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Acts of Resistance.

finding myself after losing my person

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we’re alive before we’re dead

We’re Alive Before We’re Dead

You are dead enough now, I’ve stopped taking a real count.
Seasons pass,
snow melts,
birds reappear on telephone wires.
I am bitter on Easter; why did Jesus get to come back?
The fire around You is cooled,
lava hardened
into still rock.

You are dead enough now that people ask me, “how did you make it through?”
I answer, “There’s no through.
There’s just waking up every day
and not dying.
whatever else you do will just be passing the time.

You are dead enough now that when the frogs
and the crickets start
announcing their revival
I dance
until the sweat on me shimmers.

You are dead enough now that I feel love
for the You who couldn’t
wake up with the earth
and for the me who can.

This is Not a Post about Dieting

I fucking hate diets. Virgie Tovar wrote an amazing collection of essays called You Have the Right to Remain Fat. She writes about how diets are racist (by promoting submissiveness and white female buy-in to second-class citizenship), classist (because restraint is a luxury afforded only to those who have excess) and a product of a culture that punishes femininity and loves money and things (because, duh).

It was a great read, but the reason I checked Tovar’s book out of the library was to balance out the guilt I was feeling to also be checking out books detailing the super-restrictive month-long elimination diet I was about to start. The founder of the Whole30, Melissa Hartwig, actually refers to it as a “program” or a “reset,” an attempt to shed the experience from some of the baggage Tovar wrote about. I give Hartwig credit for encouraging intuitive eating and eating until you’re full and discouraging calorie-counting or weighing yourself.

It’s still a diet. For 30 days, I’ve paused eating bread and rice and oatmeal and pasta. Also corn and beans and legumes and cheese and milk and butter and yogurt and even the half-and-half I thought I needed for my coffee. Also added sugar— all the pancakes and cookies and pretty much anything that comes in individual wrapping. All the everything, except whole fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood. The idea is that after 30 days, you re-introduce the foods you eliminated slowly, one by one, noticing the effects each one has on your body. This information and self-awareness then informs eating habits.

So far it’s going fine.  I’m about halfway through. It hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and I got stuck on thinking about why. I am coming to the hard conclusion that dieting is easy because it’s familiar.

I’ve always loved controlling what I ate. Beginning when I was very young, five or six years old, I was very aware of eating healthily. I needed to have a vegetable with every dinner. Corn and potatoes didn’t count. On pizza nights, I always took salad, even though I hated it as a kid. I told everyone I didn’t like dressing.  If I were with a friend whose family didn’t serve a vegetable, I would scold myself internally. Sometimes, I would force myself to eat raw broccoli from the fridge early the next morning to compensate for a veggie-less night.

I was cautious about cake and sweets, too.  I heard my grandma’s voice in my head at every birthday party: Sliver to a slice to a slab to a slob. I ate candy slowly, telling myself to suck each gummy bear down to nothing so I could make one bag last for days. I failed at this too, sometimes chewing into a gummy to feel that sweet rush of gummy-juice. Then I would get very angry with myself, and stop eating the bag of gummies entirely.

Reading this, you’d think I was a chubby kid—or maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe every little girl, even skinny ones like I was, grows up understanding that femininity requires composure and self-restraint. Controlling what I ate was one of the earliest ways I can pinpoint submitting to my submissive role in a patriarchal society.

I loved when people called me small. When I was maybe seven, I realized it got me attention when I told people I was 48 inches and 48 pounds. I told people this fact all the time, anyone who would listen. I still remember hitting 50 pounds, feeling sad that I couldn’t use this line anymore. I was a little bit disappointed in myself.

Shame is a crucial part of diet culture. Diet culture assumes that people, specifically women and femme people, will feel shame about their bodies, and will want to change their bodies, shrink their bodies, and take up less space. They will never be satisfied with their bodies, continuing to loathe them and obsess over them to the exclusion of more important things. Naomi Wolf wrote in The Beauty Myth, “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history.”

How much feminine MAGIC has the world lost down the black hole of dieting?

When I turned sixteen, I went to a sleep-away program for high school girls who wanted to be leaders in their communities. In addition to visiting embassies and networking with women professionals, many of the girls, including me, coached one another on eating disorders. One girl taught me how to use a toothbrush to make myself throw up. Another taught me to eat ice when I was hungry to trick my body into feeling full. We stayed in touch after the program, sending each other pictures when we hit our “goal weights,” but these were the days of pricey text-message real estate, back when phone plans allowed only 250 precious texts a month.

