Like a black hole, but with emotions

In a perfect world, I would have posted more in the last year, because so many wonderful things have happened. I fell in love and started a new career. It felt like my real life started. But it’s not a perfect world. Instead of posting, I was learning about business analysis & writing requirements by day, kissing & laughing with Mike by night.

I’m posting now because it’s the only thing I can think to do. When my heart feels fractured and my contacts salty, my mind gets restless. For the last few months, I’ve sought easier outlets than writing: HBO, new crochet projects, wistful novels, adult coloring books, and binge-drinking. Writing about pain is difficult. Writing about personal pain is exhausting. Writing about family pain is dangerous.

Yet here I am, about to dig in.

The specifics aren’t important, but the basics are probably necessary. The last time I saw my mother was on my birthday, February 29. She left without notice in early March. The last time we spoke was mid-April. She filed for divorce sometime late April. She’s been with a man in Oregon since early June. The last time we exchanged texts was Saturday, while I was recovering from a hangover. The night before I either instigated an argument or cornered her into confessing her sins, depending on your perspective. Either way, I blame alcohol.

Part of me is terrified to write about this – privately or publicly; the other half doesn’t give a damn – it is what it is. These thoughts and feelings have been churning for a long time, and I haven’t been able to do much with them. I talk to Mike. I see a counselor. I try to spend time with my dad and brothers. I take vitamin D and sleep in on the weekends. But when I slow down, I realize I’m buckling under the weight. I just want to be past all of the frustration.

I thought my depression phase of the grieving process was very short. There were only a few days in June where I couldn’t concentrate and slept so hard I woke a zombie. Other than that, I’ve been angry. My counselor assured me that I would likely be going through cycles of grief for the next few years. The idea is daunting. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve never had to deal with something so emotionally massive.

This isn’t just something I’m going to have to deal with over the course of the next few months. I’m going to have new questions, frustrations, and concerns as I hit my own milestones.

800px-Black_Hole_in_the_universe

My emotions, circa spring/summer 2016. Everything is at the event horizon, basically.

I want my rhetorical questions to have answers.

How? When? Why?

Canine Cancer

Last night I learned that my dog has cancer.

When my dad told me, I didn’t really feel anything for about a minute. News like that never feels real until you hear your father’s voice crack.

Jack’s a 100lb black lab. He’s about 8 years old and blindly adores me and my family the way only dogs can. I visit my parents a few times a month and if Jack sees me from the top of the driveway, he just about plows me over. If I were to match his excitement, he’d squeal for an hour. He’s a happy dog. He has the same amount of energy now as when we picked him up from the shelter seven years ago.

According to the vet, he has a really aggressive form of cancer. Realistically, he only has a few months left. I’m too scared to look at anything on wikipedia about canine cancer, so I don’t know what his life would be like for the next few months. My family has decided that we’ll be putting him to sleep.

Discussing when to schedule euthanasia makes you feel helpless, though you’re basically playing god for a few moments. It’s something that has to be done. We don’t want him to suffer through another bloody nose. They started in July and escalated to what my parents describe as a looking like a crime scene on the front porch, the living room, the back of the car, and the exam room.  But when he’s wagging his tail and excitedly chewing on a stick while dad putzes in the garage, it’s hard to accept that he’s dying. He’s too damn happy to be dying. It makes me sick to think about Jack no longer greeting me when I stop by, but I know it has to be done.

While my family discussed this, I kept thinking about how weird it is to say that we put our animals to sleep. That phrase is stupid. I know it’s supposed to soften euthanasia, but it kind of cheapens it. It’s not sleep. It’s death. The emotional blow isn’t any less harsh just because you use a pleasant euphemism. “Letting him go” seems more appropriate, but if we’re talking semantics, letting him go would mean more that we just let him die naturally. But that’s not what we want, because if we were to let him go that way, it could potentially be by a very traumatic bloody nose that never stops. Though it might be natural, it’s not humane. But what the hell does humane mean in this scenario? Horse doctor? White Fang-style disowning? Because I clearly have excellent coping mechanisms, this is basically what was going through my head while my brothers were sharing how they felt things should go: the language and cultural expectations surrounding dying pets.

