October 27, 2009

Cancer Didn’t Take Trisha

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:35 pm by jlp412

Cancer didn’t take Trisha. There was no devastating diagnosis, no quality-of-life-compromising treatment, no hair loss or weight loss or misleading prognosis of remission. There was no loss of faculties, no doctor telling her she had six months to live or could never have children or would spend months on end hooked up to machines dripping drugs into her bloodstream.

We never had to see Trisha not as herself. She did not survive the car crash with injuries to her brain or heart or limbs. She did not lose her speech or ability to walk or think or dream. She did not have to wake up every day for the rest of her life knowing another life ended the same day as hers, for I fear the weight of that knowledge would have killed her in a different way.

When I remember Trisha, I remember her smile, the one that persisted even when the rest of us were drowning in thesis research or final exams or post-college quarter life crises. Unlike so many other loved ones I’ve lost to disease, I didn’t have to wrestle with a final image of Trisha ravaged by an illness that took over her body; I didn’t have to shake away any final memories of days or months of wasting away from disease or dementia that took the Trisha I knew and replaced her with one I didn’t. The last Trisha I saw was the one I hugged at Starbucks on M Street, alive, healthy, about to begin a journey.

The only final, fleeting moments of Trisha’s last minutes alive are the ones I see in my head – was she asleep? Aware? In pain? How long was she lying there before her father made it back to her, before paramedics tried to rescue her, before she left this world?

And of course on the darkest of days I revisit her funeral, the winding car ride from her family’s home to the funeral home, which I made with a friend and with relatives of hers I had not met before. We got lost along the directionless roads of Alpharetta and almost didn’t make it. We made nervous jokes inside the rental car, we called friends to ask for directions, in the deepest parts of ourselves hoping somehow we might not make it on time, that it might not be real, that we might not be going to bury Trisha. We had never met each other and suddenly found ourselves traveling together on one of the most difficult trips we would ever make.

At the funeral, her father read quotes from a paper she wrote on death being like an eternal state of sleep, between torrents of tears. Her roommate read a card she wrote to Trisha that was never read, found in the trunk of her car unopened, referencing growing old together as lifelong friends. Her boyfriend spoke of books they were reading together, the trip they had planned for this past summer to Nepal, which would have been the first time they would have seen each other in nearly six months. I clutched my friend Nayna’s arm until the color seeped from her skin as we walked down the aisle together to sprinkle pink and yellow petals across Trisha’s lifeless body, a final goodbye. I stared at Trisha’s downturned mouth and closed eyes. I stumbled toward my friends and I fell into them.

Cancer didn’t take Trisha, and I’m grateful. But sometimes it’s hard to understand what did take her, and all I can see is the mess we’re left with because something, somewhere, did.

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October 19, 2009

Seven Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:40 pm by jlp412

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Seven months ago today, Trisha died.

It seems so cold and wrong and true when I write it as it is, without metaphors to soften the blows of it. Trisha is dead. She has been gone for seven months and she is not coming back, even if I smile looking at her smile back at me in photos, so happy in her state of unknowing, even if I miss her more now than I ever knew I was capable of missing a person. And I have missed people before, and missed them hard.

Missing Trisha washes over my thoughts and laps them up like a tide that crashes further and further onto the shore until it knocks away the sand castles that once stood there, defiant. Missing Trisha disintegrates my thoughts and scatters them violently along the bottom of an ocean of just plain sadness. How small they seem, now.

It’s been seven months, and even though I can spew out words of her life and her death to the new people I meet, even though I can still shake up my world until I see color where I didn’t before, even though I ran 13 miles in her name, she is still gone and her death still pounds on my chest until my ribcage rattles.

I feel like I am not on the same course of healing I was on a month ago. I feel like I am spiraling, like I am backing out of the progress I’d made trying to make sense of what happened to her. My mind goes now to Trisha, to my imagined final moments of her life, to the fantasy future I’ve mapped out for her that she will never know, to the people whose hearts she was only starting to scratch the surface of.

