Some of you may remember that the last time I flew back home from LA, my world turned upside down, and because of that, a small portion of this recent trip back to LA was devoted to stressing out over whether I was stressed out. It makes sense if you’re my brain. Throughout the trip, I’d check-in, determine where I was at, then move on to the next keynote speaker, breakout session, networking social, getting kicked out of a Lyft by a complete douche, what have you; there was a lot to keep me occupied. You see, if I’m 100% truthful, I closely associate LA with death, as if the city itself had a hand in what unfolded a few years ago. The city of Angels… sure.
I knew the problem wouldn’t be in getting there, or being there, but would likely swell up on the way home. And once again, no one would be at the airport to scoop me up. So, I decided to get on the plane, pop in my earbuds, continue with my audio book, accept my Belvita biscuits with a smile, and ride the wave of emotions I’d doubtlessly feel. I’d reward myself with gum on the descent as I pretended like swallowing repeatedly would somehow keep my eardrums from feeling like they were about to explode.
Nearly a year ago, a co-worker of mine got me started on a particular series of books that I’ve been working my way through for months. They’re my guilty pleasure on my ride home from work, and keep me from noticing when I’m stuck in traffic or, you know, when that guy on the phone just cut me off. Are they great works of fiction? No. Can the author send me into fits of giggles? Absolutely. Among the nine books are several short stories that give the reader deeper insight into the major characters, and in a couple of those, the story is told from the perspective of the main character’s Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. On the flight home, I happened to be listening to one of those called The Purloined Poodle as read by Luke Daniels. Quick aside: I love the way Luke Daniels reads, and wish he’d agree to read all of my books including the phone book. I’m fairly certain he could make it delightful beginning with the intro, “The Dallas, Texas White Pages, by Southwestern Bell, as read to you by Luke Daniels.” Let’s hear some “A” names, Luke! I’ll grab some popcorn, my favorite throw, and tuck in to listen to each riveting detail. (I realize SWB isn’t a thing anymore, but that Luke knows you can’t go wrong with a classic.)
I know with Oberon, the story will be filled with sausage, gravy, and Wolfhound philosophy, and I know I’ll laugh or at the very least sit there with a goofy grin on my face.
The plane landed, and somewhere in long-term parking, having picked up my luggage and said goodbye to the Board members who were on my flight, I started my book back up. Then it hit me. I had completely forgotten to be sad. While on the flight I hadn’t indulged in my usual ritual of counting down the time until landing: “At this time, he was alive… at this time he sent a text…” I had simply gathered my things, headed to baggage claim, grabbed the long-term shuttle, and was headed home. It felt normal, and “normal” isn’t something I feel a lot.
The next day, I found the author’s email address, and I sent him a thank you. I wanted him to know that his words, given life by his talented narrator, had helped me take a hard trip home.
Later that day, I received a note from the author. (Excerpt below.)
“I hope you continue to enjoy all kinds of stories and find (or be found by) harmony, unexpectedly.”
And with that, he became my new favorite author. I’m sorry Faulkner, you never did get around to writing me.
Having found momentary peace thanks to an author, a narrator, and a fictional Irish Wolfhound, my California adventure ended.
A few weeks ago, I returned to LA. The organization on which I serve as a board member had a conference in the LA Live section of the city. (Is it a section? Entertainment district? Borough? I have no idea, just roll with me here. I’m a Texan. I remain confident it isn’t a suburb. Go me.) I went to some great sessions, met some incredible people from around the country, and ended up doing what I always do whenever I’m in a major city – daydreamed I lived there. This is the part where I usually come to terms with having no marketable job skills. (Unless the city suddenly found itself in a shortfall of sarcastic old Texas ladies. I won’t hold my breath for that one.)
Great conference aside, and skipping over me being filmed lip-synching and dancing to “Don’t Stop Believing” (why I don’t front a band, I have no idea), and not going into the details that started and ended with a single drink, waiting responsibly for an hour, and still finding myself calling my good friend with spot-on relationship advice (wait, I think that was the entire story), I’ll plow ahead to the adventure part.
The Adventure Part (I was afraid you wouldn’t know you’d just crossed that story-telling threshold)
I decided I had some free time on the last day of the conference, and I wanted to walk around the Santa Monica Pier. Now here’s the thing: I’m the worst only child you know, because I absolutely hate doing things like this on my own. I want someone to walk around with me – to have that shared experience – to sit and people watch with me, and y’know, talk about how I want to move there right now while pondering the whole lack of marketable job skills thing I mentioned earlier, and then figuring out if it’s too late to squeeze in Disney Land before the plane takes off the next morning.
