I’ve finally realized how lonely it is to be alone. I’m the type of person who treasures my time away from people, even the people I love. A girl needs space. It’s just how I recharge. I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I used to sneak breakfast food into my room at night so I could wake up early and read for hours without having to come out of my room for sustenance. Genius.
That’s not to say I’m a total loner, I just need enough alone-ness to balance out the people-ness. Gregg was the opposite. He needed people.
I only needed Gregg. No, not needed. Wanted. I wanted Gregg. During times when he was really struggling, it was like he was just gone. He was not my husband, my childhood friend, my confidante. He just wasn’t there. I used to tell him during those times that I felt alone on the island. That’s what this feels like.
I guess I thought that all those times I felt alone when Gregg was alive had prepared me to be really alone. And I’m sure they did, but not enough to last forever. I’ve started talking to Wilson and searching desperately for a way off this freaking rock.
And before you get any ideas, I’m not talking about finding a husband *eye roll*, although I am contemplating starting to think about maybe becoming more open to that idea someday. But I don’t need to find anyone, I have people all around me who would gladly share their fish or help me build a raft. But when you’ve gotten so used to being alone, how do you do anything else?
Sometimes I envy people who are divorced. At least if I was divorced, I could fight with Gregg all time. And while I called him a giant toddler and he told me I was a control freak who’s getting wrinkles, we would truly know each other.
It’s time. I feel like I’ve healed. Not completely, but I feel more like a whole person, a whole person who needs to say it. Not that I was hiding anything before, but I just hadn’t wrapped my head around it. I’ve always been open to talking about Gregg’s life, and death, to whomever asked, but I just don’t offer up the details. He was too special, and also it was too traumatic.
I spent months trying to figure out if this was a story of PTSD or of addiction. I still don’t know, but I don’t think it matters. The trauma, the TBI, the paranoia, the nightmares. The drug-seeking, the lying, the impulsivity, the chaos. There’s really no separating the two. They were the experiences of the same man and the manifestations of the same brain, both driven by the same spirit.
But I don’t even know how to start. Some days I can make sense of it all, and some days it’s all muddled. But no matter which way you straighten out all the details and the symptoms and the signs, it always ends the same.
Gregg died of an overdose. He never had to use drugs off the street. His drugs of choice were ones that were created to help people. Humans like to fix things and it was easy for Gregg to find people, doctors and friends, who wanted to fix his inattention and his sleeping problems and his anxiety and his pain. But the drugs never really fixed anything. And when no one could fix it and he couldn’t let God take it away, he numbed it.
I think a lot of people have gotten the impression that Gregg committed suicide, which is understandable. And I’m not in denial when I say that’s not what happened. I was always really aware of where he was mentally, and that’s not where he was when he died. But at the same time, I think he did sort of lose his will to live. I recently read an article written by a woman who had overdosed numerous times. She said that if you get high enough, you’re either numb to the disappointment and the self-hatred and the chaos that you face everyday, or you don’t wake up and those things aren’t a problem anymore. Win-win. I think that’s where Gregg was.
But of course, that’s bullshit, which the woman in the article also talked about. If your brain tells you those are two best case scenarios, it is lying. Numbing isn’t the only way to deal with negative emotions. There’s always a way back.
And that’s all that I can put into words right now, I guess. I’ve always planned on sharing Gregg’s story in a way that would impact the world, the way he impacted the world while he was here. He was extraordinary, I can’t let his death be meaningless. But overdose is a hard topic. People don’t dress up and hold fancy dinners to raise funds for addiction research or run marathons to fight opiate abuse, yet. Society sees addiction as a shameful disease. It happens in a place people don’t want to visit, or even think about. Even me. I’ve been there with people I love, and I don’t like looking back at it.
People who die from cancer or in a car crash are victims of circumstance. Their death was an injustice. People who die from an overdose made the choices that led to their death. I feel like that’s a fair generalization of society’s views, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I believe that we’ve been given the power to choose to put in the work that will help us to be better. But if a cancer patient was in denial about their disease and never sought treatment, would they be a victim of circumstance or would they responsible for their body destroying itself? If someone trusts a green light and pulls into the intersection without looking both ways, have they died from their own choices or have they been failed by the system that was supposed to keep them safe? There’s no right answer, but have you ever thought about it? Do some people deserve to be saved?
