The Lady of Shallott

‘The web was woven curiously,

The charm is broken utterly,

Draw near and fear not,–this is I,

The Lady of Shallott.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shallott, 1832

A year ago, I spent 10 days travelling Europe–London first to see my eldest brother, and then to Prague to see my youngest brother. From London, we toured the UK countryside. In Prague, I got some much-needed family time. I felt as though I belonged to something. You see, last year was a tough one for me, as I faced a serious illness that not only compromised my body but also my spirit. I was a broken woman, and I recall the feeling of believing I had hit rock bottom, only to become startled by the bottom still falling out from under me. It was regular devastation. My first full day, I arrived at my favorite place on earth, the bench in front of The Lady of Shallott at the Tate Gallery.

My travel journal entry:

Never has a piece of art moved me like The Lady–she halts my breath, stops time, makes me forget any other art exists. I am most in awe of her vulnerability–the raw emotion coming across her face. She is grieving. Not quite resolved, not quite tense. She is still suffering to breathe, close to weeping. It is the pillar of vulnerability for me. I strive to be The Lady, as I feel her pain but don’t have a boat upon which to push myself. My candle, too, is about to go out. Sitting in front of her, every inch of me aches.

I love watching people walking by her, passing her, only to turn around and stop. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, but only because of the fearless vulnerability she shows. I love seeing young women interacting with her, looking back at her as they walk away. She is tough to come to terms with. And yet, she is inside us all…that part of us that we hold onto too tightly. She lets go of it for us. She exhales the pain we seem to choose to keep.

I am still haunted by this passage. I’m haunted and liberated by the grief she displays so openly. It reminds me that grief is something natural, necessary, normal. 

On the 9/23/16 episode of This American Life, Ira Glass shared stories of people who had died and what they said just before they passed. What grief and death remind me to do is live. In the moment. Every day. Feeling it all. 

Feel it all. Grieve the endings, celebrate the beginnings, sit in the middles. Cry when they leave. Yell when they anger you. Fear for their safety. Delight in their pleasures. You never know when those moments are the last you’ll have.

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Moments

You never know what moments will hold the most meaning while you’re living them.

This morning, I awoke from a dream I’ve been playing on repeat for weeks now, always ending in the same place: he opens the door to his old apartment, smiles that huge, goofy smile and says, wide-eyed, “HELLO!” The scene ends and I awake. The blue trimming of the doorway, the peeling paint on the door, the narrow landing near the stairwell, the chattering of others coming from inside the apartment. Of all the moments over the years, that one has become a favorite. Especially now. Especially when that smile is gone; the smile that always seemed to open every locked door in my heart.

Moments. 

Where I fumbled with my airplane seatbelt and we locked eyes.

Moments.

Where I saw tears stream from those beautiful eyes.

Moments.

Where he taught me how to properly pour wine.

Moments.

When I first met his dad.

Moments.

When he first called me out on a lie.

Moments.

When he challenged my feminism.

Moments. So many small memories that seemed insignificant at the time but now seem to be the things I remember best. 

Tonight, a stranger asked me if it was better to have a respectful, thoughtful ending to a romantic relationship or one that cuts you off at the knees. 

My response? 

I would never jeopardize the beautiful memories with someone just because the production of them ends. 

Never take the moments for granted. You never know when they’ll stop occurring.

Letting Go

5 years ago today, my life changed in an instant. It started very similar to the way this morning did: I went to a yoga class prior to heading into work. I recall hurrying into the office, still with my yoga clothes on, as I was going to head out to a little coffee date with my co-worker–an intern with me at the county health department who shared my office with me. I’d gone for 2 years not having an office mate, and I was happily surprised that it was a lovely, thoughtful, kind, funny, brilliant woman I had made friends with in my graduate program. We spent a lot of time talking, sharing stories, getting to know one another, and learning. She was a devoted mother, loving wife, and someone who understood the place from where I come. We shared the same crippling pain. The same stories. We both bonded over Sleater-Kinney (my obsession with them, her having played in a band with them), over crazy and colorful socks and outfits, over experimental punk music, and so much more. She awoke the girl inside of me who loved wearing rainbows and bubbling fountains.

