Last week, I had a few really vivid dreams. In one of them, I had a wiener dog. It was awesome. In the other, though, I walked around Boston with my dad. In some ways, it was also awesome. Let me explain…
Today marks five years since his death. This past September began my fourth year in Boston. Sometimes I forget that just about everything in my life has changed since then. Were he to come back for day, he would find my day-to-day completely unrecognizable. And so, in a weird way, I actually kind of enjoyed this dream I had. Its premise was that he didn’t actually die on Nov. 27, 2009, but for some reason had been in a coma since then and recently woke up, a little bit like a bizarre Encino Man sequel starring a middle-aged attorney. He and I strolled Boston, I pointed out various landmarks that figured into my new life and we stopped for beers are several pubs along the way. We talked all about beer and he seemed pretty impressed with my new fermentation-filled life. Even though it technically never happened, it almost felt like closure.
Sometimes I wonder what he’d think about what I’ve done with myself since bouncing out of journalism. When I broke the news to my parents that I found a master’s program I wanted to apply to, he was skeptical, saying that I had a job in an industry in which they’d become sparse in an economic climate that had many recent graduates waiting tables. I don’t love the debt I accumulated, but going back to school has obviously been the right decision. I can hear his clipped, staccato half-yelling of my name (if you knew him, you’ve heard it: JES-si-CAAA), followed by “I paid for all that private school and THIS is what you do with yourself – loll around and drink beer?!?” (For the record, I’m pretty sure he’d be on board with what I get up to these days.)
Even though I’ve lived in Boston for four years, it’s still strange to me to realize that no one I’ve met since moving here knows the non-Sad Kid version of me. To them, I’ve always been a person whose spirit is missing a little chunk, who doesn’t quite laugh as loudly and who always seems a little sad this time of year. I don’t know that any of them thinks those things about me, but I’ve also tried my best to keep Bummer Jess subdued. No sense in trotting that out when you’re trying to make new friends. Sometimes, it boggles my mind that the people I see everyday, who know most of my peccadillos and other weirdnesses, don’t know the full story of what’s ripped my life apart.
And of course they don’t – because I haven’t told them. But, why would I? Why would you want to try to win over new friends with the terrible story of how you found out your dad died by reading breaking news updates on your newspaper’s website while you were the only person in the newsroom on the day after Thanksgiving? Or how long it took to get your father’s killer sentenced to a measly six years in prison because her mysterious funding paid for private interpretation of the unmetabolized cocaine that was in her system? Or how you weren’t sure if you’d have to sit through a painful trial that called into question where you dad was walking the day her car left its lane but you just held your breath and prayed that the system took pity on your poor bereaved family? You wouldn’t. You figure out who doesn’t mind hearing those things and only burden them with it when you can’t stand to shoulder it on your own anymore. It’s one of the most unfair facts of life as a Sad Kid – you have to trudge on with the stone you carry on your back until you find someone you think doesn’t mind your unloading. On this Thanksgiving, I am particularly grateful for professional therapy.
You try your best to learn when it’s OK to offload and when it’s not. I hate feeling like a bother or a downer, so I mostly keep this to myself. Not much is worse than spilling the pebbles of your grief before someone who seems annoyed, so you learn fast who that is (fortunately, most people aren’t like this). You can tell someone who doesn’t want to hear your woe by their tersely throwing a “Well, everything happens for a reason” your way. The only thing that induces more inward eye-rolling in me is the “Be strong for your mom”s that met my brothers during our dad’s wake and funeral. In telling them that, it always felt to me that people discounted their own feelings in keeping with the old trope that young men should shed nary a tear and keep a stiff upper lip for the delicate ladies in their midst. But the worst – the absolute worst – is “Everything happens for a reason.” Back in my day, it was beloved by high school girls for their “favorite quotes” box in their AOL profiles. When it’s used in regard to my family’s unfortunate situation, all I hear is “yeah, well, your dad had to die for some reason that we’ll understand one day.” Which, in my somewhat humble opinion, is garbage. There’s no reason for this and the only lesson to be learned is that we’re all real fudging sad, but we carry on because there’s nothing else that can be done. This sounds harsh, but I promise it’s not. Not everyone is equipped to deal with tragedy. I sure as hell wasn’t before it happened to us. It’s the unfathomable, and if you can’t fathom it, honestly, I envy you.
This reads like an angry rant about how everyone I know is a jerk. It’s really not. Quite the contrary, just about everyone I know is a dear. It would have been a rough half-decade without friends to make me smile, listen to my profanity-laden gripes and just pat me on the back when I need it. Losing our home to Sandy rounded out an epic crapfest, but our friends and family rallied to get us settled as quickly as possible (no thanks to the Toms River building department) and I don’t think there are enough ways to say “thank you.” And so, what I think I’ve been trying to get at in this screed (forgive me – it’s been a while since I’ve written anything longer than an email) is that as hard as the past five years have been, I don’t want to know how hard it would have been for us without the people in our lives.