On the drive to the exotic animal vet where I was heading to have my five year old bearded dragon put-to-sleep, I started crying about everyone I’ve ever lost.
I turned to my partner and apologized for being such a baby. I said, “people have known such hurt and such loss… and I think about my dogs who grew old and got sick and had to be peacefully put to sleep in their homes, and I tell myself that it ruined my life.”
He quickly replied, “you can grieve and still have perspective. You can do both.”
Which, naturally, put a lot of things in perspective for me.
Until I turned seventeen years old, I knew very little about life and death and loss and heartache. I was a ravenously passionate young person with the world at my fingertips. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized I was a slim fraction of kids, enjoying life without hardship and anguish and fear. To feel grief, which stumbled into depression, for the first time at seventeen is no less than a miracle. My unique experience was blissful ignorance at every stop, surrounded by people who supported and loved me. Coming home everyday to three wagging tails and a home in which I knew nothing but safety and comfort.
Of course, as a kid, I thought that was the norm for all those around me. Everyone, young and old. That was my narrow perspective, and it was a beautiful, joyful thing to exist through those eyes. I didn’t understand trauma. How heavy, how full it is. How it can fill your body up, bloodstream and bones, and come out through your eyes, your mouth, your fists, your silence. I didn’t think my mother had anything tangled up inside of her when she told me stories of sexual abuse, of her parents screaming at each other, her father’s never ending cheating. Of her sister leaving her alone for hours in the street as a child to go buy heroin. Of losing another sister to a battle with cancer. These were stories, they did not add up to life. They didn’t live inside anyone’s bodies or minds, they were momentary... and as linear things do, they passed me by.
Seventeen, a fascinating combination of insecure and too sure of myself, my world suddenly stopped turning. That year taught me that things that make you happy go away just like things that make you hurt. In their absence, they become the things that make you hurt. The tails that greeted me at the door went from three, to two, to one. My grandma, down the street always, a phone call away for a walk down the trail or a quick task to make ten bucks. Her house full of rainbows, her yard full of stones, sometimes blackberries, sometimes me and my brothers carving pumpkins. A little shed in the back that fascinated me endlessly. I wandered around stepping over trails of ants desperate to dig through every bin, unveil every treasure. One year, her plants were covered in tiny grasshoppers. Neon green and smaller than my pinky fingernail. She hated them but I must have watched them for hours, crawling over each other to reach new heights. My grandma made burnt cookies, and burnt enchiladas, and burnt cakes that she’d shove a Barbie right through the middle of. She wore lipstick as blush and drew on her eyebrows everyday. She danced with every step and never failed to leave a room full of laughter.
She died on my first day of Senior year, after school. Feeling the gravity of losing something that made up my core, lived in each molecule, was not something I could have prepared for. Watching my mother gracefully plan her funeral and be an ear for others as they grieved was not something I could have prepared for. Standing in a church (which was daunting enough for a girl raised without religion) and singing Amazing Grace while wet eyes looked back at me was not something I could have prepared for. (Although she sure did, it was demanded in her will.) Going to school the next day, the day after that, the weeks and the months after that, not something I could have prepared for.
I produced nothing. I was angry. I wrote poems about bodies rotting in the ground, about my body rotting into the ground because it may as well if the brain inside of it wasn’t good for anything anymore. I know that I missed my grandma, but day in and day out that isn’t what it felt like. It felt like I lost everything about myself, and after a while it felt like guilt for blaming my inability to be who I had been before on her death. I grieved my grandmother and my childhood all at once. To be frank, six years later, I’m still somebody different. I’m not ignorant to the weight of grief. To nights awoken with gasps and sobs that steal the air from the room.
I’m familiar with this new person now, and mostly she likes the same things. Mostly she cares just as much. But I find I have to push a little harder to do things. I find I’m a little more scared to hold on to things that I never want to lose. I fear what will become of me when such inevitabilities occur, but my head knows that people are built stronger than that. That people have known loss I could only imagine, if even.
That is my grief, and that is my perspective. That is getting up everyday to love and to grow and to be loved by what’s around me.
The drive home from the vet we went the long way, with an empty pet-carrier and my heavy heart. I played tug-of-war with the concept of mortality, and wondered how my lizard felt, being dead. Only to remind myself that she didn’t. Likely, she was never scared to die at all.
After Hours by The Velvet Underground played on shuffle, and sang us home:
“And If you close the door, the night could last forever
All the people are dancing and they're having such fun
I wish it could happen to me
'Cause if you close the door
I'd never have to see the day again”