So eventually I lost touch with most of the girls, but the irony wasn’t lost on me. I wrote a paper about it in high school—high-achieving girls starving themselves smaller at a program meant to promote leadership and intellectual growth. It’s almost cliché. Looking back, I can see we were overwhelmed with the pressure and expectations being put on us—not because we didn’t feel we could handle them, but because they didn’t fit our roles in society as submissive and restrained women.

This is an incredible example of why change has to begin at the root of a culture, in the words we speak and the media we consume, rather than through a series of top-down reforms and programming. An enormous amount of grant money and meticulous planning had gone into cultivating this program for highly capable girls. But we, the girls, could not exist in this space without feeling some guilt, some feeling of displacement, which led us to the bathroom to purge our dining hall meals and flush them neatly down the toilet.

That was ten years ago. I wish I could say I had some great feminist awakening, that I internalized everything I’m preaching here and it led me to reclaim my body and my womanhood as sources of power and strength and beauty.

What actually happened is my brother died and I realized that the world is actually very insignificant and thus my food intake is a rather absurd thing to obsess over. There were so many more enticing, depressing things to concern myself with. I also had absolutely no desire to control anything; everything felt extremely chaotic and fragile. I was paralyzed.

I guess I ate during this time. I don’t remember much about food. People brought it while we sat shiva but I can’t name a single dish. In the weeks and months that followed, my girlfriend cooked for me, or I ordered take-out or put something in cardboard into the microwave and ate it without putting it onto a plate. I didn’t obsess about anything except my depression and my dead brother.

Not exactly a body positive break-through.

But then I reached the part of grief that’s close to mania. The part where you stop asking why the fuck you have to be alive and start saying HOLY SHIT, I’M ALIVE! It’s a kind of re-birth or at least, it was for me. I started paying attention to the tiny miracles my body was performing all day long. Breathing, listening, touching, seeing—all of these without even thinking about it. For the first time, I began thanking my body all day long for digesting my food, for taking me swimming, for writing my dreams every night.

So if I love my body so much, why am I on a diet? It seems less strange when you consider that I’ve been on some form of a diet for most of my life. I think most women and girls, if they thought about it critically enough, would recognize ways they’ve been restricting or calculating their food intake since girlhood. For me it feels impossible to ignore my complicated relationship with food, and I wouldn’t want to be so disconnected with myself that I was unaware of my diet anyways.

To be eating the most natural and least processed of foods for a month in order to bring my body to a place where I can listen to it more carefully—that feels like a diet devoid of shame. It feels less rooted in something outside of me (patriarchy, expectations, lived experiences), and instead comes from a desire to understand my body and how best to nourish it. The first step towards self-love comes in understanding.

So, I drank the Whole30 Kool-Aid a little bit. I promise they aren’t sponsoring me. I also read Virgie Tovar’s book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat and Hunger by Roxanne Gay and Juliet Takes a Breath by Gaby Rivera, and many more books by women who are willing to write about their own complicated relationships with their bodies.

I fucking hate diets.

But my body, that’s home.

Depression is a strange animal

Depression is a strange animal

that lives inside my body:

hungry all the time, for coffee and weed and worries
for the part of me that hasn’t given up yet
for hope.

How did it get there?

did it creep in, a spider?
or did it grow out of my own insides?

Have I invited it?

if I kill it,
what will be left of me?

 

 

full stop.

I was dumped last week.

 

By a girl who smells like strawberries and wears bright colors.

 

The humiliation came in the form of a text message: different places… supercasual… if anything at all…

 

It should have been enough to stop me,

full stop,

THIS GIRL IS BAD NEWS, stop.

 

But it wasn’t enough.

 

I forwarded her text to five different friends instead.  

 

Their replies included the word bitch,

Reminded me that I am better/smarter/sexier/holier,

Had me laughing,

Remembering her racism

 

(“I’ll just get really, really tan” she said with a completely straight face when I lamented Portland’s lack of diversity).

 

It should have been enough to stop me,

full stop,

THIS GIRL IS BAD NEWS, stop.

 

But it wasn’t enough.

 

I decided we should play the drama out in front of a live, distracted audience.

 

We sat on wooden stools, separated by her text message and a huge wooden table, sipping beers from a Portlandia Witches’ Brew.

