My story is that I lost my longtime partner, best friend, messed-up boy, to suicide when we were both 23. We’d been together since we were 19, in a complicated open relationship and sometimes long distance kind of way. In Oregon, in Chicago, in Austria. Mostly in Chicago, in the collective house we lived in, and where I still live now. I’m 27. The past year or so, I think, I might finally be able to say I am healing/healed. Which kind of gives me a whole new identity crisis because I am so used to defining myself by this secret grief.
A year almost exactly before he died, he and I called his family for help because his heroin addiction had grown beyond my understanding, and I found him overdosing, on our floor, in bed in my arms, in the bathroom. We called them for help and his dad came and took him away, which is not what I meant and not what I wanted but I didn’t know what to do. And he quit cold turkey, which must have been terrible. I don’t understand heroin addiction like other people don’t understand grief. I know that it can’t be explained and understood. Anyway the point is that I never saw him again, even though we talked every day. I wasn’t willing to give up my life for someone who couldn’t get his together, so while he was in Oregon with his family, or hopping trains in texas, or whatever the fuck, we spent a year making each other empty promises. My friends assumed we’d broken up and I’d moved on. I dated plenty of other people.
In september 2009, my friend nicole and I were on bike tour on the coast of north carolina, and we ditched our bikes on the mainland to take a ferry to go camp on this tiny undeveloped island with no other people, mangrove trees, cacti in the sand, and fucking wild horses roaming around. Are you kidding me? My 8 year old self’s dreams come true. At night, we went swimming naked in the ocean and the water was glowing with bioluminescent plankton and we could see the milky way and we dried off by a bonfire, reading out loud to each other. Dreamy, right? I had called devin earlier to leave him a “wish you were here” message, so i turned on my phone right before we went to bed to see if he’d called. My only voicemail was from his sister. Just this: “Devin killed himself and I thought you should know.”
I want to spell out every detail of everything right now. That week of my life, everything was so important. But it’s way too much to tell. About an old fling kayaking out to meet us the next morning and us taking mushrooms and hiking all over that tiny island, wading in the sound, finding an old colonial graveyard and watching the sunset and thinking, how could you want to leave this beautiful world. About how I wanted to continue on our trip, on our plans, and nicole gently telling me that we didn’t have to. Like it had never occurred to me to allow grief to creep into my actual outward life, even though it was suffocating me. We called my little sister and she drove 3 hours to pick us up and we swam in the ocean and ate seafood and didn’t talk about it, didn’t talk about it, didn’t talk about it, except when she teased me for being sleepy and I said, dude, being sad is so exhausting, and she nodded.
I don’t know where to go with this email, because I want to write either nothing or everything. I kept my grief hidden and I told only a few people, all our mutual best friends. Three of us met up for dinner at the restaurant where he and all our friends had worked, and spent the first half laughing and talking about work and things as always, and the second half holding each other and sobbing and probably totally disturbing everyone else at the restaurant. Then we left to walk home and had to collapse on the sidewalk again and again. I don’t cry in front of anyone. I don’t usually hug. That night was surreal and raw. The funeral, in central Oregon, totally flattened me. I felt mute and empty and ghostly among his big normally vivacious family. They dealt with the loss by recreating him as a mythical figure, a martyr. I loved him but I wanted to talk about the real him, with all of his flaws.
The days before, I flew into portland and walked around in a daze. I got stuck in imagining what it felt like for him to hold that gun. I have never even held a gun. I don’t know how much it weighs or what the metal feels like on your skin, but it was a strong sharp fantasy. Instead, I stopped in the middle of bridges and wondered what it would feel like to fall through the air. I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t want to live in a world where he did not exist. I resented that one day on the island when he was dead and I didn’t know it, and therefore I was totally wrong about the nature of the world. The bridge thing - it wasn’t about landing or dying. It was about how it would feel for my body to be temporarily suspended in the air, light, finally able to breathe, not stiff and clumsy and dazed as I’d been. I lost 5 friends to suicide in as many years, and I used to get mad knowing that it could never be an option for me, knowing how it feels to be left behind. Utterly understanding why, but still knowing I couldn’t hurt my friends like that.
