also, hey hi hello, i haven’t disappeared or anything i was at work, and then i had my birthday dinner with the family because i’m out with friends tomorrow and told my stepmom in no uncertain terms that just because it was my birthday was no reason to miss the shamrocks season opener when she has free tickets, because i could, as i said, go out with friends.
so, i am thoroughly stuffed with jamaican food, and i am even more thoroughly spoiled! i was gifted with the new kindle paperwhite in a lovely bright coral faux-leather case (it matches my best purse, hilariously), which has already managed to win me over to e-readers (my mom’s old sony reader she’d given me was okay in a pinch, but mostly annoying), along with downloads of cheryl strayed’s wild and tiny beautiful things, laini taylor’s daughter of smoke and bone and days of blood and starlight, sophie kinsella’s twenties girl, and pre-orders of sarah mccarry’s all our pretty songs and neil gaiman’s the ocean at the end of the lane.
so! now i need to name my kindle. my laptop is viola, and my current ipod is touchstone (the one before that was cacophony, and the one before that was ringo).
part of me thinks i should follow the shakespeare trend, but i’m not totally sure. any suggestions?
(also i have had a lot of rum punch so apologies for any messiness that may occur this evening xoxo)
Dear Living Dead Dad,
1. I don’t know how you go on without your son, sweet pea. I only know that you do. And you have. And you will.
2. Your shattering sorrowlight of a letter is proof of that.
3. You don’t need me to tell you how to be human again. You are there, in all of your humanity, shining unimpeachably before every person reading these words right now.
4. I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry for your loss. Iamsosorryforyourloss.
5. You could stitch together a quilt with all the times that that has been and will be said to you. You could make a river of consolation words. But they won’t bring your son back. They won’t keep that man from getting into his car and careening through that red light at the precise moment your son was in his path.
6. You’ll never get that.
7. I hope you remember that when you peel back the rage and you peel back the idle thoughts of suicide and you peel back all the things you imagined your son would be but wasn’t and you peel back the man who got into the car and drove when he shouldn’t have and you peel back the man who the man your son loved now loves and you peel back all the good times you had and you peel back all the things you wish you’d done differently, at the center of that there is your pure father love that is stronger than anything.
8. No one can touch that love or alter it or take it away from you. Your love for your son belongs only to you. It will live in you until the day you die.
9. Small things such as this have saved me: how much I love my mother—even after all these years. How powerfully I carry her within me. My grief is tremendous but my love is bigger. So is yours. You are not grieving your son’s death because his death was ugly and unfair. You’re grieving it because you loved him truly. The beauty in that is greater than the bitterness of his death.
11. I keep imagining you lying on your bed and wailing. I keep thinking that hard as it is to do it’s time for you to go silent and lift your head from the bed and listen to what’s there in the wake of your wail.10. Allowing such small things into your consciousness will not keep you from your suffering, but it will help you survive the next day.
12. It’s your life. The one you must make in the obliterated place that’s now your world, where everything you used to be is simultaneously erased and omnipresent, where you are forevermore a living dead dad.
13. Your boy is dead, but he will continue to live within you. Your love and grief will be unending, but it will also shift in shape. There are things about your son’s life and your own that you can’t understand now. There are things you will understand in one year, and in ten years, and twenty.
14. The word obliterate comes from the Latin obliterare. Ob means against; literare means letter or script. A literal translation is being against the letters. It was impossible for you to write me a letter, so you made me a list instead. It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.
15. It’s wrong that this is required of you. It’s wrong that your son died. It will always be wrong.
16. The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there.
17. You have the power to withstand this sorrow. We all do, though we all claim not to. We say, “I couldn’t go on,” instead of saying we hope we won’t have to. That’s what you’re saying in your letter to me, Living Dead Dad. You’ve made it so fucking long without your sweet boy and now you can’t take it anymore. But you can. You must.
18. More will be revealed. Your son hasn’t yet taught you everything he has to teach you. He taught you how to love like you’ve never loved before. He taught you how to suffer like you’ve never suffered before. Perhaps the next thing he has to teach you is acceptance. And the thing after that, forgiveness.
19. Forgiveness bellows from the bottom of the canoe. There are doubts, dangers, unfathomable travesties. There are stories you’ll learn if you’re strong enough to travel there. One of them might cure you.
20. When my son was six he said, “We don’t know how many years we have for our lives. People die at all ages.” He said it without anguish or remorse, without fear or desire. It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mother’s life was 45 years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would be—my mother at 89, my mother at 63, my mother at 46. Those things don’t exist. They never did.
