Watching this again now… just me, some wine and a box of Kleenex. I really miss these other women and am so grateful to know them and to have shared this experience with them.
It had been nearly 2 years since I’ve had a self-injury incident but I had a few a couple of weeks ago. It’s so hard to explain to people who don’t understand… but it really does help me. There’s this buildup of such intense pressure; it just builds and builds and builds… and the energy needs to go somewhere. It’s like an extremely over-inflated balloon in danger of bursting… you let a little bit of air out and suddenly the crisis of a potential explosion is averted.
To some degree, my lack of self-injury in recent years was due to progress in therapy and learning better coping techniques and just getting things talked through and out in the open; that’s been the biggest antidote to my cutting– talking. I’ll admit that there have been many situations in the past few years where I definitely felt the strong urge to cut but I didn’t simply because of those who care about me– I knew it would upset and disappoint them not to mention it would embarrass me to have to admit to them what I had done to myself. I despise the shame that always follows… both the shame I put on my self as well as the shame that comes from seeing that humiliating look of disappointment on their face when they find out.
We’ve been working on the self-injury again in therapy as of about 3 weeks ago. I can’t recall exactly what she had said towards the end of one of our sessions but it was a reference to “that moment” of the first cut and seeing the blood. Apparently a tiny hint of a smile drifted across my lips and she said, “I saw that! What was that?” I was confused. “What was what?” She replied, “That little smile when you imagined that moment. I don’t think you even realized you were doing it. Let’s start there next week and explore that further.” So we’ve been talking about it a lot and doing some work with EMDR. She’s the second therapist I’ve had in all my years of therapy that has been open enough to leave me the freedom to still have it be a part of my life until I don’t need it to be any longer. I had one therapist a long time ago that said, “If that happens, I can’t continue to treat you. I need you to promise that you won’t do it or we will need to terminate this therapeutic relationship.” Interesting. Not a hint of giving me the tools to work through an emotional crisis but simply a “don’t do that anymore” method of treatment. Thanks, genius. Why hadn’t I thought of that!?
I can recall the very first time I injured myself. It began as hitting/punching. I honestly can’t say for sure how old I was but I have a perfectly clear memory of me sitting on my bedroom floor, in front of my mirror, and punching myself in the face over and over and over. I think I was about 5 or 6 years old. That’s pretty fucking young to have such a hatred for yourself. It wasn’t until years later that I “graduated” into cutting; as the years went by, I required more and more severe injuries to achieve the desired relief… much like a drug addict’s substance of choice, and the quantity of them, typically increases over the years as they require stronger things, and more of them, to achieve the same “high.”
I had a good friend tell me about 15 years ago that something happened to her one night that sort of helped her put my “coping mechanism of choice” into perspective for her. She said she and her husband had gotten into a terrible argument and he stormed out and left in a fury. She was left at home alone and sobbing. She tried to distract herself with busywork and started to iron some clothing. She said she continued to cry as she ironed clothes until suddenly, in her preoccupied state, she accidentally slid the iron right over her hand, causing a burn. She immediately went to tend to the injury and only later did she realize that in all the scurry to take care of that burn she had stopped crying and had momentarily been distracted enough to have forgotten all about the argument she and her husband had just had. She told me, “I think I kind of get it, now… in a small way.” She explained how the injury had made her forget about why she was crying in the first place. And she agreed that physical pain is by FAR easier to deal with than emotional pain and it was a welcome distraction.
It was such a relief to have a friend talk to me about it in that way… not everyone is so understanding. I’m always hesitant about who I tell and how I tell them. I had another friend around that same time whose response was, “OH MY GOD, YOU ARE A FREAK!! WHY WOULD YOU TELL ME THAT? AND WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF???? OH. MY. GOD. WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!??” It made me overwhelmingly cautious about who to tell from that day forward. And I’m terribly self-aware of all of the scars when I’m meeting new people for the first time. I don’t want that to be one of the first things people learn about me… I’m a good person and I have a lot to offer and don’t want to be judged up front by what they see to be a crippling character flaw.
Last week I finally watched the recent interview Diane Sawyer had with Bruce Jenner where he was discussing is lifelong struggle with his gender identity and his intent to someday undergo gender reassignment surgery. While my self-injury isn’t the same, so many things he said rang true for me and I really related to his struggle. At one point he said he had a “revelation.” He said, “Maybe this is my cause in life; maybe god put me on this earth to deal with this issue.” And that revelation seemed to give him courage to keep moving forward. He also said, “All of us deserve the right to be loved for exactly who we are.” That’s exactly what I need out all of my relationships.
Towards the end of the interview, Diane looked at him and asked, “If you were me, what’s the one question you would ask you?” He thought for a moment and offered a reply of, “Are you going to be OK?” So she proceeded to ask him that very question: “Are you going to be OK?” He said, “Yeah. I hope I’m gonna be OK. 2015’s gonna be quite a ride.” In closing, he said to the viewers, “When you think of me, please be open-minded. Have an open mind and an open heart. I’m not this bad person. I’m just doing what I have to do.”
