The Grief Monster

Often, I feel alone. Not lonely, but alone. A great bit of this is my own fault. I’m a solitary creature, an introverted writer drifting in and out of the space-time continuum. I spend a great deal of time in my head with worlds and people who are very much real, albeit without any physical nature to them. They are, to me, no different at the heart than the people and places I see in this world. Imagination and reality are the same. There’s a comfort to it. Not an escape, but a pleasant dynamic of creation and satisfaction in discovering people and places that inspire me. It allows me to feel more human. More whole. Less alone.

In my everyday world, it’s a different story. I work alone 90% of the time. I’m not much for chatting on the phone. Texting is communication, and I prefer it, but it hardly leaves one feeling accompanied on a journey of any sort. Social media offers an opportunity to connect, to be a part of something, and certainly gives me the daily chance to broaden the Broadleaf community of writers. But, in the end, the world gets quiet, the sound of the fridge running filling the void when the air conditioner doesn’t. Whether on the patio or at the dining room table or sitting at my desk there is an abundance of silence.

Then, I am truly alone.

My only solace during these times, as I have not been so fortunate as to have children, is of the furry four-legged variety. For the past six years, the constant love and attention I’ve received from the ever-present Molly the Cavatese Muppet Dog has given me a healthy dose of what it might be like to have a mini-human in my life. For thirteen years, my cat companion Maggie has been by my side. Through the closing of my bookstore (long live Wordsmiths Books!), to divorce, to break-ups, loss, and moving from one rental property to another. More moves than most cats could endure, I’m sure. Mix those two in with the friend and family member (and mother to the fur babies) that the Moss has become and there is something daily to remind me that I am not entirely alone. They keep me balanced, humored, and moving forward through the worst life has to offer.

But now Maggie is gone. In a flash. Bone cancer took her one week ago. In retrospect, I can see she dealt with it for far longer than I knew. But from diagnosis to the end was a mere ten days. Ten days. The last three of which were filled with dread and horror, sadness and disbelief. I feel cheated. Stunned. Above all, heartbroken. Finding my way through the days that have followed has been challenging, with more breakdowns than I should probably admit.

Some, I know, don’t understand how losing a pet can rival the loss of a human. All I can say (and have said) to those folks is that, aside from believing that all life has equal value, Maggie was never a pet. She was a friend, a confidant (though I’m sure she spilled the beans to Molly far too often), and a loyal and loving companion through my everyday attempts to live. The void that remains is profound. It is intense. I can’t brush my teeth without staring at the spot on the vanity she would perch, tail driting in and out of the sink, not so patiently waiting for her next round of food or treats (and, I like to think, ensuring I wasn’t left alone). She’s not there to keep me company at night, sprawling out on more bed at my shoulder than I should allow. She’s not there in the morning to climb upon my chest, work her claws into my skin as she makes biscuits, and give me a slice of joy to start my day. She’s not there while I work, while I write, while I sit on the patio and take the world in for a few minutes. There’s no chirpy greeting when I come home, no soft tick, tick, tick of claws on the floor as she moves from room to room hunting her next spot to nap.

She’s just not there anymore. And I feel more alone for it.

Grief often carries one into anger. I can’t feel angry about it. Weird though it sounds, I’ve actually tried. She was suffering, in pain, her liver and kidneys failing as the cancer spread, as she quit eating. She’s at peace now, and I can live with that. I’ve quoted Albus Dumbledore more times this week than is reasonably sane, but it speaks to my beliefs on life and death: “Do not pity the dead. Pity the living. And those who live without love.”

That doesn’t make it hurt less. That doesn’t curb the unyielding waves of calm to agony in the blink of an eye. That doesn’t bring her back. But it helps.

As it happens, I’m working on a project now that this experience broadens. About a young boy dealing with the loss of his older brother. I understand the character far more than I did a week ago. Much like him, I would do just about anything to have Maggie here again. To fill that void created by her absence. And to ultimately come to terms with the fact that she’s gone. That life goes on, just differently.

