Grief is A Cunt

June 24th of 2016 I was sitting on the balcony of my love’s parent’s beach house and I got the call. The call that every person who has ever loved an addict dreads getting. It was my mom and she asked me if I was sitting. I know what that question means. I expected to hear that maybe an aunt I didn’t really know or someone I went to school with had died. That is not what came out of her mouth. When she told me it was you I just sat there for a minute. I asked her if she meant YOU you, praying that she was talking about some other Joey, any other Joey besides my little brother. Anyone but the man who had a one year old at home, who had gotten clean before and was happy, who just one year prior had talked me off a ledge when I was freaking out. But she was talking about you.

You were found dead on your best friend’s couch, overdosed on heroin. My heart broke for him having to find you like that because I know that nothing in the world will ever scrub that image from his mind. My heart broke for your mother who just lost her youngest child, her baby boy. My heart broke for your brother who you idolized, followed, modeled yourself after, because I know that on some level he will always blame himself.  My heart broke for your son. Your beautiful one year old son who’d just been so prematurely robbed of all the amazing qualities you had to teach and pass on to him. Now he will only hear the stories…of how his father was as loyal as they make them and would go to war for any of the people he loved, how you were sometimes impulsive and reckless and would go to jail if it meant defending one of your own. He’ll only get to hear about your laugh that could light up an entire room, your smile that could drag anyone out of a dark place, your wild nature but soft heart. There are so many things that made you who you were, some good, some bad, some in between; but they were you. And I know you would’ve been an amazing force in that little boy’s life.. had you not died. THAT breaks my fucking heart. I’ve cycled between being in denial, devastated, depressed, angry, enraged, accepting, and then devastated all over again.

This month is dedicated to devastation. December 23rd marked the 6 month anniversary of your death and I’m stuck in the dreaded place of “what if?”. I sit in these meetings, the same meetings we went to together, and I feel like someone’s gutted me every time I hear the chairperson ask “Is this anyone’s first time at a meeting?”, “Is this anyone’s first time at this meeting?” I can’t wrap my head around why you can’t magically pop up in the back and say, “My name is Joey and I’m an addict.” I would kill to hear those words coming out of your mouth again. But you just had to have “one more”. And now you’re just fucking gone. No magic, no wishing, and no amount of praying in this world will ever bring you back. Your absence has just left this giant fucking hole in the lives of those who loved you. Your death had me staring at that last sentence trying to figure out if “love” or “loved” was the proper way to write it. “Loved” because you’re gone, “love” because the care people have for you didn’t die with you. I just left it the way it is because I couldn’t decide.

I’ve told myself that you’re not in pain or struggling anymore, I’ve tried to reason with the grief that everything happens for a reason, I’ve written about you, talked to you as I was falling asleep, replayed so many memories through my head in an attempt to celebrate your life instead of mourn your death. But you know what? It doesn’t fucking work. Grief doesn’t give a fuck that you’re not suffering anymore. Talking to you at night doesn’t magically give you the ability to talk back. Looking at your prayer card on my mirror every morning is not the fucking same as you being here. Death is unforgiving. I had only known I was pregnant for a month when you died and I was still in that place of not telling anyone because I was so afraid of losing her and god knows you weren’t always easy to track down. My brother died without ever knowing that I was blessed with the one thing I always wanted. You’ll never meet my baby or get to hold her. You’ll never sit back with me and watch our kids play together. You’ll never hear her laugh or get to make fun of me trying to make costumes for some school play some day. I’ll never get to punch you for busting my balls about being a stay at home mom or a housewife. There’s so much that you’re not going to see, that we’ll never get to share now, and I’m angry. I’m fucking angry because you got so close. You got that time clean two summers ago and you were happy. You had learned enough that you were actually able to help me instead of me helping you. I remember how amazed I was at how much you had grown in the months you’d been clean. You were living your life far away from the world of active addiction and you had this light in you that could actually match all the darkness you always seemed to carry with you. But that darkness won in the end, I guess. We all have it, that darkness; but you were always so sensitive to it. It just dug its way into you on so many different occasions, pushing you over the edge at the worst possible time. You would do good for a short while, but you always were your own worst enemy. You’d get so close to your life getting better and you’d hit the self destruct button because you didn’t know any other way. It was brutal to watch, enraging to try to talk you out of, and heartbreaking to see how badly it hurt you even though you always did it to yourself. You were never perfect but you never pretended to be. You owned your flaws, even if sometimes a little too much.

I never thought you would die.

You were my invincible little brother.

And you fucking died. And I can’t do anything to change it.

