In one of my favorite Laurel and Hardy short films, Stan Laurel keeps wringing out a pair of Oliver Hardy’s pants. By wringing, I mean, putting it through a 1930’s clothing wringer with a crank. The thing is, each time he cranks the pants through, they end up back in the tub of water, soaking wet again.
That’s what my 2021 was like. I felt like I went through that wringer a lot. There was some sense that I had it all together, that I might be going the "right" way and then I would drop, or fall rather, into a pool of grief. So much grief. So deep, so...wet. I cried so many tears this year I bet I could’ve filled up Oliver Hardy’s washing tub.
But 2021 was also the year I befriended my grief. As it chased me around, I tried to get away from it by numbing it with a glass of wine or two, or by scrolling mindlessly on social media. But it would always catch up with me, like a good friend indeed.
When I met it and gave it some space and some listening, it would crash through me, this biting cold sorrow with an edge of fire. It tells me I’ve lost. I’ve failed. I can never get it back. But it also tells me I’ve loved. I’ve lived. And I’ve experienced something of beauty and now it’s over. All that’s left are pictures and impressions; a sense of the dark negative, carved out by the light of existence. Grief makes such poetry in me.
When my father died 13 months ago, I realized I lost my oldest friend. A few days after he was cremated I went into his closet and got out his flannel blue plaid shirt, held it against my cheek to feel its softness, smell it and cry. His essence lingered in the fabric. And I remembered how he wore that shirt on those late fall days at Fichter Florist, as he tended to the hundreds of Euphorbia pulcherrima plants, commonly known as Pointsetta, that he grew. I walked out into the sea of red, the smell of soil and gypsum penetrating my nose, to give him a cup of coffee. As I handed him the brew, he stood there, surveying, or maybe worrying, or maybe feeling that fertile silence that comes when you are immersed in something beautiful.
When my lover suddenly stopped sleeping for weeks at a time, racked by electrical pains all over his body, I went numb with fear. We were told that the medicine he was on for 12 years to control the symptoms of this neurological disorder no longer worked, and that it was actually worsening his symptoms. I wanted to fix it, I wanted with all of my might and will and love to stop his pain. When everything I tried to do seemed to fail, I surrendered to the unknown. I stayed up with him for countless nights, worrying about who we would become and fearing for his life, while he went through pharmaceutical withdrawal so horrifying I will never forget. And we grieved together by remembering the days we spent lying in each others arms in India, quiet and restful, our hearts alive with joy.
Remembering is so sublime and delicate. I’m so grateful for this grief, putting me so profoundly in touch with the past. With the wild living I’ve done. With the fine messes I’ve gotten myself into. With the incomplete feelings. This past year I’ve felt at times buried by memories, and the only way to emerge out is to allow them to surface one by one, and have a good cry, or a fantastic rage or a belly laugh, or let them take me to the page, to write.