Tag Archives: loss

On that singular day

I saw Greg Louganis dive in St. Louis
in 1984. Oh, the way he folded and
unfolded in the air. We all gasped
when he split the surface and disappeared.
But he rose up in a shimmering swath
of bubbles, unbounded joy.

Seventeen years later, a man steps out
through the lattice of a skyscraper and
folds himself into a breathtaking pike.
An anonymous diver, abandoning his
day job. Maybe you’ve seen the
photograph? A single body falling, white
oxford full and fluttering, like a peony,
blowsy, on that singular day.

–“The Diver,” Christine Hartzler

Today I am in my late twenties again.

Today I am waking up early in my town in the American southwest to the sound of people shouting on my apartment complex balcony. It is a day I can sleep in. I am working the late shift. I am not pleased to wake up to people shouting this early in the morning. I go out on the balcony and glare at them. They don’t seem to notice. Or care. Even though I’m in my pajamas and my hair is quite fearsome.

Today I am realizing there’s no point in going back to sleep and I might as well run some errands since I have the morning free.

Today I get ready without turning on the television or the radio.

Today I run errands while listening to a tape I have in the car. It’s a Hole kind of day. Courtney Love screams me around town.

Today I still don’t turn on the radio.

Today I get to my old job to help out a little since I’m up early. It is a thing I do, sometimes.

Today I walk in the door and there are people in a tangled knot around the small television in the lobby. The sound is low. No one’s at the front desk.

Today I ask one of my old coworkers what was going on.

Today she turns to me and says, “Two planes flew into the World Trade Center” and her eyes are holes in her face.

Today I ask her, “An accident? There was an accident?”

Today she says, “No. No, Amy, I don’t think so. I think it was on purpose.”

Today I stand in a crowd of people, strangers and friends alike, and we are all as one. Today we watch the television in the lobby and it grows to the size of a movie screen. Today we watch the towers fall. Today we watch news reports come in about the Pentagon. Today we watch news reports come in about a field in Pennsylvania.

Today our hands are over our eyes and our mouths. Today we are sobbing but not making a sound. Today we are praying. Today we are smelling autumn coming in through the propped-open doors of the lobby and we are running through the list of people we know in New York City and we are wondering if they also smelled this autumn morning and we are thinking, were they there? Oh, please, oh, no, oh, God, were they there?

Today I go broken and empty to my afternoon shift at work. My coworker is from Pennsylvania. I am from New York. We are barely holding it together. We are inches from screaming. We are being held together with fraying rubber bands and sheer adrenaline.

Today our boss decides we are not paying enough attention to our job and makes us turn off the television that presides with its cold unfeeling stare over the lobby.

Today we take turns shaking and vomiting and weeping in the bathroom where the clients and our boss can’t see us.

Today I get home from work and turn on the television and watch the ticker of the dead crawl along the bottom of the screen. The channel I’m watching tells the ages of those on the planes. One of the dead is just a baby. I’m having trouble breathing. Functioning. I’m watching the towers fall on endless repeat. I’m watching men leap from windows with a sort of corrupted grace. I am watching survivors painted gray with ashes stream over and over from the city I love so much. I am shaking. I am curled upon myself like a lost child. I am trying to count the dead in the ticker and I keep losing count and it seems very important, somehow, that I know how many of them there were. That each of them are counted. That each of them get given a name; that each of them get given their due.

Today, when my next-door-neighbor comes home, she asks me how I am.

Today, I tell her, “I don’t want to live in this world right now. The good got lost today.”

Today I live all of this all over again. Today and next year and the year after that; every today, I am the person I was on that day.

Today the towers fall, and they fall, and they fall; every today they fall.

On Loss

The art of losing isn’t hard to master; 
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

They say you learn to be better at something, the more you do it. It becomes ingrained; it’s like breathing, or putting one foot in front of the other, or riding the proverbial bike. You learn something, you become quite good at that thing. You’re an old hand.