Now I blame this discomfort with being alone on a few things, but the main one being that I think I’m a shifty-looking sort. I base that not on the mirror, but on having been followed many times as a kid through stores by security staff. Once I noticed I had a tail, and I did on a couple of occasions, I’d bee-line them over to my Mom, where they’d stand back and stare, confident I’d taken something, but not having any proof. That would be because I didn’t take things. I was that kid who would save my allowance (in an Ovaltine jar), and when we’d go out shopping, I’d look at my potential treasures carefully, trying to decide if whatever it was would be worth giving up whatever amount I had saved thus far. Usually it wasn’t, but I’d hold onto a thing, twirl it around in my hands, and think about whether the momentary joy of owning it right now would prevent me from getting something even better if I waited and saved a bit more. My intent was always clear: I strongly desired whatever it was I held in my hand, but more often than not, I would put it back on its shelf. This could take 5-15 minutes, which I guess is suspicious to those who can make faster decisions. At $2 per week, I had to be careful, and it drove my Mom, who was more of an impulse “buy it now” person, crazy. However, while I missed out on a number of great things, I was able to save enough to get my first 10-speed (with help from my Dad at the end after recognizing how committed I was to my bicycle dreams). All of that to say, I think this started my whole “not comfortable alone in my own skin in public” thing.
I spoke to several friends, because I couldn’t convince the other Board members to join me, and they all said, “You can do it. Just get an Uber or Lyft, and go!” So easy. So easy, that on Saturday I paced my hotel room, and was working myself into being ok with just staying in and watching a movie. It’ll be fine. Then I paced some more. Finally, my friend Anna said, “Take me with you and show me the Pier,” and that’s all it took. I’d be ok, I would FaceTime Anna. I wouldn’t be alone, really.
I took a Lyft for the first time, got to the Pier, and the Universe had a grand giggle by making a FaceTime connection impossible. But the story isn’t in the things I saw, or did there on the Pier or along the beach, which were a combination of beautiful, relaxing and entertaining. No, the story is in the ride home.
I May Have Lied About the Adventure Part Start
Ok, so the real adventure part starts here.
I opened my little Lyft app and summoned my ride home. I used all the tips I’d gotten from my first Lyft driver. I made sure the address it displayed matched the place I was standing. I was in a less congested area, and made certain I was easily seen from the road. Voila! As expected, a car appeared and Russell picked me up.
Russell had a lot to say, and I’ll just sum it up here. Russell needed me to know he was an LA native who drove for fun; he liked getting out. He didn’t NEED to drive like other drivers out there. In fact, he had been in the process of getting a new BMW, but his wife didn’t want him driving a ton of people around in it. So, he took what he would have used on a down payment for the BMW, and he bought the car I was in. He let me know his watch was worth more than the car. Ok. That’s great. He used all of this to explain that he didn’t like condescending riders. I said something profound like, “I don’t think most people enjoy condescending people.”
To better explain his personality in a way that Southerners and Texans understand: He was that guy – one who had that hyper-aggressive, smug, false confidence that you sometimes associate with people from large city centers north of the Mason-Dixon line. In other words, he was obnoxious. *wink* You know what I’m saying.
But…I didn’t care as long as he got me from point A to B. Bolster yourself as much as you need, my fine fellow, but get me to my hotel.
We had to pick up another passenger. I had opted for the “share-a-ride,” because I don’t mind other people, and yay cost savings. You see, my watch isn’t worth more than my car, and it’s questionable as to whether it’s worth more than my bicycle. His app beeped, and we headed over to pick up the next person.
