Griefburst

“It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe

Life is beautiful and life is painful.

Anger is a foreign feeling to me; I am uncomfortable with it, and it makes me feel fear. The fear stems, I think, from the concern that my anger may become uncontrollable, like my dad’s was.

Lately, I have been feeling a lot of anger. I now understand why people smash up their apartments when they get upset, yell, scream, and cry. I understand the 5 year olds in my care who tear up their classrooms. I am frustrated.

For years, for ages, for my whole life almost, I blamed my dad for everything wrong that happened. When he was dying, my brother and I thought my mom would get better somehow, after he died. But she didn’t. And I didn’t (this is most important). I realized that the problems came from both of them, not from just one.

Last night I realized that one of the reasons I am so angry with my mom is that she didn’t take care of herself, didn’t protect herself, let alone her kids. I had a grief attack Monday that started innocuously enough; I thought that Cody wasn’t listening to me and I became steadily afraid of him taking advantage of me financially (this happened in my first marriage), and devolved into me not really knowing what I was saying but refusing to end an argument that wasn’t based on anything real. At 11:30, I became scared and sad. I went into the front yard and cried. The dog looked at me with a worried expression. I came inside and cried some more.

The next morning, I realized that I had been acting like my Dad; after all, we are very similar. I lost control over my emotions, and what I was saying, and let it all come out in a way that made no sense. The next afternoon, I apologized to Cody and asked him to help me stay grounded.

My grief is stemming from the loss of my father, realizations about my mother, my relationships with both my parents, the recent loss of my friend Mary Ann, and my experiences at my job. I have never hated a job before, and, in reality, I quit this job that day when the 5-year-old brought a gun to school. That was the third week of school. We are almost at Week 16. In other words, I am overloaded and I exploded. I asked Cody to help me stay grounded, stay focused, to re-align myself by asking me to come back to conversations later, and to refocus by taking time to make something. I am finding that only when I am making things do I feel almost ok.

My grief is overwhelming. Little Patience is sad and tired. Little Patience feels that my parents tried their best, but they did a lousy job. Adult Patience hates the job I worked really hard to get, not knowing what the job really was in the present state of education in Texas. Present Patience, strong though I am, is incredibly sad that I was the person who brought Mary Ann to the doctor the day she was told she was dying, the person who arrived first the morning she died and watched waves of people awkwardly enter and leave that space and witnessed my friend Von be so sad and there was nothing I could do for her. I was also the person who packed up the apartment with and for her sister Pearl when all the other friends couldn’t see past themselves enough to help. I say that I am incredibly sad because I am, not that I regret being there in any of those moments; those moments just were and are incredibly, soul-shakingly sad.

Tonight I looked up the world’s strongest animal; it is the dung beetle, the scarab. When I was weeping with the grief counselor a few days ago, she said she felt my strength in all my stories. I am trying to get there; trying to cross that bridge from sorrow to accepting that God only gives us what we can handle. I have learned that when things are really hard, that is very difficult to remember.

A Letter Written the Day After Your Funeral

She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine –

Witch-Wife by Edna St. Vincent Millay

You once told me, when I described the trouble I was having staying asleep, that I should get up in the wee hours and write my memoirs. After all, that was what Patti Smith had done! I listened.

Yesterday we held the art show for you: the one you talked about every day until the day you left us. The art show had your shadowboxes and your bones and dead things, your bed, your cushions, some clothes, and most of the jewelry. None of your paintings made the cut; I am looking at one right now. I love the Fossil Hunters. I was interviewed by the videographer whilst wearing no lipstick, my Patagucci jacket, and frazzled hair. He said what I said was “great”.

Later in the day, I had had too much wine and was admiring Gary and Mary’s advanced 14-month-old baby ruling the roost like she was at least two, and we talked about past relationships and past lives and that time he saved all of us when we moved you out of the big house on the hill. Last week I learned about how the people you lived with really didn’t want you to move out; both parties the same, but different. Two locations, a similar feel. I will write my treatise on devil’s bargains later. Today is just a letter to you.

All day I thought I would come around a corner and see you laughing. It was unbelievably cold yesterday; fog descended upon the city and everything was cast in white-grey. The light was lovely. Vivian and I dressed the mannequin in a wonderful yellow-and-orange outfit; two kimonos and a yellow shirt dress and a necklace made of hundreds of charms. Behind the mannequin, in the window, hung jewels and pearls and chains, as well as the chandeliers. We made the room look like you had just left it after getting ready to go to a party.

I knew you, we knew each other, through so many different lives. Vivian knew you through more; she and I bonded during Covid over our shared moment in life. We bonded again during your death as we aimed to protect you ever still from people who sought to own parts of you, thinking your things would help fill the void. You, wiser than they, knew better.