Deanne and I were friends through the public health program, as our passions for transforming the world and really giving back to the place we left coincided perfectly. There was an electricity to her, an infectious quality to her smile, that reminded me of my dear friend Ashley. When we started working in the same office following graduation, our friendship and connection quickly deepened, as she helped me understand the reason why my ex-husband was an addict…that it wasn’t me. She taught me something most people in the United States don’t know: that addiction is a great mask for deep pain. She taught me this repeatedly, even sharing with me her troubles with addiction and self-harm. She told me that her saving grace was her small son, whom she loved dearly and wanted to be a catalyst for change so that he didn’t have to grow up in the world with which she was familiar. Brave, vibrant, passionate, funny Deanne.

Upon returning to my office from yoga, I noticed that my recorder was on my desk. This is the recorder I use for key informant interviews and qualitative research, especially when working on mixed method evaluation. I had loaned it to Deedee for her key informant interviews and case studies for a project she was working on with the health equity council. There was a yellow sticky note on it, reading, “thank you for sharing. xo D”. I waited in the office, checking email and finalizing a grant report for her to come for coffee. For her to come to the office. She never came.

In a text message from our other friend, the third part of the triangle that was my friendship group from graduate school, I read the news that Deanne had taken her own life. She had left behind a wonderful, loving husband and the sweetest 2 year old you’ll ever meet. A 2 year old who will never remember for himself the woman I came to call friend, who I had as a confidant and companion as I embarked on my therapeutic journey. Her encouragement made more of a difference than anyone before, because I truly saw her as a person who had made it through the darkness and into a place where she could cultivate loving relationships and even dream of a world better than the one we had experienced. In such a dark time in my life, she was the light at the end of the tunnel. 5 years ago today, that light was suddenly snuffed.

Deanne’s funeral was the first place I had ever openly grieved. I remember the wave of emotion coming over me and, for the first time, not fighting it as it washed over my entire body. I only knew a couple of people there, and they tried to comfort me in all the ways they knew how. I was inconsolable. I realized early that I was not just grieving for the loss of her…I was simply beginning to grieve all the pain I understood that lived inside of her. I could understand so fundamentally why she did what she did that I lost it. How devastating must all that pain be for one little body…and yet, I have all of the same. One by one, as my dear friends and confidants disappear to the pain, I realize that my little body is simultaneously scared to share the pain with another and also has fewer others with whom to share the pain. The load grows heavier and yet I plod on. And yet I try to process through it so that it doesn’t take me too.

Deanne was a soul sister, and every time I look at her beautiful son, I feel her soul again. Every time he smiles, I feel her alive inside of him. And that wakes me up. I wish she could have held on, I wish she could have asked for help. But I understand where she was, and that place is a place I struggle to reach out from as well. That place where she was is the place that, when shared, I have terrified people to the point of them walking away for good. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel worth it. Too risky. 5 years ago, Deanne taught me I need to wake up and work my ass off to process this pain. 5 years ago, I started to make progress on my therapeutic journey. And 5 years from now, I will be in a place that makes the dark place feel less dim, less consuming, less powerful.

I miss you, DeeDee. I am so glad you are free from this pain, but I wish you knew the pain others have shared with one another over your loss. We miss you, but we are a community. A community who loves your son and husband fiercely. A community that celebrates life and asks for help. A community that no longer shies away from the difficult emotions. A community you created. A community that is better for your child than it was for us. I only wish you could be a part of it. For you, for my gratitude, for my connection to your soul, I light a candle. For you, for his love, for his connection to your soul, your son released balloons into the sky–to try to reach you. You’ve made a difference in our lives. In many ways, you’ve made THE difference in mine.

Love,

Blonde

xoxo