(Originally written on December 12, 2018)
It is a hot day in the middle of summer, and I am finally getting around to an errand I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of months now. Small bells jingle as I walk into the dry cleaners.
“Just the one item today, please” I say, setting the bundled coat down. The woman at the counter picks it up and examines it with a furrowed brow. She hmmms softly before looking at me with gentle eyes over a ragged hood. “This must be a very special item” she says.
“It is”, I agree.
There are ripped seams on the inside. The cuffs of the sleeves have split and fuzzy liner is sticking out in places. Just recently, a lighter has somehow made its way through the ripped pocket and migrated to the lining on the bottom left side. I like to feel it with my fingers, rub it like a worry stone.
The coat is too small, but I can get it zipped up – most days anyway. The week before my period I struggle and if I manage, it unzips itself as soon as I bend over or sit down. No matter though. Even though tight, it isn’t actually uncomfortable and even if it was I’m not sure that would stop me. I have memories of you in this coat. Pictures. A tangible piece of yesterday carried to the present. I wear it like a hug. This coat is my version of a stuffed animal loved out of all it’s fur. The Velvatine Rabbit of outerwear.
Here are some of the things I’ve done since you’ve been gone. Started CODA. Learned Tarot. Attended yoga classes. Rearranged my room. Stopped working at the Waffle on the weekends and still managed financially. Made new friends. Built new relationships with old friends, healing over the space you left. Learned to cook. Started reading again. Started writing again. Dated. Quit smoking in favor of vaping. Started a skincare routine. Gotten new tattoos. Traveled to LA and saw the ocean. Laughed a lot. Cried a lot. Stayed sober. Stayed alive. I think…I think you’d be proud of me.
More importantly though, am I proud of myself? I think…I think I am. There are days of course, when I’m not. When the dark voices seep in through the cracks to marinate in my bones. Days when my gratitude list feels hollow and I can’t rid myself of the weight of those I’ve lost. You, Kate, my mother. The weight of coffins I didn’t carry. Then, my sorrow turns sour, resentfulness bubbling under my skin. Thoughts of It Isn’t Fair and This Is Too Much take residence in my brain, leaving no room for anything else. Yeah, there have been quite a few days like those.
This though, is why at the end of it all, I’m still proud of myself. I’ve gone there, but I haven’t stayed there. I haven’t become trapped and cornered by my own grief. I still love. I still hope. I’ve learned just how human I am. Neither better nor worse than anyone else. And in that in between space, the times when the voices recede and my soul clears up, like a sky after a storm, I’ve done all those things listed above. I’ve grieved, yes – but I’ve also lived.
I don’t think your coat will make it past this winter. That’s okay. It will have served it’s purpose, having kept me warm through the first two winters without you. I will thank it for it’s time and let go. I will shop for a new coat. I will continue my list of living and add more items. I will thank the shadows for making way for the light. I will continue to live.