I started working on this solo when Hannah Graham went missing. It is my gift to her today.
Celebrant: Give to the departed eternal rest.
Congregation: Let light perpetual shine upon them.
Celebrant: We praise you for your saints who have entered into joy;
Congregation: May we also come to share in your heavenly kingdom.
-Book of Common Prayer, Prayers of the People, Form III
A few weeks ago I was talking to one of the parents of a kid at Hannah Graham’s old high school, and she said that in trying to heal all the kids, the parents are still trying to be strong, not really getting to grieve on their own terms.
I told her that she couldn’t control the kids’ grief or her own, but she could use Hannah’s light to comfort others in their distress. That she was one of the people who couldn’t control what was coming at her, but she could definitely control what got through, and let those positives lift her in ways that would help children understand the enormity of loss.
In order to recreate order during chaos, Hannah’s death has to serve some purpose. Her death cannot have been a random act of violence. It was, and because there is no purpose, we are lost and mired in what was. No one on earth should ever try and be responsible for that. Thoughts of what was flow through your mind every day in the presence of grief- to dam them is to die your own death instead of absorbing their light into you and shining it on those who need it.
I didn’t know Hannah Graham, but from what I’ve heard, I wanted to. Her amazing kid-light matured into bright, beautiful sunshine that seemed to come from deep within.
That light is the essence of what Hannah gave to the world. What you do with it is your gift to Hannah.
What does it mean to give Hannah gifts even though her body isn’t physical?
Have you ever made a friend over the Internet? If you’re just e-mailing them late at night, chances are you get into the same space as when you pray. You feel connected to that person, even though they’re not physically in front of you.
My gift to you, those sitting in the light of Hannah Graham, is to write to her. Every day if you have to. Because what does it matter if Hannah writes back? You can tell her your innermost secrets, because she will never tell. In that way, because your connection has changed, it hasn’t died.
Thinking of her, writing to her, and doing things that you think she would have wanted to do with you are all ways of keeping her close to you- carrying her light inside you instead of trying to push it away and pretend that bad things don’t happen to good people. With random acts of violence, God is not the Actor. God is the Responder.
As Fred Rogers famously said, “In tragedy, look for the helpers.”
There are going to be a lot of people that tell you your grief is justified because this was all part of God’s plan.
Because I want people under age 18 to read this, I will not tell you what I really think of this type theology. All I will say is that God is not against you. God did not take Hannah away because “it was her time.” God is the one you can go to because this is so outrageously unfair. When you cry, when you scream, when you beat the walls in solitude, God is the one who listens, because my God is not the classic image of a Father in the Sky, but a piece of myself that when I feel the smallest, talks back.
Take your grief to your still, small self. Sit with it. Eventually, you will know what to do, because your brain will literally divide itself in two and you’ll have someone to argue with. I call that God, because if I think that every person in the entire world has that same still, small voice, I realize that we are all God together.
Sit with God, and remember Hannah.
The longer you sit with God talking about Hannah, the more you’ll feel like you’re actually talking to her. Your mind will recreate her in 3D, and it sounds crazy….. but so is grief. I have found that water does not put out every fire. Sometimes, in order to defeat chaos, you have to be more chaotic than what’s going on around you so that the bigger fire smothers the smaller one inside it.
Going into your small space will give you a relationship with Hannah because all of the sudden, she is one of the many faces of God with which you can have a conversation, and decide what you really feel. She will guide you, because you remember things that she would have said in similar situations when she’s alive.
And the miracle occurring is that you’re not shoving memories of her away, you’re waiting for them to appear because you want to know what she thinks.
Let her light perpetual shine on you, because I promise, it is already happening.
She told me.
Yesterday, I helped Dana learn her programming… and then I sent her to Code Academy.
She kept saying to me, “I don’t think I can do this… I can’t sit still long enough…. etc.”
I told her that programming would be the key that unlocked her life if she would let it. It didn’t even occur to me to tell Dana to try Code Academy, but why didn’t I tell her to pick up a fucking PHP book when they were lying all over the house? I could have made her so much happier, so much quicker, with so many fewer tears. And by that, I do not mean that I personally could do all that. I mean that someone had to have the book lying around, might as well be me. My sister (because in my family, words like step and in-law are offensive) did that for me. She literally saved my life just because she bought some books.
I just looked at her and SAW how dumb I’d been. I could have reached her so much longer ago, and she would have been making seven figures by now. That is because Dana is ADHD, severely so (with hyperactivity), and hasn’t been able to find THAT THING. That thing that unlocks her brain with a passion of a thousand suns. For me, it is writing.