It’s as though he pulled those words right out of my own head. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for myself… with regards to the scars all over my body and the truth behind how they got there; I want those who care about me to have an open mind and an open heart and still love me for exactly who I am.
“Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”
This letter was hard to write and has left me feeling pretty raw… I think it’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever publicly made myself. But when I started this blog, I said I would remain as honest as possible and not filter my thoughts and feelings… and I’m going to hold true to that, as uncomfortable as it may be. Let’s be honest, real life is messy. I’d been reading this quote to myself over and over before I finally found the courage to hit the “publish” button on this entry:
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” – Criss Jami
In the early morning hours on Saturday, March 28th I awoke from a vivid dream. In this dream my sweetie and I were sound asleep in a beautiful state room aboard a luxury cruise ship. I was awakened with a massive jolt and heard screams and cries and the sounds of shattering glass. I jumped out of bed and opened the door to the hallway outside of my room which overlooked a beautiful rotunda. It looked as though a bomb had gone off inside. There was a gaping hole in the ship with water rushing in, broken glass and screaming, injured people everywhere. I turned back in the room to see if he was OK only to find out that he had disappeared and I was left in the middle of this sinking ship alone.
I didn’t have to think terribly hard to decipher that dream at all, being that we had just broken up the day before and my entire life as I had come to know it the past 2 years had been completely destroyed. I’ve never been in so much pain at the loss of a relationship as I am now. Truthfully the only other relationship I’ve lost and grieved over more was my relationship with you, Brian. While the situations aren’t the same, I think this has so deeply triggered everything I felt after you died and I’m experiencing similar feelings making it more difficult for me to move on. I wasn’t ready to lose you, either. Our relationship felt “unfinished” and “unresolved,” too. I am again feeling abandoned… and empty…and inadequate– as though I “wasn’t enough” because I really wanted to be with him for the rest of my life, just as I expected I would grow old with you, too.
It’s been a whole month and yet I still can’t eat much more than a few bites in one sitting. I still wake up in the middle of the night and cry. I cry at work. I cry in my car. I have to avoid anything that reminds me of him or I start to cry in public… and that means avoiding a LOT. It means avoiding ever hearing Tom Petty or AC/DC, Uncle Ben’s brown rice, bluebonnets, Jameson Whiskey, NPR, spaghetti and meatballs, Shawn Colvin’s “Never Saw Blue Like That,” Ford Explorers, eggs, Alamo Drafthouse, pinball machines, the moon, carnitas, Gettysburg, boxed wine, hiking trails, Glacier National Park, Sudoku, lightning bugs, thunderstorms, turtles, fried chicken, crossword puzzles, Mark Knopfler, tubing on the river, a sky full of stars, rental cars, New Orleans, Gerald Wilson, Hot Sauce Festival, literally every single show or movie we ever watched together, KOOP radio, The Beaumonts, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Nature’s Own Honey Wheat bread, the drive-through taco place, Sprouts, Twin Liquors, Grace Potter, HEB’s salsa ranch dressing, Ritz crackers, Metallica, bagged spinach, Maudie’s, pets wearing clothes, Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With the Devil,” Hornitos Tequila, Café Dumonde’s chickory coffee, couples holding hands, Gary Clark, the sound of a recorder playing, Memphis, cardinals, Bender Bar, canned tomatoes, COTA, Irish Fair, cast iron skillets, Redd Volkaert, candles, The Jackalope, karaoke, The Peterson Brothers, Moody Theater, The Whiskey Sisters, South Austin Moonlighters, country drives, HEB, afternoon naps, Baker Street Pub, Scrabble, the sound of the rain, puzzles on my Kindle, garlic, South Austin Gallery coasters, dart boards, Bad Company, chicken wings, Skee Ball, Def Leppard, word jumbles, Willie Nelson, cheese and crackers, The Saxon Pub, Mexican martinis, The White Horse, crab cakes, The ’04 Lounge, chicken thighs, Irish Car Bombs, instant potatoes, pool tables, broccoli, dogs, Dripping Springs Vodka, meatloaf, Austin Gift Company, airports, Roppolo’s Pizza, The Rolling Stones, love scenes in movies, my hiking shoes, bacon, the intersection of I-35 and William Cannon Drive, Academy Sports, asparagus, classical music, Live Oak Market, campfires, Torchy’s Tacos, veggie burgers, RUSH, parmesan cheese, Gruene Hall, Mc. Pac-Man, beards, Central Market, Delbert McClinton, Papa Murphy’s pizza, flannel PJ pants, flasks, potstickers, crockpots, comedy shows, Sturgill Simpson, rotisserie chicken, The Black Crowes, salads, King of the Hill, hot wing sauce, ZZ Top, football, weddings, Red’s Porch, biscuits and gravy, Casino Southside, the sound of an acoustic guitar, Big Bend, The Smoky Mountains, Wilco, Dale’s Pale Ale, Tiva sandals, ribeye steaks, Hal Ketchum, my Spotify playlists, tents, David Grissom, camp stoves, tambourines, couples kissing, Bill Burr, bleu cheese, Stevie Nicks, Family Feud, onions, music festivals, The Whiskey Sisters, The Continental Club, Pedernales Falls, road trips… pretty much anything you can name would trigger a memory I have of our life together and for now, those memories still hurt like a mother fucker. Just like after you took your life, I found myself avoiding all reminders of you out of fear I would lose my shit and have a complete meltdown in the middle of a store. I’ve been doing that lately. It’s horribly painful and embarrassing. Like I said before, I think the end of this relationship has hit me smack in the middle of the very place in my wounded heart where I’ve been grieving for you for the past 4-1/2 years so this pain has only hit me that much harder.
