May 31, 2009

I Promise To

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:42 pm by jlp412

In this strange post-two month haze after Trisha’s death, things are blurrier. Some days I feel her loss so fresh it’s as if I just got off the plane from her funeral. Other days I look at a photo or share a story of her as if she’s merely traveling, due back any day now. I don’t like this phase, where her absence feels fleeting rather than permanent, where my emotions aren’t as raw and ready to react anew to her cruel and premature departure from this world and they sometimes rest numbed rather than primed for feeling. This phase feels so disconnected and chaotic that I don’t know what it is supposed to be teaching me and how I am supposed to be moving on. So I need to make a promise to Trisha; to never forget all she did when she was here and to transform the strange trail of my mourning into something meaningful.

Trisha,

I promise to remember you –

to gather friends to retell stories we’ve all heard before so the details don’t escape us;

to write here;

to make a scrapbook for your family;

to run a half marathon in Chicago;

to always take a moment when we are all together to toast to you, share stories of you, mourn you;

I promise to remember you even when it’s easier to forget.

I promise to live with more vibrancy –

to say “yes” more often at the chance to see a friend even when I’m tired or stressed or tempted to push it off until the next time;

to marvel at my non-athletic body’s ability to run (now up to 6 miles) to train for your race;

to never settle, whether for a halfway-there relationship, for a career that is stable and secure but not the true calling bellowing out from inside of me or for realizing anything less than my fullest potential;

to take my first trip outside of the U.S. even though vacation days are sparse and it gives my parents heartburn;

to fill my hours with more meaningful moments, a late night soul-sharing session with a friend in need, a blog post here, a bike ride instead of a nap;

I promise to live more vibrantly even when the greytones of my life before you left it tempt me with their familiar muted comfort.

Happiness is a choice, and I promise to choose it. You certainly did.

I promise to stay connected to you. Through your family and your childhood friends and new connections with those in my own life who are sharing your loss with me, you are bound to me still.

I promise to honor you, in my mourning and in my living.

For you, Trisha, I promise to try harder to live better. I promise to let your hands tap out the beat of my heart so I stay grateful and so I keep you close. I promise to try.

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May 26, 2009

Reunion

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:49 pm by jlp412

This morning, the last of my visiting friends stumbled out of my zipcode and got onto a plane back into hers.

We had our second annual Alpha Phi reunion since college this weekend in D.C., and eleven of us gathered in our nation’s capitol from different pockets of the country even though vacation days are sparse and budgets are tight.

We came because we had to. We came even though Trisha’s absence was like an unspoken rift between us. We came because we lost her and we came despite that we lost her. We came to be with each other.

We danced to Journey in an Irish bar where Journey clearly wasn’t a frequent rotator on the playlist. Trisha was clutching my arm as we jumped in a circle together, fists pumping in the air and off-key lyrics belting out of us with a volume that knows no shame.

We went for a run on Teddy Roosevelt Island, some of us faster than others, some of us getting lost in its confusing trails and some of us (well, only me) yelping like a small child when a black snake slithered across the light brown earth in front of me. Trisha was there with her steady jog and perky ponytail, training alongside us.

We ate a decadent brunch and we sat on a picnic tarp and listened to live jazz and we drank margaritas and walked around near historic monuments. Trisha was ordering pancakes bigger than her head and sipping a frozen marg and dancing carefree to the music and posing for pictures next to the Lincoln Memorial.

Only she wasn’t.

Because I asked my friends to bring photos for her scrapbook. And we spent a few short moments sharing our favorite stories of Trisha over coffee our last night together and we used only the past tense. And some of us that went running together Saturday morning would never have otherwise gotten up to do it if we weren’t training for a race in her honor. And we took more photos and were more tolerant of our sometimes-clashing agendas for the day. We did these things because Trisha is gone and we need to preserve moments in time and we need to not let the stupid idiosyncrasies that make us the patchwork mess that we are get in the way of enjoying the needlework that connects us, even when it’s sloppy or when the colors clash.

