Muted Sadness

It is one of the darkest days we’ve had in a while. It is not currently raining, but the storm has started and stopped multiple times, and the sky still looks threatening. I have my Carrot Weather app set to “homicidal personality,” and she says I should stay home today because no one likes me and she blames me for the bad weather.

That’s my girl.

Today is both my mother’s and my ex-wife’s birthday. They’re both on my mind today, but it’s only about remembering joy where Dana is concerned and muted sadness regarding my mom.

In terms of my relationship with Dana, the reason I now choose to remember good things is that I tortured myself for a long time. Anything and everything I could possibly do to blame myself, I did in spades. It’s been six years, so about a year ago I decided to let myself off the hook… not in terms of no longer bearing responsibility, but that the time for self-recrimination had passed. It was only making me miserable to remind myself of all that went wrong. The flip side of the coin is not mistaking the part for the whole. The overwhelming majority of our story is hilarious.

The only thing that’s still hard is seeing her picture come up in my Facebook memories, because I alternate between thinking they’re adorable and feeling like I’ve been stabbed. It’s not that I haven’t moved on, it’s just a trigger, and tiny moments like that take the longest to fade.

My sister went out to the cemetery and gave me an update on Fred, the one silver lining in the absolute shitshow that is grief over the loss of a parent. Fred was the seedling that was planted next to the foot of my mother’s grave… not in memory of her, it’s just that her death and his planting happened simultaneously. It was the birth and death life cycle in front of our eyes. He gets stronger every time we visit. Whereas he used to only have “kid-sized” branches and leaves, now he spreads out over a granite bench and Lindsay got to sit in the shade. The shade. We were joking that our little boy has grown up.

I think the reason we gave him a human personality is that my thought was that I couldn’t hug my mother, but I could hug Fred so tightly that you’d think I went to Berkeley. It will be a sad and proud day when my arms no longer wrap all the way around.

There are some commonalities in both types of grief. If I mention either my mother’s death or Dana, the conversation looks like gravity’s rainbow, the image so loud I can almost hear the whistle. It is as if both of them have turned into “she who must not be named” as it makes other people feel awkward to the point of onomatopoeia. For me, it’s the old trope of losing someone and they’ve just slipped into another room. Their ends of the conversation are over, but that doesn’t mean I’ve gone all “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind.” I got divorced and my mom died in relatively quick succession. One loss compounded the other as I wasn’t really done mourning the first when the second one started.

There are good things I remember in the wake of my mother’s death, though, because I must. It doesn’t heal anything- it sort of helps. For instance, I remember being on the business side of death for the first time, and how it was comforting to pick out her casket. I know it sounds weird, but it was literally the last time we’d ever shop for her, and we wanted it to be something that if she saw it, she would have been pleased. The fact that I know her casket is her favorite color and has stenciled birds on the inside is enough for me.

The difference between losing people close to me is night and day from being a preacher’s kid and attending funerals of parishioners. This is because so much time and energy were poured into my mother and Dana that I didn’t know what to do with it afterward. I also locked down my emotions, even now but especially in the beginning. In the aftermath, I couldn’t manage to be the appropriate amount of emotional in public, so I just chose not to have them at all unless I was home alone. It was either resting bitch face silence or complete hysteria with no middle ground.

It’s just that no one knew about it unless I was willing to let them in, and at first “them” added up to exactly zero persons. I branched out to people who had also lost parents, because no matter how hard people who haven’t lost parents try, they cannot grasp the enormity of the situation.

It is because of this that I know my divorce and my mother’s death happened in the right order. The people closest to me had the ability to wound me with stunning accuracy, because if I didn’t know them that well, I could either write it off or decide to end the relationship altogether.

There’s also a special list in my head of all the people that claimed to be my close friends and didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I don’t want to keep track, but I do it anyway. I feel that the friends who don’t show up when you are in crisis are claiming to be better friends than they actually are. I’m sorry if you feel slapped by that statement, but emotions are emotions and logic is logic. Never the twain shall meet. Even if it’s irrational, it’s my truth. My brain just isn’t capable of telling my heart what to do. However, I am not unreasonable. I did not expect my DC friends to fly to Houston with me.

I think the reason that I’ve described today as “muted sadness” is that it’s not only grief over my mother and Dana, but grief over the pieces of me that died inside at their departure. I am no longer person I was six years ago, and it doesn’t matter whether some of the pieces lost are good. Trying to get them back is futile. A dead end, as it were.

In the meantime, I have turned to books. This blog has become a bit bipolar, because I used to post quite frequently. Now, it’s hit or miss. This is because I have a binge and purge relationship with reading vs. writing. I noticed a long time ago that when I read and wrote at the same time, the tone would sound just like the last author I read. I’m not a great writer, by any means, but I do know myself well enough to know when the “voice” I’m using belongs to me. For instance, when I first started blogging in 2003, I am sure I sounded like Dooce for at least a year.

Speaking of which, I had a friend tell me that Dooce used to be good, but she’s not as good a writer as she used to be. I told her she needed to send me an e-mail when I got to that point. It was her job to tell me to retire. I haven’t gotten it yet, so unless she got bored and stopped reading altogether, I’m probably doing ok. Thanks for asking.

I have read so many books in different genres lately. Last night it was a novel in which a woman gets into a car accident, hit by a drunk driver (“A Curve in the Road”). In the emergency room, she finds out that the drunk driver is her husband. Everything unravels from that point forward, and it’s masterful.

I’m also taking my time with a non-fiction book about one of the first same-sex marriages to be recognized in the United States (“Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America”). The two women met in the late 1700s. As I quipped to a friend, “that’s impossible! Lesbians weren’t invented until 1805!” I admire the couple a great deal, because in order to stay safe, they basically gave generously to the town. It meant that the mayor and council literally couldn’t afford to piss them off. If there’s anything I adore, it’s a clever “scheme.” I’m not sure they even realized they were running that game, only that the results paid off. They managed to be together until one of them died, so I think it was 40 or 50 years…. impressive by any and all standards. The prose is a bit dry, but the subject is fascinating. I would absolutely love to teach a high school history class with it, because it’s not just focused on the couple, but the war around them. There aren’t any graphic sex scenes or violence, so it would be an important alternative perspective while also being suitable for teens.

If there’s been anything good about my silence, it has been the addition of hundreds of unique voices that let me travel all over the world. If there’s a scene from a book that transported me to the point where everything else fell away, it’s from John Brennan’s “Undaunted.” When he was in college, he went to the University of Cairo. His experiences there are humorous and convey the beauty of Egypt. Plus, it’s fun to picture a White House staffer that used to be a kind of rebel, pierced ear and all.

I’ve read those passages multiple times, because sometimes I just need to lift myself out of what I’m describing as “muted sadness.”