I got to know your sister and her children over the last few weeks. She and I cried together and I became buddies with Aabah especially, laughed with Saabira, and stared into Faatina’s eyes, tearing up when I realized she will never know you because she is too little. Yesterday, I carried Aabah into the dressing room and said, “do you see Beth’s clothes?”. She nodded and said, “sometimes Mama gets very sad when she thinks about Beth”. I said, “we all do because we can’t talk to her anymore. But one day, you will wear this jewelry and that is how we will remember her”. She nodded.

Downstairs, just before we sang “So Long, Marianne”, Noah and I met and talked and he shared with me that he thought, he suspected, that you never wanted people to see the art while you were alive. We remarked on how mysterious you were in moments, how contrary. He said that he thought if you had had the show while you were still alive, you wouldn’t have come. I suspect he knows a thing or two (please see me winking to you here).

Yesterday I woke up and could barely get out of bed. It felt like the morning, at 4am on November 10th of last year, when I was woken by my mother to go to the hospital. I sat on the couch in the living room that morning and said to myself, “ok. You have to drive your mother to the hospital where her husband has just died”. I said to myself, “you can do this”. I said to myself yesterday, “you can do this”. I drank coffee and red wine and forgot to eat, but I did it. I went to sleep at 830 and woke up twelve hours later.

I said that yesterday it felt like I would walk around a corner and see you. Today it felt like I didn’t believe you are gone. I don’t believe it. You will come back, won’t you? I can talk to you again, can’t I? I know the true answers. I must remember you in my heart and mind.

Remembering you telling me you were having a heart attack (it was steroids) and speeding through tiny coastal towns until we reached a hospital, running inside, and announcing, “someone has to help me, my friend has cancer!”. The doctor was a jerk and we stole all sorts of things from the ER room, remember? Or when we walked through London trying to find strange buildings, and ate ramen and saw the city at night, and had cappuccinos under the Albert Memorial, and saw the jewelry at the V&A. Or when we went to Mexico and took mushrooms at Mimi’s mom’s ranch, drank too much cheap wine in Amanda’s trailer in Port O’Connor, cooked spaghetti and told our life stories in the dark, got stuck in sand bars, found skulls and skeletons, shopped at thrift shops, drank frozen rose on the one day you were angry at having cancer. So many more memories; the day we learned that you would die from your doctor, except we didn’t know you would die less than 4 weeks later.

I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. We had so much more to do. I will take you with me, see and feel you everywhere. The other day the sunset blew up the sky in orange and blue and I said, “Hi Beth”. I wonder if you are sitting on the couch behind me whilst I type, just out of reach; as I turn to check, will you slip away?

THE TIME you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

To An Athlete Dying Young by A.E. Housman

All of Us

There was the one with the haunted heart, the one who feigned understanding; there was the one who had no time, and there was the one who worried. There was the one who sang to her in the depths, and the one who stood on the sidelines, watching. There was the one who kept the house and pushed all the feelings away. There was the one who said, “wow” in love and wonder. There was the one who breathed Italy and made pasta and asked nothing of anyone, only gave true love and feeling. There was the doctor a la distance, who made everyone well.

And then there was her.

She stood, sat, and laid, in the middle, fading away. Over the years it had begun to wear on her; you could see it in pictures, even if you couldn’t see it in real life.

The whole cast of characters stepped in to help that last month; in 12-hour shifts they monitored and assisted and wondered. The one who worried worried so much that it stole her away from her family, temporarily. She was the one who was there in the end, when it became so quiet.

She left us early in the morning one week ago; stealing off in the silence and the dark, saying her goodbye quietly, in the twilight sleep when everyone thought she would be there tomorrow.

They all wonder where she is today as they gaze upon her beauties, her treasure chest, her hoarde of collectibles that together make a life. What to do with such beauty? Hold fast, hold together: the one with the haunted heart seeks to haunt others, but the others resist and remember the love at the center of it all.

Where do they go?

Circle of Life Week

I really wish I had some chocolate but will have to settle for a glass of red wine, a cat, and a small dog.

What is it about tragedy that really brings out the sweet tooth?

Beth left us yesterday, after a thirteen or fourteen-year battle with cancer. When I introduced Cody to her, seven years ago, he said, “THAT’s Beth?”. It was hard to believe that she had cancer. She never looked like she was sick, never, until the last ten months. There was a dwindling to be sure, but the spark was still there. She was cracking jokes with me on Saturday, and talking about visiting Italy; she was still inspired and impassioned by special cheese and offered one coffee. Even as she passed in and out of consciousness as I worked my massage-energy-love-magic, she was vitally there. She was talking til the very, very end.

I just spoke with one of our oldest, mutual friends: Meg of the terrible Russian accent and electric tooth-brush (if you know, you know). We talked about old, dark apartments and beach trips and first marriages and mysteries and how maybe there were only a few people who knew the whole story of Beth, and maybe we were lucky to be in the 4 or 5 who did. The allure, the glamour, of Beth was to have her close, in a small space, and in that space, she would reveal everything. As time progressed, despite the circle becoming larger, the reveal became less and less. Perhaps that was part of the lesson; to observe, to participate, to laugh, to travel, rather than to be truly known.

