Beer Church

I highly recommend reinventing yourself. I’ve done it probably a hundred times. It somehow manages to strip away the bullshit of the past. At least for a little while. Each time I went through a break up with a boyfriend, I cut my hair in some chaotic way. The hairstyle was usually an effort to communicate that I wanted to be left alone. Don’t talk to me, don’t flirt with me. Just walk away. See the ‘fuck off’ on my forehead? That’s for you. In reality, I was heartbroken and just wanted someone to really, authentically love me.

I’ve started over so frequently that I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually evolving or if I’m the same or a mixture of both.

Part of the reason for the reboot….public humiliation. Almost five years ago, my (ex) husband and I went to a tiny church and met some really cool people. They were all tattoos, piercings, and cuss words and I felt absolutely at home. Pass the bourbon, take communion, and recite the Celtic prayers. I loved it. About a month in, my ex started having an affair with one of the church members. Our church consisted of about 12 people. So I’d met the woman. We’d had conversations. I’d been to her house. Five years later, I still don’t fully understand what makes people behave in such a cruel way.

I left the church almost immediately. I couldn’t sit in the same room, share the same space they did…all the while smirking at each other in their adulterous triumph. Everyone knew what was happening. The wife is almost always the last to know…especially if the husband is a gifted liar. I parted with one congregation and entered another. I went by my maiden name and it was perfect. No one knew my business. No one knew the shame I felt as a result of my ex’s infidelity. My business wasn’t plastered in their frontal lobes. I was just H…this young, single adult female who wanted to help out. My identity stayed hidden for about 3-4 months and then gradually I let people know who I was and where I’d come from. The beautiful part was that they accepted me. I wasn’t ostracized for getting divorced at 26. I was welcomed for who I was in that moment. Who I’d become in the aftermath.

Fast forward a year of bliss. I’d developed some of the closest relationships of my life. The church members became my extended family. I was particularly fond of the pastor and his wife and children. He was my mentor, my second father. We talked about beer, golf, and god. He taught me many things and helped me recover from the devastating loss of my dignity. I took care of his children, stayed at his house when they went out of town. It was humbling to be so loved by people I respected.

And then it fell apart. Again.

A man and woman whom the pastor trusted, came in and tried to destroy this sanctuary with lies and dissension. They started rumors…fostered bitterness between church members, and everything began to dissolve. I was falsely accused of having an affair with the pastor, my friend…who I cherished. But even before that rumor, there were others. Gun shy, I stepped away from my responsibilities at the church to get some space and clarity. I tried to determine who my friends were…and understand my enemies. And then my pastor died unexpectedly. No goodbyes. No absolution. No closure. He was just gone. My friend. My mentor. Gone. The air was thick with grief and despair and I couldn’t breathe. For months.

So I left. Because it was the only way I knew to survive. And I stayed away for 3 years.

And then I went to beer church. It’s fucking terrifying how much I want to love this small group of people. I do love them…I don’t want to. Bad things tend to happen when I love people. They leave…or they betray me. They shred me. I entered the group with a fortress built around me. Don’t come close. Stay away. I’m intrigued but I’m frightened. But in their genuine love and compassion, they disassembled my wall brick by brick. And now they know a bit more about who I am. I’m no longer anonymous. I’m vulnerable…standing in the open and petrified that the 3rd attempt at community is going to be my undoing. I don’t know how many more times I can reinvent myself before I run out of ideas. And I hate that I want to risk it again. Jesus Christ. I mean, I look at these people and I want to say, “in our next life…please find me so I can spend as much of my time with you as possible.”

That’s beer church. It’s people, sitting around drinking good booze and talking about life. It’s love. It’s the talking, the loving, the caring….that creeps into the shattered fragments of my heart and heals it.

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Merry F-ing Christmas

I’m absolutely NOT in the mood for Christmas this year. Typically, I’m the one begging my husband to decorate in late October. I love the lights, the tree, the millions of random ornaments, all that holiday cheer and shit. This year? Fuck it. I put up my tree in early November in an effort to psych myself into wanting to celebrate. We were supposed to have the little blonde lunatic for the latter part of the holiday break…but custodial wars have eradicated any hope of seeing her before her birthday next September. Additionally, we acquired a kitten that made it his sole mission to de-ornament the fucking tree. Every morning for several weeks, I walked into the living room to discover Christmas carnage. He considers himself a champion for scaling to the very top and knocking off my prized Disney ornament AND chewing through the strand of lights so the damn tree looks like it belongs in Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. The cat should consider itself fortunate that it has nine lives.