This weekend was a reaffirmation that although it may have at one time gone under the misleading guise of “sorority,” the thread that binds us to each other is stronger and thicker than I could have ever imagined; it can pull me taut and upright when I flop down like a ragdoll. And as we spoke of our futures to each other, some of our paths seemed to take sharp, violent turns in different directions that somehow seem like the right directions. Are we re-routing our courses because Trisha is gone, or has her sudden departure from this world merely gotten us where we’re meant to be a little bit faster?

I know I need to write, and even though I don’t know how to make it my life’s work while still making a living, I know now that I can’t let that stop me from trying. Some of us are going to grad school and others are moving halfway across the country and still others are ending relationships and some are starting new ones. Trisha is doing none of those things herself, and that mere thought still cuts my breath short when I inhale. But she is also gently pushing us to do them, from that place where she is, and her hands kneaded us all when they were here with the rest of her on earth and now we are learning to make each other malleable with our own palms and fingers ourselves.

Our reunion wasn’t a reunion without Trisha. And yet, these past few days I laughed until I cried, and I shared parts of myself I hadn’t even said aloud just to me, and I realized that these women are a part of me now and always, and I was grateful. I am grateful still.

The hole Trisha left is still here and it still stretches from time to time and swallows up words or thoughts when I least expect it to. But this past weekend, eleven pairs of hands stuffed it with new memories and fuller, deeper moments, and for a few days, it was all filled up.

I mourn her now in a strange way, an ever-changing wash of fond recollection untainted by sorrow, a burning urge to turn next to me at the long table of all of us and see her there too, a sudden wave of longing to talk about her and hear things about her I didn’t know from the mouths of friends who lived the stories with her, a bizarre disconnect between her temporary absence from her travels and her permanent absence from her death, a sadness so deep it stops my words from forming when the topic is my future, a joy so full it erupts into a hundred photos of ridiculous poses taken over the three short days when we were all together.

Trisha is a tapestry, and she stretched over all of us as we jogged and danced and slept beneath it this weekend. I’ll go wrap it around my shoulders now to help me fall asleep. And I’ll marvel at how it could fit all of us underneath it at one time. And I’ll wonder how I’ll ever learn to surrender the flesh of her at our reunions for just the cloth that covers us when we’re in them. And I’ll miss her.

May 19, 2009

Two Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:07 am by jlp412

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Two months ago today, Trisha slid out through the crack between the sky and the earth like an envelope slips through a mail slot.

Two months ago today, a midnight call rattled my bones and pinned me against the wall and punched me in the gut, the chest, the face, until I was beaten senseless by it.

Two months ago today, my heart bled across phone lines as I talked through the night to sobbing friends, rocked by the same shock and stirred by the same sadness at the same hour.

Two months and one day ago today, my thoughts were their own and they didn’t stray far.

Two months and one day ago today, I was 24 and fearless.

Two and a half months ago today, I said goodbye to Trisha expecting to see her again in a year’s time, master’s degree in tow.

Two months ago today, I screamed an unrequited goodbye to no one, watching my bedside clock in disbelief as minutes and hours ticked on in a world freshly robbed of Trisha.

Two months and one day ago today, I didn’t see her but I knew she was there. Two months ago today, I didn’t see her but was told she is gone.

Two months. It’s been two months since Trisha died – two months isn’t even a whole quarter of school at NU, it isn’t even an entire summer vacation. Two months her heart’s been beatless and two months her voice has been silenced. Twenty-three years with her and two months without her and somehow the months seem to last longer.

Trisha’s death is like an anchor chained to my foot, and I drag it behind me when I go for a run and when I get coffee before work and when I meet a friend for happy hour. Sometimes the weight of it seems unbearable and I don’t know how I’ll find the strength to walk down the stairs out of my apartment and into the next day as it clunks down each stair behind me. Sometimes I feel like everyone I encounter stares at it and steps awkwardly over it and doesn’t know how to help make it lighter even though they want to. Other days I’m infuriated that no one seems to pay it any mind it at all. But somehow, as it trails on after me, skidding against the ground beneath it, I pull it along behind me, even if I’m in a hurry. I cannot move without it.