I don’t know.

Yesterday morning, just after finding out about her leaving our frame of reality, I took Oscar (the dog) out to walk the land, as is our daily, early-morning custom. I now go to work extraordinarily early (damn you, elementary school!), and we walk each morning, in the dark. It was foggy, dark, and cool. The air seemed to drip; it hung in milky shrouds. The fog clouds felt held in the air like curtains on so many windows. I said, “well, hello Beth. So you are the fog now?”.

I have written many times about my friend Meredith who died ten years ago and who I still talk to, and who still laughs at me. Beth didn’t laugh at me, but smiled, in that Beth way. I said, “well, we never made it to Maine, so I will just take you there with me and show you all the most beautiful places.”

To lose people is so difficult, for me. No more talking. No more sharing. No more confirmation in the mutually shared delusion which is our friendships with one another.

I already miss her. It has been 1.5 days. She died November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos/ All Saints Day. My dad died November 10th. My cousin’s dad died November 6th. Cody’s birthday is November 6th. The veils are thin between life and death at this time of the year.

I heretofore name this period: the Circle of Life Week. Death, birth, life, and all the parts in the middle.

I still wish I had chocolate. Good night.

Dark Apartments, Stingrays & Terrible Shoes

There were noises the other night: creaks and movements in the dark. These were noises that I hadn’t heard for three years since I had last taken care of a loved one in the night. They were the sounds of someone moving around who recently had a normal bed that makes no creaks and the strange plastic sounds of an airbed with a human being moving upon it.

I met her in a dark apartment in Dallas, a hundred years and 7 lifetimes ago. By that I mean 21 years, when we were 21 and 22 years old. She made plastic jewelry in her oven in her own dark apartment, but it was in the dark apartment of our friend Ashley that we met. Ashley knew about makeup and exfoliation and hung giant pieces of fabric from her ceiling. Her boyfriend who would become her first husband barely spoke to me and never spoke to Beth. She talked about the smell of the plastic jewelry as it baked in the oven and how it was probably toxic. Toxic, but geometric; it was clear in spots and opaque in others. Squares danced upon rectangles intermingled with other shapes, too.

Later, it was raining in July at the Tarpon Motel in Port O’Connor, Texas. I was in this crazy moment of rejecting a corporate career; upon reflection, I just realized that was the last time I hated my job. But I digress. It was raining. Raining, raining. Beth sat on the second queen bed in the room. She was wearing a very fashionable hat and was very quiet. She was very quiet a lot then. We went, during a break in the rain, to drink cheap beer on the dock of the marina next door with Billy’s mom, Lynn. Lynn was great; she was a strong woman and was so loving to her kids. She was great until she wasn’t; like all of us.

During that trip, we were assured that Ashley’s brother knew how to navigate the shallow waters of the gulf and could take us to Matagorda Island to a friend’s cabin. Adam ran aground within minutes and we were stuck trying to get an outboard out of the mud, all the while conscious of possible stingrays beneath our feet. When we made it to the island, it was unbelievably hot and the cabin just had screens over the windows. The screens had holes in them, or the door did, or something, because the heat and the mosquitoes were unbearable and we abandoned ship quite soon to shimmy back in the water and the mud to the mainland.

Then there was the time we went searching for a building like the Pompidou Centre in London. I was wearing terrible shoes; a trait that Beth constantly chides me for. Terrible shoes! They were beautiful vintage men’s loafers that were the complete opposite of what one should wear while walking through London. We had lunch at the Barbican and found the building, and my damn feet hurt, and we ate vegan ice cream in a strange downtown coffee shop in the finance district and took the Tube during rush hour. She was sick, even then, and even during those days was having reactions to chemo that made her unable to do much because she was so itchy and having a hard time sleeping. We did, however, walk around London at night and eat ramen in Mayfair and Indian food near Buckingham Palace and have cappuccinos (I think) at the Albert Memorial after seeing a show at the Serpentine with Alberto and Reuben.

I just spent the evening in my workshop, applying gold leaf to a lantern I have been working on for a friend for years. We played on the wood it is made out of when it was a tree. For years, we have played on this tree. I took Matthew’s graduation photos on it. About ten years ago, it finally died after one last winter storm. I culled its bark and have hauled it around with me since. I sat tonight, applying gold leaf and thinking about how much life changes, and how losing people is so difficult. Losing people is hard for me because I can’t talk with them anymore, I can’t hear their voices anymore, and I worry about losing my memories of them. I think: do I want to be in a world without them? The answer is of course, yes, but it is a sharper world; the visions are more dear, colorful, passionate, and valuable. The big things are bigger and the little things fade into complete unimportance.

So it goes.

I will miss you.

On a Late Evening

Last night I was up at 2am dreading the reality of the drudgery of the every day.