As soon as we knew for sure that the kid wasn’t coming to visit for Christmas, I took down every single decoration and put them back in the boxes. Now the kitten has nowhere to hide. Take that, you little shit. There’s so much more to this I-Hate-Christmas diatribe that I can’t say here…because legal system. I admit, I’ve let this entire situation rob me of my holiday joy…but it’s difficult to be excited about a holiday that centers on family when part of my family isn’t here. If I didn’t have obligatory events for the next two days, I’d seriously consider being a hermit and binge watching episodes of the West Wing.

Relatives, friends, and random ass people tell me to stay positive and focus on the end goal, but I need to be allowed to wallow occasionally. I’m not laying in bed every damn day eating bon-bon’s (WTF is a bon-bon anyway?), refusing to shower or go to work. I’m still living and moving forward. But holidays feel like the clock has stopped ticking and I’m trapped in yuletide hell. I’m watching the world be festive and content, meanwhile I’m too pissed to paint or drink or do any measure of self-soothing activities. I’m angry and sad all the goddamn time.

Ironically, the only time I feel some semblance of peace is when I’m having a beer with friends…because most of them don’t know about the custodial nightmare my husband and I are enduring. And when people don’t know, they don’t ask questions and they don’t offer bullshit advice. They simply conjure up happier topics of conversation over good music and beverages and allow me to escape reality for a little while. I’d like to hope that next Christmas will be better but for now, I’ll just be satisfied to survive this Christmas with an ounce of grace. And maybe a pint of really great beer.

The Struggle is Real

Pain makes me have A.D.D. Particularly emotional pain. Perhaps I should clarify, pain makes me unable to focus on anything but the source of my frustration. Eating, thinking, painting, conversing…everything suffers because of this ONE issue I can’t seem to resolve. So far this afternoon, I’ve had a few conversations, sketched several paintings, and written a page or two of my thesis. Productivity occurs when I’m just distracted enough to forget that my heart is broken. But the moment I’m reminded, I may as well turn my computer off and grab a beer. Emotional struggles are like a one-way ticket to the couch. I can’t even listen to music. It’s like everything becomes irritating as hell. None of my coping skills are working. I’m just fucking angry and sad…almost all the time. I want to bite things or break things or do something besides feel helpless.

There is a perpetual ache in my chest and tears threaten to fall. Today is one of those days when stillness makes me want to rage. Everywhere I look there are reminders. Seriously, everywhere. I’m sitting in a room full of reminders and I want to pitch a tantrum and destroy everything. I don’t know how to escape. I’m either trapped in the space or trapped within myself, unable to turn off my brain. God, I wish I didn’t give a shit. This would be so much easier. Out of sight, out of mind. I could toss the physical reminders into a barrel and light a match. Poof, gone. But I can’t do it because…reasons. Tangible reminders make it more difficult to let go of the emotional attachment. And I’m getting tired of holding on…

I don’t know if I’ve ever been this chronically troubled in my life. The struggle is real.

The Next Life

246932_10151689972415991_878948270_nMy paternal grandfather has had heart failure for over ten years. He’s a strong man. For most of my life, he was emotionally reserved, almost keeping us at a distance. We all know he loves his wife and children and grandchildren, he just wasn’t very vocal about it until about five or six years ago. I still remember the first time he told me he loved me after a long phone call…I was in my mid-twenties. I was overjoyed by those three little words.

And now here he is, nearly 84 years old, and he’s dying…slowly, painfully at home. It’s one of those moments when I wish people had the right to die with dignity, that we could choose the right time to pass into the next life when our earthly bodies fail us. My grandmother is constantly at his side…unable to leave him. He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t get out of bed. He won’t let most of the family see him. I’m trying to decide if I want to or if I can see him…to say that goodbye that’s already gripping my heart. I know it’s time. I know what’s left of this life is coming to a close for him and I find myself wishing I’d spent more afternoons sitting under the large trees in his backyard having conversations.