It’s been two months and it’s not any easier. Two months have gone by and there still aren’t any answers. I still can’t comfort her family. I still can’t shake her from my thoughts, where she flashes in and stays for moments on end each day. Two months of times without Trisha, two months of holes in my heart and grief in my bloodstream.

And yet, just as I wrote one month ago, it’s been two months and I’m still standing, still writing, still breathing. Two months and we’re still clinging to each other, still holding her above our heads as we travel through each day without her, moving ever toward her even though we don’t know where she is or how to get there.

Two months ago today, we lost Trisha to the horizon. And all we can do is watch the red-purples of the sunset and the yellow-pinks of the sunrise and try to find her there. And miss her.

May 17, 2009

Missing Person

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:14 pm by jlp412

Excuse me, can you help? I’d like to report a missing person. She disappeared on the evening of March 19, 2009, almost two months ago. She has a petite frame and wavy black hair and bright eyes and brown skin. Her name is Trisha Apte. She is 23 years old. She was about to embark on a journey. She was here and now she is gone. Can you help?

I’ve read breaking news stories and medical reports and accident summaries that all seem to say she died that night. She was in a car accident. She was flown on a chopper to Vanderbilt Hospital but she didn’t make it. They did all they could, but she was already gone. I’ve read the reports.

I attended her her funeral in Atlanta and I saw her body there in the casket and I heard her father and her sister and her boyfriend and her college friends speak of her in eulogies, their voices cracking with the weight of losing her as their words poured out in spurts. I saw her face and it wasn’t her face. She wasn’t smiling and she wasn’t awake. She was bruised. She was dead.

I’ve read these things and I’ve seen her lying lifeless and I’ve written of her life and of her loss and I’m in the middle of a sandstorm of grieving and longing and I just can’t seem to make sense of it. We said goodbye as she prepared for a journey that would serve as the launching pad for the rest of her life. She had trips planned around the world, reunions and reconnections to make and a year of service to perform and knowledge to soak in. Since she is supposed to be gone anyway, traveling and giving and learning, some days I cannot separate it – is she absent from my day-to-day because she is on her journey or because she is dead? So I am reporting a missing person.

She left some strands of hair at my friend Katie’s apartment from her last visit in D.C. But Katie moved. And she is in video clips from her sister’s wedding and from an accidental movie of her dog and from a spontaneous dance party in a room of our sorority house in college. We were all there dancing to Bruce Springsteen and we’re all still here to watch it and laugh and remember, and Trisha is not. She is missing and it’s too strange to make sense of it by just saying she is no longer living. Poof. Just like that she is gone. She is missing and you have to find her.

How can she be trapped in time with us in photos, how can her thoughts be freshly crafted in emails we’ve saved and her voice still be replaying in voicemails she left and her phone number still be in my phone if she is gone forever? She must just be missing. Because Trisha wouldn’t leave us this way, this soon. She must just be missing.

We’ll give a substantial reward for any tips you can find to track her down. We’ll sell our houses and we’ll quit our jobs and we’ll stop our own orbits to come to the place where you find her, when you find her, and we’ll never let her go.

I’ve read the reports and I’ve been to her funeral and I haven’t heard her voice in more than two months. But she can’t be gone, she must just be missing.

Because I’ve seen Georgetown graduates traipsing through the city with their parents panting behind them from the D.C. heat, complaining of the crowds and length of the ceremony and of the lack of jobs. Trisha graduated from a top university and she was accepted into graduate school in Ghana. And now you tell me she’s gone? Degrees unused, unfulfilled? I don’t believe you.

And I’ve seen women pushing babies around in strollers, slurping down iced lattes and talking on cell phones with wedding rings on their fingers. And you tell me Trisha won’t ever be married or have a family of her own? Why?