Lately, I am up almost every night around 2-3am, running scenarios around in circles in my mind; scenarios that I think I handle well enough, but nevertheless fill me with worry, dread, concern, and questions.

I read a poem yesterday all about being awake at 3am, knowing one’s family is asleep and at peace, and sitting in a quiet house, writing. So here I am.

My friend Beth is slipping away; she is leaving us. Since she and I went to the doctor about three weeks ago, she has begun to change, alter, shift, move, and become something else. Sometimes she is totally normal, sometimes she makes little sense, sometimes she is up, and sometimes she is away. Such is this mystery we call death. Her liver is failing due to years of chemotherapy; cancer will not kill her, cancer medicine will.

A year ago, I was up in Maine, wandering the streets of Bar Harbor in tears, trying to figure out how to feel about losing a father who was both a giant thorn in my side and a guiding light in my perception of reality. Turns out, he was both at the same time, always. A year ago, I caught myself in the sunlight of autumn in Maine, in an alley, with ice cream. I was stuck, you see, in the light and in the shadow.

On the night that he died, I looked at all the photos of him and I from when I was a baby until recent days. That night I felt like I had fallen over a cliff’s edge and was falling into a space with no bottom. He died at about 4am, alone, as made sense for him. We had been with him for the preceding 9 days when he fought leaving this mortal coil tooth and nail and lived for those 9 days with no water or food.

Beth is different. Her passing is more peaceful, and more supported by friends and caretakers. Each day she slips away from us more and more; her body failing, her spirit partially here, partially somewhere. She ebbs and flows like the river, like the tide. Today we talked and she told me that my massages make her feel better, she asked me if I would leave Cody for a wealthier husband (I think this was a joke), and she asked me if I was going to a pottery festival. She told me that my bracelet, currently in an art show, is better than she had thought it would be. She told me that her family is here to see her, and that they are crying a lot, but that we all have to process in different ways.

I am fascinated by the process of death, and I am convinced it is not the end of our existence; it is only a change of form, like how soil is formed by hundreds of faded leaves, or a caterpillar becomes a butterfly through the mystery of the structure of the chrysalis.

I am fascinated also by our choices, and how they bring us to these points in our lives that are pivotal. I wrote earlier about a 5-year-old child bringing a loaded gun to my school; I recently learned that there are DNA and fingerprint kits being sent to districts across the state to help parents identify their children in the event of them being killed at school. The death cult becomes a blood cult. All the while, in the background, children are learning to read and be happy with each other and eat snacks and go to recess. My vision of my dad changes in my mind. Beth dies. I wrestle with the fact that although this job is not right for me, I do not regret it because I have learned so much. I will continue to learn every day.

Tomorrow is October 23rd. How many more days do any of us have? When will I lose my friend? Will the date be significant or will it simply be a marker for my memory? Are those two things different?

In the meantime, Cody worries about his son, his job, the house, the future, about his all-encompassing desire to be *away*. I do not wish to be away now, but I do wish for a change, a move from this place of strange obsession with guns.

Our friend Ben took a series of photos of Beth in a blue silk dress with pointed sleeves in her bed; she wanted them taken before she gets a hospital bed. She is, forever, an aesthete, a Dadaist, an artist, and a beloved person. There is one photo of her drinking her dandelion tea (good for the liver), and her cheekbones match the sharp corners of her dress’ shoulders. The maker’s mark of the teacup is sharp like her figure; tiny in a big bed, in a big room, surrounded by light, plants, and chandeliers.

She is hosting an art show November 19, a la Frida Kahlo; she will be in her bed, in a house that is pending renovation and so is a perfect setting for a dying person’s one-and-only art show. We will say goodbye in our best clothes, naturally. So many goodbyes in this life; it is hard to hold on to the present. We say goodbye to concepts, assumptions, definitions, parents, and friends. May we allow ourselves and everyone else to change.

It is midnight. Time to try to sleep; but if it doesn’t come, I will be back here in the peaceful moments: 3am tranquility.

I Hope It’s Not Just Me

I just looked out the window and it is dark.

9:00 p.m. and pitch black!

On my morning walks, I have been noticing a change to the light, but tonight I first noticed a change to the dark. The autumn is coming. I started walking every morning in March of 2020, and now I see the sunrise every day. I used to be a sunset person, but now I am a sunrise and a sunset person. Both occurrences so important, so uniquely beautiful; one of my takeaways from the times of the pandemic is that each day is so, so precious.

I lost my Dad starting now, last year. Starting now, his health switched and he began to sound different. Starting now, he left. Starting now, this year, I see the light shifting and slanting; more golden, it delivers a punch each day. It is as if it is saying: pay attention! See me! And I do.

Aging is beautiful except for two things: your body hurts and people you love begin to die. Aging teaches you so much if you are willing to see it, just like the light, and the dark.

Tonight we had chicken and potatoes and salad. Tonight we watched a documentary about psilocybin. The dog desperately wanted chicken and potatoes and salad, or so he thought.