This was undoubtedly the most meaningful relationship I’ve had to date, Brian. I laughed more with him than ever before… I was more open and transparent about myself than ever before, I was more comfortable with him than anyone before and it was more passionate a relationship than I’ve ever had before. It’s terribly hard to let all of that go. I truly loved coming home to him and waking up next to him each morning. I loved making him laugh. I loved that he made ME laugh. I loved our spontaneous songs and dances in the house and in the car. We were fantastic road trip partners. Honestly, even just grocery shopping together made me happy. Like I said, I’m having trouble letting go of all that was so great about us. Besides, change frightens me… I want things to stay the same, I want to know what to expect. I feel safer that way. I realize this is not always healthy nor the best thing for me… but it’s true and I’m working on that (among many other things) in therapy.
I’m doing my best to get through this. I force myself out of bed and into the world where the people are. I force feed myself bites of food here and there though I’ve not eaten a full meal in an entire month. I listen to meditation music in my office all day mostly because I know that I won’t hear any song in that playlist that will bring me back to a wonderful moment in time where we stood laughing and hugging and dancing in our kitchen while we cooked dinner together. And also in the hopes that it might calm my nerves a bit. So far it hasn’t helped much. But I’m going to keep getting up in the morning and maybe, little by little, it won’t hurt so much. Having gotten this far after your death has proven to me that I can overcome the unspeakable so I just have to keep reminding myself that “this too shall pass.”
I guess I just don’t want to be forgotten… and I want to know that I mattered just as much to him. And I believe I did matter to him, we had something really special. I want to know that the fond memories far outweigh the troubling memories. My last breakup, far less difficult for me, was quite different. It ended with both of us ultimately realizing that we weren’t meant to be together and with him actually saying to me, “I haven’t seen you really smile in a long time and I miss that. I don’t want to be the reason you don’t smile anymore. I want you to find happiness for yourself. You were a really wonderful girlfriend. You are an amazing woman and you have changed me forever, you’ve made me a better person for having known you and having been allowed into your life.” It made me feel as though I really mattered to him, that I made a difference and that I was worth loving, with all of my faults and all.
I realize that I’m a very messy work in progress and I’m absolutely hard to live with sometimes. But then again, everyone can be. We both brought our own hang-ups and baggage to the relationship… honestly, at this age, who of us DOESN’T have baggage? Maybe it’s a matter of loving each other enough to figure out how to get our baggage to work together and create something meaningful and lasting. We didn’t have the best communication with one another when it came to working through conflict together. It didn’t happen terribly often, but when it did it really derailed us… hard. I may be naive for saying this, but I really think we could have worked it out with a little help; I think that is another reason I’m having so much difficulty in letting go. I’m torn between wanting to keep looking through all the pictures I have of us and wanting to get rid of them all because, after all, am I just torturing myself with them? I see a picture of us hugging and it only makes me miss his arms all the more. I know that now I can look at pictures of you with fondness and not the constant, stabbing pain that used to be there… so maybe in time that will happen with this loss, too. And who knows, maybe with a whole bunch of time he and I will both be in a better place and realize that this was the right choice for us. He was a very important part of my life and always will be.