And I get into a car and my stomach knots and I wonder why I survive each trip I take, even if it’s just around the corner, because Trisha got into a car and it was a two ton death trap she couldn’t escape. And I plan an upcoming reunion with all of my friends from college and a mutual friend asks who will be coming and I tick through names and Trisha’s nearly flies from my lips along with those of us who are among the living and who will be there in person next weekend. She wouldn’t want to miss this. She must just be missing.

Please do all you can to find her, because as much as we’re working to sew up the holes she left in all of us, as much as we’re altering our own courses to better align with our desires and yearnings because that’s how Trisha would want us to live, as much as we find the gifts in new friendships and new appreciations for the tiniest of contributions that keep us breathing, it’s not enough. It’s not her.

Please find her.

I’d like to report a missing person.

May 14, 2009

The Choice

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:54 pm by jlp412

One of the recurring thoughts that cycles through my mind with relentless stamina is that of a choice none of us ever were given: whether, if we were told of Trisha before we met her, told of the colors she would splash into the days we knew her and then of the sorrow she would slash through us when she left, we would still choose to know her.

I’ve written before that it’s better not to have been given the choice, because it allowed us to have Trisha as our own when she was here, without the ticking seconds of the click counting down her days. But a good friend of Trisha’s and of mine, Mike Winograd, recently wrote to me in response to my last blog post. He explores the possibility of this same choice and why we would still choose to have known and been touched by Trisha, even as we crash into each other from the weight of her loss. He also writes of the new choices he makes now because of Trisha’s life and her death. His words, pasted below, help me see the choices Trisha pushes me to make every day, whether from her life or her death I don’t know.

What I do know is her death split open the skin of all of us with a jagged nail and left us exposed and bleeding and torn. But it also forced us to find the needle and thread to sew ourselves and each other back up again. And the scars that remain on all of us brand us somehow into this strange, melded clump of survivors of Trisha. And as the scars heal, they remind us of the choice Mike writes about below – the choice to open ourselves up to the wounds by loving and missing Trisha, the choice to scream in pain as they cut into us and the choice to try and sew them shut. The choice to live the rest of our lives with the raised-up ridges of our battle scars, a defiant emblem of the journey that binds us forever to each other. The choice to have been touched by Trisha.

Mike’s words are as follows:

Picture yourself in this situation:

You are approached by God, or whoever, or whatever, before you are born to plan out your life. You are told about all the things you will have the chance to do, all the opportunities that will be afforded to you, knowing that the ultimate outcome is based upon your agency and choice on each decision. After everything is planned and you are satisfied with the results and the direction you will head, you have one more choice.

You are told of a person, Trisha. You are told that you will meet her in college, a time when you are changing the most and evolving into the person you will be for the rest of your life. You are told that this person will have an impact so strong and immediate that she will stand out over most people you have ever met. You are told this person will end up becoming one of your closest friends. You are told of all the amazing times you will have with her and all the incredible things she will do. Then, you are told she will be suddenly and tragically taken from you. You are told that that how close you have become with her will make this loss the saddest, most painful, piercing, and lasting emotion you have ever felt. You are told of the numbness you will initially feel, the shock, the disbelief, the anger, and all other rational and irrational feelings that could possibly come from her loss. You are told that occasionally, even in the happiest times after her loss, fleeting thoughts of her will occasionally pop in to your head and you will experience that sadness again, and that for a while, every time the phone rings, you will be afraid to answer.

After all the conditions are explained to you, you are given a choice.

You can either meet this person and experience a friendship so memorable and profound that the loss of it will make you more sad than you can imagine, or, you can choose not to meet her, and avoid that feeling all together. You choose the former. And that’s where we are today. It’s where we’ve been for the past six weeks. I think about small decisions in my life more than I did before. 5k vs. Half Marathon. I chose the latter. Despite the overwhelming doubt I had when making this choice, I decided to push myself. To try and make something good out of it. Go out vs. Stay in: I try to go out because I don’t know what memorable event or little moment I may miss that otherwise would stick with me as a good memory.

