Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dumb Growls

Dumb Growls


This phrase, that I don’t even know the meaning of, has been floating around in my head for days. Close to the bone. It feels like I am living so close to the bone these days. We all are. Like the cushion has been sliced away, and my vulnerabilities are right there on the surface, like skin. When your body is unrecognizable to you, there is no other pretense. No artifice seems possible, as I observe my central nervous system devolve.

Have you ever had the opportunity to watch as a child learns to walk? They are tragically unsteady; each of the million tiny movements required to walk is brand new and requires total attention. Distracted for a second, a foot turns, balance falters, and they land- diaper on floor again and again.  Their brains are making connections faster than the speed of a blink.  The neural coats are not quite on yet, and as a result the transmission is choppy. So one foot forgets to lift, or it lifts too enthusiastically and throws the whole procedure off kilter. I fully accept that I am a complete science nerd, and I love to watch as little brains myelinate, and movements become more certain, more precise, over just a few years time. My son is working on snapping his fingers, and blowing bubbles with gum right now (not, primarily, simultaneously). I find it endlessly fascinating as he cognitively understands what needs to take place, but struggles to make his body complicit with these novel instructions.

When he was just learning to walk, I was busy un-learning how to complete that seemingly effortless symphony of motion. As he became more sure, I hesitated more. As he grew comfortable with a narrower stride, my legs were started to look like they were balancing a very pregnant woman with a pumpkin on her head.  Not graciously, either.

My son has become a graceful creature, all raw muscle on a tiny little frame, skin so close to the bone.  I, on the other hand, feel like an injured hippopotamus moving through space.   In a wilderness film, I’d be the animal separated from the pack to provide sustenance to the tigers.

That last sentence sounded funny in my head, but when I read it out loud seemed so tragic.  This is my tragi-comedy. What if, before we were born, our souls lined up and reported what movie genre they would like to choose for this incarnation? Many would choose romantic comedy. Some would choose drama, or comedy. If your soul was late getting in line, there might only be horror or suspense story lines left. I came in somewhere in the middle, had to have that second cup of coffee but at least my alarm went off. This is what I chose: Funny in my head; tragic in body.

Recently I hung out with a very dear friend in the middle of his worst nightmare.  This particular nightmare is the gift that just keeps giving; full of tangles and twists that drop the ground out time and time again. This friend believes in science. Physics, actually. He’s all about the time-space continuum and it’s ability to bend. He believes in emptiness, at the core of matter; the black hole. It brings him peace. Electrons, circling protons, the illusion of solid matter.  His presence, watching him move through the wildfire swallowing everything he thought was real, is magnificent. He has never been so present, although he experiences himself as cut-off. He is raw, close to the bone, and it allows me to know him in a way never possible before.  He make me wish that I too, believed in quantum physics. Black holes seems probable, sucking in the life around them. Some of us live in the neighborhood of black holes, and spend immeasurable energy resisting their gravitational pull.

Another friend, another virulent autoimmune disease. Her husband leaving her after 2 decades of shared history. She only speaks of him with love. Her compassion and enlightenment makes me weep when she talks to me. Who is this person, who can transcend such horror? Who am I, who cannot?

My friend Kelly, about whom I have written before many times, the one with AS- possibly the most tragic of all of the auto-immune disorders in my circle, has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Really universe? Really? Shouldn’t things be somewhat evenly distributed among the population? Even just a little?  She’s one of the kindest, most gentle and consistent people I have ever known. If I was offered a break by whomever might be up there, making these decisions, I’d give it to Kelly.  I don’t even believe there is someone up there; offering punishments, rewards, and occasionally a get-out-of-jail-free card. But I am angry that there isn’t, and even angrier if there is.

I don’t want to find the bright side. I don’t want the light to creep in. I want to stew in my own little cauldron of self-pity and rage. Perhaps for this reason, I have been unable for a month to complete this essay, and it’s companion piece, two treatises on darkness. I am determined not to let the light slip in, not to appear “resilient.” I am so fucking tired of being resilient. I just want to be small and ugly and relentlessly disappointed. I don’t want to suck it up and believe that I can teach my children about coping, compassion, and moving forward regardless of the road bumps (or 15- car pile-ups, as the case may be).

Is this a 15-car pile up? It definitely feels like that- at least part of the time. Are there bodies flung all over the freeway, their bereaved making the primal scream, the universal and unique sound that escapes when we lose someone we love? When I found my beloved German Shepherd, unexpectedly dead, years before it should have been “his time,” the wails that I emitted over his lifeless body sounded like they came from someone else. Somewhere else. An endless well of grief, an animal sound that I had never before heard, much less emitted. And I didn’t care. I howled and screamed, completely taken over by grief, the primal scream of loss.

Later that year, when I lost my first baby, there was no screaming. There was only silence, like I had been caught in an avalanche. The silence roared; everything else was drowned out. I think I cried silently for months. Every night, she was still there in my dreams. In my dreams, I safely contained the new universe. The silent weeping would start the minute I awoke; reality assaulting me during each moment of consciousness. My world became enveloped by silence, the peculiar silence of bearing the unbearable. I was honestly perplexed that my heart was still beating, and I didn’t care enough to wish it wasn’t.

Maybe that is what I am trying to accomplish here, in language where I want desperately to demonstrate my grief, in language that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge hope. I have never howled about the loss of my body, the body that I had lived in for so long, the body I never considered would change into unrecognizable form. The howl is something language cannot do. It comes from a place beyond language. Jeannette Winterson writes that “Grief leapfrogs over language and lands in dumb growls beyond time.”

This is my dumb growl. This is my testament to everything I have lost, to all of the people I love who bear the unbearable, every day. We blend in, ghosts among the living, ghosts among those who have not yet, or are not currently, in the process of losing everything that makes sense. Inexplicably, the world hasn’t stopped, or even slowed, as we howl and weep. There are children who need us, partners suffering in their own silent hell; family, friends, and even strangers who need us to be okay. So we suit up in our armor of the way we were and move through the days. The growling ghosts stay mostly out of the sight of others. It is hard enough, watching someone you love suffer, and the losses are shared by everyone who loves us. It would be unthinkably selfish to share this too: This desperate grief, the unraveling of who we were, the empty space of loss and outrage.

It is not that there are not other things too. My children are miracles whom I have the honor to watch develop every day. My partner is the strongest person I know, who misses nothing, but keeps us afloat anyway. For these and others, I have to walk through the days, I have to keep accessing the me that they recognize; the person who suits up and shows up every single day (albeit with more “breaks” to give the ghost some room to roam.)

Kelly- I know you are howling. I know you put on a brave face, I know you continue to function in the world as everything crumbles inside of you. Me too. There are many of us out here. I hear your dumb growls. They sound just like mine.


  1. With every knowing teardrop that runs down my face as I read your words, i say thank you.