At 7:21a this morning my mother called me, my phone vibrating, lost in the mess of sheets and cotton blankets on the bed. Lola the cat lifted her head with eyes still closed and faced me with the, Really, Now, Bitch face. NewCat stayed curled up on the pillow, not moving. My thumb swiped to the right and I was speaking my first words of the day to what I assumed was a purse dial. But it wasn’t. I was real and it was bad news. Mike was dead. Those were the words. Mike, he’s dead. Car accident, funeral, dead. A close family friend died in a car accident late last week. It took all those days for the information to get to me. I stated how horrible it was. I asked about his wife. I asked about the funeral. And then I hung up and sat down in a vintage wood rocking chair next to my bed, still pantsless, and stared at the tile floor. I thought about throwing up. I thought about crawling back in bed. Instead I got up, bones weary with heaviness and went about the morning tasks of getting ready for work.What else was there to do.
At work I sat with my mug of hot tea in front of me, black and creamy with almond milk, sweet with honey. I hesitated and typed his name into the internet, afraid what would return. Pictures of the car accident were online. Details about time and place were noted. “Alcohol may have been a factor,” was thrown in so casually. I would lay my life on the line he was 100% sober. I wouldn’t lay my life on the line his wife won’t die of heartache or they will be able to determine something conclusive from the investigation other than he lost control of his vehicle, hit an oncoming suv then slammed into a telephone pole and was ejected from his vehicle and from this earth. Another photo showed his professional headshot, him sitting with a guitar in hand, a mona lisa esque smile on his face. I always assumed he knew things nobody else did. His gentleness always provided a sense of mystery around him. Tears fell from my eyes silently. Fat, hot drops of emotion. A new way for a heart to break.
He was a musician and a gentle man, he spoke softly and his fingers were a genius on the guitar. My dad worshiped him nearly my entire life, envying his ability to take the simple instrument and create magic from it. He was married to a beautiful woman, his high school sweetheart, for over thirty years. They were a deliberately childless couple. She is now alone in this world, with nobody to share the bed with at night.
I am so sorry you went so early. I believe you had more things to do, more lives to touch, more love to spread. Once, on a New Year’s Eve years ago, I drove DD for my parent’s and friends including you. Everybody was wasted in the back of my car and you softly said, I can’t wait to get home and have sex with my wife. It was late and dark and my blush was hidden but I can still hear it, the way you worshiped her, the way you were still so in love. You were so gentle, right down to your hugs and words, not just your tone and volume. You were at all of my graduations, you kissed my forehead and told me you were proud of me. I loved you back even when it went months between us speaking or seeing each other. I lived for the way you cherished both the desert and the ocean. I’ve never seen somebody so at home in both.
I hope it was painless and I hope you got to most of the things you wanted to accomplish. We will love and rally around Vanessa. We will care for her broken heart the best we can. With meals and hugs. With silently sitting and holding a hand. We will let her scream in rage when it’s time for that kind of grief. We will be quietly angry alongside her. This is going to hurt for a long time. I know you’re still here because I understand atoms, I understand the dinosaurs and stars are all still here. Your memories will live in our hearts, in our photo albums, playing beautifully in our music players. I will miss you, Mike. I will miss you and I will love you. You’re still here with me and I’ll keep remembering you.
There are no words to describe heartache. There are no words to describe love. No heartache I’ve experienced has been anything like the loss of your husband, our friend, our mentor. Your love was real and visible. The relationship between you two always made me think I could reach out and touch the love, like it was something strong and sticky in the air. The vulnerability you displayed with him was unlike anything I had seen before. You were the couple I wanted to be my parents growing up. Gently inquisitive, interested, caring. It was all on the surface with you.
I remember the way Mike would look at you, that halo of love was around you.
Your world has just been rocked. It’s been thrown off its axis and yet it continues to keep spinning. The sun sets and rises and you may think the pain is so thick in your chest you may never know how to breathe naturally again. I’m not going to make you promises I don’t know to be true. I can’t say this pain will lessen or you’ll learn to live with it. That’s not the point, anyway. This was a horrible life event. It sucks. I’m so, so, so sorry. You are not alone, though. You are surrounded by love, still. You’ll still be able to smell him on the pillow, to see the indent of his head there until somebody comes along to wash or fluff. He will still fill the closets of your home. Jackets and boots and clothes. He will linger in your home, he will linger in your heart. Your heart will obviously never be the same but your heart loved so fiercely he will always live on in you.
