trif3cta.

I’m almost 44 years old and I am standing in my kitchen, on the phone with my mother, I am sobbing. My head firmly pressed against a cabinet, she asks what’s wrong. “I’m fucking tiiiiiiiiired” like a toddler short on naps, I bellow “I am so fucking tired of my life getting fucked up because of things that are out of my control” ….. she’s sympathetic and I feel almost guilty to say that to a woman who lost her husband after days of being told not to worry.

In September, which I honestly can’t believe is coming up on a year ago, my father died pretty unexpectedly. Had a little procedure on a Friday and did not wake up. Just like that. I lost my mind for a minute, I made a lot of comments about hurling myself off the roof of a building, I drank tequila out of the bottle in my underwear. I cried, I yelled, I wanted to trade people around me for him. I went back to therapy. I grieved (still do) and worked on healing (still am) …. I crawled out of that dark place, faced the weight gain from what I referred to as my ‘dead dad depression’, I refilled the Xanax and I took a lot, and I mean A LOT of deep breaths …. I finally started feeling like I might feel good again. I felt almost whole and was excited for the next step in my career which was a promotion and my independent licensure …. should be happening in May or June.

March came first though, and that’s when I saw a text message that I shouldn’t have seen.

I was unplugging my then boyfriend’s phone, well, boyfriend sounds like a small word, he wasn’t just some boyfriend, he had been my partner, and what I thought was my greatest love, for 13 years. Anyway, I’m unplugging his charging phone to plug in the toaster as part of a breakfast feast I’m making us when I see the text not meant for my eyes. It wasn’t anything earth shattering, but scandalous for sure. There was crying and talking and arguing and tequila out of the bottle and crying phone calls to my mom and brother and friends from the car, from the porch. There were weeks of rehashing, text messages during work hours, badgering during home hours … that turned into months … and eventually we broke up … and I was, devastated. My heart was shattered and now all the dead dad depression was resurfacing, too.

Hey, at least it was June, something good would be coming.

My licensure application was approved and I was officially an LMHC in mid-June, which also meant I would be promoted at work and given a pretty hefty raise. Someone who had to authorize that was on vacation though, maybe next week. Oh wait, not that week either, actually nobody will be around can you do this and that, too? We hit July and the program where I worked felt less stable than it ever had in the two years I was there. I was witnessing behaviors that shouldn’t be, I had my name put on a report that was inaccurate, I was concerned about the safety and security of the clients, of my licensure that I had worked so hard to earn. My concerns were brushed off, seen as negative and while I loved my job I had to shine a light on the problems before clients fell through the cracks. Resignation.

They say bad things happen in threes:

Dead dad.

Dead relationship.

Dead job.

Three grand events.

A trifecta?

Try fucked up.

confessions of a concession

I’ve talked, and written, a lot about how I made myself small over the years. How I would literally crouch my big body in photos or in groups to not be the largest person, to not call extra attention to myself. I have skipped events and not spoken up, for fear of taking up too much space, too much room.

I don’t do that anymore. Not in what feels like years. Now I fill up any space I am in, I embrace others, I invite discussion, attention, I sprawl myself out wherever it is I feel like I can. I am my authentic self and I push everyone to be. I spend almost every day encouraging adolescent girls to stand tall, to not take the shit, to not be ashamed about their body, to not be dependent on a man, to not make decisions for their lives based on the expectations of those men, to not make themselves small, ever, for anyone.

Imagine my surprise one April morning when I heard my own words to one of these girls, I heard myself saying things that were true, they were honest and heartfelt, and she believed me and hung on every sentence. What a fraud, I remember thinking about myself later in the afternoon. I am talking this talk and not exactly walking the walk, I think that I should be saying these things to myself.

When I met Steve, I was, small internally, but a whole lotta girl on the outside. I had a big mouth and a strong personality but my self-esteem was in the toilet. I didn’t like my body, I had no career prospects, I was financially unattractive and overall just floating (or sinking!) through life. Years before we were together, we first met and spent a few days across a summer hanging out and then we lost touch. He was the one who got away, I searched for him on the internet in it’s clunky early days, I wrote emails to his last known email, I called the old number I had for him.

When he resurfaced in my life, it was like coming up for air. I loved him instantly.