I handle hard things well but I can’t seem to find a way to swallow this one.

You’re supposed to fucking be here! To raise your son, to talk shit with me, to meet my beautiful daughter, to go fishing and rafting and swimming. You always had this light inside you and the world just isn’t quite as bright without you in it. I know that’s cliché and you’d kick me in the face if you were here to hear it, but it’s actually true with you. You’re supposed to be here, laughing and learning, loving and living. When people say that life isn’t fair they always forget to mention that sometimes it’s just outright fucking cruel.

by Ashley Hebner

© All Rights Reserved 2016

The Sting of Nostalgia

Every time I hear people talk about nostalgia, it’s always in a positive light. Remembering a good feeling, a close friend, a happy time. They get that slight smile on their face, that far away look in their eye, and you can see that they’ve gone somewhere else entirely in their mind. Reliving something only they can recall that intimately. It’s beautiful.

That is not how I experience nostalgia.

I’m not lacking in happy memories, I have many; but I think perhaps my mind has somehow been trained to only experience nostalgia about negative times in my life. I say this because what other people experience as nostalgia is not what I experience. I get the longing in my chest, the momentary dissociation from reality, the feeling of “being there” all over again; but it’s almost always about times that I’d rather not relive, times where I existed right on the edge of my own destruction. The strange part is that despite the common negative association I have with these memories, I still experience this sense of longing for those times because of the nostalgia. My mind attaches a certain fondness to them even though logically I know that those times in my life were fucking terrible. The heart knows no reason and it does strange things. I don’t think it’s the bad times that I miss so much as the feeling of being out of control, accountable to no one, free from all expectation and sense of responsibility, reckless with no intention of living to see 25. There’s a twisted sense of romanticism that people like me view self-destruction with. The appeal of destroying oneself before anyone else can, on your own terms, in your own way. I spent the first 22 years of my life trying to end myself in every way that a person can. Absolute emotional, mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual destruction. And I’m just damaged enough that sometimes my mind tries to trick me into thinking that those 22 years were when I was the most “free”. Delusion.

This is why nostalgia is a dangerous thing. Lately there’s been a pictures that’s been dancing through my mind, toying with my thoughts, digging up mixed emotions. It’s a still frame of the view out of my bedroom window in the first apartment that was ever officially mine. I lived there from 18 to 23 years of age. Of those 5 years, I spent 3 1/2 in active addiction, trapped in constant suffering, buried alive in the depths of my own self-destruction. And there was my bedroom window. I watched so many seasons come and go through that window. Always developing and changing at the same speed with which my life was passing me by. The brilliant, too bright, blue summer sky, mixed with leaves of green and the sounds of children playing in the alleyways. The unmistakable August heat and pleasant birdsong that slowly morphed into the auburn, orange, and yellow leaves of fall. The smell of burning wood and dying plants married with the developing crispness in the air. I always enjoyed that crispness at first; but I could never avoid knowing that it would be followed by the painfully shortened, grey days of winter. When the air bites at you like a rabid dog and doesn’t back down, no matter how many drugs you pump through your veins. I would watch the snow fall in the light of the street lamps at night, looking so beautiful and peaceful, in stark contrast with the utter disaster that my spirit and life had become. I always felt that the winter would be the death of me and just when I couldn’t take it for another second, I would wake up one morning to the sweet smell of spring in the air. A refreshing sense of newness that made even a broken, strung out woman think that maybe, just maybe, life could be good again some day. Those spring days gave me the slightest glimmer of hope, no matter how hard I had tried to drown it out under the weight of irrepressible anger and opiates. I would sit on my bed, staring out of that window, knowing that just beyond the invisible prison I had turned my “existence” into, there was another life, a better life, a better way. There was a chance, just there beyond my fingertips, that if I dared, I could reach out and grasp. It was whilst staring out of this one window that I waged wars on myself. Constant bloody battles inside my mind between resigning to dying as I was, and daring to fight for more; for anything other than the endless suffering that I had sentenced myself to in an attempt to control my own fate. It was agonizing, even at the time with plethora of chemicals I was using to dull myself out with.

