Five months down and an eternity to go. It’s time to check in with my bad self again.
Lar: I was watching Big Little Lies last week and Meryl Streep’s character, Mary Louise, said, “People are never really gone. They live on in the hearts of those they leave behind.” And I had to pause it for a few moments.
Me: I remember. What made you pause?
Lar: I’ve just been missing him so much lately.
Me: You’ve been missing the rapist vampire dude from True Blood?
Lar: You’re a funny guy.
Me: Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I miss him a lot too.
Lar: It’s just been a particularly rough month. More than I expected.
Me: Maura being in New York certainly has a lot to do with it.
Lar: Ya think? Yes, of course it does! I miss her so much! I’m getting really good at all of this missing crap.
Me: You’ve reached expert level.
Lar: What do I win? I should at least get some type of a trophy or a Cowardly Lion medal. I didn’t know that missing someone could be so painful.
Me: You did, you just never felt it as deeply before. Love and grief. Maura and Rob. How many times have you read The Catcher in the Rye?
Lar: “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
Me: That’s right, Holden.
Lar: We have a new Holden right next door. That’s what our neighbors Allie and Ryan named their baby boy.
Me: He’s a real cutie!
Lar: Best baby name ever! You know we’re swapping apartments next week with Allie’s folks who live in N.Y.?
Me: I do know because, as you’ve pointed out on more than one occasion, I am you! And we’re going to see Maura! Yay!
Lar: I can’t wait to see her! So I got the love part covered. But grief is a different story with no happy ending. Rob won’t be there.
Me: Yes, he will be. You said it yourself. He’s here, there and everywhere. You carry him in your heart. Always.
Lar: Rob is in my heart and will always be there, but you can’t have lunch with your heart. You can’t give your heart a hug or put your arm around his shoulders. Rob will always have my heart, but he’s not here, and that’s the load that’s hard to carry. It’s too much. I know I said this last time and I’ll probably say it again, but I just thought that things would get easier. That the pain would be less.
Me: The pain is less. It’s just that it’s still pain. It’s always going to be here with us. Forever. But it’s not as intense as it was in the beginning, is it?
Lar: No, it’s not. It’s exactly like that viral tweet about the ball in the box.
Me: Caryn sent you that a few days after Rob died.
Lar: Hold on a sec. Lemme find it…“So grief is like this: There’s a box with a ball in it. And a pain button. In the beginning, the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it—it just keeps hurting. Sometimes it seems unrelenting.
“Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day to day more easily. But the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it.
“For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was still giant. I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time.”
Me: So the ball has been Shaquille O’Neal–sized lately and smashing into the button.
Lar: It’s been crushing me into bits. I’m sleeping like shit, feeling more anxious, untethered, broken, unbalanced, take your pick. All the numbness has worn off and I just don’t feel like myself. There’s an emptiness deep down inside of me that’s never been there before.
Me: We have a space in our hearts that will never close.
Lar: Where have I heard that before?
Me: You are me.
Lar: Stop that, asshole.
Me: Why have you been feeling more anxious lately?
Lar: It just enveloped me a few weeks ago and I can’t wriggle out of its grasp. I’ve been reading a book about facing your fears and it said beneath things like anxiety, nervousness and restlessness is sadness.
Lar: You know what the most fucked-up thing is? That I’m getting used to being sad all the time.
Me: Hearing that makes me even sadder.
Lar: Friends keep asking me how I’m doing, and I know what they want to hear. They want to hear that I’m doing better, that I’m feeling okay, that I’m managing and moving on with my life. And that’s what I need to show the world on the outside. On the outside, everything looks like it’s back to normal, like I’m a functioning human being again. But that’s not what’s going on inside. Inside is the exact opposite. Inside is a fuckin’ mess where the trauma and heartbreak collide, and it feels insurmountable. And it’s difficult to share this heart of darkness with other people, even the people who love you the most.
Me: So does that make us inside out? Or outside in? I’m so confused.
Lar: You know, I thought this check-in thing was going to chart my progress. I thought I’d look back on all of this at the end of a year and see how far I’ve come. I didn’t think I’d slide backward. I didn’t think I’d get stuck feeling this way. I didn’t think I’d be like this forever. I didn’t think “forever changed” meant forever feeling like shit.
Me: I keep telling you, dude. It’s going to take a lot longer than a year. It’s going to take the rest of your life. “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”
Lar: I see you’ve been doing your Joan Didion homework.
Me: Thought I’d save you the trouble this time around.
Lar: Thank you, sir…You know what I think every time I hear or say those words, doncha?
Me: Of course I do! No matter who says them, we always hear it coming out of Rob’s mouth.
Lar: Fuck! I hate that and love that.
Lar: Not to change the subject, but I was talking to Maura the other night and I told her how much I love her and miss her and how I’ve been feeling completely broken without her.
Me: You’re Humpty Dumpty.
Lar: Since she’s in grad school, she went in a more scholarly direction, telling me about the Japanese art of mending broken pottery by filling in the cracks with gold or silver lacquer. She didn’t remember what it was called, but she explained how the repair creates something even stronger and more beautiful than it was before. And how a similar transformation for broken people is possible.
Me: It’s called kintsukuroi.
Lar: You just googled it, didn’t you?
Me: I did. And she just filled in your cracks with a little gold, didn’t she?
Lar: As long as we’re still talking metaphorically, yes, she did.
Me: And it’s not just about you and her, it’s also about you and Rob. The way he broke you open. And maybe down the road, after applying a little more gold filling in your cracks…
Lar: Can you stop talking about putting things in my cracks?
Me: …you’ll become stronger and more beautiful. You may even be happy again.
Lar: What do you mean “again”? By the way, you can tell Joanie that I think we’ve officially reached the grief place she was talking about.
Me: Copy that. Although it would’ve been better if you’d waited until our next check-in.
Lar: Why’s that?
Me: You’ll be taking a six-month chip.
Lar: Rob never got any further than that.
Me: He tried, dude, our little boy tried.