2016 Celebrity Deaths

It’s weird watching people in your friends list mourn strangers on the internet, particularly when you’ve just lost someone who was integral to your life, your development. When one of the people who created you dies, some friends do no more than click the sad face icon, but these same people lament and curse over the passing of people they’ve never met.

I get it, of course. Those strangers helped shape them. Those strangers played beloved characters and we can all come to feel as though we know them personally. And it’s not like many of them met my mother, either. Still, it can’t help feeling a little bit like being forgotten.

I know that’s not what’s happening, of course. Even still, every time I see a “who died in 2016” montage or list, I can’t help feeling like they forgot the most important person. My mother may not have been an influential piece of the zeitgeist, but she was so important. Is. I may not have picked up her affinity for femininity and gender roles, but I like to think I picked up her heart and her emotional strength, among other fine qualities.

As Carrie Fisher is announced dead this morning, I can only thing about her daughter—she’s just 24 years old. Her mother had a heart attack, but then she was stable, so presumably they thought the worst had passed. Then she died. How heartbreaking.

I can relate.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Questions make me angry lately. Really, really angry. All of a sudden, I don’t know any of the fucking answers—not even to simple questions that I obviously know the answers to. Suddenly, every question is hard. It’s as though my mother’s death took all of the sense out of everything.

What’s your plan?
What are you doing next?
When are you going home?
Will you spend Christmas with us?
When are you coming back to Seattle?
When can we see you?
What are you working on now?
What will you do when the contract is up?
Are you worried about the contract ending?
Where are you living?
Will you move soon?
Are you moving back to California?
Who are your favorite authors?
What video games are you playing now?
Can you extend your contract?
Why do you have two cars?
Where’d you get that jacket?
Where’d you get that ring?
Where’d you get that bracelet?
Oh, was that purse your mom’s too?
Have you called this place yet?
What about that place?
Oh, well when do you think the death certificates will arrive?
Are you taking this with you?
Why don’t you want to take this with you?
How long did it take you to get here?
Are you working on a blanket?
Are you working on a game?
Are you working on a book?
What do you do with your free time?
What is Pokemon Go?

Either the questions don’t make any sense to me or the answers are so incredibly boring that I can’t imagine why another person would ever bother asking it, and I get unbelievably irritated that I have to waste oxygen providing an answer. It doesn’t matter who is asking the question or what the topic is. They just make me mind-numbingly angry.

 

Adventures with the California Department of Motor Vehicles

Apparently, the California DMV has some 40-day rule where, once you die, you have a brief window to dig your way out of your own grave and reclaim your belongings. So you can’t transfer ownership of a deceased person’s car for 40 days. That day is today, so I head down to the DMV.

  • One hour in line to the front door
  • One hour in line to the window to get a number
  • One hour for my number to be called

“Oh, it’s been exactly 40 days since she died?”
“Correct.”
“You have to wait THROUGH the 40 days. You can’t transfer these cars until tomorrow.”

End scene.

Scream Back

We all know depression lies. What we can forget is how often it lies with the truth, and that’s always much more dangerous.

For someone like me, who thrives on doing, on a feeling of accomplishment, it draws me close and whispers in my ear all the things I didn’t manage to do today, this week, this month, this year.

You didn’t read as much of that book as you meant to.
You didn’t make any progress on your company’s next release.
You didn’t completely finish going through your mother’s stuff like you said you would, or even spend very long on it.
You didn’t email the silver trading place back about your mother’s silver.
You didn’t take the next steps toward closing your mother’s retirement accounts.
You didn’t make any real progress toward acquiring medication.
You’re not moving enough, and your body is going to kill you.
You still haven’t finished your uncle’s blanket.
You didn’t write that long blog post you’ve been meaning to write.
You haven’t written a novel worth shopping around in years.
You let the video game you were working on just fall to the sidelines.

It’s so easy to listen. So easy to nod along, saying, Yes, yes of course you’re right. I’m worthless. I’m nothing. I’ve accomplished nothing. This is a dangerous path.

The much better choice, when you can manage it (or so I’ve found) is to instead scream back, loud and with all your might, all the things that you have, in fact, accomplished.

