but she found herself
now anxious and unsettled.
something is missing.
but she found herself
now anxious and unsettled.
something is missing.
It’s been almost 10 years since I last played Canasta.
It was an early Saturday morning, I’m sure. Mom and the boys were most likely still sleeping. Dad had woken me up with the smell of his daily dose of hazelnut coffee. Sleepy-eyed, yawning and wrapped up in a blanket, I meandered into the kitchen to join him. Sitting at the kitchen table of our cottage, he was already deep into a game of solitaire. Happy to have some company, he shuffled the cards back up and pulled out the Canasta Deck.
“Should we play?” he asked quietly.
“Sure” sixteen-year-old me replied as I snuggled into the chair across from him.
He dealt us each 11 cards and that was it. We probably played the game until the rest of our family woke up. My mom probably made bacon and eggs and toast. After breakfast, we probably each retreated back to our own corners of the house to read books from the library. A family of quiet, sensitive introverts finding peace in Northern Michigan.
Ten years later, I found my dad’s old deck. The cards are worn, but somehow none have been lost. The discard tray still reminds me of an ashtray and they still smell exactly like the cottage; slightly musty as if someone forgot how to open the window. My boyfriend had never heard of this version of Canasta. (Which I must say is exponentially better than the middle school version most people know). This version of Canasta involves planning and patience and math, which is probably why I love it so much.
But then it hit me that I had completely forgotten the game’s complexity. It had taken me years of watching my brothers, aunts, and father play before I fully understood the flow. I was out of practice and my memory was failing me. After the initial shock of realizing how much time had passed wore off, I googled the instructions.
And I remembered each step with vivid detail. I remember asking questions when it didn’t make sense. I remember my father’s patience in explaining each part to me. I remember begging my brothers to play so we could have teams of two. I remember my mom telling us to put it away because it was almost time for dinner and we needed to set the table.
I remember my family at its best.
My dad may no longer be here to patiently answer my questions, but I feel blessed to have to opportunity to continue his tradition. To patiently teach my own family not only how to play the game, but how to come together and be our family at its best.
Last night I dreamt of driving in the snow.
Icy roads, poor visibility, hazardous conditions.
Yet the city was silent.
The snow fell so softly its as if someone pressed pause
And I was the only one who couldn’t stop moving.
Have you ever watched a car crash in slow motion?
It’s breath taking.
The first rule is to be fearless.
Which is why she was the queen.
Why I was never very good.
I had too much caution, you see,
and I’m afraid she had none.
The next rule is to always look up
and sometimes out.
Look out to soak in this view of the places you already know.
But somehow you are so high that this town finally feels foreign.
So you keep looking up
trying to find the next branch.
The last rule is to be free.
For these trees can feel your sorrow.
But they are sturdy beneath your bare feet.
I can’t help but scowl as I approach the building.
Same structure – subtle differences.
Those same three trees, all pine,
Sprouted between the rocks we used to climb as kids.
Waiting for our mothers to end their conversations.
But that was years ago; we’ve all grown old now.
Walking inside, I remember every corner.
My mental map folds itself away.
There is no comfort in this familiarity.
I am here for a reason:
A gathering of mourners to my left.
But instead, I turn right.
Walking past new paintings, the same scent of stale coffee fills the air.
I pause at the wall of windows.
Looking in, I know I will be alone.
As I pull the door open, an all-too-familiar rush of air
fills my lungs with an intimacy I cannot explain.
Yet the sound of its emptiness completely takes my breath away.
The vacant seats feel as hallow as my heart was the last time I was here.
This was where we said goodbye.
This is where I exhaled, released.
But now I am gasping.
I cannot make my legs walk down the aisle.
I stand with my back against the door.
This room always felt as though someone left a window open:
Airy and unfilled and eerily brisk.
I feel the panic rising.
My heart races with the lack of yours here.
I whisper your name.
I want to cry out but I don’t,
For fear of an echo I’m not quite sure I’m ready to hear.
I whisper your name with each breath that I catch.
Collecting pieces of myself that I dropped on this floor six years ago.
Gathered, I turn and leave.
The wounds will heal with time
but right now, they need to open up and breathe.
Even though it hurts like hell.