For me it’s only been twelve hours since I heard the news but you, you’re in day six on this hell, to the hour of it happening. Did you feel your heart drop when it happened? Did you feel your world shift on it’s axis then? This hell is so fresh and new for you and I am only twelve hours in and I still want to vomit. Vanessa, I love you. Vanessa, I’m so, so sorry. Vanessa, try to think of it like this. Try to get some comfort that all of Mike’s love that he spread around to all of us, that he so generously spread, is coming back to you. This is his love radiating through our bodies, all back to you. Mike loved you as fiercely as we need oxygen to breath. Let us never forget.
Wear black to a wedding in the desert. Accessorize like a motherfucker.
Because when you feel things slipping out of your control and the moon cycle is just so and your hormones are off kilter from two week periods and anemia is sucking your energy no matter how many iron pills you take. You count your blessings. You remember your recent joys. You don’t give in.
A new bag of ice in the freezer, perfect for opening up the expensive bottle of bourbon.
The intense amount of parsley that has been making it’s way into my fried eggs and toast in the morning.
Not living paycheck to paycheck the first time in six months.
Buying a new pair of heels for a wedding and instead of buying a sensible universal shoe, buying the perfect glittery gold pair of heels for far too much money.
Not having buyer’s remorse.
Understanding my body well enough that when I’m in a shaky and weak handstand I can shift the weight into different muscles to lift and strengthen the pose.
Genuinely wanting to help and contribute, doing so, experiencing the satisfaction as the only thanks I want even though there are so many more thanks being tossed my way.
Fresh bikini waxes, manicures and pedicures.
Having and keeping a perspective that angry, aggressive drivers in traffic no longer do anything to my blood pressure.
Deleting toxic people from my digital life. No more Facebook, no more contacts stored in my phone.
Grilled cheese sandwiches cut at a perfect diagonal for Friday lunch.
Coworkers having a crush on me and while I don’t feel any butterflies, feeling flattered and honored for their attention.
Two perfect cats who love me and live for me more than I ever could know what to do with so I talk to them in French accents and Count Von Count accents and pirate accents.
Clients with the last name of Arriola pronounced as Areola.
Believing, even if it’s only for brief moments in time, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. That I don’t have to know where I’m going to know I’m heading in the right direction.
"The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it."
John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley
This was March.
Steel cuts oats for dinner tonight.
Round 1. Raisins, chinese ginger, nutmeg, grade B maple syrup, buttermilk.
Round 2. Local raw unfiltered honey, buttermilk, applesauce.
So greedy. So full.
Call me an angry feminist.
I need to rant for a minute. Not like my whole life is not the easiest thing in the world. Not like my hard efforts are not returned. I don’t believe in karma, I don’t believe the universe is keeping some tabs on the good and bad we do and repaying it. But I do believe people know when you’re a good person and people like to be around good people. They open doors for you because you exude some peace and happiness they know you’ll be happy to share. So let’s not take this like I am complaining about my life because, really, comeon… I’m not doing the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon getting dysentery and dying. I have food. I have shelter. I have enough money to pay a ridiculous amount a month to go to yoga in a healthy and healing environment. I have people in my life who are giving and loving.
That being said, some days I wish I wasn’t alive today. Those Oregon Trails days in reference to dating sound so much easier. Simpler. Less complicated. Yes, relationships always have been and always will be a challenge but finding a mate, golly, I can’t imagine what it must have been like before today.
Let’s talk specifically because I could rant for days about online dating, the complications of people stating what is important to them but they don’t know what they want really fucks up these endless questions that are supposed to be designed to help you find a mate with matching ideals and morals. But people don’t know what they want! Therapy exists for this very reason. Addictions are fueled by this. Abusive relationships persist. What I’m trying to say is I think people know themselves so much less today than they’ve ever known themselves. Some of it is our perceptions have expanded. Some of it is our opportunities and options have grown beyond our perceptions. And others is people being told they’re special all the time and they fucking believe it! And then lots and lots and lots of it, I truly believe this, is we have so many available distractions that do nothing to better us or help us get to know ourselves better. We’re terrified of pain and growing and changing hurts like a motherfucker. Turns out we never really have to do it. This isn’t the same as our parents and grandparents who repress emotions and have heart attacks that are bankrupting our medical systems.