May 10, 2009

We Found Her Still

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:58 pm by jlp412

Tonight, I spent two full hours with a good friend of mine and of Trisha’s, laughing until we cried as we looked over the hundreds of photos we took to chronicle our four years at Northwestern. When I think of our friendships in terms of a lifetime, we haven’t known each other long at all. We weren’t there for the preschool recitals and awkward middle school ascents into adolescence and the prom photo shoots and the first kisses. Instead, we met each other as we balanced on our tiptoes, straining our necks to see the paths laid out before us that awaited our footprints over the next four years. We found each other at the perfect point in the journey – the sand was still soft ahead of us and we had already blazed two decades of trails before we met. We could still be softened and shape-shifted by each other, as we blended our pasts and our presents and prepared for our futures with arms linked, bounding down the path without knowing where it would end or how we would get there.

We came from all over the country – from Seattle to Chicago to New Jersey – and we studied all different disciplines – from theatre to medicine to art history to journalism – and we came from small towns and big cities and private boarding schools and local public high schools and we just seemed to fit. When I think of how specific the circumstances were that led us to each other, I can’t help but think a little push of fate bumped us closer with just enough force for us to take notice.

We planted bits of ourselves in each other those four years, and in reliving each moment of it through videos and pictures tonight, I realized just how much of me is actually pieces of them. We didn’t set out to find each other – and yet we did. Somehow we navigated the course of those four years to travel into each other’s lives and settle there for good.

We found Trisha, who was caught mid-laugh in almost all of the pictures we looked over tonight. We found her even though she left us. We found her even though we won’t get to grow old with her, even though she won’t see the adults we’re struggling to become and how we’ve changed, even though her death ripped a burning hurt through all of us. We found her jumping on a bed in the third floor of A Phi, dancing her Trisha dance to Bruce Springsteen on a random Thursday night, embarking on a freezing cold trek through the snow on campus, reflecting on her favorite rock overlooking Lake Michigan. We found her caught in a candid moment, we found her skin touching ours as we laughed and made goofy faces and concocted random adventures to fill our nights. We found her as we studied too much and slept too little and lived in moments of unknowing.

Somehow, all of us, we needed her. And we found her.

Looking at those pictures makes her death seem so surreal because we see her there, so beautiful and so alive, beaming back at us or collapsed into a laughing fit in a pile of intertwined limbs and sorority sweatshirts, and she is gone while we’re all still here. And there are days, sometimes many times a day, when I question why – why her, why any of us, why now, why this way. What is the lesson, the meaning, the reason, the justice? Why, of all of the creatures roaming around on this planet with paths still left to follow, why was Trisha the one who was shoved suddenly off her course? She was ripped out of our lives before I had a chance to tell her the things I ramble here. And it hurts, every day it hurts because there are some parts of us and parts of her she will never know.

But we found her. And for all of the wondering and the mourning and the clumsy words, I am grateful we did. Because I can’t imagine what my path would look like without her footprints all over it.

None of us knew when we met Trisha and let her slip into our lives that she would die in this way at this time. But we found her still. And even though she’s gone now, we have to keep looking for her, we have to finding her in each other. It’s the best we can do. Even though she left us, we found her still. And what good is the discovery if we let it trickle into the static state of the past tense? So I am going to keep looking, keep searching for her even though sometimes it hurts less not to look. Because we found her and she mattered and she changed us. She was here and with us laughing and with us growing and with us graduating and embarking on a new path to a new place and then she left us and yet we found her still. We found her still.

May 7, 2009

She Is/She Was

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:41 pm by jlp412

tmoney and me

I don’t want to swallow up the loss of Trisha, gulping it down with a gargle and swig and wiping the excess off on the back of my hand so its residue doesn’t stay on me too long. But I do. Her loss is a hoarse pill I have to swallow once and then learn to break in half so it goes down easier the next time. The taste is still bitter even now. But I still take the pill, every day. It dissolves and disperses inside of me. It leaves an aftertaste.

I make these metaphors to substitute for the flesh and bone of her – one day she is my tapestry, another she is my kaleidoscope, and still another she is a jar of the voices of people like me, who talk and write and ramble on without her, senselessly, turning words over each other to form thoughts that try to piece together the mess her loss has left us with. She is none of those things, really, but it’s so hard to see and feel what she is, who she is, now, that it helps to turn her into other things.