 

I told her she had hurt me, pressed my fist to my heart for emphasis.

 

She rattled off my flaws on her fingers,

 

Number one: I didn’t work as hard as her, what was up with those days I had taken off for a back injury?

 

IDK, that’s not a choice she would have made. Total turn-off.

 

Number two: The seven revolutions around the sun she had on me were completely obvious in my lack of maturity.

 

I once mentioned laughing at poop jokes with my four-year-old students, and that was when she realized how fundamentally different we were. She would never laugh at poop jokes. She wouldn’t even smile at poop jokes.

 

Poop jokes were beneath her.

 

That fact alone should have been enough to stop me,

full stop,

THIS GIRL IS BAD NEWS, stop.

 

But it wasn’t enough.

 

She went on (and I let her).

 

Number three (and I quote): I’m too deep.

 

My complicated emotions were getting in the way of her sparkly faery energy.

 

She was still riding the high from buying her Burning Man tickets.

 

The mention of my dead brother, the fact that I even had a dead brother, it was too much. Who wants to think of heavy stuff like that?

 

I was even more depressing than the state of the world right now– or maybe not, she had just stopped following the news altogether, she said, and now she was going to stop following me, too.

 

Y’all.

 

That definitely should have been enough to stop me,

full fucking stop,

THIS GIRL IS BAD FUCKING NEWS, stop.

 

But it wasn’t enough.

 

Because right after I flagged the waiter down,

Right after I begged him for a check with what I hoped was the right amount of desperation and pleading in my eyes,

Right after that:

 

She started crying.

 

All this deep talk about heavy stuff was hard for her, was spilling right out of her eyeballs and onto the table that separated us.

 

Insulting me was exhausting her.

 

I wish I could say I walked out then, inhaled a huge breath of misty sky and freedom.

 

Instead I reached deep into my pockets for the last pieces of my pride and set them on the table.

 

“Do you want to go smoke a joint?”

 

She sniffed, forced back her bright faery smile, reached out and scooped them up.

 

“Yes! I got an extra joint in case you said that.”

 

In hindsight, maybe she had swallowed up the last of my pride a long time ago. Because there sure wasn’t much left if she knew she could come to this table, speak the words she had spoken, and expect to go smoke a jay with me like we were old friends.

 

The thought made me want to stop,

full stop,

THIS GIRL IS BAD NEWS, stop,

SOUND ALL THE ALARMS, stop.

 

But what the hell?

 

I had already gone this far and the Witches’ Brew was making me tipsy and I could use a jay after all this anyways.

 

I trailed behind her to the park.

 

She offered me a hat.

 

Our faces were next to each other.

 

STOP STOP STOP.

 

And then we were kissing, four soft lips connecting, tongues reacquainting, hands finding faces and bodies and curves.

 

I had spent the nights leading up to this one fantasizing about this very moment and yet– now that it was here, I wanted it to stop.

 

Full stop.

 

I pulled away, the first time all night.

 

I realized pride doesn’t ever get used up, not forever. Because even when you think you’re out, all you need is a little bravery to make some more.

 

“Maybe we should meet up again,” she said, and I could tell she thought she had me knocked right back into her orbit.

 

I leaned close enough that my lips brushed hers.

 

And then I stopped.

 

on asking better questions

My brother might have been an amazing teacher. He tutored struggling fourth graders for a year in Seattle, making up raps for math formulas and writing comedy routines for his reading group.  After he died, the teacher he worked with wrote to my family:

Kyle wrote a [comedy] routine that he performed with a student, Yin Ting, who recently emigrated from China and spoke little English. Their routine captured her personality so perfectly and turned her language difficulties into a source of pride and humor so elegantly that I’ll never be able to forget it.

Kyle never became a teacher. He dropped out of college twice, the first time after being kicked out of campus housing for dealing weed, the second time after he started smoking crack in his apartment. Even while he was tutoring Yin Ting and her classmates, he was snorting cocaine in the elementary school bathroom.

Eventually, he was driven out of Seattle. Crack dealers began pounding on the front door of the house he shared with a group of roommate friends– occasional pot smokers, unaccustomed to hardened drug dealers demanding money on their front porch.

They were as bewildered as the rest of us who knew Kyle that he had become the kind of person willing to sell his housemates’ TV or a company computer for drug money.

When we talk about drug addicts, we are really talking about two people. The person who uses drugs, and the person underneath. Drug Kyle, and Kyle.

