We Can Be Heroes…

I got the news that David Bowie died on my phone while sitting on the toilet. It was undignified, ignominious, and wholly modern. As were my tears. I cried fresh, new, culturally relevant tears because I – and many others – lost an icon.

Bowie was (and GOD, how I hate to use the past tense) a hero of the margins – unrepentantly, aggressively authentic. His art was entirely his, without apologies. Many marginalized communities, especially the LGBTQ+, celebrate his weirdness as a beacon in a small, dark world and since many of my friends belong to that community I celebrate his weirdness with them.

So, that first bout of weeping was for them, and the artists and dreamers and weirdos whose light went out on the vast, cruel sea.

For me, though, the little girl who never had trouble assimilating, who embodied the term “wall-flower”, it wasn’t his weirdness that was my beacon. It wasn’t what he did that entranced me, it was what he didn’t do. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t conform. His opposition to Normal could have taken many forms, and I would have been in love with any of them. It was the act of defiance that made me watch him, his very breath a giant “Fuck You” to the establishment’s control and THAT enthralled me. Whether he was strutting across the stage in glitter, hypnotizing a young woman with crystal balls (unsurprisingly, that is both a literal interpretation AND a euphemism), baring his soul in simple, unaccompanied song, or orchestrating his final farewell, Bowie never seemed to do anything that wasn’t entirely honest and true to his artistic vision. For me, it was about his authenticity.

The little girl who assimilated retreated by degrees, replaced with a painfully self-aware woman. Right now, replaced with a woman who is self-aware, and in pain. The authenticity of my life is ugly, and raw, and set with jagged edges that rip the fabric of my psyche to shreds. My authenticity is not about sparkly jumpsuits and flipping off the establishment. It’s about emotional tar pits, and vicious anger, and snarling, black despair. My honesty is found in days when I simply can’t do anything but stare blankly and drink at socially inappropriate times. My non-conformity comes from screaming my pain instead of just bearing it, like the good little wall-flower expected to. My authenticity is not fit for consumption; it is not art. But it is real, and I am no less heroic for confronting it, head-on.

My first tears were for the freaks and dreamers, artists and weirdos and friends. But the tears that came later, that sent me running for the bathroom stall in the middle of my workday to sob into handfuls of cheap, single-ply toilet paper that dissolved under the onslaught – those were for me. And for Bowie, who surely knew that lonely darkness, and came out swinging a light of his own. I cried because my truth is ugly, it’s mean and bitter and exhausting. But it’s mine. I am living an authentic life, no matter if I can’t turn it into art or a beacon for three generations to rally around. It’s mine, and it’s true. And for now, it is enough. I am a hero, if just for one day.

david-bowie
David Bowie 1947-2016

 

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Nevermore

I mistook selfishness for independence. A ready laugh for happiness. A tender touch for true understanding.

My marriage has been over for a long time, but I only just recently came to accept it. There was a line, it was crossed, and somehow the switch in my brain labeled “HOPE” was thrown to “OFF”. It was both freeing and poignant, sad yet a relief.

It’s a different kind of sadness, that which comes after acceptance. It’s the cleansing, healing tide of pain that leaves you lighter when it recedes. It’s the kind that causes you to turn your head to the sun when the tears run fast and unchecked down your face. Not the kind that makes you huddle into a ball while you stare wide-and-dry-eyed at the great nothing in front of you.

Now I mourn for the once-was, instead of the never-going-to-be.

I might mourn for the never-was, too.

 

Gone.

Nothing compares to this.

I have been scared, angry, frustrated, sad – all emotions that I tried to wriggle away from because they hurt. I’ve been panicked, worried, upset – all emotions that drove me to sometimes-rash but always decisive actions because time was of the essence.

But nothing compares to the feeling of having love stripped away. Not when it’s the kind of love that comes from 10 years of steady, everyday effort. It’s like having a vital organ removed. It’s like staring down and seeing your guts spilling out into your hands. There is disbelief and shock while you look at the bloody mess, then the sure knowledge that you just won’t survive this. There isn’t even pain, at first. Just the stark fact that this is a mortal wound. People aren’t meant to survive by carrying their guts around in their hands. It simply isn’t done. No one has done it before, surely I can’t either.

Having love excised isn’t torture. It’s a battle wound. For a fight you didn’t even know you were in. You just looked up from the great hole in your middle and saw a battle field all around you. I don’t even know how I got here. They say bleeding out is a quiet way to go. But it’s not fast. It’s oh so very slow. Enough to feel every drop of blood chasing the love out of your body. It sounds like there might be peace at the end.