During my freshmen year at Eastern, a creative writing professor suggested that I write out every detail I could remember from the night, and even the week surrounding my father’s death. As I did, I remembered the fear, the confusion, the terrible sadness that comes with the realization that someone you love is gone. Not for a day, not for a week, but forever, for always. You love them and they are gone and nothing you can do can fix or change that. For years after my dad died and years after I took that class, the only way that I knew how to cope or calm myself down was to relive the days surrounding his death. When I felt myself spinning away, I would read the words over and over again until I finally accepted them to be true again. It was a purge of all of the grief that I push aside daily in order to go on with my life. It was my coping mechanism. It was source of reality. It was my gravity.
Sunday September 20, 2009.
I went to the powder puff game.
But the game was long over.
I stayed out later than I should have.
I shouldn’t have been out with him at all.
I’m never out this late.
My parents didn’t call me to come home.
I got worried.
Something wasn’t right.
Ben drove me home.
There’s an ambulance in the front yard.
I ran inside.
Monica pulls me aside.
Mom is in my parent’s room.
EMTs came in.
Dad is lying on the bed.
Monica’s arm is still around me.
We’ve never touched before.
They move him to a stretcher.
He has a breathing mask on.
It reminds me of his snoring mask.
The one that helps him sleep.
The one that helps him breathe.
He is not moving.
Mom is crying.
Monica keeps saying, “Oh My God.”
They take him away.
I go to my room.
Mom and Monica drive to the hospital.
I wait for my brother.
I try to text Ben:
“I think my dad had a stroke.”
I call Brian.
I can’t breathe.
I call John.
He is at work.
He does not answer.
I call Bob. I call Tom.
Tom and Lindsay go straight to the hospital.
Bob comes running through the door.
He hugs me.
My brother never hugs me.
He looks like he’s about to cry.
I realize it’s bad.
I sit on the stairs.
Like I always did, waiting for daddy.
Finally John comes home.
But I don’t want to go to the hospital.
He puts mom on the phone.
“Maggie, it’s not good. You need to come.”
We get in the car.
I don’t remember the drive.
We walk to the ER.
John tells us not to cry.
“Mom will lose it.”
We ask the nurse.
She leads us to a room.
Where is daddy?
We enter the room.
A wall of sadness hits me.
Everyone is crying.
Tom is holding mom.
Uncle Jerry is a wreck.
Uncle Jerry never cries.
I rush to my mom.
She is safe.
Mom is always safe.
We sit. We wait.
The doctor comes in.
Where is daddy?
“There is nothing we can do.”
We go upstairs.
Brian comes. His mom too.
She takes a cab home.
We go home.
We sleep. Brian too.
Brian never stays the night.
Back at the hospital.
It’s still dark.
Extended family is there.
Another family too.
They brought pulled pork
We brought donuts.
Daddy loves donuts.
Daddy loved donuts.
We wait. We try to eat.
We never ate.
The doctors let us visit him.
We walk down a hospital hallway.
There are open rooms.
He’s at the end of the hallway.
He’s at the end.
My mom is sitting in the room with him.
There’s a window behind her.
I realize it’s daytime.
And she’s been here the whole time.
I sit down with her.
I don’t remember what John said.
I don’t cry.
Daddy looks like he’s sleeping.
He’s just sleeping right?
His arm twitches.
His chest rises.
My mom leaves the room.
The doctor is talking outside.
Brain Aneurysm. Organ Donor.
“But he’s ALIVE”
I want to scream.
I hear him breathing.
I can see him move.
He has tears falling down his face.
And I am silent.
But mom speaks.
“Yes, I’ll sign the papers.”
The room is empty.
Mom comes to me.
“Do you want a moment with daddy?”
And we’re suddenly so formal.
We are never formal.
They close the door.
It is just me and you, daddy.
I climb up on your hospital bed.
I lay my head on your chest.
Like I always do when we sit in the Lazy Boy.
When we watch CSI.
When you watch baseball.
And I watch you.
I remember the first trip to the hospital.
It was just a heart valve.
Easily replaceable, they said.
Blood thinners to help your heart pump blood.
Everything will be just fine.
Blood thinners to thin your blood.
So when you bleed, it doesn’t stop.
So your heart doesn’t stop.
Blood thinners to kill your brain.
To thin your blood so when it bleeds, it doesn’t stop.
I curl into him.
I don’t know what to say.
I am not sad, I am not mad. But I am sorry.
The door is cracked, so I whisper.