Now that he’s dead, most new people I meet only know Drug Kyle. My relationship with him is usually summed up in just one sentence: “My brother died of an overdose.”

People are always so sorry. If they don’t jump to change the subject, their questions are usually about Drug Kyle.

“What did he overdose on?”

“When did he die?”

“How long did he use?”

Nobody asks what kind of music he listened to or how he wore his hair or what he aspired to. Drug People don’t have aspirations, unless you count getting high, which I don’t.

Kyle was chock-full of aspirations. He studied neuroscience for a while, and loved talking about the impacts of neural pathways. He was an incredibly creative writer, eloquent, but still accessible and often hilarious. He dreamt of writing for a television comedy show.

Behind every addict is a human being– maybe not quite as incredible as my brother, because he was straight magic– but a human being who woke up and worried about what people thought of them. A person who somebody, at some point, turned into a Drug Person for the first time.

 

Here are my intentions:

To honor Kyle, not Drug Kyle.

To mention Kyle when I hear a song he loved, not just a song about drugs.

To talk about Kyle without also saying how he died in the same breath

To remember him as a tutor, a comedian, a father, an epic big brother.

To talk about addicts like people, not Drug People.

Humans are all so much more nuanced than the singular identities we give ourselves and each other, a rainbow of feelings and stories and choices.

Addict, in particular, can be a very difficult identity to detangle ourselves from.  Our society has cultivated a very specific image of a drug addict– dirty, detached, an outcast member of society living on the fringes.

Drug Kyle was all of that, sometimes panhandling on the streets and sleeping in a tent in a public park, looking just like the image you conjure up in your mind when you hear heroin addict.

But Drug Kyle is such a narrow sliver of Kyle. Reducing people to their Drug Selves is dehumanizing and dangerous. It’s what allows lawmakers to push harsh sentences and mandatory minimums for drug-related offenses, instead of improving mental health care. It’s what allows us to pass homeless people on the street with nothing more than a look of disgust mixed with pity.

The teacher Kyle tutored for ended his letter by calling my brother, “one of the most uplifting presences [he’s] ever known.”  Even while he was snorting coke, even while he was fucking up, even while he was also Drug Kyle.

My brother died of an overdose, but there is so much more to his story than that. If all you know about someone is their drug use, I invite you to ask better questions. Here’s to digging deeper, to looking beneath, to truly finding and seeing each other in our beautiful complexities.

bah humbug: the holidays when you’re grieving

I’ve been embarrassed to write.  My last post felt like a neat little closing, “Look at me– I’m healing.” But here’s what they don’t tell you about graduating to the fifth stage of grief: you still slide back to the other stages all the time.

A couple of weeks ago, I got sad. Something about the holidays, maybe. I spent Thanksgiving with a friend and her beautiful family in San Francisco. She and her brother are really close– like, bursting-into-what-appears-to-be-spontaneous-laughter-but-is-really-some-shared-inside-joke close. The way Kyle and I were, the way you only really are with a sibling who has seen throw up in the car and flip out on your mom and have a serious meltdown at the mall as a teenager and loves you anyways.

That kind of love, family love, Hallmark is playing it up this month more than ever. But there’s a very specific image of “family” that gets drummed up during the holiday season, the kind of family I don’t have anymore: a mom, a dad, kids, one house.

All these images of the nuclear family getting churned out in the media this month are taking over my brain, and I’m forgetting to be grateful for my wild, fiercely loving non-traditional family.  I’m having trouble thinking of December as anything other than the month Kyle and I gave each other one hint a day about the other’s Christmas presents.

The first four stages of grief are hitting me in waves and I am struggling, y’all. So I made this guide, as much for myself as for all of you, on how to survive the holidays when you’re grieving.*

*Brief side-note: my brother died fourteen months ago. This is not my first Christmas without him, and yep, it’s still hard. Maybe harder than last Christmas because it’s a little more real. To me, grieving is a lifelong process so really, this guide is for anyone who’s lost a loved one. Back to it–

how to survive december when you’re grieving:

