Here’s an excerpt I’ve been editing and I feel moved to post it. As always, I welcome comments and feedback! (*just a note – it’s brutally honest and might be triggering. So please read with self-care*)

Date: November 28th, 2009

Subject: in between worlds

Dear John,

I don’t know if being in New York right now is good for me. I’m falling back into that in between state, not wanting to be here anymore, searching for you, longing for you. It’s dark and cold again. I can’t type, I’m going to write by hand. I miss you.

I don’t feel well. I don’t look well. I look pale, dark circles under my eyes. My eyelids are puffy. My muscles feel weak and slack. I feel I am losing my strength, losing my grip again, losing the joy and the drive that I found recently to go on. Life just doesn’t feel worth living without you in it, and what am I supposed to do. I can’t go to where you are. I couldn’t deliberately take my life and yet I don’t want to be here. Don’t want to go on. I suck smoke into my body, slowly poisoning myself with a hard edged glee. And I don’t care.

What would it feel like to be with you again? To run into your arms and race into your chest and feel you alive in my arms? For you to be real again. I would squeeze you so tightly the air would evacuate. You might not be able to withstand my ferociousness. The tears stream and fall down out of my eyes every day. Love and kindness are what bring me to tears. When I see it in life or in the movies I feel you and my heart aches with pain and with love. It fills me with emotions that I can’t describe but they take the form of tears. Grieving is a form of loving.

As time passes it can sometimes seem as if you never existed at all, like I made you up and you are a figment of my imagination. You came and went and the evidence of your life now lives only in my memories. But as time moves on, will I be able to remember you anymore? Some of it has faded. Like I can’t remember exactly what you sounded like and I can’t remember exactly the kind of words you used when you spoke. You were real though right? Too good for this world. And I was lucky enough to have known you like I did, to have shared a piece of your body with you, and to have taken care of you as best as I could.

You haven’t been in my dreams for a while now. I remember when you had first passed, the electricity in my kitchen would go out and a candle exploded mysteriously. I had dreams of you often. Dreams where you were still alive but also dead at the same time and you were going to kill yourself. But this time you were going to kill yourself in different ways, with needles or with a gun. And I wanted to save you. I tried to save you in my dreams but I got there to late, too damn late, and I couldn’t save you. Ah the frustration and rage burns me up. I want to rage the world in a howling lightning storm and smash it all to pieces, smash myself to pieces for getting there too late. My heart is shattered and oozes out love in fragmented ways. It will never be whole again and I don’t know if I can ever love anyone again. I’m growing old and haggard. I see it clearly in the mirror. And it’s ok. The older I get the closer I get to death and the closer I get to you. My smoking helps. I can’t wait to be old. I’m jealous of old people I see walking in the street or wheeling around in wheelchairs. I’m envious of how much closer to death they are than me. I have a good eight to ten grey hairs now in the front. I’m sure they have sprung up in this year of mourning. So be it. I welcome them. I have a feeling though that I’m going to live a long life, like into my eighties. That’s at least fifty years from now- more than what I’ve already lived so far. I can’t fathom it. I don’t know if I can bear all that time ahead of me without you, waiting to see you again. In heaven I want to see you play football. I’ve never seen you play. I want to hear you singing in a concert hall. That would be my version of heaven right now. I never knew you in high school as a football star but I feel like I did. Like somehow I did know you when we were teenagers and I can feel it in a weird way that I can’t describe. I would have loved you and recognized you anywhere, anytime, in any place in history.

I dream of us being kindergarten sweethearts. You chase me around the playground trying to peck my cheek with kisses. I savor each one. I tell all my friends, my teachers, and my parents that one day when I grow up I’m going to marry you.

Oh, I’m not well. I’m really not doing so well right now. But who is there to tell. What is there to say even? My sister Eden is in the next room, pregnant and asleep. I know I should be happy about the things that I have to live for, but deep down, I’m not.