I think that Gregg was saved from a lifetime of pain. And that is merciful. He is also missing out on a lifetime of joy, but not because he didn’t deserve it. He deserved every ounce of joy and happiness, and I know he’s going to be able to cash in on that. Because God is fair. Life is not, but God is. And Gregg is getting the chance to grow and learn just like us.
It’s been over a year and somehow I still sometimes forget that Gregg is gone. I’ll be thinking about something and be like, “oh, Gregg would like that,” and then BAM, it all floods back. And I’m swept up with the wave.
I’d say that I’m bouncing between shock and bargaining right now. Shock that he’s gone and trying to bargain with God to let me see him, or even bargaining with my mind to trick me into THINKING I see him. Like, why can’t I just see him? I know its a thing, why can’t it happen to me? Even seeing him in a dream, anything. I’ve only dreamt about him once, maaaybe twice since he died, and neither were tender reunion type dreams, which was worse than not dreaming about him at all.
I suppose that God knows that if I did see him, I would just keep chasing him. I would just keep wanting to see him and I would never be able to “move on,” whatever that means. But I’d be ok with that… I just. Want. To see him.
How did I handle December the 26th? As if it was meaningless. As if it was just any other day. I gave it the middle finger and then tried to ignore it. Kind of like when you put that basket of unfolded laundry in your closet where it’s out of sight. If you don’t acknowledge it, does it even exist? The answer is “no.”
For other important dates and anniversaries, I have made it a point to do something adventurous. Kayaking, rock climbing… this time I thought about going on a helicopter ride or going sky diving or doing some other un-leisurely pursuit involving a whole lotta nope. But when it came right down to it, I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge the significance of that day, because that meant acknowledging that things were different and that Gregg was gone. So, I didn’t. *shrug*
But to be honest, the day wasn’t all bad. We hid in an RV all week in the freezing desert of Moab, UT. We baked terrible cookies and played in the snow and took 30 second showers. I did buy a portable security device for the RV because sometimes I hear Gregg’s voice in my head telling me about all the bad people in the world. I took his hulking physique for granted when he was alive. I always knew that if we were ever in a bad situation, he would fight (and win) to keep use safe or charm his way out of it. Not having him here sometimes makes me feel vulnerable. Someday I’ll become a black belt, but until then, having a tiny alarm that’s the decibel of a canary makes me feel better.
Anyway, occasionally during my attempt at escaping civilization we ventured further out to hike or explore the town. Some of my favorite family members came to join us in hiding. It was the best place to be and we had the most fun that we could have had during such a terrible time.
I don’t think that Thomas remembers the day Gregg died. After the paramedics came to tell me that Gregg was gone, I sat there in shock, silently ugly crying I think. Thomas put his chubby hand on my leg and in his best concerned toddler voice said, “you sad mom?… you sad?” He kept saying that and patting my leg. He didn’t even cry when I put him in my parent’s car and told him he was going to stay the night with grandma and grandpa. My cautious, shy child whom I had to hold the entire first year of his life because he was so attached to me was brave. Children are aware of and capable of a lot more than we give them credit for.
Anyway, the suck that has been November and December and early January is starting to lift. Man, I need to move somewhere that skips Winter.
