When E. was alive (I force myself to write that to test whether I can stand to say it), I rarely felt like writing and so I let this blog linger. It was a happy time, and I didn’t have many complexities to unravel. Parenting him was easy. His illness made his needs very obvious, and his blissful compatibility with Tim made me secondary. The three of us acquired an uncomplicated rhythm, though that would seem most unlikely to an outsider, who would surely overestimate the impact of his near-constant state of crisis. Being with him was like driving on a very bumpy dirt road in a very beautiful part of the world. Once you learned to settle your stomach and stopped wishing the pavement were smooth, you learned to move with the rough motion of the road and enjoy the sun. Which is to say: we were merry together, through psychiatric group homes and hospitals, through two stints in jail, and one period where he insisted he preferred to be homeless and sleep in the park in a rainstorm. I am not being flip or ironic when I say that life with him was fun.
I’ve rarely been secondary in our house; I have a dominant personality and a forcefulness that Tim has kindly allowed to govern many of our life choices, though he’s the one who carries the dares through most of the time. Being second-in-command during our time with E was relaxing for me, like a long vacation of the will. I had developed the habit of playing basketball on Sunday mornings then visiting the car wash and the nail salon in the afternoon because I wasn’t needed at home. When E began living with us part-time, I hadn’t been superfluous in years; to the contrary, when T was in high school, and then later in rehab, it was hard for me to find time to go to the bathroom, much less a nail salon. But E was different and though he loved me, he didn’t need me.
Starting just a few months ago, I embellished my Sunday habit by not going right inside the house when I came home. I’d go out to the garden instead, and if I found Tim and E together there, we’d hang out, but if they were inside, I would watch them through the windows. On one such occasion a few months ago, I peeked over the kitchen ledge and caught them brewing beer together in the kitchen. E was sitting on the floor, sprawled out, leaning up against the wall and Tim was leaning on the counter and there were hops boiling in water on the stove and they were both laughing, probably about nothing, or at least not anything they could explain to me. They saw me and waved, but they didn’t stop what they were doing or come outside because they were engrossed in each other and they were accustomed to me dancing around the fringes. Standing there looking at them was like seeing a movie that I would love to watch over and over every day for the rest of my life, and even at the time, I knew that I was recording it to memory on purpose.
It’s my nature to be an observer, so I felt very much myself at home during this interlude in our lives. At work, I have a public self that is outgoing and organized and I am often the one who ends up in charge of things, because for whatever reason, I’ve always been that obnoxious kind of person. Even in my friendships, I find it hard to relax and I feel pressured to buoy other people. But in my private life, I’m much looser, introverted and introspective, and I like to entertain ambiguities. I prefer not to talk, unless it’s to Tim, but I do like to write. And my private self needs a lot more prime time right now than it used to.
For the last two months as we absorb the shock of losing E, I wanted to write about it at various times but I felt it would be unseemly. There is nothing I can say that can capture our feeling for him or the depth of his spirit. But I crave writing anyway, even when it’s cheap comfort, because I am cast out of the happiness I had when I was quite willingly the third wheel and I feel thrown back into a sea of need which includes my own, but also Tim’s and T’s. Everyone in my house is grieving hard. Even the dog is looking for E.
My public self is disturbingly intact and appears to bear less relation to my inner self than usual; I went back to work after one week, and after about three, people stopped acting awkward and making crude expressions of condolence tinged with misunderstanding, and I just got on with the routine of running things. I even took a business trip, though I took T with me because I couldn’t stand to have him out of my sight, and I suspect he felt the same about me, and anyway, it was an excuse to visit my favorite uncle.
But within my family and my household, everything has changed, as if someone came into our home in the night and moved all our furniture, took all our clothes, and replaced everything familiar. Or, more to the point, as if our minds and our bodies inhabit two different worlds, as if we move among familiar objects but when we touch them there is only nothing, while by contrast, we are wracked by sensations the cause of which we cannot see. A few days ago T texted Tim in agony, saying he couldn’t believe that E is gone because “he wouldn’t leave me like this.” We don’t cry often, and we don’t stop living, but all three of us individually are pointing in two directions at once, toward the ordinariness of today and toward exquisite infinity of death.
I am sure we grieve as a consequence of loving and in proportion to the attachment and intimacy we have with the lost person. For that reason, I don’t find grief ugly. I don’t even wish that it would end quickly. But I do, for the first time in my life, find myself deliberately refusing to think about him. Every morning for the last eight weeks, I wake up happy and relaxed with a sense that something is eluding me, and then over the course of several seconds I remember what it is that I forgot, which is that he died. In that moment I feel the superficial animal consciousness that drives me to pursue food and shelter and shiny objects come face-to-face with my soul and step politely aside to let it pass, hoping that it stays mostly quiet for the rest of the day.
I don’t want to talk to anyone right now. Once the workday ends, I go straight home. I am avoiding both of my book clubs; I don’t have the endurance for lengthy discussions about other people’s plots and problems, and the most casual comment can suddenly inflict great pain and slam me up against the limit of my tolerance. I want to be alone with my thoughts or those of the only two people whom I trust loved E even more than I did. I don’t want my head filled with other people’s words. I don’t want to watch their faces when I can still very easily replay the expressiveness of his in my mind’s eye. And so I’m back to writing, private conversations with myself.