“I love you daddy, I know you can hear me.
There’s still a chance right?
I could just be dreaming.”
He suddenly felt too warm.
I felt uneasy.
I left the room.
I left my father.
There was a cart sitting outside the door.
With pre-made sandwiches, coffee, creamer.
Everything is pale.
Everything is dull.
I am numb.
Abi had arrived.
My forever friend.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking.
Uncle Rich takes us to get food.
I am not hungry.
I sit. They eat. I do not feel.
Blank. Dull. Pale.
Someone made a Facebook event.
My friends are texting me.
Suddenly the world cares because it’s the thing to do.
It makes me sick.
We go back to his room.
Just us 6 now.
Me, Bob, Tom, John, Mom, and Dad.
We say goodbye.
Like we knew what it meant.
It’s Monday September 21, 2009.
And my mother is a widow.
I don’t remember.
Everything is jumbled.
I’ve been asleep for days.
It’s Friday now.
No one could call it a funeral.
The night before
We made poster boards
With pictures of him that we loved.
While looking through the boxes
Daddy always took the pictures.
He was never in them.
But we remember the memories.
And he’s in every single one.
The church is empty.
We are early.
Suddenly its full.
The choir arrives.
My whole school’s choir.
Here for me. My brothers. My parents.
No. My mom.
People talk. Pastors pray.
Memories are shared.
The entire time, my mom is silent.
My mom is never silent.
My brothers and I stand up.
Tom reads his memory.
I couldn’t call it a eulogy.
He was just telling a story.
About a broken dryer and the perfect amount of change.
About horses and Star Trek
Daddy loved baseball.
His home team, my tattoo.
I read my poem.
Watch me fly daddy.
I had written it years ago.
The choir sings.
The Irish Blessing.
“And until we meet again,
may God hold you
in the palm of his hand.”
Those words haunt me now.
And then I wake up.
Where is daddy?
Then I remember
And I miss him.
I will always miss him.
But that’s okay.
I saw my dad last night for the first time in a long time.
He was sitting, quiet and still, in a church pew. I was walking into the sanctuary in a single file line with my peers. As we squeezed into his row, I positioned myself so that I was the one who was able to sit next to him. I leaned against him in such a familiar way that I remember finally feeling safe. There really wasn’t much more to the moment than that. There was no dialogue or even eye contact that was exchanged between us. The whole time his eyes were fixed straight ahead, but I knew that he knew I was there. We didn’t hug or embrace in any way, but it didn’t matter. My whole being was content simply sitting next to his. Simply feeling the warmth of his shoulder against my own, simply hearing him breathe next to me. My heart hurts when I think of how happy I was just to see his chest rise with every breath that he took. He was alive and he was here! He smelled like stale hazelnut coffee, aftershave and Old Spice. His hands were still rough, folded in his lap. His wedding ring still scuffed and well worn. The only thing that was different was his eyes. They no longer felt tired, exhausted from the weight of his life. His brown eyes were so deep that you could get lost just by staring into them. And now they looked young but they were wise. I wanted to reach up and touch his five o’clock shadow, feel the wrinkles on his bald head, but instead I turned and looked straight ahead as well. I sat, quiet and still, and breathed the same air as my father.
When I woke up in the morning, it took me a while to recover. The moment was fading and my heart was still so full of love that I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that it was a only a dream. I miss him every day, but I am thankful to have these moments. They remind me that I was insanely lucky to have a dad like him. He taught me how to be patient and kind, but still goofy and playful. He taught me how to put together a bookshelf and fix a dishwasher. He taught me that if there is something that needs to be done, I should do it, not to look good or win brownie points, but because that is the right thing to do. I am absolutely the way that I am today because of my father and I am thankful for that.
This is one of my favorite pictures of him. I believe it was day light savings time, and he was setting his alarm clock back an hour before bed. It’s blurry and imperfect, yet it captures him in a very ordinary moment of his life. There is nothing special surrounding the story behind this photograph, its just him living his life and that is why I love it.
True Life: My favorite color is grey.
When asked to pick a “real” color as my favorite, I’ll throw maroon in the mix to humor you. But it is grey that truly gives me more peace and sense of mind than any other shockingly bright or vibrant color. I find simplicity in the deepness of charcoal and calmness in the dusty lightness of grey granite. The hues of black mixed with white, light mixed with dark, are balanced and bare. They are honest. Yet, grey and I have not always gotten along this way.