I’ve had a bit of writers block lately, and by that I mean I have been avoiding writing for weeks, because emotions. It’s easier to isolate myself emotionally and wall up those pesky feelings than it is to share them. And anything that I write that is not 100% authentic ends up being utter bullshit. So, for the sake of authenticity, let me just start by saying that Christmas can suck it. And by “Christmas” I mean the Hallmark holiday, not the celebration of Christ’s birth… I’m not a monster. But seriously, the first Christmas tree of the season that I saw I wanted to set on fire. I was on my way to a morning class and as I turned a corner, there it was- all sparkly and festive and plastic. A caricature of the Christmas spirit. It was hideous. But after seeing it 17 times per week until finals were over, it became less menacing. And after hearing the first Christmas song, singing Christmas hymns in church didn’t bother me. And walking through the doors of the first Christmas party so that my kids could see Santa was like pulling teeth, but then Santa wasn’t so bad the next time we saw him. And after buying the first of the few gifts that I did buy, the spirit of giving overtook me and I stopped being so Grinch-y. Still, Hallmark Christmas and I are not friends, and if I could go hide in some area of the Earth that didn’t celebrate Christmas and stay there from early November through late January, I would. And I feel sort of guilty about that. During a time where I should be feeling thankful for the things I have, I’m feeling bitter. When I should be wanting to spend time with the people I love, I want to isolate myself. When I should be wanting to put up a Christmas tree with Thomas and Luke, I want to torch all the Christmas decorations I see. Like straight up mow them down with fire. And it just sucks. Last year for Christmas, Gregg, Thomas, and newborn Luke and I decorated a gingerbread house. That was a tradition that Gregg and I started the first Christmas we spent together. Our houses always turned out terribly ugly, and what’s worse, they don’t even taste particularly good when you get them out of a box. But it was our thing and it was fun. I had bought four presents each for Thomas and Luke, because I hate “stuff”. I don’t even remember what I got Gregg. How is that possible? He got me a diaper bag, which sounds lame, but it’s totally not. A couple of weeks before Christmas, I had complained about my neck and shoulder hurting after trying to carry Luke in the ergo while balancing a diaper bag on my shoulder. He got me Petunia Pickle Bottom backpack style bag. He called it the “Rolls Royce” of diaper bags, which it is. He even called his sister to help him pick it out. He was a really great gift giver. I’ll be sad when I no longer have to lug it around with me. Anyway, then the four of us went up to Snowflake. I packed the stockings that I had sewn for us and loaded up the (unwrapped) presents. And then we wrapped, and laughed, and cried, and decorated the tree, and opened presents, and cooked, and then Gregg was gone. So yeah, Christmas sucks now. And maybe it won’t always be that way, but this year it’s that way. And it’s ok that things suck. I really believe that experiencing the crappy parts of mortality is important. It’s how we grow. And while I’m usually all for highlighting the positive, sometimes that’s worse. Sometimes looking on the bright side feels like looking into the sun, painful and stupid. Best to just look at the ground until you can see more than two feet in front of you. And that’s ok, eventually you can look up again.
Which brings me to my next point: crying in public. Crying in public has got to be one of my least favorite things, probably in the top 5. If I’m going to cry, I want it to be in my own space where I can go full-blown ugly duckling, not somewhere with an audience where I have to try to hide it. And really, there is no hiding it. The slightest change in emotion sends my face into a splotchy fit of rage, the effects of which linger for at least an hour. Gregg used to tell me that I was so pretty when I cried, that it made my eyes look so clear and bright. Yeah, pretty sure that was just him buttering me up after he made me cry. Also pretty sure it worked the first time. After that, it just made me want to punch him the face.
I took off my wedding ring several weeks ago. I had been thinking about it for a while. When it first occurred to me that I could take it off, I thought I never would. Then later on I thought, “well, I guess some day if I decide to start dating I should probably take it off… Yeah, probably.” But I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to not wear it. It would feel so naked. And uncomfortable. And like betrayal.
But taking it off felt like taking control of my life. It also felt like letting Gregg down. But, it’s just an effing ring. And the next morning, guess what? It felt normal. I felt normal. Like I had taken ownership of my place in the world, but it wasn’t as just a poor little widow. I didn’t have the weight of it anymore.
I spent the next few weeks avoiding thinking about Gregg for too long. I’ve realized that sometimes, I need a break. I need to go numb to it. I even pretended that I saw him. I was on a plane, exhausted and foggy from jet lag, and I saw a man out of the corner of my eye. He was tall, with broad shoulders and feet twice the size of mine. He wore a black shirt with long sleeves, black gym shorts, and black running shoes. I could see him. The areas that weren’t clear were filled in by my brain. Blonde hair. Eyes that squinted when he laughed. A cow lick on the back of his head, the same one Thomas has. Muscles on top of muscles. Headphones playing music that would drown out all the noise.
It was him. Standing right there. I couldn’t bring myself to actually look at him because I knew he’d disappear. It would just be some guy who looked nothing like him. He walked away and Gregg was gone.
Now, I think my brain is ready to feel the loss again. This week was my first week of my graduate program. As I was frantically searching for a piece of jewelry- because adult professionals wear that, right? And it will divert attention from my mom accessories (food, snot, spit up, etc.)- I saw my wedding band sitting in my jewelry box. Without even thinking, I reached in and slipped it on my finger. It was almost instinctive. Wearing it felt like home. Comfortable and sad at the same time. This is where I need to be now. And I’m still wearing it.
