes, that my parents were and are very young, and that my dad is really healthy now that he’s mostly done with surgery (one facial reconstruction left, and it’s minor). In my infinite snarkiness, I wish I’d said something like “yeah, he’s still alive, but most of the time he’s too drunk to come to the phone.” I can’t take credit for that one. One of our church members at St. Mark’s, a perpetual trouble maker, used to tell me to say that to people when they called the parsonage. I must have been in grade 7 or 8. I never did it, of course, but in the moment soda came out of my nose and I thought I was literally going to die of laughter.

I did, however, answer the phone “Lanagan summer home…. summer home, summer not…” a few times. When I was in the car with my dad, I used to answer his cell phone “David Lanagan’s rolling office, how may I help you?” Incidentally, I come by this snarkiness naturally. When the church was empty and it was just my dad working in his office and I was upstairs in the youth room playing pool, the way he told me to come downstairs was to get on the loudspeaker and you could hear “attention, K-Mart shoppers, we have a Blue Light Special…” ringing throughout the austin stone cathedral.

I know this woman meant well, I really do. But the way she said it irked me just the right way and I hope my face didn’t show it. I think she was just making conversation, but if I had a piece of advice, it would have been not to lead with that.

Now, if it had been someone I’d actually talked to more than twice (if that- I didn’t know her name and it was clear she didn’t know mine, either), I might have been a little more gracious in my thought process. Outwardly, I said I was going on vacation with my dad and my sister next weekend. On the inside, I was all like, “who does this bitch think she is?” I also wouldn’t have minded if we’d been engrossed in conversation and it naturally came up. Let me tell you, it was not the greatest of opening lines.

The thing is, though, I don’t get to write the scripts. I just get to choose how I react. Most of the time this is stuffing down whatever I’m feeling and using my preacher’s kid patois as to act unaffected by idiocy. It comes in handy. I just hope that I can keep at it, because the last thing I would want to happen is to come unglued on some poor unsuspecting little old lady.

Oy gevalt.The amazement and shock I feel as I walk through the world reciting the Kaddish feels akin to being hit by a bus. Sometimes this is because I am lost in my own little world and someone has interrupted it. Most of the time, it’s that someone has caught me completely off-guard with something so insensitive that it burns, but, of course, they have no idea that it’s insensitive. It’s the only reason I’m not angry and bitter when it happens. Very few people know what to say to the grieving, and I just have to rely on the feeling that they mean well, even when my inner impulse is to look across the room and say, “oh look! I have to go. I see better people.”

Gladys Kravitz

So, the county came out and checked our house. We got the official report that there were no violations re: overcrowding and no drugs… and in fact, the county official told us himself that our nosy neighbor needs to mind her own business…. that the house is large enough we could fit a few more people… which is good, of course, because Tanner’s room is for rent.

I’m hoping that I get a good, stable roommate this time. I feel like I’ve been through the wringer and I’m ready for a teacher or a student that keeps to themselves and doesn’t cause any trouble. Perhaps we need to look for someone with a job that already piss tests so that there’s no way drugs will be brought into the house, anyway. It’s a thought.

Yes, weed is legal in DC, but not in Maryland. And besides that, it’s still a violation if you’re renting out a room that there is any kind of smoking inside. Of course Hayat cares whether we’re on drugs or not, but it’s more than that. She could be shut down by the county and the family I’ve come to rely on could have to kick me out because of something that someone else did. I would be inconsolable after the year I’ve had, because I don’t want to live alone, and I also have reticence about getting back on Craig’s List to find shared housing. Even when I can afford a place of my own, I don’t want to because it’s so much better for my savings account, and watching it grow is one of the few things that makes me ridiculously happy in this world.

The things that my mother left me are priceless family heirlooms, so I cannot and will not sell them to provide for my future. So now it’s time to get on the bandwagon with FAFSA and try to get grants as well. I am in a good place to do those things, because I have long been independent from my parents, so their income will not affect my own. There are plenty of UCC scholarships for grad school, but getting undergrad paid for is almost entirely on me. It’s a good thing I don’t lack much and will only be in debt for the year and a half it takes me to finish and not the entire four years.

I’m singing for a funeral today, not as a soloist but in the choir. I have some trepidation about it, because the last funeral in which I sang in the choir, I cried all the way through it because even though I didn’t know the deceased, I was dealing with a lot at home and it was redirection onto something else. I’m in a better place now, but I remember what it felt like as if it were yesterday, and I am not eager to repeat it. What is different is now I have anti-anxiety medication on board, and I feel good this morning. I am hoping it lasts.