  1. Find ways to connect with your deceased person. This is important all year round, but I am especially making an effort to remember and recognize traditions and connections I had with Kyle around this time of year. I have started meditating daily as a way to intentionally set aside time to connect with his spirit. I got a new journal that says Love You to the Moon and Back (the moon was our thing) and I’m using it to write poems and letters to him. When I’m home with our family, I’m sure I’ll think of a million ways to bring him up. Keeping him alive helps me feel less empty, and less like I’m abandoning him by enjoying the holidays.
  2. You are going to cry. Embrace it. The first few months after he died, I would burst into sobs pretty much every time somebody asked me how I was doing. I’ve progressed from that, thankfully, but I still cry about Kyle all the time. Sometimes when I’m crying, I’m also feeling guilty to be crying and bringing down the vibe. Here’s the thing I’ve realized this year that’s really set me free: I don’t owe the world my happiness. Something really horrible happened and I’m sad about it and that’s normal. If people are uncomfortable with my sadness, lucky them for not understanding grief.
  3. There will be times when you will want to be both holly and jolly. Go with it. My brother died in September. My first holiday season, I didn’t buy a single gift, or hang a single light or ornament. But for some reason I got very into making these beautiful, original Advent calendars for all the children in my family. I went to Micheal’s for all my supplies, and got so crafty with these things that I could have sold them on Etsy. Why I could spend hours shaping an Advent calendar into a Christmas tree but couldn’t stand one note of a Christmas song is still a bit of a mystery to me. But I rode with it. I dove into the parts of the holiday that were bringing me joy (without guilt that I was having fun without Kyle) and left the rest.
  4. Make holiday cards. (I know, this one seems counter-intuative but it worked for me.) Last month when I was really, really missing Kyle, I made a list of people who had really supported me after his death. I wrote them each heartfelt letters and decorated little Santas or stockings or Hannukats (a term copyrighted by my roommate, btw…). It helped me to remember all the love and compassion and support I had in my life, all over the country. Plus everyone loves getting snail mail!
  5. Self care. This is another thing I’ve gotten so good at this past year. Nothing like extreme trauma to teach you coping skills. Like throwing the baby in headfirst to teach it how to swim. One form of self care I turn to especially around the holidays is saying no when I’m not feeling down for something. John Mulaney said, “In terms of like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin.” Kind of morbid since my brother died of a heroin overdose, but I get him. Sometimes you just need to stay in bed.

Here’s hoping for healing and realness this holiday season. We got this. Talk to you in the new year!

Love,
Jamie

 

on the five stages

My therapist told me yesterday that she thought I was in the final stage of grief. I remember, in the hazy days after our brother’s death, my sister reading the stages out loud to me over the phone.

We were desperate during those early weeks, flailing for words, free falling. The stages were a roadmap, something to cling to when our brains could barely form complete sentences. Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. Four stages of hell, with a glimmer of hope at the end.

“Well, I’ll never reach the acceptance stage. I’m never gonna be able to accept this. This will never seem normal,” I remember saying quickly; I was manic in the early days. My heart would speed up without warning, and I would scream “NO!” to no one in particular.

I slipped from one stage to the next to the next. In the eleven months and twenty days since Kyle died, I have weaved in and out of denial, anger, depression and bargaining, each coming forward in turn like actors in a musical.

 

Denial sounded like ear-piercing screams, sobbing in the morning on the way to work, prayers that if I yelled his name loud enough, he’d appear in the flesh. I didn’t realize yet that I had to be quiet to hear him. I wanted him down here, stroking my arm and teaching me about physics. I dreamed him, images so real I hated waking up.

David Kessler, one of the authors who wrote a book on the Five Stages of Grief, says denial is an act of survival. “Denial helps us pace our feelings of grief,” he says. “There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.” Reality would slip in in short painful bursts. My body pushed it away.

There was a high that came with denial. My feelings weren’t my own. This was somebody else’s life. I was playing the part of bereaved sister but Kyle would come back one day, strolling in laughing. This was a sick joke. It had to be.

 

Anger came in questions. How could you do this to us? To your daughter? We were supposed to be in this together, goddammit. How could you be so fucking selfish? Anger chipped away at my wall of denial, leaving parts of my core cold and exposed.  I filled those spaces up with rage.

I snapped a lot at anyone in my vicinity. I lost my shit on friends, cursed at my parents, almost got fired from my job. The world felt cruel and I hated everything.

“At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry,” says Kessler. “The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing.”

I could feel Kyle in my anger, finally, after so much longing. It felt horrible and foreign to be so full of hate all the time, but at least I was feeling something.

