Why, December, nice to see you again, you rat bastard.
I wish I had something wise to say as we enter December. My daughter died this month. I don't know the date so I just make it the 21st, Winter Solstice, the day I found out she was dead. It was the longest night of my life. So long, in fact, I feel like it is still going on and on and on and on. Her death created this wormhole in my life, continually and frequently teleporting me to whichever is the winteriest pole, where the cold, dark night and I become one.
In this way, I understand and love this darkness and cold. The world grieves. That is what it feels like, the world is grieving with me. And I have come to love this time of year. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I have never stopped loving this time of year. It is sad and dark, and also, there is joy here, in the nooks and crannies of my life. Lucia was also born two years ago, and I kissed her nose. I lifted her eyelids, and loved her. Lucia's birth, despite her death, was beautiful. Kind and beautiful and holy. I touch that when I touch the grief and I touch this time. It feels like yesterday, or as the poem* says, "No, it feels like today."
My grief feels so strange right now. Not quite there and not quite gone, like an emotional ghost. I can see and feel it, but I don't always trust what it is. I haven't broken down yet this season, not yet crumpled, but I will. Grief's gutting feels like it left permanent visible scars. Remember when I almost cut my finger off? It healed. Well, kind of. It is always numb. And sometimes the nerve damages causes the neurons to misfire and sending shooting pains through the strange jagged bubbled scar. I can't use the finger for delicate work, like squeezing things, or pushing needles into felt, or scraping stickers off of things, but it is still there. And for the big work of cooking, typing and cleaning, the finger is like all the others. A bit clumsy and awkward, but there.
I see the ugly, angry scar, though. Maybe you wouldn't notice it. Not everyone does. Lucy's death feels like part of me was cut off and reattached, but doesn't quite work the same way. Maybe I will never be nice again. Maybe I have to stop blaming that on Lucia's death. Maybe I just have to accept that I am bitchy and bossy and grouchy and angry. I just miss normal. Not new normal. Not new Angie. The one that used to get your jokes and forgive you your weakness. The light one. And yet, I also like me now. And I am still like me. A kind of me. Or more me. I feel more authentic, maybe because I am now unapologetically bitchy and bossy and grouchy and grumpy and angry some moments, but most of the other ones, I am curious and creative and funny and silly and in love with life.
There is a freedom in this space of pure vulnerability. There is a quote my friend Fisher once said to me, "A warrior is not about invulnerability. He's about absolute vulnerability." I later realized this was from the Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which made me cringe a bit. But the wisdom is still there. This is it, people. This is what was behind the smile and the fear of rejection. Really, if this is the worst that I am, maybe that is okay. Maybe it is okay.
I had a very low-key Thanksgiving. Just my mom and stepfather, my cousin and her daughter. My husband and the kids. We ate and changed into stretchy pants to eat more. My rail of a thirteen year old niece apparently must eat every two hours, and so we had second and third dinner. And second and third dessert. She made off with my new netbook earlier in the' day and it was blaring pop music and she somehow designed her own MyFace search engine to show her friends on-line as well as simultaneously watch a video of a skinny little thing singing her heart out and watch You Tube videos of paranormal activity. There was so much going on it looked like the NORAD in WarGames, which I realize dates me to Pre-Mouse Times (PMT) since Matthew Broderick started a nuclear war with the arrow keys. No, really.
"How are you making my crappy little netbook do all of that?"
"Oooooh my GAWD, Aaaaangie. Seriously?"
"Who is that?"
"Are you serious? You aren't serious, right?" I look at her mother, my cousin.
"Who is that? Come on, Ani, raise my cool quotient here. Rescue me."
"Ooooooooh my Gawd it is Taylor Swift. Hello. Geeeesh, how could you not know who Taylor Swift is?"
"Because I am thiry-six."
"You have heard of her, right?" I look at my husband and mouth, "Help me." He opens another beer and shields our daughter's ears from the music.
"OMG, you can't be serious right now. Kayne West interrupted her at the Grammys. Hello?!?"
