Picasso girl hard at work with crayons after story-time.
There’s a common thread that courses through everyone’s lives: cliché’s. We believe our lives are distinctly unique. And they are, if in no other way than the order in which events unfold in them and the way we react to them. But the grand themes are typically the same: love, loss, finances, career, and the social experience.
My 20’s were a cliche, albeit a fringe one at times. I’ve slept in my car, gone hungry, lived in six states, was fortunate enough to see 30, and spent a decade searching for who I was and what I had within myself that I felt since I was a kid would attract to me a life of significance. Is it not cliche that I spent my 20’s peeling back layer after layer of myself in an almost desperate search for that? I am 30 years old today. I don’t care much about this day, however I care a great deal not only about my future, but learning how to wield each moment intentionally because in reality, every moment can bring me closer to my goals and my dreams if I handle it correctly.
The last year can be seen as one of my worst, but the way I see it now is that it was the last care package life sent me as a 20-something year old. Because of this last year I have grown personally in ways I never imagined and I will use it to make a better life. I changed paths, now walking the road of adulthood. This is exactly what is meant by “life is what you make it.” I feel more like an adult, psychologically if nothing else. Physically, I’ve retained a stick figure physique (big head included) but will be addressing that.
My father died. I say that to myself a lot. It’s very difficult to wrap my mind around and sometimes I feel like he never existed – it’s a painful double edged sword. My daughter was born. I went through hell and back with her mother. I broke my hand while working like someone who makes six figures as my paychecks flat-lined. I went through more personal growth in the last year than I have in the previous 27. The landscape of my life is newer but the rumble of thunder and the pricks of lightning are still heard and seen because this isn’t over yet but I will take this day to look back and acknowledge what I have thus far done. Good for me. Good for my daughter. Good for my family. And good for my company.
I am becoming a master trainer. I am becoming my family’s economic powerhouse. I am becoming a great communicator. I am becoming an inspiration to everyone around me. I am continuing to thrive through every single challenge lying in wait because that’s who I am. I’m made of fire and iron and I’ve made it this far through the most traumatic year of my life with a bigger heart still beating and tenacity that deserves a goddamn trophy. And because of it, I am finding myself. I’m a fortunate man. I’m a happier man at 30.
Beneath the burnished and hardened exterior lay the ashes of the past year. Hollowed out, the deep & endless halls amplify the tiniest sound, though sounds are far and few between. Like a phantom, the fire that burns inside me floats through the halls, throwing a pale light against the formless dark. The sound of labored but steady breathing reaches into the emptiness. There’s nothing here. I’m not who I used to be. I’m a shell, a suit of iron moving through my life looking for a more suitable inhabitant, a new me. I’m tired of being tired, tired of feeling numb. To walk to the surface of this land I walk fares no better, as I’m randomly bludgeoned by projectiles that seem to seek me out passively aggressively.
I am sure none of this makes much sense. If I could paint it I would. I need to keep going, keep walking, keep talking. “Pep talk push-ups”. Let the life in, the love and passion in. I’m tired and I don’t care. If I stop now, I feel I may not be able to continue. This is weakness leaving the body, the psyche. I either turn into a machine until I reconnect with my humanity or I become irrelevant, incompetent and that is something I will not allow. The new city must be built on the ruins of it’s past and that’s just how it goddamn has to be. The alternative is failure. I don’t accept the alternative.
According to Chinese medicine, unresolved grief can “build” in the lungs and trigger symptoms such as the seemingly random and intense wheezing I went through for five weeks last month. I mentioned this to my ma and she explained that from her training and education as a bereavement facilitator and her work in hospice, “breathing is the first and foremost thing affected by grief (the lungs). We take half breaths or unconsciously hold our breath, as if we haven’t made up our mind to live and fully engage in life.” If this is true, it is so fascinating to me that such emotional stress can trigger physical symptoms. It was hell having those breathing attacks but the concept of it is interesting. I was told about this today by an acupuncturist I saw. In light of the fact that for the past ten months I’ve hardly grieved at all due to how busy I’ve been, I believe this could be a possibility.
My blogs used to be humorous. I miss that.
I recall that in the presence of death I have never felt so much love, seen such devotion given, such support lavished on my father and us, his family. A man dies as he lived. How do we live on after losing someone so integral to our life? He wasn’t just my father, he was my mentor and role model. He was the quiet strength that I never took full advantage of but craved and benefitted from whenever I called.