If you know me well, then you know that A Lack of Color by Death Cab for Cutie is one of my favorite songs (and the inspiration for every internet handle I’ve ever had). Not only do I love the symbolism of it being track #11 on the album, but I have always been fascinated with the lyrics of the song. Over the course of this song’s existence in my life, I have continued to find new meanings behind the lyrics depending on their relevance to my life’s current events. However, the core message that these words have offered to me have always been the same:
If you feel discouraged
That there’s a lack of color here
Please don’t worry lover
It’s really bursting at the seams
For absorbing everything
The spectrum’s a to z
From the time I hit puberty and depression hit me, I have known what it feels like to live with this lack of color. I have known what it feels like to walk around under those never-ending, asshole clouds as I watch everyone around me bask in the sunshine. I have known what it feels like to make that awful, ugly wish for a catastrophe, an accident, anything that would lead to an end to what I was feeling. It’s harsh to admit, but the truth is that there were so many days where the last thing I wanted to be was alive. Every night before bed, I would pray the Lord my soul to take.
Depression is no fucking joke, my friends. It sucks all of the energy out of you and hits you at moments when logically, you know that you should be happy. For those who have had the lucky, rare opportunity to have never felt depressed, I like to show them the diagram below, which I found from this NPR Article.
As you can see, depression literally makes you feel cold and empty inside. (Just like that awful Kid Rock song.) But in all seriousness, it is a dangerous mental illness that far too many overlook or write off as being commonplace. In fact, its so fucking commonplace that the US Preventative Services Task Force just put out a recommendation for all adults to be screened for depression at least once after they turn 18!
Yet, learning how to cope with all of that depression bullshit on top of being an angsty teenager wasn’t exactly easy. I ran away often – to jasmine tea and dim lights, to the solitude of my room and my music, to that song by Death Cab. The song gave me peace in knowing that there was someone, somewhere who understood how sometimes it is impossible to see anything but grey. (And they were writing a song about it!)
Regardless of how blank, muted, and numb my world felt, Ben Gibbard and this song were trying to tell me that the color isn’t lost, the color isn’t gone; I just can’t see it right now. I fell in love with those words from the start. They gave me hope that even though this moment of my life might suck complete ass, it isn’t forever. I know now that the color was all around me and it is truly breathtaking. I know now that I am blessed to have people in my life who were trying to see the color for me. They were trying to show me that it really is bursting at the seams.
I am proud to be able to say that I am okay.
That the moments have passed and I have survived. There days that are still grey, but there are many more that are filled with color. I know it feels impossible to listen to those who tell you that the pain and sadness will go away with time, but its true. And even though I’ve been depressed throughout my life for a fuck ton of different reasons – the hormone changes of puberty, the death of my father, being heart broken and alone, L’s suicide, etc. – with time each of these moments have grown smaller and more conquerable. It has taken years of introspection to get to the point where I am today. The point of admitting that there are going to be days that are just awful, but I can stay ahead of them as long as I am cognizant of the cause of my emotions. That is the point of being able to see all of the colors, but still call your favorite color grey.
I am proud to be able to say that I am happy.
I am proud to say that –
This is fact not fiction
For the first time in years
If you are feeling depressed, or cold and empty, or everything is grey, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Whether its to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255, or a friend or family member, or your doctor, just talking about what you are feeling can be a huge relief and a giant step towards being able to see the colors.
I was born a runner and I was born fast. From as early as I can remember, that was the most prevalent compliment I ever received. My mother used to say that I came from a long line of runners. Grandpa Mac and Aunt Dorothy. It was in my blood.
I spent every recess of fourth grade racing Ryan Knotts around the perimeter of the playground. He was fast, but I was faster. Even at 9 years old, I felt a sense of empowerment that came along with being girl who was able to win against a boy.
I ran both track and field and cross country. And although I loved running along rivers, through forests, and over dreaded hills, my heart belonged to the track. I hated going to a new or unfamiliar cross country course because I was always afraid that someone would mess with the arrows on the course. I was afraid of losing my way and finding myself alone in the woods, not knowing where to go or what to do. But the track was always safe. It was near impossible to get lost in the openness. The cyclical manner of the track always made sense to me. The distance markers were consistent and repetitive and reliable. I loved the smell of the fresh cut grass and polyurethane. I loved the sounds of announcers calling for different heats and reading results of the preliminaries. I loved that the atmosphere promoted a sense of community, but the events were individual. I loved being supported by those around me and in turn, supporting them as well, but I also loved only being responsible for my own performance. If I didn’t do well, I only disappointed myself.