Although if it doesn’t and I arrive at my house crying, maybe Gladys Kravitz will call the county to make sure I’m okay.

Distraction and Direction

You’ll have to excuse me for my lack of content lately. It’s been a rough haul, and I find myself not wanting to think about anything. Submitting resumés and applications doesn’t require me to think, and neither does watching “television,” in quotes because I don’t actually own one. I use Kodi, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Seeso. I do have cable, but the line running to my room isn’t working (really must have that fixed), and because I already have so much to watch, I don’t really care about it enough to get it repaired. I am happy enough with things like Santa Clarita Diet and The Fall. The former is ridiculously funny, kind of a send-up of The Walking Dead. The latter is scary AF, and stars one of the most handsome actors out there, Jamie Dornan, who you’ll probably recognize as The Huntsman from Once Upon a Time. It also stars Gillian Anderson, and that is the last piece of information you’ll get out of me about those shows, because you just have to watch them. Trust me.

All of these things are taking me away from thinking about writing, because generally what I have to talk about is grief and mourning, and I’m just done with delving that deep most of the time. I know I need to get it all out, but at the same time, I can’t live that way all the time. Distractions help, and I’ve been using a lot of them.

I’ve learned through Never the Same, by old friend Dr. Donna Schuurman, that so much research has been done on grief since On Death and Dying by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was published that we understand grief a lot differently. Kübler-Ross was correct in that there are five stages of grief, but they are not linear and sometimes all hit at once. That is certainly what I am experiencing, although I do not feel anger. There is nothing that can be done for an embolism. If the greatest surgeon in the world had been standing next to my mother when it blew, there’s still nothing that could have been done. I feel like I have done everything I can to look at her situation clinically without emotion, because it was just a freak thing and there’s no one to blame, nothing to be angry about. I don’t feel like I need to rage at the heavens that she is gone. I don’t feel anger that she’s not going to be there for the future I have planned, I just feel indescribably sad & depressed. The best reason I can give for having no anger is that she didn’t leave me on purpose, and I know for sure that if she indeed had any awareness that she was dying (I don’t think she did, because she passed out first), Lindsay and I were her last thoughts.

I also take comfort in the fact that a few days before she died, we had a two and a half hour conversation on the phone, nothing left unsaid, no unfinished business.

As far as deaths go, it was the best possible thing that could have happened. She passed away quickly with no pain at all. The only thing that makes me truly jealous is that a lot of people get time to prepare for the death of a parent, because their illness is drawn out long enough to get used to the idea. I have said this before, but nothing hits you harder when someone dies suddenly that “here today, gone tomorrow” is a thing. It’s a cliché until it happens to you.

My life is so different now. My mother’s death has rewired all of my neurons so that most of the time, I am relaxed and easygoing. You’d think it would be the opposite, but I feel that the worst thing that has ever happened to me is done. Nothing can rattle me now. My grief regarding Dana & Argo not being a part of my life now seems like a dream that happened long ago in comparison.

The only time that particular grief hits me is that they used to be the people closest to me, and I wish I could talk to them about everything that is going on in my life right now, and that I care about them and wish I could know what is going on in their lives, too… because friendship is not a one-way street, or at least it’s not if you’re doing it right.

I am just glad that I’ve been able to create my own urban family here, so that their absence is noticeable but not ever-present. I have other people to lean on, other activities to pull me into the present… although sometimes I have trouble showing up for them because I am reluctant to get into a crowd of people and come undone. The only people I have truly let in are my church choir.

My truth is that I haven’t shown up for either church or choir for a while now, because I just couldn’t handle being around other people. Last Sunday, I showed up with my heart on my sleeve, and instead of making up some ridiculous “acting as if” excuse as to why I hadn’t been there, I told them straight up that I’m bipolar and taking medication for it, along with anxiety meds, and that even with all those things on board, the situational depression of grief cannot match what I am taking. I get overwhelmed easily, especially in church, because it’s so meaningful that it cuts deeply.

However, I realized something important. Sam lost her father and her mother, and she’s still showing up every Sunday. When I told Leslie #1 that, she said it wasn’t necessary to create another stick to beat myself up, and I told her it wasn’t about that. It was about living in community. Everyone has been there for me, but I haven’t returned the favor. She told me that it was a good way to look at it, and I thanked her for being “my person.” She told me “thank you for letting me be your person… probably the sweetest thing anyone has said to me in months.