When we got there, there were about 20 people standing around, and no one stood out as someone looking for a ride. Russell attempted to call them on speaker, and either the person answered, or it was their voicemail. Their words were not in English. “Oh no! I’m not doing that today. Nope. I’m cancelling their ride. I’m not in the mood,” Russell gruffed indignantly. Great. I guess I’m glad I’m white, and you deigned to pick me up, you obnoxious, smug, racist douche. When he cancels their ride, he accidentally cancels mine, too. He realizes this and starts throwing a fit, “You have to reschedule your ride.” I pulled out my phone and opened the Lyft app for the third time ever, and tried to re-request a ride. I wasn’t getting any response, or any connection. “I’m having a hard time getting this to work.” “You have to do it NOW. Do it now. Open the app and request a new driver.” “I’m doing that, and maybe I’m doing something wrong. Do you want to look at it?” “NO!!! I don’t know how to use that app,” he sneered. “Ok, well I think it’s not connecting.” “LOOK! If you can’t get this done. I’m going to have to drop you off. Where are you going, anyway?” “I’m going to the JW Marriott on Olympic.” “I don’t know where that is. What’s the cross street?” Well, here’s the thing. I don’t usually know cross streets in cities where I don’t live. It’s on Crossy McCrosserton Street as far as I know. I think I’m doing great just knowing the address to begin with when someone else has GPS!!! Make that magic happen. Maybe use your fancier-than-your-car watch. I don’t know. “You’re just going to have to get out of the car if you can’t figure this out.” “Ok, I think it’s better if you drop me off then you can find a new ride with someone who can use the app better.” He pulls over, let’s me out, “Sorry!” then speeds off. I texted the rest of the Board, “Hey guys, I just got kicked out of a Lyft.” If about three grown men could have magically transported into the area, they would have in that moment, and Russell would have probably regretted a couple of life choices.
“Beth, just use Uber or Lyft, it will be fine.” I mumbled after sending the text to my team, mocking my dear friends’ sweet voices, while standing in who-knows-where Santa Monica. “THIS is why I don’t go places by myself.” I re-opened Lyft and summoned another ride. Nine minutes later I received a message on my phone, “Your ride is here, and will be leaving in a couple of minutes.” I scanned the cars along the road I was on, and nope…not there. Of course, they’re not, because I should have watched movies at the hotel. That’s how we don’t get stranded in major cities. Can’t get stranded if you don’t go places. FACT.
My phone rang, “Hi Beth, this is Lyda. I’m waiting for you.” I explained where I was, then looked at the app which had mis-identified my location. I considered throwing a small, whimpering, pity party. “I’m walking to this intersection, Lyda, and I’m in front of a Starbucks. “You stay there, I’m putting that into my GPS and will find you.” Ten minutes later, when I thought Lyda had probably given up, my phone rang again, “Beth, turn to your right. Do you see me waving at you?” I love Lyda.
The rest of the trip back to the hotel, Lyda told me about her family and her life in LA. We laughed the entire way, and I suspect her watch, much like mine, wasn’t worth more than her car. The measure of a person is not in material things, and she will be measured by her kindness, her generosity, and her taking a few extra moment to find and rescue a stranger right as they were flipping through their meltdown Rolodex to determine the size/flavor of the one that was about to burst forth.
That ended that adventure. And while I’m still not 100% convinced solo adventures are the best; I saw new things, experienced the simple beauty of the ocean – from its sounds, to the feel of the waves lapping against my legs, and I survived. Thank you, Lyda. Also, thank you Anna for giving me the final push that got me out there. We’re going to go again, so I can show it to you in person – the Pier, the ocean, and the Third Street Promenade. FaceTime won’t trick me twice!
On July 9, 2016, while waiting to disembark from my plane, I turned off the “airplane mode” setting on my phone, and a text came through, “I won’t be able to pick you up today.” It was from my husband. I wasn’t alarmed; sometimes the world could be too much. Sometimes he couldn’t handle the cars darting about, the crowds of people; it could make him extremely anxious. It could be paralyzing. To me that text only meant I would have to take a taxi home. It’s just what it was. Then I walked onto the concourse, and my world started turning upside down. A voice over a loudspeaker summoned me to a white courtesy phone. From there I was met by a police officer who told me another officer, from the city where we lived, was en route to talk to me. That officer arrived, and I was informed that Jay had passed away. Impossible. He had just sent me a text. I was taken home to find my house surrounded in crime tape, and people from victim’s services waiting for me on my driveway. My husband, the person I had been with for 17 years, was now gone, and my home was a crime scene.
Not only had I lost my husband, my best-friend, my co-conspirator, and my favorite person; I had lost my identity. I was no longer a wife, a best-friend, the other half of the best part of us. I had lost purpose. The house had fallen silent.
It’s still silent…
There is a stigma associated with mental illness. A belief that if a person just tried harder, manned-up, not been a baby, they’d have been fine. A belief that a person is actively choosing to be miserable.
So, let me set the record straight. Jay didn’t die because he was weak. He didn’t die because he couldn’t “fake it till he made it;” a regimen of “more smiling” wasn’t the cure for his depression. Jay died because he felt hopeless. Jay died because he felt that seeing one more doctor to adjust his medication was pointless, and that it ultimately wouldn’t change how worthless he felt inside. He felt another appointment with an ENT still wouldn’t fix his untreated sleep apnea. He felt like a disappointment. And the depression combined with extreme fatigue made him feel like he was going insane. I cannot begin to imagine how his last day ultimately unfolded, but I do imagine he felt that he’d finally get some relief. I imagine he felt like he’d no longer disappoint everyone in his life. He would no longer disappoint me.