She is – she was – she is – she was…

She was our Trisha, a person, one with a heartbeat and a soft, short laugh and wavy black hair that scattered itself in a trail after her wherever she went. She wore dangling earrings when she went out and navy blue mesh gym shorts when she stayed in and she shrugged her shoulders and she was first on the dance floor and she took on any adventure presented to her, even if the destination was unknown and the benefit was uncertain. She lived. She was.

And now, she is – who is she? Where is she? She is not in Chicago or Atlanta or India or Ghana. She is not “dreaming of Nepal,” as her Twitter status still hauntingly conveys. She is not running half marathons or applying for fellowships or traveling with her boyfriend or planning her future. I know she is ground into the core of me now and I know she pulls new people closer to me with magnetic force and I know that both in her life and in her loss she is part of me. She is the reason I drag myself out of bed in the morning to go for a run when I want to hit “snooze” one more time. She is why I am pushing myself to pick up the letters scattered around in my head and form them into the words written here. She is the anchor of new, strange friendships that fulfill me more than I could have ever imagined. She is.

I was protected and now I am punctured. Loss had brushed past me on the street and now it lies curled up at my doorstep. I was Trisha’s friend and now I am one of the many she left behind. But I was also learning to live in gray and now I see color. I was grateful but now I am humbled by even the tiniest of victories, little miracles. I was living in a shell, but I was with Trisha. I now live in the open air without her.

Her skin, her voice, her hair, her scent, her laugh, her eyes, live only in past tense now. But through our stories and in our voices the rest of her still is. So we have to keep talking, even when it hurts our throats or when we think we have nothing left to say. We can’t leave her as just the person she was when she was alive. On the days when I wonder who I was before she left us, I can’t seem to remember. Because who I am now is changed – and yes, it’s because of her loss but it’s also because of her life. I can’t bear to think of Trisha as just her ashes. So I ramble and reflect in this white space and I don’t know when I’ll stop. I have to keep her here, among us, in the now. Trisha is.

May 4, 2009

Protection

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:11 pm by jlp412

I couldn’t protect Trisha from her fate. None of us could. We just had her among us for a while, wandering around unknowing as the breaths she took and people she met and days she lived through came to a screeching halt on the then-innocuous date of March 19. None of our bodies would have been strong enough to keep her car from crossing over to the other side of the highway, even if we piled ourselves into a sloppy human barricade. None of our arms could have reached far enough down to grab her and pull her out of the car before it crashed her into the end of her life too soon. None of our voices, even if shouted in unison from every continent where her friends and family are sprinkled now, could have warned her loudly enough to stop her. We were helpless and ignorant and assuming. We could not protect her.

Now, I find I want to protect everyone I love from any harm – I want to smother them and strap them to their chairs and keep them from going anywhere and doing anything that could hurt them. Because I am porous now, full of holes where this type of sudden loss can seep in slowly when I’m not looking and confuse my heart into pumping it instead of blood.

I have one friend traveling abroad for six weeks for work and another making a cross-country roadtrip in advance of a summer internship. I am thrilled for them, excited for them to start these journeys and experience the destinations they lead to. But I am terrified they won’t make it there. The circumstances that caused Trisha’s death were so painstakingly specific that any slight alteration of any one of them – had she sneezed right before, had the car she hit been just one foot in front of where it was on the road, had there been a concrete barrier instead of an open space dividing the two opposing sides of the highway – she might still be with us. It’s infuriating. And to think of these other two people who are so close to me just catapulting unfettered into the world to begin these journeys is eerily reminiscent of saying goodbye to Trisha before she started hers. I want to shackle their feet and keep them here. It’s safer.