I think another aspect to my grieving process with regards to this relationship is related to the stress levels I’m experiencing because of all the moving around I’ve been doing. I had literally handed over the keys to the apartment I was vacating only 6 days earlier though I’d already been moving into his house over the course of a few months. I finally finished moving in and then had to scramble to find somewhere else to go when we split up. I landed in a suitable place for this past month– found a room on Craigslist to rent in a house with a single mom and her 2 kids who live there part-time. So following a week crashing at a friend’s house, Easter weekend I moved for the 2nd time in a month and tossed most of my belongings into a storage unit. I did just find an apartment of my own now so I get to move again next weekend– that’ll make the 3rd move in a few months. I got rid of so many things when I moved in with him because, combining our belongings together, I didn’t need as much… and now I have to replace those things. I’ve never taken the whole “moving in” thing even remotely lightly; I’ve had two previous boyfriends break up with me when I wasn’t “ready” to move in with them… it didn’t feel right, so I didn’t do it. The only other man I’ve ever lived with was my ex-husband and we were engaged when we moved in together. So it’s a bit harder of a blow to me after giving it so much thought over the past 2 years. I didn’t even know he’d lived with someone else before… but then again, I never specifically asked him that question, either. Maybe that was part of the problem– I didn’t feel comfortable asking, nor was the information ever offered. On top of all of that, I’m just exhausted from battling my own recurring depressive episodes without all of the added weight of this turmoil in my life at the moment. It all just feels so heavy and unmanageable most days.
I don’t know that I’ve ever believed in the whole “soul mate” thing but I do believe that if you find someone you think you can spend the rest of your life with, that it will, in the end, be worth all the hard work that goes into keeping a relationship alive, healthy and strong. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. When you’re that exposed, sometimes you’ll be angry with one another and want to quit because it is hard work and you won’t always agree, but that’s what makes it worth it, I think. It’s still what I want for myself. It’s not that I believe you have to be in a relationship to be whole, another person can’t make that happen for you. But I would absolutely PREFER to have someone to share my life with because having had that experience only makes me desire it more for my future. I came across this quote today and I believe it to be true.
“To say that one waits a lifetime for his soul mate to come around is a paradox. People eventually get sick of waiting, take a chance on someone, and by the art of commitment become soul mates, which takes a lifetime to perfect.” -Criss Jami
Maybe someday I’ll get to a point where the thought of meeting someone new, or of him meeting someone new, doesn’t completely make me feel physically ill… because that is exactly where I find myself today. But, like Tom Hanks as Sam in “Sleepless In Seattle” said:
“Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breath in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breath in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.”
And now, like Tom Hank’s as Forrest Gump said:
“That’s all I have to say about that.”
Brian, please send me some hugs and strength from wherever you are now. I sure could use them.
Missing you more than ever,
I have switched over, with the help of a good friend, to a private hosting site for my blog so you’ll notice that the look the appearance has changed though the original content is all there.
One thing I’m especially excited about is all of the “sharing” options for each post. Y’all will now be able to easily share a letter on Pinterest, Facebook, Google, Tumblr, Twitter, ect… so please, share away!
Email Subscribers: You may also want to resubscribe via email to make sure you continue to receive updates when a new entry goes up.
I still have putting all these letters together to publish a book on my radar, so stay tuned for that as well!
As always, thanks for following and sharing this journey with me.
Well I’m almost completely moved out of the apartment and turn in my keys tomorrow. Last night as I was collecting all the miscellaneous items around the apartment to place in boxes I did one last run-through of the bedroom to make sure I hadn’t left anything. As I looked towards the closet I saw there was still an over-the-door hook up top. I walked over to the closet and opened the door to take down the hook and as I rounded the corner of the door I saw that hanging from the hook was your favorite flannel shirt. My heart stopped for a moment because I realized how devastated I’d have been if I’d left that shirt there.
While I kept a few things of yours that didn’t really have much significance, I mostly kept items that meant something to me or to us. And the pieces of clothing I kept were primarily things which you wore often or which I have pictures of you wearing. If I can’t have you here, the feeling of your favorite sweatshirt keeping me warm is a calming replacement. A number of people have told me, “it’s not the things, it’s the memories” that make that person and to some degree I would agree with them. But for me it is still very important to be able to see, hold, feel and touch things that you once held. It only enhances those memories and my connection to you.
Something else happened this week that I’ve been wanting to tell you about because, though it won’t be obvious to anyone else but me, it dug up so many feelings for me about the sadness of your last few days and your eventual death. On Wednesday I spent my lunch hour at the apartment doing some final cleaning and just moments after I’d left to return to work I saw something horrible. I saw a man hunched over looking down at a cat lying in the street as cars swerved around him, uninterested in whatever was happening. I knew something was obviously wrong so I immediately pulled over and parked my car. As I walked closer, the man’s girlfriend told me the cat had just been hit by a car and the driver did not stop and the cat appeared to not be able to walk. The young man picked up the cat and brought it to the opposite side of the road and set it in the grass and began to walk away. The cat was still alive and there was no way I could live with myself if I didn’t try and help so I picked her up and carried her to my car.
She was struggling to breathe but relaxed into my lap and occasionally looked up at me as I cradled her head in my right hand. I drove all the way to the vet that way– with her on my lap and her head resting in my hand. Occasionally she’d shudder and I feared she wasn’t going to make it. For a full minute or better I thought perhaps she’d passed but then she’d gasp for air and I’d let out a sigh of a relief as I kept talking to her and saying, “Stay with me, sweetie, stay with me. We’re almost there, please just hold on… I’m getting you help.”