Because Leslie lost her mother, too, she understands explicitly and I don’t even have to talk. She can tell with one look when to put her arm around me and when I need a hug. She was a bit older than me when it happened, around 52, but she still feels the pain of her mother dying too young, just like mine did. Of course, every child is going to feel on some level that their parent(s) were taken from them too young, because all children, even adults, cannot remember a time when their parents weren’t there for them. Now, I know that for lots of children who’ve had toxic/abusive relationships with their parents, this is not the case. But for the stereotypical nuclear family who is generally close, I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t feel that level of pain, because no one knows them better than the people that raised them.

It is not an easy path to walk. I feel that it would have been easier to accept my mother’s death if she’d been 86 or something… at least the feeling that she’d lived a long and fruitful life and 86 is not too young to die. In the years that my mother was alive, she indeed lived a fruitful life, but the trees were not finished blooming, heavy with oranges, her favorite.

Her memory lives on, not just with us, but with all the children in her music classes and the parents who were grateful for her influence. She was one of those people who could make you love music, especially if you’d never had any exposure to it before. She took kids on journeys through classical, jazz, blues, you name it… starting in kindergarten and working upward through show choir for fourth and fifth graders.

I am grateful that she was also a substitute teacher, so she was my own music teacher in third grade and my social studies teacher in fifth. Years earlier, she and my dad went on a tour of the Holy Land, and one of her lesson plans was to “take us” as well. She brought in all the souvenirs she’d gotten in Egypt, arranged the chairs like a 737, and projected images she’d taken on the screen. She also made us passports we could keep. No detail was left out, and that’s just who my mother was when it came to education. Her drive to be impeccable was strong and intuitive to what children would want and need in the classroom.

She was always there for Lindsay and me in both our academic and musical pursuits. She was my accompanist both as a trumpet player and a singer, and when Lindsay made it into the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, she never missed a single rehearsal or performance.

She helped me with my homework inasmuch as she could, because neither of us understood math. Her father, a former Algebra teacher, tried to help me, and it was my mother’s idea to make him my tutor. There was nothing that she wouldn’t have done for me, going above and beyond every single time.

Time.

There wasn’t, isn’t enough.

The old saying is that “time heals all wounds,” but I do not think that it stands up in terms of a parent dying. You don’t ever get over it, you just learn to absorb it, make it part of your DNA, never forgetting what happened… simply trying to emotionally relocate those memories so that you can make room for the future instead of being stuck in the past.

I’m not finished being “stuck” yet. It doesn’t show in terms of memories that constantly come to mind, but in the weight of grief that slow down my movement in the world. The best thing I’ve done for myself is to clean my room so that it is once again uncluttered, and I feel, as Oprah has said, that my room rises to greet me when I walk in the door. I take comfort in being organized, but my mind is still cluttered. There are entire days where I cannot get out of my own head, even though I know that new experiences take me out of my grief and add happiness to my world. There are just lots of times that I don’t want happiness. I want to sit in my loneliness at having one less person to call when I am truly “in the weeds.” I feel guilty that I hadn’t made the effort to visit, so that by the time my mother died, I hadn’t seen her in over a year. But at that time in my life, when it came to Houston, I could not even.

However, she came alone to DC to visit, and we had a spectacular time together, something I will always remember as a highlight. She also left a card on my dresser that I didn’t find until a few days after she left thanking me for being the perfect host, and a gift card to Macy’s so that I could buy new clothes. I am still looking for the hoodie that I bought with it, because it’s the warmest thing I own. I think I may have left it somewhere, because there is no stone unturned in my room or my car. It’s the most I’ve ever spent for a jacket, but it was worth it for the double weight during DC winters… and I must have told her a thousand times how much it meant to me. I hope that it will turn up one day in the place I least expected to find it, because it’s too early to give up hope that it’s gone… or that if it is, it has been picked up by someone who truly needed it.

That’s the kind of thing that would have made my mother happy… that if I lost it, a homeless kid found it. There will be other jackets for me, but I often wonder what I can do to keep the homeless warm. I don’t have a lot of extra money, I don’t have coats to give away, but surely there is something I can do even with my limited resources.

If my mother has anything to say about it, it’s go find out.

Nine

The thing I’ve been avoiding talking about all day is here, and I realized it was more painful not to talk about it than to just get it out. Today is my ninth legal anniversary with Dana, because she told me that she would file with Multnomah County, and I’ve used it as an excuse not to do it on my own for a year now. I don’t think I can explain why. It’s not like I want to be tied to her any more than she wants to be tied to me emotionally. But last year I said that it would have been our eighth anniversary, and this year I realized that due to a lack of paperwork, past tense is… inaccurate.