I don’t know if you ever learn to be good at losing things you love. You learn to be quieter about it, maybe; to not cry and wail in public, to keep the tears inside, to stiff-upper-lip the whole thing. It’s not seemly, you see. Not for adults. Children can cry over such things. Adults need to carry on. It is what we do. Or, at least, what we’re supposed to do.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I think back on things I’ve lost over the years: a beloved necklace, left behind in a move; a thirteenth-birthday gift, stolen from me on a bus; a lighter, given to me by a loved one, plucked from my pocket without my knowledge. And things less tangible, more esoteric: my heart, my trust, and at times, my mind, over one or the other or both.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

You can move past the loss of things. Things are…things. There will always be more things. You can replace what you’ve lost; if not with the exact thing, then something similar. Our lives are too weighted down with things, anyway. It’s amazing what you can live without, if you must; we can live on a shoestring, if it comes down to it.

It’s the people you lose that haunt you. It’s the people you’ve lost that fly behind your eyelids when you’re trying to sleep; the people you’ve lost, either to something like death, or to something less final, but somehow more painful. People lost to time, to stupidity, to misunderstandings piling up onto one another to make a wall you can never climb, an insurmountable obstacle separating you from where you want to be; people lost to fate, perhaps, if that’s your thing, events set into place long before you even arrived, blinking blindly, on the scene. The things unsaid follow you like lost children, tugging at your hem; the things you might have done to stop this endless numbing empty loss echo in your mind like catcalls down a long hallway.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

The boy with the ice-blue eyes and the musician’s hands who disappeared when my back was turned, when I was distracted with other things. The best friend who, behind my back, decided to do everything she could to ruin my life, all while smiling to my face. The poet who, one day, disappeared without a word. The friend who knew me better than anyone and chose a road I couldn’t travel with him, no matter how badly it ripped me in two to watch him go.

Maybe it’s not that you learn how to do something, if you’ve done it over and over, but you learn how best to handle it. You learn not to give all of yourself to someone, because if you put everything you’ve got into someone, and they leave, you’re the one who’s lost. You haven’t just lost them, you’ve lost all you’ve put into them. Every bit of it. And you are empty inside, because you’ve lost that part of yourself; that part of yourself you were with them, the things you did together, knew together; the things you shared with them. You learn to wall yourself over, to protect the parts of yourself you have left. You learn to hold parts of yourself back. And then when you enter into new relationships, you’re afraid to let your real self show ever again, because the last time you did, look what happened. You lost someone. You got lost. There is nothing left. That nothingness, it is vast. And you take it with you wherever you go.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

And this loss, you are alone in it. There is only so long you are allowed to wallow. There is only so long you are allowed to permissably be sad about losing someone you loved. You are expected to move on.

But what if you can’t? What if days, weeks, months pass, and it’s in everything you do? If you’re reminded of what you’ve lost by something different and new every day, stupid things, words and memories and songs, and you’re blindsided, you sometimes find yourself fighting back tears and you’re so fucking angry at yourself for not following the same timeline of loss that everyone else in the whole damn world seems to be able to follow? What if it’s gotten to the point you can’t even talk to anyone about it anymore, because you know, you just know, you’ve become that person that no one wants to talk to anymore, because you’re insufferable about the whole thing? What then?

It’s not like you could get it back, what you were with that person, even if they were to come back. Things are too irreparably broken. You’re mourning what you were, what you had, what you lost. You know you can’t get it back. So why the hell can’t you move on from it?

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. 

Eventually, though, you wall everything off. There are parts of you that you’ll never share; those belong to those people you’ve lost, and you’ll never get them back. They’ve taken them with them. You’ve lost them forever, like your necklace, your lighter, that thirteenth birthday present. You become cold and silent. You become so afraid of losing you are afraid to try ever again. You might have learned to lose, but mostly what you learn is to stop trying. Because no matter how many times you do it, losing doesn’t get easier. It’s not riding a bike. It’s not breathing. It’s death. It’s the death of the person you were. And once all those parts of you are dead, what’s left?

No, it’s not hard to master. Anything done over and over again becomes ingrained.

It’s just that what no one tells you is that it’s you that gets lost.

(Poem: “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop)

I’m leaving comments open on this post, but won’t be replying to them. I don’t know that I could bring myself to do so. This one’s a little too raw for me, folks. So, please know that I will read every one of your comments, and appreciate them wholeheartedly, and that my silence means nothing deeper than me having nothing else left in me to say about this. Thank you.

%d bloggers like this: