“You’re the first person I thought of”
is generally the type of plaudit I’d hope to hear after phrases like:
“funniest person ever,”
“most creative individual you know,”
I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time woolgathering — daydreaming over would-be encomiums about who I wish to become someday. I didn’t wish those words to be used in grief. Didn’t want someone to think of me when someone died.
Luckily, by the mercy of a god somewhere, I wasn’t uniquely tied to the tragic incident itself. Even though it wasn’t me, I still feel the weight of the world spinning forward. I feel like those beasts tied down to a tree that suddenly get yanked back when they stray beyond the limits of their rope — I am stricken by this immortalization of time that is a mammoth-sized portion of me.
I find myself adjusting the language about what happened. I am being gentle with myself in ways I didn’t know I could,whispering to myself,
“Who reminds you of those sunsets God seemed to spend extra brushstrokes on?”
“It’s OK, Cris.” (Only she’d call me Cris – it seems like a natural nickname, but I am not Cris to anyone. No one calls me Cris. She did. Nancy called me Cris.)
Looking at the ground and telling her about my day — really telling her. At times I catch myself almost responding for her. The phraseology is ever evolving. I am – with letters & words – coming to terms by customizing the convoluted emotions surrounding it. Like, sometimes I’ll warmly describe a gilded stairway with this blinding pure light leading into Elysium.
Where she’s gently taken by hand. Winged seraphs assisting her in a peaceful transfer — she’s smiling back at me. In other variations, teeth grinding, the whites of my eyes stained in scarlet. Throbbing in anger. Hands pallid white because the fist I make drains them of blood. Followed by a stern
If you’ve ever been mugged before, the feeling that comes with it is startling. Choosing between something of intrinsic value and what may possibly be your life may seem elementary, but hanging in the outskirts of that choice comes with a flurry of emotions in the briefest of moments. I know what it is to have a gun pointed at me. No matter who’s wielding it, or how far from you they are, it feels as if they have this starving impetus in their hands. The sound it makes is crushing, defeating, pusillanimous. When it is over you will go through a period of questioning; what I call the “what if” trials. These trials are vexatious, as they are guilt shaming. As humans, we’re hardwired to revisit things that didn’t go in our favor and use hindsight to further dampen the already fragile version of ourselves that has gone through this trauma. That is how I feel about mental illness: mental illness is a bad guy, for all intents and purposes. Anyone who has ever held a gun at me was a guy, except for this one police officer who was actually a woman, but resembled a guy. So, in this story a mental illness is a he. Mental illness marks down the criteria of a typical mugger: he comes around when you least expect it, takes something from you suddenly, doesn’t announce himself, leaves you questioning “why me?” You soon become a champion for the less fortunate, advocate for gun control, a patron for the feeling of freedom, indemnity and providence. You may even take some self defense classes, arm your keychain with pepper spray, equip your home with motion detecting cameras. However you choose to respond, there’s action to be taken . What’s so puzzling about this is that I wasn’t typically robbed – there wasn’t something of intrinsic value aimed for in this invasion. Yet I do feel like someone is holding a gun to my head, though of course nobody is. I want to do something about it, but what can I do? There is nothing to be (properly) furious about. Does this stopping me from being furious? Absolutely not. I am seething.
After the “what if” stage comes the finger pointing stage, where you search for who to blame. The only reasonable thing to do after contemplating the trillion reasons of your unreasonable what ifs would be to point fingers. This is parallel to becoming the reformist for gun safety. So if you were robbed after your subway stop, you would call for more security at subway stop x, y, z. The lack of security was to blame, you think, so you point the finger. Of course, these fingers may very well point towards yourself, but (spoiler alert) everything traumatic or “bad” that happens to you isn’t your fault – we have to accept that things just happen because they do. While you may have been the target, or important, it isn’t because of you. You just happened to be at the right spot at the wrong time, or in Nancy’s life at one time. Inversely, acceptance is exigent as it is something I’m avoidant towards. I feel these rules are conditional, as if I’m still being held at gunpoint. That’s what he is doing to me. I also struggle with mental illness, so to accept what has happened is unnerving. It is as much a wake up call as it is an agonizing truth, tormenting gospel, a song that is contingent upon whatever exact stage of grief and trauma I am floating towards. To tell you the truth, I hate this. Every day is a home invasion. Every day I suffocate. Every day I relive this trauma.
On my nightstand, there’s a book about trauma. It talks about how trauma lives in the body. It takes refuge, and the means of escape is blocked off, it becomes trapped in there until you do something about it. It isn’t two meditation sessions, drinking water in the morning and monthly sermons. It is a lifelong commitment of interventions, hard truths and healthy routines that carve a path for this poison to leave the body. I feel robbed because I was held down and forced to accept it. Mental illness has robbed me of so many good moments, and painted the pictures in my head with clumped up, gray blobs of nothingness, used its serpent tongue to sputter acid on my canvas, set my garden ablaze. He has robbed me, and many others, I want the reader to understand that this is painful. They are picking up pieces of my diamond-studded heart and walking out the fucking door. This is a daily occurrence. I’m being robbed as I’m writing this.
It doesn’t stop.
I feel like a part of me is rotting. What’s the medical term for when I grab my lower abdomen and check if there’s a gaping hole through my body? There is a black-hole mass taking over me like a cancer. I am sure of it. Whenever I scream I feel things escaping me. I scream ‘why’ until my ears ring and the room world gets put on mute. When I get like this I’d rather be sedated. I fucking hate this godamn feeling.
Occasionally, I’m poetic with the way that I express this feeling, reciting Warm Summer Sun by Mark Twain.
Warm summer sun,
Shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.
“She passed” is another one I use. It has such a gentle ring to it, but the truth remains–
I am in denial. I wake up from dreams nightmares where she texts me “just kidding.” She wants to meet somewhere to explain everything. I am happy she’s alive, but I am fucking furious because she made me feel this unbearable pain. I wake up around 3:39 AM with my heart spilling out of my chest, checking my phone only to find that my brain is doing its thing again.
“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”― Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Slowly falling asleep amidst scream-cries (sometimes my neighbors check on me) and my pillow soaked in my own sadness. Three nights in a row now – it currently occupies one of the top three feelings I don’t want anyone else to ever feel in this life, or the next.
I use this in a variety of languages because I think it is doing the most to raise desperately needed awareness. Someone once told me taking your own life isn’t a commitment you make –you don’t commit suicide, you are a victim of suicide. Suicide is what happens at the end of mental illness if you succumb to it. If it engulfs you. Same way cancer shuts your body down. It’s the same fucking thing. The same way COVID draws your last breath. This is how I interpret it. This is what brings me solace. I will continue to script it like this until the language changes. Until the stigma dwindles into nothing. I need to. You don’t just commit to things like that.
I use this as a way to end whatever I’m saying. It is not my duty to inform anyone of anything at any time. It is something I do on my own accord. If I want to explain, I will. And if I elect not to, then that should be respected.
The day I found out, it had been a week since it happened. I had lived an entire week without knowing anything at all. On the day of, I searched on what happened. I was told what happened. I read a shoddy-looking news article on facebook that told me the details of the suicide. I gloss entirely over the article if I happen to see it, as if I’m ignoring it altogether. Einstein once said he isn’t smarter than the average person, he is simply more curious. It wasn’t his intelligence, more precisely a relentless intent to know why.
Admittedly, I read the facebook comments on the post itself.
Things like “this is what young hollywood does” even in the warmest intention seemed callous, at the very fucking least. At the worst it seemed sickening. I felt the powder of my teeth when I clenched my jaw reading that.
It was just a sea of “rest in peace” and “oh wow, I loved her in (insert show/series here)”. I don’t know what changed, but for the first time my curiosity had hit a wall. I wasn’t eager for information. I was analyzing. For years I’ve been extremely careful on how I ‘offer condolences’. I don’t offer condolences – I offer delicately selected words and honest vulnerability. I want to relay a feeling of intent so honest that the person grieving feels at least a fractional share of support.
I wanted answers on why. I wanted strangers’ perspectives to fill the void. But, I didn’t get that. I got an ocean of what seemed like butter-knife dullness and quizzical tone-deaf monologue. I calmed an overwhelming urge to yell at everybody on the post. I didn’t even fucking know if the post was true or not. I wanted to hurt people’s feelings. I wanted it taken down — to have everybody’s recollection of even reading it wiped from their memories.
I remember a lot of times where I’d cradle her in my arms – almost like a baby. She’d let me, and I wanted to. I didn’t feel forced or awkward – I felt needed and at the same time I wanted to be there. Where she would be vulnerable, and I was willing to listen and selectably safeguard. She’d tell me things and panic, I’d tell her “It’s ok, I’m here, don’t worry.”
We’d both cry.
We’d both fall asleep crying.
I wanted, now, to protect her even if she wasn’t in my arms.
I started a new job last week, to end what has been a tumultuous last year of being in between jobs and having a head injury that no one seems to understand how it’s affecting me. It has been (to say the very fucking least) extremely difficult. Furthermore, starting this new job has been hard. I would have to set aside time for my grieving. Siri, set an alarm for 8:30 labeled grieving, then another alarm for 9 labeled tea time. The world is veering forward. It doesn’t fucking stop. At the time of this writing the planet has moved 444,939 miles. That is length of Earth all around almost nineteen times.
Since then, there has been half a million miles of space travel. The length of twenty Earths have passed. Time isn’t stopping – time isn’t grieving or having moments of silence – and that is fucking scary. Things are still burning, hearts are still breaking. New events keep happening; good, happenstance, tragic events too. There’s an irrepressible buoyancy that exists; we hostage to it. At least I am. I am witnessing events unfolding; events I have to adapt to. I am meeting new people, doing new things. My life is literally traveling past a certain point in time.
To this point, every person I’ve ever met had at least one connection of degree to Nancy. Now, they don’t. At best they’ll have me tell them memories, flaunt pictures, read badly chronicled poetry of what happened between us. It is to say the least, heart-wrenching, or bewitching, however which way you look at it. I am continuing to build the story of my life, and I feel guilty. I come home to newly presented things. In time those things will become commonplace. Yet she won’t ever know these things. People I meet will remind me of her; the other day I walked in our favorite hole-in-the-wall to eat. Ordered the same thing she always ate. Small tasks veer off into dissociation – I’ve burned 4 wooden spoons, broken 3 coffee mugs and have forgotten to eat every day since. There are blood stains on the calendar of the day she passed. Sometimes when I go to sleep crying I can feel someone holding my hand, cradling me, saying “It’s okay, I’m here, don’t worry.”
to whom could I put this question (with any hope of an answer)? does being able to live without someone you loved mean you loved her less than you thought…?”Roland Barthes.
I had just come back from an interview. The past two years have been hell, even without the pandemic. I have had work injuries that have decommissioned me to a point where I’m wondering if I’ll ever hold my (nonexistent) baby in my hands – each detail accentuated by the contrast of my (nonexistent) wife’s blurred visage in the background, teeth smiling and all.
Mild-traumatic brain injury, with a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome. It takes months to feel even semi-normal again (and I’m still going to vestibular therapy). The way it was delineated to me was that my brain’s neurons had bridges that were damaged. And ever since I had my head injury, those bridges were under siege. Because of that, these normal bridges I usually take to “work” (me pouring a bowl of cereal, or doing more intensive tasks like working out) every day weren’t there. They’d have to be rebuilt. My personality would change. My mood would shift, hormones, the way I see, perceive light and sound. The way I’d perceive an individual’s actions would take on new meaning. I felt people wanted me to die. I’d tell my doctors,
All I’d draw was a bewildered “Why?”
“I don’t know. I feel like they want me to die and they’re tired of me. Not even that, maybe they’d be sad for a day. Not even that! OK, a month, but they’d probably be happier. They’d justify my death to move on and gain strength from it. They’d use the roses that grew from my grave as fuel. They’d eat the fruit that grows from my ribs and feed it to their children and they’d become strong. They might even give my name as one of their kids’ middle names, or something. It would be a great story, but I’d be dead. I feel my family doesn’t care if I die. I feel like YOU want me to die. I feel like my brain wants me to go black.
I’d say to break the dense air with a life-saving get out psych-ward-free card. Feeling that they’d lock me up somewhere if I didn’t say I didn’t want to, or didn’t love myself the way they want me to love myself. Or any fucking distinction of a distinguishable human being they had a rubric on with a scorecard to deem one mentally fit or not. Just projecting it enough as a feeling would hopefully warrant some sort of sympathy I needed but didn’t know how to ask for. I wanted people to feel bad for me, to cater to my weakened state. And in that, I thought of Nancy. She would openly talk about death with me. Disclose details with me. Shared what she was going through. Even in my weakness, I found strength in not feeling alone, because I had been on the other side. I had been the doctor that just didn’t understand.
