It’s hard to believe it has been two years since the bottom fell out. Two years since I lost my faith in permanence. Two years since I stopped believing that all things that were good would stay good.
Two years (and a handful of days) ago, James and I said goodbye to our beloved Chow mix rescue dog Leo. He was 14 years old, blind, rail thin, his poor doggie body ravaged by cancer. It was heartbreaking to watch him waste away, and even more heartbreaking to make the decision to inject him with the syringe that would induce eternal sleep. Little did I know two years ago that was only the beginning.
A week after that sad day at the vet’s office, an innocent phone call home to wish my Mom a happy birthday – a milestone, her 60th – quickly turned strange. Mom was tense, angry, unfamiliar. She didn’t want to tell me, but I pried it out of her. Dad had cancer. It was aggressive, inoperable, terminal. Dad was going to die.
And from there, it only got worse. Bad news kept coming faster than I could absorb it. The horrifying summer in Olympia where I realized that my Mom, who’d been slipping away, was already gone. Suddenly it seemed that everyone I knew was sick. My Mom, my Dad, my Grandmother, my dear friend Rory, and of course, Leo. One by one, they all left. Died. I started calling this time in my life ‘the vortex,’ referring to the whirlpool that kept sucking me down, down, down, underwater, with no end in sight, with no hope of resurfacing.
But end it did. Finally. People stopped leaving, stopped dying. (I feel compelled to knock on every piece of wood in my house.) For a while, I just surveyed the damage, a witness to it all. Shocked, shaken, yet still standing. For a while, I was paralyzed. I’d always been a writer, but I couldn’t write. I’d always been an actress, but I couldn’t act. Words sounded funny coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t string sentences together. All the creative ways that I’d normally express myself stopped working. I was completely and utterly stuck.
Eventually, I started to get angry. Angry about what had happened, the unfairness of it all. But also, angry about my inability to do anything about it. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the psychiatrist whose groundbreaking book On Death and Dying introduced her theory of the five stages of grief, said, ‘Anger surfaces once you are feeling safe enough to know you will probably survive whatever comes.’ I had survived, and as I surveyed what remained of my life, I became angry. I realized I’d been living a life that was smaller than what I wanted, that I wasn’t living up to my potential, that I was making my choices out of fear. And so I started to change.
I could say that life changed me. But I don’t think that’s true. I think what’s actually true is that through painful experience, life held a mirror up to my face, to show me the person that I was supposed to be. Peering into that unyielding looking glass has, at times, been brutal. But it has also been necessary.
Two years after it all started to unravel, the pain is still fresh. Sometimes it’s too intense for words. Sometimes I hate it. But it also drives me. It drives me to write and to create and to work harder than I ever have before. With my faith in permanence gone, the urgency to say it now and do it now and feel it now is unceasing.
Two years later, I could say I’m doing better. And in many ways, that’s true. Living through and dwelling inside the most intense emotions I’ve ever experienced has made me a better writer, a better actor, and a better me. I’m sadder and I’m less sure, true. But I’m also more alive. I’m more awake.
Two years later, I still try. I still hope. I still dream. I still experience joy. But it’s different now. It’s tougher. But so am I. And so is my resolve. My resolve to never give up.
Two years later, I wonder if I’ll ever truly feel better. And sometimes, I wonder if I’d even want to.
Until next time, friends.