I WOKE UP EARLY EVEN THOUGH IT’S SATURDAY.
I READ SEVERAL CHAPTERS, DESPITE HOW TOUGH READING HAS BEEN FOR ME LATELY.
I SPENT THREE HOURS GOING THROUGH MOM’S THINGS, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY DIFFICULT, AND I FINISHED ONE ENTIRE ROOM.
I TOOK TIME TODAY TO RELAX, WHICH I HAVEN’T REALLY DONE IN WEEKS.
I MADE SEVERAL PHONE CALLS IN AN ATTEMPT TO GET THE MEDICATION I NEED, SUCCESS BE DAMNED.
I COOKED AND ATE A HEALTHY DINNER.
I ASSEMBLED MY GRANDFATHER’S NEW CHAIR.
I SPENT SEVEN DOLLARS TO HIKE THREE MILES TO SHUT YOU UP.
I WROTE THIS MOTHERFUCKING BLOG POST.

Scream back into the darkness. Scream until your throat is raw. Fight against the lies with everything you have.

Oh, and the video game? That fell to the sidelines when one of my best friends got breast cancer, and I was very involved in the steps that came next. So fuck you, Depression, and stop bringing that up. You vile bitch.

The Slow Descent

I didn’t tell anybody this, but about a month before my mother died, I started having hallucinations. They were minor. Not much more than corner-of-your-eye stuff—but definitely more than that.

The things I saw were in the corner of my eye most of the time, but they weren’t just flashes or perceived movement. They had shapes. They were things. The one that sticks out the most in my mind was when I was in the backyard and an animal jumped toward me off the large propane barbecue. It was cat-like, but it wasn’t quite a cat.

It also wasn’t there. It startled me because I wondered how a cat(-like thing) had gotten back there, but when I turned fully toward it and looked around, the yard was completely empty except for me and my dog (who most definitely could not get up on the barbecue even if he’d been near it at the time). There wasn’t even anything around that I could have mistaken for what I saw: no birds, nothing fallen. Just my brain slowly falling apart.

Over the last few months, I’ve talk to my friends (usually remotely, since most aren’t in SoCal) about my “slow descent into madness” or being a half-step away from a fugue state or a full-on break from reality. I think some of them thought I was kidding. I was not.

While that overall feeling lasted until the day my mother died, the hallucinations lasted only a couple weeks. I tried to explain it away with normal things like my eyeglass prescription or not getting enough sleep, but the truth is I still got as much sleep as I ever did (I  tend to average just under six hours a night) and the hallucinations were gone a week before my new glasses arrived.

The only positive of the worst possible thing coming to pass is that you no longer need to stress about it coming to pass, so what I was calling the slow descent essentially disappeared when Mom did. Of course, now I’m starting to notice the slight tug of depression off and on. At first, I thought it was just normal grief, but when a truck almost takes you out on the freeway and your first thought is, That’d probably have been fine, it’s worth at least considering that you might be headed for trouble.

I know I’m too ornery for a therapist right now, which is a shame because I feel like grief counseling could help a lot. I already know I’ll be shitty and snide, though, because every single question posed to me makes me shitty and snide right now, and all therapists do is ask questions. Maybe at some point in the future.

Oh, but vaguely related to therapy (for me, at least), I’ve decided I’m going to drive Route 66 when this contract job is up. Probably in reverse, so I can start here in California, but that may change. We’ll see. I actually think the trip will help a lot.

 

Phone > Contacts > Mom

When do you take a dead person’s number out of your phone?

On the one hand, I don’t want to delete her text messages yet (if at all). They’re like the last few cards we exchanged, even if most of them are a string of “‘How are you feeling today?’ ‘Okay.'” And if I’m going to keep her text messages, I want to keep her name attached to them with the picture of her and her little dog. I want to remember seeing her face show up when she would say how cute a picture of my dog was (or her dog, or grandpa’s dog) or when she said how nice one of my blankets or scarves looked.

By the same token, some of the ones toward the end made me feel helpless and trapped and unsure what to do. She’d tell me she was lonely. I wanted to visit more, but I had to make sure I got enough work done to be able to take care of her after the heart transplant. Briefly, when I learned we would lose her, I was so angry at myself for prioritizing work over her. Of course, that’s not what I was doing at all. I was laying the groundwork to be able to take care of her. If anything, I was prioritizing her future care over her current discomfort, and I don’t think that was a mistake. My mom used to frequently tell me that we can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time. I’m confident I did that.