Tomorrow it will get dark even earlier. I am loving this strange August that is cooler and rainier than June and July. Climate change is this great, scary mystery. We never know what this season will bring, or how the weather will be affected.

With a smile I watch the change. Last year, at this time, I had no idea what changes were about to occur. A year later, now, I understand just a little bit more.

Worn Out Carpet

I stepped on the bottom stair and it felt as if it was going to give way: somehow it settled under my foot. I noticed the wear on the center of the stairs: carpet worn over twenty years of people going up and down.

I never lived in this house; it was built when I was in college. My brother only lived there for 6 months. When they decided to build, we asked them: why such a big house when neither of your children will ever live in it?

We should have known that the house was part of it, of course, how could it not be? But we were young then: I was 21 and my brother 18.

When my father died in November, my brother and I were working from an assumption that the problems were all caused by him, and therefore, upon his death, our mother would just calm down and seem better; maybe she would become the person she used to be before the last ten years or so. She used to have this smile that was so pretty and a glint in her eyes. Now the look in her eyes is of worry, judgment, or tears. I have a horrible photo of us from years ago. I must be in my mid-20s. It is a selfie from before smartphones and I am smiling with some crazy twenties hair-do, and my mom is pretending to smile with tears in her eyes. I hate that photo.

A few years ago, I wrote a post here entitled “My Mother’s House“, based on wandering through an old, huge, Maine summer house that she was selling. I loved the house and how out-of-time it was. As she was getting it ready for an open house, I wandered all its rooms and thought about my mother and her life and my life and the lives of all the people who had lived in that house.

That essay poem was written almost exactly four years ago. My brother and I have discovered that our assumption about our mother was wholly wrong. I would now like to adjust my earlier concept of my mother’s sense of self being divided into a series of adjoined rooms. It seems to me now that there is only one room and it is the room of Marriage.

I see marriage in the 21st century as a radical act, as it is not socially necessary and wholly driven by choice. Hopefully, the choice to marry is happy and joyful, and the relationship itself is based on communication, affection, mutual respect, and unconditional love. Marriage is hard, and even the great ones have difficulties. I cannot imagine being in a marriage for 44 years that was unhappy for the last 32.

Last week at the table in the kitchen, I sat with my mother and tried to talk about some of the elephants in the room. She told me last week that she thinks that they were happy until 1990, the year he lost his job. She said that they were fine before that, but since then it had been a neverending series of dramas, fights, disappointments, and financial recklessness. These elephants all have my father’s name stamped on them somewhere, but for my mom, too, there is this indelible stamp that says “Marriage” on it. Marriage as defined by social status, belonging, and that dirtiest of dirty words, should.

If you have been a reader here for a while, you know that I hate the word should; should only serves to make you feel guilty.

Like the carpeted bottom stair on the staircase that I noticed last week, my mother’s concept of Marriage is worn out. It makes no sense; the dead horse has been beaten and is now an unrecognizable heap. And yet, Marriage persists as a defining characteristic of her life. She said to me that going to England (a recent trip to do my dad’s ashes) was very emotional for her because it represented the End of Her Marriage. I felt bewildered: how could she want a marriage like hers?

It was then that I realized that she did want that marriage, that she had wanted it the whole time, that both of them had wanted it, and it was a creation of both she and him. We couldn’t blame him anymore: this was mutually assured destruction.

I don’t know enough about domestic violence to share psychological reasoning or meaningful quotes here. I am committed to reading more books about domestic violence and abuse moving forward. Here, I am confused and saddened and I am angry. I am angry at both of them, and one of them is dead.

I asked her why she stayed when she was offered multiple opportunities to leave and she said that “children need a father”. I said, “children needed that guy?”. I told her that lots of single moms do an amazing job raising kids. It was clear that it was not that we (the children) needed this father. My mother felt that she needed my father; which would be fine if there hadn’t been the years of consistent abuse, denigration, violence, codependency, financial hardship, and alcoholism.

When I think about the years of manic crazy fights that my father and I had when my mom and brother would just stand mutely by, when I think about all the times that my father was horrible to my mother and she would sit and cry and we would console her, when I think of all the times that my mother told my brother and I stories about their blowouts and we would listen and console her, I feel, at this moment, very very angry because it seems a very selfish path to follow by two people who supposedly really cared about their kids.

Sidebar: my parents care about us very much, don’t get me wrong. But just like the famous trial that we all followed religiously in the spring of 2022, the two parents involved had no business being together because their togetherness was explosive, damaging, and, seemingly, permanently harmful.

The lady who I traveled to England with, who I sat across from last week, is not the lady I remember from when I was a kid. She is a lady who has locked herself inside her Marriage. (I keep capitalizing Marriage because it seems that my mom regards it as this meaningful institution for her that demands capitalization due to its importance in the definition of her life. For me, I would use Friendship, Creativity, and Reflection as my pillars of identity, for example).