I don’t know what my thought process was like; this is 13 years, eighty pounds, a bankruptcy, a second masters degree, a dead dad and a professional license ago. I didn’t know who I was. We didn’t know who we were.

There were, I know now, things that I expected to have or experience in my life that did not coincide with the things he wanted or expected. I conceded. Unknowingly, unwittingly, but just the same, I moved as an us. I doted, I did the things that would keep us an us. I went along with most things, not out of pressure, honestly, but because why not, why not do XYZ, this is what a relationship is. We called ourselves ‘team awesome’, the ones who didn’t care about petty things, silly things, we went against the grain, non-traditional, cool kids. It was perfect. Until I was sitting across from my therapist processing yet another series of dead dad emotions. I was talking about how I wished my father had the opportunity to have done more these last few years, how life is short, how I hope he didn’t die with regrets … how I don’t want to die with regrets.

I spiraled, briefly.

Who am I? Outside of my relationship? I know what I have accomplished and what I’ve done, but this has been the last dozen years of my life, am I living and loving this life or am I going through the motions? Was I truly anti-things, did my statements reflect my own beliefs, or was I operating as part of a unit, what happened to my loud-mouthed autonomy? When people would ask about our relationship, about marriage or a baby …. we don’t want those things I’d say, or we don’t care about that. Did I care about those things? Did I numb things about myself for acceptance and love? Am I a fraud? Did I force it? Do I swallow it? Do I put it all out there?

What. The. Fuck.

I unraveled, briefly.

I am shining a light on all these parts of myself now, and of my relationship, our relationship. I have begun examining my role in my own disappointment and how that has impacted the relationship, and the person I care so deeply for. I started with one small concession, let’s say, not celebrating a hallmark holiday. I gradually let myself slip through the cracks and I share this not because I am proud, but because in an effort to have what I wanted, keep who I wanted, I made concessions – and they are not the same as compromises. In a relationship, they can be life-altering for both parties, so I guess it’s a cautionary tale of sorts as my deep dive into self-reflection has caused some waves and now we are both holding a flashlight.

Choose yourself first, every time. Not because you’re selfish. Not because you don’t care about another person. Not because you are the only one who matters. But because if you lose yourself, you can’t fully connect with another person, you can’t be authentic. Choose yourself before you give away the pieces, so you aren’t trying to fit them together years later.

You can’t be half of “team awesome” while you’re wearing the “team who the fuck am I?” jersey.

six.

thats how many months its been since my dad took his last breath. the amount of time that’s passed since that awful fucking weekend of waiting and crying and middle of the night phone calls. feels like six days ago, sometimes six hours. sometimes, longer.

rationally, i’ve known that this wasn’t the worst case scenario for my dad, like it was for those of us he left behind. my rational brain knows that we all die, and that my father suffering isn’t fair. emotionally? this is some god damned bullshit and i can’t wrap my head around it. i’m getting better about it, but …

i make a lot – really, ask my coworkers! – of dead dad jokes and references – most of the time they are pretty funny and i know that as tasteless as some think they are, my dad would laugh. and thats what makes me sad; that ill never hear him laugh again. he’ll never leave me another message sharing a joke, he’ll never talk in funny voices or say something goofy or hilariously inappropriate.

i have a voicemail where he tells me a total ”dad joke” and i listen to it at least once a week, sometimes i close my eyes while i listen so its like we’re in the same room. i don’t crack jokes because i think dead parents are funny. i mean, my dead dad was funny …

ya know how people say ”if i don’t laugh, i’ll cry”? its like that.

fisherkid

One of my first memories, or the first that I vividly recall in full, takes place in the hallway of the first house I lived in with my parents. It was a two-family home that they bought with one of my mother’s brothers and his wife. I am not sure if I was so young that I was the only child in the house, or just young enough for there to be a few babies there too. To be honest, there could have been babies and toddlers because I have no idea how old I am.

I’m going to school – library school or kindergarten and I am in a raincoat. In my memory it’s designed like the ones old crusty fisherman wear, and yellow. I’m in the entry way with my mother waiting for the bus to come. I know it’s chilly and the rain hasn’t stopped. I am breathing on the window and rubbing my chubby little fingers through the condensation. I press my face to it, nose pushed up, and pull away only to question my mom. My father is on a business trip and I miss him, I ask her what happens if I die? She is taken aback but I think she begins to speak, only to be cut off by my clarification. What happens if I did before daddy gets home?