Let me say here what I had told him on many occasions: he was never a disappointment. He was beautiful.
There is a stigma associated with suicide. After a week of being gone, I returned to work braced to read the condolence cards that were doubtlessly waiting for me on my desk. There weren’t any. My desk was exactly the same as it had been before I’d left. No cards, no flowers, no acknowledgment. In fact, some people who knew Jay had died avoided me. We thrive in our communities, and to be denied this thing that is almost a given was traumatizing. No one did it to hurt me; for the most part they love me. It was that no one was quite sure what to do given the circumstances. Those who didn’t know would innocently drop by to cheerfully ask how my vacation went, and I got the unenviable task of explaining, “Jay died.” I finally had to ask people to spread that news, because I couldn’t cope with telling one more person and watching their faces fall.
If Jay had died of anything else, there would have been a card. I would have been embraced by my community. People would know what to say. They would know what to do.
And because of that same stigma, I wouldn’t tell people either, because I knew I’d be judged. I hadn’t kept my house in order. I hadn’t stopped him. What was so broken in our lives that my husband would choose suicide? What had Beth done to drive someone to make that choice? I kept silent to avoid whispers.
That stops now.
Next Saturday, on November 10th, I will walk in the Out of Darkness walk – a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I will walk for my husband. I walk for my best friend. I walk for my favorite person. I will walk for me.
On November 10th, my team will walk for a lost brother, son, uncle, and friend. A few will walk for me – to hold my hand, to peer into my face and see if I’m ok, and they will keep me strong as they continue on this endless vigil – my protective vanguard.
Together we will walk to support the other survivors out there, the people who need strength, who need a reminder that despite the tragedy, they’re still here, and they’re still ok. We walk in the hopes that the funds we raise, the awareness this walk brings may prevent another family from joining us. We walk to help remove the stigma that surrounds depression and suicide.
So I ask you one final time: Won’t you please join us? Whether it’s by spending a couple of hours walking beside us on November 10th to walk around the state’s capitol, or through a gift to this organization? I strongly believe that what this organization is doing for survivors, and for those who struggle is important, and it is vital.
If you’re unable to give at this time, that’s ok. Share a kind word, a show of support, a story, something about your love for Jay, for me, for this amazingly strong and resilient family; it means the world to us.
I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we love and appreciate each of you.
Last night as I laid my head down on my desk, cringing after having just edited my latest blog entry, I thought, “it’s time to write another post acknowledging that girl, you cannot type to save your life.” This is just a fact. I type, I edit, I post, I edit, and then I edit at least five more times to be sure, tweaking the post bit by bit until I’m finally convinced, “I got this!” while knowing I’ll come back a day later to find even more glaring goofs. I have yet to write that flawless elusive post. One day.
With that post, I hoped to accomplish two things:
Acknowledge that I am painfully aware of just how bad my typing can be. That some days it may actually hurt your eyes or your soul to read.
Somehow convince you guys to wait a day or maybe 15 (15 is good, right?) before reading my posts, which would maybe give me enough time to catch the vast majority of my errors (although that’s probably still unlikely as I know my track record better than most)
I thought about trying to explain that sometimes my brain works faster than my typing fingers. I thought about adding that I’m so familiar with my writing that when I edit, I miss the words that need to be fixed, because my brain is “lalala-ing” along with the familiar flow of my speech pattern/sentence structure that it’s actually filling in the missing pieces. And the truth is that the further I get away from what I’ve written, the better I am at catching all those little glaring bits. The ones that cause me to lay my head down on my desk and cringe a ton.
I guess those are the joys of reading a personal blog? Lucky you?
I also decided I would share some related anecdotes to drive that point home – stories that provide further proof that I can neither edit nor type – just something for your amusement, and a chance to really enjoy how bad it all can get for me, then maybe you’d all laugh WITH me.
