Sunday, May 09, 2021

the motherless wilds

I would never have described myself as lonely. There were years where things like moves and job changes uprooted me. Where I made really bad romantic decisions that did not (could not) work out.  There's a Sara Bareilles song from the Waitress soundtrack with the lyrics I was obsessed with for a bit a few years with a line about being lonely most of the time. I loved the song and sung it aloud often, but that line seemed like a sad, but relatively unfamiliar concept.  Despite (or because) of near-pathological introversion, it's a word I never would have used to describe myself, even at my most friendless, my most single or my most isolated. When I wanted company, I could find it.  When I didn't, I was completely comfortable with my own. While there were hundred words I would have used to describe myself, that was the farthest from my mind..even in new cities, new places. I tend to go places alone--movies, poetry readings, restaurants-- more than I do with friends or coupled up and I like this sort of freedom. 

But, suddenly, my mother's death was like this hole that sucked all the air out of my sails and left me floundering.  Suddenly, loneliness was like this palpable thing that I'd never had before. Someone in the months afterwards described grief like a ball inside a box, sometimes it was pressing whole up against you, but sometimes it was just rattling around inside and this seemed like a good description for how some days were terrible and others, only slightly unpleasant. But loneliness was altogether different.  It wasn't the ball in the box.  Or maybe it was the box itself. Something that had once been full and unnoticable, but now was yawning and gaping and empty. 

I did not live in the same city as my parents, so actually physically saw my mother at most 4-5 times a year for any stretch of time.  We talked twice a week, sometimes longer calls, sometimes shorter ones.  We occasionally took trips together or weekends in Wisconsin.  They'd visit occasionally for the day in the city for basketball games and zoo trips.  I think how terrible it must be to live near your parents and then lose them, to have them in your life and then gone on a daily basis and it seems so much harder.  After she died, my life on the surface went on mostly unchanged in the city and this was part of what made it more bearable, but also more surreal. More unreal.  It took almost a year for the dreams of her to stop--her not realizing she was gone at all until I said it. My own crushing realization over and over again while I slept.   It still happens sometimes even now, though her appearances are more often less remarked upon. She's just there, neither alive nor dead, but somewhere in between. 

I eventually discovered that the saddest moments were not in the house where she lived and lived no more, even with her ashes prominently displayed in an urn on the fireplace and many of the things she loved littered about.  The garden she worked hard to make lovely every year. There I still felt close to her somehow. The house still smells like her, even though my dad is not the type to burn candles and scented things, so  it must be burned into the walls and furniture.  But the worst of it was more in social situations where she would have carried and dominated the conversation. That was the yawning, gaping hole.  The absence I felt most acutely. To the point that I longed to avoid holidays and parties (and truthfully, when covid was happening, it was kind of a relief to see no one but my dad and sister for a whole year.) 

So what to do with this lonely..I don't know. I still have ample family and friends and a sound relationship, but none of it does anything but amplify that emptiness and make it all the more noticeable.  If I were lonely in general, it would be just a part of the texture of my life, or something I could fix, but ultimately this is something unfixable.  Something I'm not even sure I articulate very well or at all.  

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