by John. John’s oldest & coolest friend died by suicide in 2010.
I can’t remember exactly, but it was probably 3 months or so after she had died…
The chaos had eased, and whatever things a normal adult has to go through were thinkable again. Days and places still almost vibrated with nervous energy and confusion and amazement that I could actually complete a workday or a trip to the grocery store while dragging my fractured spirit along. Certainly nothing was easy, but I was young and arrogant and impressed with myself for being so “together.”
My work schedule had me driving between a few sites daily. In transit, I would listen to my preferred indie rock radio station and chain smoke. This would get me ready to perform for the next few hours. Then I would collapse into my car and repeat.
Where the hell did that reaction come from?
For some reason, just this once, the whining, lovelorn song that came on became immediately intolerable. Without taking my eyes from the road (safety first!), I lost my temper in an instant. Well, it was more like my temper disappeared; I felt it politely step out of my being and wait. I began to insult the heartsick singer with a sneer that rose to a scream:
“Oh, oh my! Oh no, is your heart dismembered? I’m sorry, is your life over? Has it been ruined because some girl doesn’t want to sleep with you? Has your world collapsed? Is this the worst tragedy ever? TELL ME, PLEASE! TELL ME HOW YOUR LIFE IS RUINED CAUSE SOME GIRL WON’T SCREW YOU!”
My attention abruptly noticed this strange parallel hate state, where, divorced from the entire universe and my own conscious mind, I was watching myself punching my poor car’s dashboard. Through glazed eyes, I perceived that my hand hurt and my car would really like the next gear, please.
“Hm,” I punctuated my breakdown.
I tried to shelve this event, but it wore on me
Was I not functional again yet? Was I actually Losing It? What even did that mean? Was dashboard-punching going to be a regular part of my workdays? Since I avoided more serious breakdowns, I eventually shrugged, filed it under “Unanswered Weirdness”, and quit worrying. I nevertheless remembered the surprise it gave me.
Only recently could I give this event some structure or fragment of explanation. Up to that point, I had expected grieving to follow a neat, mathematical arc from horror to “recovery”. I reasoned that at some point in time I would be 35% recovered, and later 50%, and so on, predictably. The idea that every day meant progress was comforting to me. I wanted to chart it on the kind of graph you had to make in math class: continuous, pretty, natural.
It never occurred to me that troughs and collapses would crumple and twist it. The mind and heart can’t follow a schedule or take a determinable path away from tragedy. Our treks towards this mysterious hoped-for state of “New Normal” didn’t always take us upwards.
Now my noble crew of mourners can compare our graphs, and we know the stories behind each other’s jagged lines. We know the stammering phone calls, or the hysterical ones, or the downcast silences, or the fuzzed out nights that traced those shapes. We all have funny looking squiggles now, but it was the only way we could connect the dots.