And therein lies the trouble with remembering things by the seasons. I have not returned to that apartment, that window, that city, for many years; and yet, whenever the seasons change, I am transported to a place where I am 22 again and I’m sitting on a bed, drowning in suffering, watching the seasons change through my bedroom window. My mind becomes momentarily trapped in the nostalgia, trying to convince me that there’s something to miss, that there is any fondness to be felt for these times in my life. The cold winters remind me of waking up too early, too sick, from my body craving the medicine that was supposed to fix it. The beautiful spring reminds me of being trapped in the worst kind of prison man can condemn himself to, watching everything I couldn’t quite grasp pass right before my eyes. The summer creeps into my bones, tears them back to a time and a place where I tried to be happy, to escape my circumstances, thinking that a little sunshine could cleanse the filth that I had buried my soul in. And the autumn… the beautiful, burnt orange fall days; they remind me of the way that my spirit always maintained a constant ember buried deep inside itself. An ember that dared to glow in the midst of a bleak existence, begging to be stoked, brought to life by anything, including all of the wrong things I tried to make myself feel alive with. These memories are intricately laced deep within my subconscious. They’re tied to so many other things that I could never even begin to express them all in these words.

Memory is a twisted lover in that way. It’s impossible to reinvent and display with the same intensity with which it is felt. You simply can not perfectly capture or explain it. The way it can feel like the stroke of warm and welcome fingertips on exposed flesh; or the violence of a battering ram as it decimates the door it was never meant to break through. How it can sing a sweet lullaby that lulls you to sleep, convincing you that you’re safe and secure; or be the unforgettable sting that lives just on the edge of a razor blade. It is the beautiful bird’s song on a perfect spring day; and the sharp pain of winter sleet on an exposed and unsuspecting face. My memories are always stained with nostalgia, entangled in a violent embrace that could startle even the most steely nerves. I’ve never had the luxury of being able to recall something without also experiencing every bit of it all over again, to the core of my being. Memory does not demand nostalgia; but nostalgia can not exist without the memory to fuel it. For me, the two dance together infinitely. Sometimes it’s beautiful and wonderful, the kind of number that brings tears to the eyes of those blessed enough to witness it. And sometimes it’s tragic and sudden, catching me off guard, too painful to ever choose to watch, but impossible to ignore once it’s begun. Either way, when the nostalgia comes, there’s no silencing it. It’s there, clawing its way out of and back into the depths of my soul, the marrow of my bones, the dark recesses of my mind. It demands to be heard, felt, experienced, all over again. Sometimes this is a blessing: a beautiful reminder of the good times. But mostly, it’s just a curse: a part of me that is inoperable and terminal. It’s an affliction that I spent many years trying to escape. As David Jones once said, “It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply.”  

by Ashley King

© All Rights Reserved 2016

8 Months Pregnant & Crazy Busy!

It has been way too long since I’ve written on here so I figured I would at least attempt to get something written down! First of all, thank you to all the readers who are still checking out my older posts and showing them love! I appreciate you! 🙂

Ahhh life, it’s been insane lately! I’m currently 34 weeks and 5 days pregnant and I’m loving every second of it! Truly. I know that makes some pregnant women hate me but I can’t help it (nor would I want to). There’s nothing in this world like feeling my healthy, amazing daughter kick around and do somersaults in the very core of my being. She means the entire world to me and I don’t doubt that I would do absolutely anything for her. Due to my jacked up ovaries I get ultrasounds every 4 weeks (another thing mommies to be hate me for) and I love getting to see her beautiful little face and hear her strong heartbeat so often. I think I would go crazy if I didn’t get to. She always clocks in in the 140 range as far as beats per minute and she’s been steadily gaining weight the entire time. At our last U/S they said she weighed 4 pounds 13 ounces! I’m carrying that around; not to mention the puppies a little further up north! She’s such an active baby and I can’t express how supremely grateful I am for that. I struggled with crippling fear that something would go wrong in the beginning of my pregnancy. That subsided somewhat once I started being able to feel her move but really, I was still nervous until I hit the point where she was considered viable even outside of the womb. That helped a lot. The chances of anything going wrong are much slimmer now. But the birth? That’s where the fear lives now. However, I find myself feeling strangely calm about giving birth despite the many things that “could” go wrong. Granted that may very quickly disappear once the time comes haha. But so far I find myself feeling as if everything will be okay, and I have faith in my ability to bring my daughter safely into this world. I’m much more afraid of the hospital making a mistake or something happening to me than I am of anything happening to her. I just have this calming feeling that she will make it onto this plane of existence healthy and whole, without any hitches.

bebe-2
The Single Greatest Love I’ve Ever Felt…

 

