Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Roller Coaster

You might think you understand. Don't be foolish. You don't. I don't care who died - spouse, parents, best friend, dog, whatever. Unless your kid died, you don't fucking get it. 

Sure, maybe you can sympathize. All lives have their share of suffering, and that's relatable. But the depth of the loss of a child is unmatched by any other loss.

Why do I even want to bother trying to paint this horrific picture for you? I don't really know, and hell, you'd be wise not to look at it when it's finished anyway. 

I guess I write about this experience so that maybe you might have some comprehension of why I, and others frantically bailing water from the sinking ship that is the death of a child, behave the way we do. Or maybe I'm just speaking to others like me, trying to reach out and let them know they're not crazy.

Since my daughter died, I've moved to Hawaii, back to the mainland, and now back to Hawaii. Its only been three fucking years, too, not ten. And guess what? I might just move back to the mainland again in six months.

I've had five jobs, not counting the one I had when she died. These were pretty decent jobs, too. I didn't just respond to a "Help Wanted" sign in some storefront. I wrote a cover letter, interviewed - the whole nine yards. Got everyone around me, including myself, all worked up. 

And then I said, "Fuck this" and walked after a few months, or they said, "Fuck you" and sent me walking. Either way, I didn't give a shit as long as I had some new sucker on the hook to pay the bills.

Sound a little crazy? That ain't crazy. Burying a beautiful, energetic, happy child just shy of her sixth birthday is crazy.

Watching her flat line on the operating table. Holding her body that's bloated to twice it's normal size from all the water they pumped into her at the end to try to do God knows what. Sobbing hysterically while nurses scurry around trying not to make eye contact. Looking around the room through your tears, seeing your family, and knowing this is going to fuck everyone's lives up. Now these things are crazy.

So you can shut your holier-than-thou mouth. I'll do whatever the fuck I want. Short of hard drugs that I'm just not into, I'll slap whatever bandage I can on this gaping wound, and you can like it or shove it up your ass. 

I emailed a guy this morning about opening a car dealership. I don't even like cars. Passing fancy?  Maybe. Or maybe you'll see me in a TV ad for a Prius in a few months.

I have this whole idea of only having so many fucks to give down to a science. It's called perspective. And losing your child is the ultimate eye opener in perspective.

All you have after that is time; time to sit and think and think and think like a goddamn loony person. About what you did. About what you didn't do but wish you had. About what you're going to do now.

Most of the time, I can't answer that last one. I'm just flailing around like a blind man caught in a knife fight trying to survive. But I know what I'm not gonna do. 

I'm sure as fuck not gonna fix the numbers on your goddamn spreadsheet or email your stupid list to find out who's coming to the bake sale. Fix 'em yourself motherfucker, and choke on one of those shitty cookies while you're at it. 

I ain't got time for this bullshit. I might be dead tomorrow or later today. Someone I love might be dead. I might have seen them for the last time and not even know it. So fuck you and fuck your fucking busy work.

What the fuck do I look like? Some kid. Nope, 'fraid not. I'm a grown ass man with grown ass man problems and I don't have time to be your bitch.

All this doesn't mean I don't have a few fucks to give. I do. Just don't bother me with your petty bullshit, because my patience is razor thin. 

I care if you're sick. I care if you're fucked up and don't have anyone else to talk to. You know, big stuff. Otherwise, don't bother me. Call your mom if all you wanna do is chat.

I'll just be over here hitting golf balls or squatting; two things that let me live right in the present moment, a brief respite from these whirling thoughts about what went wrong and how we don't really have a damned bit of control over anything.

Simply put, my emotions, and often accompanying behaviors, are just completely unpredictable. I'm liable to be laughing one minute and bawling my eyes out the next or lashing out at whatever hapless victim happens to mosey along at the wrong time.

Here's a good illustration. Since Ruby died, I've developed this weird habit of waving at every baby and toddler I see. I'm stealthy about it, though. I don't want some parent seeing me goo-goo'ing to their kid and freaking out that they just nabbed a pedophile. No lady, I'm not trying to lure your kid into the woods. You're holding the child, for fuck's sakes.

Nope, not even once have I been busted. Busted? Busted for what? Waving to a baby??? Wow, we sure do live in an awesome society!

Anyway, I've waved at literally hundreds of them - even more here in Hawaii because they all have these small, delicate features that remind me of her. The interesting thing is that every single one of them except the ones who are too small to reciprocate common gestures waves back. 

Yep, that's right. They crinkle up their noses and hunker down just a bit as if to say this secret communication will be just between us, and they wave back innocently, like the little angels they are. It gives me back a small piece of her just for a second.

Beautiful story, right? Wrong. Because what follows is that I turn the next street corner with tears in my eyes and rage in my heart. At that moment, all I want to do is hurt the next person who crosses my path - throw them through a glass storefront and let them bleed. 

I never have. I don't think I will. But I don't know for sure. The emotion is present, and it's just as raw now as the day she died.