I don’t care if I’m good at it or not- my writing is not so much for other people as my comprehensive reaction to life. I write because if I didn’t, my stories wouldn’t matter… because typing is the only medium through which they fly, and seeing people’s real reactions as opposed to my imagined ones seems somehow more grounded than not saying something because I’m the one that’s afraid to rock the boat. Being afraid of her disorder kept her from experiencing the medium through which she could FLY.
She listened to me talk about her ADHD brain because I can. I thought that I wasn’t hyperactive until I had this conversation with Dana yesterday, and I realized that my constant movement is my fingers. I do not fidget or move because I type nearly a hundred words a minute when I’m thinking. It is as if my fingers are merely a voice dictation tool, because I can type just as fast as my brain puts words one in front of the other.
The conversation was short, but direct. “Your hyperactivity will go away once you are sitting there thinking in seven different brain spaces all at the same time.” She looked at me like I’d grown three heads.
Stay with me. This is cool.
There’s the brain space of “what am I making?”
The brain space of “how do I make it?”
The brain space of “which part comes first?”
The brain space of translating that into if, then statements as fast as you can think them.
The brain space of learning a new language and constantly having to apologize for your accent.
The brain space of high energy music and your fingers trying to keep up the intensity during the entire piece of music (my personal favorite, which is why you guys usually get the length of a song in blog entries- about 5-7 minutes worth of typing, or about 700 words).
The brain space of having a working desktop in your mind, where you can drag windows along the x, y, and z axis to organize and prioritize your work. My brain is a linux box. We are currently using Gnome Shell, but it keeps crashing, so I’m going to do a clean install of Linux Mint: Cinnamon Edition next week. 😉
It all swirls together so that the absolutely manic energy of being on sensory overload all the time MAKES SENSE in a way that it never had to Dana before or since.
She finished the first 29 lessons in one hour.
The air was cold and wet the day of my first protest against the war in Iraq. Since it was my first protest, I didn’t know what the hell to think. Christopher Hitchens made some reasonable assumptions and so did Hilary Clinton. On the other hand, I, like everyone else from the middle of the nation, didn’t know shit. It was January, and I’d just moved to Portland the last November. Sights and smells were burned into my brain- the fleece of my jacket and the wet rain penetrating the cheaply made water resistance in the fabric. Holding a man’s hand like I meant it for the one and only time in my life it made sense.
I loved him because he soooooo wasn’t her. I was newly divorced and it woke up my brain for the first time in months. It allowed me to feel something when what I’d grown used to was nothing but someone dedicated to beating down my soul, but less than she was beating down her own. Her reaction was to lash out and cheat, my reaction was to run as far away from Washington, DC as I possibly could, mentally and physically. Seeing this in retrospect is cleansing. Up front, it was terrifying.
All of this was running under the surface of my skin as I walked toward my group of friends. Every single one of them. Every. One. looked like they had seen a spaceship land and little burritos walked out. To be fair, I’d never come out as bi. I’d always identified as gay. I looked like a fuckin’ dyke and I knew it. The thing they didn’t know is that it was truly ok with him. He didn’t care what I looked like because intellectually, we were soulmates in the Elizabeth Gilbert definition- someone that gets so close to you that the relationship begins to burn because it is so intense.
In that moment, my bisexuality became real (Dad, I owe you five bucks– called it Junior year). It was the first and only time I’ve ever had a bisexual relationship as an adult, which made it even more super weird. The lesbians in my life were catty to the point of de-evolution. During that time, I was very close to a woman that had never fallen in love with a woman before. She decided that plumbing didn’t matter, and so did I. We went to a Portland Lesbian Choir concert together and one woman was wearing a t-shirt that said, “100% Lesbian.” We sat there for twenty minutes trying to decide what percentage we were.
At the end of the day, though, I knew I could date him now, but I didn’t know how long I could keep up the attraction. I decided it was better to break someone’s heart after a few months rather than trying to be the woman he really needed, which was someone who could *see* spending a lifetime with him when I knew that most likely, my life partner was supposed to be a woman… which is not really all that bi, but bi enough to know that I am an open-minded sapiosexual when I want to be.