I think what I’m trying to say about grief is, before you experience it, you think you understand it, because you understand sadness and even terrible depression, and you understand loss, and you understand pain. But grief is different. It’s powerful and consuming and it fucking hurts. I didn’t sleep, or I slept a lot. I decided to develop a drinking problem, but I couldn’t drink. I stayed up late that whole fall, canning and baking. I would be in the kitchen past when all my housemates went to sleep. Making sure I got so exhausted that I would have to fall asleep.
One huge thing I couldn’t understand was why people didn’t spread the word. I told one of my dispatchers (I work as a bike messenger, and devin had worked at the same company), and I thought he would tell everyone else. A few weeks later, he told me the other dispatcher had asked what was up with me lately. I asked, Did you tell him about…?, and he said no. A couple weeks after I came back from north carolina, I realized half of my housemates didn’t know, and the ones who did, didn’t tell them. No one asked me. I invited a close mutual friend out to play pool and partway through the night blurted out, So, uh, you wanna hear something that’s a bummer? and he said, I already heard. So I changed the subject. It was all I wanted to talk about, but I couldn’t.
For the next several years, and even now, I sometimes feel this urge to spill to people i’ve just met. If I care about them, and they don’t know this part of me, it feels like they can’t know me. It’s like trying to give the full context for who you are. Yeah, even now, I feel like only a very few people totally know about the grief I’ve dealt with and how it’s changed me. When I learn that even a slight acquaintance has lost someone, too, I feel intensely attracted to them and want us to tell each other everything. Mostly, I just feel relieved and comfortable around them, even though we don’t talk about it. It’s a truth we both share. In the six months after he died, I dated this boy who was kind of awful for me, in this cool band, and a weirdo which i like, and cute hipbones, but also weird in a way that i didn’t like, and not all that fun. We just didn’t work. We would meet up at 5 AM after we’d both partied separately and, like, pass out together. Blah. I kept sleeping with him because he had lost an ex-girlfriend to suicide. That was about all either of us said about it, but it kept us together. At the same time, I was sleeping with a girl I’d dated in college. She’s posi and mature and doesn’t have risky friends like I do, and she probably didn’t know anything about grief. And I never told her. And that’s why I liked her.
Do you know what I’m saying? How you can’t stop thinking about it, and you kind of wish everyone knew that you were thinking about it all the time, and then they would get why you’re so absent, or so flaky, or so drunk. But you also want no one to know, so they can’t ask you how you’re holding up, with good intentions, and you won’t have to answer them. How everyone is ready for you to have moved on, but it is never soon enough. Even if I can look back now and not wish that he was still here and we were still together, it’s still painful. Mostly I transport back to the day I found out, or the day I called 5 of our friends to tell them, or all the days I could cry on my bike at work but still pop into each office with a smile and no one would even know. I stopped writing finally because everything I wrote twisted around and came back to this same topic of my grief. And I was sick of it.
I am sort of growing past this now, more than I thought I could be. Not past it, just not eaten up by it. More like resigned. And still stunned to know how much hurt or trauma people can carry around inside of them. I’d like to think that it lets me cut people more slack, knowing with certainty that I just don’t know what it is that might be gnawing inside of them. Grief is a strange beast. First it consumes you, then you consume it, encase it in some kind of harder shell and stuff it deep inside you. But it doesn’t leave. I still go mute sometimes if I try and talk out loud about these things. I try and no words come out.
This chick should be co-running the blog.
"…and still stunned to know how much hurt or trauma people can carry around inside of them. I’d like to think that it lets me cut people more slack, knowing with certainty that I just don’t know what it is that might be gnawing inside of them. Grief is a strange beast. First it consumes you, then you consume it, encase it in some kind of harder shell and stuff it deep inside you.”
"…how you can’t stop thinking about it, and you kind of wish everyone knew that you were thinking about it all the time, and then they would get why you’re so absent, or so flaky, or so drunk. But you also want no one to know, so they can’t ask you how you’re holding up, with good intentions, and you won’t have to answer them. How everyone is ready for you to have moved on, but it is never soon enough."
I have had my fair share of un-graceful exits from social events in the past fifteen months. I wanted to leap across many a table and grab someone’s throat and scream “DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I AM FUCKING HURTING” into their face no fewer than one hundred times. I only did that once. I hid in bathroom stalls most of the other times, or else I just got up and left the bar/restaurant/apartment without saying a word.