Perhaps both of us are too ADD to remember to file, but I think that is a five cent explanation for a hundred dollar problem. I don’t think either of us wants to acknowledge that a relationship like ours could come apart, and that piece of paper is the one thing tying us together. I don’t think either of us is ready to admit we failed, so we stuff and deny. The ADD thing can’t be overlooked, however, because we were famous for sending Christmas presents in April and I’ve been carrying Lindsay’s Galentine in my purse for a week now. It’s addressed and stamped, but have I gone to the post office? Nooooo….

Of course, this is all conjecture on my part about her feelings, but it is definitely the reason why I keep putting it off… and we think alike enough that we used to joke that we shared one brain, and that was extraordinarily difficult when we were separated for 18 months as best friends while I went back to Houston and worked with my family in my stepmom’s medical practice. Neither of us were sure which one had the brain on any given day.

The situation feels, as Deadpool would say, breathtakingly fucked. My whole world smelled like “Daffodil Daydream” rather than Mama June after hot yoga. It’s been almost two years, we’re both ready to move on, and this piece of paper sits in my subconscience like a rock. Writing this may be just the motivation I need to take matters into my own hands. At first it was the principle of the thing, that Dana said she would take care of it and I trusted that she would. Now it’s just embarrassing how badly we’ve both ignored it, and at least on my part, hoping it would go away on its own. She’s been to DC at least twice since we separated, and didn’t want to see me either time. I’ve been back to Houston once, for my mother’s funeral, and she didn’t want to see me then, either.

I don’t know why, because we did talk on the phone as soon as I got the news and the conversation was both amicable and hilarious during a time when I desperately needed to forget what I was about to do for a few minutes, at least. But that’s as far as it went, except for texting a picture of us at my aunt’s Thanksgiving that I thought she might want to have. Maybe she thought I needed my wife, but I didn’t. I needed my friend, and the fact that all of it is gone weighs heavily on me… perhaps more than she knows, or perhaps exactly how much because it weighs on her, too. I take nothing away from her own feelings, I just can’t objectively talk about them because I don’t know anything about her life anymore.

For me, it’s how do you say goodbye with finality to that amount of closeness? Emotional relocation of our memories so that they aren’t quite so haunting has been ridiculously hard, because I remember just how good and how bad we got. Two years ago, about a month before we separated, I wrote I do, with everything I am and everything I will ever be. It’s amazing how much a difference two years makes.

I miss her every day, multiple times a day, and yet, I don’t think anyone can bounce back from physical violence. I couldn’t help but be reactionary when she pushed me with force, so I can’t go to the place that I deserved everything I got in that fight. I just went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex. But what I can do is take responsibility for letting the situation escalate instead of getting in my car and running away. We were fighting about money, and the bait and switch in order to not talk about it was to bring up Argo and make her the focal point of the fight when she was never in the game. We were working on our own issues, and it was a masterful deflection. I didn’t want anything but facts, and it turned into everything I’d done wrong for a year. It was the Mento that dropped over the Diet Coke, and I can forgive her, but forgetting is so much harder.

Argo was a light and flirty wordplay crush that delved deeper under my skin than I ever wanted it to, because our connection was explosive both for evil and for awesome. I leaned on her too much for emotional support because she was my sounding board in all things, the eventual goal to put strict boundaries in place so that Dana couldn’t use her as an excuse anymore. Those strict boundaries are in place, but they just didn’t come on Dana’s timeline. I found them on my own. Looking back on it, I’m not even sure that would have been enough, because when Dana would use Argo to disengage, I just became irrationally irritated and on some level, I think it pleased her to have an RPG that would explode everything so that we could avoid talking about what was really going on with us.

It took over conversations about everything, because when Dana didn’t want to open up, it was a cheap shot to get me to recede into my own head and write to Argo even more, because if I had anything to tell anyone, she was my go-to. Little felt real until she replied. It was never validation that I was right- sometimes she told me she thought I was being a jackass and said so.

