I begin the re-exploration of my long-sleepy blog with this:
“Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad;
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle,
Don’t grumble- give a whistle!
And this’ll help things turn out for the best….
…always look on the bright side of life…”
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the past almost-year of my life, is that Monty Python has become my mantra. Yes, “for life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it. Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke it’s true.”
I’m not sure I actually believe life is a piece of shit, but I’m not quite at the point where I don’t think it’s not.
At this, I am really not trying to be morbid and obscene. I don’t say this of fascination or to instill excitement and challenge- it’s just a resignation that I have steeped in for so long that the flow of my thoughts is tepid and tinged.
I also know that instantly, people want to fight against this because it appears like the shiny Lamborghini of happiness is zipping away and the beater without shocks or a muffler is puttering up to the curb. Yes, they both get you from point A to B, but HAPPINESS is flashier and it just sounds better.
But don’t worry. My ’96 3-cylinder Geometro of apathy is not contagious.
Is it apathy? Or more grim resignation?
Look kids! It’s time to dig your fox hole and wait out the bursts of fire and lead before you creep over into no man’s land. Why are you moving forward, inch by bitter inch?
Are you running to life?
Or to a fatal end?
Sorry, now it’s morbid.
It’s just that Papa died.
And now we are the true heart of why I am writing again, and why I haven’t written for so long. And I don’t even know who I am writing to, or why they would even care… but at least I am writing again and that is something.
I have to repeat it and say it aloud because any less and it still feels impossible.
Not my Papa.
But it was- and the story starts last winter.
I was sitting on my doctor’s throne of inspection, the kind with the paper blanket that crinkles and tear with every move- and I was thinking about how I was going to be late for class and how absolutely tired I was. I had just experienced what was thought to be appendicitis, but was actually the explosion of riotous ovaries. ..My favorite part of that experience was the cauterizing of my internally bleeding innards gave me a perfect excuse to not be in class or show up for work.
Really. I was beyond thrilled to have a legitimate excuse to not have to do anything or be anyone to anybody. The horrible pain was a casualty that was worth paying.
And my doctor asked how I was taking care of myself.
I guess because I was partially insane from the lack of sleep and just a teensy bit wanting to impress her, I let her know that I was absolutely, unquestionably, not taking care of my self.
I had just moved.
I had just lost an appendix.
I was writing my thesis.
I was working 2 jobs!
I was taking a full course load!
I was taking care of my Mema.
Then to illustrate my point, I proceeded to pass out while she drew my blood, ripping the needle out of my arm as my head followed my body that was slushing out of the chair and to the floor. I woke up with several nurses overhead and bright florescent lights illuminating my newly blooded arm- and the realization that I then had a headache.
It was worth it- there was free juice and crackers for my trouble.
That was over a year ago now, February of 2013, where my biggest worry was my Mema losing her sight and also me not being able to make rent.
I guess the moral of that story, is that I am both terrible at setting priorities and also of taking care of myself.
I would rather have an actual surgical complication than admit that I am too tired to go to work, or write a paper, or to grind carrots up for Mema in her predator, 1960’s juicer. Should have seen that and been forewarned.
I thought that was the very height of misery for me. For awhile after that things did seem to improve. I took a break from school following that semester and reduced my work load to one job. That summer, Mema saw improvement. She didn’t lose her sight, although she did lose the ability to drive. We took long walks together and collected peacock feathers and didn’t think about death. Actually, things were looking up- only I didn’t see that since I was depressed in a way that was not brought on by lack of sleep. Mostly because of where I thought I needed to be in life and the long way away where I actually was, I was trapped in my little sea of self-loathing- hence the name of this blog, “Twenty Something Nothing.”
At the end of summer I moved out of my apartment with my former best friend and moved in with my boyfriend and his parents. The relationship with my former best did not end well and I suppose the addition of mooching off of my boyfriend’s parents didn’t really make me feel particularly special.
All of this continued: the shitty job at a fast food restaurant I hated- the job that I thought was the sole-determinate of my worth as a person. The mooching off of parents that weren’t even mine. Gaining weight after feverishly shedding it in the glory of my European travels, and of course, caring for Mema once or twice a week, every week.
That stuff which seemed so insurmountable then was a never-before-worn fleece snuggie of embraces, compared to the monstrosity that became 2014.
Papa was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in January. We thought he had pneumonia… a scary prospect in itself…
But Papa always had to outdo everyone and we found out that not only did he have giant, black-oozing masses in lungs, but he also had eight tumors in his brain and lesions in his bones. He wasn’t going to let my Mema outdo him with some silly CNS lymphoma. No… Papa had the real deal. The real, “this cancer is really going to kill you” kind, where there aren’t any arguments or “your hair will grow back after treatment,” type of phrases.
I remember the first moment of truly knowing that my Papa was going to die. My sister knew too. We were just informed via text that an x-ray had confirmed a giant black spot in his chest. We met at my dad’s house bawling, knowing the end, being afraid to say that we were afraid for our Papa. Dad wouldn’t hear any of it.
“They have to run tests.”
“They haven’t confirmed anything.”
But we knew as well then as when we would be terribly informed a few days later; and I cried in my car after work for over an hour before I could even stomach the idea of breathing anything out besides choked sobs.
As I had done when first given my Mema’s diagnosis, I pictured my other Grandma on her death bed. I remembered the feeling of her dying, sallow hand in mine, and the inability to say anything that could bring her back to me.
I could not accept that that was the fate of Papa.
Papa the marine. The boxer. The rumbler.
Papa the teacher, the artist, the musician.
Papa the story-teller, the ice-cream server, the absolute-expert-on-everything-just-ask-him.
Papa who was Papa from our first meeting to every single car-ride home from theatrical rehearsal.