I remember crying a little, worrying, not that I would die, or that I would miss anyone, or not see my school friends again. I stood there, red faced and cold, like a Weeble in a raincoat, worried that my father would live a life of misery having lost his only daughter and not made it home to say goodbye.

I feel like there’s no way you’re not going to become an over thinker when you’re barely able to hop up on the toilet alone yet you’re worrying about others coping with your death.  The good news is, I survived every trip my father ever took. Some days I struggle, knowing this last trip he went on is permanent, and there are days I’m sick over having not seen him in the previous months, or called him the night before his procedure … but I am certain that he would not want me to live a life of misery losing my only father and not having made it home to say goodbye.

framinghome

Its been twelve year since I was sick of my waitressing job and not having any real prospects after spending about ten years in America’s Dairyland that I quit my job, packed a couple bags and headed to Massachusetts.

I stayed for about five months learning my way around, waitressing again and headed back to Wisconsin to figure it all out. Six months later, I sold the majority of my bedroom furniture and extras, packed up the rest of my things and headed back to Framingham where I moved into Steve’s apartment.

I’ve been here ever since. It became our apartment. It was small when I got here, and the bigger our lives got, the smaller it has felt. We have been talking about moving some place bigger for about eight years, maybe ten to be honest. Something always came up, or kept us here. We were going to forgo the bigger apartment and buy a home right as the pandemic was booming, so the uncertainty (and market) had us back burner that. Time continued to pass and we realized how much we’d outgrown this space, this neighborhood and honestly – this city.

We found an apartment months ago that was about to have a total makeover, so we’ve been waiting. Getting the progress pictures and the update texts for what seems like a year. Today we picked up the keys and will be moving our things in the next few days.

Exciting.

And somehow, sad.

I’m fresh out of the shower brushing my hair and looking at all of our boxes. ”We’re actually moving. Feels kinda sad” He says ”Yea it does, in a way” and reminisces about when he moved in and whats different with him, and the neighborhood, and the world.

I frown. ”I grew up here” If you know me, you know I didn’t actually grow up here as a kid, but as a person – an adult, this is where I really grew.

I came here eleven years ago with a couple duffle bags, a preoccupation with my weight, no career path, no prospects and a payday loan I haphazardly took out on the dark web the night before I left. I found myself here, in this apartment. The first place I lived without my parents. 1000 miles from my family. I fell in love in this apartment. I found peace with my body and my bank account and I’m building a career. I celebrated life in this apartment. I learned that my father died and then sobbed my way around this apartment. I’ve struggled and I’ve thrived within these walls.

I’m thrilled to be in this place, living this life this way. I always thought I’d be happy to take off and leave Larrabee behind as a faint memory, and I mostly am but it’s bittersweet as we get to moving day, because this is where I grew up.

double d

The afternoon that we learned my father was not going to wake up came after a day and a half of waiting for him to.

So much crying and talking, so many sour patch kids and swigs of tequila.

I remember sitting on the couch, looking like someone who just escaped a pile of rubble. I hadn’t eaten much and didn’t care to, but something in the decisiveness of what was to come cleared my mind enough to drink some water and order a pizza.

Steve had driven me everywhere those few days (and the days after), so he took me to pick up the pizza. As he turned the corner I motioned to the gas station ”pull in here please!” He did, quickly, thinking I was going to be sick or forgot my wallet or there was some emergency he didn’t realize.

Really it was just a donut. The girl at the counter asked how she could help and in my trance like state I said ”I need a donut” and she chuckled ”you need one?” and I didn’t laugh, I said ”Yea, my dad just died, I need a donut”

Her whole face changed, she apologized, told me about losing her mom not that long ago. She place the boston cream donut and pumpkin muffin in the bag and handed it to me. She didn’t let me pay, she asked that I let her do that for me and shared heartfelt sympathy.

I have thought about her, and her kindness every day. I’ve thought about going back to thank her, to let her know what that meant to me. Time passed and it started to seem weird to just pop in looking for her – did sugared up, buzzed and emotionally drained me even remember her name?