Late at whatever the fuck-o-clock I’d run to the bathroom and dry-heave into the toilet. I’d stop myself from throwing up to trick myself to believe I was getting better. I’d get indignant at the whole fucking ordeal. Anger was harder to control. I got banned from a chess app I’ve used since I was 13 for cursing the opponent out for not responding in time.
Games I played for years banned me for my outbursts. My sex drive would change – I didn’t feel like I had a grasp on myself. Intrusive thoughts – really bizarre ones. I’d fantasize about technological advances that would be made once I was gone from this Earth, I’d try to think of new inventions to supersede the reality of that even happening.
Headaches. Real bad ones. The kind where you hold your head and close your eyes so hard that all you see is complete darkness. My eyes would twitch (they still do). Something about the nerves being overworked. There was a point where the sound of the garbage truck would bring me to my knees – the clanking metal would feel like a jet engine was going off in my living room. During one of my episodes, the weight of the world triturated me into stardust. Life slingshotted me with Jupiter’s gravity into oblivion. I felt like I couldn’t turn to no one. It sounds like such a common thing. We hear it all the time.
I’d curl up into a ball, and say a prayer while falling asleep, drool and pen journals with scribbles about my dark thoughts. I was certain I was dying. There were times where my hands would quite literally seize up, just how her hands did. She would tell me that she couldn’t text much, so we didn’t. She’d abbreviate words and sentences, to the point it looked like code. It was one of the cutest yet saddest things, and I cherished every moment of it because it became this practiced form of morse-affection unique to us. I practiced this gentleness on myself. The one I’d always so easily and readily give to her. I loved Nancy so much – she was delicate to me. I’d nuzzle and caress her, with broken, awkward hugs, embraces that remind me of crackling firewood. I’d tell everyone who had ears about her – and to those that didn’t I’d show my poetry about her. Strangers were my favorite because they seemed the proudest. They’d be so happy that another stanger could discuss such a wonderful person so openly. Their eyes would open up and I’d show pictures of her too, of us, and they’d say,
“Really? No way.”
Irony has a way to be a son of a bitch. One of my best friends- in breaking the news to me received the same text from me:
“really? no way”
There were times my speech slurred. My doctors said that it was a double-sided blade meant to be wielded wrong. It was one of those mornings where I could hear the fog getting denser, and the grass growing. I could see the sunlight bend where otherwise it would feel warm on my skin. And the only person I felt that would listen was Nancy.
There were times where I felt so heavily drawn to her. Even after holding back, trying to postpone that connection we had because I couldn’t fathom ever being vulnerable enough that I would feel like I had to sacrifice something deep within myself. And now it is insufferable. I hear myself crying and it hurts to hear the agony violently ripping out of me. The weight of my inaction has made my eyes heavier than lead. They are nuclear core dense. What could I have done? Why is this happening to me? Why was I afraid to speak up? Why did I feel like I couldn’t find the words when words are exactly the thing I always find?
“I waste at least an hour every day lying in bed. Then I waste time pacing. I waste time thinking. I waste time being quiet and not saying anything because I’m afraid I’ll stutter.”― Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
I can feel my mana separating piece by piece, string by string. Individual strands dissipate into immeasurable emptiness. I am a detective with the sole purpose of finding details of this being a hoax. I want it to be untrue. I want a knock at my door and the view from the eyehole to meet that silly smile. I am foregoing a process of repudiation, living through conspiracy theory. Every day I feel her slowly slipping away. That’s the kind of grief I wish nobody to ever feel. She didn’t just die. She’s still dying to me. I am losing Nancy day by day. I am building a registry of remnants, stockpiling jpeg, .mov, gifs of her. Every day I am losing a piece of Nancy. Maybe I’ll forget something about her, like the exact carrot-stained vermillion we saw in the most charming sunset together over this Ganymede-sized horizon right before she left for Los Angeles.
Perhaps, I’ll move and the red-striped tank-top she used to wear from Old Navy will get lost during the trip. Fall into a thrift shop along the way. Maybe I will sell the car we spent so much time in. Little by little, fragments of my life become a mausoleum of lost and founds.
