I’ve been crying again.
This time, I’ve had a nightmare. I fell asleep and Dad was still alive — sick, but alive. It’s like that in all of the dreams. He’s always dying but not dead yet. We still have a few more months, and it’s an opportunity to not feel so numb. We don’t say much; familial tension makes us both nervous, like it always did. Our silence communicates more than we could ever say, because at least we’re together.
That’s not the nightmare, that’s the dream. The nightmare is waking up, so alone in my dorm room at college. He’s dead, and always will be dead. The goose bumps won’t go, and I shiver as they rise higher, staring back at me. I mutter something to Dad, who exists in a heaven I don’t believe in, and I feel crazy speaking to myself, like I’ve never been so alone in my life. I could die of the aloneness.
But I wish I were alone when I’m forced to smile in public. It was like that on my first night back to campus. Dad died August 26 and school started September 8. On the Monday before, I gathered a few friends together for dinner. Two of them talked loudly about their breaks and gossiped about boys. A third watched me, worried. She had studied me all summer and knew my “normal” behavior. “You don’t seem like yourself,” she said, trying to give me a hug. I shrugged it off, made a bad joke that she didn’t laugh at, and went home to cry.
I hope no one knew I cried. I had never been a crier — as a child, I was taught that crying showed weakness. “Never let them see you cry,” an older girl told me. I respected her, and I wouldn’t, I assured her, I’d never let them see. Whoever they were.
So now I cry alone. Sometimes, I rush home from the street, afraid I’ll break down and they’ll know. My door shuts and I burst, like something has been waiting to explode inside me for centuries. I’m an ugly crier because when it rains, it pours.
That’s how it was at the funeral. I kept so composed, so controlled and easy, until my mom took the podium to speak, and I saw her dead, and I couldn’t un-see it. I felt a tear roll down my cheek, and I was ashamed. The ceremony finished; then I excused myself to the bathroom so no one would notice my smeared mascara. After, when I came out to the Church lobby, I painted a big grin across my cheeks. I had on strappy heels. The black dress I wore was Mom’s, and it emphasized all the right places, especially in my Spanx. “You look good,” family friends told me. I nodded, a thank you fixed on my lips. “We loved your father,” they said, and I was sure some of them meant it. I didn’t cry any more that day; I just took my vertigo medication and slept. That night, I had the first dream with Dad alive when he was dead, and I didn’t want to remember reality in the morning. I felt the aloneness crowd in, like a dripping icicle slowly giving me frostbite.
It wasn’t that I was alone because Dad was gone. Maybe that was part of it, but more, it was the first time I couldn’t find the words to explain something to someone — anyone — and I didn’t know how to empathize. On August 26, people expected me to crumble, a bag of bones, weak-kneed and sobbing. But after a few weeks, they wanted me to be whole again, and neither of those reactions was mine. Grief hits me in waves, and I never know when it will come. It’s not in the big moments, either. I was fine on Dad’s birthday in October, when I had a bowl of New York Super Fudge Chunk — his favorite — in honor of his memory. But the weekend before, I stood stoic, cleaning my room for something to do. Listening to the “Spring Awakening” soundtrack to fight the silence. Whimpering a little. I was frozen, lifeless, thinking about how I’d do anything to feel safe. Safe from losing people. I realized, “I will lose everyone I love, or come to love.” And I decided I never wanted to love again.
Paradoxically, it’s during these waves of grief that I most crave human contact. I don’t want to love, but I also don’t want to be alone. I know exactly whom I want to cradle me — a ghost from my past — but we haven’t talked in forever now. I choose someone else, but what if I come to care about him? Better not to risk it, but I do anyway because the aloneness is choking me. A text that he’s busy, and I can’t make him understand how much I’m hurting because the words aren’t coming, and so I apologize for the bother.
I won’t disturb anyone else — it’s college, and they have work to do. Anyways, just talking probably won’t make it better. Despite all of the textbooks on my shelves, the handful of articles I write every week, and the constant slew of people telling me to go see a shrink for “grief counseling,” I’ve learned that prose is not always enough.
No, not everything can be healed through words.