We’ll be having the vet come into our home to do the procedure, then we’ll pick up the remains later. I wish I could shut my brain off sometimes, because then, as soon as the remains were mentioned, I recalled a This American Life episode in which they investigated whether or not families truly received their pets’ remains. It’s been a few years since I heard it, but I’m pretty sure they arrived at the conclusion that you’re probably not getting your pet’s ashes. I had to force myself to shut up about it because though that tidbit is probably factual, it wasn’t going to do anything but frustrate my family and remind them that I can be an insensitive ass.

I’m not sure when exactly he’ll be put down, but probably within the next month. As with all things, this sadness, too, shall pass. But right now, it’s kind of heartbreaking.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something's awry. Just look at those eyes.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something’s awry. Just look at those eyes.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn't get any stronger.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn’t get any stronger.

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn't a dog who has cancer, right?

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn’t a dog who has cancer, right?

He's patient, but not coordinated. I think I've seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

He’s patient, but not coordinated. I think I’ve seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

Chill out, bro.

Chill out, bro.

Throwback Thursday: The 9/11 One

You guys. The last time I did a Throwback Thursday post was October. That’s crazy. And fairly unacceptable. Considering the fact I have a closet full of journals, I have virtually no reason to not write those posts. I owe you. Expect payment in future TBT posts. If I had at all planned this out, I would have written this post, adjusted the previously shared diary entries to arrange for this to be posted in September, when it was actually appropriate. I have a hard time holding myself to self-imposed deadlines.  Anyway, onto the meat of the stuff:

(Tues.) September 11, 2001

Wow. America was attacked today. This is horrible! I can’t beleive this happened!

Ok, today during ILA, Mrs. Sandlin freaked me out. she started out by saying how much of a horrible day today is. She went on to tell us about how terrorists attacked us. They highjacked 4 airplanes and crashed them into both world trade buildings and the pentagon.

It’s scary! I don’t know if anybody knows who did it, but Mr. Wittman in History said that there WILL be retaliation. AKA: go to war.

We watched TV like 4 times today about it.

President Bush called whoever did this “faceless cowards” and will “hunt down and punish” whoever did this.

And as of right now there are NO planes in the air. NONE. Planes coming into America are being diverted to Canada.

This is horrible! I was coming home from Jade’s house & we saw DOZENS of cars in line to get gas. I was wondering why & I asked my mom when I got home & she said it’s going to be $3.50 a GALLON. And my parents thought $1.75 was a lot!

This is horrible! I can’t use words to discribe how terrified I am! My life is going to change so much! I mean even just gas prices! My parents will be paying twice as much as they used to!

What if we go to war? I don’t think anybody in my family will go to fight for America, & I pray to god that doesn’t happen. i don’t know what I’d do without my dad being home!

I’m sorry I keep writing the same things down, but I’m so worried. The gas thing totally freaked me out. If we go to war, there might be rations of canned foods, gas, make-up, toys, everything! I just can’t believe this is happening!

I need to burn some energy.  Luv always!

Ashley

P.S. I’m in so much of a daze I forgot 2 tell you that the football game was cancelled & Cory hugged me after school. What a sweetie! LOL, there’s my shallow life again.

P.P.S. Oh yeah, more than 10,000 people died today.

I have a tendency to trivialize tragedies as a way to cope, so my gut here is telling me just to make fun of the fact that I said 10,000 people died that day or that I misspelled “believe” and “describe” though I used to pride myself on being one of the best spellers in my class. But to do that would be to further trivialize my experience. It’s unnecessary. Nobody gains anything from me making fun of Young Ashley for coping the only way she knew how: to write dramatically as if she were writing a new Dear America book.

Photo credit - Kaperuccio

Photo credit – Kaperuccio

Joking aside (sarcasm is so deeply embedded in my sense of self. I should go to a therapist), I remember this being a very weird day. Before Mrs. Sandlin told my ILA (English) class what had happened, I heard chatter about it during passing time. Grabbing my books and slamming my locker door, I rolled my eyes, thinking it was some “big” tragedy that the news networks were going to eat up. At that point, I had never heard of the World Trade Centers or terrorists. I assumed terrorists was a new gimmicky word aimed at scaring the public. I was underwhelmed by this supposed tragedy, even when Mrs. Sandlin turned on the TV.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I was excited while watching the news. Maybe this was really it – the event that would inspire historical fiction I could speak on! I had lived through this. I could someday talk about this. It was too abstract of a thing to inspire fear in me. I was thrilled by flares of anxiety later during the day, as I imagined a different life where my dad worked in one of the towers. Of course he came home at the end of the day, but I was just thrilled about the idea of wearing that badge of tragedy. It wasn’t real to me. That’s why I ate it up. I think on some level, I was aware that this was happening to real people and that other children were going through the terror of not knowing if their parents were alive, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. I felt empathy’s tug, but was saddened when it remained abstract.

