WE ARE NOT ALONE BUT ALSO NOT ALL THAT TOGETHER

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HOLIDAYS IN THE JOINT

Mom was diagnosed with The Diseases That Will Not Yet Be Explained just before Christmas. The year before that, we were mourning the death of her sister. The year before that was the actual death. I’m not making even the vaguest attempt to be writerly about these connections, but suffice it to say: My family hasn’t seen anything approaching a run-of-the-mill holiday in awhile.

But there gets to be something strangely familiar about holidays in the Grief Center. There’s a predictability to the truncated celebrations in a place where predictability is nebulous and gauzy: this thing that other people have. If you’re benefitting from the care of a hospital or hospice facility, the door might be suddenly stuck with a construction-paper cutout of a tree, or a heart, or a bunny, or a wreath. The meal might be special, or at least the dessert. If you’ve made friends with the nurses, you might hear about their evening plans or the step-child that didn’t show up or the turkey that exploded. It is, in its way, quite a bit like holidays in the normal world: the food, the decorations, the expectant boredom and then, with coffee, some bitching.

Sticking it out after the fact is another story and one I’ve only experienced from the edges. We weren’t sure that my aunt’s last Christmas was actually her last, and when the next one rolled around she’d only been gone for a few days. None of us did much but stare straight ahead, away from the cold cuts, into the hollow abyss of “what the fuck just happened to us.” My mother was likely sick already but didn’t know it. I was wrestling with panic disorder. Neither of us noticed that the world was still spinning, and if it was, we wanted little to do with it. The following Easter was easier, but only by a fraction: Mom’s illness was being masked by legitimate grief. Looking back now, I wonder if we could’ve known had we looked a little harder.

But the folly of coulda-shoulda-woulda is just that: folly. Here is the reality today: Mom is alive and in good spirits. She has tulips and lilacs in her room, which she made me smell yesterday, because — as she said to everyone who walked in the room — “we both love the smell of lilacs so much.” We smelled them over and over, passing the jar back and forth, smiling and sniffing. We talked about which cheap lilac candles are the best — she thinks Walmart, I stand by Target — and how they evoke the sense of spring more than anything else. When I left the hospice, I bought a new one immediately, and it smells like my entire life together with my mom. Next year, I might be baffled at the world and how it’s still managing to turn. But for right now, we have another sunny Easter with the lilacs and how we’ve always looked forward to them. And no matter what happens, they’ll always be a happy smell. They’ll always be my mother, popping in at the height of spring to say “here’s this thing we loved together.” 

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GOES TO TUMBLR

My mother is dying.

I don’t know how else to say it but to just say it. My witty, charming, force-of-nature mother is spending her last days or weeks in a hospice bed, and no one has a crystal ball, so no one can say what will happen when. Because here’s the thing no one tells you: Death follows a pattern, except when it doesn’t.

I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy or condolences. I’m not even looking for support. I have it, times a million.

What I’m doing is trying to manage the overflow of feelings — ALL THE FUCKING FEELINGS — that appear and disappear and reappear and HELLOOOOOOOOO APPEAR ad infinitum. Most days, I shuffle through the stages of grief at a rate of approximately once per hour. Anger! Bargaining! SAAAAAAAADDDNESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS NOW ANGER! Denial? Welcome home! It’s how this shit goes.

Endless articles have been written about coping with the loss of a parent, but only some of them feel relatable on a base level. Hospice is gracious and kind and wonderful and crucial — and, let’s be honest, straight-up angelic — but you can only listen to so much Hospice Speak™ before you start to wonder if maybe you’ve turned into a decoder ring and no one told you. The concepts are honest and helpful. But they don’t always come to the rescue at 2am when you’re wailing and breathless, or silent and immobile, or numb and stony, or eating chocolate-covered banana chips and watching Kitchen Nightmares and feeling empty but somehow normal. They don’t always convey the rawness of emotion. They’re like a course syllabus — they can tell you what to expect, but really, you’ll have to do the fucking work yourself.

So here I am. Doing the work. I haven’t been in school for centuries, so I’m not sure why I went all in on this academic metaphor, but let’s go with it. I may continue updating this with feelings, or I may disappear for another five years. Sometimes I might sound distanced — because, like my mother before me, I’ve been training my whole life to Joke the Pain Away — but you’ll have to deal with that. Anyone who’s been here knows that there’s no predicting what you’ll feel when. And really, I’m writing this for anyone else who might be up at 2am, feeling or not feeling all of the things, and desperately searching for a familiar voice. Not everyone will experience this exact situation, but those who do — it’s surprising how many of us actively want to talk about it. Not all of us, certainly. But many.

In the meantime, if you’re in this bullshit boat, go read Laurie Kilmartin’s tweets from earlier this year. Or Scott Simon’s from last. Maybe I’ll talk about more things later. Maybe I won’t be able to manage it. We’ll see.

My long-awaited (you know, by me) chapbook is available to order from Dancing Girl Press now! Give them your money. They rule beyond belief.Assassin Beach  Tastes like hot pink — the clink of jade in oil can. What I’m seeing when I’m not seeing good: anaconda seaweed, slurping up the U-boats. Assassin beach — uneven tans. Black on sticky cream. Goes like this: they cat-slink off the dock, all leg, into my leg, crawling ricey bullets up the calf. How can you not feel that? The chunkiness — must be a spoon — military issue — to stir a clot. Pour it over toast back on the boat, with friends. They made the jade go pile itself — I swear it — into strawberry milk.

My long-awaited (you know, by me) chapbook is available to order from Dancing Girl Press now! Give them your money. They rule beyond belief.

Assassin Beach

Tastes like hot pink — the clink of jade in oil can.

What I’m seeing when I’m not seeing good: anaconda
seaweed, slurping up the U-boats.

Assassin beach — uneven tans. Black on sticky cream.

Goes like this: they cat-slink off the dock, all leg, into my leg,
crawling ricey bullets up the calf. How can you not feel that?

The chunkiness — must be a spoon — military issue — to stir
a clot. Pour it over toast back on the boat, with friends. They

made the jade go pile itself — I swear it — into strawberry milk.

1. I’m still here.

2. I fully intend to start updating this thing again.

3. I say that about a lot of things.

4. But then I just watch 28 back-to-back episodes of Hotel Impossible.

5. I made another record and you can pre-order it here.

6. Here’s an outtake from the photos for said record because Tumblr:



7. I’m working on a full-length poetry collection.

8. I’m leaving for Spain in a couple weeks.

9. I mean, have you seen Hotel Impossible? Anthony Melchiorri is a boss.

LET YOU NO

(From No One Here Lives Here | Forthcoming 2013)

Telling you a story means erecting
walls between us being and un-being.
Don’t ruminate — just say it:

the idea of me is chesty breathing,
not an idea, not like ruby — like lucky
to be feeling — unlucky to be shaped

like feeling.

I’m distracting:

me and gold-washed sofa, me the cipher.
Me the re-portrayal, playing make-believe
in public spaces.