I have to keep believing, keep trusting that things will work out for the best- that everything happens for a reason, that there is some reason for this loss in my life, some reason that you are not here anymore. Its got to work out better than this. It’s got to have a good ending some way, some how. What kind of good ending could possibly make up for the loss of you? I doubt it could be anything that could make up for your death. If there was a way to bring you back, I’d trade all of this, my lot in life, my purpose in life to be together with you again. If only I could.

Sad eyes. You had sad eyes. Sad eyes and a big heart that was so beautiful to me.

I would do anything to be with you again.  Ha. Anything but suicide. Have I said that enough? How nice to be like Romeo and Juliet and have the freedom to die for each other. I don’t have that freedom, I’m trapped in this body and trapped here on this Earth to serve out the rest of my days until I can be with you and die my natural or accidental death. Oh my god. How I wait for the day where I can be back with you and never ever leave your side again.

Everybody has somebody it seems. Loving someone who isn’t actually here is a strange thing. It moves forces in me that I never knew I had. It’s sickly and melancholy and challenges my faith every day when I wake up and I renew it anew. I feel you everywhere. I want to believe it’s you. No. I know it’s you. Am I getting weirder to people because I’m still holding on to you. You the love of my life that abandoned me to suicide. Why does she even still care about him? What is she so hung up on? I can hear them say in their minds. How can I explain all that you mean to me? I can hardly explain it to myself. All I know is that it is love. A love that makes me whimper in the dark with the pain of missing for you and the knowledge that you will never be found.

It’s a year after your death. I have tried to move on. I make a commitment to be happy every day. I am in New York, in bed, writing this to you in the dark. I am in the room that I slept in every night as a child. I am in the room where I lay on my turquoise carpet in despair from my own frustration of not being able to live up to my own potential. I am back in my own familiar darkness and loneliness. The bare trees, sepia sunlight, abstract city lights, cozy interiors, family I feel separate from, and the old familiar ache of something missing. Always looking for love. It’s sixteen years later. Most people’s lives have changed. And somehow mine still feels the same. Almost everyone I know is married, engaged, pregnant, successful, or famous. I am neither of those things. I still lie here alone crying privately with a broken heart. Waiting for you my dear. Waiting right here because there is nowhere else to go.

Nothing compares to your likeness and nothing ever will. Football and wheat fields, the forever golden boy who dies by train. Farm boy superman. The weight of the world on your shoulders. Bitter beauty and sadness everywhere. Down the first road to your farm, down the dirt road to your pond, under the thunderclouds in the rain. The sky is so big I could lose my mind with love. Love that has nowhere to go.

I get sucked down over and over again in endless cycles and waves of grief. I go up for air and I feel I’m starting to reemerge into the world of the living – feeling some joy, vitality, appreciation for life’s gifts and miracles. Finding myself enjoying commercials, consumerism, romantic comedies, trivial conversations, and celebrity gossip. I feel driven to work, to finish this book,  get the PhD and serve others who feel suicidal, help them find the will to live; the will to love. Things seem to be going well and then I get sucked under by a wave of grief that seems to come out of nowhere and the riptide pulls me back into that place where death is near. I am pulled back into hell. Things that might have brought me brief joy are no longer interesting, no longer happy. I don’t care. My pain is too great and all I want is you.  There is nothing in the world that will bring you back and so there is nothing that can help me.

I pray to see you in my dreams tonight. Give me some relief.

Sarah

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the art of heartbreak

August 11, 2010

For a while I was thinking of calling my book Heartbreak, because that’s essentially what it was, what I experienced. As cliched as it may sound, the loss of John shattered my heart into a million pieces. So I sat with that title for many months, but a writer (and psychologist) who was working with me on the drafts, wisely asked me to re-think that title. It was too Daniell Steele, she thought. But it’s the truth, I argued. It’s what my book is about: heartbreak and the anatomy of it, the piercing lived experience of waking up one day to a permanent and irreversible fate. Still, she said, the word heartbreak is everywhere, it’s trashy, its lost its meaning and carries no weight. How can you convey your heartbreak in your own personalized way? She asked. So I sat with that question (as well as my thoughts around how heartbreak has become meaningless in our society). And eventually the line from a poem I wrote about John while he was still alive, called My Blue Sky, came to mind. And with that, was born the title Love You Like the Sky: my own personalized expression of heartbreak.