Papa who was blustery, vain, and critical; loud, and joyful, and silly, and stubborn, and snobby, and argumentative. My Papa who was hopeful, and tender, and kind, and strong, and weak; who filled up the room with his laughter and frustration.
I know I am blessed because I am loved by so many wonderful people in my family, but it was Papa’s love that made me feel like I was really worth something. He believed in me beyond reason and supported me to be whoever it was that I was going to be. He taught me guitar and told me I was going to write. He said, “I really like that boy you’re dating,” and doted upon me with his time and energy. Papa told me when I was wrong, and when I “should really give that dad a break because he’s a good guy.”
It was not just about the things he did, but what he knew. He knew me- a kindred spirit so to speak- and we understood each other. I didn’t have to explain myself to Papa. He just filled in the gaps and didn’t expect me to say more than I wanted. His words of wisdom were, “do, do, do, and don’t, don’t, don’t.”
And my favorite, favorite, most terribly missed thing about him: “somebody messed this up… boy they sure did a number on it. I”m not saying who… but somebody did it!” That blame was meant for me and I accepted it with grins and giggles while Mema rolled her eyes.
That picture of Voltaire- the famous one where it captures the twinkle and spark in his eyes- that was Papa. His eyes had that same spark, the thing that made him different from everybody else. I adored him- every temper-tantrum throwing bit of Papa, and all I wanted was to follow in his foot-steps and let him see me shine.
January had different plans though, and when February rolled around, Papa was doing radiation therapy to bide some time for the most threatening issues. My cousin and I would joke, “yeah Papa couldn’t stand losing. ‘I’ll see your lymphoma and raise you 8 BRAIN TUMORS! I WIN!'”
Because Papa wasn’t just idolized by me, there was solidarity in misery. The rest of his grandchildren idolized him too. He might not have always been a good man, but he was damn good human. He really lived and absorbed the world around him. He was full of life and love to give. And so we were all miserable- his children and grandchildren and cousins, and friends, and students, watching the end come near, trying to fight off the death that we pretended wasn’t coming.
I stayed with my grandparents for many nights while my Papa wasted away. This man who had been a 6’2″ 185lb marine, who had then transformed into a full-sized, human grizzly bear even at the age of 77, was crumbing in front of me.
That was the most agonizing part; the part that keeps me awake and makes me restless on my long drives home. My Papa who had been so confident and capable, could not even stand to use the bathroom. Even as I write this, I hate myself for writing it. I don’t want people to know what he had to endure. It wasn’t just the inability itself, it was Papa’s inability to deal with it that was so devastating. He never gave up that he was a strong man and receiving the help that he needed was an insult itself.
No matter what I do, I cycle back to this point. I will never forget the frail, old man that was once a grizzly. The Papa that was not my Papa. And I return again and again, cycling around it trying to push it away because right now there is no dealing with it.
And then Mema got really sick again.
And suddenly it was MRIs and hospital stays. And everyone said it was true love because she was literally dying from a broken heart.
I didn’t know how to be the good granddaughter anymore. At the worst moments of my agonizing over Papa I was admittedly sleep-deprived, and stressed from the ordeal of learning a new job, taking care of a dying loved one, and just simply not taking care of myself. During my lunch breaks at work I would sit in my car either trying to catch up on sleep or bawling on the suicide hotline- knowing that if I took my own life I would be abandoning my Papa- and that would be truly unacceptable. My life was work and long nights where sleep didn’t come: waiting for cries of help or breaths of death to come through the monitor in my grandparent’s room.
I remember how after the long, drawn-out night of my Papa’s death and the morning after my sister Ducky gave me a rock that said “courage” on it, while we sobbed by the river. How the word seemed to be like my toe hold to sanity in the deep landslide around me. How I rubbed the stone furiously, wearing out the pad of my thumb, thinking “have courage, have courage, have courage.” And then how the stone became a weight instead of the toehold that was holding me from finally breaking out to the surface of reality where there wasn’t just sickness and death.
Because I was tired of being courageous, because being courageous meant tending to my Mema who needed me even though I felt like I had nothing more to give, like the little flame of fight I had left had been smothered by Papa’s last breath.
I was not courageous. Before Papa died, he made me promise that I would take care of Mema. I failed him. While other people began to fill in where I refused, I tried to surface my canyon of misery- leaving the stone behind me.
Mema died four months after Papa- the day that they had renewed their vows 29 years before, one day before their 58th wedding anniversary.
If there is a heaven, can it be them together?
I imagine them young and beautiful and full.
And here I am without my Papa, without my Mema- feeling like I have failed them in a way that can never be recovered, burying them with work and life and hoping, magically hoping, for the memory of their pain to stop haunting me. I am hoping for the day when I don’t think about calling Mema, and about silly things I want to tell Papa. I repress ideas of moments in my life that I thought they would be there for- waving their smiles and hugs like flags and banners of love and pride. I repress the most horrific thoughts that 1.) Papa and I will never share another sheet of music together and 2.) that Papa will never again blame for something I didn’t do while Mema says with light-hearted exasperation, “well.. he’s your grandfather,” and finally 3.)That I truly am a coward for not seeing Mema to the finish line.
I had to say it.
I am trying to piece back the gnarled bits of my Psyche, the bits that withered away in despair and loss.
I still don’t know how other people around the world can function where death is common to the young and the old. How can they not drag their aching wounds around? How do people bounce back from tragedies that far outweigh my own?
I am affected by death.
And still I am trying to sew up what was once whole.
I am juggling my priorities.
How can I fit all of these facets into one being? Papa would know and I can’t ask him. What order should they be in? Mema would know and I can’t ask her.
So for now I grieve while I piece.
I am affected by death.