Part of what has always disgusted me about national tragedies is the way in which people devour the story as if it’s their own. When young and in the thick of these events, of course I was scared and terrified, but it made me feel uneasy to talk about it, so I just didn’t. Maybe I had a deeply embedded journalistic integrity, but probably I was afraid of being found a fraud. I’m sure there’s some level of that anxiety that still keeps me away from news networks, but the news culture seems so cannibalistic. I realize I keep going back to this eating theme, but it works: viewers chew on this news for a day or two, enjoying the bursts of appropriate emotional flavor (horror, fear, sadness, excitement, etc) before digesting and leaving it behind when they’ve had their fill. The victims are eternally masticating an overdone steak while the spectators move further down the buffet line.

So what does this leave me with? Willful ignorance disguised as respect to victims? That’s probably pretty accurate, though a bit cynical even for me. Tragedies are personal. Media is not. Victims will always feel violated, and I’d just rather not be a part of that violation.

This One Time, My Neighbor Told Me My House is Haunted…

You may recall that until a few months ago, I was living by myself. I enjoyed the usual luxuries one does without roommates: drinking from the container, letting the dishes pile up for a week, using the spare bedroom as a giant clean/dirty/smells good enough laundry basket, going entire Saturdays without pants…it was pretty wonderful. Without anyone around to judge me or suggest that maybe I make a meal instead of eat cereal for the fourth night in a row, I turned my focus elsewhere: reading, crocheting, avoiding dishes and writing blog posts. At night, I found I had to learn the sounds of a new neighborhood. Trucks with loose metallic cargo seemed to favor my bumpy road for cruising after 11. Dogs barked. On the early summer evenings, youths held campfires long past my 9pm bedtime.

I wasn’t surprised to hear creaks on windy nights because my house is quite old. My landlord said the bathroom originally had a clawfoot tub. The woodwork is worn and grimey – no amount of orange oil will make it shine like it probably once did. The doorbell doesn’t work. There are about a half dozen phone hookups in the hall and no outlets. Most of the windows are drafty. I can confidently say that this house was built sometime between 1900-1990, assuming ten years of error.

I got used to living on my own. Though at night my ears strained, I didn’t hear strange sounds. While I unpacked, I had passing thoughts like: “I bet more than one person has died in this house. And I bet none of their spirits wants me living here.” I’m a pretty rational person, but sometimes my imagination does sprints. I call them sprints because it’s just a quick idea that is dismissed as quickly as it arose. A loud pop in the middle of the night isn’t the spirit of a widow telling me that she is the only person allowed to crochet within these walls. It’s just the house – its materials expanding and contracting from the temperature and humidity fluctuations. The darkness I saw in the corner of gaze when I directed my attention to the other side of the room isn’t a ghost, it’s just a shadow. Basically, I’m able to tell my imagination to chill out.

For the most part, I really enjoyed living on my own, but eventually I came to a crossroads. When the weather got nicer, I was less inclined to work more than 40 hours. No longer working 50-60 hours each week, I found that I could afford to do one of two things: continue living on my own and maintain a life perfecting the art of isolation OR clean up the giant unorganized laundry basket and find a roommate and enjoy life outside my living room. My best friend had been searching for a place to live, so it didn’t take long to find a roommate.

Andrea arrived on a Sunday evening, and right away we started crocheting and watching Netflix. Because I had moved in alone, I figured my very observabt neighbor downstairs might question a strange girl entering my apartment. That Monday after work, I came home and Emily was sweeping the driveway.

“Hi Emily!” I said. “I just wanted to let you know that I have a friend staying with me for a while. She might be moving in, but it’s not set in stone.”

“Oh okay,” she said. “Thanks for letting me know. The more the merrier!”