As soon as I parked in front, I carried her inside to the vet and immediately began to sob as I told the young man at the front desk, “Someone hit her. They drove away. It’s not my cat.” After the vet tech took her to the back, I stood there crying, smelling of cat urine as they offered me water and an entire box of tissues. It was only about 2 minutes later when the vet came out to inform me that she didn’t make it. It likely seemed odd to them that I would be that emotional over a creature who was not known to me, so I was a little it embarrassed at the amount of tears I was shedding in the presence of a room full of strangers. But they were quite kind. They took down my contact information and assured me they would do their best to locate the cat’s family, if one existed. I got back into my car feeling defeated and brokenhearted and I let go in my car and wept for this little creature whom I had only known for about 10 minutes.
That little life I held in my lap brought up so many painful thoughts about you, your death and how I was unable to help you. I guess there was a little part of my mixed-up brain that thought by helping this helpless creature that maybe I’d be able to free myself of some of that guilt I’ve carried for not being able to save your life. But the part that really got me the most, was being with that little life as she was leaving this world. I’ve been so tormented over your life not only ending in suicide but that you took your last breath alone. I don’t know why I’ve been so hung up on that part, but I really have been… and it hurts to think that you may have been feeling unloved in your last thoughts. As I looked into the face of that dying creature, a piece of my heart truly felt as it she were saying to me, “Perhaps you can do for me what you couldn’t do for him.” I realize how terribly strange that sounds… but it’s true. And yet… she died, too. It truly felt like another failure on my part and I felt your loss so intensely as if it had just happened all over again.
It was a few days ago now, and that cat has been on my mind so much ever since. I just can’t get her face and the sounds of her painful, labored breathing out of my mind. I’m devastated that she didn’t survive as I had imagined a future where she pulled through and that perhaps, if no family had claimed her, that I would care for her and give her a loving home. The only piece of comfort I’ve been able to collect from that experience was that I gave her all the love in my heart in her last moments here.
If you see her around wherever you are, please give her a special hug for me and tell her I’ll never forget her.
I love you.
I’ve seen two stories in the news recently about how families have chosen not to eliminate the term “suicide” from their loved ones’ obituaries. They called it out for what it was by saying something like, “Edward lost his long and brave battle with mental illness and addiction and took his own life.” There is so much bravery in that… and I also feel there is compassion for the person who died by not “covering it up” or giving a more ambiguous description like, “Edward died unexpectedly.” Obviously it is a personal choice each family has to make for themselves but I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of and by sharing with others how they died we are spreading awareness about depression, addiction and suicide.
I wasn’t involved in writing your obituary and it started like this: “Brian A. Habedank, 35, Brooklyn Park, formerly of Red Wing, died at his residence.” Basically what I was just talking about. However, it was indicated in the wording in the last line: “Memorials preferred to SAVE or NAMI.” SAVE is the non-profit organization “Suicide Awareness Voices of Education” and NAMI is the “Alliance on Mental Illness.” So if one didn’t know you, or our family, they would likely still be able to piece it together for themselves.
We chose those two organizations for an obvious reason– because what happened to you was not something we wanted to see happen to other people and we were hopeful that any money raised would possibly help even just one person get the care they needed. While cleaning and unpacking at my new home the other day I found a card from my former in-law that I really wished I hadn’t saved because it made me so angry. Well, I guess “angry” isn’t so much the right word as “invalidated.” The card read like this:
Instead of donating to one of the organizations in Brian’s name, we are sending money to apply to Sophie’s vet bill. I am sure Brian would think this appropriate.”
You’ll remember that at the time of your death, my dear kitty, Sophie, had been at the vet for a few weeks as her kidneys were failing. And I guess I should clarify that I absolutely recognize that sending money at all was an extremely kind gesture. But what wasn’t kind was to choose to specifically say, “we’ve chosen not to donate to either of those organizations” and “I think this is what Brian would have wanted.” I was hurt, angered and frustrated. There was a very meaningful reason behind our choices of groups to receive funds collected in your memory and she knew that. The person who wrote the card, while well-meaning, was known to shy-away from difficult topics and situations and frequently adopted the “head in the sand” position when things became uncomfortable. If she had simply sent the money and said, “please choose where you would like this money to go” versus openly telling me that she made the choice to ignore our wishes I wouldn’t have been hurt. I realize that when this card came only weeks after you died, things were still pretty raw and fresh and all of my emotions were right on the surface. But when I came across the card again on Sunday I had exactly the same response even 4-1/2 years later… so I don’t think it was simply me reacting out of the heat of the moment.
