More di Gelso

i nonni stanno piantando
i fagiolini li
nei loro giardini al Parco
dei Fontanili
i pesci sono tornati
a nuotare nel fiumetto
sotto il ponte
la lavanda comincia a
fare i fiori violi, profumando
l’aria, chiamando gli appi
ma tu dove sei

eri qui, ne sono sicura
avevamo camminato qua
insieme a la mano
guardando i piccoli fiori del castagno
rubando le more di gelso

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Purple is Like That

I’m supposed to be shamelessly promoting my book that’s soon coming out, but this week it’s not going to happen.

Instead, it’s time for another letter from the road nobody wants to travel on. Nine months in. Yeah.  You say, “Oh that’s so fast. How can it be 9 months? It seems like yesterday!”  I say, “Lucky you.” It must be nice.

I don’t really like the word “Grief” because I don’t understand it.  Just the word sounds like throwing up.  It makes me picture someone crying so much they can’t move.  Which, for me, is not one of my choices.  It’s spoken of as if it were a sickness you come down with then get over, yet often referred to as a “journey.” Maybe it is like a sickness—I don’t know. I’ll let you know if I get over it. But it’s the only word we have for being really sad for a long time about something big, so I guess I’ll have to break down and use it.

This is what I want to tell you about Grief, in case you come down with it too, someday, or you have another, less-vocal, friend who gets bitten by the bug:

1. The “journey” metaphor does not work for me AT ALL.  At least not so far.

I love all trips categorically–heck, I even like getting on the bus–but I do not like this one bit.  Geez. If this reveals itself later to have been a journey, I’ll let you know, but for right now can we not refer to this as some type of trip or pilgrimage I have decided to take?  Pretty please?  It’s more like a case of malaria.  If this is a journey, it is The Trail of Tears.  It is a forced exodus from a war-torn country.  It does not feel like being on a journey. It feels like being suspended in time.

2. You get used to things.

I’ve said this already, but here it is again. You get used to things you cannot imagine you could get used to. You just do. Walking in the door and talking to an empty house. Doing absolutely everything for yourself. Eating by yourself. Taking up the whole bed. You get used to the person who’s not there being not-there. You get used to trying to remember what it was like when they were.

You also get used to doing whatever the hell you feel like whenever you feel like with or without a good reason. It’s very selfish. It might be the only perk. You never have to share anything or explain yourself. You just leave when you want to go home, buy something because you feel like it, pour another glass of wine or skip it entirely. Nobody asks you anything. You can go to bed ridiculously early if you haven’t got anything better to do.

3. Being around the wrong people is worse than not being around the right person.

Make no mistake: People in the middle of Grief are not necessarily desperate for company. Or maybe that’s just me being a Scorpio. I wouldn’t know. I’m just saying: being alone is not the worst thing. Not just any human being is a suitable replacement for the one who’s gone. A person experiencing grief may not want to be alone. Or they may prefer it to any other option they can think of. Don’t take it personally. If you propose something and your grieving friend gives a weird answer that sounds a little like they might be putting you off, they probably are. Maybe this is because we get used to being selfish.

You might need way more down time than before.  I can become thoroughly miserable if I give myself something to do every night of the week.  It’s too much.  I just need more space between things.  And at 9 months, I am WAY better at this than at first!  Oh man.  Way better.  At first, I needed a day of hibernation for every hour out of the house.  Emotional overload is like dengue fever–it takes a long time to get your strength back and it doesn’t come all at once.

4. You don’t want people to pity you.

I will say that I make/have made a concerted effort not to seem pathetic. Sometimes I feel pathetic, but It’s not ok with me to show it. I save pathetic moments for when it’s just me and the cats. I don’t mind appearing to be sad, but I don’t want to inspire pity for any reason. That bothers me.

5. You never mind talking about it.

I’m checking back in on this subject. I remember writing before that it doesn’t bother me to talk about Pio. I expect it never will. I don’t mind talking about him when he was healthy or telling you about when was sick. It’s not like I forget about it when I’m talking about something else, right?  And no, I’m not going to lose it on you.  I don’t want you to pity me, remember?

6. Your life does not go on. It stops and starts over.

Lots of people, when they want to be encouraging, say things like, “Life goes on,” or talk about “Getting on with life.” This, in the literal sense is true. Life on the planet does indeed go on no matter what happens to any of us—there’s no arguing that. But YOUR life–when your husband dies or some such thing–your life as you know it? It’s as over has his is. And it would be nice if somebody would warn you about this, that way you will know you’re not going crazy when that’s the way you feel. It doesn’t mean you’re going to die now, too. It means that life is over and whatever happens next is going to be part of a different one. How you feel about that—whether you like it or not—is irrelevant. It just is. You’re welcome.