What to do when the guy who was abusive to you, and you in turn abused, dies quickly without saying he loves you? It seems the solution is to pretend that Marriage was exactly what you wanted, that you were both in love, that it could have been different but it wasn’t and you just have to “deal with it and move on” (one of my mom’s favorite sayings). The problem being, of course, that she is not dealing with it and moving on, because she has never dealt with her relationship and has never moved on.

I know that this is my mother’s work and not mine. I have to step away because she is on a journey and has to travel it herself. This reflection of mine also has codependency written all over it, and I am really working on stepping away from that tendency of mine. And I, who lives across the country from her, can do this with dedication and practice and forgiveness when I slip up and engage with her about it. I have my own complications to understand; the biggest one was realizing last week that it was never just my dad, but the issues that impacted me came from both of them. I know that their relationship was their choice, but it impacted me so much. In some ways, it created the sweet, good, smart, beautiful, creative, and sensitive person that I am. It also contributed to some major anxiety, trust issues, fear, hyper-vigilance, and some strange physical ticks.

I am fascinated by grief, which I will begin to write about here in detail. Grief is a strange thing; something that each of us will encounter many times in our life, and each time will be entirely different. More on grief later.

For today, all I can say here is that many aspects of my personality are present, and are quite shocked at the behavior of my mother and the realizations of myself. Little Patience is standing over in the corner with her mouth open in disbelief. Teenage Patience is standing next to her, smoking a cigarette and looking pissed. Adult Patience, present Patience, is standing tall next to them, remembering to breathe, trying to understand, and knowing that ultimately, everything is ok.

Meditations on Friendship

I have had a friend for almost twenty years who I met in the jewelry studio in Mexico, in San Miguel, in 2004, when I was a jewelry student and she was on break from art school in Philadelphia. She is from San Miguel and was visiting her mom and her friend, Billy, the teacher of the school. We met and went out to a mezcal bar and talked about talismans and teachers. We hung out for a few days and then she went back to Philly. A year or so later, I happened to be in Philly for a boyfriend’s brother’s wedding, and we saw each other again, cementing our friendship. About two years after that, I moved to Philly, seeking a geographical solution to divorce. We ended up living together in a crooked house in Point Breeze, owned by a crooked landlord in a neighborhood in the transition of gentrification that we now know became common in all big American cities.

We had our ups and downs. I am not the perfect roommate, and neither was she, but there were signs of something bigger, even then. Breaking down into uncontrollable tears, rages, and benders became not common, but predictable; if something hard happened, one of those would, too. Threats were common (“if you do this again, then I will move out”), but so were treats of dinners out or massages at the spa where she worked. There was a lot of back-and-forth, up-and-down. Then came Halloween of that year. We went to an amazing party in downtown Philly hosted by the eccentric owner of an eccentric jewelry store, and there were costumes and drag queens and performances and swingers and so much booze it could make your head spin. We went with two other friends and were having a great time until I couldn’t find my friend, and then did find her, smooching a fireman in a thong. There were men all around her, and I realized how drunk she was. My other friend who had come with us said to me, “we need to get her out of there”, and he went to go convince her to stumble off with us, and we went home. She spent the next day in her room and the adjacent bathroom, sicker with drink than anyone I had ever seen or heard before. Shortly thereafter, she got fired from the spa for hostile behavior toward a coworker and abruptly left Philly for points South.

We remained friends for a time until I made the stupid mistake of dating her brother (a dumb move never to be repeated). After that inevitably fell apart due to me not being ready for an actual relationship and him not being ready for an actual relationship as well, she was, understandably, very mad at me. A few years later, I heard from her, asking if we could be friends again. I had just moved back to Austin, where her cousin lives, and she was thinking of moving there, too. I was excited to hear from her and I still felt bad for dating her brother. She moved to Austin in the fall of the same year I did, and we began hanging out all the time again. It took a while for the same strange behaviors to begin again: the comments, the asides, the tone.

She and I and another friend went to Mexico for a week in the spring of 2018 and stayed at her mom’s gorgeous ranch outside San Miguel. During the trip, we made a lot of delicious food and drank a lot of tequila (Bloody Marias, mostly), and took walks. It was during this trip that I saw the same behaviors that she did to me aimed at her mother; I was confused as I thought she just treated me that way. At that time, I didn’t know that it happened to a lot of people. One night I was talking with her mom in the kitchen, and she came in to say that she hated the cabinets in one of the houses on the property and her mom said something flippant like, “well I had them made because I needed them, so……” and my friend responded, “well when you die, I will rip them off the wall!” and stormed out. I apologized for my friend to her own mother, blaming all the tequila.