Anyhow… so I had told you I was unpacking in my new home– I just recently moved in with my sweetie of over 2 years. While we were hiking on Saturday I was thinking about you and how much I miss you and so wished that the two of you could have met. I know you’d have gotten along so well; you really would have liked him and I wish he could have had the chance to know you, too. It’s a huge deal, this living together thing. I’d been asked by others in the past but didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. It’s a really meaningful decision and a huge responsibility which I don’t take lightly… it needed to be right. I didn’t hesitate for a moment this time. I wish you were here to share this with me. Oh, and I also had your whoopee cushion saved in the same box… so that brought a smile to my face. You and I always did share an affinity for fart culture.
I’ve been having a really rough few days and while sitting at a stoplight on my way to work this morning, I was startled out of my fog by a voice saying, “Hey pretty lady! Have a great day!!” I turned to see a man sitting at the bus stop and grinning at me from ear to ear. It absolutely made my day… people have no idea how much a smile like that might mean to someone who is feeling a lot of sadness. I need to try and pass that smile on to others today, I think.
Well I’m out of words for now, I suppose. I miss you, dude.
I’m often baffled at the sights and sounds that can jar me into a moment of paralyzing grief as I’m reminded of your death.
While sitting at a stoplight after work yesterday, I was reminded of a time 4 years ago, just months after you died, when I was sitting at that very same stoplight on my lunch break from work. It was grey and cloudy and cool. As I sat there waiting for the light to change I noticed an injured bird struggling in the road about 10 feet from my car; it was hopping about and squawking in distress and appeared to not be able to fly. The animal-lover in me felt compelled to do something because I hated to see it in pain and seemingly calling for help. But I was absolutely frozen. I watched it flop about for a few moments and suddenly I could barely breathe. I was in the midst of a panic attack. For whatever reason, I thought of you. Actually, I DO know the reason. It was only months after your death… EVERYTHING reminded me of you. There wasn’t a moment I was awake that you weren’t on my mind. But this little bird, in obvious distress, was hopping about in the road as all of us sitting in the adjacent cars moved about as nothing was wrong. I didn’t do anything to help… I just drove away.
I hated myself for quite a while for leaving and not even attempting to help that fragile, little bird. And, most irrationally, there was a part of my mind that thought, “What if this is a test? Maybe this is my brother; he’s back and I’m being tested yet again to see if maybe I can save him this time.” You don’t need to say it… I know what you’re thinking… that’s positively fucked up. I know it is. But there is very little about any of my thought processes for the first few years after your death that was rational. As I was driving away, I just cried so hard. I felt as though I was abandoning another creature that needed my help in the same way I wasn’t able to help you, either.
It sounds silly, but I think about that bird so often and wonder what ever became of it. And since that day I’ve also imagined that the bird wasn’t just like you… it was also very much like me. As it appeared to struggle to get the attention of someone, or something, that could help, the world just kept right on moving by as if nothing was wrong. That’s exactly what I was feeling like for so long and often still struggle with today. Inside my heart and head there is so much turmoil and sadness over losing you and yet the world just keeps moving. I was wounded and injured but no one stopped. People wanted to look away from me in the same way that I looked away from that bird– because its obvious pain was too much for me to handle and I felt that I was in no position to help.
I think today it is still a bit of an issue in that I have friends that I just don’t hear from much anymore and in a few instances I feel it is simply because I remind them of their own pain and they’d rather avoid it. I understand that, but it still hurts. I didn’t ask for this sadness but it is mine and I still have a lot of processing to do to get rid of that empty feeling I get. And there are still those friends who are fine with me on my good days but on the really bad days they avoid me altogether. It’s not that I’m acting out or anything, I just think people naturally don’t want to be around pain if they don’t have to… but it would be nice instead of staying away from me that they might choose instead to just offer up a hug to let me know they recognize my sorrow and that they also accept that part of me.
I really wish I hadn’t driven away from that little bird but, more importantly, I wish I’d been able to do more to help you.
It breaks my heart to see so many posts and news stories these days about kids (and some painfully YOUNG kids) taking their own lives as a result of enduring incessant bullying. I was bullied often and it made going to school far more difficult than it needed to be; in fact, I thoroughly dreaded going to school. I didn’t talk about it much because I was ashamed, so I really don’t know how much you know about what school was like for me though you were in the very same school at the time.
I get a bit hot under the collar when I hear people responding to these stories with anything less than empathy because they feel bullying just isn’t a big deal and that these kids are “just too sensitive” or they need to “buck up and grow a pair.” The thing is… everyone is different. What is hurtful to one child might not be hurtful to another; we’re all wired differently. But I will say that even today, at age 41, that I vividly remember so many instances of ridicule and bullying as though they happened yesterday. Bullying is a far bigger deal than a lot of people seem to be willing to admit.
I was a painfully awkward kid and a far more awkward teenager and I did not make the transition from grade school into junior high school easily. Nearly all of the girls whom I called friends up until the last day of summer following sixth grade somehow settled quite nicely into the “cool crowd” in junior high school. I was brokenhearted as all at once I was alone in a very new and scary place. I tried so embarrassingly hard to fit in; I remember that first Christmas in the seventh grade I handed out cards and candy canes to an obscene number of people… just as a nice gesture and to hopefully make some new friends. I watched as a few of the “cool kids” threw the cards away in front of me… or just laughed and rolled their eyes. Some accepted them graciously, but most looked annoyed that I had the audacity to come close enough to them to make the delivery. The rejection was devastating and I was humiliated.