My brain is not protecting me anymore. Tonight when I was putting Thomas down for bed, I told him a story about Gregg. Which is nothing new, I’ve told him and Luke a story about daddy every night since the day after Christmas. But it had become a rushed version of watered down memories. Sincere, but generic. Tonight I told Thomas a story about what Gregg looked like and told him all the features he had that came from daddy, which is like, all of them. When I got to his nose, I told him about Gregg’s scar. I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It wasn’t noticeable unless you knew to look for it, and tonight I could see it clear as day in my memory. A little crooked line from the middle of his top lip to his nose, and around to the left. It divided that part of his face in half. He had busted it open as a kid when he ran into a volleyball pole. When it was almost healed, a game of Squishy Face, Stretchy Face opened it back up. Somehow, a family practitioner managed to sew him up perfectly, twice. And it didn’t ruin his beautiful face (Gregg’s words, and mine).
Seeing that scar so clearly broke me. I don’t know why it was that and not something else, but if I’ve learned anything in the past 8 1/2 months, it’s that grief is a roller coaster and that emotions ride along the ups and downs and the spirals with no regard for the rational thoughts you might be trying to have on the ground. Round and round and round it goes, and where it stops, nobody knows. And they’re gonna just puke everywhere sometimes, and it’s not pretty. Sometimes it’s after they’ve eaten three churros and a chili dog and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes you can’t dodge it and you have to just live with it until you can get it cleaned off, which you don’t know how long will take, sometimes minutes, sometimes weeks. You don’t know this theme park well and you can’t always take control of what is happening to you.
So I’m gearing up for gross feelings, I guess. And when it gets to the point when I can’t handle the smell anymore, which it will, I’ll just hide in the photo booth. The one where you get to dress up as someone completely different from yourself, like a pirate wench, and pretend that none of this ever happened. And then I’ll realize that figurative pirate wenchness does not suite me and I want my own life back. And after a nice break of smiling and wearing an eye patch, I’ll be more prepared to deal with what’s outside.
Do you ever feel like you’re just sitting in a stagnant bowl of bland soup? Like life’s everyday responsibilities are just wearing you down and you need a break? I do. Except when I’m in my “get crap done” mode, which can last for days or weeks or longer. When I’m in that mode, I thrive off of boring, routine tasks and checking them off my list. It’s usually easy, even preferable, for me to pass up the fun and focus on the work. Except when it’s not. Except the times where I feel like I’m drowning in the soup while it’s bubbling over and I’m scorching the bottom of the pot.
So I’ve been trying to say “yes” to fun more. Like that movie “Yes Man,” except with no romantic plot line and less Red Bull.. but I definitely should have more Red Bull in my life.
So when the opportunity came to go to a concert where two of my favorite bands were playing, I bought tickets before I could talk myself out of it. I didn’t think about how hard it would be to find a babysitter, or how my kids were going to handle being away from me, or how I would make up for the studying I would miss. I said “yes” and that was that. Then the day came around and I wanted nothing more but to back out. Part of me was hoping there would be some sort of accident or natural disaster. Not huge, not enough where anyone was seriously hurt. Just enough to shut down all the roads or take out the electricity at the venue or something like that. Just enough to warrant me staying home, having dinner on the table between 5 and 5:30, baths at 6, bedtime at 7, hopefully shenanigans over and kids asleep by 8, and then just me and my laptop and grad school until I burst a blood vessel in my eye. Ahh, perfect.
But alas, no disasters. So I sort of slowly and methodically made my way to the car on time, because if I’m going to go I’m going to give myself enough time to find decent parking. I didn’t even get “ready”, I wore my mom jeans and chucks. My hair probably had baby snot in it. And it was actually sort of freeing to not care, not even a little bit. I’m so glad I went. It was actually awesome and just what I needed to get me out of the funk that I didn’t realize I was in.
Music has a way of just making you feel all the feels. I was preparing myself for when the band played mine and Gregg’s wedding song, which I knew they would. When we got married, we didn’t choose a song to dance to, nor did we do a whole “everyone watch awkwardly while these two newlyweds dance” dance. We just decided beforehand that whatever song was playing when we stole a moment away to be alone and dance that that would be “our song”. And so it was.