Tonight I took a ride with Steve to get gas so he wouldn’t have to get it in the morning. I was in my pajamas but changed my pants incase I wanted to get something. I ran in for a drink while he was pumping the gas and they didn’t have what either of us wanted. I walked back to the door and yelled out to him, we decided on nothing and before I made it back to the car, I saw her.

I went back in and walked up to the counter, where she was closing up and probably hoped I wasn’t a straggling customer. I said ”Hi, i think I’m looking for you, if your name begins with an S” She looked at me exactly the way any of us would look at the person approaching them this way …

”Back in September I came in when my dad died and …” She said ”I gave you donuts” ”YES! I have thought about you so many times, and hoped I’d see you again to thank you for that, for being so kind in one of the worst moments of my life” She smiled, I told her how things got blurry and said you know how grief is, she agreed. She told me her name.

5 months to the (sun)day, I got to say thank you to the stranger who comforted me on the brink of unimaginable grief.

I recently joked that my new mantra would be ‘a donut a day keeps the depression away’ – today it was a donut shop that helped it wane.

Thank you, Savannah.

winds of change

I’m in my pajamas and a pair of boots I stepped out of in the hall when i came in from work. I slid them back a few minutes ago to carry an empty pizza box to the dumpster. It snowed a few days ago, was 12 degrees a day ago and now its 56 and breezy. In mid-February.

It’s weird. Is it spring? Late summer? Early fall?

As I was walking back up the driveway I remembered walking up and down this driveway and around this neighborhood for hours on the phone … with my boss, my brothers, my cousin, an aunt or two, my mom …. in pajamas, with a lump in my throat and the same weird kind of breeze swirling around me, waiting for my dad to wake up.

Ya know when the air just feels different – like something is going to happen? You can’t know if its a good something or bad something … just that something is coming … changing.

I stayed out there for a few minutes, letting the breeze blow my hair into my face and tug at the hem of my pajama top. I just let it wash over me because honestly, a change might do me good.

crying over pea soup

Every now and then I forget that I had weight loss surgery. I mean, I obviously don’t forget, but its been almost eight years now so it isn’t something that I talk about or even think about on a daily basis. What I have never forgotten is the support that I got from the few people who knew I was taking that leap. In fact, I vividly remember it.

Standing in the dusty elevator of my new primary doctors office, detailing the outcome of my first visit to my cousin via texts. Wearing my uniform of snug jeans, flats and a black blouse. Sharing with her, before anyone, that he had referred me to the Weight & Wellness program for a surgery consult. She followed up with kind words and heart emojis.

I remember driving home overwhelmed; Steve waiting at home to hear how things had gone since it was a new doctor and I went with a laundry list of things on top of struggling to lose weight. I remember feeling embarrassed that this seemingly shameful thing I might be embarking on also felt like such a relief. I can practically picture his face, from across the room, looking at me like an idiot about to squander an opportunity. In fact, part of his reaction after a chronological list of weight loss attempts and restrictions and diets that he had witnessed in the time we’d been together was “….you’d be stupid not to do it”

I have a memory of calling my parents and them maybe not fully being on board at first – but I can’t remember the details because before the end of the day, I was walking into the grocery store and my mom called back. We talked about all the ways our weights, or the perceptions we had or thought others had about our weights impacted so many small things in our lives and how exciting things might be on the other end. I remember driving in my dented and rusting car, home from work and talking about it with my dad. I will never not remember him saying “What? Why? You don’t need that, we just saw you, you look good” and me replying about how I felt and him saying “If that’s what you want to do” …. and then booking a flight for my mom to be there with me when it was scheduled. And then when it was postponed a few weeks before over some insurance timelines, he rebooked her flight and he came, too. He slept on an air mattress in our living room, the needles of the Christmas tree inches from his face. He treated me to my last “food funeral” – a meal of poutine and wings at the back corner table of Stones. He even came in the grocery store with me afterward to peruse the selection of Pepperidge Farm cakes in the freezer – and helped me eat one with nothing but forks back in the crowded living room. In the days following, when I could only have liquids, he offered to forgo some local eateries he and mom wanted to try – so I didn’t feel bad, or left out, or… hungry. He bought me an overpriced bowl of pea soup that I sipped.

I scrolled by this picture in my phone tonight. It was in the scads of photos I saved and took screen shots of the week he died. It’s always been a favorite photo of mine – his smile, knowing how happy he was to be there. It’s from the pea soup day, so maybe this memory and this support was part of why I’ve always loved this photo. And if it wasn’t, it certainly is now.