Last weekend, a friend took me over to El Mercado in East L.A. I’d never heard of it, as it’s a Mexican mini shopping plaza with actual Mariachi restaurants. She’s in the process of getting a divorce and since she’s from Mexico, Mariachi music is apparently the way even the most macho of men drown their sorrows- usually accompanied by a bottle of tequila. So we went. I was the only gringa in the place and English was just not spoken. It was awesome. I felt like I was in Mexico with the murals, Spanish tiles, and of course the noisy Mariachi bands flanking stages on all sides of the central plaza.

As we drank margaritas my friend translated the lyrics. Mariachi music is all about heartbreak. I’ve always ignorantly assumed Mariachi was just some cutesy touristy band music used to solicit a few bucks and help men woo their dates. I had no idea it was the precious art form of heartbreak that it is; expressing with unabashed abandon the exquisitely painful longings of lost love. My kind of music. Woeful, from the heart, from the soul. Not the American version of soft rock love songs on Lite FM (and god knows I love a good Journey song…). Mariachi music is the real deal: the my-life stops-without -you, I-would-die-for -you, life -is -not -worth -living -if -you -are -gone  REAL deal. I suppose every culture has their own unique expression of heartbreak. No matter who we are or where we are, it’s a truly universal human experience, and I challenge anyone to go through life without feeling it in some form or another. It’s almost the essence of what we signed up for when we enlisted on planet earth —  spurring innumerable expressions of it in every possible medium and every possible way– propelling men and women throughout history to epic greatness beyond imagination. And to paraphrase the late Buddhist master  Chogyam Trungpa, the ideal state for the warrior is broken-heartedness.

And so…before I even heard the translation, this mariachi song moved me by its passion and its longing as it mirrors my own.

Como Quien Pierde Una Estrella by Alejandro Fernandez

{Like Who Loses a Star}

(this link may need to be streamed)

I love you, I say this as a lament,
a moan that the wind carries everywhere
I love you, what pain losing you
like someone losing a star that is going to infinity
ayyyaaayyyyyyyaayyyy, aaaaaayyyyyy
I want you to hear my cry, how I miss dolio
much love after
after trying both ayyyyyy
dear Lord give me comfort to me from inside
this is killing me ay ay ayyyy, ayyyyyyy …

I love you, I say this as a lament,
a moan that the wind carries everywhere
I love you, what pain losing you
like someone losing a star that is going to infinity
ayyyaaayyyyyyyaayyyy, aaaaaayyyyyy
I want you to hear my cry, how I miss dolio
much love after
after trying both ayyyyyy
dear Lord give me comfort to me from inside
this is killing me ay ay ayyyy, ayyyyyyy …

* * * * * * *

There’s so many of us out there around the world, experiencing their hearts broken open and relating to these feelings. Why should they be minimized, cast as cliches, or meaningless. It’s real. The jagged edge of life and death.

Here’s to reviving the significance of Massive Colossal Heartbreaks of Epic F*ing Proportions

People often asked me if I was angry at John. Many people in my life were angry at John for me (and I know they tried their best to conceal it, out of respect for me). I don’t blame them. I think if I were in their shoes I would be angry on their behalf.How could he do this to her? I imagined they were saying amongst themselves.

And yes, I did ask that question. How could he do this to me? Wasn’t I enough of a reason for him to stay? If he really loved me he would have stayed. How could he be so selfish? I never thought I would be in this situation. I did not sign up for this. How is this my life? What am I going to do with my life now?