“Yeah, she’s filling out an application and we’ll find out soon. But until things are figured out, she’ll be staying here for a while.”

“Was she here last week?”

“No, she just got here last night,” I said.

“Oh okay. Well I was just wondering because sometimes when you’re not home, I hear footsteps upstairs. Do you believe in that sort of thing? I hear things like that all the time here.”

Three things: First, when you said that, my first thought was not “OMG MY APARTMENT IS HAUNTED.” My first thought was “WHO THE HELL IS IN MY APARTMENT WHEN I’M NOT HOME?” Second, why did you jump so quickly from a friend couch-surfing to spirits who stomp around in the middle of the day? Third, why did you not wait for my answer before reporting that you’re constantly hearing weird shit in the house we share?

I sort of stammered. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really believe in that stuff. When I hear something at night, I’m usually able to talk myself down from being scared.”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” she said. She got that look in her eyes like she was teaching me something and I ought to listen. “One night, probably about three months after my husband died, I woke up in the middle of the night and there were three white figures standing next to my bed,” she told me. “It was a mother, a father, and a little girl. The were very benevolent and seemed to just want me to know that they were there.”

WHAT THE HELL, EMILY? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY SWEET ELDERLY NEIGHBOR WHO LEAVES THE BACK HALL LIGHT ON FOR ME AT NIGHT – NOT THE WOMAN WHO GIVES ME NIGHTMARES.

“You’re giving me goosebumps!”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said. “You know, it was probably just a dream or something. It was probably nothing.”

I laughed and rubbed my forearms, despite the warm sun.

“Anyway, thanks for letting me know about your friend. I won’t be worried if I see somebody coming and going during the day then.”

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I told her to have a nice night and went up to my apartment. Andrea was gone, so I couldn’t tell her what happened. To distract myself from visions of white figures and heavy formless footsteps, I turned on some music and read a book on the couch. About an hour later, the album had ended and I was immersed in my book when I heard footsteps. They were in the attic. All those cliches happened: my heart raced, I wanted to scream but couldn’t find the air.

“HEWWOOOOOO!”

No, that wasn’t a toddler ghost’s greeting. It was just Andrea. Somehow, her footsteps on the front porch reverberated to sound like they were directly above me. Or maybe the ghosts were playing aural tricks on me. It’s anybody’s guess, really.

For about a week after Emily told me that story, I was afraid to open my eyes at night. I frequently woke in the middle of the night, confident that three alabaster figures would be on the other side of my eyelids. A few times, I ever reached to turn off my bedside lamp with my eyes closed. Why does my anxious subconscious believe that ghosts flee when I twist the switch of my lamp? Probably because there’s never been any ghosts there when I turn on the light.

It’s strange, isn’t it? I spend the majority of my existence rationalizing the world around me. I appreciate that most things can be explained. Cause and effect creates a beautifully consistent environment. What would life be in a world without consistencies? Houses would be creatures, the pops and cracks in the night just gurgles of their digestive systems. Sweeping a driveway one day made it clean and dirty the next. Sounds wouldn’t travel in waves, but violet clouds of varying density, the volume based on the intensity of the purple. Life wouldn’t be based on things like pumping blood and brain oxygenation, but the mood of people who remember you, and your appearance would vary, a la Dorian Gray’s portrait. And just when you had one of these things figured out, another would change and throw your understanding of everything.

I like my world of reason and not many things fool me. But in the middle of the night my imagination allows stories like Emily’s to make me reconsider everything that has made me feel sane. 

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Later that night, Emily called me to apologize. She told me that she should have kept her mouth shut and that she was probably bothered by grief and lack of sleep. I told her that it wasn’t a problem and that I would be just fine. “I haven’t heard anything strange since I moved in, so I’m sure I won’t hear anything tonight.”

But really, I was like, “OH NO, LADY. There are no takebacksies in this game! You said you hear footsteps when I’m not here. The seed has already been planted. I won’t see pleasant dreams for weeks, thanks to you.”

When my sleeping returned to normal, Andrea told me that supposedly Emily had gotten out of the shower to find DON’T BE AFRAID written in the steam on her bathroom mirror. THANKS, NEIGHBOR. Emily lives alone. The only explanation is ghosts. Or her grandchildren playing jokes on her. Or Emily is a liar.