Modern Love

I watched an episode of House that shook me to the core. It was about a wife who hurt her husband because she’d connected with someone over the Internet. He asked her to stop, that it really bothered him, and she said that it was what she needed in her life right now because it was easier to express herself through writing than through talking. Unsurprisingly, they divorced and for a while, she was with the man in Oregon…. not the same, but similar enough to set off my alarm bells and really think about how Dana must have felt, which wasn’t the same as the husband for a multitude of reasons, but again, similar. The one thing that jumped out at me was the difference in the episode and in my own life.

The husband asked his wife if she’d fallen for this man, and she said she didn’t even know him. You could tell in a hot second that she was lying, that her feelings were complicated and confused. The thing that I did differently is that I didn’t roll any punches. I told the truth. That yes, there were things I didn’t know about Argo, but the things I did were deep enough to create feelings of love, care, connection, protection, and honesty (both painful and real). It embarrassed the hell out of me that she was straight and I was gay, because lesbians falling for straight girls is the biggest cliché in the entire world. It also embarrassed me to lay it all out in front of Dana, but I thought that the absolute truth was better than trying to cover everything up, living in two different realities with compartmentalization.

Better or worse, to me, is now relative. Did I do the right thing? Was telling her this bit of my soul helping her to understand, or was it just to ease my guilt? Should I have worked out all those feelings on my own, knowing that my truth was Dana? It was always Dana, and a passing crush would never match up to the deep river of emotion that runs through me every time I think of her. Her words run through my mind all the time, that when it comes to Argo, I am not threatened. I think I have more than proved my worth…. and when I said that I wanted to be one of Argo’s people, and laid out what it would take for me to accomplish that goal, she told me I should do it.

It was amazing that she threw me a life preserver and I held on, because she was right. To think that anyone could take her place was ridiculous. I didn’t want a divorce until she betrayed me, and even then, we got back together and I held on until it got violent.

Because the longer my relationship with Argo went on, the more that feeling went out the window and was replaced by feelings of anger and jealousy, threatened by something that didn’t exist. If Argo had been bi-identified, there’s no way I would have allowed myself the luxury of feeling crushed out in the first place. The crushed out feelings made me feel good at a time in my life when I desperately needed it, but they were because it couldn’t go anywhere. There was the dopamine rush of an explosive connection without the real possibility of a new romantic relationship. I would have been threatened by it, and disposed of it promptly.

In retrospect, I think she just gave up… not on our relationship, but in telling me what I wanted to hear and then not being able to hide her real emotions about the subject as time went on. In short, I feel like I should have listened more and talked less… but even that felt hollow because I couldn’t tell truth from fiction from such mixed signals, because how Dana felt varied by the day, or maybe it didn’t, but on the surface, that’s how it seemed to me.

Sometimes, she told me that I should do what it took to be a loving and caring friend. Sometimes, she told me that she felt threatened by Argo, acting as if I was already moving on to someone else and she was being replaced. In my own mind, that idea was crazymaking. I had to work through my blushing teenage feelings, and the want to do it was massive, both for Dana’s sake and for Argo’s, because I was alienating both of them at the same time. It’s not fun for a straight girl to be the object of a lesbian crush, and it’s not fun for a partner to go through, either. For Argo, it was the feeling of me investing in something our relationship couldn’t sustain, and for Dana, it was the mixed up feelings of not really knowing whether I was present in our relationship or not.

With Argo, I never felt like I was jumping into something that the relationship couldn’t sustain, because I wasn’t telling her about my feelings for her because I hoped she’d reciprocate them, just to have compassion because surely she’d gone through a similar situation in which someone turned her attention when it was a bad idea, too…. commiseration, but never encouragement. The idea that love’s a bitch sometimes when your heart is leading you rather than your head. Logically, I knew the situation was fucked, but the heart is always irrational and overloads your brain with chemicals that turn it into mush.

Eventually, logic returned and dopamine was turned down from eleven… but not before Dana’s patience with me ran out.

Alternatively, I don’t expect a marriage to be invincible from passing crushes, that monogamy is a choice you make every day… that actions speak louder than words. There’s no way you can be together for forty or fifty years, blind to everyone else in the world. I am sure that there are some couples who can, but I haven’t met any…. and if I did, I’d have a little trouble completely believing it.

I keep thinking about what I would have done had Dana been the one with the crush and not me, and the only conclusion I’ve made is that marriage is a series of dealing with problems, and I hope that I would have had enough strength to handle Dana’s own dopamine rush- because I couldn’t expect her to be blind, either. My thought process is that if it could happen with me, whether it was now or later, eventually the tables would turn and I’d have to work through my own jealousy…. and Dana would have to make her own choice to remain faithful… or not… and with everything I’ve read about monogamy not necessarily being a natural state, I might have even been able to forgive infidelity if Dana proved that I was her choice and the other woman was just a side piece of ass and not where her heart truly lived.

But that idea is just theoretical, and I have no idea how I would have handled it in practice.

I also don’t feel that thinking about these things is a lost cause because you can’t change the past. I want to be prepared for the next relationship, and I think the best way to move forward is to examine what has happened in the past, both what I did right and wrong.

It was inappropriate not to meet Argo on the ground and to normalize the relationship before it just became operatic swells of emotion on the page… because then I would have seen the whole picture and not individual puzzle pieces. As I have said before, perhaps on the ground we both would have driven each other up the wall, and though she is absolutely drop dead gorgeous and would make any man fall all over themselves, really not my type. What is my type is smart and capable, what drew me in rather than looks… function over design, always. While genetic gifts are great, I won’t tolerate anyone I view as unequally intelligent and articulate to me. I like people who think about the world, issues bigger than them, how to make the world a better place, have a bit of idealism………… In choosing friends and partners, I seek people intentionally that I believe are smarter than I am to raise my own game; I want to rise to their level rather than bring them down to mine.

But there was no way of knowing how we actually felt about the other when we couldn’t see the other one emote. I wonder every day what it would have been like to do banal things like running errands, blasting music in the car with the windows and sunroof open, getting to know each other through activity and not e-mail. To know what it would be like to give her a hug because she’s done so many awesome things for me that no one has ever been able to do or will. Being able to say thank you in person meant a lot to me, but because of those operatic swells of emotion on the page, there’s no normalizing anything now.

My own idealism caused me to believe that as logic overtook emotion, eventually I’d have the marriage and friendship I so desired, but it fell apart at my own hand because I made some terrible choices.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that though I made those choices, it doesn’t mean that I’m a terrible person… mostly because it took me a long time to let go of Argo’s belief that I am… that her opinion didn’t have to determine my worth or my opinion of myself. She’s told me that she thinks the darkness will always be lurking underneath, words that destroyed me and I had to rebuild from the ground up, realizing that the only way she could say that is because she only saw individual puzzle pieces and not the entire picture, just like me. I would like to think that if we’d ever spent any time at all in the same room, she would have seen just how much I wear my heart on my sleeve, how I’d do anything for anyone that needed me because I was raised with the idea of if I have it, and you need it, it’s yours… how hilarious I am and how easily I laugh at the smallest things… how my faith colors my world, painting with brilliant colors to make the dirty become divine.

In short, everything Dana already knew.

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.