Yes my mind was wracked with questions, day and night; trying to make sense of a warped reality that makes no sense. But was I angry at John? Yes, but also no. Since I understand this longing to die, to return home, and since I have gone through many many hard struggles with depression and I have lived most of my life in the dark, I understood what he was going through. I understand the constricted mind state, the tunnel vision that someone who wants to kill themselves experiences. It’s truly black and it’s truly numb. You can’t even fathom that anyone else would care if you were gone because you simply have stopped feeling anything that even remotely resembles love. It isn’t selfish like most people think, it is the only self-preserving option that a person can even fathom in that moment. To kill oneself, and I mean to actually do it and die, takes more courage than we could even imagine. Our brains and our systems are wired to take every possible precaution against death. So to willingly counter all of this biological conditioning, is a tremendous feat and speaks to the depths of someone’s pain, suffering, and longing to get out.

For me, it was most important that I practice being happy that John was no longer in pain. It was a relief to know he was in joy and need not suffer another second longer. I had to come to a place where I would prefer his freedom and joy over my selfish need for him to stay on Earth in order to alleviate my pain. I would never want to enslave him in his suffering just on my behalf. So my task at hand was to keep digging and healing until I could genuinely accept the choice he had made and be ok with things as they are, no matter how horrendous everything felt. I was mostly angry at the universe and enraged that this was my life. How could this be my path in life? It was too hard, too lonely, and I resented the challenge. Why was I the only 29 year old I knew having to deal with this kind of tragedy while everyone else was happily coupled up or in the process of happily coupling up? There had to be some f*ing reason, because to say it f*ing sucked is the understatement of the year.

People often told me, “Sarah, you need to allow yourself to be angry at him.” And I was like, sure ok. How do I do that when I’m just not feeling that angry right now? Yes, I was angry at John. I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t. My anger at him flared up most often when I was mourning the death of all the  dreams I had had for our future. Those were the ones that killed me.

As a psychologist I understand that anger is a “normal and natural stage of grief.” It comes up whether we like it or not, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. But to normalize it like this, is to miss the point. This is not your ordinary, run of the mill anger. It’s a rage that’s summoned up from another dimension, it’s a possession really. Thunderbolts and lightning do not do it justice.  Feeling my anger, really f*ing feeling it, and embodying it was/is essential for my healing, integration, and acceptance. My biggest breakthroughs happened through my rage. It was through my rage, every time, that I found more and more strength to go on.

Another psychologist-ism I hear a lot was: ” The only way out is though.” Now this one, as annoying and clichéd as it might sound, is very very true. Grieving is a crazy journey. Mad. Insane. This kind of grief is a transformation process.The shell has been cracked, and something new is emerging. If you go in there and live it, experience it like your life depends on it (and it does) I guarantee that when you pop out the other side of it, you will be different. You will feel things in new ways and experience life with a perspective you never thought possible.  You might not want to hear it, you might not see it or believe it, and you certainly don’t want it, but I invite you to feel it as fully as you can. Your power is in there; how can you claim it? Get what’s rightfully yours.

This is a little section from my book, Love You Like the Sky. Maybe I didn’t show people my anger on a regular basis, and that’s why they told me to be angry. But hell, I had anger. I had all consuming, fire breathing anger. And lots of it.

Date: December 8th, 2009

Subject: Prison

Dear John,

It was dark on that Sunday afternoon in February. I’d been huddled in the fetal position, missing you, for hours.  Tears and mucus covered my face. At some point I just couldn’t take the ruthless pain and longing anymore. I started getting angry at myself for being trapped and not being able to do a damn thing to be with you. I wanted out. I wanted to get the fuck out of my body. You know that feeling. I wanted to get the fuck out of my life and have the nightmare end already. But I couldn’t. There was nothing to do other than be with the goddamn pain, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

I wanted to exhale my venom. I needed to smoke. I had quit smoking three years earlier when I was 27 and moved out to California. It was a habit I started when I was 18, and I loved it. Suddenly, while lying on the couch I needed a cigarette. I wanted to feel the burn of inhaling smoke into my lungs, I needed take my anger out, on myself. The very idea of it gave me a surge of energy, and I stormed out of my apartment in a crazed rage. My hair was a mess, and my eyes were lifeless from so much crying. I could barely see. I got in my car, blasted whatever music was on the radio, and drove like a madwoman to the nearest convenience store. Camel lights, I murmured.

