Loss is a nasty motherfucker that tastes bitter when you lick it with your tongue. But you know what’s not a nasty motherfucker that tastes bitter when you lick it with your tongue?
If I knew more about biblical stories, I’d maybe be able to make some shrewd comparison between what I have gone through recently and what somebody like Jonah or John – or Satan – once went through, but though I read the Bible for a Biblical and Classical Literature class in college (This is a great book, I thought back then), I guess a lot of it didn’t sink in the way the lines of Reservoir Dogs have.
It is with my tendency to not talk about that which I do not understand in mind that I will now veer away from the Bible and instead talk about something I happen to understand very well: the fact that loss will only impact you consistently if you allow it to.
I had a very bad day yesterday. It started shitty. I almost always wake up before the mind-numbing buzz of my alarm clock, and that’s a practice I sort of like. The extra minutes allow me to adjust to the day before it officially begins. I run over what I need to do at work (Okay, so I need to teach how to log documentary footage and then I have to discuss how independent films can secure financing at festivals and I need to grade that stack of papers on Home Invasion horror) and the things that are happening after work (Should I cancel this date? No, I already have an outfit picked out and I want an excuse to wear it) and then I do these stomach crunch things that I read about in an article on morning exercises meant to be done in a bed and then I try (and it’s become a more and more difficult endeavor) to wake up my dog so that I can take her outside for a walk before I stand underneath a hot shower where I contemplate whether or not I should throw my hair up or actually commit to beauty and sit down and straighten it. But yesterday, I woke up to the blaring of the alarm and it startled me and my day began with a beating and thudding heart and there was no time to contemplate anything. Without preamble, the day just started.
The outfit I’d picked out the night before for work but didn’t try on was suddenly too big on me and it bagged in odd places and made me look like I had three hips and there wasn’t even time to high-five myself for losing weight or to congratulate myself for eating nothing fun in forever. No, I had to pick out a new outfit and my head was so cloudy that the task felt almost impossible.
Finally dressed but wearing a strapless bra for no reason at all except for the fact that the other dress – the one now in a pile on the floor – required it, I did the rest of my morning stuff and got to work and stalked up three flights of stairs in five-inch heels and sat down and started writing. I finished “Jolt” – yesterday’s piece – by the end of second period (I don’t start teaching until period three), but then it wouldn’t upload and I began to feel hot and angry and I might have screamed “What the fuck?” and it probably doesn’t matter that there were no students around; I shouldn’t be screaming at all in school.
As my third period class walked in, I handed out the papers I’d graded the day before and three kids who were out the day before for AP tests asked me what notes they’d missed and so much was happening in that one moment and I still felt hot and I hated my thrown-together outfit and that’s when this kid I had last semester came into my room. He stops by every single day on his way to his new class to give me a hug. It could be read as weird, but it doesn’t because of the kind of kid he is. But yesterday he became just one more thing – just one more variable I didn’t want to deal with – and I just kind of pushed my hand up and said, “Now’s not a good time,” and I saw his face fall and I immediately felt like shit.
The entire day was like that, and I know now – just as I knew then – that none of what bothered me in the moment was the root of what was really bothering me. I was upset for a different reason, one I’ve decided to actually just let go of and then walk away.
Back at home after work, I exercised and I read and I spoke on the phone and I tried to watch some TV, but I couldn’t concentrate. I drank about six gallons of water and I tried to feel hungry, but there was too much anger and morose curiosity and sadness spinning through my stomach, the words I’d never said keeping me fuller than I’ve ever wanted to be. I almost poured myself a glass of wine, but I couldn’t imagine adding alcohol to my insides and so I just drank more water and vacuumed and organized my jewelry and ignored a phone call from someone who shouldn’t know yet how moody I can sometimes be.
That’s the kind of shit that should come out over the passage of time.
I finally went ahead and sent a text to the person who is very much the cause of the allergy-muddled springtime of my discontent. He’s a friend who is not a friend, one of my favorite people in the whole wide world who I totally hate. He is the bearer of the most thoughtful of compliments and the single finest liar I’ve ever known. He is someone I include amongst the people I would do anything for – that list is short, but I never waver from my total loyalty and devotion to the people on it – and someone I think might actually not pee on me if I spontaneously burst into flames in his presence. He’s someone I’ve known for a long time now and he’s also someone I clearly don’t know at all. He is someone I just did a gigantic favor for that took a great deal of time and thought and he is someone who thanked me and then never talked to me again.