 

Bargaining: the “what if” stage. Kyle and I had a game when we were kids, “What would you do if…?” We would finish the question with ridiculous hypotheticals: “What would you do if a cheetah came charging through our window right now?” “What would you do if you won a billion dollars?”

My “what ifs” were different now, heavily drenched in guilt. “What if I had invited you out to Chicago that last time you called, two days before you died, asking me where you should go?” Questions like that tormented me. I hated myself, and I hated Kyle, and I hated God, for leaving me to ask these circular questions.

 

Depression came almost immediately after Kyle died, and still creeps in often. It feels like being underwater, like a thick layer of smoke, like those dreams where you’re trying so hard to run but you’re barely moving.

My questions were changing again, reality was inevitable: “What the fuck is the point? We’ll all be dead one day anyways.” I had this thought this over and over.

I would stand under the shower and let the water hit me, unable to muster the strength to reach for the soap. I sat in my car blinking during my lunch break, unable to eat. When I made it through a day, I would return to my house, walk very slowly up my five flights of stairs, and crawl directly into my bed. Under my covers was the only place where I could take a deep breath; sometimes it still is.

 

Acceptance has been creeping in for months, but is recently settling in more comfortably, like my cat Lucy on my lap right now. On good days, acceptance coats everything else, blending in and cutting some of the sharpness of the other feelings.

Kyle died.

I can say those words now without wanting to throw up, without screaming “NO!” into the sky, without falling to my knees, without demanding the answers to unanswerable questions.  

How the hell did that happen?

I could give a lot of answers to that:

  • time,
  • therapy,
  • antidepressants,
  • an amazing and constant stream of support from my tribe,
  • yoga
  • and art
  • and writing,
  • scrap-booking and remembering.
  • Music: the kind that I dance to with Kyle’s spirit and the kind with lyrics reminding me I’m not the first to experience this level of suffering,
  • poetry,
  • Weed,
  • Being in nature. Honoring nature.
  • Distractions (in their many forms)

But the most important element in my reaching acceptance has been one I never would have guessed.

I have found Kyle again.

I have felt his spirit more clearly and distinctly than I ever thought possible. I sit outside with my head to the sky and feel his energy pulsing through me as clearly as my own heartbeat. I ask him questions and listen to his responses, argue with him, hear his laughter.

It is different than remembering. It is creating something new, feeling the shape of this new relationship of ours.

I feel grateful. Not grateful that he died, but grateful that his death has expanded my heart and opened me up to the spiritual realm. Grateful for this nightmarish journey through the deepest pain, because it has led me to a place of greater understanding.

“It’s hard for us,” said his friend and mine to me the other day. “We weren’t raised with a foundation of spirituality, so we have to create it for ourselves now to connect with Kyle.”

It’s true that we don’t have the structure of religion to guide us towards a higher power, but I’m grateful for this too. In the absence of of a prescribed set of rituals and prayers is the space for us to create our own. Without a place of worship, the whole world becomes available for us to claim as holy.

I am creating my own religion. My alter is the moon, or a pile of his old flannels, or my shelf of heart-shaped rocks. My prayers come from his journals, from books of poetry, from quotes on murals. My relationship with him, my connection to him, is mine to build.

“At first,” says Kessler, “many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed and we must readjust.”

I am adjusting. I am owning my identity as the-girl-with-a-dead-brother, as painful as it is.  When I am able to see this reality clearly, then I am able to define it in a way that brings me strength. I am able to form a new relationship with my dead brother.

I have reached the glimmer of light I longed for a year ago. It feels different than I thought, mixed in with so much pain. Nothing is as it was, but I have given up hoping it will be. Instead, I give thanks for the memories, for the journey, and for the future.

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blast from the past

Part of what I’ve done since Kyle died is a lot of reliving the past.

Because he is my sibling, I have been pouring endlessly over remnants of our shared history. Photos, obviously, but also old journal entries, letters we wrote to each other, text messages and Facebook messages. I have become recently obsessed with the idea of printing out the digital parts and placing it chronologically in some sort of book. Ordering it, as if that might help me make some sense of it. Answer the questions I already ask myself endlessly, even still:

When did it start?
How could it have ended?

And of course, the eternally torturous: What could I have done differently?

The first question is one which I have been particularly struggling with lately. There are no clear time markers for mental illness. His illness was so tied up in his Kyle-ness that it feels impossible to imagine that there is a beginning.  It certainly started before he started using heroin, maybe before he started using drugs at all.

