Grief

When I was in the second grade, I failed a clock-reading test.

“Tell me,” the teacher said, “when one minute has passed.”

I had managed to learn, erroneously, that one minute started when the second hand passed the minute hand, and ended when it passed it again. Sixty-one seconds, not sixty. I was wrong, in a very rigid, seven-year-old way.

Another kid in class insisted a minute had passed when the second hand swept the 12, no matter where you started, and we got into a screaming match. Two incorrect seven-year-olds arguing about a clock. I became…passionate. My parents got a call.

My dad sat me down that night, and I told him what the argument was about.

(Funny how many of these memories seem to feature my dad talking me down.)

He explained that yes, I was wrong, and he showed me why. But he said the other kid was more wrong, because his margin of error was huge, whereas mine was only a single second (and was consistent).

(He may not have used the term “margin of error” when I was seven.)

I suspect somewhere in our conversation he talked to me about my temper, but it’s very possible he didn’t. I have my father’s temper. He would have seen my disproportionate rage as an entirely understandable reaction to the situation; why would he have addressed it?

I like to think I’m a little better than he is, and maybe I am. The truth is, though, I’ve learned to lecture my brain. If something trivial irritates me, I have an inner voice that says “You know perfectly well that’s harmless and irrelevant” or “Nobody is going to listen to you, so don’t waste your energy” or (quite often, really) “You don’t know every damn thing, so maybe shut up unless you’re certain.”

I’ve learned—up to a point—to avoid coming across as an insufferable know-it-all.

I’ve never learned what to do with rage.

We’re in light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel times now with this pandemic. It’s a dangerous moment, really. We see solutions, timelines—some of us have family or friends that have been vaccinated, or have been vaccinated ourselves. Everyone is relieved; everyone wants to celebrate. Everyone wants to go back to normal, and we can’t yet.

It’s infuriating. It’s demoralizing, in a time when we’ve all been so demoralized for so long.

I can’t look past my own strategy here. It’s the only thing I can control. I’ve fought too long to get careless now. I have no idea if our precautions have kept us safe, or if it’s been luck, or some combination. But now is not the time to get careless.

I have dreams of being in a crowd, and realizing belatedly I’m unmasked. I panic. The people around me are cavalier. In the dream, I’m terrified.

In the real world, I forget, sometimes. Never at a point when it’s too late; but I forget. We had our furnace serviced the other day; I very nearly forgot to put on a mask before the technician came in the house. (He was masked. In the large, people around here are diligent about pandemic hygiene.) A couple of times now I’ve gone to pick up take-out, and nearly climbed out of the car without masking up. I’ve never slipped, but it bothers me that my brain is so quick to shuck off this one simple thing.

I’m tired.

We’re all tired.

Grief is a big piece of all this. I was grieving before the pandemic. A lot has gone wrong since 2016, and I’m not just talking about the election. There was my writing career, and losing that was crippling. My parents became ill—both of them, at the same time, with the same thing. The political landscape deadened everything; I know I”m not the only person who struggled with how to survive as well as how to protest in some way that might be effective.

And then the pandemic hit, and it felt so abrupt. I’ve read some of my posts from last year. I start with a sort of good cheer, let’s-stay-positive stance. If you’d told me then that now, nearly a year later, we’d still be in lockdown, that our numbers would be as bad as they are, I’m not sure I’d have been able to believe you.

I know I’d have been enraged. I am enraged.

A few things lately have shifted in a positive direction. We’ve removed the previous administration. That’s helped a little; but the truth is I still fear for this country. So much is out in the open now, and I’d have thought more people would be outraged. Instead, the racism, the oligarchy, the homophobia and misogyny has become explicit, and a massive percentage of my fellow citizens endorse it. That’s depressing. That’s enraging. That, of all the external forces in my life, is well worth becoming enraged over. That little girl needs to keep fighting, because this time the other side’s wrongness isn’t at all benign.

My parents are ill, both at the same time, both with something that requires care not covered by insurance. (That’s a national issue that’s getting worse as dementia gets more prevalent, but that’s an entirely different blog post.) Dementia is terminal, but it’s slow. They’re both still themselves, mostly, and that’s a blessing. But they’ve gone from adult allies, from parents who could still give me advice and commiseration sometimes, to dependents. My heart is broken, and I can’t really think about that. I focus on managing the money and logistics of care, and I avoid the rest of it. I do what I can, and it’s not bloody much, and I don’t like myself much for that.

And I’m trying to write, and the whole endgame of that keeps rushing back. There’s room for it now, you see. When we had an unapologetically fascist administration, the post-mortem of everything that happened around my books seemed silly, trivial. I’ve tried so hard to let it go, to take the lessons that might actually be useful moving forward; but in truth, I’m still grieving what happened. I’m still enraged. The more time that passes, the more clearly I can see the sequence of events, the decisions I should have made differently.

And yes, I’m angriest with myself, because I saw the warning signs and ignored them. I learned too well to listen to the voice that said “Shut up; you don’t know everything” more than the one that said “Yeah, this seems wrong, and has seemed wrong for a while and in a lot of different ways.” I needed that little girl who was enraged about being slightly less wrong than somebody else. She should have kept screaming her head off until somebody listened. I have silenced her for so long, and you know? Sometimes she’s not off by a second at all. Sometimes she’s dead-on right.

Have I said I’m tired?

One of my exes was an alcoholic. He told me an analogy often passed around that defines, in part, alcoholic behaviors: you’re in a room, and someone knocks on the door, and bashes you on the head with a baseball bat. They keep knocking; you keep opening the door; they keep hitting you. And then you open the door, and they’re gone…and you run outside, searching for the guy with the baseball bat to hit you on the head again.

My mind is like that. A few signs of hope on the national level, and I’m chasing down all those other baseball bats. (Why do I think I can write, when I mix metaphors like that?)

It’s a Thing, I know. When there’s hope on the horizon, people start losing the patience they’ve cultivated over time. They let go before it’s safe to do so, because they can taste it, the freedom they’re so desperately missing.

I’m so tired.

I’m so angry.

I’m so sad, and I don’t know when any of that will end.

One thought on “Grief

  1. This is beautifully put, thank you.

    I agree there’s more space now. For me, that space is filled by starting to process the last 5 years. Maybe more productivity is over the horizon, but it’s not nearby yet (or I can’t invite it in yet).

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