My grief split open like an overripe peach and swallowed me whole. For a while I flailed about in the pulpy, suffocating mess, but then I gave in. I cried and cried, and my tears made a layer of buoyant saline until I finally floated to the top of all of my feelings. The swelling around my eyes receded, and gradually I found that I could look up and see that things were not yet dire. We, the survivors of my granddad’s death, are all still here and I have been given the great and important gift that is the knowledge that my love for my family is fierce and bottomless.
When I was in high school and just after, I thought that I could manufacture a family that could replace the one I was so baffled by. I was convinced that I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I began to realize how woven in to my family I am. He said that meeting each member of my family was like finding a new puzzle piece that made up me. How reassuring to hear after years and years of thinking of myself as an alien.
And so, after the diagnosis of my dad and after the death of my granddad, I fell apart when I heard that my uncle was suddenly, nebulously unwell. I felt as if I had just met these people I took for granted for so long and now they were disappearing. Dramatic, I know, but admitting that my feelings were both selfish and melodramatic did not actually do anything to decrease them.
But I didn’t start writing this to rhapsodize about my family, or to outline all the things that have happened to them that make me sad. No, I started writing this because a series of things has happened that have enraged me. It’s possible that I would not have felt so strongly if the background of my life had been different and less grief-stricken, but that is not life.
Since we moved back, I have realized how terribly selfish people who say they care about me can be. I quickly realized that one person I reconnected with, while mildly interesting over text message, would not actually speak to me when in person no matter how much I prompted. Additionally, she regularly sent me whining texts asking me why I didn’t want to see her anymore when she flat out told me that I would need to plan everything every time we got together because she was “not that kind of person.” These texts did not acknowledge the various times I invited her out and she said no. For some reason, she also expected to not have to pay for her drinks, and that I would drive 45 minutes to pick her up. All the awfulness of the tail end of a short-term romantic relationship without any of the benefits…who wouldn’t be interested in that?
However, that pales in comparison to another person I had been hanging out with on and off. Each time I saw him, his comments became more suggestive, and I blamed myself. I told myself that I needed to enforce my boundaries more forcefully, that I was reading too much into his comments, that he must be a good person because he’s religious, that he was just an affectionate guy. You name a rape myth, and I can tell you how I applied and internalized it just to keep this guy as a friend.
The last time I saw him was a couple days ago. I told him that I was exhausted from work and sad about everything going on with my family. His response? “By the end of the night maybe you’ll say something happy.” I get that other people’s grief can result in people saying stupid things, but I thought that this was a person who cared about me. Even worse, my immediate reaction was to think that he was right and that I ought to try to be nice to be around. As the night wore on, I realized that he didn’t seem to be listening to anything I said. He ignored me when I repeatedly told him I was tired, and we ended up walking around for hours. I also became aware of all the different ways he tried to touch me, how often he commented on my appearance, how he told me what he thought I should wear, that he tried to modulate how quickly I ate. He also, out of the blue, asked me sexually explicit questions about what my husband and I do, and I had to tell him twice that that is not something either of us was going to talk about.
Since that night, I gave in to my grief and came out the other side slightly more whole. I’ve also had time to reflect on why it is I keep allowing people into my life who see something in me and want to possess it as some kind of status symbol. There has to be some middle ground between being on high alert for any acts or words that might be informed by matrices of inequality and domination, and being subjected to someone who I thought actually valued me as a person joke about how he imagines me whipping him (honestly, I am now certain that was not a joke).
I went through a phase in college where the only t-shirts I wore were political t-shirts. When we moved back, I retired them, but some have slowly found their way back into rotation. It seems weak to me to end this piece on a cliché, but I don’t care how I seem anymore. I know that I’m strong.
So here is a pronouncement from the trenches:
Patriarchy is not dead. It is alive and kicking and taking on ever more covert and insidious forms. It is trying to worm its way into your life in the form of everyday minutia, in the form of entertainment, or under the guise of someone you don’t really know who only pretends to care. All of us need to identify it and fight it.
And here is a pronouncement from my current favorite t-shirt:
“Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving. Keep fighting.”
Stay safe, dear reader. Wrap yourself in the warmth and protection of the love of the people who know you best. No one is getting out of this life alive, and while we are all each other’s responsibility, we also need to claim responsibility for ourselves.
And for the love of all things good, be kind.