I am a positive person. Retreating to sorrow is not something I’m used to. I am fighting off the urge to label myself weak or depressed or slow to move on. But I live in a world that Trisha does not, and sometimes I feel that just by breathing and laughing and succeeding and failing along the way of my life, I am accepting this world, I am waking up and saying to myself, “It’s 60 degrees today. I need to go to the drycleaners. Trisha died seven months ago. I forgot to charge my Blackberry.”

Exciting things are happening. I have a new job. I am moving to a new apartment. I have friends who are getting married. I have become a runner, and even mildly enjoy it. But missing Trisha nags at my mind, and the guilt of still missing her this much seven months after she left just makes the tug of her absence pull harder.

Seven months ago today, my world changed forever because Trisha left it. And I will keep trying to hold her up above me as a guide rather than pin her down below me with the weight of loss, but sometimes my arms just can’t seem to lift her up.

Trisha didn’t slip out of this world silently, and she certainly didn’t leave it by choice. None of us could have known she would abandon us to crawl around inside the hole she left, in search of answers, running into each other without knowing why.

I talk of Trisha in metaphors – tapestries and holes and splashes of color and beating hearts and tattered skies. But at the end of the day, these are temporary fixes. At the end of the day, stripped of adjectives and the buffers of comfort they bring, Trisha is still gone.

Seven months ago today, Trisha died. And seven months to the day she did, I still can’t really believe it. My love to you wherever you are, Trisha. I miss you.

October 5, 2009

New People

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:34 pm by jlp412

I’ve lived more than six months in a world without Trisha, and I find myself meeting people who know me as only a survivor of her and not as a friend of her. How can this be? Trisha’s life and her death are a part of my DNA – I cannot remember a time when I could splice them out without changing what makes me me.

But somehow I am meeting new people.

I go on blind dates and I find myself trying to stop the words erupting from my mouth too fast, too soon, about Trisha, but they pour out of me before I can scoop them up and put them back. I dismiss these otherwise well-intentioned men based on how they respond to the reason I ran the Chicago Half Marathon. Does he downcast his eyes to avoid mine? Does he mumble he’s sorry and change the subject? Does he ask about who she was? Does he care?

I switched jobs a month ago, and I find myself doing the same thing with my new coworkers. Do I tell them about Trisha? When? How? What do I want them to say? How do I want them to look at me after I tell them?

It’s not fair, this thing I’m doing. I am holding strangers in my life to a higher standard than I would have been able to meet six months ago. But I am different now, and I need different things out of new people now, too. I walk around with a black streak smudged across my forehead and it won’t come off no matter how hard I scrub it and everyone can see it all the time. This tattoo of death, this reluctant emblem of survivor’s triumph, brands me now.

A whole world of tragedy is open to me that I used to shrug off with the gravitas of living 24 years untouched by it. A large freckle could be skin cancer. An unreturned phone call could mean a loved one is dead. A cross-country road trip could end in a crash. These are no longer statistics reserved for other people. They could be me. They could happen to me.

The horrible possibilities of this ugly new world attack me like a flock of birds: they peck at my eyes so I see the could instead of the is, they pull at my ears so I replay the dumb goodbye I gave Trisha assuming I’d just see her again in a year’s time because that’s how my life had worked before, they feed on my heart until it’s hole-punched and hollowed out, deflated.

These new people I meet, they have hearts that are whole and eyes that see what’s real and ears that don’t listen to what might have been. I don’t know how to meet these new people who don’t know Trisha, who didn’t know me before I lost Trisha.

But somehow, I’ll keep meeting new people because I’ll keep seeing more months come and go without her. And I’ll find a way to tell them about Trisha, because her life and her death have already rooted me to new people, to people I otherwise never would have met or known had she not left.

And every time I tell some new people about her, in whatever way I decide to, parts of her settle into them, so these new people I meet aren’t really new at all, because little flakes of Trisha live inside them.