After a couple of years, I became engaged to my husband, and my friend took me wedding dress shopping. We found the perfect non-wedding wedding dress in a small boutique in Austin. She did the flowers for the wedding and made a beautiful curtain of flowers with lights that hung behind us as we performed the ceremony. That was 2019, and life changed so rapidly after that as we moved Cody’s grandma in with us, she died the next fall, and then of course COVID started early in 2020. We saw each other fairly frequently during the early COVID times, always outside as she was very COVID-averse. I began to feel something was off then. The friend group was changing and the people around were seemingly much more affluent than what I was used to; I felt I didn’t belong. I noticed, every time I hung out with my friend and her boyfriend, that she was treating him the same way as me and her mother; she was abusive and embarrassing much of the time.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I talked to other friends about it and they told me just to not worry, but to find new friends because friendship isn’t supposed to feel so odd. I felt every time that I was around her, that I was going to do something to upset her and then would have to deal with her wrath in some way. Last summer I went out for dinner with her and another friend and she said that she wished all of her friends weren’t 40 with kids and that she just needed to meet new friends. At a party last summer, she alienated another friend after the friend responded negatively to having her daughters jumped on by the dog. The clock was ticking.

I couldn’t figure out what was going on, except our “friendship”, if that is what it was at that time, felt terrible all the time. Every conversation was strained and I didn’t know how to make it better. She went to Mexico at the end of the summer and texted me tons of photos of her trip, telling me how much I needed to get back to Mexico (I agree, btw). I asked her to let me know when she got back, but she didn’t. I called her and texted with no response. I left her a message asking if she was ok, telling her I was a little worried and didn’t understand.

A week or two later I received a response that she needed space from our relationship. I was blindsided and also shocked because the language she used this time was almost exactly the same as the last time we had split, all those years before, after I dated her brother. I felt very sad and did not understand what had happened. I wrote her a text saying that this was a pattern in our relationship that I didn’t like and that I hoped she can find peace in her life. I received no response. I sent her a book and an email. No response.

The reason why I am adding this chapter to my Odes to Grief is that this friend is the person in the closest proximity to my friend who has cancer. This friend provides the sick friend with food almost every day, and the sick friend even lives at this friend’s cousin’s house, in the garage apartment. It is all very connected; this issue was one I was worried about when the friend cut me off without explanation. I wrote her an email saying that our social lives are so interconnected and with taking care of our sick friend, could we be cordial and see each other and would it be ok? She responded that I should never contact her again.

Like I said above, for a long time, I thought that this friend only treated me like this; I thought I had done something wrong and somehow deserved the treatment. It has taken me a long time to realize that true friendships have a core value of mutually assumed forgiveness (because we are all human). Because of how I grew up, I oftentimes assume that I have done something wrong. This is something I am working on. Over the years, I began to see that my friend treats a lot of people this way; she is an equal opportunity offender in terms of abusing people who love her. I do not know if she knows how to love others. She knows how to buy presents, host parties, and take trips, but she doesn’t know how to talk about feelings and fears or own up to her part of disagreements. She becomes hostile and full of rage or she just leaves.

The connection to the Odes of Grief is complicated, because, like I said above, this friend (I suppose, ex-friend) is the closest to my friend with cancer. She is the gatekeeper in some ways, or at least, wishes to be. She has actively excluded me and one other friend and is in the process of doing the same to a third. When our sick friend was hospitalized in the early part of this year, my ex-friend made no effort to communicate with those of us who she had decided to “write off” (a term used the other day by yet another friend trying to understand how she could help). It is fine for people to “write people off” if that is what they need to do, but when you all are part of a web of support for a friend who is dying, this is where the issues arise. One person can’t get the power to decide who knows what is going on, and who doesn’t.

The other issue in this scenario is that the sick friend (probably) has no idea that this is all happening around her and behind the scenes. But as the process of “writing people off” becomes more expansive, most likely because the stress of the situation is increasing, it is inevitable that the sick friend will begin to notice or know something. One of my concerns and guiding ideas in this process of taking care of my sick friend is that I don’t add stress to her life. I don’t want to do anything that makes her worry; the idea that she would worry that a lot of her friends are fighting feels juvenile and unnecessary.

When people die, things get weird. I already know this. I have already written about this here. I think the challenge of being around people who are dying is that, until you have done it, you don’t know how you will react. Add to that that each relationship with a dying person is unique and then you may know a little bit about how you deal with the death of loved ones, but again, until it happens, you don’t know the specific manifestation of the death of that one person. Hopefully, people have done their own work enough to know themselves; I know also that this is a false assumption.

My friend who has “written me off” (if you can’t tell, I really hate that expression. I feel like I am a line item on a ledger somewhere or something) has not done a lot of her own work. She has a hard time talking about emotions or things that are frightening. She has a hard time taking responsibility for her behaviors of hostility, rage, and manipulation. The last time we talked, she was blaming it on her childhood, which I think was a step forward. I hope there have been some other steps since. I think one of the reasons she is cutting people off is because she is having a hard time facing the situation and facing the people within the situation and she has to at least interact with the life of our dying friend so cutting people off is easier. That is my assumption, and could be totally wrong. Since she won’t speak to me, I cannot know.