7. It’s very hard to reach out, so you hope other people will.

This is another one I’m better at now than I was at first, but I’m including it in the list because it belongs here.  It takes more nerve to reach out to people than it did before, even for a extrovert like me.  A person in my shoes is probably not going to call you, ask you how you are, and see if you want to go out to lunch. Because you have a life, and what if you’re busy? I don’t want you to have to tell me no. Or say you’ll call me back and then you don’t. I would rather eat my sandwich in peace and not set myself up for disappointment. I’m not going to ask, and then ask again.

When your friend is having a time of Grief, it’s your turn, and it might be for a long time.  And if they make some lame-sounding excuse, it’s ok.  Try again later.  It might just not be the right day.  Or the right week.

8.  You get pretty good at the art of being happy and sad at the same time.

Maybe they’re opposites on the vocab test, but in real life, they’re not.  In real life, they’re like red and blue:  when you mix them, they make new color.   That’s the color of your new life.  Just because one day you’re happy doesn’t mean you’re “over it.”  And because two days later you’re having a complete and unexpected meltdown doesn’t mean you weren’t really happy, then.  Happy things can make you very sad.  Sad things can be very comforting.  It’s ok.  Purple is like that.

 

That’s what I can tell you from here, 9 months after my life stopped and started over.  And I have one last piece of advise for you when talking to your friend who has lost something immense:

Do not say “If you need anything let me know.” Have I mentioned this? Either offer something concrete, or say, “Have a nice day.” This invitation to “anything,” certainly stated with all benevolent intent, is SO ANNOYING. What exactly is it supposed to mean? It’s so open, it means nothing. Is it an offer of money? I don’t think so. You’ll drive me to the hospital if I get bitten by a snake? If I run out of milk or eggs you’ll be right over?  I should call you instead of the fire department if my house catches on fire? I don’t get it.

Try again.  You want to offer something? Offer it. Hey, do you need a ride to the grocery store? Wow, my lemon tree is loaded to the ground—want some? Want to have breakfast tomorrow morning? Need anything from the hardware store? Those offers I can manage. But that “ask me for anything” thing—it doesn’t work. At all. I will probably not ask you for anything, even when I need something. And you probably know that.  I will probably just figure it out on my own.  Which, unavoidably, is the New Normal.

 

 

Watch the Horizon (A Picture of Time)

I go out surfing in the morning. The ocean is warm and crystal clear–so clear I can see the ripples in the sand two or three meters below my feet as I sit on my board. Waiting. All I do is wait. I wait and wait and wait. I had no idea you could wait so long and still have so much time left. To wait.

The sun climbs. Sets of waves come. When I’m surfing I’m thinking about surfing. That’s all. Watching the horizon for a movement or a slight change in color that means the next set it coming. No more, no less. Most of surfing is waiting. For waves. For the right wave. For the right moment to paddle and stand. At least when I’m surfing, I know what I’m waiting for. Maybe that’s why it’s so much of a relief. Sometimes I surf well, sometimes I don’t. Sooner or later I’m thinking about breakfast.

I ride back to the shore and lay on the sand. Above me in the blue are clouds. I think about water. So much water. In me, around me, above me. I think about Pio and how he filled up with water. I think about how ashes are what’s left of a person when all of the water is gone. I wish it would rain on me right now and the water would be him. The same molecules. I supposed it’s not impossible.

Everything aches. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.

Eight months have gone by. Compared to the whole rest of my life, it’s nothing. It’s already been an eternity. I wait and wait and wait. As if, if I wait long enough… What? He will come back? I don’t think so. He’ll send me some kind of sign? For what? I’ll die too? Well there’s hardly any debating that. But is that what I’m waiting for? I don’t know. I’m waiting to find out what I’m waiting for. It’s taking such a long time.

I look at pictures of us and we have the same eyes. We have the same hair. I look at us and now I see why some said we looked like siblings. At the hospital in the last days, Pio’s roommate thought he was my father.

Time is not obeying the rules. Or maybe I’m finally learning to understand it. It doesn’t just go, it stands still, thick as giant waves of salt water. A friend tells me I seem to be moving forward. I say I don’t know about that, but thanks. I say thanks because I can tell it was a compliment. I don’t want to move forward. I want to move backward and I can’t. I don’t want to do anything. So I wait. It doesn’t feel to me like I’m moving any direction. It’s the same day over and over and over. I wait for a different day, but every day when I wake up, it’s the same one. So I wait.

Waiting is hard work. When you don’t know how long you will have to do it. How hard it will rain, how much the wind will blow. When you don’t know what you are waiting for. But it’s the only thing that seems possible, so you do it.