She stopped replying after a while, and later I got an e-mail from her saying that one of the reasons she pulled away was so that she wouldn’t be Dana’s excuse anymore. I told her thank you for picking up what I couldn’t, and it was a good call. When I told Dana this, she apologized for my friend feeling that she needed to ghost because of her, and it was perhaps the last moment of clarity that we had about the situation. She wasn’t immune to the fact that Argo was a sounding board for my own frustrations with our marriage, just like she had to blow off steam with her own friends. My steam just happened to dissipate while writing, and hers by talking. She wounded me by saying that my virtual world left no one to hug me, which wasn’t true by any means but it sounded good?

I loved that Argo wasn’t a part of my daily life, didn’t know the people involved, and therefore could honestly inject some objective truth into the situation because she didn’t have a horse in the race. It wasn’t a competition, but if it had been, she won. I grabbed on to Argo’s belief that I would do and be everything I set out to do, as opposed to Dana’s view that I would never amount to anything. When your wife tells you that to your face, it’s time to get out. It might have been something she said in anger and didn’t really mean, but it played into my own worthlessness loop and it was kicking me while I was already down- below the belt in every conceivable way.

There was also another dealbreaker conversation for me… a night in which I was feeling the need to reconnect romantically and instead of saying “I have a headache” or “something good is on TV,” she said that she thought I was being aggressive. It hit all my psychosexual/emotional abuse buttons at once, and I slinked away with my tail between my legs and cried in the shower for 45 minutes, not knowing what the hell to do, but knowing that being hit that hard and that fast emotionally was a category of hurricane for which I was unprepared.

The next few days were awkward at best, because my own worthlessness was reinforced. Not only did I feel the weight of being a “bad wife,” she started a tape in my head that I was a rapist… when again, a “no thank you” would have done it. She agreed with me that it was a low blow, and apologized, but after that I couldn’t bring myself to touch her because I didn’t want that repeating tape to become what I thought of myself. Again, it pushed me further into my own head and away from her. I sat in my office alone and played my horn with my headphones in to try and create signal out of noise.

I needed to get away, and DC seemed like the safest place to do so, because our connection wouldn’t be severed… just perpendicular instead of parallel. But even with no contact, DC is the right place for me to just be, because our tie to each other was so strong that I couldn’t break it without a physical boundary. For about a month after I moved, we talked occasionally in our best friend patois, but in the end it became too painful to contemplate. No contact was not what I wanted, but it was what I needed to return to wholeness within myself, taking away that feeling of sharing a brain took months, because even though we’d been terrible to each other, there was never a question in my mind that we didn’t have the capacity to be friends after an adjustment period, but being married was a whole different committment.

Physical relocation made emotional relocation so much easier. The thing is, though, hurt people hurt people, and shit rolled downhill with Argo at an alarming rate. At times where I could have used support, I lashed out. At times when I could have used love, I asked for it in the most unloveable of ways. I was a complete wreck of a human being, and losing both of them at the same time was hitting rock bottom and realizing that there needed to be some drastic changes in my life so that even if burnt bridges couldn’t be rebuilt, I’d never have relationships again that ended like they did… one with physical violence, one with emotional. I couldn’t handle everything coursing through my veins, and shit rolled downhill. I can’t help but think on some days what might have happened between Argo and me had I just managed to calm the fuck down. I didn’t need to connect with her romantically, but I could have used a burger and a beer night. I remember the days when we looked forward to meeting on the ground, and I kick myself mightily that it never happened, and probably won’t.

Because even though burnt bridges can be rebuilt, there’s no room for new construction, mostly because of my absolute self-destruction, in all things, really. Now I’m just rebuilding the bridge back to my old self, the one that feels the most like me, with extraordinary room for growth and development so that I don’t continue to believe that I’ll never amount to anything.

The first step is getting in touch with Multnomah County, because I am tired of waiting for a piece of paper that may never come. I have to release myself from this enormous thunderstorm of emotion, and that legal document holds in the rain, rather than letting the sun come out and shed its warmth on my mood and behavior. It’s hard to make room for something new when I am wrapped up in the past, and I don’t mean romantically. I mean kicking myself for everything I did wrong so that I think I don’t have anything to offer anyone, so why bother?

I am lucky I have friends who love me despite all my flaws and failures… ready to give me a hug when I need it, or answer an e-mail when I am too sad to people. It’s a spectrum, a duality that lives in me and always will as a writer. Because some things are too painful to process in the moment verbally, but reading this after some time has passed and there’s some distance from it will ultimately remind me of the journey I’ve taken to become the Leslie I want to be. I have a long way to go in order to be the person I want to be or think I am, but the main point is that I keep trying. Persistence is kind of my thing, as is bouncing back from failure.

It will happen as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, and not letting there be a ten.