October in New Jersey. Dad’s memorial service. Out from the blue my body began to tremor. My ma spoke into the microphone about my father and tremors turned to shaking. I inhaled slowly, demanding of myself the impossible, that I had better keep my shit together. No sooner had I finished telling myself that did I lose it. My head dropped and my hands covered my mouth and then my face. My stomach twisted and my heart wrenched. I was sitting on a bench with a eulogy for my father in hand. How? Why? My sister put her hand on my back – I was losing my mind, I wanted to scream. I wanted to stop the service, as if shutting it down would deny the fact that my hero was dead. Dead. The word sounds so absolute. And it is. Life would always be the same but I would not.
I delivered his eulogy with a croak in my voice – I didn’t sound like myself to myself. I looked into the crowd and saw two of my best friends, two people who have always opened their hearts and home to me over the years. I knew him since first grade and his girlfriend for years. It took everything I had not to break down and sob. I needed, I wanted someone to hug me and not say a word. I felt my strength waning as I spoke, panic setting in as I neared the end of the eulogy. I flashed back to pulling up to the service in the car. The honor guard waiting. The Patriot Riders waiting. Lawrence and Tonya watching their friend approach his father’s memorial service. My mom barely holding it together, being reminded with each passing second why she was there, the hot pricks of the bitterness of loss nudging her forward through the service with me at her side and her other children in tow. The sound of rifles unleashing in a 21 gun salute, causing me to shake violently, my mom squeezing her eyes shut with every round that went off. I was told it was a beautiful eulogy and I know everyone meant it. I’m glad they thought it was beautiful; it was the most horrific experience of my life.
My brother played the guitar and my mom sang to it to honor my dad. My sister put on a hoop performance for him – I listen to that song she hooped to on loop sometimes for hours if I’m alone, as if it will somehow help me out of this shock. “The Mountain” by Trevor Hall. Way up on the mountain. Mountains. The mountains of Palm Springs, California that towered over Eisenhower Medical Center in California.
The evening of my arrival I walked my Dad through the halls of the hospital. He gripped my forearm and walked with a cane in his other hand. The last time I had seen him he was dressed and could walk on his own. Now he was in a hospital gown and straining to breath as we walked, grimacing from the pain. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t right!! My own father was dying right in front of me, it’s so fucked up. I wanted to take the cancer from him, my daughter was due in June – just over two months away and I knew he wouldn’t be alive to be present at her birth, to be able to enjoy unrestricted access to his new granddaughter. I begged and begged for my father not to be taken from us even though I knew it was just life unfolding.
At the end of our life we have lost so many people we care about and love – how do we survive to that point? We will never be whole again, we live on as mosaics of shattered pieces – and I a new man, a new form that I did not ask for but must live on with. Live on? Food doesn’t have the same taste. Music isn’t what I remember it to be. I pause to take in the world around me and intellectually it all registers but emotionally there is nothing there and it lacks meaning. Familiar places feel foreign. Sometimes I don’t even recognize where I am yet at the same time can move about and get to where I need to be. I am numb.
The only other time I feel like a participant in my life is when I am with my daughter. Her smile, that beautiful smile and her laugh cause a warm rush within my heart. Watching her open and close her hands as she looks right at me and raises her arms – such love! I have no desire other than to lift her into my arms, look into her big beautiful blue eyes and tell her that I love her, that I would move the mountains for her. She wears a lot of bows and headbands with flowers on them. She should. Her middle name is Rose and she’s more beautiful than the finest. I am finally able to provide for her. It took just under a year of unbroken determination, 13+ hour work days, broken bones and sweat to achieve liftoff but god dammit I did it and will continue to. I have almost fully managed to put aside the numbness, the grief while at work. I have to. My Dad worked his ass off and had an unmatched work ethic to provide for us, to support our family and I will make sure I continue to do so for my mija. I am a good father and little M deserves that.
Rarely am I afforded glimpses into my grief. I don’t know whether to fear that or be grateful. I still cannot fully accept that he is gone. It can’t possibly be true. I have too many amazing memories of him for his presence to be replaced with a vacuum, a void. Grief seems so much bigger than mankind, transcendent of it. Grief is a Gemini, it’s twin is love. Love, a quality whose fullness does not depend on us for existence, but whose beautifully speechless nature illuminates our hearts, enriches life and compounds it’s purpose.
