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 Peaceful Madness

A writer breeds madness.

Truthfully, this could be said of any artist. Any Creator. We are gods, after all, desperate to create worlds in which we’d much rather be, sculpting rules and destinies from the jagged peaks of our imagination, reforming the memories of our past and the hopes of our future into triumphant tales of heroic adventure. We write the code for the program, doing so with a reckless arrogance, ignoring reality in favor of the most favorable path to redemption. Not simply for our heroes, but for ourselves. And when we step away from our narcissistic free-for-all, we find bills, hunger, war, political mudslinging, and for many–loneliness beyond repair.

Something happens in the process that alters us forever. We begin to long for the worlds we created.  We begin to hunger to complete the stories, to enhance the landscapes, to better realize this fantastic scope through which we peer. Reality becomes less real. Fantasy more believable. Either word seems insufficient and life gets twisted somewhere in between. We find more time to stare through windows on scenes so far removed we appear to be catatonic, or angry, or one Sugar Snap away from inviting Dig ’em for a lengthy stay.

Our worlds live and breathe in our minds, taking on a life of their own; and though we see the world as perfect, the characters as family, we find the words lacking. Not simply because we doubt their ability to convey, or because they are insufficient or weak, but because they don’t breech the boundaries of space and time. They don’t open a portal to our worlds. They don’t allow us to escape. So we keep writing, we keep creating, we keep building, hoping to find something of our fantasy within the reality we are trapped.

We never do. Yet, the desperation is a madness we crave, the only place in which we truly find peace.

There are times I find this idea unsettling, depressing, an incurable infectious disease in which small pieces of my brain melt helplessly away by the day. Then I find things like this in my work:

“It is apparent to me now there is less between imagination and reality than I dared dream. I wonder at times if closing my eyes will be the end of me, or if I can never truly begin until the world fades to black. Therein lies the deceit of lightness and dark: They serve your need, or leave you mired in blindness, unable to distinguish truth from lie.”

And I realize my madness can manifest in beautiful ways. My characters can trumpet my words in ways I will never be able. My stories can bring civility to the war between the lightness and dark; and though I may never step foot in the worlds I create, I can give them life, hope, and a path to fulfillment. I can give them–with due struggle and pain–all that I want for myself. I will give them a life that pushes what they can handle, but allows them a heroic end. A Happily Ever After. I know their path through and through. I don’t know mine.

I can only hope, when my final second ticks and the clock draws into silence, I have left words that resonate. Words that, beyond belief, beyond the bounds of reality, have given life to worlds that will always be visited by eager minds. Perhaps then I will truly know peace.

So I write and I dream, and I hope that somewhere, in some world, there is someone writing my story, smiling at my ways, counting the days until I can be the hero I was created to be.