Today my cousin posted a question on Facebook: “Name something random about u” after he’d offered up a random fact about himself. I was in. I do a lot of random things, and what I should have done was mentioned being in a mariachi. I now deeply regret not just saying, “I was in a mariachi!” and ending it there. But no, that would be too un-Beth like. So, I had to mention hairballs. Here’s the thing, the mere sight of them makes me gag. And if you start talking about them in things, on things, around things, whether they’re wet or dry, I’ll have to hyper focus to avoid going into a coughing fit. Thank you Burger King for a quirk that has settled well in over the decades (don’t ask), and I truly wish my brain would let it go, but brains… y’know? I could have told the story just like that, too. But no… I wrote: “Also, the sight of balls hair makes me cough.” Yep, I typed “balls hair”. And I felt good about that post. I hit enter and went on my merry little “balls hair” hating way, announcing my particular random distaste for said “balls hair” to all of his good friends. Hi, this is my cousin. She hates balls hair enough that she wanted to just share that with y’all and the rest of the world. She’s also someone we can’t have out in polite society. Now you all know why. Oh, you only drink Guiness on a full moon? Well my cousin Beth here – yeah, she hates the balls hair.
I logged back in to see someone had haha’ed my post, and I knew immediately, without looking, that I’d typed something goofy. When I read my post, I turned bright red, started blushing profusely and well ok, there was some giggling, because I just told the whole world my feelings on “balls hair,” but I was completely mortified. Why I couldn’t type “hairball,” the way we all refer to them, or hey, “MARIACHI”, I’ll never know. I looked around sheepishly, hit the edit button, inserted a well-placed “of” in there, and wrote a quick disclaimer. But the damage couldn’t be undone. I’m now the balls hair hater. 😦
I wish this story were somehow unusual for me instead of just being the latest example.
One more story – A couple of months back, I asked my brother-in-law to pick up a sandwich since he was on his way over. A simple request. When he arrived he handed me the sandwich, YAY, and then said, “stop using voice-to-text”. Granted this isn’t a “me typing poorly” story, but more a “me failing to edit” one, which in truth is actually my problem. I barely skim what Siri has said. I looked at him with surprise, furrowed my brow a bit, and then opened the actual text. In that text, the one that sent, the one Siri decided would be a bit funny, I apparently made a rather lewd suggestion. You know, the kind of suggestion you NEVER want to send to your brother-in-law, because NOOOOO – not ok. BAD TOUCH! What I learned from this was not, “Beth, stop using voice-to-text.” No, I learned to now have Siri type: “I’m using voice-to-text. Siri makes fun of my accent. I’m not responsible for the things to come. Just read the words out loud like you’re me. You’ll get the gist.”
Which brings me back to the purpose of this post. I will also never be the type of editor that discovers all of the errors. What I will do is, I will typo. I will always fail to edit thoroughly, and I will still hit the post button. I will also keep working on my story for several days, and I will keep catching those errors. So, my ask is: if you can’t wait a few days, then just read what I write with light eyes. Gently glide over the typos, fill in the blanks of the butchered words or mangled phrases. If you see a whoopsied homonym instead of the proper word, read that sentence aloud, and delete your memory of the spelling Men In Black style – just look at K’s pen. Also, feel free to liberally bless my heart.
But at least be thankful I didn’t write a post about “balls hair.” Oh wait. I guess I did.
Huge thanks to everyone who makes it through my actual writing to read my stories; it’s much appreciated – more than you know. I love you guys!
In September of 2016 I spoke to my friend Kelly, a Chinese linguist who had been in Military Intelligence for years, and asked him about the symbol lì. Kelly explained:
“Lì is the character for “power” or “physical force”. Lì is added to some characters to mean the type of strength. Tì is the character for “body”. So “Tì Lì” means physical strength or power. So, there is no one word for strength, but many based on the type of strength being described. It also is general enough to mean “power” in its many forms. There is also something very beautiful in the fact that such a basic two stroke character can represent so strong a concept, literally.”
On that day, I carved a mental image of it onto my wrist. Something no one would ever notice, unless it was in a, “wow, have you guys noticed Beth is kind of fixated on her arm? It’s weird, right? I mean, we were talking, and suddenly her eyes just went to that spot again. Is that a thing? Is there some kind of wrist chakra? Like you stare and it’s activated? Or maybe she’s hinting that something is on MY wrist, but is too polite. Hey, would you mind looking at my wrist? Is there something there? I’m calling my doctor. It could be malignant.”
Whenever I felt I needed to be reminded that I was strong, I’d just glance down at my wrist.
For a while now people have insisted I am “strong,” even “courageous” at times. I’m to be “admired” for these qualities. I’m never quite sure if they genuinely believe that, or if it’s more in hope that the words will prop me up enough so that I can get up and persevere a bit more. Sure, there are days I feel strong. Days I greet with a mighty roar, but there are days I want to sit in the dark coolness of my bedroom and not be bothered for minutes on end. (Well, that idea always sounds great, and about 30 minutes in, I start getting bored especially when I haven’t settled on a decent movie to watch, and my only TV choice involves a Kardashian performing a keg stand. Which by the way, why? Does beer taste better that way? Are you joining a beer circus? What is up with that?)