I became an adult in 2013. My life preceding that year, though full of uncertainty and the whimsical adventurism of youth was never meant to last. Duh. Any adult could have told me that but until you become one yourself, adulthood never sinks it’s teeth in deep enough for you to grasp until it finally does. My career has taken off after eight months of undeterred tenacity and personal growth and as I reap the benefits and taste the sweetness of it’s fruits, it still seems bland. It’s the grief. It sits like a cold stone absorbing the heat of the sun above me, leaving me in a lukewarm state. I don’t have meltdowns, though I’ve cried a few times when thinking about my Dad. Is it a survival mechanism? I look at pictures of him and immediately go numb, unable to feel anything. I asked my ma (Happily Homeless) about it and from her experience as a bereavement facilitator she told me that sometimes the true depth of grief doesn’t come to the surface until you’re in your second year of it. I don’t think many people are willing to believe that; it’s too inconvenient for their well-intentioned but insensitive insistence that you ‘go back to normal’ so they don’t feel the need to walk on egg shells in your midst. I understand where they’re coming from. Who the hell wants to carry such a burden for years and years? Unfortunately, unless you’re incapable of loving then you are bound to go through the long-winded journey of grief.
I am on the precipice of a custody battle with my daughter’s mother. We are like oil and water; getting along takes far more effort than it should – it always has. Because of a fight we had last week, I have been denied by her the right to see and visit my own daughter, though this comes as no surprise. Since becoming pregnant, she would threaten to remove me from our daughter’s life whenever she became angry with me, only now she has done it. It’s been over a week since I have been able to see or hold her and it is tearing me to pieces. A week may not seem like such a long time to you but as a new father, it has felt like forever. Instead of using these emotions in a destructive way that would only further isolate me from my daughter, I have put all of this energy into taking responsible action and ensuring that my rights are enforced by the state. My ex says she’s not doing this because of how she feels towards me though I feel if that were true, then she’d have no issue with letting me spend time with our daughter. She says she is doing this for our little girl’s benefit – a superficially masked claim that reeks of self-centeredness and spite. I guess not everyone can grow up. Each day is a challenge. I just want to see my mija but I cannot, though my ex claims “I am her father so will always be part of her life”. Her actions prove otherwise, especially considering she only wants me to have two 3 hour visits with my daughter a week – supervised by her mother. How can my daughter benefit from such a minimal presence from me? It’s like listening to a politician talk: zero context and no credibility. I believe in the end, I will have my daughter back but being patient in the meantime is so difficult. I ought to find a father’s support group.
Without warning, the fire of grief burns through my very soul, destroying me and renewing me, it’s cyclical. I’m made of iron and fire. I’m changing. I’m better, I’m stronger. Some days I’m absent-minded and quiet. Other days I don’t recognize myself. And yet on other days I am exactly who my father saw in me the last time he said he loved me and we said goodbye. Grief is no wound that time heals – that is the most well-intentioned and foolish thing I have ever heard. Grief is a force that crushes you under it’s weight and pulls the life from you or it brings forth new life, a new world in which you find an identity more aligned with your highest ideals, one whose foundation is pain and loss but whose towering minarets glimmer with love like a dream without prejudice and preference.
Today is my dad’s memorial service. My heart is ripped apart all over again and the gloomy realization that my dad has died lays on thick like a heavy, wet blanket covered in thorns. How do people smile when grieving like this? It makes me angry that someone so humble, strong, loving, and honorable can be gone and yet my birth father, a man who wasted all of his potential and life will likely live to old age. That is not just! But that is life, cruel as it sometimes can be.
Looking at pictures of him is like looking at a stranger. Who are you? Your absence is so prominent that it makes you seem like you were just a figment of my imagination…..please come back. I am becoming who I was meant to be and I so desperately want you here to see it!
I don’t want to go to the service. I don’t want to grieve. I’m drifting in a cold, black cloud and I detest it. I look at myself I’m the mirror and it’s an empty husk that stares back at me.
I’m in Cleveland attending a leadership conference for my job. The amount of knowledge and inspiration I’ve received in the last day alone makes me want to fly back home and get back to work. I can only imagine what the rest of the week holds.
I was in this same house when my Ma called me to tell me my Dad checked into the hospital with what turned out to be a devastating case of sarcoma cancer. It’s forcing grief. I’m attending my father’s memorial service a week after leaving this leadership conference. I feel very conflicted and don’t want to confront the grief that I know will be drawn to my surface. I haven’t done much working through it since cancer killed him, instead just working nonstop and trying to be a good father. I’m delivering the eulogy for mine.
Consolation doesn’t exist. Grief is not a wound to be patched up. It just exists and I will always miss him with a pain that sears through…all of me. Flashbacks of his first night in hospice as my brother and I held his hand continue to surface – and the emotions along with it. I kept staring at him. The whole time I was in California with him I stared. He was real back then and now only slightly less so in my memories and yet I must daily reckon with reality because he isn’t here anymore. He isn’t real. My heart feels completely covered in bruises and every time it beats it might be better for it to collapse than tolerate the wrenching scream that it releases each time, reminding me that I’m alive without my Dad. That probably sounded pretty dramatic.
Back to work.