I was never the kind to have complicated or unequal friendships. I have friends I am truly close to – people I value endlessly – and I have a lot of friendly acquaintances. I’m nice to everyone because I find it far more taxing to be rude. I could care less what most people think of me, but I care tremendously about how those I love view me as a person and I never want to be someone they cannot come to when they need to talk or to expound upon their dreams and I will do everything within my ability to help them reach every single thing they long for.
I think sometimes about that Pearl Jam song, Just Breathe, and how there’s a line Eddie Vedder sings so perfectly in his soothing growl —I’m a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love — and that line makes me smile because I too can count those I love and trust on both hands and at least one foot.
But now my pinky toe – currently polished in a color called Rosy Rouge – has an opening.
I guess that part of the sadness is that it’s harder to make close friends as an adult because there is less time to foster those new friendships so when one goes missing, you know deep inside that it will not be replaced with someone new. There is no need to go find a rebound friendship like I do sometimes after my fallen romantic relationships with guys because it’s harder sometimes to replace a friend.
It might even be more painful to lose a friend.
The text that I could have sent last night might have read a little something like this: You’re a fucking dick and I should never have gotten close to you because you were born without the capacity for honesty or kindness and you fancy yourself strong, but you are actually the biggest fucking coward I have ever met. The things you value mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. The attributes that matter most to you are the very definition of the superficial. I am disappointed that I spent time nurturing a friendship with someone who is dead inside and I am angry that you offered me the kind of help you know I need for things that I don’t know how to do myself and that now you have disappeared when I was never the person who asked for that help in the first place and now you are gone and all I’m left with is the knowledge that I need to do some things I know nothing about how to accomplish.
I didn’t send that text. I didn’t even consider it, though I had myself a little bit of fun catharsis composing it now. What I sent instead was a text with words that came to me while I was running faster than I ever have on my trampoline, sweat forming against the base of my ponytail while I held the top of my sports bra with my hands so it wouldn’t hurt so much to bounce. What I realized in those jumping moments was that no matter how much I think I see things clearly – no matter how much I see myself as insightful and a good reader of people – sometimes people actually try to fool you.
There’s this quiet movie I love called Shattered Glass. I showed it to the students in one of my IB classes this year, and one of the kids declared it the single worst movie he has ever seen. To make sure he understands the boldness of such a statement, I plan to buy him the entire Pauly Shore movie collection and then restrain him while he watches all of them in a row – and then he can make blanket statements about the ranking of films. But I like Shattered Glass, a film about disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, a reporter who wrote a litany of articles for The New Republicand lied voraciously in a huge number of them. Glass created false quotes and attributed them to people who have never existed. He imagined places and events and circumstances and then threw up this fabricated fiction onto the page and passed it all off as the total truth. To get his stuff through the fact checkers of the magazine, he doctored notes and fashioned fake business cards and set up counterfeit voicemail accounts. It’s easy to watch the film and shake your head at how flawed the fact checking system was at The New Republic that would allow such lies to make it through to print, but I remember watching the DVD commentary with the director of the film and with Chuck Lane, who was then the Editor in Chief of the magazine, and what struck me the most was when Lane said that yes, there were issues with the fact checking, but the system had never been set up to deal with someone who was determined to deceive to them. That kind of variable changes everything.
I see a parallel between the Stephen Glass thing and what I’m going through with the loss of this particular friend. It’s one thing when someone accidentally hurts you or causes you some pain and a lot of spinning confusion through an unawareness of their actions or due to a momentary bit of selfishness, which is certainly something we all experience. It is another thing entirely when someone knows he is causing you pain and confusion and simply does not care.
The positive thing about all of this is that I finally know that how I choose to react and to respond is all within my control. I can feel the rushing tides of bitterness sweeping across my emotional shoreline and I can allow the questions that will never be answered to swirl through my mind, pushing aside the thoughts that really matter. Or I can say that I’ve finally evolved enough – finally! – to know that those pulsating and raw thoughts and feelings just serve to fuck up everything else and cancel out what really matters.
The best response is probably to have no response, but I’m not swallowing another reaction – I hear reactions have carbs – so instead I sent a text that was somewhat kind. I said that I had no idea how it was that he came to his choices or his actions and that what actually mattered was that I didn’t really need to understand somebody else. I said that I wished him well. I said that my feelings for him were complicated and that I was not ashamed of that. I think I would be far more ashamed if I became the kind of person who could cancel out the whole story just so I could pretend to understand one poorly written chapter.
I think that fury or a debilitating sadness are the easy reactions to have when you feel loss, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling either. But for me, I think the reaction to losing someone you once made the decision to care for has to be one of forgiveness. I forgive him – and, more importantly, I forgive myself.
I have to.
And I’m not ashamed of that either.