“There should be a statute of limitation on grief. A rulebook that says it is all right to wake up crying, but only for a month. That after 42 days you will no longer turn with your heart racing, certain you have heard her call out your name. That there will be no fine imposed if you feel the need to clean out her desk; take down her artwork from the refrigerator; turn over a school portrait as you pass – if only because it cuts you fresh again to see it. That it’s okay to measure the time she has been gone, the way we once measured her birthdays.”― Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
I remember one time she hurt my feelings really badly and I just hugged her really hard, I crimped up with her and told her I loved her. There were so many times we’d fall asleep after conversations and these tenderhearted nights of passion. Where five plus five equaled a million and we’d sit far away from each other purposefully and she’d text me, “I could feel you from over here.”
It was this eerily foggy morning and kids were on the bus. Some kids had those 90s jackets on (still). And everyone had some sort of blue hue adjusted into it somehow. I was a boy who kept to himself, especially around girls. I kept a sort of strong demeanor – not intimidating, but I was stoic enough where I felt I wasn’t inviting, even as a sixth grader. It was one of those mornings where the school bus seemed to take about twelve seconds to pick you up and drop you off. I felt a tap on my shoulder –
I looked over and saw this blue jacket worn by a girl.
“Hey. Can I sit here?” She pointed directly to an exact spot on the seat, as if I would’ve said no, or as if she hadn’t taken the stars from my eyes and crushed them in her palm.
I responded shockingly, I also thought I was being tested, or pranked. Something.
“OK, I will!” and she sat. Not hesitant at all. Almost like that was the spot she had wanted exactly, almost like the narrator of my life had started the story of Nancy and Cristian.
“Hi, I’m Nancy. you’re … crrr-?”
It’s not often the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen sits next to you. I’m not entirely sure but I think we had been introduced before, by her friend. The whole interaction seemed planned, I mean there were so many other seats. I still remember trying to sit alone to recreate the scenario. It never really happened again. Either I missed the bus and had to walk, or I think she would get rides from and to school, so my budding friendship was short lived. In any case, we became great friends. When I was 17 I professed my love for her via text on my razor. She went off to college and I went off to work. We started dating in our early twenties, off and on into our mid twenties. We went through a lot. Right before we started dating we snuck into a public pool at 1 in the morning. We stripped down naked, laughed and swam together. It was the best, because it involved trespassing, getting naked, and swimming. The fence was ridiculously high but we found a perfectly balanced construction pallet on top of other bits of discarded building materials and were able to climb over. Nancy in all her humor got stuck on the slightly-barbed public pool fence. “Cris, help, my cooch is stuck,” she laughed, but was worried, because well, her cooch was stuck. Of course, I climbed over, made a perfect landing spot, and pushed her ass and told her to step on my shoulders to climb over. When we got out she looked at me and said, “I knew this would eventually happen.” I looked at her and said, “I’ve wanted it to happen.” It is one of my most cherished memories. My favorite was when she sat next to me. She knew I loved when people sat close to me. Especially if I really love you, sitting uncomfortably close is just so intimate to me (I’m weird, I know, and don’t care). Perhaps if I sit alone, and it’s foggy, and I recreate everything just right, I can feel like she’ll sit next to me again. Perhaps she’ll hold my hand again. Maybe, if I go to our favorite spots, or get the N16 black pepper chow udon noodle special, or set up a picnic in that park where we saw the giant sunset. Maybe I could hear her laugh again. Maybe she’d come back for just a second, enough time for me to say everything I’ve ever wanted to say.
Please check on your friends. Your family. People you love. Please. Please. I’m begging you. I miss her so much.
3 thoughts on “You’re the first person I thought of”
I lost a friend 2 years ago. I found out from an ig post a couple days after it had happened. Reached out to 3 people before I finally got details on how I lost him. I had already lost him a year before that, a fight we had that I walked away from never looked back. I thought I had time to fix things, come back, I always came back. But it was too late this time. Your text message passage reminded me about a dream I had where Diego was alive. He was sitting on a bus, told me the rumors were a lie and he was fine. Then suddenly he got off the bus in a crowd of people without a goodbye. It felt like losing him all over again.
I cried at the end of reading your work.
Reading your work always makes me feel like I am not alone. I only wish that you’d feel the same. In the anger, the sadness, the madness, the grief, the loss, the helplessness, the indignation, the unresignation, you’re not alone. There’s a stranger out there rooting for you.
I struggle with migraines and nerve complications too and it brings me to my knees, tears me apart, kills me, by the second. Yeah and people refuse to understand.
I only hope that some day you will feel like you’re not alone. Meanwhile, feel. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions in their wretched forms. ❤️
Here’s a song for you… Hold Me Like You Used To by Zoe Wees