On Monday, July 9th, the anniversary of Jay’s death, my friend April texted and asked if I wanted to finally get a tattoo – the thing I’d been talking about for two years. Over the last two years she and several friends had heard me carry on about various tattoo parlors, and a favorite artist I’d selected. They listened as the symbol morphed from a simple character to one where it appeared as if it had been torn from my skin, to a tribal phoenix, to a water colored phoenix, to the phrase, “I am the storm,” and then back to a simple character. No wonder I couldn’t commit.
My knee-jerk reaction was, “no, nope, I’m good, thanks!” Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “y’know, why not today? Today on the anniversary. A day where it would have the most meaning,” and I said, “yes.”
A friend once said, “you know in your heart that you are strong, why do you need a tattoo?” (That’s paraphrased a bit, but that’s how I understood them.) And my answer is simple: I don’t always see myself the way you do. I know. I’m not unique in this belief. Don’t we all see more in our friends and family than they’re sometimes able to see? We see their raw beauty, their own simple elegance, and just how truly awe-inspiring they are with their wings outstretched, and you wish that for a minute they could understand themselves the way you understand them – see themselves the way you do. So, this tattoo serves as a tangible reminder when they’re not around that I am strong, and it’s there for the days I feel I’ve lost my way – a silent calligraphy sentinel.
As to the question, “how did you choose your wrist?” Well, its always been there. The only thing that changed is now you can see it, too.
And I can see it when I can’t.
PS Thank you to DeAnne and April who chose to also get tattoos to honor those they’ve lost, which included Jay. I cannot begin to properly express how touching I found those gestures.
WARNING: The following post contains certain details regarding Jay’s suicide, and the aftermath. It may be inappropriate for some readers.
Did you know?
My question in return: Can you tell? At what point in that text exchange would you get Jay help? Tell me. Please. What is it you think I missed?
I was exhausted after my trip to LA. While I’d had a decent time, seen things I’d never seen before, done things I’d never done before, I was woefully short on sleep, and I hadn’t really had a chance to talk to Jay in private. The few moments I was able to steal to have a private chat involved me nearly crying while saying, “I just want to come home,” and he patiently reminded me that I’d be home soon. I asked if we could come back. His response: “If it’s still there.” 🙂
I woke up that morning still tired, but happy. Finally! I was going home. Jay would get me from the airport, we’d get lunch, and then I’d face-plant like a champ.
On the way to my terminal I found a penny on the ground. I snapped it up. A good omen; it was going to be a great day. I don’t touch pennies now except to drop them on the ground if they’re handed to me.
I received Jay’s text letting me know he wouldn’t be picking me up. I guessed it was another anxiety attack. People, crowds, traffic… it was frequently overwhelming, but while I understood, I was still disappointed, and quite frankly a little irritated. I would need to get a cab. My idea of how the day would go shifted a bit, but it was manageable, and I knew I’d walk into the house a little mad despite knowing that sometimes Jay couldn’t do all the things. While I was waiting to deplane, I checked my wallet – ah, enough for a long cab ride. It wasn’t the end of the world.
This is the actual phone. I see it every time I’m in the airport. I see me at it every time I’m in the airport, and I wait for the officer to come get me.
I walked onto the concourse to hear my name being called over the loudspeaker. Please pick up a white courtesy phone. I almost didn’t, because I got it – I had to find my own way home. Thank you. I didn’t need them to tell me. “Ma’am, let me get my supervisor.” “Hello, am I speaking to Beth, and your husband is Jay, correct? I need you to tell me where you are. You need to stay right there, and an Austin Police Department officer will come get you.”
I knew Jay was in trouble, but he’d just texted that he wouldn’t be able to get me. Something must have happened outside the airport. “Are you ok?” Nothing. I’d forgotten that “airplane mode” held texts, so the message he’d sent wasn’t new. In fact it was about 25 minutes old. He was already dead. The officer approached me. “We’re going to walk to our office here in the airport.” “Has something happened to Jay?” “I don’t know, I’m supposed to take you to the office, and a Pflugerville Police officer is going to come talk to you.” Why is she coming out here to talk to me? Did Jay have an accident? Did something happen with one of the neighbors? I started working out a plan to get a lawyer. I’d get recommendations. I knew lawyers, just none who specialized in the type of field I thought we might need – criminal law.