With pack in hand, I sped to an abandoned lot, out of place on a quiet residential street. It looked like a ghost yard, overgrown with weeds and a single weeping willow tree. Perfect for my first cigarette of hate and anger. I climbed to the top of a large pile of wet mulch and dead leaves. I sat down and took pleasure in the filth. And as I smoked my cigarette in the dark, I glared wickedly at the night around me and the ghosts I couldn’t see but knew were there. Fuck you all.

How did my curses feel John? Probably nothing compared to what I was feeling. Or then again, maybe you felt what I felt. My sweatpants were wet, but I didn’t give a shit about the mulch and the bugs and the dirt. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, I yelled. I wanted to do something violent. But what? I was angry at my life and at the universe. There was nothing and no one to attack. I wanted to grip the earth high above my head and smash it into concrete, shattering it into a million pieces. The only target for my rage was myself.  My self-destructive tendencies were boiling to the surface once again. I’d kept them quiet for so many years. I tried to be the good girl and crush the drug use and smoking. But now I wanted to get fucked up. I wanted to blow my mind up with  something violent. I wanted to destroy something. I wanted to destroy myself. This is what your death march to the train might have felt like. Destruction and explosion in a mass collision of steel, track, and body. Bang.

The truth was I knew I wasn’t going to do anything. I still had self-control and that was just as maddening. The least I could do was express my anger by smoking and slowly poisoning myself. I prayed for an early death. It was deeply satisfying to breathe in fire and exhale smoke, as my body transformed the elements. I was taming the rage flowing through my veins with nicotine.


[*** I know mentioning cigarettes is usually a big turn off, and since I have mentioned them quite a few times on this site, I would just like the record to state that I do not endorse smoking or not smoking, and I have long since stopped smoking. (In case you might want to also- here’s the Magic Formula for how  🙂 )]

Love You Like the Sky

July 15, 2010

As some of you may know, I have spent the last year writing a book about John, suicide, and grief. The book is called Love You like the Sky and it is a series of emails written, addressed, and literally sent to John’s old Yahoo account. The story starts in chronological order and recounts our relationship, John’s specialness, his descent into darkness and death, and my experience with my grief and wanting to die and join him in death. If read as a whole, the reader won’t know why I am writing to John and what has happened to him. You, reading this blog, will know of course….I don’t write much about the spiritual, more New-Agey, life-after death stuff in the book. I intentionally wanted to keep it a little more mainstream (if that’s even possible for me…)

Love You Like the Sky is about my worst fear coming true and how I reconciled my desire to be with John in death with my profound awareness of the pain suicide causes, a pain so life shattering I could never knowingly inflict it on anyone. I write of feeling trapped in my life only to survive the rest of my years without him and about the agony of waiting to see him again in death. I write to John of my anger at him and at life and how, eventually, by fully embodying my grief, I found my inner strength and will to live. My focus shifted from longing to be with him to reclaiming the life and power I allowed him to steal from me.

The book is still a work in progress…I’m constantly editing, reorganizing, and struggling with typical writer’s doubt and criticism.I was not alone in writing this, John has been with me and we have been working on this together. Writing this has been one of the most healing and therapeutic things I could have done. It’s helped me connect with John, feel, heal, understand, and purge in ways I couldn’t have otherwise. Truly miraculous (also excruciatingly hard).

Each excerpt I share is an email I sent to John, so you will see a date and subject. For now I’m going to flip the postings of this post and the next one, so that this intro will appear before the following excerpt.

Thank you for reading. (and I welcome any feedback about how the writing could be better)

Date: July 27th, 2009

Subject: Hi- Test Run

Dear John,

I want to tell you the story of us, from my perspective, before it fades somewhere into the memories of all the years to come. I’m sure you already know my version of the story- every nuance of emotion and every thought that has ever washed through my body, but I want to write it down, put it into words and send it out to you. I can’t let myself forget a single moment. I have to document it all. I know not to expect a reply from you; I have no hope of that. Yet still I write.