In digging through the endless pages of childhood memorabilia, I came across this short story that I wrote when I was fifteen, a sophomore in high school.Kyle was a senior in high school who held wild parties and took stupid risks on the ski mountain or on his skateboard. He goofed off in school, but aced his SATs anyways. He got arrested for pulling pot out in front of the school superintendent, and laughed it off.  He was seventeen. It would be seven years after I wrote this story before Kyle would try heroin for the first time.

Too Far Gone

The last time I saw my mother was 13 years ago. I was 22 years old and I had just gotten out of rehab. She came over one night, said she wanted to surprise me- but I think she was coming to check up on me.

Maybe she didn’t believe I could ever really be straight. Maybe she knew what she would find if she came over.

I don’t know.

 I don’t know what she was expecting to find, but I’ll tell you what she did find. She opened the door without knocking, took one look at the needle I held in my hand, now filled mostly with remnants of blood, and started to cry.

She said, “Why, David? Why?” She fell to her knees, sobbing.

I didn’t know what to do. I put the needed down and walked over to her. I just stood there. I had forgotten how to touch someone, how to just hug someone. I stood stiffly, right in front of her kneeling body.

She hugged my legs to her chest. Maybe she was trying to hang on to any part of me she could, since so much of the person she once knew was gone. Unsure of what movements to make, I settled for awkwardly patted her hair.

It was silent for a long time.

She spoke first. “I will never stop loving you, David.” I felt a rush of warm blood, but she went on. “Sometimes, I think that’s a curse.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I mean, this was my own mother wishing she could stop loving me.

I looked around my apartment. The ceiling wallpaper was peeling. There was stuffing popping out of the couch. The whole apartment, even the kitchen, was carpeted with a puke-brown carpeting. It might have been white once. There was mold growing on the corner wall.

My  needle was still sitting patiently on the coffee table alongside my little Baggie. I hated myself for how much I wanted to pry my mother off of me and go to it. All day at work, I had thought of that Baggie, that needle, imagining every dish I washed was bringing me closer. Never mind that I got paid by the hour, not by the dish, and got out at 7 regardless.

“What about Patrick?” My mother’s voice cracked as she spoke. I could practically feel her despairing as she clutched me tighter.

Patrick. I had thought briefly about calling him to tell him I was feeling weak, to ask if I could drive over there, or to see if we could go out to dinner or something. But this would have only been a formality, postponing the inevitable.

“I tried, Mom.” She was silent for a second.

“Your sister’s in the car. She was home from college for the weekend and I thought…” She paused. “I don’t know what I thought.”

I really looked at my mom for the first time that night, and realized she had dressed up. She had curled her hair, put in big, silver hoops. I wondered if she remembered that I’d bought her the scarf she was wearing for Christmas one year. Her make-up was running down her face.

 I wanted to lift my thumb to her check and rub away her tears. I turned away from her instead.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered so quietly I wasn’t sure she’d heard me.

She took a deep, shaky breath.

“I can’t be here anymore, David.” She stood there until I turned around, and caught my eye. “I love you. Love yourself,” she said. And then she was gone.

I blinked at the door she had just walked out of, and everything was still for a moment. Then I walked back over to the coffee table and picked up the needle again.

[The End]

…YOU GUYS! How freaky is it that I depicted in a short story I wrote while Kyle was still in HIGH SCHOOL a life that so closely paralleled the life Kyle would be leading almost a decade later when he died.

Seriously, the most major difference between Kyle’s eventual life and David’s (Kyle’s middle name, duh) life in the story is that in real life, my mom was even more of a badass warrior hero mom than the mom in this story.

She never gave up on my brother. She fought for him in a million different ways, she came back to the apartment even when she found him with the needle in his arm, or she kept space when that was what they both needed.

The person in this story who rings eerily true is Kyle/David. I previewed a desperation, a total self-sabotage in him; I was aware of such a level of self-hatred.  I didn’t realize my fifteen-year-old self could have predicted years such an unfolding before it happened.

This is making theorize several things. Was there some freaky The Secret shit going on, where I was actually attracting this terrible addiction energy towards Kyle? Or… did I know his soul so deeply that I understood where this is where he would eventually wind up? Is there such a thing as destiny?

All of which sends me circling back to my original question: When did it start?

So I’ve generated more questions than answers in this exercise. Let me know if you find any more clarity than me.

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