Officer O’Neil arrived, “Are you Beth? Are you married to Jay? Do you live at this address?” and then she told me the news. Lies. I just got his text. There wasn’t time for him to be gone. There wasn’t time for a police officer to be dispatched. Why would she lie? I stared at her and fell apart. Not Jay. “He let us know, and told us we needed to come get you. That’s why I’m here. Let me take you home”
The house was surrounded in crime scene tape, and two victim services volunteers waited for me on the driveway. “You’ll need to stand out here. The police are going through your house and collecting evidence. He’s in the backyard. Your dog is ok. When they clear the kitchen you can go into that room. Here’s some information you might need. Is there anyone we should call?”
Calls were made. People started arriving. “Beth, they’re taking him away now. Do you want to touch him through the body bag?” “You’re going to have to have someone clean up your patio. Here are numbers to call of companies who specialize in that. Do you know where your insurance information is?” “Ma’am, we need to act quickly. Jay is a donor, and we would like your consent to take…” “Beth, so-and-so is on the phone, they want to talk to you.” “Where are Jay’s meds?” ”Had he ever expressed any intention of harming himself?” “Did he suffer from depression?” “Here’s the number for the medical examiner. You’ll need to call her.”“We’re taking his gun as evidence, do you want it back?” “What do you want to eat?” “Where is your Dad? We need to help your Dad.” “What would you like us to do with his body?” “Have you thought about where you’d like to hold a service?” “Is this ok?” “Is this what you want?” “Was there a will?” “Your neighbor told us she threw holy water over the fence and prayed for Jay. Wasn’t that nice?” “Beth, tell us a story about Jay?” For several days my life was filled with questions, so many questions, and insurmountable sadness; it was completely overwhelming.
I only had one question that I’d ask out loud when no one could hear. “Why didn’t you kill me, too? WHY?! I hate you.” because being alive in a world without Jay is really f*ing hard. It’s still hard. (Important side note: I feel I need to say that I am not, nor have I ever been, in danger of self-harm. I’m too curious about what the next day holds.)
I died that day. The Beth you knew vanished, and I’m sorry guys, you just get this – an actress uniquely skilled at playing my role. My ability to sympathize is completely wrecked. Within weeks of his death, people outside of my main group of family and close friends started, and continue to, come to me with their sadness and their woes, as if I’m now uniquely qualified to guide them through their hardship – as if I can impart some wisdom, and I’m thunderstruck by how much I genuinely do not care. So much so that I have to shove down the urge not to express that sentiment out loud in order to hide how truly damaged I am. Let me qualify that a bit to say that there is a small amount of sympathy that manages to still cling on, much like “hope” in the story of Pandora, and it’s reserved for those closest to me (and their kids). In fact, if I’m teetering around the abyss of in my mind, all it takes is one well-placed, “Aunt Beth!” or “June?” and I’m paused – able to draw back – momentarily me.
At a friend’s suggestion, I recently took a personality assessment that looks at personal strengths, and the one I apparently lead with is “empathy.” I was surprised until I read its description. Basically, it said I’m decent at picking up on others – their emotions, their unspoken questions; however, “[I] don’t necessarily feel pity for someone’s predicament – that’s sympathy.” And I don’t. I used to, but I just don’t. Again, with the heavy qualifier that I do when it comes to my family and closest friends. I have real limits on how much of other’s burdens I can shoulder, and it’s not a lot. Does it grow? Sure. And I reserve it for the people who made up my protective phalanx – my vanguard. Your next door neighbor’s hairdresser’s cousin who is suffering unimaginable hardship is sad. I am sorry for them. Don’t text me hoping I will console you.
And I take things wrong – very wrong. The most well-intentioned words get flipped into something you absolutely didn’t intend. Something as simple as, “You seem like you’re handling things well. If I were in your shoes I’d be devastated,” as a testament of strength sounds like, “you clearly didn’t care about him; you’re not sad enough.” There are more examples, but I know if I list them, someone will read themselves into what I’ve said, and then I have to negotiate their emotions, and I can’t. I just can’t.
You see, you’ve lost part of me, and in its place is a newer me.
On November 10, 2018 I will be walking to raise funds for Suicide Awareness as part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walk. It starts at 10am and is approximately 5k. If you’d like to make a donation, you may do so at this link:
In seventeen days it will be the second anniversary of Jay’s death. There have been two missed anniversaries, 24 missed monthiversaries, and four missed birthday celebrations (both mine and his). I count each one. And it’s been heavily implied that time is running out. I should stop mourning. I need to pack those emotions up, and stow them away. Surely, enough time has gone by. You can’t still be sad. Time heals all wounds, right? And your hour glass just ran out of sand, chica.
