On Grief

In my backyard, there’s a patch of dirt that absolutely refuses to grow grass. I say “patch,” but truthfully, it’s probably sixty percent of the total backyard area. When it rains, the dirt patch becomes a mud patch. It’s treacherously slick when wet and takes days to dry out. I never paid it much attention until it became The dirt patch. I didn’t appreciate the grass that grew in spite of the Texas heat. It was only a fact; quite literally, just a part of the scenery.

Years ago, we had our siding replaced. During the replacement process, the contractors left debris on the grass. Trash not taken care of immediately has a way of multiplying and traveling. To this very day, I can go into the dirt patch and find leftover old siding pieces that the dirt patch has claimed for its own. That grass underwent trauma for weeks during the construction until, finally, it ceased to exist.

Two years ago, my best friend died. Her death was expected, but sudden. The trauma rolled over me in waves until, like the grass, I ceased to exist. Some might call it dissociation. Others might say it was a depressive episode. I was a specter in my own life, fighting against the void that constantly threatened to drown me.

Months flipped by like too-slow frames in an old movie, and I hardly noticed their passing. Holidays came and went in a flurry of uncomfortable stares and “how are you doing?”s. I found out quickly that many people who asked, though well-meaning, didn’t want a truthful answer. I fell back on “I’m fine”s and plastered-on smiles followed by escapes to the bathroom.

I would stare at my reflection without recognizing the face looking back. She was a stranger. Someone I’d seen a few times, maybe in passing at the grocery store or at a yoga class. Had her eyes always been that color? Had she always been so pale? When was the last time she’d slept though the night? My cheekbones strained at my thinning skin and I wondered if I’d eaten.

Time is a heartless teacher, and she drove ever forward. She hardened me, closed me off. In some ways, I felt betrayed by such a sudden death, as though it was a personal offense. In truth, I wasn’t owed anything by a woman on her deathbed. I’m still not owed anything. But in the stillness of night while the world around me sleeps, I still feel the ghost of that old hurt settle into the bed beside me.

I found days difficult to navigate; it was as if the earth had shifted on its axis but no one told me. My own self-imposed writing deadlines, dutifully met in the past, came and went with nothing to show for them. Projects fell to the wayside. My husband stood sentry, concerned for me but letting me have space, making sure I was cared for while I weathered the storm raging inside me.

Looking back, there are at least six months in my memory that are unaccounted for. Blank. If I see pictures from that time, the memory is hazy, as though someone else is describing the scene to me.

Before I’d gotten confirmation of her passing, I felt it like a physical thing. I felt her absence from the earth in my bones. When she died, I felt a part of me – a vital, blood-of-my-blood part of me – die, too.

After her death, I shared this on social media:

Today, the world stopped making sense to me. Today, I found out my best friend passed on Friday evening. I’m angry, I’m soul-crushingly sad, and even a little scared for the future ahead without her. If you met Madi, you had no option but to love her. She was kind, strong, smart, and she had a way of making you feel like you were all of those things too. I’ll miss her teasing me about the fact that I can’t work foreign toilets. I’ll miss trading recipes and having whole conversations in Harry Potter quotes. I’ll miss staying up way too late on the weeks I’d come visit because we didn’t want to waste a single moment. But I am so grateful for the memories I do have and can cherish in her absence. Madi, you were my family. I love you so much babes.

In the years since, I’ve been largely silent in my grief. It was – and remains to be – a private thing for me. I’ve never found it easy to share my feelings, and doing so after her passing felt more performative than truthful. Besides, the only person I really wanted to talk to about it was her.

The thing about grief that no one tells you is that it’s never truly gone. The sorrow is waiting for you in the darkness of insomniac nights, or in the brightness of a memory very nearly forgotten. Some people say that grief is love with nowhere to go. I think grief is the price we pay for love. It is the gold coins on our loved one’s eyes as they pass over the River Styx. To love someone is a privilege, and there is no privilege in this world that is free.

How and When Do You Suspend Disbelief?

Hello writers and readers!

I recently started reading “The Institute” by Stephen King. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon for those unfamiliar:

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Sounds good, right?! As soon as it was available in my local family-owned bookstore, I hopped on down to grab it… and got the last copy! I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so I couldn’t wait for this one. Plus, it’s spooky season… what better than a thriller?

I finally sat down to dig into this juicy 560 page beast and… I’m on page 5 and faced with a problem. Maybe a small thing, maybe not. Here it is: The main character cashes a plane voucher and pays an Uber driver upon arrival to the destination.

Anyone else see the problem here?

Plane vouchers are not changeable for cash, and Uber drivers are paid exclusively and automatically via the app.

Okay, yeah, these are little things. But why do they bother me so much? I’m able to suspend disbelief for fantasy stories with dragons flying every which way, but this voucher/Uber combo is killing me.

What if this were a fantasy story? Or a romance? Would I be faced with this same issue, or would I be able to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story? I think it comes down to the placement of the items. Say, for instance, a heroine in a romance cashes her plane voucher and pays her Uber driver directly in her climactic rush to her lover. These things would probably be blips on my radar because I’d be so invested in the story. Unfortunately, on page 5 of any book, I’m still trying to get invested. So, these seemingly little things stand out more than they might have otherwise.

So, writers and readers, what do you think? How and when can YOU suspend disbelief? Do certain authors or genres get a pass? Sound off below!