Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If I Never See You Again

The last time I was here in Dallas, and the last time I saw everyone, was during that horrendous week of planning and attending my sister's funeral. Everywhere is loss, everywhere I look. It is harder than I thought it would be. I'm trying to be positive and make new memories, but the combination of being away so long, and having the most recent memory be so terrible, has been too much at times. I sit up and think about dying. I listen to sad songs and look through pictures. I know I just got here, and I know it will get better, but at the end of it, right now, as I sit here, I'm just not capable of being sunny and optimistic on this topic, and it's all I have in the back of my brain since I got here. I hate that she isn't here. It fills me with rage that she is not one of the people I get to visit, but then the rage goes away and all that is left is sadness.

I drive down 75 and remember exiting the highway, going to my father's house, and falling out of the passenger door and scrambling to hold the edges against me while I screamed in my father's face, sitting on the curb, parked in front of the house. I see the restaurant where she worked. I come to my friend's house and lay on the couch and remember my cousin Melanie and I, destroyed with grief and exhaustion, stretched out with burning eyes and numb heads begging Bobby to please fix the powerpoint, it's 2 a.m. and we need it for the funeral tomorrow. The music won't sync. The pictures don't fade. It won't export. I'm in the bathroom and remember putting on that blue skirt, and the shirt with the birds, and Brooke comes in and tells me I look beautiful and then later I'm sitting on the bird shit covered steps of the funeral home crying my eyes out and I feel bad because I borrowed Brooke's skirt but I just truly cannot move and I just have to sit in shit and cry. I remember the awful after get together at the house we no longer have. I remember how the first time I met my sweet friend's baby girl I was covered in tears and so sad that when that child leaned warm into me, my stomach was cold and empty and I couldn't feel any joy. I remember picking up my sister's ashes. The box, white, larger than I thought it really needed to be, sitting so loud on the edge of the fireplace. I picked it up and the marble inside rocked to make its weight known and I wanted to drop it and run because I thought for sure I would vomit. I remember driving to Austin, first with the box placed in the passenger seat, then, after pulling over, it was in the back seat, and finally, tearfully, apologetically, at a rest stop I pulled over one last time and howling "I'm so sorry, I just can't" I put the box in the trunk and was mortified and ashamed in some way as I closed the trunk. I drove the rest of the way in horror at how awful I was to put the ashes of my baby sister in the trunk.

I just remember and remember and it all opens up again and I am an enormous unfolding of raw raw red and the tears burn salt in all those open places and I feel like I am falling apart from the center. I am reminded that no matter how far I go in this world I can't go around fast enough to come back to the place where she is. It's not denial. Denial didn't leave me sprawled on my bed in the hostel in Greece on that first Christmas, screaming her name into a pillow so that no one could hear. Denial didn't have me on the floor in Albania, staring at the ceiling, because the molding around the light fixture looked like a sunflower and it reminded me of the flowers at her funeral. Denial didn't make me physically ache with a pain of regret when all those tiny little brown headed girls in my first year class would pile on my lap. Denial didn't wake me up screaming, or numb, or panting in fear. I have known very well and all too deeply that she was gone. But I was gone from the place where the leaving happened. I wasn't standing in the place where she went when she left. I am now. I feel the way she left like a slap in my face, a never ending impact that says HERE! HERE! It happened HERE! I imagine things about HERE. I feel sick with my imagination.

I miss my sister every day, and I miss her even more when I find myself in the place where she was last. I feel like I am right back in that spot I was when Bobby had to carry me out. I feel like I have never moved a day past seeing the way my cousin's chin trembled as she stood gripping the banisters of the pulpit, swallowing down God knows what kind of desired shrieks and wails, starting and stopping three times, until she could open her mouth and sing the most beautiful thing I think I've ever heard on the worst day of my life. I see her hair in a braid shining in a shaft of light and that white dress and I remember the palpable rising feeling of yes please, you can, please, you can, breath holding tension as the entire room willed her to be able to do it. And she did, and on the last note she folded like a bird and walked white as her dress back to her seat with her throat convulsing and her cheeks spotted red. What is the hardest about all of these memories is that they feel more real to me than what I see in all these pictures of me with my sister. It's as though that day she left casts a shadow longer than the 25 years she was here. I don't understand how that works. It seems like an unnecessary cruelty on top of everything else. I don't understand how I can't push through a single day and embrace all the thousands of days we had before that. We had years in this city and I keep circling around and around that day, that single second when she slipped away.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On Making Plans in the Month of June


