The lasts

Today is June 8. On this day last year, I sat at this very table in this very coffee shop. I awaited Kelly, who texted me 20 minutes earlier, "Hi you. Any chance you're free right now? I've just finished at the Tummy Temple and have an hour until I see Aylee."

"I'm at Cafe Kopi, come on up," I texted back.

She sauntered in, ordered a green juice, and flipped her hair as she sat down across from me. We'd never met here before, I had only just moved to the neighborhood and was trying out new coffee shops. She was impressed with the juice, and I was happy that my espresso wasn't bitter.

It was that day, that conversation, that cup of coffee...when the news really began to go downhill, gain momentum, fuel the worst anxiety of my life (and also marks the day I stopped drinking caffeine. Anxiety and caffeine hurt each other). Ever since we'd returned from Maui a month ago, she'd been fearing that her lungs were filling with malignant fluid. She was getting winded just trying to walk from one end of the house to the other and it was not improving. She would be going later that day for a scan.

She hugged me and sashayed off to her day.

Bad news came in. Worse news followed it. She died five weeks later.

June 8, 2017                                                                                   June 8, 2018         

I couldn't come back here for months following her death, avoiding the last place we were okay, when everything was fine.

There are so many things the same. It's gloomy today, just as it was one year ago. I am wearing a gray sweater, same as last year. Hair newly bleached, again, the same. I've been here several times since and it hasn't changed at all in a year. The traffic from Lake City Way continues, the bell on the door rings with every entrance and exit, my black decaf (sigh) Americano tastes the same. Motherhood is kicking my ass, just like June 2017.

And just like last year, I feel the need to fight but cannot find anyone's face to punch. There is no enemy here, just as there was no enemy then - not one I could battle, anyway.

Death would have claimed her at some point, just as it will claim all the hearts I love. I am learning how to live with death, but I am still ruined by the how, the when. The difference is that I know her how. I know her when. I would do almost anything to not know those things. To go back to this date one year ago when my worries were about wanting to be a better mom to Bowie, which I journaled about. Every single entry since then has Kelly's name in it.

Everything continued on without her, a feat I swore would be impossible.

But just like with Love, Death performs the impossible.

I feel my physical system going through these adrenaline spikes just like this time last year, when we were ramping up for...we'll, we didn't know what. I am ramping up again, awakening to phantoms, echos of bad news. Reports of this same phenomenon are coming in from the other women, too. The body does indeed keep score.

"The world was ending," texted Jess recently. "Because her world was ending."

Of course we didn't know that then, but we did feel the tidal wave of something approaching. And as the five-week countdown to the one year anniversary of her death begins, that inkling builds again.

Perhaps this is what to expect every year: a reliving, a reprocessing, a re-experiencing that my body must go through. Grief people say so.

The last few weeks, I've been happy. Curious, even...about these weeks approaching. What will they feel like? Making plans to commemorate so many lasts...the last coffee date, the last day she hugged Joel in the entry way, the last time she ate at my dinner table, the last text, the last voicemail, last communal meal at Niki's, the last time she and I spoke alone.

I miss her, so I wanted to relive it. I invited myself back into hell. And so here I sit, brick after brick of lasts piling on top of me.

Elizabeth Gilbert recently posted about loosing her wife to cancer earlier this year and it's haunted me ever since:

"Here is what I have learned about Grief, though.

I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love.

The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.

When Grief comes to visit me, it’s like being visited by a tsunami. I am given just enough warning to say, “Oh my god, this is happening RIGHT NOW,” and then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me. How do you survive the tsunami of Grief? By being willing to experience it, without resistance.

The conversation of Grief, then, is one of prayer-and-response.

Grief says to me: “You will never love anyone the way you loved Rayya.” And I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.” Grief says: “She’s gone, and she’s never coming back.” I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.” Grief says: “You will never hear that laugh again.” I say: “I am willing.” Grief says, “You will never smell her skin again.” I get down on the floor on my fucking knees, and — and through my sheets of tears — I say, “I AM WILLING.” This is the job of the living — to be willing to bow down before EVERYTHING that is bigger than you. And nearly everything in this world is bigger than you.

I don’t know where Rayya is now. It’s not mine to know. I only know that I will love her forever. And that I am willing."

Meet me for coffee, Dove?


Happy Birthday, Kelly

Dear Kelly,
Happy Birthday, Dove! You were always the best at celebrating birthdays, yours and others.

Today, as I was enjoying some quiet morning yoga and meditation in an empty house, the sun peaked out and shined right on my face. Like right on it! It felt like a massive gift and got me thinking about you and the birthdays and get-a-ways and celebrations we've shared the last 10 years.

Remember this platter you made for Jess, Niki, and I two years ago at the Octopus Hole house?

I could stare at that perfectly sliced fruit for hours, conjuring up images of your hands holding a knife, cutting for days. This was your quintessential meal in summer or spring. In winter or fall, always a hot bowl of nourishing soup or stew with your homemade sourdough bread.