She is the light of my life. I questioned whether or not I would be able to have kids for many years due to my screwy ovaries but I don’t think anything in this world could’ve stopped her from being conceived. I believe with every inch of my being that she was truly meant to be here and it is my job to make sure she is healthy, loved, and cared for. It is my job to raise her into someone who will make this world better, not worse. It’s my job to give her a safe place to exist, to grow and develop, to learn and evolve. It is my greatest blessing to be the person who is to give her unconditional love and acceptance. It is my responsibility to provide her with an environment where honesty is acceptable, where her spirit can be exactly who it is and who it’s meant to be. And I have never felt more honored, or humbled, by anything else in my entire life. I believe that in some ways, people are who they are; but we’d be crazy to think that nature doesn’t play a significant role in the whole “nature vs. nurture” argument. Parents play an enormous role in what their children grow up to value, to appreciate, to believe in. Some of these things are left up to chance; but a portion of them are definitely instilled by the things and values that they’re raised around. My mommy raised me to value honesty above almost anything else. She also instilled in my siblings and I the importance of looking out for the little guy. To never be a bully, to defend the underdog. To be kind and strong. To stand up for ourselves without putting others down. To defend family; and that family does not always mean blood relation. She taught us many things and the older I get, the more I realize how much of who I am today I owe to her. I can only hope to have that same positive impact on my own child. God knows I’ve been shown a lot of what to do and what not to do.

The closer I get to these kicks and jabs and tumbles becoming a breathing, screaming, eating little person the more I can’t wait to meet her; and the more I know I’m going to miss being so close to her. Every night when I go to bed, I lie on my left side, place a pillow between my knees, wrap my right arm around my belly and tuck my right hand under the left side of my stomach. As I settle in, she does the same; slowly moving her body until her back is lying against the side of my stomach that’s touching the bed. She uses the side of my stomach as a hammock and kicks her little legs around until she gets in a comfortable position. Then she just relaxes, into the side of my stomach and the crook of the bed, her little hands and feet stretching out occasionally until she falls asleep. When I wake up in the morning I either roll onto my back or sit up and I feel her start to stir as she wakes up with me. Then she shimmies her way back to the middle of my stomach and does a bunch of twists and turns until she’s found her new comfortable position. As I wake up more, she wakes up more. Once I eat, she’s up and bouncing around, giving me many kicks and jabs to get to feel and smile at. I love this. I love it more than I’ve ever loved anything in the world.

bebe-1
Bebe girl using the left side of my stomach as hammock 🙂

My mom says she hasn’t seen anyone love being pregnant so much since my grandmother, and I feel honored to have that in common with her. My grandmother was one of the most incredible women I’ve ever met. She was endlessly loving and accepting and she had this way about her that put everyone around her at ease.  I remember the first time I met her (she was my foster grandmother mind you), I walked into her house and she greeted my mom and I at the door. She looked me up and down for a moment, gave me the warmest smile and a hug, and said “So you’re my new grand daughter? Are you hungry?” And then she fed me. We spent the afternoon talking about things I’d never discussed with adults before; like why Italian sculptures of men always have such tiny penises (they kept the rooms cold so no one would pop a boner) and what kinds of stupid and embarrassing things my new foster brother and sister had done in the past. Then as I was about to leave, my new grandmother stuck out her chest and said “Guess which one’s fake! Go ahead you can touch them!” See, I had just learned that afternoon that this incredibly warm woman had stage 4 breast cancer and had been fighting it for many years. She had gotten a single mastectomy at that point and was given a bra with one fake boob in it to hide the lack of breast tissue from her surgery. And she wanted to know if I could tell which boob was fake. So I grabbed a 60 something year old woman’s breasts. And the real kicker? I guessed the wrong one. I will never forget that woman for the rest of my life. Even in her last few years of life she never stopped smiling, she never withheld her love, she always hid her pain. Even when the neuropathy in her hands was so bad that soft fabric felt like razorblades, she still refused to let anyone else fold her towels. She was a powerhouse of a woman and she was just so fucking good. Everything about her was so good. If I can end up being half as strong, half as loving, half as incredible as her and my mother then my daughter will be just fine and will always know just how much she is loved. This is the legacy I want to carry on. Strong, loving women who take no shit from anyone and who defend their families. I am honored to be a part of this family and I am excited to bring my daughter into it. I can’t wait to see what kind of person she becomes with the many incredible influences that are going to be in her life. And I’m proud to say that today, I am one of those good influences. I have survived and overcome so much and I’ve done so without becoming a broken person. I can be a little rough around the edges and I’m definitely somewhat damaged but I am strong and loyal and compassionate. I am a survivor and a mother by nature and I will bend the earth over backwards and break it for this little girl. That is the least of what she deserves and the smallest bit of what I want to give her.

 

by Ashley Hebner

© All Rights Reserved 2016