And now every time my mom calls, I wonder if it’s to tell me he’s dead. It’s a horrible feeling. Almost as horrible as the phone calls you get where someone tells you someone else you love has died. There’s no way to be truly prepared for it. There’s not way to escape that chasm that forms in your chest. Even now, my heart hurts just thinking about it. My dad has nightmares about it and cries when he tries to tell me…because he knows the time is near. I feel like we’re holding our breath…waiting.

I’ve stopped praying for God to heal my Papa. Now I simply pray for God to ease Papa’s pain, grant him dignity…and please be merciful as he passes from this life into the next.

That Helpless, Angry Feeling

Three weeks ago, my sister-in-law’s 24 year old brother died. There are still many questions about his death and the level of unresolved tension grows higher with each passing moment. He had been sick since birth, by all means should not have survived en-utero or childhood or adolescence…you get the idea. There were many times when family members held their breaths wondering if he would survive.

And then one day, his step-dad came home and found him unconscious in his bed. There was an empty bottle of pills, blood in the bathroom, and blood coming from his mouth. No one knows what his last moments were like. Hopefully he was at peace, resting in his bed, and unafraid.

Now the journey begins for those left behind. My poor sister-in-law and her family are deep in the throws of grief. They want to push through it so that it’s over as soon as possible. The pain, the despair, the lack of sleep, the vanishing appetite. The never-ending void in the center of the chest that aches constantly. Is there a prayer or routine that makes it easier? Is there a book or a mantra or anything to make the hurt disappear?

As for the rest of us, we’re victims of helplessness. We want desperately to help ease the pain, heal the wound. We say trite expressions, offer prayers, cook meals, hold hands, and sit in silence just hoping something, anything provides a moment of relief. It just pisses me off…all of it. I’m angry that I can’t do anything substantial to remove this burden. The hardest part of being human is grieving for the ones we love. We never ‘get over it’…we just simply learn to live differently.

I have grieved but nothing like this. Grief is as unique as sunrises and sunsets. Every person embraces it differently and it’s impossible to create a unified heal-all method for this shitty, unfair process. We have to face the fact that ultimately, there’s nothing we can do to abate the pain other than showing love. Love in any form and every form for as long as it takes. In time, they’ll learn to walk and breathe again and our helpless, angry feeling will begin to subside. 

Before They’re Gone

I tend to grieve things before I lose them. Family, friends, even my cat. Call it self-preservation or preparing for the inevitable or morbid or whatever. It’s just something I do. I find myself almost obsessing over the fact that everything dies. Animal, vegetable, mineral..well, maybe not mineral. It’s my greatest fear and sadness and I rarely ever talk about it. I’m afraid if I say the words, it will happen and I don’t know what or who I would become if it did.

I dread aging because I know in turn my parents and grandparents will also age and the proof of human frailty will become even more evident. These great relationships I’ve experienced, they add up to who I am on the inside. Will I still be the same without them? We trust and put faith in the fact that heaven exists, but can we really know for sure? Are the people we love really absent from this life or are they dancing around us, watching us move on without them? Are they happy? Were they ready to and okay with dying when they did? Are they as angry about it as we are?

Every time someone I know dies, I wonder about my own timeline. Sometimes I wish life was like that movie In Time, where you could physically see and know what your life looks like, when you’re supposed to…expire. For some, the not knowing serves as a catalyst to embrace every moment with abandon. For others, like me, it’s a reason to be paralyzed in fear. Panicking about being in the car or any unfamiliar pain in my body. It’s overwhelming. 

I grow weary pondering the moments my loved ones leave this planet and ascend into whatever comes next. I cherish and hold every second I spend with them before they’re gone.

Seeing Dead People

Dear PJ,

I know this will sound slightly crazy…but my kid (the one I teach) can see ghosts. Dead people. Yes, go ahead, laugh…damn you, Bruce Willis and your overplayed sci-fi film. Anyway, for the last four years, I’ve known that he could see a bit beyond my limited parameters. He saw the spirit or angel of his dead teacher at her funeral…knew she died before his parents told him and he was 8 years old and barely verbal at the time.

The other night he was awake at 3:30AM because he was hearing advice from his grandfather who has been gone for nearly 6 years. He was communicating messages from his grandfather to his dad. He was hearing stories about his dad’s best friend who died when they were in high school…someone the kid had never heard of or met. He confessed his great-grandmother comes to school and tells him jokes…perhaps that’s why he’s a bit giggly at times and refuses to focus on Language Arts.