Like an empty shell on a mortared field.

Rudderless

I have no sailing experience. Aside from fishing on a lake – once – I have no experience with boats whatsoever. And yet I know exactly what it feels like to be adrift, lost at sea, with no idea of where to go or how to get there if I did.

It’s such a usable metaphor. Everyone knows what it feels like to be isolated and directionless. I’ve certainly been here before. But the difference between now and then is that before I would have nearly killed myself thrashing in the water. Now, I just want to lie in the boat and stare out at the distant horizon and wonder when it will get to me, not the other way around. That’s probably something that comes with age. It’s not terrible.

I’ve had two well-meaning people instruct me not to shout into the void. That is, not to put my struggles and thoughts in public, online. Another thing that comes with age is the ability to say, “Your constructive criticism is greatly appreciated, fuck you very much.” As well meaning as I know they are, sometimes shouting into the void is the only thing that makes me feel human. I have a voice, and despite being lost at sea, without compass or supplies or mobility, screaming my pain is enough to save me. But I am alone, and no one has to listen.

Maybe they’re afraid that I’ll say something injudicious about the person who left me here. I won’t. He’s lost and rudderless, too. We’re adrift on this sea of pain, unable to move or reach each other, waiting for the horizon to come to us.

Tempests and teacups.

The human body is an amazing machine. It – or at least, mine – performs standard mobility functions despite having not slept more than 2 hours consecutively over the last 2 days, or eaten more than 4 bites of banana. It breathes, though I keep filling its lungs with toxic smoke. It talks, though the brain is silently screaming. It does the things I ask it to do – and I really have no concept of how.

It does things also that I don’t ask it to do. Like process emotional information in my gut, leading to any number of noises from that region that I swear I’ve never heard before. It craves things I don’t really want right now, like sex, and pain. (Though thankfully not together.) It wants to run as far and as fast from here as possible – which is nowhere. Nowhere is possible.

So here I am, a  mass of contradictions, stuck in one place yet churning and roiling as terrible as any hurricane. What do you imagine will give in first?

Small Things, part I.

It’s such a small thing, forgetfulness. Such a tiny moment of mental lapse, barely a blip on the Radar of Grand Schemes. It’s so small a thing, and yet when it passes the memories that come roaring in to fill the space are torrential and crushing.

I had a small lapse in memory today. I started a new job and for a split second I forgot that I couldn’t celebrate it with my husband. Just a fraction of a second – not even a full tick of the clock. But then I remembered and I thought I would drown in the grief. The memory of all the first days on the job I’ve celebrated with him in the past led the charge, followed closely by all the first times of anything we’ve shared. On hot on the heels of that came all the firsts that will pass without his smile and congratulations in the future. The first Thanksgiving, that will be next month. The first birthday to go by without a fond kiss – also next month. The first time I really need a hug from the only person I’ve counted on to give them to me over the last 10 years. That was today.

Such a small thing to forget. Such a small thing. Like a bullet, this small thing is.

A While.

There’s nothing quite like that moment when your husband tells you he fell out of love with you “a while” ago.

On the one hand, it’s a punch in the gut, but on the other, it’s kind of a relief. It’s a relief to know that you weren’t imagining it. That it wasn’t your fault. That the dead weight you’ve been suffocating under IS actually that elephant in the room. Only it’s dead now. Like your marriage.

Of course on the other hand, you now have a two tons of rotting pachyderm to dig yourself out from under, so that doesn’t sound like fun. And honestly, I can’t think about that right now. It’s too much. My brain literally won’t even go there. It’s like, “Oh no, this is fine. It’s warm and heavy like a comforter. Just leave it. I like the smell of dead elephant. Really.”

So I’m just going to dwell in the relief for a bit. I’m going to languish in the absolute euphoria that comes from knowing this was not my fault. I’ve been rowing a boat for two people, expending all that energy, and I just looked behind me and it turns out there’s no one there. I can rest. I can stop fighting, and oh god does that sound so, so sweet.

At some point I’m going to realize that the tears streaming down my face mean something. Eventually, I’m going to want to tear things apart with my bare hands – I can feel it there, in the back of my mind, waiting for when it feels right. But not right now. Right now, I’m going to cradle that sad, frustrated, confused little heart of mine and whisper: It’s not you. It was never you. You are worthy. You are loved. I’ve got you and it’s going to be okay.

I don’t know what okay looks like, but I know it’s out there somewhere… waiting for me.