How I Spent My Summer (Hint: in a Basement With 12 Severed Heads, Some Soul-Crushing Grief, and Not Much Else.)
Don’t worry – this is not going to be some Cheryl Strayed-style
gag me with how hot and awesome I think I am and how every thing I ever fucked up was actually someone else’s fault account of hard-won redemption and triumph over the very grief that leveled me. It’s just not – there’s no redemption in sight, and certainly no triumph. I’ve spent the past 3 months in some stranger’s basement, for fuck’s sake – not to mention that said basement’s every vertical surface is covered with the heads, skins, pelts, and antlers of things he’s personally killed for, I assume, fun. Said basement has no internet or cable. Said basement has no kitchen. Aside from the whole “being indoors” thing, it’s camping. I’m lucky to have it, as I had nowhere else to go with my 5 pets – and grateful in a way that I keep needing to remind myself to be. Like, I am grateful not to be homeless. Which is not a small thing, but still. No fucking cable?
So, this might sound obvious, but: you should never move immediately after the sudden loss of a parent (You’re welcome.). Especially when you weren’t planning to move and therefore have no fucking idea of where to go next or what to do when you get there. While selling my house to the guy who came out of nowhere and just *asked* if he could buy it seemed like a good idea at the time, I can tell you in hindsight that this was a seriously fucked-up thing to do. I did it because that’s what I do – I leave. That’s how I handle pain, how I’ve ALWAYS handled pain – I cut and run and never look back; and not in a theoretical or emotional way which would allow me to stay conveniently stationed in my home whilst doing the cutting and running. Nope. I fucking RELOCATE. Sell houses I just bought and move across the country to places I’ve never been and where I know no one. I start over, thinking the pain won’t come with me or that it will somehow be less awful if the scenery around it is different. And this time it just dropped in my lap. It was the Universe clearly telling me, once again, to haul ass away from the sadness. Right? *The Things We Tell Ourselves.*
Since 9/11/01, I have moved 13 times. Next month will make it 14 times. In 12 years. It does not take a genius to determine that this pervasive discontent with my surroundings is merely a reflection of the chaos that exists within me on a cellular level and the bloody, beefy lasagna of scar tissue over my heart from a life touched by far too much death. Illness, financial ruin, betrayal, relationship flame-outs: these things all hurt, too, and yes – I have fled from those as well, many times over. But it’s the death that really gets you.
If there’s anything I should have learned from losing 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 1 uncle, 2 godparents, 13 close friends and 1 boyfriend (all but the grandparents were sudden. The phone calls and news stories that I will never have the luxury of forgetting.), it’s that there’s no going around grief. You have to go through it. Much like the Thieves’ Forest in The Princess Bride: while it would be really, really nice to take the scenic belt loop around that shit and avoid the flame bursts, lightning sand, and ROUSs that you’re pretty sure are going to kill you, make no mistake: that plan has its own set of perils. Better to risk the Fire Swamp with its well-documented dangers and just get the fuck to the other side.
Which brings me back to the basement: the Belly of the Grief Beast. My own personal Fire Swamp. Even though I got here technically by “running away again,” I knew that this time, leaving was not going to be enough. So I came here intending to take the summer off from all the things I’d normally do to distract myself from the pain of losing my mother. What I didn’t realize was that there were far many more of those things than I even realized, and that I couldn’t do any of them even if I wanted to. Aside from the obvious distractions like work, parties, committees, boys, booze, opiates, clubs, sports – I suddenly found myself with no kitchen, where I have always sought comfort – traveling, through food, to other worlds (i.e. away from my own) without ever leaving the house. No internet, where I might spend vast, empty hours of time-suckage on Facebook or numbing out to teen vampire marathons on Netflix. No bathtub, where I’d surely be spending evenings luxuriating with books and wine and the occasional inappropriate jet usage. There’s no shopping nearby, and friends here are few and far between. (In my experience, friends typically don’t handle your grief well, anyway. They liked you the way you were, and you’re not that way anymore. It’s inconvenient for them, the fact that your entire world has caved in on you.) So I don’t see much of anyone at all. I stopped playing roller derby. Although I still skate often, I skate alone. I eat alone. I walk alone. I go to the beach alone, if I go at all. I even stopped sexting with the adorable, too-young boy – not because it wasn’t tons of fun, but because it was. I am going THROUGH it, goddammit, not around. I am in self-imposed exile in some dude’s basement with the looming specter of my dead mother and the heads of a dozen murdered animals to remind me why I’m here and what I need to do. Which is cry. Cry so hard that I choke on my own sobs and fight for breath through a gullet near-strangled by the sadness. Rage. Rest. Talk to people who are not there anymore. Forgive them. Forgive God. Forgive myself.
Through it. Not around.
Next month I will move to another beautiful home in another beautiful town where I will know no one. I will start over as I always do. And while I like to think that This Time will be different because I’ve forced myself to feel the pain fully, I don’t know that it will. While I like to imagine that the unbearable darkness of the Basement Days will ready me for a life better lived in the light, I don’t know that it will. While I like to dream that this experience will finally turn me into someone who believes that the things that don’t kill you make you stronger instead of someone who believes that those things chip away at you little by little until there’s almost nothing left, I don’t know that it will. But I do know that when I leave here, the worst will be behind me, and that I will have survived it, again. I will cook and skate and see friends and laugh and shop and watch movies and mastur-bathe because those things should be for the living, not just for avoiding the dead. I will try my hardest to stay in one place, no matter what happens – because I will know that running doesn’t fix it.
Through it, not around. And from now on, not away.
Wish me luck.