I just didn’t dress like everyone else; where the popular look of the day was Guess jeans, Esprit and Benetton… I was more at home shopping at garage sales and thrift stores and coming to school in my dad’s old suits and ties, suspenders and wing tips and grandma’s old broaches. It didn’t go over in a small-town school and I was picked on no only for my appearance but because I was a timid, easy target who didn’t stand up for herself. During most of junior and senior high school there was a group of boys, popular boys, who found it appropriate to spit on (or at least AT) me every day when I was forced to pass them to get to my locker. Some days they wouldn’t even let me get to my locker so I’d just show up to class without my book and say that I’d forgotten it.
There was a specific girl that made all my bus rides to and from junior high particularly painful. If I wasn’t seated near her, she’d make sure to find me. The trip would consist of her pulling my hair, spitting on me and spouting off lengthy little speeches about what a horrible and unnecessary person I was. Far more hurtful was that the girl sitting next to her, doing nothing, was a person with whom I’d grown up; we’d been friends since about the age of 2. And she sat back and watched the entire thing play out. Every. Single. Time. She’d pretend as though she didn’t know me all day at school and continued the charade until we got off the bus. Once the bus was out of sight she suddenly knew me again and she’d try and catch up with me shouting, “Hey, wait for me! Let’s walk home together!”
Back in the 9th grade during the first day of science class with Mr. Wood we drew names to determine our seating chart; the person with whom we were to share a table would also be our science partner for the semester. It’s still so clear to me today… standing up in the classroom as Tom drew my name from the hat and shouted in disgust to the class, “What!? I have to sit next to that FREAK?” The entire class laughed along with him. I, the “freak,” stood there in front of them all and fought back the tears not wanting to let on that I was unbelievably embarrassed and hurt.
It’s not as though these were exactly life-threatening situations; but when you take a painfully shy and awkward kid who’s predisposed to depression and who lacks the self-esteem required to stand up for herself against the bullying, you get a recipe for disaster. I was suicidal for years before entering junior high school but the social exile and the daily cruelty only made it harder for me to find reasons to continue to exist; when you’re a fragile and sensitive kid who is searching for her place in the world only to find out you seem to fit in anywhere at all… well, it makes you wonder why you’re even here. The daily taunting and alienation made it hard for me to concentrate in school so at times my grades suffered. I found it difficult to make new friends because I was so self-conscious that people wouldn’t like me so I was less likely to even try and meet new people.
In fact, this self-loathing ran so deep that the summer after tenth grade when a boy seemed to be pursuing me I was hesitant, to say the least. He asked me out again and again and again and I continued to answer with no after no after no because I honestly believed in my heart of hearts that there was no way that he was actually serious about taking me out on a date. I was convinced that it was some cruel joke; I would say yes and he’d be a no-show or something… or any variety of scenarios that would leave me looking the fool and him saying, “You couldn’t possibly think I actually wanted to date you!!” as he and his friends laughed at my expense. But after a few months of that I did finally say yes to a date and we were together for the better part of a year. I’m glad I took that chance, he was a very sweet first boyfriend.
By my senior year I was getting better at letting the ridicule roll off a little bit, though it still hurt terribly and I still was painfully timid. I recall there was to be a school-wide talent show the spring of my 12th grade year. I hadn’t even considered entering; to intentionally put myself on a stage, in the vulnerable position of performing, where everyone in the entire school could possibly be humiliating me with boos and hisses at the very same time would have been devastating. But the team running the show pursued me for a while and I finally broke down and agreed to participate; I signed up and would be playing piano and singing one of my own compositions. The day arrived and I sat there in the front row watching the show unfold. Each performance brought me closer and closer to the time I was to step on the stage and I was nearly suffocating with fear. I can’t tell you the number of times I almost jumped from my chair to either run to the bathroom to throw up or to run home and avoid having to face the crowd. But my time came… I sat up there at the piano and played and sang with my dysfunctional little heart splayed out on the stage for everyone to see. I was terrified. But, to my surprise, the once-rowdy audience became silent and just… listened. Brian, you told me later that the group of boys in front of you were disruptive throughout the entire show but managed complete silence for the duration of my performance and actually applauded and shouted approvingly at the end. (Ironically, these were some of the very same boys that spit on me in the hallway.) I ended up winning the talent show and happily took home the $25 prize and a little bit more self-appreciation than I woke up with that morning.
I still have a very long way to go but over the years I’ve grown a lot, dude. I have learned to set safer boundaries for myself and am getting better at sticking up for myself and worrying less about what others think of me.
