The first time it happened, it was really unplanned. I was twelve. My best friend had thrown me over for cooler girls. There I sat at home on a Friday night, not at a slumber party with the rest of them. So, I invited Loneliness over to hang out. Always so obliging, so eager, that Loneliness. Unlike me, she never begrudged being the substitute friend when there was no one better or more interesting to fill the social calendar.
Despite all that, my most visceral memory from that year will always be sitting in a car on a cold, rainy, fall afternoon with the mother of one of the shooting victims. We formed a friendship during that season and had gone out to a local school to talk about resilience. When we got back in the car to leave, she checked her voicemail, had gotten a call from her son who was refusing to go to school. Again
There’s an invisible mountain of emotional weight that comes with someone’s itchy trigger finger on the mute button. That seemingly small impediment, the blocked red microphone icon, prevents spontaneous thought from bubbling up, spilling forth, being shared in the moment.
Did I have enough time to take a good shower and dry my hair before the call? If not, was I willing to go through the video call with wet hair? [Side note: I’m not one of those women who looks cute and dewy after stepping out of the shower. My face gets flushed from rosacea, and my stringy hair makes me look rather like a drowned rat. In other words, I generally try to avoid having people see me in such a state.] If I didn’t take a shower then, was I willing to spend the rest of the day feeling gross? [Another note: This is the pandemic, so you know, it had indeed been, um, a whiiiile since the last shower.]
What emerged was an essay, “The Garlic Epiphany,” comprised of short reflections on a world without him, a world where his voice was silenced, how I struggled to feel alive on some days spent stretched out for too many hours on the couch he’d left to me. The title came from the ending where I was struck with the very sensory experience of standing at the stove, stirring garlic in a pan, the pungent odors and crackling sounds washing over me…
A spiritual walk with grief in some ways is, and in some ways is not, like these paths. A walk with grief, especially at the beginning, is more like being totally off the grid, mucking around, with no discernible path at all.