So there I am, getting ready to have an emotional breakdown surrounded by 2,000+ people. I had my sunglasses on (which, luckily, was natural, because at 8:30 in Utah the sun is still out, which also made it hotter than the surface of the sun) and was just going to nonchalantly wipes tears away like I was wiping the sweat off my face (seriously, the actual surface). And then they played it, and.. nothing. Well, not nothing, but not what I expected. I’m not exactly sure what I expected, really… ugly crying? Full on body heaving sobs? The apocalypse? But yeah, none of those happened. I just sort of felt sad and then numb. It was actually during a completely different song that I almost lost it, a song that Gregg and I never even listened to. And it was a song by the other band who were trying super hard to be “hard”, not the sensitive, emo band that should make me want to think about my sad, sad life. So yeah, I was the girl in mom jeans and back sweat that had the persistent itch on her cheek at the most inappropriate time. All the feels, in a weird way.
A few weeks after that, I also said yes to my 10 year high school reunion, which, as far as reunions go, was pretty fantastic. But a million reasons why I wanted to talk myself out of it. Even right before, I got suuupeeer wound up about things that were actually inconsequential, but served as a great scapegoat for my out control emotions. I was really feeling out of control because here I was, going to an event that Gregg and I had actually talked about going to quite a few times over the years. We were from the same graduating class at our high school, and I feel like we were sort of the couple that no one saw coming. When we would talk about where we would be an what we would be doing when our ten year reunion came around, Gregg usually said he’d be in Hollywood by then. Sometimes he’d say that he’d be pew pewing terrorists and saving the world and wouldn’t be able to go to it. Other times he’d say, “screw that, I’m not going,” regardless of where he thought he’d be. So for me to be going without him was… crushing. But once I was there, I got comfortable with one of my BFF’s and some old friends and had a good time.
Since Gregg died, I’ve tried to honor his memory by doing things that scare me. I need to be taken out of my comfort zone, for my own sake and for those around me. That’s part of what Gregg helped me with. He was constantly trying to get me to just live a little. Just spend the money on the shoes. Just apply for that job if you want it. Just leave the dishes in the sink. I realize these are really mundane, stupid things, but sometimes I’m a full-blown crazy person and have to be pulled out of my world where all the spinning plates must be spun or certain doom will befall. So I’m trying to get better at pulling myself out and living in the real world, where I can see things clearly and recognize what is really important. Because routines and checklists are great, but just breathing and connecting and living are just as important.
It’s 11:30 at night and I’m mopping dried pudding off the floor. Thomas begged for it today at the store. “Oh, daddy’s pudding!” It was one of Gregg’s cheat foods that they would indulge in, chocolate Snack Packs. Thomas ate 3 when we got home. Well, 2 and 3/4. The last 1/4 was smeared on the floor with his hands and feet. Paper towels can only do so much and there’s been a thin, sticky layer there since noon. Honestly, I don’t blame him for smearing it, though. I would rather paint with the gelatinous paste of a Snack Pack than eat it. And it probably has the same nutritional value as paint, so there ya go.
I’m stalling. Clearly, there is something that I need to get off my chest that has nothing to do with pudding. I wish I knew what.
This happens sometimes, this uneasy feeling that something is boiling up inside me. All the distractions are losing their power and becoming meaningless and unimportant. They’ll soon be bulldozed by what’s really bothering me. Because the dried pudding could have waited until tomorrow, but it was a great excuse for some mind-numbing housework. Mopping and dishes should take the edge off. If the kids weren’t sleeping, I’d bust out the vacuum and really get this avoidance party started.
I tend to try to tire myself out until I don’t have the energy to feel anything. Not that I have to try hard, really. Have you ever spent a day just trying to keep a child alive? That shit’s exhausting. But at the same time, easy. It’s easy to focus on diapers, and teething, and dinner, and choking hazards, and baths. And also easy, now I have school, and homework, and research, and schedules. I’ve got plenty, and I like it that way. I could probably go hours without thinking about Gregg. Not without thinking about him, just without thinking about the fact that he’s dead. Or all the other stuff that goes along with that. That’s the hard stuff.
I wonder if he thinks about those hard things. Like if him dying is as traumatic for him as it is for me. I know he’s got other things to do and that he probably sees things differently now, but wouldn’t that be scary? To die? To be separated from the people you love? Sure, you get to be with different people that you love, but still.
Anyway, for now I’ll just stick to cleaning. I’ll probably start ugly crying over something really dumb before the end of the night, like why there’s so much mail piled up in the designated mail basket thingy-ma-jig. There’s no room for any more mail in there, HOW CAN LIFE GO ON?! An epic tragedy.