I don’t know what “grief” means, how it’s different than just being sad. What it looks like. How you do it. I don’t know what “healing” means either, how it’s different than “feeling better.” I don’t want to feel better. Except when I’m surfing. It doesn’t go away, but you learn to live with it, another friend says. Wise words. I don’t want it to go away. I want to live with it. If my sadness goes away from me, there will be nothing left of me. I will be water vapor like Pio. Clouds and ashes.

I sleep deeply. On cool or rainy nights, the cats cry to be let under the mosquito net with me. We have the whole bed. I eat. Don’t worry about that. Then the morning comes and it’s the same day again. I don’t mean to say that I am bored or depressed. I don’t think I am either one. I’m drawing you a picture of time. Eight months. Is that a long time? I don’t know. It’s the same as 10 years. Is ten years a long time? Not really. Eight months is much longer. There’s no use asking how long I have to wait. Waiting is just waiting. Watching the horizon for a movement or a slight change in color.

    Pio and a friend waiting for waves on a flat day in 2009.

First Rain

remember last year how we
watched it rain?
remember how we
ran outside the
first night we heard
drops hit the roof
and stood on the front porch
embraced
watching silver gold rivers
pour in stripes
to the ground?

we knew it was lucky,
that the year’s first rain
deserves recognition
I kissed you
the jungle around us
opened its thirsty mouth and
swallowed deep

remember how you
were tired,
achy in the middle?
I didn’t like the
new pallor under your skin
and I bought you
electrolytes for better
hydration

it was already too late then to
stop the storm
that was coming

remember the thunder
so close
the roof peak cringed and
the cats flicked their ears?
remember the lightning?
we hugged each other
tighter feigning fear

remember how you could
warm me then, when
the dampness made me cold?

water filled your body
and finally
everything stopped
remember me petting
your hair as you
fell asleep?

the rains have come again
the thunder, the lightning
disturbing the cats

we sit together
on the dark porch
in silence
watching little rivers
form at my feet,
trying to understand
this distance

Sand

Ashes

I have some things to say about ashes—human ashes, the kind I live with.  I thought you might be curious.  I was.  Pio’s ashes came to me in a rectangular stainless steel box that the Comune di Milano considers appropriate for traveling.  The box is sealed shut because in Italy it is illegal to spread human ashes. I didn’t bother to find out why.  I don’t actually care why.  I will just say that it took a mighty amount of determination for me to get into that box.   Having him (“him”) sealed in there by somebody who felt is was not alright for him to come out just about drove me nuts.

I got it.   It’s a story for another day—but I got it.

And this is what I want to tell you:  cremation ashes look like sand.  They do not look like wood ashes, and they’re not flakey like that.  They’re heavy like sand.  I asked my faithful friend Google about it and s/he explained that the only thing left after a person is cremated, are bones.  It makes sense.  Everything else is water, and turns into steam or smoke, I suppose.  The bones are then ground to tiny pieces and called “ashes.”  What they really are is sand.

Does that gross you out?  I hope not.  There’s nothing yucky about ashes–that’s the whole point of them.  Does it scare you?  Well.  These are the things we need to sit with.  Starting now, or you can wait until you have no choice.  It makes you sad?  Good.  You’re supposed to be sad about sad things.  Sadness is unsettling when it is a stranger, but when it grows to be familiar, not so much.

Sand

Where I live, the sand is made mostly of tiny pieces of shells.  Some coral.  Some stones.  How long does it take a shell to become sand after the animal that made it dies?  I think that should be a unit for measuring time.  The beach is made up of bones.

Bones

I sit on the beach and run sand through my fingers.  Push my toes into it.  Look at the little bones of all of the things that ever lived.  Think about how everything together equals una sola cosa.  I tell myself it’s ok.

How long does it take for water molecules that rise to the sky from a crematorium in Milan to become a cloud above Costa Rica?  I lie in the sand when the wind is whipping and let it pelt me.  Get in my ears and bury itself in my hair.  Everything that is, is made of everything that was.  I tell myself it’s ok.

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

But you have to find a way to open yourself up wide enough to let it inside you.  You’ll suffocate, otherwise.  The more you’re afraid or the more you fight, the worse.  You have to put your fingers in the ashes and the sand and you have to let all the little bones pour through your fingers.  You just do.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Put your ear to the ground, to the sand, and listen to the bones of everything.

 

 

 

Wind

time is nothing
time is
all you have
mark its passage
keep it
let it go

can wind be a
measure of it, or
is time a measure of
how much wind
has slid through
your branches?

where are your leaves?
they have fallen and
wind has
taken them away

don’t look
wait with
eyes closed
hear how much time
fills the universe

catch it
hold it tight
all you have is
nothing