I know protection and inhibition are two different things, and that I can’t exchange one for the other. I wish there was a limit to loss, a rationed-out supply to go around, and that I’ve already reached my maximum allotted amount in losing Trisha. But there are people whose loss comes in buckets for every cup of it I drink, and there are people who maybe in their entire lifetimes just taste a tiny droplet of it on the tips of their tongues. I don’t want the taste of Trisha’s loss to prevent me from drinking in the results of my own journey, stumbles and all, and I don’t want it to grip me into such fear that I can’t celebrate the unfolding stories my two friends are about to tell as they begin theirs.

But how can I say goodbye to them with the expectation that it’s not the last word they’ll hear me say? How can I assume their journeys will have a start and a middle and an end, and that they will be there to walk me through them when they return?

I couldn’t protect Trisha. None of us could. Now I want to protect everything I touch, everything I see. We’re all so breakable. We need protecting.

May 1, 2009

Loss

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:57 pm by jlp412

Yesterday, my mom had surgery to fix a brain aneurysm. I sat with knotted nerves alongside my family for 10 hours in the ICU waiting room as she recovered. She is fine now and this was the last procedure she will hopefully ever have to have. But I sat in that cramped space with other families whose relatives were not fine: I watched a sister introduce her children to an uncle they had never met, reunited only because their aunt was about to take her last breath. My father and aunt and sister played cards with a young boy named Courtney from Atlanta who was brought to St. Louis and left alone all day in the waiting room as his family cleaned up the home of his dying grandmother. A husband and wife from Russia did not hear their name as it was called by the nurse because her English pronunciation bungled it beyond recognition.

Some people wept openly. Others knitted, told jokes or watched soap operas with intense concentration. All of us, strangers, sitting in the same space breathing the same air reeling with the same feeling: loss.

Before we had learned of the hoped-for outcome of my mother’s procedure, my mind was ravaged prematurely by her loss even though I hadn’t experienced it. I imagined the doctor emerging with his stern, angular face, resting a heavy arm on my father’s shoulder and shaking his head at the unforeseen outcome. My heart fluttered as I imagined it beating on without my mother’s. The grip of her loss was so strong that it startled me as it grazed against the nape of my neck, taunting me and letting me know how close it was already. She has had two other surgeries before this one, and although neither one was easier or safer or less risky, I never even let loss brush over my thoughts then. I didn’t question and didn’t wonder because loss hadn’t yet found me to probe further.

But then Trisha died and everything changed. Loss no longer meant just mourning the end of a life; it pierced into me and shattered the shell that used to lay over my skin as protection, letting me live in unknowing. Her loss opened me up to the possibility that now even more loss can squeeze into the hole Trisha left, and in ways I had never comprehended before: I see flashes of loss when I drive in any car with anyone for any distance at any speed. I find loss lurking in a friend who is simply away from her phone for a few hours unaccounted for but perfectly safe. I am no longer immune to loss – it knows where I live and what I look like and it has already been to me once so it won’t take as long to find me the next time.

I just planned a second trip to my friend’s lake house over the fourth of July, which was the last time all of us were reunited, and I literally picked up my phone to call Trisha to tell her. It took me scrolling through the “T’s” to remember.

I am grateful loss missed me this time and that my mom is going to be okay. But since Trisha died I’ve learned that loss isn’t just reserved for a special few, it doesn’t just make up the meat of dire news headlines; it forms the fiber of all of us. And since I now know that loss can arbitrarily hurl 23 year olds out of this world with unparalleled might and leave the rest of us trying to sew up the holes it left us with, I see loss everywhere. I notice it peeping at me from around the corner of a building or slipping out from under my desk at work or popping up in the window by my bed, fresh from an appearance in a dream of Trisha.

Loss has ripped through me, through us all, and left us changed, more vulnerable, suddenly all too aware that it can happen to any of us at any time for any reason. Its path is destructive and illogical and unjust. Its trail is messy and so is its recovery. But in trying to clean up the mess of loss, I’ve found bits of gratitude and even sometimes pieces of joy and faith. And whenever I finish a post like this I feel like maybe all I’ve done is make the mess bigger. But I’m writing. And I’m trying to smash the loss down and package it up until it is tiny enough to squish under the palm of my hand like an unwanted bug. Until then…I write.