So many careless words spilled at my feet. Words that amount to, “Buck up little camper! It’s time to move on! You’ve had two delightfully self-indulgent, sad years, so let’s turn that frown upside down! Pssst, also we didn’t want to mention it, hun, so of course we are, we’re all impossibly bored now. I mean “boo hoo,” am I right? Whoopsy poo, someone just spoke that thought bubble out loud. AWKWARD! I should really lay off the wine!”
Little spoken reminders litter my days letting me know there’s a cutoff date on expressing my feelings. There’s a cutoff date on my mourning. There’s a cutoff date for sharing my loss.
“You can get away with saying that for now.”
“You don’t realize how much you talk about Jay.”
“Don’t worry about [what you just said], she can handle it now.”
I get it. I do. It’s exhausting. You’re over it. You’ve moved on, but I’m still here. Me. Your friend. Moving through time, yet some how fixed. I’m still sad. Maybe not like I was, but it ripples beneath the surface sometimes bubbling forth at unexpected or inconvenient times. Sometimes erupting. Maybe not all of the days – some of the days – fewer days. And parts of me are permanently damaged – never to be fixed.
A broken teacup – pieced back together – whole in structure, but fractures ribbon through the beloved and familiar pattern. Made whole again, still beautiful – new, similar – not the same.
And while my sadness doesn’t define me, I do get sad. My heart aches. The tears spill.
I recently discovered the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, which has a number of great resources, and I truly wish I’d found them sooner. That lead me to the local chapter’s website where I found this beautiful manifesto from one of their members. I need you to read this, and keep me in mind – keep Jay in mind.
Revised by Farren Smith with credit to Laura McCord
I will not get over this regardless of how much time has passed. There is a wound in my heart that will never heal.
I will speak my loved ones name whenever I wish. They existed – a beautiful person and I will not allow them to be forgotten.
I will cry for my loved one whenever I feel the need – be it in the grocery store, the middle of a restaurant or at home in bed and I will not feel embarrassed.
I believe I lost my loved one to an illness not unlike cancer, diabetes or heart disease. That illness might not have been visible, but it was no less real – or deadly.
I will not allow any stigma to fall on me because of my loved ones choices. Their decision was made from an unimaginable pain and a desperate attempt to end their suffering. No one – not even my loved one is to blame.
I will allow myself to feel no matter what emotion I experience whenever I feel it. Be it guilt, anger, resentment, rage or laughter at a fond memory. I will accept these feelings as a natural part of grieving and express them however I need.
I am entitled to the same respect and kindness, sympathy and dignity shown for the survivors of any other kind of death. No matter the cause I lost someone I loved dearly. My grief is justified and no less important than anyone else’s.
I will allow no one to slander or smear, belittle or demean the name or memory of my loved one. Their death is in no way a reflection of the person they were and I refuse to let one action define them.
Finally, I accept that I will never be the same person I was before this loss and I will not pretend otherwise for anyone’s comfort. In fact, I will demand that others in my life accept these truths and accept me.
And I say all of that as a reminder to everyone that I’m not over it. That there’s no time limit on my feelings. I’m not going to reach July 9th and shrug and say, “well, we had a good run sadness, but Jay isn’t going to be more alive if I cry one more time. AMIRITE?” You’re all right: I am still very strong and I am still funny and cheerful and goofy, and all of those other adjectives. But please don’t shut down my sadness, or ask me to move on, or ask that I not speak the name of my favorite person because you’ve heard it enough, you’ve moved on, or you’re quite simply bored with it. Because if you truly are, that’s fine, even understandable, and you can also move on out of my life. No hard feelings. Best of luck to you. May you never know sadness.
On November 10th I will participate in the Out of the Darkness 5k walk for Jay in Austin, TX. I would love it if you would join me or support my team. There will be a second walk in Dallas – a 16 mile Out of the Darkness next June. That one starts at dusk and ends at dawn. You truly are walking out of the darkness. As you walk across the finish line, the path is illuminated by luminaries, representing those who were lost. The ones who weren’t able to make it out of the darkness.
Let’s raise awareness. Help honor Jay, and do our best to help destigmatize mental health issues. Will you take a walk with me? Because I’m here to tell you that I will continue to honor him, to celebrate both him and his memory, and I will never stop.