I've been told blogs are dead. And maybe that's what makes this more enticing: I can just join the masses (again) and scream into the void along with the rest of the writers out there. Writing is compulsory to me. I can't help it.
The last six months have been a pretty weird mix of traumas. Like most tender-hearted folks, I think I've felt pretty vulnerable since the election. But I'm finding my feet under me and I feel like I might have the strength to put myself into the world again, and it might just be important enough to at least try.
My cousin, Kymberley, died in October, leaving behind her 3 year old daughter and husband. She was 28 years old, just two years older than me. She died of a benign brain tumor, but it's not as simple as that. A week prior to her death, she went to a concert in Las Vegas. Yes, that concert.
But let me back up here- Roughly seventeen years prior to Kymberley's death, her mother died. Kym was 11, I think. Her younger brother Tommy was 9. Her mom died of breast cancer, but maybe some external factors also played a part (years of earlier drug use).
Kymberley was diagnosed with this brain tumor a few years ago. She had been taking medication to shrink the tumor and was scheduled to have surgery to fully remove the tumor later this year. Then she stopped taking her meds- it made her loopy. She wasn't having seizures like she was before the medication, so she figured it was fine. She had a doctor's appointment scheduled the Friday before she died. She went in, but they wouldn't see her because she had an outstanding bill.
She went to the concert, witnessed a horrific massacre, stepped over bodies as they bled to death, while she desperately tried to get to safety. She called her husband, who was back home in the High Desert of Southern California, with their baby. He's in the police force and was able to guide her to safety by looking at a map of the venue online. She and her friends all made it out of the venue, to their cars, physically unscathed by bullets, a sheer miracle in and of itself. They drove home that night.
A week later, Kymberley was suffering from severe PTSD and posting about it online. She was certain that gunmen were following her and others on the ground. I don't believe that's true, but it does help me understand how close those bullets felt, how terrified she must have been. It shows me how much our brains can fabricate to make sense of something so senseless. A week to the day after the shooting, she had a gran mal seizure and died. Her husband had left for work, her daughter was with her.
Kymberley and I never got along. Neither did our mothers, so perhaps it's genetic or passed down trauma or... we were just very different humans with very different childhoods. She was incredibly jealous of me and that jealousy took over everything between us. She lost her mom at such an early age, and I still had mine. She lived in Nebraska with her dad and stepmom who were unthinkably abusive. She was smart, but she couldn't find a way to channel her talents. She moved out to California when she was 16 and finished high school, went to a bit of community college, dropped out, got married, had a baby. Due to various fissures in our family, we didn't speak much, but when we did it was volatile.
Our last Facebook message was rough and over five years old. I had been in her town just a week and a half before she died and I didn't see her. The last time I'd seen her at a family function she hawked over her then 1 year old daughter, disuading me with her body language from picking Scarlett up or getting too close. Protecting her daughter from me was probably the most hurtful thing she's ever done.
She was complicated and messy and not always nice. But she was whip-smart. She was funny when she wanted to be. She was sweet when you appeased her high demands. She loved drama and attention, to the point that it was comical, even when you were the butt of her jokes. Above all she was fierce.
Sitting there, at her funeral, I thought about how much she would hate that I spoke about her in front of all her friends. The New York Libtard, I'm sure she's called me behind my back. The ultra-liberal, queer-as-a-choice, democrat nightmare. We couldn't have been more different. As I sat there, looking at her urn, listening to some insane Christian pastor say "this is what God wanted", I couldn't help think, "C'mon, Kymmie. This is a little much for some attention." I couldn't believe she was dead.
The same weekend of her funeral, I had to face some family I didn't think I could face. I listened to someone very close to me tell me about something horrible that happened to them, and I felt completely helpless, guilty for not being there, devastated that such wretched acts could happen to people so close in age to me, so close in circumstance. The same weekend, I learned that an old friend whom I'd stopped talking to was going through the loss and grief that comes with miscarriage.
I put on a brave face. I had to hold it together. I had to make sure my grandmother made it through that weekend. I had to make sure I seemed happy and put together in my new life, despite the current loss, so that my childhood abuser could not creep in and make me doubt everything all over again. I had to confront several people I'd been avoiding and simultaneously make room to connect with folks I'd been desperate to connect with. There was no room to let grief in because who knows what else would be thrown my way- I could not be caught off guard.
I got back to New York that following week. I woke up Sunday morning to an empty house. Lauren, my wife, was out of town. I laid on the couch and tried to watch some stand up comedy, anything to keep the too-big feels at bay. I'd seen depression before. I'd been in its watery pits, gasping for air, choking down water. I couldn't let it creep in. I couldn't let it take hold in my heart.
But then it swallowed me. I lay there, choking back tears, focusing on the laughs, the jokes, their punchlines. And this phrase kept playing over and over in my mind, "There is no justice. It's all chaos."
It was an existential crisis like none I'd ever experienced before. I felt exposed, I felt betrayed by the cosmos. Suddenly, I couldn't bare the thought of being seen when everything is so temporary and I'm trying so hard, like some damn fool who thinks it matters. It's such a depression cliche to ask yourself, "Why try? What's it worth? What even matters?" but that's where I was.
That sentiment still feels true, but somehow I'm able to keep it in the bottom drawer of my mind, only to look at occasionally, to pick up and hold and say, well, this is a thing that is true and exists, but it's okay to pretend like it doesn't. It's okay to keep trying. It's okay to focus on the daily tasks and the things that feel good.
I have a strong tie to Energy. My grandfather has visited me on a number of occasions. I expected Kymberley to linger. All that momentum doesn't just disappear. That inertia, that forward motion has to keep going. She showed up in the middle of the night, weeks after her death, confused and wandering. I felt my grandfather there, too, and even my aunt, Kymberley's mother, whom I'd never felt before. They were there to guide her, they were looking for her.
Then there was a break that spanned a month or two, where everyone seemed to move on. And then last week, several nights, I woke up in a cold panic to angry, aggressive energy swirling all around me, energy that wasn't there when I went to bed.
I get that you're angry, Kymberley. I would be, too. It's unfair that you had to leave a daughter behind like your mother left you. It's the most unjust thing that I've personally witnessed.
It's been hard to find a reason to want to... I can't seem to finish that sentence. Maybe it's just been hard. All I know is that I write through my feelings. I have to share, I have to continue living a radically vulnerable life. I have to continue baring my heart, because it's the only way to real connection, to authenticity, to compassion.
So let this be an invitation to connect. There will be more of this hard stuff. I am committed to doing the heart work. I'm committed to doing it in a public space, to double down on my bet that radical authenticity only multiplies love and compassion. Join me?