Right there is a microcosm of what this is like. I hear myself saying it - well, writing it - and I know it doesn't make sense. You wave to a baby, experience the purity and joy of unspoken connection with a child, and want to kill the next person you see??? What. The. Fuck.

To be fair, some of this volatility was already a part of who I am. Before I moved back to Hawaii I was reflecting a bit and took the time to count all the jobs I've had since I left graduate school. I think it came to fifteen, with my shortest tenure being two weeks - guess you could say we got off on the wrong foot there - and my longest being close to six years.

Like all the rest, this latest one may or may not stick for very long. It happened pretty fast, and there's more than meets the eye. I apply for jobs more often than most couples have sex - an average of two a week fifty weeks a year.

Come to think of it, maybe I should try my hand at an interviewing, cover letter writing, and resume prep service.  I'm hell on wheels at getting them; it's the keeping them that eludes me.

Forrest Gump said of Vietnam, "It's a whole other country." Well, this job search thing is a whole other job. I generally take off Christmas and Super Bowl weeks in case you were wondering why fifty weeks and not fifty-two. 
I guess I'm so obsessive about it because I'm never satisfied with any of them and because it always seems like I'm about to be fired. Yes, I'm acutely aware the dissatisfaction and the pink slips are probably positively correlated.
I spray these applications all over the place to whatever catches my fancy, including obviously the occasional to Hawaii. I suppose there was a slightly better than average chance another agency would eventually decide to bite, given my smidgen of local experience.
Conveniently, it happened at a good time, though I was very much on the fence about whether to take it. I just bought a townhouse I like very much and generally also like the Philadelphia area. But, my spider sense was tingling, so I made an appointment to talk with my boss. Sure enough, as I was telling her about the offer in Hawaii - not to leverage it, mind you, but just to see where I stood - she actually interrupted to tell me they were about to "eliminate my position."
Please lady. I'm pretty sure you don't need to be concerned with letting me down gently at this point.  This shit is as common as a cross-dresser in Chinatown. Just trust me; they're really common. Say it together now in your best Trump impersonation... "You're fired!"
Hell, I was even sort of relieved my concerns were justified. At least about this one thing I wasn't a complete crazy person.

My decision was made at that point with a mortgage and no way to pay it without a job. I pulled the resignation letter I'd written before the meeting "just in case" things didn't work out from my folder, handed it to her, and that was that.

Guillotine falling. Blade about to nick the neck. Protagonist wriggles free and narrowly escapes. Crisis averted. Sort of. Renting your new home and moving after five months probably qualifies as a mini-crisis of its own. 
While I don't mind Hawaii, I'm really here more out of necessity than rapture over returning. Meh, par for the course in my new reality.

I've always been a clock-watching gym rat, far more concerned with my PRs than with someone else's bottom line. And I've certainly always loathed the 8-5 cubicle dwelling lifestyle with an hour commute each way. It just seems a miserable way to live, offering no work-life balance and no room for individual creativity and freedom.

Consequently, I've always had some side project going to distract me from the drudgery of it all - an article or a website or a book or an internet dating site troll named guidoincognito. Like many, I just had trouble turning any of those side gigs into enough real money to sustain myself.

I'm like one of the famous brew masters I read about; it might have been the guy from Sierra Nevada. Do tell. How's that again? He said he got fired from every job he ever had. Now you see the similarity, huh?

But it ends there. He also said those failures led him to the only thing he was good at - brewing beer. My failures led me to... more failures. The only thing I know about beer comes from the movie Hell or High Water. Who the hell gets drunk on beer?

So I trudged on with the corporate life, answering to this person and that, ducking into bathrooms even when I didn't have to pee to avoid answering to them, and thinking all the while that I was either smarter than them or more self-aware or that I just didn't fit in very well.

All those feelings related to not fitting in and wasting my time in pointless jobs are just amplified now, like somebody walked into the party and cranked the volume up way too loud. Instead of piddling around in some dead-end gig for a couple years before moving on, I'm headed for the door in six months. 

I'm not just a disgruntled misfit anymore. I'm a genuine outcast who's having trouble fooling anyone into thinking we're similar. We're not. My kid is dead. Yours isn't. The gap is too big to bridge. My old tricks don't work, and I don't have any new ways to fool anyone.

The last couple employers asked me, after a month or two, why I hadn't put up a single decoration. I mumbled something not too convincing about being busy and just not being the decorating sort. Really I was thinking, "Bitch, I got one foot out the door and don't feel like carrying a shoe box with me. That's why there ain't any goddamn pictures of my dead kid splattered on your stupid wall."

I have this nagging thought I can't shake. I wonder if maybe everyone in my life really wouldn't have been better off if I could have died when she did. I can't imagine I'm the only bereaved parent who wonders this.

I'm not saying this for attention, either. I swear on her grave if one of you tools calls a counselor or social worker or whatever and they show up at my door, I'm beating that motherfucker unconscious just for fun. So don't send anyone to check on me. They'll be in a bad way if you do. 