I call myself a lesbian not because I do not have the capacity to love men, but because I am married to Dana and my energy is not supposed to go to anyone but her, anyway. When it leaks, we have ways of working through it that are quite effective and the equivalent of several “Hail Marys.” Not like, the end of a football game. Confession and prayer. Explosive, passionate lovemaking to ensure that the leaks are stopped cold and the connection is renewed. Our focus becomes the one thing in our lives that will ever matter- each other. ADHD people are so sensitive to sensory perception that even touching Dana’s skin grounds me and sends me over the moon at the same time, like I own all of time and space every time we kiss. Touching Dana, even in the slightest way, is the best cold shower I know.
That level of emotional connection never happened with him, and I wanted it to, and that was running under my skin as well when we started singing.
We are marrrrrrrching in the light of God
We are marching in the light of God.
We are marchiiiiiiiiing.
We are marchiiiiiiiiing, Woo-Oooo
We are marching in the light of God.
Siya Hammmmba yuken yeni kwenkos
Siya Hamba yuken yeni kwenkos.
Siya Hammbbbbbbbaaaa, Woo-Oooooo
Siya Hamba yuken yeni kwenkos…….
Walking through the streets of downtown, lost in my own thoughts, like the smell of his neck and the warmth of his kisses…..
Marching through the streets voices loud singing for freedom from oppression and coming out as a bisexual for the first time. So trapped. So free. So lost.
My voice carried me that day, even the words I couldn’t say out loud. The music kept the train from running off the rails, but at least the train of thought always moves forward when it’s repaired.
I have a lot on my plate emotionally right now, so today I took some time to just sit in the quiet without any noise– lounging in the quiet looking up at the ceiling fan.
My eyes have never learned to track together. My brain chooses one eye and the other drifts. I am right-eye dominant, but there are some times when my field of vision has shifted and I have caused vehicular damage. I have brought shame on my people, because I am the stereotypical woman driver you love to hate. I have been the “oops, my bad” of my generation. I’m not proud of it, I drive like a grandma to avoid it most of the time, having gotten older and somewhat wiser. I relax to the music (She’s So Mean, Matchbox Twenty) and just stop thinking about how many people are passing me on the right. It is wonderful that I have an amazing inner landscape, because I am so lost in conversation with myself that I forget to have road rage. It isn’t worth the energy. I have better things to do. I would rather talk to Sarah, Rebecca, David, Daria, Gregory, Kermit, Keela, and someone you haven’t met, Det. Sage Mallory-Weiss. Sage is a bastard that verbally wrestles me to the mat until my arm is behind my back, but at least we go out for drinks afterward… and if you get that joke, go to the head of the class (Let me Google That For You).
Sage because he thinks he’s God. Mallory as a salute to Carol O’Connell, because Sage is much like Kathy Mallory. He leads charges into hell, but sometimes metaphorically forgets to bring the right shoes and falls ass over teakettle without even trying.
Sage is Rebecca’s across-the-street neighbor. The kind you invite over for tequila and Cards Against Humanity because you’ve run out of beer. He’s kind of a filler character, comic relief more than anything else, but in his gruff, funny-as-crap way, owns a large part of Rebecca’s heart. She’s grown up her whole life with people like that- Texas good ol’ boys who’d die before they’d let you know their pain. She’s been bred to act the same way- genteel and hilarious, vetted as “one of the boys,” comfortable in Doc Martens AND high heels. They’re connected at the brain, because even though Daria is clearly Rebecca’s hetero lifemate, Sage is the grandfatherly smartass that will flip you shit just ’cause.
As I sat there burning Sage into my memory, my eyes started to drift toward each other so that I could see my nose in 3D, and in the backgroud, two ceiling fans turning like cogs in a watch. I thought about my non-fiction book, planned as the last one I want to write because I believe it is my magnum opus. Staring at Myself is the title of my autobiography, because I want to go on the journey toward stereo. With the work of Susan Barry, MD I have a shot at being well… being able to see through the spaces as well as pray on them.
It was the right thing to do.
Telling Tony it was over, I mean. Most of the time, you don’t do that with friends. You don’t have those official break it off words. But this time, I had to, and not for her. For me. Our relationship went to such a dark place in me that I had to admit what I was doing and come clean. I was living with her in her stories, and ignoring anything that had to do with my actual life, the one where my wife lives.
Dana’s jealousy was never that I would leave her. It was that Tony was taking up so much room in my life that she started to wonder if there was anything left for her. I just didn’t worry about it until it occurred to me that there might not be enough room for me, either… and please don’t misunderstand. Tony is not the problem here. I am. I stopped taking up room. Period. Her stories became more important because that’s what I’ve always believed- that others’ stories are more important than mine. My past history says that when you suit up, I’ve done something wrong. That obviously you are suiting up because I am a bad person and you cannot trust me.
