Following the Paths of Grief

(kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up)

Grief has kept me away from this space, away from engaging in the writing I love, and away from what seems like the barest minimum of human connections. A grief that shuts down, just as much as it can hone.

I didn’t write here, but I did write a lot about organic electro-optic materials in photonic computing, coming to a website near you. Even in grief, you must pay the bills.

My cat Hermione died. Her cancer came back, and there was nothing we could do. Hermione knew it was time, even if I still don’t want it to ever be time.

Me, Hermione, and Jacob
My precious baby Hermione

I stay in my house with my partner Jacob, who’s at incredible high-risk of stroke and death if he catches COVID-19. I watch this country’s leadership and their inability to express grief and sadness over 157,000+ people dead. I know the grief will swallow me if I think about it too much or expose Jacob. No one we know has died of it yet; friends have had it, and at least one friend lost a parent to it.

With privilege, we stay in our house, collectively only making trips into 8 not-home buildings since March. One was the vet to put my cat to sleep, so that’s what essential means, assholes.

My schedule is the same, and I’ve never known what “normal” was. Even if I do miss randomly browsing in shops in my neighborhood on my walks. I busy myself with evening virtual appointments to watching media with my friends or discuss politics with the neighbor ladies. Next up: Star Trek: Discovery and Biden’s VP pick.

I don’t grieve for “normal” because Black lives have always mattered. I didn’t need a glut of snuff films (or a single one) showing murders of Black people by police to believe the raw grief and pain of the victims’ families, friends, and community. Abolish the police. Every interaction my privilege white femme self has had with them, they’ve either done nothing or the bare minimum. Besides giving me a speeding ticket, my privilege is that they never made it worse.

My grief won’t extend to the feelings of my fellow white people. I’ve long lost contact with the (white) people who unfollowed you for saying Black Lives Matter, and they certainly all unfollowed me during Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson when Obama was still POTUS and racism was “solved.” If these maskless fools — because the Venn diagram between white racists and assholes protesting masks is a circle — catch COVID-19, well, my grief bubble is already on full.

I struggle to finish a book, but I can listen to a never-ending stream of podcasts and some music. Fiona Apple’s new album lives on repeat. And I think about how she’s 40, and I’ll be 37, and how she says, “fetch the bolt cutters/we’ve been here too long.” She doesn’t say it in a desperate cry; she says it like she’s asking for tea. Like it’s a fact. It’s time to literally cut the systems of oppression down. Like we’ve been unleashed.

And maybe both of us extend our grief and compassion to the younger people we once were too as it all comes to a reckoning.

“I used to march down the windy, windy sidewalks
Slapping my leg with a riding crop
Thinking it made me come off so tough
I didn’t smile, because a smile always seemed rehearsed
I wasn’t afraid of the bullies
And that just made the bullies worse”

Nothing has described the world of my younger person self better and it’s fitting that they’re song lyrics. A month ago, I was supposed to travel to my hometown for my middle brother’s wedding. A landscape littered with grief and the memories of those bullies and a place I struggle to tell why I left.

That’s the pizzeria where he called me a whore. That was the greasy parts room where we exchanged our secrets. That baseball field they called me a lesbian during gym class. That’s the desert sage smell when we curled up in your bedroom and fell asleep together. That’s where I learned to play Apple’s early songs on the piano. That’s the chill in the air when the slut-shaming boy called me to tell me you were dead. That’s the parking lot where I last saw you and wanted to tell you that I still loved you, but that seemed absurd.

And with potential COVID-19 grief in mind, I changed our wedding RSVP to no. More drama, more bad associations, more fodder for the bullies that high school graduation doesn’t cut off. Not that it felt even like a whiff of home after my cat Monday died.

No, I’d rather not be in a place that’s 92% white during massive Black Lives Matter protests. Yes, my white skin and blonde hair look like the people in my hometown, but they’ve always been able to tell that I was different. My vigilant nerves are shot to hell when I see a runner without a mask in Seattle. I could not take MAGA signs on oversized trucks and Confederate flags in a state with a horrible racist history, just not slavery. My great-great-great-grandfather was a Union soldier who went MIA, only to be found in a Confederate POW camp, and I feel like burning down a Target or punching a maskless, screaming white lady in a Trader Joes and my ancestors weren’t enslaved. Fuck those racist losers.

Hot boiling anger swells over my grief. I edit my email to my city councilors five times for tone. I run another test on my company’s product. Another bug report. Another swing at the finances and bookkeeping and another bill. I do some more dishes that breed themselves and cook more food because it’s always mealtime again. I listen to the Bechdel Cast podcast’s back catalog because there’s something simple and comforting about taking down blockbuster movies for poor representation. I make drafts of tweets and disappear into my garden. Plants are supposed to be healing or something. Or so they keep telling me. Smashing slugs with a rock is both cathartic and tedious.

I have 19 books I’m reading, but I can’t read anything except explicit Fraser/RayK due South fanfic. (Yes, I know it’s copaganda, and it’s messed up, but I’ll take what quiet I can get. In most of them, RayK has quit the Chicago PD to follow Fraser to Canada…so???) I need to change the itchy bandage on my second-degree sunburn. I’ll probably cry over my fucking cat again tonight, even as two kittens, Fern and Octavia, curl in my lap, and the full-sized Zeta cat sleeps on my feet.

And maybe my dead cat is both a metaphor and a literal representation for all the things I feel, but I cannot say. That I cannot tell you when you ask me how I feel, or how I’m doing, or what I ate for breakfast. Record the times you are living in, and this is my record of my grief — my messy grief colliding with a pandemic, a recession, a POTUS election, and a Black Lives Matter movement.

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