There’s nothing I can say about the month of June except that we are through it. I can’t say that I am particularly happy that we are, but I am glad to see July, with its heat and showy national holiday; it’s a distracting, cleansing, just- over- the- mid- point bit of the year that at least allows me the fantasy of some reprieve around the bend.
(This is the three of us, driving the Jersey Pike just before the Lombardi, listening to This Year on the drive home from the funeral. I really mean it this time, I think, tapping the wheel.)
I want to tell you something cheerful, something that uplifts or says something great and happy and wholesome, but my heart isn’t in it. June of 2016 is when my oldest, dearest friend had a near miss doing something she does pretty much every day, because life can be really capricious, and sometimes awfully so. June 2016 is also the month my partner and daughter really, truly learned what death is, and that is a terrible thing. June 2016 was, in my professional opinion, a garbage fire.
(This is the three of us, in misting half- rain on the highway when It Was A Good Day comes on and Kiddo spots a rainbow out the right side window. The drive home has been nothing that we wanted it to be, really, until this moment.)
I don’t know how to explain the past few weeks and I don’t want to, so I won’t, except to say that they have left all of us open and raw and ragged and I both do and do not want to manage these feelings. I would like to make many, many things and I should like to spend a small amount of time smashing and destroying a few, too. I am staying very still and witnessing my partner’s pain and as much as I would like to take that away, even if I could, I wouldn’t. It will turn into that other thing in a few years, that soft- bitter- kind of remembering that comes with a smile and a bite, and that’s a goodness, that hungry thing we’re left with, that love- shaped hole.
(We have been on some road in Delaware for what feels like forever and my phone is on shuffle when Hospital Vespers comes on and I can’t hit forward quickly enough but the stupid car interface is doing that thing where it just won’t listen, of course it does that now, so instead I just turn it down, which just makes it more obvious and awful.)
There aren’t words for this sort of thing. We are what is left and what is left to do.
(We get the call while driving through New York state, just past Rhinebeck, listening to Night Vale. The first call goes to voice mail because of the spotty reception; Sam needs to call back. We stay pulled off to the side of the road for so long, some lovely Good Samaritan calls in roadside assistance for us, a kindness. I speak with the truck operator, and he sits behind us, flashers on, for half an hour to make sure we are safe. “I’m so very, very sorry,” he tells me. His voice is gritty and kind and out of nowhere I think, He smells just like my uncle. “Please take as long as you need. I mean it.” I wish I had gotten his name. We listen to radio static and, eventually, the sound of our own breath.)
I was in a friend’s living room yesterday and I said that I wasn’t sure quite where we were now: that this was whatever came next, the liminal phase afterward. It feels very large, vague, and foreign after more than three years of what came before. Everything is different. Everything is the same, obviously, on a daily level, but it also isn’t, not really, and I have the feeling there’s a great deal more change to come; nothing ominous, there’s no creeping dread, just this quiet certainty. It’s such a strange thing- I’ve stopped placing judgement on the weird thoughts that come into my head in the last few weeks- I remember learning to read Tarot cards in my teens. In the major arcana, the Death card symbolizes transformation, transition, change. We have always known these things were connected.
I came home, unpacked, and a few days later I went to see my childhood friend, a woman I’ve loved since we were both girls. She was in an accident recently that left her with a shattered collarbone, and she was coming out of surgery that afternoon; I met her in the recovery room along with her partner and parents. Surgery had taken longer than expected and anesthesia had left her sluggish, sweet, silly. At one point, as my friend was in the wheelchair preparing to leave, her mother turned to me and said, “She looks just like when she was fifteen, doesn’t she?” She was tearing up and absolutely correct; the same kind, funny, whip- smart girl I knew back in the day, with a mask of medically- induced vulnerability so similar to what were all sporting as teenagers. We change so much; we can only be ourselves.
We go back to their home, eat, talk, meet new friends. We tell stories, review the event, share outrage. There are words, but it’s mostly about presence, which is the central thing. We talk about the different forms of presence, which I find both ironic and touching. I have spent this month witnessing, observing, and loving support networks. They are all completely different, utterly situational, and very, very beautiful. We don’t always know how to negotiate trauma, tragedy, death, or grief, but we do know how to try. It’s all we have: the doing of the thing. We are what we make.
(It is the 5th of July, 2016, and I am leaving the West End of Hartford in the dark. I thumb through my phone until I find Independence Day and set it to play me home.)