I have a lot of baggage.
Yeah I know, I shouldn’t brag about all the crap that has made me this awesome, but it’s all truth; I’ve enjoyed a lot of life’s scars. For the most part I’ve made peace with my past, or just got so removed from it in the telling and retelling from doctor to doctor that I’ve began to feel very detached to my own life story. It’s surreal to talk about things that have happened to me when they don’t feel like they are mine; many times it feels like something I’ve read in books or movies I’ve seen. I don’t even feel familiar with the person I was enough to write about my past.
It’s 1:30am, tomorrow–later today–is my weekly appointment with my psychologist. Boy do I have a shit storm to share with her.
A life’s lesson last week cracked open my pit of despair. An epiphany, I found that there is a difference between thinking about something and having a memory. 24 February is my grandad’s birthday, he would be ninety-one last Wednesday. Since he passed I’ve experienced a strange gauzy sense about his absence. When my mom called to tell me he died I was fresh out of the psych ward, at the time my mind was organizing information prioritized what I could deal with and what was for later accounting. I failed to ever get back to it because the rollercoaster called life; time passed and I forgot.
I know. Really, I do! Who forgets something as important as grieving? My guess is it happens more than you’d think. I’m awesome, but not at all unique.
Wednesday I hitched my rucksack on my shoulder and set out to go to church and pray.
As a kid I loved catching moths to put in jars to watch, they would flutter and flail about it’s confines; my chest became one of those jars as I got closer to the mission. In a frantic search for a rosary that looked most like the one he had in the hospital, I guzzled an entire 16oz bottle of water, confusing the sweet arthritic woman at the shop to utter bafflement. I was sweating. I was nervous. I was terrified. Half of my fear was that I was running out of time. All the sudden my inner organizer found that shoebox with the mental obituary and I was six years late to his funeral.
I entered the doors of the Mission de Alcala, crossed myself, and found a seat. I knelt and prayed. Nothing happened.
What do I mean nothing happened, I was praying. Did I expect showgirls? A parade? No. I just mean my head was still in that strange gauzy place, I didn’t even have the words to pray. I was kneeling and empty. Nothing to say. Nothing to feel. I had never felt so confused. There was nothing there. Nothing inside I could sense.
I sat back and closed my eyes, stopped trying to think. Breathing was where I would start. I would inhale peace and exhale my panic. And I was having a panic attack.
The music was soft. I could hear the men who were polishing the pews moving along the other side of the aisle. I opened my eyes and stared at the altar, closed my eyes. Inhaled peace, exhaled the rubble in my head.
I did it a few times before kneeling again. I began to pray to St. Jude. Just being able to pull a prayer together was relaxing. I felt like the moths had stopped fluttering in my chest, but then my lungs were rattling some heavy smoke-like tightness. My exhaling had encountered the pure grief at the core of my panic. It was painful. It was out of reach though, I couldn’t bring it into light. What the hell was it inside me?
Then this stupid Nokia ringtone went sounded. This woman genuflecting in front of the altar’s ass was ringing, it echoed throughout the cathedral. She was deep in prayer, or deaf as a doornail because she let it ring on and on. Apparently for her, she was on the line with God couldn’t ask him to hold a moment to get her cellphone echoing through the entire Mission. I jest but this woman’s phone rang easily three times before she left. I like to think positive so I won’t think about how much I loathe the Nokia ringtone but instead how much I loved her leaving so I wouldn’t hear it anymore.
But the joke was on me because the phone wasn’t for her, it was for me. When I kneeled back down I began having memories of my grandad. I wasn’t thinking about him, I was remembering him as I knew him growing up. His gruff voice teasing me. The smell of him–all him, I would know him anywhere just by scent. I could hear his laughter in my head. I could see him kissing my grandmother goodbye when she died. I felt his skin, all papery and thin as I touched bruises or cuts on his arms, remember asking him where he had gotten the bruises, hearing him say it was gardening, or bringing something from the rumpus room to the bar. I could feel his hair as I cut it, soft fuzzy bristles, always a touch oily. The laughter of my mom when I shaved a bald spot on the back of his head by accident and him asking if it looked like Italy. He was real. He wasn’t a thought to me. He was a memory. Not a foggy picture of a man, but my grandad. And I was a girl. I was the grand-daughter he taught, mentored, humored, shared secrets with, and loved. And I was hurting.
I felt loved.
And with that I had a good ugly cry in the Mission for a half-hour-plus. I had no tissues and I let the snot fly. I wiped my face on my arms and hands. I smooshed nose droppings into my eyes, to my forehead, and into my hair. I didn’t censor my sorrow because it needed to be felt. It was demanding to be recognized. It didn’t care who saw my cleansing, It didn’t care who heard. It certainly didn’t care that I looked like I had an allergy to Mission de Alcala that no Benadryl dose could ever cure.
When I got up to leave I was light; I felt like I was healing a sickness I didn’t know I had. I held tight to my Rosary for the next two hours, it was the intravenous line dripping a sense of well being into my soul. I felt great.
I’m totally okay that I won’t have to do that again, in that way, until next year. But thanks, grandad. I’m glad we got to sit and visit for a while.