My favorite was the 400m Dash. In the core of my soul, I know I was a sprinter, but the length of my legs sold me out and made me mid-distance. In middle school we coined the 4F’s of the 400: Fall. Fly. Fight. Finish.
You’re at the beginning of the race”Runners take your mark.” you crouch down into the starting blocks. All of your potential energy is pushing up against the metal, waiting to be released. Your heart is pounding as you hear the familiar voices say “Ready. Set.” But after that, everything fades away. The crowd is muted. Your ears are fixed, listening for one sound only. It creates an electric tension, running from your toes to your fingertips against the gritty track. But with the shot of the gun all tension is released. You push off against your blocks and fall forwards into the first stretch of the race. Your legs are no longer your own. they belong to this race now. They have been aching to perform. Around the bend you’re faced with the first straightaway. This is where you fly. This is where you stretch your legs and pull ahead. Due to the distance between there and the stands, it looks as though you really are flying along the back stretch. But too quickly are you faced with the dreaded final bend. Where leaders become second as fighters know how to push through the pain and conquer the curve. This is where you pump your arms to drive your knees. This is where you hear your coach yelling, “Keep pushing! Get those knees up! Go! Go! Go!” As the curve straightens, you look forward with your head high and all you see is the finish line. You see 100 meters, and a yellow ribbon begging to be broken. You see 328 feet and the opportunity to be a hero. So you set your eyes on the trees just beyond the finish line, you muster up every ounce of energy you have left, and you sprint towards them. Your feet barely touch the ground and your toes are pointed high. Regardless of how tired you are or how much your lungs hurt or how you can’t feel your legs anymore, you keep going. You lean and practically fall across the finish line. But you keep going, your eyes are still fixed on the branches of the trees. You slow down, catch your breath, feel a wave of relief come over you. It’s finally over now.
When we were younger A, L, and I spent many of our summer days training with their dad at the Y-High track. He would give us drills and make us work and sweat and laugh in the sun. He built our endurance to pain and strengthened our work ethic while shouting words of encouragement. And afterwards always took us out to eat. Those were some of my favorite summers.
I was born a runner. I have run my entire life. It is familiar and safe and consistent. It was the only thing I knew how to do when I lost my dad. It was the only thing I knew how to do when I saw L laying in her casket. It had been almost 6 months since I had my last panic attack. I was doing so well. But when I saw her, lying there, I lost it. The most wild, crazy, lively girl I had ever known, the girl with the fire burning inside of her since the day she was born was just laying there. I had never seen her so still, so quiet, and it quite honestly petrified me. At first I froze. I could feel my heart breaking as I tried to catch my breath. I didn’t know what else to do, so I ran. My breathing was quick and my heels were too tall but I knew I had to get away from this version of her I didn’t want to know. It is so much easier to think of the ones you lose as gone. It is easier to never see their faces after they die. It is so much easier to pretend that they are just lost and not dead. Dead is too permanent. Dead is too unknown. And the unknown is absolutely terrifying. So I ran. I ran to the back of the chapel. Every muscle in my body was telling me to open the door and run outside. To shred my shoes and start sprinting down the unfamiliar streets of Birmingham until I was lost as well.
But this wasn’t about me. This wasn’t about my dad. This was about her and the broken family she left behind. The broken family that I love as my own. So regardless of whether I wanted to literally run from my problems, disappear from that room of sorrow, I knew I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave them behind to accept the loss alone. So I sat in the back of the chapel and I tried to breathe. I tried to accept that she is really dead. She is not just gone. She is not just lost. She is dead. The beautiful, cunning little sister is no longer alive. I tried to accept this until her dad came and found me. We hugged for a long time and then he said to me, “Come be with us. We should be together.”
He was right. Every instinct I had was telling me to escape, fly away, run. But as Virginia Woolf once said,
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”
So you stay and you fight. You fight through the bad days. You fight through the pain of remember that she isn’t going to come back. You struggle through the days where you feel nothing at all. But if you surround yourself with love, it is so much easier to fight together.