But cycling back around, I don’t know when I’m supposed to delete her as a contact from my phone. I didn’t have this problem with my dad because cell phones weren’t a big thing until a couple years after he died. (As I think about it another second, I may be mis-remembering that…but no one’s left to correct me, so I guess that makes me right enough.) I suppose there’s no real reason to except that I just almost accidentally called her number, which isn’t her number anymore. I imagine the new owner calling back, and seeing that my mom was calling sounds unnerving at best.

Grandpa deleted it right away, but his eyes have gone downhill. He can’t read text messages anymore and uses his phone exclusively with Siri, who doesn’t always understand him.

I don’t know. I suppose there’s no rush. I just keep seeing her smiling face on the speed dial page, and I want to press the button to talk to her.

We really need intercoms to the afterlife. Someone should get on that.

The Day After

“Sorry!” I hear the man’s voice behind me, but I ignore it. This is a mistake.

It’s October 30, 2016—the day after my mother died and the day before Halloween. (Quick side note: Losing a loved one right before Halloween is kind of surreal. It gives the holiday’s most common decorations—zombies and ghosts and skeletons—a whole new connotation.) I’m out after dinner walking my small dog and my grandfather’s much smaller dog when a third small dog runs up to us.

This little guy has clearly gotten off leash, and that’s probably what the guy behind me was yelling about. Usually, renegade dogs just want to play, but this one full-on attacks my dog, who immediately fights back. So now I’m on the ground, trying to keep these two dogs apart. I feel a slight tug on Buffy’s leash (don’t look at me; I didn’t name her) and take this as a good sign. A gentle reminder that she’s still on the end of her leash while all of this is going on.

Oh, my sweet summer child.

The owner of Mr. Biteypants comes over and scoops his dog up, apologizing profusely and explaining that he’s still a puppy and so on. I say it’s fine, and I look my dog over to make sure he’s okay (he is). Then the guy says, “Is that your dog?”

For a tiny animal, Buffy can run really fast. She is down the street and already about to turn the corner. She had slipped her collar when the scuffle began and quickly became her own personal “nope” gif. I run to the end of the block to see where she went, but she’s already gone. I ask a couple people if they saw a little dog.

“Yeah. She went that way. She was going really fast!”

I head for the house, hoping she’s sitting on the stoop (no such luck), drop Russell off, and grab a flashlight to get a better look in the dark. I don’t see her on the sidewalk or street anywhere, so I’m panicking as I look under every car on the street while I call her name. The man lost his daughter yesterday, I keep thinking. He can’t lose his fucking dog today. That is not how this is gonna go.

With every car that turns to come down the street, my heart beats a little faster, and I scan the street again to make sure she’s still not there, hasn’t magically appeared in the headlights of this oncoming small-creature-murder machine. One of these cars is a van, and the owner of the dog that started this whole business is driving. He offers to drive me around the neighborhood to look for her and I take a long moment to consider the possibilities. He says he lives in the neighborhood, and one of the other neighbors seems to know him, so I decide the chances of murder are very low. I’m about to accept his offer when I see her.

Van guy and I are at a T-intersection, right where it butts up against the T. On the other side of the street is little Buffy, running as fast as those short little legs will take her. I realize that she has not stopped running even once since the third dog appeared. She followed the sidewalk down a cul-de-sac until it turned back this way again. I call out to her, and she essentially says, Yeah you can go fuck yourself if you think I’m slowing down.

Luckily she was heading into another cul-de-sac, so I was able to corner her on someone’s front step. Van guy gave me a murder-free ride back over to grandpa’s house, and grandpa and I agreed that she wasn’t allowed to go for another walk until we got her a harness.

Then she had the nerve to look at me like she was tired. Little brat.

 

One Month

One month ago, on October 29, 2016, my mother died.

It’s weird, but I can’t explain how. It’s not really that time has gone by quickly. It’s more that it feels like time has stopped, and so the fact that it has continued on seems strange. The world moves on, and I remain in the same moment.