I'm fine, and this is not a goddamn suicide threat. Hear that shit loud and clear. If I was gonna do that, it'd be over already. I sure as shit wouldn't be so stupid and attention seeking as to announce it beforehand.

The reason I wonder if I should have died too is because of how utterly impossible it is to move forward and because of how deeply my inability to do so hurts everyone around me. It'll never happen, though - maybe a little, but certainly not all the way or even to a degree that would make me seem normal. You don't even want to. You just want to sit there on your dead baby's grave and never move until the earth reabsorbs you with her.

That's not really possible, so you trudge forward reluctantly. And others around you can sense that reluctance. They know there's a big part of you that doesn't even want to be here anymore. They know that given the choice you'd go hold your child wherever they are. This knowledge hurts them, and I'm so fucking tired of hurting people.

So you lie to those closest to you about how you're doing rather than just coming right out and hurting them with the knowledge that you're not doing all that great most of the time. Even though I sporadically write about my grief, most of the rest of the time I just smile and say I'm fine.

Those closest to you might know on some level that's not true, but you don't have to say it out loud and remind them of it every damned day. Shhh, just keep quiet and maybe it'll all go away. Of course it doesn't.

There's a line near the end of the great movie A River Runs Through It about never really knowing those we love the most. I'm sure that line applies to the families of many people who are left behind after losing a child. We want them to think we're okay and not worry about us, and perhaps we're even scared they might abandon us if they know the whole truth, so we tell our unconvincing lies.

I write about my grief with the very clear realization that it's not a very self-preserving thing to do; that doing so could alienate me from those I love. Those closest to me could read these rants and say, "Enough is enough. I have to get off this train before he runs it off the tracks with me on it."

Fuck it. I've been rolling the dice, and I'm rolling them again. I want this information out there so that maybe somebody who's really struggling will stumble across it and know they're not alone. They might be nearly alone but not completely. There are others living this nightmare, too.

Nobody talks about what it's really like, at least not that I've found. They gloss it over with platitudes about things getting better with time and perspective. Bullshit. Fuck you. Fuck time and your perspective.

Surely that nonsense came from some textbook and not from anyone who's actually experienced this. Or it's just some dumbass who convinced themselves of whatever psycho babble allowed them to sleep at night.

Enough justifying my motives. Back to all those people I know I'm hurting.

How do you think it feels to be the girlfriend to a guy who'd rather be dead? All you people complaining about fat shaming or whatever slight may have scarred you as a kid should try that one on for size. I bet having a boyfriend who thinks so fondly of you he wishes he was dead is a real kick in the balls to your self-esteem. Sort of makes whining about that fat joke seem a little foolish. 

But hell, y'all know something about what this is like. Most of you are my friends. I bet that's a barrel of laughs, too. You try your best to reach out to me and understand what I'm going through, and what do you get? 

Most of the time, when you stick your hand near this cage, all you get is bitten. You get a surly, thankless son-of-a bitch who writes profanity-laced essays about how you don't get it and never will like he's so smart and has seen so much. "You can't possibly understand! Leave me the hell alone! No wait, come back and try!" Sounds more like a teenage girl than a grown man. 

With my patience as long as a gnat's dick, I'm sure I'd tell that asshole to get lost. You're better people than me; that's for sure.

Try being the mother to a man who doesn't really value his own life anymore. That's probably the worst. Yep, I bet that's just the future mom pictured for her baby when she was holding him protectively in her arms all those years ago.

I can hear her saying that prayer of hope all mothers say when they're sitting alone in the dark of night. "Dear Lord, oh how I hope my precious son grows up to be... lost. Please let him be a man who feels completely out of place in this world you created." Nope, I don't think that's how it goes.

I'm supposed to be offering her comfort in her twilight years. Her work is done. She sacrificed, pinched pennies, sometimes worked two jobs, worried - oh, how that woman worried - and finally finished the job. She raised and educated two children by herself. It's supposed to be her time to relax. There should be nothing else to fix; no more lessons to impart.

But that's not what's happening here at all. I've had the poor woman on pins and needles for three-and-a-half years. I can feel it. She doesn't know what the hell I'm going to say or do next; what outburst might come. How could she? I don't know myself.

When I told her about Hawaii 2.0, bless her heart, she seemed relieved a 5,000-mile move is all it was. "I just want you to be happy" is code for "Don't shoot yourself in the face" here in the Miller family.

For a while there, I'm sure she really did wonder if I might kill myself. I bet she doesn't dare even so much as let her mind wander back there even for a second now, for fear she might think it so. 

"He's past the worst. He's past the worst. He's past the worst." Yeah mom, just keep repeating that mantra and maybe it'll be true. Or maybe not. 

Maybe it's just all the same after your kid dies. There is no better or worse. There's just time passing as time will. Either way, I'm still here. Tick... tock... tick... tock.