There will never be another Maggie. In the physical world her uniquness lives only in memory, in picture, in video. In the other world within the walls of my mind, in the realm of imagination that houses worlds and people that keep me company, she prowls and talks and sleeps and plays as she did here. She watches over me, fusses when I’m not attentive enough, gives me that whisper of a meow when I wake her up kissing her head, and stays by my side always.

It doesn’t take the hurt away. It doesn’t remove the fact I’ll never be able to pet her, to pick her up and put her over my shoulder, or to watch her sleep by my feet while I write. But it’s something. And, somehow, that will have to do.

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The Living Story

I haven’t been writing for the entirety of the limited experience that I call, “life”. I mean, well, obviously I wasn’t writing in the womb, nor did I pop out with pen and paper and get to scribing my experiences in utero. I suppose that would have been quite the story, if not, an altogether painful experience for my poor mother. So, what I mean to say is, though I may have spent the majority of my capable time on this earth writing, I have some lingering years remaining that offer no insight whatsoever into my life as a writer.

What is that supposed to mean? I take it to mean that I need more coffee.

The thing about life, see, is life, in and of itself, is a story. Not the words you put on paper (or screen in this modern age), or in the ideas floating about the nether regions of your mind, plucking you awake at the most obscene hours of the night, but in every aspect of every person in every day that you live. Writing is, more or less, the centrifuge to the swath of stories we swim through on a daily basis. Perhaps because of this daily exposure, the anti-originality escape clause of “there is no story that has yet to be written,” gets bandied about with regularity. Eh. Maybe. It is a rather unoriginal thought, so, sure, the stories that are written are nothing more than variances of stories that have been around for centuries, experiences we have, personally or by degrees of separation, experienced. Stories your grandfather told you on cold nights by the fire, stories you heard while eavesdropping on that squabbling couple in the cafe, stories chipped in tablets and handed down (or succinctly dropped on the floor and cracked into pieces by that snarky caveman-esque editor with no appreciation for the man-mammoth-woman love triangle). But in each story, in each tale that rings of familiarity, there is a unique perspective, a unique slant, something that only happened that one time.

Oddly, it took me a while to see this. I had to actually look up from the page, so to speak, and take a nice long look at the world. I had to see how, in its persistent way, life prodded the art of storytelling. Let’s face it: Writers can become a touch insulated. A tad protected from reality whilst we delve into the preferred insanity that is our chosen world of fantasy. It’s safer there. We can do what we want. We can kill those who have wronged (or, sadly, been nothing more than model citizens), feel remorse, and move on without consequence. We can encourage affairs, destroy relationships, leave the winning lottery ticket on a bench, force someone who needs it desperately to toss it in the trash because, well, they’re just that responsible, then stick our tongue out at them when they realize what they’ve done a few hours later.  We can rule the moon, take the fragile psyche of a beaten soul and thrash it upon the ground like a small child who is curious to see what happens to the turtle inside the shell once it is broken. But we’re always safe, because it isn’t real. It’s just a story, and they’re just characters bent to the will of our perverse madness.

Some time ago I heard it stated that every writer has within them a musician wishing to break out (and likewise, it seems, many musicians have an insane loon within them wishing to break out), which makes sense, albeit in a slanted twist of logic.  After all, art in any form tends to illicit rhythm, flow, a pace to move to. A musician is to a writer is to a sculptor, is to a painter, and so on. But while each is an aspect of the fabric of life, life is the true art. Life is the song. Every life is a story, and in turn, every story is alive.

It’s so easy to forget that your little experiences, your seemingly insurmountable trials, your possessed frustrations are shared by all of those around you. We all feel a bit like Truman, trapped on the stage, the world as our audience…ever so alone in our experiences. But the world is replete in repetition, and in shared experience. No, the mind of that person next to you is not yours, and their similarities are not as yours, but their story is like your story, only in variation, in tempo, and it’s enough to make it unique. We are bound by what we are: living creatures who wander like mobile trumpets, blaring our stories for the world to hear. You only have to listen.

Life is everywhere. So are the stories.

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