The other night, I had a good chat with another friend, our Switzerland-like friend who lives out of state. Switzerland she is because of her out-of-stateness, her personality, and then as a major bonus, she is a doctor who did her residency with geriatric patients. In this mix, there are three of us who have taken care of dying people: this friend, myself, and my friend Kris, our sick friend’s oldest friend and the one who first took care of her when she was first exhibiting symptoms of cancer fourteen years ago. I am not using names here because I find that people don’t like to have my analyses of them outed on the internet, so please excuse any confusion. Let’s call the Switzerland friend Suzy. Suzy and I spoke at length about the importance of prioritizing our sick friend’s care, and smoothing over any factions or ill will that may exist in the group. This is my core belief as well. The issue between me and my ex friend is not relevant to us being able to be a caring support team for our sick friend. Maybe we will heal our relationship and maybe not; that doesn’t actually matter in this context. Suzy is a new friend of my ex friend and perhaps their relationship is different than other relationships I have witnessed with this ex friend; after all, they met at different times of each other’s lives, in different places. I have hope.

The end to this long piece of writing is to close with hope. I believe that we all, and I mean we as the collective human “we”, can set aside our egos when we need to take care of people in need. I see it all the time, I have years of evidence to support my claim of this ability of our species. I believe one of the root causes of my divorce from my friend came from the fact that she has no responsibilities, no career or job, no one that depends on her or that she helps. She is blessed with wealth and so does not have the worries of most people. She has no children, so does not have that anchor. She does not need to work, so she doesn’t. She has nothing holding her in her own life, so it is natural to drift and find purchase on certain things. She has found purchase with our sick friend; it is clear to all of us that she is holding on to our friend desperately and doing everything that she can to help. Unfortunately, she is anxious and afraid and is striking out at other people who just want to do the same thing in collaboration with her.

My hope is that we can abandon ego, all ye who enter here. We are heading into a tunnel. It is up to us how we reappear on the other side.

IT’s been a while since I have written, and I apologize for that. Mostly, I apologize to my future self who is going to look back on this and say, “goddammit, why didn’t you write it ALL down, all the time, every moment?”. But such is grief. It is, to me, a fundamentally arresting force. It is also uncontrollable.

I am in the end stages of becoming certified to become an assistant principal; I am excited and intimidated about it all. I know where I want to be an assistant principal, but of course there is no guarantee that I will get exactly what I want. I am in the midst of trusting the universe and understanding I will end up where I am supposed to be. I had a vision tonight, whilst watching the end of “October Sky” (one of my favorite science nerd movies), of myself standing in front of my school as an assistant principal. I was wearing a blazer, of course, and a smile. And I realized that my dad would be so proud of me and it is a son of a bitch that I won’t be able to talk to him about it. I will only be able to thank him for it all. I remembered him teaching me my multiplication tables when I was 4-5 years old in my bedroom. He bought a poster with them and tacked it to my bedroom door.

My best friend (I am lucky to have several, but I speak of one here) who has cancer is in the midst of her own process; today she was told that she can stop taking chemo if she wants to and just take pain medicine and ride out her cancer. Apparently, it has spread to her bones now so it is pretty much everywhere, in small amounts, and she is having gnarly side effects from her chemo drugs. When we talked, I said to go for a lot of walks til the answer comes. She said she hopes the answer comes when we are eating lobster in Maine in June! I will always remember her perspective and her ability to make me laugh.

Another best friend texted today. He is also going through a huge loss, although not one that wrestles with death, but is grief nonetheless. He is on a six-month break from his husband, and told me today that he realizes he took his relationship for granted. I think this is inevitable in long-term relationships and, I think, in marriage especially. You aren’t supposed to take the other person for granted per se, but they committed to staying around with you in front of God and the law and your family and everyone, so I think everyone must take their spouse for granted at times. I suppose we only realize this, though, when they are gone.

My friend who has cancer has always taught me to be present with life and with death. That is her greatest gift to me. I learned so much about my relationship with my dad after he died. It turns out that it wasn’t what I thought it was. It wasn’t a bad relationship at all; in fact, it was one of my most consistent and valued relationships. I just let the baggage overwhelm the present beauty and the truth of it all. I miss talking to him so much it about makes me crazy sometimes. Just like my friend who is realizing he took his relationship for granted; I wonder if he is realizing that the relationship he thought he had wasn’t the one he actually had. How does that work, how do we confuse ourselves so?

My last note for tonight is about how crying makes you dehydrated and that makes me frustrated as I cry a lot and therefore, am dehydrated a lot. That in combination with living in a very sunny, dry place, makes me always thirsty, and then my anxiety takes over and wonders why I am always thirsty and if people notice how many times I go to the bathroom per day. I wonder if the anxiety that has definitely been triggered by grief is a permanent thing, or like everything else, will pass and change inevitably over time?

It is dark and quiet. I am reading a good book. Tomorrow is a new day. Love.