Friday, June 15, 2012

You think you're one of a special breed, Part three

Continued from here.

I don't want to reach. Or push. I enjoy this lack of angst. This calm. Things that would have caused me major emotional upsets a few months ago now glance off me like I'm wearing armor.

Another friend, another conversation. This time about love and commitment. About freedom and recognizing your limitations. Like when you're good at the front end of a relationship, but fizzle when the expectations become too much and people get hurt. About being honest with yourself and with potential lovers. About how understandings crumble.

It doesn't matter what a woman says. She wants to be the one who makes you want to change. She has to believe she's special. If you can't quit the habit of getting in, then you have to be braced for what comes with getting out. And maybe you care too much or you don't care enough. Either way, you're caught in the ripple of emotion. It's unavoidable.

We want. We want. We want - what?

There's never a good time to break someone's heart.

I remember, but I can't recover the feeling. The broken heart. The suffering and self-loathing. It's out of reach. Maybe it's the anti-depressants. Maybe it's time. Maybe it's an unremembered blow to the head.

I'm reading Augusten BurroughsThis Is How - Help for the Self, Proven Aid in Overcoming
Shyness, Grief, Molestation, Disease, Fatness, Lushery, Spinsterhood, Decrepitude, & More
For Young and Old Alike. In the first three essays alone, Burroughs writes of letting yourself feel your feelings and calling them what they are. Anger, fear, hate, pain, joy, happiness, love.

Burroughs nails that self-help trope affirmation to the wall with one word. Bullshit. He beseeches the reader to stop lying to herself/himself and to others. If you've pasted on a smile for the benefit of others, Burroughs wants you to wipe that fucking smile from your face. It's doing more harm than good.

He, too, speaks of long marriages.

Long marriages have ended in ruin over tiny and insignificant grievances that were never properly aired and instead grow into a brittle barnacle of hatred.

brittle barnacle of hatred
brittle barnacle of hatred
brittle barnacle of hatred
brittle barnacle of hatred
brittle barnacle of hatred

Raise your hand if you've seen that phrase play out. The pebble in the shoe becomes a boulder you can't leapfrog, can't quite ignore, can't quite wish away.

Okay, hands down.

During my dreadful commute, I'm listening to Jonathan Franzen's collection of essays Farther Away. In it, he recounts his 2011 commencement address at Kenyon College titled Pain Won't Kill You. He also writes of his friend David Foster Wallace who, he concludes, was bored and thus suicidal. I'm being facile, of course. But that's the gist. Enough of it, at least. His point in both essays is that we have to experience our feelings because the alternative is what?

Numbness? Zombie-like calm? (I just typed clam instead of calm. Zombie Clams from the Zen Zone - a recipe for life as a reformed rager. This could be the title of what I don't do next.)

What is this? A conspiracy of library books? Franzen and Burroughs - pushers of feelings. The bastards.

Here I sit all counter-intuitive wearing all black on a sunny day. But my toenails are painted purple. There may be hope for me yet, Doctor Freud.

Mustering all the hypocrisy I could, I gave each of the children the "Your feelings of sadness are natural in a time of grief"speech. I took the day off work and spent time with Sophie who'd watched as Morris was born during hurricane season 2004. Now she'd experience his death. We cried together and talked about what we could have done differently to have perhaps saved him. We didn't know how sick he was. We pulled on our matching mother/daughter hairshirts and left the house to find something to keep Sophie busy.

When we reached the ice cream eating stage of grief, we finally indulged in some lighter thoughts. We laughed about Morris's kookier habits. How he was so spoiled as a kitten that he never learned to cover his leavings. The three older cats did it for him. How he didn't say much, but when he did, he spoke with an earnestness unusual to ginger tabbies who are typically wisecrackers. How he would trap the kids under his bulk and breathe in their faces.

When we started to cover the self-blaming territory again, I told Sophie we'd have to knock it off or I'd be in a corner cutting myself. She wiped away the one tear that slipped down her lashes and announced "I'm never having pets when I'm an adult. This hurts too much."

I pushed the hair back from her face, touched her soft cheek and felt it still damp. Her deep brown eyes were so sad. This is her first real loss. It almost feels like my own first real loss. As another friend put it, "The death of a cat who is like family hits you harder than the death of some family members because they're more a part of your every day life."

I finally allowed myself to feel the pain, too. To point at it and think what I'd been holding back. I wanted my fluffy boy back.  I wanted to walk through the door and see him on the silver metal table and say "Hey, bud." I wanted to see him waddle quickly across the room as Nathan called him Tub Tub. I wanted to see him make the great leap onto the dining room table only to slide to the other end and come skidding to a stop just in time.