That exact thing happened. I sent my sister a snippet of an e-mail that I wrote her, and when she found out about it, she automatically assumed that I was sharing *everything.* Her words and reactions including mine.
The problem was that I hadn’t.
She started treating me as if I was guilty before she even knew whether I was or not, and that feeling never went away… even when I said I hadn’t done anything wrong and she claimed it was “water under the bridge.” It’s not water under the bridge if you’re acting like your friend is suspect even when they have flat out said that no one will ever be able to get information out of me. No one. Ever. I would die first. Literally. I’d take a gun and blow my brains out to protect anything she told me if it was ever serious enough it required that kind of protection.
She blew away a piece of me. That piece that says I am a capable and good secret-keeper, because I’ve been doing it all my life. She attacked my integrity, the piece of me I try so hard to keep together even when the rest of the world is falling apart.
Stepping down onto firm ground and saying, “no more,” was my only shot at being able to heal the part of me that broke.
There’s a great rock song called “Inside of You” by the band Hoobastank. It was popular in the dark ages, when I was in high school or college or something. It’s about sex. All rock songs are, in some way or another… well, the good ones, anyway. But what happens when you aren’t having sex with the one you want to get inside? It becomes a metaphor for being able to hold her brain in my hands. The guitar cuts into my ruminations and reminds me to car dance the fuck out and LET IT GO. I broke up a friendship, and a good one, because I felt as if it was only honest on one side… and that’s not fair. Let me re-word that. It was plenty HONEST on both sides, but very little recognition until it was much too late that I was in deeper than she was because nothing that happens in my life would ever threaten Olivia Pope, let’s just put it that way. NOTHING.
So, to extend that metaphor, I realized that I was signing on to a lifetime of being Jake… that guy Olivia loves beyond all measure and at the same time, would drop him in a hot minute if Fitz had a free hour.
In this metaphor, Fitz is not another lover. It’s her job… which makes it doubly difficult because it’s not a matter of “I won’t tell you.” It’s a matter of “I can’t.” My way of dealing with that was to absolutely understand, drop comms immediately, etc… and then while she “goes to the bank and the post office,” I become so short of breath that even my coworkers are starting to ask if I’m okay because they can see the tears in the corner of my eyes for hours at a time.
I went to her and said, “I can’t handle this, I need help.” And she said that she would no longer be communicating about certain things. Period. Because that was the answer. To make it where the anxiety I already felt didn’t have a place to go. As I told her, there is no future. There is only right now. I feel anxiety right now.
And yet, even that wasn’t why I left. I left because there were so many things outside the purview of what she could say and she couldn’t that she wouldn’t talk about anything without SUITING UP, when in the beginning, it never felt like she was doing it. Perhaps she was, and I never noticed. I’ll never know, and that’s ok with me. What I know on my own is that in the beginning, we were both in jeans and t-shirts…. or at least, IT SEEMED THAT WAY TO ME.
Later on, it became clear that she wears bullet proof vests under her t-shirts, and I, however, do not. Our relationship became a great habit for her, and I was so glad to help- to feel like I was helping- until I realized that it was getting impossible for me to love a gladiator without wanting to be one myself. I disappeared into this relationship into an entirely different way than I did with Diane- with Tony, it wasn’t that there was the promise of sex. It was the lure of soft power. I don’t get to be a power player, but I get to hear about them, get to know them third party, and excoriate them in novels based on juicy bits of information I just happened to find on my own, like it dropped down in the middle of the street.
Don’t worry, it looks insane from the outside that I’d throw it all away, too. I just realized that I didn’t want to be a gladiator unless she needed me to be that, because otherwise I am a shy, quiet writer in love with her wife who is content to stay home and watch Scandal on TV, because having Scandal in my living room was causing me to split into two separate and distinct personalities- the Leslie I’d always been, and the new Leslie, who wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything.
I am a gladiator because she helped make me into one. She helped turn me into the gorgeous woman I am today, because she taught me how to use emotional separation to get what I wanted in a positive way, like being able to separate out emotions so that I don’t just explode all over the place and have to apologize for it later.
I wish I could do that in this case. Nothing would make me happier than to go back to her and say, “this was all a mistake. I love you and I couldn’t have been more wrong.” I did think that at first, and then the more we started talking the more I realized how incredible our relationship was for her.