I made that map at the end of May 2012. When I made that map, I had already known for two months that I would be moving to Albania. I envisioned an epic Goodbye, America! road trip, going to see family in all of their respective homes, before finishing up in Texas and heading back up north to Colorado. It was supposed to take me all of June. I remember planning this trip, giddy with joy that I had successfully completed my internship, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world to have a job waiting for me on the other side of a backpacking trip that would be filled with places I had always dreamed of seeing. My Great Granny had passed away that March, and that Kansas stop there at the end- "K"- would probably be the last time I ever went through Hillsboro, Kansas. I wanted to have a little personal memorial there for her, to say goodbye to the place I spent so much time growing up.

The best part of the trip was going to be happening over on "F", in Virginia. My mom had recently gotten re-married and moved there. My brother, my sister, my mom's best friend, Gina, and I were all going to converge on her new home for a week of reunion times. It would be the first time all of us kids had been together with mom since I moved to Colorado two years prior. I got to Virginia a few days before Heather, Thomas, and Gina were set to fly over. I was there for less than 24 hours when we got the call, on Heather's own cell phone, that she had passed away. Then I had to call and tell my father. I had to call and tell my uncles. I had to call and tell it more times than I care to remember.

I don't remember, really, the details of everything after that. Bobby came, immediately, and we left the next day, driving through the same route I was set to take the week after what was supposed to be our family reunion. We got to Texas and planned a funeral. Made a slideshow. Cried a lot. Walked from room to room in a daze, avoiding each others eyes (at least I did) because I didn't want to look at another person who felt as badly as I did and just magnify it all into something that felt too intimately painful to share with anyone, even myself.

The last time I saw most of my friends and family and my mother and brother was at my sister's funeral, or in the sad, heavy, fuck this I hate the world days that came right after. I left to go back to Colorado, and spent the next month grief eating and sleeping all day, piling on 25 pounds of I can't handle my life while I was trying to pack and get ready to move to another country and start a new job. God bless Bobby. I saw my Dad one more time before I left, when we drove down to Colorado Springs where he was working a storm. I felt awful, he felt awful, I think we all just kind of did our best to not magnify our respective misery, but it's inevitable at that point in the process when it's so fresh you're just a gaping hole of hurt, a walking wound spilling out on the floor. Maybe it's just me and my inability to process hard emotions with other people, but being with my family hurt. When it was just me, walking around, I could kind of wrestle the grief and absence into a messy but somewhat manageable burden that I could stumble around under- it was hard to breathe or move and it was oppressive, but somehow I was standing. But when I was with my family, not only was I struggling with it, I was seeing all of them struggling with it, too. I was terrified of being called on to help them with theirs when I could barely get by with mine. I was overtaken with empathy for their pain because of my own. I don't grieve well with others. I was, in many ways, immensely grateful to head back to Colorado and grieve with piles of food and sleeping in until noon and not taking showers and not having to worry about helping anyone else grieve. I could spend two hours howling into a pillow without tensing in fear that someone was going to walk in and put their arms around me. That made it real, when other people saw it. Somehow, being alone, I could get through. And then, finally, we left, and I had something to do with my time, instead of sitting for hours staring at a wall and going through everything I could have, should have done/didn't do.

And that was how June went.

Now, being an international teacher, my Junes are always going to be filled with that flurry of planning, packing, moving, trips to be had, friends to say goodbye to business that I had leading up to Virginia. Last June was awful for me, this June has been awful for me. It's the repetition of the experience, not just of June 18th, the day I found out I didn't have a sister in this world anymore, but of the ritual before it- that flurry of excited packing and planning and reunions and goodbyes. It feels ominous to me, now, to be looking at flights and making happy plans. I keep flinching, waiting for the other shoe to drop, as I work through what almost feels like a re-enactment. The familiarity of it is haunting.

It's superstitious, it's illogical, and I know that, but I hate making plans in June. I keep waiting for something irrevocable to fall into them, as though the making of them creates a space that invites something awful to trample through. Something more than awful.