Most of all, I wanted another day so we could see sooner that he was critical. I wanted another day to save him.

I suddenly wanted to rant and rave and kick something across the room. Break glass, beat my fists and let out the sobs I've choked back for days. Not the silent tears I hadn't been able to control, but the heavy, heaving sobs that make your head ache and wear you out. Those I'd been able to control. Funny how that works.

Instead, I took a deep breath, popped what was left of my ice cream cone into my mouth and savored the crunch of it. I looked at Sophie's bowed head, her hands folded together as if in prayer, but I knew she wasn't praying. Earlier in the day, she'd told me how she wished she could really believe in god and heaven so that she could imagine Morris somewhere besides just gone.

The sun was blotted out by a cloud and she gave a little shudder. In front of her, her cup of Superman ice cream melted into a tie-dyed puddle. I reached out and she took my hand.

Love and pain. Forever linked.


  1. you always make me cry, you put to word the thoughts in many hearts.

  2. I'm with Anonymous. Love you and yours, Lisa.

  3. Brittle barnacle of hatred? wow.

    And I just took my cat to the vet today - I fear for just this. Love is love.

    Very powerful writing.

  4. Okay.

    So maybe you aren't a novelist--many aren't, though I'm guessing your jury is still out on that one. But you're sure as hell an amazing essayist.

    And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go have breakfast with my husband and scrape this tiny little barnacle thing off my foot before it goes critical.

  5. The bitter barnacle and the zombie clam went to the shiny starfish psychiatrist for counseling.

  6. Woke up feeling all grumblingly antisocial but after reading these, I know that when I get home from work I have to hug all my cats. Fucker.

  7. I'm one of those who believes the fabric of our existence is much more complicated than what we can measure with instruments. There's a spiritual energy that transcends our conscious awareness. No matter what we believe our best course of action is to love and care for each other.

    You surely do rock as a essayist.

  8. I love you. What a powerful, honest, beautifully piece of writing. I'm rarely engaged enough to read a blog piece this long, but then there are few writers as good as you. I'm so sorry about Morris. Been there so many times, always questioning "What else could I have done?" No matter how long we have them it's never long enough.

    As for fiction, I've been dipping my toe into the flash fiction genre lately and am finding it very fulfilling. Maybe something longer will grow out of it, maybe not. It doesn't matter. I'm writing.

    Big hugs, my talented friend.

  9. I puffy-heart Augusten Burroughs and I cannot wait to get my hands on copy of his new book.

    Also, I love you. You're such an honest and brilliant writer. And I'm terribly sorry about Morris. That's just heartbreaking.

  10. Sorry about Morris. My brother and sister-in-law's dog died recently--only 7 years old. Man do I miss her. When I went down to visit, she was always the first one at the dorr to greet me. It felt just lonely and sad at the door this weekend. Baby yourself for a while.

  11. My heart breaks for you and Morris and Sophie. This was so beautiful, and I agree -- no matter what self doubt and crap you are going through with writing right now, it's so clear that you are a gifted, gifted essayist. Keep it up -- and we'll hold you to that.

  12. You don't need to be a novelist to be a great writer. Your essays are enough, more than enough. Our friend Bobbi made a book of hers, you know.

  13. Oh Morris! And you're right --- who'd have thought Franzen would be a "pusher of feelings"? I love this latest essay collection.

    Damn it, you know I'm going soft when I'm loving up Franzen.

  14. So so sorry about Morris. It is never easy, but the first time is always the worst. Hugs to Sophie - and to you.

  15. LOVE the title of the Augustin Burroughs; don't agree with Franzen that Pain Won't Kill You; liked sharing your ice cream moments of loss with Sophie - it's a hard old world and as Bobbi wisely says, None of us get out alive.

    So ice cream!

  16. I read A Burroughs when we were on vacation in a little cabin in Louisiana. I kept stopping to read his words out loud. They were that perfect. More than once, my partner asked me if I was talking to her and I had to say that no, I was just um...reading out loud to myself.

  17. Not a novelist, maybe. A writer, definitely. I'd been saving this series in my google reader until I could sit down and read the three together. I'm glad I did; well done. You always inspire me to try and write more honestly.

    So sorry about Morris. I know what a big hole he has left.

  18. So sad about Morris kitty. Ice cream sounds like a very good idea. I've enjoyed reading this series Lisa. Nice work.


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