And so it goes. She asked me how I think of things to write, and then she said that that was really really cool, then followed it up by telling me that my painting was kind of lame. She told me she wants to be a doctor who doesn't have to see blood. "Sam," she screamed across the room, "Can I be a doctor that never sees blood?" We watched movie previews On-Demand, and actually agreed that Ashton Kutcher was the hottest male alive. (He really kind of is. Still, Johnny Depp, call me.) She kissed Thomas Harry and told him he was going to be a heartbreaker when he was in ninth grade, which made me feel like a mother. When she left the next morning, teenagers scared me a little less. And I looked at my kids and thought about how different it can be for them than it was for me. Teenage years don't have to be the same thing as it was for Sam and I--tragedy after tragedy, alienation, running away and sadness.And it also made me terribly sad to think about Lucia not being a teenager.
I finished up my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) novel and my Art EveryDay Month project, which felt good. I never thought about what the last day of the month was going to feel like. Isn't that odd? I never considered the end. I just kept writing and arting, and then it was done. I joined things in November out of fear, I think. Fear of December. Fear of my idle mind, and entering two years. It was much easier than I thought to write 1600 words a day when I was avoiding thinking about Lucia's death and how much I have lost in two years time. Since Lucy died, blogging has given me discipline with my writing and compelled me to keep exploring and writing, then creating art every day. It rarely feels like a chore. And so, the discipline is something I am good at, I guess, setting goals and accomplishing them. Plus, it is a story without grief. I wrote fifty thousand words that had nothing to do with daughter death or grief and that feels like a victory in and of itself. Maybe the manic doing helped me just not feel the impending birthday. I don't know. Now that December is here, I keep expecting it to floor me, gut me again, leave me half a person on the floor. Maybe I shouldn't overanalyze it. I just wrote a novel, and painted an entire book of paintings. Those are good things.
During this last week of NaNoWriMo, my mother and husband watched and played with the children while I sat at my netbook and wrote and wrote and erased and fucked off, and wrote again. They let me run off to cafes to write. They cheered me on. My husband and I even managed to squeeze an afternoon date-type thing in where we visited an olive oil and balsamic vinegar taproom, which was one of those mind-blowing experiences you never knew you wanted to have, and the Moravian Bookstore, which always manages to get me in the mood for Christmas whether I want to be or not, but let's be honest here, I was already in the mood for the holidays. I still like Christmas and Thanksgiving. I really do. I don't feel the grief because of the holiday. I feel the grief because my daughter died.
By all rights, I should boycott the hell of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Almost every person I have loved who has died has died between those two holidays: my grandfather, my only paternal aunt (in her 40s no less), my grandmother, my father-in-law and my daughter. My birthday is also very soon after Christmas and also happens to be Lucy's due date. Yes, Lucy and I shared a theoretical birthday for the nine months and two weeks before she died.
Still, I actually love the holidays despite the grief. Or maybe, as I said earlier, it is that winter feels like the world is grieving. Maybe it is just the fact that I have to surrender it up. I am not in control. Not that I ever thought I was, but I have just come to a place of acceptance that the days around the holidays are just days. They are just days like all the rest where people's kids die and their grandparents, and it ruins Christmases. But it hasn't traumatized the music/cookie/tree/present thing for me. I remember when my grandmother died, my grandfather kept all the Christmas stuff up in his house until the following Christmas. It was as though the whole house froze. Every year, he would put everything up a bit earlier than the year before. It was like he could feel her in the celebrating. Don't get me wrong I had a terribly horrible Christmas in 2008 and felt like I would never love Christmas again. Last year, I cocooned, and this year I will as well. I can say that I just try to be present. It will be bad at times, no doubt, it will be traumatic, but until it is, I am going to sprinkle red and green bolitas on cookies, stock my daughter's advent calendar and enjoy the moments. Because right now, I just want to look at the month as a series of moments without judgment. Not good. Not bad. Just moments.
*After Labor Day
by Sydney Lea.
(This is just the first stanza .)
Your son is seven years dead.
"But it seems," I said, seeing your face
buckle in mid-conversation
as over the fields come winging the trebles
of children at holiday play -
I said, "But it seems like yesterday."
"No," you said,