21. Think :my son’s life was 22 years long. Breathe in.
22. Think: my son’s life was 22 years long. Breathe out.
23. There is no 23.
24. You go on by doing the best you can, you go on by being generous, you go on by being true, you go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on, you go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and allowing the pleasure in other days, you go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage.
25. Letting go of expectation when it comes to one’s children is close to impossible. The entire premise of our love for them has to do with creating and fostering and nurturing people who will outlive us. To us, they are not so much who they are as who they will become.
26. The entire premise of your healing demands that you do let go of expectation. You must come to understand and accept that your son will always be only the man he actually was: the 22 year-old who made it as far as that red light. The one who loved you deeply. The one who long ago forgave you for asking why he didn’t like girls. The one who would want you to welcome his boyfriend’s new boyfriend into your life. The one who would want you to find joy and peace. The one who would want you to be the man he didn’t get to be.
27. To be anything else dishonors him.
28. The kindest and most meaningful thing anyone ever says to me is: your mother would be proud of you. Finding a way in my grief to become the woman who my mother raised me to be is the most important way I have honored my mother. It has been the greatest salve to my sorrow. The strange and painful truth is that I’m a better person because I lost my mom young. When you say you experience my writing as sacred what you are touching is the divine place within me that is my mother. Sugar is the temple I built in my obliterated place. I’d give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I couldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.
29. Your grief has taught you too, Living Dead Dad. Your son was your greatest gift in his life and he is your greatest gift in his death too. Receive it. Let your dead boy be your most profound revelation. Create something of him.
30. Make it beautiful.
the first dear sugar column i ever read, four months after my father died, after i’d come home and then back home, again, to london, after my best friend had been and gone, after my roommate had moved to scotland, when i was as alone as i have ever been, in my little yellow room beside the thames, across the street from a church and ‘round the corner from a strip club. that was one of the best summers i’ve ever lived through in so many ways, but it was a summer of hiding from a lot of the real world - of losing myself. dear sugar, as i sat inside and let my tea go cold and form a skin on top and read all the way back through her archive that day, and then once a week afterwards, was one of my few life-lines back to realness. and while it’s true that i probably delayed my breakdown for a few months by allowing my mind to protect itself from searing pain the only way it knew how, it’s just as true that the only way we ever manage to bear the unbearable is to accept it, in whatever way we can, and sugar’s column was one of the few admissions i made to myself that my world had suddenly torn itself into this massive chasm, and that i was sitting at the bottom of it. last night i saw cheryl strayed with the woman who almost single-handedly got me through my breakdown, and we listened to her talk of losing her mother suddenly at 23, about hitting the bottom place, about always learning things the hard way, and it felt, in a way, like returning to the beginning. not backtracking, but completing a circuit and thinking ‘i’ve been here before, but i’m not the person i was then.’ or maybe, like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in years, and you’ve both changed utterly, but you fit together just as well, only in different ways than before.
my mom and stepmom don’t see eye-to-eye on much, but one thing they’ve always agreed on is that when starting to recuperate from an illness, one of the best things for you is fresh air. so yesterday, after my prof said to me ‘why are you here? go home.’ i bundled myself up as warm as possible and trekked down through the forest to the beach. the mountain shelters our house a bit from the sea winds, so i’d underestimated somewhat how rough the surf would be. the water was dark and grey where it wasn’t foaming up white, and there weren’t many people on the rocks with me. i sat on a log until i got as cold as someone who’s still getting over the flu should get, and watched a little girl catch crabs with her dad, just like i used to do with mine.
it was hot in the store most of today at work, the sun beaming in through our huge front window and making me sweat as i changed the mannequins. then, suddenly, it darkened over and started to pour, big marble-sized drops of rain coming down so hard i could hear the water running down the concrete walls. a grandma shopping for a fifth birthday present stood beside me as i watched the downpour, ”my husband always says that there’s nothing can control the weather,” she says. ”i tell him, if you don’t think the ocean’s in charge you’re fooling yourself.”
after work i decide to treat myself to a latte from habit. the rain’s stopped but everything’s saturated, shiny and dark and smelling of wet and salt. the cool breeze feels nice after the stuffiness of the store. as i walk past sitka, the door opens and i catch a line of my favourite current swell song, and i can feel tears prick the back of my throat before i even realize what’s happening. it’s true i’ve always cried easily, but these days it feels like i’m missing things that aren’t even gone.