It’s really hard to begin. I started writing two weeks ago- thought I could mimic something akin to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Not quite. As I sat in the Rose Reading Room at the 42nd street library, the process of putting down that day at the hospital had tears streaming down my face the whole time as I continually blew my nose with thin crispy toilet tissue. It was painful and excruciating to relive those memories in such detail.

Afterwards, I immediately bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked. It was raining while I smoked, but not hard enough to require an umbrella.  I felt broken again, drained, and like a pile of wet laundry. The cigarette was a comfort for all I’ve lost and all I’d just dragged myself through emotionally. I know you wouldn’t like me smoking. Now I’m sure you don’t care, but I remember when we were at a party at Dan’s house and I had a couple of puffs of his herbal cigarette. You thought it was a real one and gave me such a condemning look- like I was a leper. Of course your condemning look, with your big eyes and upper lip curling into that boyish smile, still looked sweet and loving. I think you were more shocked than judgmental. It was darling, as usual.

I don’t even know if your email address still works. Maybe your mom now oversees your Yahoo account, assuming somehow she managed to get a hold of your username and password. I guess I’ll find out when I send this out into the void of cyberspace.

I love you always,

Sarah

Date: July 30th, 2009

Subject: On a Plane Leaving New York

John,

Yes. Your email account still works; my last email didn’t bounce back. So I’ll continue to write to you, if only for myself.

I’m sitting on the plane on my way back to California. It’s been a vitalizing trip home, and I’m sad to go back, yet couldn’t possibly continue pumping myself through the city. I’ll miss the energy, the creativity, the humor, and my dear friends and family. As I was sitting at JFK waiting to board, the old, familiar, melancholic ache began. The missing of you.  I wish I knew why airports stir up such grief. Every time I’m at the airport I search for you. I imagine I see your light blue jeans, catch a glimpse of your striped polo shirt, see the edge of your sneaker, your curls… and then there you are walking towards me. I search and search to the point where my eyes start to strain, like if I stare long enough maybe my eyes can materialize you out of thin air. This is a hope I hold only at airports. You never appear. Disappointment, again. And as I turn my head from the crowd, I resent my life for not being a stupid Hollywood film where these things just happen.

The ache moved to my throat and waits impatiently to come out through tears. I can feel it building, I know it’s building.

Traveling with you was a delicious feeling- like we were encapsulated in a bubble, floating through arbitrary space. We melted into each other like liquid, be it when we parked in the corner of the noisy Vegas airport and read Eckhart Tolle together, or when we passed through security in Amarillo, Texas. As I put my sneakers back on, I noticed the floor had sparkles in the tile. I stood up, looked at you standing behind me, and felt so completely at home. The terminal was cold and air-conditioned. You were warm as you lay in my lap on the empty row of chairs and napped. Remember how we’d almost always miss our flights because we would get so comfortable wherever we were and so absorbed in our own world? We seemed to forget the very reason we happened to be at the airport.

I cried through take off. I let myself float back in my seat, closed my eyes and surrendered to the pressure. Only once we were up in the air did I open my eyes.

I realize I’m seated between four couples, each one cuter than the next. I sit alone in the aisle seat and watch these couples out of the corner of my eye. The couple in my row on my immediate left is from Spain; they’re watching the in-house movie, some Julia Roberts flick. The one to my right is working quietly on a crossword puzzle while she nurses a glass of wine and he sips a can of Amstel Light. The woman in the row in front and to the right is wearing a winter hat and is curled up in her husband’s lap. I feel orphaned on the aisle.

I think back to the other night at a bar on the Upper West Side.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” Israeli Girl Number 1 had asked.

“Are the boys in California cute?” Israeli Girl Number 2 asked.

“No I don’t have a boyfriend. And… um, yeah, the boys in California are cute,” I said.

“How old are you?” They inquired.

“Thirty,” I replied. And that, was the end of the questions about boys.

I miss you baby. I‘m in your space, meeting you halfway in the sky. Where are you?

Nobody understands.

Sarah