Here I am in some form of grief again. Stage of life and all that. I’m not writing enough, but I am clawing my way back. And as you other writers know, reading past work can inspire. And so I share this piece. It was published in another place with another name in another life. I still like it though.
If you’ve been through grief, you know it’s not just five clean stages where you can demarcate the beginnings and endings, crossing out the days on your calendar before your new and healed life can begin.
No, these are not mere items or accomplishments to cross off your list.
These stages make up a murky, phlegmy, acid-rained ocean; and you are a scabbed over castaway balancing on a plank of wood. Sometimes the waves are gentle and lull you into a state of sad bliss. Aaah. Acceptance. Healed. You turn to other areas of your life: your career, your family. Your focus flows outward. Sometimes you see sharks nipping at your toes and you fall into a depression. You turn inward and eat too many donuts. And sometimes it’s a fucking tidal wave.
Drowning, you feel like you’re back at the beginning.
Friday afternoon and I was a wreck. Adam the Ex had sent me an email telling me he missed me and that I inspired him. That he feared he would never reach his potential. The email was written with such sadness, I cried for the man I still loved, and yet didn’t love in that same way anymore. My pain stemmed not from the lost love, but the lost friendship, the lost intimacy, the lost partnership.
That wasn’t all.
Sam had broken my heart. Sam, a man who swooped into my life on a white horse (read some dented blue sedan), had just turned out to be my Transition Man. But for several months, he had been my Sing-From-The-Rooftops-I-Am-In-Love-Again Man. It was over, and damn it if those Divorce Books hadn’t been right all along—the Transition Man hurts just as much if not more (yes!) than the original Ex.
Aside: I hate those Divorce Books. Hate them. “They” all tell you how unique your grief is, and then they describe exactly how you are feeling, right down to the clamped throat and dry mouth.
Now, with Sam, the Divorce Books could have formed a chorus line and sung out, “I told you so. I told you so. I told you so. Tsk, tsk, Tessa, we told you not to get involved too soon, we told you this was just replacing your loss, we told you this was just about feeling loved, feeling loveable.”
I hate when my life feels so ordinary it could be a bad Lifetime movie of the week.
This time, practiced in the art of heartbreak, I didn’t flee Los Angeles. I knew the steps I needed to take. And the first one? Emergency Therapy.
Friday night at 5 pm, I am racing on the freeway, crying, and trying to merge.
And what happens?
I hit a semi.
Now, in my crying and jabbering defense, my blinker was on and there was ample space in front of the semi. I blame it on LA. Not one driver eager to get to their Valley home would let me merge.
Faced with being stuck on the Hollywood Freeway when I wanted to be on the 101, I kept driving, hoping someone would notice the blinker. No one did. By this time, I was in the shoulder and trying to make eye contact with someone: “let me in!” When I saw the two car lengths of freeway in front of the semi, I attempted to merge. At the exact time I edged into the lane, the semi sped up.
So now, not only was my heart minced meat, my driver’s side passenger door was too.
At least I didn’t have to pull over as I was already in the shoulder. That was convenient.
I got out of the car, feeling defensive. I summoned the former lawyer within myself. I pulled evidence rules from the deep recesses of my left brain—Tessa, no statements that would be admissible in court. No excited utterances. No admissions. Rally that accusation: He sped up and hit me!
The semi had stopped in the lane, blocking traffic. At least I was in the shoulder not getting in the way of anyone’s 6 o’clock martini. People hated him.
The door opened. And the first thing I saw were the boots.
Yellow alligator cowboy boots.
These were no ordinary cowboy boots. They weren’t the ironic thrift store buys I see my hipster neighbors sport in Echo Park. These taxicab yellow boots sprouted brownish nubs on them like the alligator died from a case of goiter warts.
Clack, clack they went on the metal steps of the semi.
I had hit a real, live cowboy.
He was tall and angular, weathered. He walked like he was comfortable on a horse, or at least that’s what the movies taught me to think; maybe he just waddled. He wore a cowboy hat, that again, hadn’t been bought on a drunken Sunday at Venice Beach. It was a mid-sized white hat, so worn it looked as if it never left his head.
He ignored me. Around his neck was a huge camera. He began taking pictures of his truck, of the lane. He walked right past me without or word or a gaze and took pictures of my car. [Feel my indignance here.] I stood in front of his truck in the right lane, hands on my hips, mouth agape. I was about to be out-lawyered by a cowboy with a Nikon.
While the cowboy collected evidence, I thought briefly of pulling out my flip phone camera and snapping a few shots to make it even. But what was I going to do? Put up a picture of my crushed door on Facebook?
All this, and still, my mother would be proud. I stood up straight, mindful of my posture. I did not curse. I did not scream, “I am missing therapy, you fuck!” Bring it on, Ms. America. I had an audience of rubberneckers and I was still smiling.
Finally, the cowboy approached. “Little lady, you ruined my day.” His voice was deep and smoky with a Southern drawl.
His “little lady” sounded a lot like mother fucking bitch.
“You hit me,” I said.
“You hit me,” he said.
“I had my blinker on for miles, didn’t you see me?”
“Little lady, you were driving in the shoulder. Haven’t you ever heard of a blind spot?”
He walked toward me until the brim of his hat shaded me from the sun. He smiled, his blue eyes crinkled. “What were you thinking?”
Before I could tell him that I thought, which would have been an emotional strings of expletives, the former lawyer within asserted her opinion: Shut up and get your sad ass to therapy.
“Look, I’ve never been in accident before,” I said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Aside: I am a feminist. Not ashamed of the word, rather I am proud of it. And so I am embarrassed to say I am one of those clueless people who have no idea about cars. I lived in a walking city for many years and didn’t even own a car, so let’s blame it on that and not that I made my Ex take care of all things automotive.
“I need to call this in. Probably need to wait for the police,” he said. He ambled toward his truck and placed the calls.
I waited and began to sweat. I met the eyes of rubberneckers and smiled, counting how many people smiled back.
“We need to wait, Little Lady. Who knows how long that’s gonna take. You just had to hit me and ruin my Friday,” the cowboy said.
“You ruined my Friday,” I said.
The cowboy shook his head. “My Friday was already bad.”
Really? Was he now getting over two men? “My Friday was worse than your Friday.”
“No, my Friday was worse than your Friday,” he said.
“Look, my year has been worse than your year,” I said.
“Little lady, that just can’t be true, my year has most definitely been worse than your year,” he drawled.
Here we were in a wreck on the side of the 101. I was in grief; I had lost a new love while still in pain over the old one; I was late for my therapist appointment; I was low on funds (a side effect of separation) and I was going to have to pony up a deductible; my insurance rates were going to go up; my car was a crumpled mess; and here I was having a pissing contest with a cowboy.
I laughed. I felt no grief, only a moment of life happening now, and in all that haphazard craziness, was joy.
Stay tuned. . .