(sub)conscious effort

sometimes it feels like my dad died a few days ago, and other times it feels like it has been too long ago to count the days. neither are true, but both feelings will likely remain until, well, I die I guess.

in the days before he died, when we thought he would wake up, I cried a lot. I drank tequila out of the bottle in my underwear on the couch. I ate my weight in sour patch kids, like a starving savage, shoving my face into the bag to get every last tangy granule of sugar and not being able to taste anything for a week. I talked about who I would “trade” to have my dad back, who was more “deserving” of his fate. I easily worked the stages of grief in and out and back again and then after a trip to Wisconsin, another week of spontaneous crying, extra bed time anxiety meds and two extra sessions with my therapist I went back to work and life, sort of.

It was cry, work, cry, eat, cry, sleep, repeat. Then cry, eat, work, cry at work, eat, sleep, repeat. I cycled through that for a minute but continued to wake, breathe and live. That was my focus, keep my head above water. I had a birthday, made a thanksgiving feast, put up a Christmas tree, had my dads favorite dinner on his birthday, studied for and passed the licensing exam, applied to a PhD program, got promoted and made a lot of really inappropriate “dead dad” comments. I replied with “hanging in there” or “putting one foot in front of the other” whenever anyone asked how I was.

Nothing felt better, or made me feel better, but in an odd way, nothing made me feel worse. I became less reactive and more grounded. I’ve felt slivers of guilt for not being “sad enough” some days, and then for not calling my father the night before his procedure or for not laying down and letting the grief swallow me whole. It didn’t just happen though, as I came to realize when talking with my therapist tonight, these things I did, or didn’t do served a purpose. I thought aloud, what was the function of these behaviors …? To escape, to avoid the possibility of being consumed by grief. I spoke about how doing anything other than living my life in the way I had been, in the way I was working toward, seemed, for lack of a better word, disrespectful to my father. This person who did everything in his power to make sure that I had every thing I needed and wanted in life, who would give his last anything for anyone, this man who deserved so much more than he ever got – I’d honor that by laying in bed? By halting my budding career? Sabotaging my health with food or booze? Wallowing in the sadness of what could have or should have been? Absolutely not.

The thing that I had grown up imagining as one of the worst things that could ever happen to me, happened, and I survived it. I referred to myself over those weeks as a “garbage person with a broken brain” … but I was consciously (or subconsciously) making an effort. An effort to live, to continue, to treat my grief as a gift. A suit of teflon against the world; allowing anything after this – future painful outcomes or disappointments to slide off my shoulders.

whirring.

My dad died.

Unexpectedly. Almost three weeks ago. Not even three weeks ago.

There’s been crying, cursing and yelling. There’s been tequila in my underwear on the couch and comments about people I would trade for my dad. I have been fine; I am good in a crisis, I am a professional. But maybe not for myself. There is a constant underlying swirl of feelings, so many mixed, odd feelings. They are not on the surface, but they are there. Buzzing in my chest .. fluttering in my belly.

I’m waiting for the explosion. I’m waiting to lose my shit on some unsuspecting person, to cry so hard for so long that I don’t think I will be able to recover from it, to fall to my knees in a Target when my distracted brain zaps me with the memory that my dad is dead and not just 1000 miles away at his place. I don’t want it to happen, but also, why hasn’t it happened? Why am I not limp and one with my bed; how am I waking up and putting clothes on (barely showering, sure), I made a pot of soup, I bought paper towels and went to the post office. It’s just a deep churning feeling, like anxiety in high gear, but no release. Just the low whirring of emotions within me.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I took a class on grief and loss, what do I remember, what can I recall … maybe I am doing grieving wrong…

Or maybe my grief is a sound machine like I keep in my office. A low hum that protects me. A quiet flutter that keeps the world from distracting me from my memories with my dad, blocks out their voices so I can remember his, keeps me calm in my sadness. Maybe it’s the soft noise that protects me from the sadness when I have to function, when I need to put one foot in front of the other and carry on. Maybe there is no explosion coming, maybe it’s just me and a soothing vibration that keeps me even – let’s me be sad if I need to, but reminds me to live.

My dad died and my grief is a sound machine.