It’s been a while since I’ve written a creative nonfiction piece about my mom. In part, that’s awesome, because these creative nonfiction pieces are built more of my anxiety and my need to get something into words I can’t express than from happiness. In other words, usually writing them means I had a bad day or am in a bad place. So, in that regard, you can take the distance between the pieces a good sign that I’m doing awesome.
On the other hand, it can also mean I’m not always confronting the way I feel about it.
I read an article a while back that had something really interesting to say about grief. It talked about how the vast majority of people who find themselves in a situation like mine–where they lose someone close to them–actually “get over” the depression really quickly. Something like 80%. In comparison, 15% of people get depressed for long periods of time, and only 5% (maybe even less) suffer from crippling, life-altering grief. (These numbers are not exact as I don’t have the article anymore. I should find it.)
I am one of the 80%.
However, even among those of us who “get over” the initial depression, loss like this is not something we adapt to over the matter of a few years, and instead of true depression we go through bouts of hard times, particularly around holidays, birthdays, and various other events that remind us of who we’ve lost.
I guess I’m in a bout. Probably because my one-year wedding anniversary is coming up. A few weeks before that, my mother’s birthday.
Anyway, I’ve been exploring myself lately, and the relationships I have with my friends and family, and I came to a pretty startling revelation. I wrote about it (metaphorically) below.
Enjoy? I guess? Hah!
I live in a fortress.
I don’t know exactly when I began building it, or when exactly the final brick was put into place, but now that I have some clarity I can see it high above me. It has tall, thick walls and glass windows–windows just wide enough for me to press my face against and a peek outside without seeing the walls at all, giving the illusion I’m not behind them.
But now the glass has grown cold and I’ve taken a few steps back. I see this structure, and I see the way it cuts me off from my friends and family, and I wonder what exactly I’m supposed to do now.
There are no doors. No stairs.
Just me. And the bricks.
The first bricks were crafted from my denial. My desire to believe that a centimeter-wide tumor would turn out to be benign started it. Then my hopes that, when the tests came back positive, the cancer hadn’t spread beyond that one little spot in the lung. Then, my need to believe she could be one in one-hundred to make it through the first year after diagnosis.
The next bricks were crafted from my fear. Those were the long nights spent awake and crying, holding onto my husband as I thought of all the things I wouldn’t get to do, of all the chances I’d miss. They were the days I got texts in the middle of my classes telling me she loved me, and wishing I had saved those texts months later when they would stop coming in entirely. And, when my chest started to hurt, too, I wondered if I was next–if maybe I’d get to lie next to her again sooner than I’d thought.
Then, the bricks were crafted from my numbness. For months, I ran on autopilot. I played the part of a sociopath–mimicking the facial expressions and emotions of those around me so I could at least pretend I was feeling anything at all. I thought things were going back to normal.
Finally, the top of the fortress, the highest spires and sharpest ridges, were crafted from my insecurity. All at once everything crumbled upon me and I became acutely aware of how suddenly different I was, and how the men and women, friends and family I saw every day couldn’t see that difference. They couldn’t see the missing pieces. They couldn’t see how much more muted I felt, like I was the only black in white picture in a world of bright and vibrant colors.
All they could see was the fortress. On the outside, it was beautiful and whole. On the inside, it was lonely.
Now, in retrospect, I suppose it was there to help protect me. It kept people from asking the difficult questions, from seeing me at my most vulnerable. In many ways, it made me feel safe. But it did something else, too, something I now realize has crippled me.
The fortress has kept me separate.
It has stopped me from truly connecting with people, especially people who didn’t know me before its construction. Sometimes, I feel like a caged animal–a species people can ogle at and toss a bone, but not a species they can touch and feel and understand.
Now that I’m stronger, I want to deconstruct it and feel like I’m truly interacting again, but at this point I don’t know how. It was easy to build, starting from the ground up, but if I begin destroying it from where I stand the bricks will fall and smother me.
I think I only have one option.
I have to climb.