Five years on and I grapple more with the month of January than I do her death. It’s PTSD, or something like it, and the very moment midnight hits on New Year’s Eve I expect all rights to go wrong: the ringing of every phone call is a death march, a soft cough is a collapsed lung, each honking horn the final beat, the final beep of the lifeline. This month each year drags me along its endless path, slams me against every wall, leaves me wide-eyed in bed at night counting the many ways things fall apart.
Truth is, life’s never been better since she died. I’m exactly where I should be doing what I love surrounded by people who inspire me in this city I dreamt of since childhood. We’re healthy, we’re happy, and we’re living the life we want to live. And this kid! This beautiful boy, whose existence surprised us weeks after the funeral, he wanders his world, taking it all in, an intensity in his eyes as if it’s all a bit familiar, as if he’s been here before.
And yet the soft hum rattles away at me, that layered reverb under the surface of everything everywhere I go for this one month a year. When does it end? Is this the year? Or does it remain, a cruel reminder of that blurry-eyed thousand-mile drive back to my hometown five years ago, of the inevitable passing of time, of the knowledge that one day life’ll take something else away?
The Letting Go
I started this blog first out of anger, then wrote through deep bouts of what I suspect was some not-too-distant cousin to depression, and of course a bit of that nostalgia I’ve been known to battle. Now that the pain has found new form, I’m mostly silent here. I guess the stages of grief are present on these pages, though I spent too much time on anger and isolation to care about denial and bargaining. What is, is. No regrets, no desperate pleas or flailing efforts to change what can’t be changed. When the glacier you stand on begins to melt, don’t focus on the water you can’t refreeze.
But this talk of stages, where’s fear? Or the inexplicable worry and anxiety? And what’s the name of that thin layer of goddamn surreality that’s floats over my life like an Instagram filter?
The surreality. So many of these days don’t feel real. The months pass and then later I wonder where it’s all gone. Some stretches of time all-too-similar to that moment just after you realize you took one too many hits, one too many sips, one too many steps into the dark room. Not bad, just different. Not wrong, not entirely right. Or, so right that I catch myself wondering if I made it up. I watch Charlie and sometimes wonder if he’s real, if any of the past five years have happened at all or if instead this is some waking dream that I don’t understand but never want to end.
Perhaps this is why I’ve fallen in love with photography: this need to preserve, to prove real the existence of those moments I’d otherwise question.
On Moving On
I’ve learned that so many never find their way to acceptance. They’re wandering, lost in the Sisyphean task. And even though I’m there, sitting on the boulder somewhere at least near the top of the hill, I feel an existential obligation to reach out to those whom I know are left on the wrong side of the hill. Losing a parent is a scarring bitch of a life event, losing a parent when you’re too young to lose a parent is white-hot pain, a fracture for which there is no cast. It’s directionless, it’s endless, its truth strikes at you in so many forms, in so many ways. At times it’s as if your only vision is peripheral, at others as if there’s nothing left to see at all.
And yet, peace is out there in some form somewhere. In that dark room you fear, in your wife’s womb, in a job you belong in, in a wave tumbling at your child’s toes, in a stranger’s nod, in a bull elk’s stare, in a book or a song or in a good meal or at the bottom of a strong drink. Even if it’s fleeting, it’s there and will return even when there’s good reason to doubt.
Five years on and I’m not quite right but I’m also not quite wrong. And I’m okay with that. I’m so okay with that I wouldn’t change a damn thing.