All that said, I can’t even imagine how I’d have survived in today’s social media presence in schools when with a single tweet or text or Facebook post the entire school (and beyond) can be belittling someone within a split-second… and all at the very same time. There’s no controlling it once it’s out there and it just needs to stop.
I hope people continue to become more sensitive about the subject of bullying and I desperately wish that parents will take it seriously and act appropriately when they learn from teachers and school administrators that their child is a bully; we need to be teaching children kindness and respect. They certainly don’t have to be everyone’s friend… but they do need to learn that everyone does, at least, deserve to be respected, not humiliated. And not all of the responsibility should fall on the teachers– this needs to start at home.
I’m sorry this letter is a little bit long today but this has been on my mind a lot lately and I just needed to get it out. Thank you for always sticking up for me when others didn’t, dude. It meant the world to me.
Well, I did it. I finished watching the entire “Six Feet Under Series” this weekend. I miss it already. There is something so comforting, to me, about a show that so openly talks about death and the shit that happens to those left behind.
I watched as a sister, fresh in her grief, stared blankly up at the sky as though her brother’s death literally had taken her soul away from her and left her empty inside. She said, “He was my only brother. He’s gone. I’ll never have another brother.” I remember those days so clearly, Brian. Moving about but feeling disconnected to the places and faces I came across. Going to sleep crying. Waking up crying. Lying on my bed staring out the window in bone-weary silence when the tears simply ran out… staring into the sky but not really seeing anything. Not connecting to anyone or anything. Nothing mattered anymore… nothing at all. I’ll never have another sibling; you were it for me and with one painful phone call that lifetime of being a sister to you was just… over.
The show showed the self-destruction that often occurs following a traumatic death. Nearly all of my days were all the same at the beginning: I’d wake up in a fog, believing it had just been a bad dream and then begin sobbing when I realized it wasn’t a dream at all. I’d leave the house in whatever clothes were closest to me, making no real effort to put myself together. I’d go to work and fight tears all day. I’d leave work for my lunch break spent crying in my car. I’d cry all the way home when the work day was over. I’d drink at least 6-7 glasses of wine, smoke some pot, take a few sleeping pills and pass out before 8:00 and the next morning I’d wake up and do it all over again. It was so exhausting missing you and I really didn’t want to feel anything at all. I had very little desire to answer the phone or reply to emails or texts and I was just so fucking depressed. I was so angry, though not at you… just at what my life had become. I was just barely getting by; I’ve come a long, long way since then.
I felt so at home watching “Six Feet Under” because it so beautifully showed all the stages of grief that people go through… and reinforced that those stages very often don’t go in any particular order… and that you can relive any and all of those stages at different times in your life– grieving the loss of someone so close to you is a lifelong process. I can say that after 4 years it does get easier… but it’s ALWAYS there. You are still on my mind– every. single. day. In the beginning I was bombarded with all of the sad memories and all the ways I hurt your feelings or upset you over the years and wished so badly that I could get a do-over. But these days it is far easier to come up with happy memories… there sure are a lot of them.
Another thing that I found so comforting about the show was the continued “presence” of those who had passed. They often “saw” and spoke to those who had died; whether it was real or imagined (though I believe that to be real) isn’t the point… it was that even after death we still want to incorporate our loved ones into our daily lives. You’re on my mind so much that with each decision I make or when things happen to me that I want to share I imagine that your spirit is with me sharing in the news or comforting me when I need it. Though your body is gone, you still very much inspire me. I can’t let you go completely and I’m fine with that, actually; you’re always going to be a part of my life, though in a different form than before.
And the show was just so honest! I wish our society didn’t tiptoe around the subject of death so much… and the topic of a suicide death is far more taboo and people just don’t want to talk about it. I’ve eased up a lot over the past 4 years. In the beginning I wanted to talk about it all the time– to anyone who would listen. It was always on my mind and was such a distraction that I often thought I shouldn’t have been allowed to drive a vehicle. If someone honked and zipped around me while flashing their middle finger at me for failing to see that the light had turned green a part of me wanted to chase them down and jump out of the car and scream, “I’m sorry I made your life so difficult at that stoplight… my brother just killed himself! If a few seconds longer at a stoplight is the worst thing to happen to you today then you’re in great fucking shape!!” That anger was always just barely concealed beneath my expressionless surface.
I’m grateful that through talk therapy, art, setting appropriate boundaries with people whom I do not feel safe, medication and simply the passing of time that I have come to a place where I can remember you without breaking down. Don’t get me wrong, I still fall apart a lot… but not all day every day like I used to.
And if I’m being completely honest, I can foresee myself watching the entire “Six Feet Under” series again in the future. It’s good for my soul.
On a side note, I just turned 41 on Saturday… I did always love the birthday cards you used to get for me. I really miss that and I really missed not talking to you on my birthday. But you were still there with me, dude. I miss you.