i’m not ready to head straight home once i’ve got my coffee, so i start walking up johnson, figuring i’ll be ready to catch a bus where the street turns into begbie. i’m over halfway there when i hear someone shout “holy fucking shit! jac-que-lyn mi-chelle deigh-ton!” i turn to find four dudes all wearing hoodies and plaid sitting on a run-down porch, one scrambling over the railing to give me a bearhug so big he lifts me off the ground. it’s a boy i literally grew up with, his dad and mine being best friends. i haven’t seen him since the funeral, hadn’t seen him for years before that, but it’s not like that matters when it’s someone you had baby photos taken with. he looks good, tanned and shaggy and loose in his skin, hemp bracelets circling his wrist. the tan, i find out, is from the trip to thailand he just got back from.
s pulls me up to the porch to introduce me to his roommates, one of whom i had a crush on in grade two and forgot all about after elementary school until he showed up in my media arts 11 class one day. victoria is small like that. the porch smells like weed even though they’re only smoking apple-flavoured hookah. one of the other roommates, who’s wearing the same buried life t-shirt i own under his uniform outerwear, hands me a beer. they’ve got an ipod dock playing john butler and a radio playing the wings-oilers game going.
'i don't think i even knew you were back,' s says. 'but i'm glad you are. actually, me and some buddies are gonna sail down to mexico in a couple months and we want a few more people. you interested?'
'god, i'd love to. but i don't think i can afford it this summer,' i say. i tell him about cambridge and dalhousie.
'finally going for that degree, hey? cool, cool. you deserve one, kid.' s has called me kid for over half my life. the first time he did it, i was nine and he was barely ten, and i pushed him off a swing for it. i think that was a tactical mistake; if he didn't know it annoyed me, he'd probably have stopped.
'i guess,' i say. 'i dunno.'
'you gotta at least come up to tofino with us before you go, though. i promised to teach you how to surf, and i bet you still don't know.'
'that's a bad idea, man,' puts in my ex-crush. 'i remember her skimboarding in grade 7. didn't you break your wrist?'
i shrug. ’just a sprain.’
when i leave to head home, s walks me to the bus stop and gives me another huge hug. ’keep in touch, hey? maybe next summer we can take a boat from halifax to greenland or something.’ it’s the first time in a while that canada’s seemed small enough to cross. he writes his phone number on my arm, taking long enough that i figure he’s finally retaliating for the time we got pass-out drunk and i didn’t stop his younger brother from drawing a dick on his face in green sharpie. when i look at my wrist, though, i see that he’s drawn an anchor, the word ‘home’ winding under its arms.
i been worryin’ that my time is a little unclear
i been worryin’ that i’m losing the ones i hold dear
i been worryin’ that we all live our lives in the confines of fear
i’ve been thinking a lot lately about roots, about how where we come from shapes us, or doesn’t. i’ve been wondering why i always seem to want whatever it is i don’t have. i’ve been wondering if i’ll ever teach myself to stay still, to be satisfied with what i have. sometimes i have no idea why i’ve made the decisions i’ve made, or what i expect to do with them. the problem with always looking forward is constantly feeling like you’re moving towards something, instead of being where you’re supposed to be. sometimes i feel like the tide, washing in and out and in and out. that’s a metaphor i used when i was talking to s just before i dropped out of college the first time, five years ago now. he shook his head at me impatiently.
'kid,' he said. 'you're forgetting that the tide always gets where it's going. it just takes its time.'
i’ve been up since seven, drinking mug after mug of tea and alternating between prepping for midterms, reading my victorian crime stories, and staring out at the sea of greens and golds and reds that the forest and the mountain are at this time of year. outside, it’s pouring with rain and everything that’s not foliage is that same old grey we get, year after year. it’s cold, and it smells slightly of the sea under the rain and green, if you know how to distinguish the scents.
(a hypothesis: growing up on the coast in the grey and green, the fog and rain and salt air, leaves one hypersensitive to all things wet, leaves skin paler than pale, and eyes huge and perhaps luminescent if you look the right way. maybe even we grow gills.)
anyways, i know no one’ll believe me when i say this, but i really do love my job. i’m just so cozy right now, in my wool tights and favourite cardigan, so engrossed in william hope hodgson’s diamond spy, that i just really don’t want to go. i get like this, every year. autumn is my favourite season, but it also, without fail, turns me into that nine-year-old girl who’d get into trouble for reading too much again.