See how I said I could rant. I did and already I’m off topic. But this is a thing that has been happening my entire life and I know how angry feminist this sounds (and, shudder, those are some fighting words, an insult thrown in the face no matter how pro-gender equality you are, no matter how much you are for rights and closing the gaps and refusing to accept the 77 cents to the dollar in the workforce it’s still a fucking insult and it stings and makes me, ahem, angry when I hear it) but I am so tired of men who do not even try to do things for themselves. More than once in very, very recent memory I have had a male acquaintance, a friend or a relative ask me, So when are you going to bring me xyz? Now, if this was my boss (btw I work for a very pro-women company where every level of management is held by women and mostly by women) asking for a report, I would give them my expected completion date. Cool, I’m an adult who can set healthy boundaries at work and not feel pressured when somebody is checking in to make sure I am on schedule. But of course that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the coworker who comes to my desk and asks, So when are you going to buy and bring me a sandwich from the place I found out you occasionally frequent? When are you going to spend your own money and drive 30 minutes out of your way to deliver it to me is what I hear. I’m talking about the bartender who asks, When are you going to give me that book we talked about that I never before asked to borrow? I hear everything and I roll my eyes.
Look, men, dudes, manchildren. Get. Your. Shit. Together. Never again will I be the person who bends over backwards to deliver a benefit to your extracurricular life, to pad your already padded dollar to my 77 cents, to provide you with the satisfaction that because you are a man and you asked a woman to do something for you and she obediently did so that this is the way it will always be. I roll my eyes and I sigh and sometimes I rant. Sometimes I tell them, get your own fucking sandwich. Sometimes I tell them, I’m not doing shit for you. There’s the store/the library/the fucking door, see to it yourself. Internally I seethe, running through my continued dialogue about how everything about evolution is all wrong. You really think men were the hunters while women were the gatherers? In all likelihood women were the everything and we women were lucky if men would get off their fat asses and start the fire in the morning and hold the babies while we chased after wooly mammoths with spears. Maybe men sat around and made the tools because it involved little movement and little effort. Think about all the way through time. Think about stories your grandparents have told you, how somebody could have been the general, the CEO, the mega honcho boss if his wife had been willing to do the work to get him there. That His Wife Was Willing To Do The Work To Get Him There. Men may have been the face of the workforce but women were there every step of the way making the steps happen. They coordinated and manipulated and planned. In the words of Tina Fey, Bitches get shit done. Evolution was probably dictated by a man and that man was an idiot because what he didn’t see was his brilliant woman was busy brilliantly transcribing and transforming his idiot words into beautiful prose.
Just this very afternoon I got a brag from a male coworker about just how little work he did today. My response to these types of statements are usually wide eyes and resting bitch face. Oh, really, please tell me more interesting and complex ideas and facts about all the ways you’ve skirted “the system” on a Friday. Follow it up with a quick statement about asking me to do something for you and I might just practice deep yoga breath, imagine you walking away to your tiny little insignificant life and then actively focus on practicing Giving People Space To Be Themselves. Then it was the end of the night tonight and a boy offered to drive me home. Because I was tired and cold and even though I knew if I let him do me this solid two mile favor, I should invite him in and give him my number and give him a drink and let him slurp my pussy. Gross, whatever, I know. But I accepted the offer at face value. I let him put my bike in the back of his truck. I let him lift it higher than my muscles would allow. . And then he drove me the quick drive home and he said, I was going to kiss you goodnight. He said that to my face and I rolled my eyes and because I don’t know him that well I let him off the hook. I let him off the hook by not angry feministing at his face. I laughed and gave a generic speech about Friday and walked my bike to my front door while he watched. I let him watch, I didn’t say goodnight, I didn’t ask him in, I didn’t let his friendzoned lips touch mine. The thing is, I’m not going to be delivering my body to you as a prize for being a decent fucking human being. This, by the way, is the friendzone. The friendzone, by the way, is a place where men and women are able to be friends without expecting more sexually by being friendly. I’m sorry this was disappointing to you but, again, console yourself with your dollar to my 77 cents.
These people are not healthy. They are leaches on our society and for some reason, they are the bugs to the porch lights. I’m not a beacon of bright shiny happiness but somehow. Some fucking how. I have become that porch light. The geckos are hanging around looking for the easy meal. Fellas, I used to be the easy meal. I used to be the one preparing for every event, packing extra water and food on hiking trips because I knew a boy would show up unprepared. I would drive forty miles out of my way to provide the best soup to a sick somebody who never once tried to return the favor or thank me. I used to take away large chunks of my life to make these men happy. And now? Now that I’m worried about making me happy and making me healthy and having healthy boundaries on my life with toxic and unhealthy people, now when I say no, even when I say it gently, they’re response to call me a bitch. It’s to call me angry. An angry feminist. Oh, please. Please give me your thoughts on the matter. I would love to hear them.
Portrait of the artist as a young woman.