And I was irretrievably changed…

broken glass

I made a ‘writing pact’, with a friend from the Writing My Grief course I mentioned, to write once a week outside the daily prompts (a minimum of 500 words).  This is Week One (spoiler alert: likely contains spoilers for John Green’s Looking for Alaska).

“You can’t just make me different and then leave… you can’t just make yourself matter and then die, Alaska, because now I am irretrievably different, and I’m sorry I let you go, yes, but you made the choice.  You left me…” (p. 172)

Earlier today, I finished reading Looking for Alaska by John Green.  It is one of those books that makes you wish you were in a book club because it leaves you with so much to sift through and process.  I’m doubtful I’ll let my copy away from me anytime soon, as I feel quite attached to it and I feel certain no one would want to read it with all the pencil embellishments I’ve added throughout its pages.

The passage above really caught me off guard, especially after the week I’ve been having.  It sort of felt like the sensation of being simultaneously slapped in the face while being punched in the stomach, and all I was doing was reading words.  They resonated with me so closely: “You can’t just make me different and then leave…” I understand Pudge’s sentiment here.  “You can’t” meaning “how could you?”, meaning “how dare you?”, meaning “this is not okay”… because she did, and she’s gone, and there is nothing that could ever change that for him.

And it’s not okay.  It’s not okay for someone to make us irretrievably different and then… leave.  As if the glimpses of them that are permanently reflected in us are sufficient for the rest of our lives.  As if trying to explain, “Oh that?  I didn’t get that from me… I got that from him” over and over again is adequate.  As if it is okay for everyone to not know the origin of your quirks… or confidence… or… love.

I’m not a very confrontational person; sometimes when I am angry, to avoid expressing that anger to the person it is intended for (or because there is no way to express it to the person it is intended for), I flip to a random black page in the middle of my journal and begin writing them a “letter” that I never intend to send them.  As I finished writing notes about what I had just read in Looking for Alaska, I realized that once I turned the page, I will have reached one of those angry letters.  I went to flip past it and a few words caught my eye:

“You disappearing is not going to help me.  It is not going to make me more open to other people.  It isn’t going to make me reach out for support.  That’s what knowing you did.”

Oddly enough, this letter was written to the person I thought of when the book passage first slapped me in the face (Universe – 1, Me  0).  I have been irretrievably changed by someone whose presence no longer exists in my life.  I let them go, yes, but they left.  People leave.  People die.  We remain irretrievably changed by their presence, irreversibly reflecting their influence and irreparably broken by their absence.

This is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it.  It is a fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to go without.” (p. 144)

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And it was an infinite…

As I mentioned in my last blog, I am going to be sharing some of the writings prompted in the Writing My Grief courses I’ve been taking through Refuge in Grief.  Today, I wrote twice to the same prompt, so I figured that was a good piece to start with:  

Day Three, Take Two

“The same leg is cut off time after time.”

This made me think of phantom limb syndrome.  I learned about this years ago watching a documentary about Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack.  I’ve kind of used the logic behind this phenomenon to make my own term of “phantom syndrome”: seeing ghosts of things that aren’t really there.  I mostly created this term when my childhood cat died after 19 years (we had her for 17) and I would frequently think I saw her wandering the house or sleeping where she had always slept, in my periphery.  Misfires of the brain expecting to see what it has always seen.

This phenomenon is different now, with this, with trauma, maybe?  Because this isn’t a misfire of the brain expecting to see what it has ALWAYS seen or experience what it has always experienced.  Not for me.  Not to me; this wasn’t chronic or habitual, right?  The brain can’t have any expectation of this happening again because it happened in this isolated incident, right?

So then, why does it?  It sees things that aren’t there, especially in “like” circumstances, especially in my peripheral vision.  It makes my body feel things that aren’t happening whenever it feels like it.  This wasn’t CHRONIC trauma.  So why does it have to happen over and over again?  Why must the same leg be amputated again and again?  Why is there a novelty in the vast emptiness, endlessly?

Chronic: persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.

Habitual: done or doing constantly.

Chronic: long-lasting and difficult to eradicate.

Habitual: regular; usual.

Eradicate: destroy completely; put an end to.

Constantly: continuously over a period of time; always.

Round and round the words we go.

What’s a “long time”?  What does “long-lasting” mean?  Can something be “difficult to eradicate” if it had a start, a middle and a finish?  What’s a “period of time”?  Words just don’t work here, and that frustrates me.  The definitions aren’t black and white; they don’t define.  Words cause constant failure and disappointment.

Continuously: marked by uninterrupted extension in space, time, or sequence : continuing without intermission or recurring regularly after minute interruptions.

Done.  Full stop.  No more circles.

Instead of trying to make words work for me, when they so clearly can’t… I’m going to make TIME work for me.  Using John Green’s brilliance on math: “I am not a mathematician, but I know this. There is an infinite between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

Infinity: a number greater than any assignable quantity or countable number.

I don’t know what “long time”, “long-lasting” or “period of time” means, numerically or definitionally.  I do know that the experience lasted for an infinite period of time; it’s infinite because it is impossible to measure or calculate.

Just like its damage.

It was chronic and habitual and continuous and constant in the infinite it went on for.  Maybe when my brain decides to misfire, it’s just revisiting its more scarring infinite.  Much like I have to remind my heart that my cat is gone and my mind is just playing tricks on me… I have to patiently remind my heart that I am safe, that that infinite isn’t happening anymore… that that infinite isn’t going to happen again.