It’s more than a little to do with the fact that I’m still in California. I haven’t even been to my apartment in Washington yet (but thanks to my friends, my stuff lives there at least). I feel like my whole life is on hold until I can get to a more permanent place. It’s not, of course, but part of me can’t really start to cope with this until I’m behind my own locked door.

On a related topic, the death certificates finally came today. I had to go to the mortuary to find out what was taking so long, and I guess they got misplaced in the shuffle of the holiday. But now I can start to call people and cancel things and transfer other things.

The bank lady was so bouncy and peppy. I don’t think she put together the dissonance of me saying I needed to close my mother’s account while sliding her death certificate across the table and her responding with a bubbly “How’s your day going so far today??”

ksbp

Hot Air Balloon

So over the weekend, a good friend and I went up in a hot air balloon. It was a lot of fun, and the whole time this song was running through my head:

It wasn’t boring, but neither was it exhilarating. It was very much like being on the ground, except that I had to hold onto my cell phone quite a bit tighter while taking pictures. There isn’t a lot of movement sensation (and being crammed in with 24 of your closest friends, not a lot of movement period), but I did enjoy it. It just didn’t give me the thing I needed.

You know. The thing. That amorphous thing that I lose when tragedy strikes that I have to then go out and find again. After my most recent breakup, for example, I spent an entire day driving up through Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Since I was alone, I didn’t have to see Old Faithful again, so I was able to see a whole half of the park I had never seen before. (I also saw a grizzly bear! From a very reasonable distance, because even when distraught, I’m not a fool.) Also after that breakup, I went skydiving. (What can I say? It just seemed like time to jump out of a plane.)

I don’t only do these sorts of things when I’m having some kind of crisis, but they’re things I like to do, and they often take away some of what I can only really describe as angry adrenaline. It’s definitely not proper adrenaline, but it often fuels me until I get rid of it.

When tragedy strikes, I need to do something that gets me away from it. I already know, however, that no matter what I do, I won’t be able to get away from this. Mom’s absence is everywhere, because her presence was everywhere. I would text her the things I was doing, I would call and tell her about my adventures, she would tell me that women shouldn’t travel alone and I was being reckless (but since I was going to do it anyway, please please please be careful). She was always with me, and now she’s not. No matter what I do, where I go, she won’t be there. Her absence is all I’ll find.

Still, I have to do something.

I didn’t get the executive director job I was hoping for, so that frees up my time after this contract job I’m working now is over. My cousins were telling me about this workaway thing, where you travel to a far away place and you work somewhere for room and board. I’m thinking about maybe South America or Africa (or Oceania?), and I might do it for a month or two just to get my head back together. I’m also planning some kind of solo backpacking trip. Either the Cascades or part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe Mount Rainier. Hell, maybe all of the above. I guess we’ll see.

First I have to get back to Seattle and unpack my apartment.

 

Thanksgiving

Yesterday was really rough. Much more so than I expected.

Whenever I kind of feel out of place with my family (which is pretty often, actually…I took what we could generously call a different path than most of them), I normally just go find my mom. I join whatever conversation she’s in. She pulls me close and I can smell her slightly overpowering perfume and I know everything’s okay.

This year, I didn’t really have anywhere to go when I felt out of place. I ended up just going upstairs and sitting in one of the rooms my aunt and uncle don’t use anymore (most of their kids have moved out). I stayed in there for about an hour thinking of my mom and really genuinely feeling her absence. No one came to look for me. She was the only one who ever did.

I’ve spent holidays away from my family before, but even then, I would call my mom or look at my phone and see a text from her. “Happy Thanksgiving!” “Happy Easter!” “Happy Birthday! I love you!” All day long, every time I looked at my phone and saw no messages, my heart broke. If I don’t see my mom on a holiday, I get or send some kind of message. That’s just how it works. That’s how it’s worked every single holiday since I’ve been alive. And now there’s just nothing.

I almost texted her number to say Happy Thanksgiving, and that I missed her so much, but then I remembered that I canceled her service, so her number was probably back in circulation, and I’d just end up getting “who dis” as a reply.

I can’t remember the first proper holiday after my dad died. I remember he died about a month and a half before my 15th birthday, and Mom worked hard to make that birthday really special for me. She was always there to make things easier or to fall back on if I needed to.

It’s just me now.