Sometimes I wonder…if he knew you, if he would see you around. There are days when it feels like you’re sitting right beside me and I can almost sense it. I wish that he could see you…that he could be my special medium so that I know you’re okay…that you don’t mind being apart from us.

I HATE church without you. The new pastor said you were too rogue and he has to reconstruct the church. I call bullshit on his diagnosis. You were just rogue enough. I go to church for your wife. I love her. Through this…loss…we’ve become friends.

Whether or not you agree with me, I’m rather pissed at God. I’d make a thousand wishes, rub every genie’s lamp between here and Bangladesh just to have one more conversation with you; to walk down the hall at church and hear you practicing your sermon. I don’t want to hear that your death was God’s will or any other trite cliche that Christians dish out as a means of comfort. None of their “comfort” brings you back to this planet in a form that I can SEE. God took you and gave us this substitute…

So Sunday, when my bitter soul darkens the church’s back row…know that I’m saving you a seat.

I want a beer. If you’re in the mood and in the neighborhood, stop by.

If Only Our Souls Were People Too

Dear PJ,

2 months….60 days without you. Damn, it feels like so much longer. I talked to your wife for over two hours today. How she misses you. We both have these semblances of regret…because we didn’t say enough goodbyes. We didn’t know you’d be gone forever…

We didn’t know…

…but we’re pretty sure you did. You had this innate sense of the future and the brevity of it and how it might impact the people closest to you. You knew and you kept it a secret for the majority of your final months. You distanced yourself…was it an effort to protect us? I’d like to think we all just want one more day, one more heart to heart conversation…about the truth of the nature of things. You lived to shelter others. The most sacred aspect of your ministry was bereavement and yet you prohibited us from participating in it with you as your journey neared its end.

I’m slated to return to church this Sunday and I’m filled with dread. It feels like I’m forced to move forward now that a new person is standing in the shadow of your pulpit…putting his mouth to the chalice, singing your communion song. It shouldn’t be this way…and yet you knew it would be.

Didn’t anyone ever tell you secrets don’t make friends?

The best part of today came in the words of your wife. She told me how much you loved me. How much our friendship was valued by you. How I retain a priceless place in your family and with her specifically…because I saw you as you were and I miss you as much as she does. I’m honored by her words.

I miss you so much at times, it feels like my heart might implode from the weight of sadness. There’s nothing I hate more than being without you….and knowing come Sunday, you won’t be there. Sure, your “spirit” (or whatever the hell the church people call it will be there)…and no offense to your spirit, but it’s a poor man’s substitute for the real thing. If only our souls were people too. I’m pretty sure mine would enjoy the company of yours.

Empty

Dear PJ,

I hate dreaming about you. Last night I dreamt I was in your house for the first time since you died… Your bags from the hospital were still unpacked and sitting on the floor. It was like the place was frozen in sadness…missing you. I was asked to house sit once again…and normally I would stay in the room you shared with your wife…but this time, everything felt so empty.

That’s when I woke up…I literally sat up in my bed, confused…unable to recall where I was. Took a little more than a minute to calm my heart rate and recognize that I was safe…in my home…and then I remembered…that you are gone.

I still haven’t been back to church but I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. I almost went last Sunday…but I chickened out. I might actually follow through with it this week. I’m not looking forward to it. We’re approaching two months without you. Sometimes it feels like years…other times it feels like yesterday.

And like your house…I feel slightly empty without you in my life.

Thinking of You

Dear PJ,

1 month…a whole 30 days have lapsed in this After PJ life. Long ass 30 days… Tomorrow is your 26th wedding anniversary. Something tells me your spirit might linger a bit closer to your wife tomorrow. Makes me wonder if she will loathe this once special day because you aren’t near to celebrate. She will lie down in the bed she shared with you for 25 years, draw herself closer to your pillow and hope she can still catch a small amount of your scent to remind her that in some ways, you’re still here.

I’ve been painting a bit over the last few days. Painting is always a catch 22…the deeper I focus, the more my mind and heart wander to the places I shut off just to function during the day. It’s where I hold my secrets, my fears, and all the pain it’s just not suitable to express publicly. The paint holds my tears, the aches, the hope, and the grief. And in all of this…I think of you.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing you and the friendship we shared.

I love you.