You fed us so well.

I feel quiet today. My thoughts wander to your this day 38 years ago, she pushed you into this world. What did baby Kelly's cry sound like? Were you scrawny or chubby? Did you eat right away or take your time learning to suckle? (I see you smirking. I know, I hate that word too...suckle. Which reminds me of a recipe of yours I read recently where you said "frothy" and then "god, I hate that word." You always left little notes like that. I'd ask for a recipe and it would be laced with goofy comments throughout...thank you for leaving breadcrumbs of yourself all over my life.)

We went out this weekend for your was strange. You were so present it was distracting.  We ordered all the things and tried each other's food like always. When we let Brad choose the bottle of wine (because as you know, Joel choosing bottles of wine could put us all in debt, so we let Brad choose since it was your bday and you'd be the one choosing), the server brought three glasses. After the first pour, Brad asked her to bring one more glass. He poured out a taste for you, and just like that, all eyes were red and wet. "Here's to you, babe," he said.

The first time we went out for your birthday was to Salty's. Brad had won a gift card for the crab brunch and so we went there on a Saturday, you in your flower DVF maxi, and ate a shit-ton of seafood. That's what you always want for your bday, some seafood meal with oysters, please. The last time we went out for your birthday meal, we were at Copine - ogling each other's plates, ordering too much, chatting about home-ownership.

On your actual birthday, you would have gotten out of bed at some ungodly hour to see the sunrise, over a mountain or at the beach. I just spent time lingering over this post you wrote on your 34th birthday. You would have made a day of it, and I feel sad that I can't do that today, that I didn't plan for it.

But then I ask myself, what would you have done? And I answer that I could have gotten up at sunrise, taken myself out to breakfast, taken the day off work to meditate and embrace grief, flew to Costa Rica like we always said we would, write this damn book, establish a foundation in your know, all in a day's work. I jest, but that's the truth. All of the rituals and trips and doings in the world will not be enough to express what you meant to me, never enough to feel like yes! I've finally honored Kelly.

Even today, I want to write something epic, something profound. A wisdom bomb, you would say. But I don't have anything. I am surviving off of breadcrumbs and it's taking all my willpower to not post every single bday picture and tell every single bday memory right now...but something hungry inside of me halts. I will need that nourishment. There's a lot more birthdays without you we'll need to get through.

So I will honor you in the small ways. A hot cup of chamomile from a mug I bought thinking of you. Hugging my legs to my chest in the galaxy leggings you wore. Maybe meticulously cut up some fruit and veg for lunch. Meandering through your blog and Instagram posts.

And write you a letter.

Always your friend and partner in birthday bashes,

Found: a Spring letter

We just passed the 14th of the month and for the first time, I don't immediately know how many months ago Kelly died, not without counting. Curious.

Did I tell you? I am writing a book. A book about Kelly and our friendship and grief and her death and my unsatisfactory life without her. A life of bitter pain but little suffering. Part of that book will contain her hand-written letters to me (and hopefully mine to hers if I can get into her archives soon).

As I transcribe these letters, I found one that feels especially timely since it's nearly the same time of year that she wrote it, only 8 years ago. Every drop of ink is just so Kelly. Her letters were exactly like sitting down to a cup of coffee with her: she'd tell me about her purchases, how people in the country always gawked oddly at her, and we'd discuss our latest developments and research in gardening. Then we'd spend hours shopping for plants. Then she'd come over and help me plant them all.

Kelly was such a massive help to me. Without her, I feel like I am trying to lift 300 lbs of life. Maybe that's why I am always so tired. I've lost one of my main sources of energy and motivation.

I am a very amateur gardener, pots only so far. But my body is naturally awakening to this desire to plant again. Last year, it took all I had to plant a few herbs, strawberries, several tomato plants, and a shit ton of lavender when she got sick - simply because it made me feel close to her. Knowing that she'd be doing the same, working in the wild, if she could, motivated me. It was my medicine to her - to do what she couldn't.

We purchased several of those plants together at our annual day together in May, an edible plant sale. We've gone every year since 2012, and every year, Kelly's crate of purchased plants got bigger and bigger. We would walk back to my house and have brunch and a lazy day of laying in the sun, grab a hot dog for mid-day dinner, and do some sort of communal dinner that evening.

As I read this letter, smiling for the indelible Kelly Clarkness of it all, I thought you might like a smile too - even if it breaks your heart.

I am missing

There once was a me
I knew

But you died and took me
with you.

In place of me, a new
confused thing will do

Strange things like
hoard your every shoe.

The earth you walked,
the dirt you knew

Stained on the bottom
of a boot no one else can have
but you.

But you, not here, left me to hide
those shoes.

Your quirky socks I wear,
Will they walk my feet to you?

The wise old owl of me used to have
the redwood tree of you

A tall and lanky perch
from which to view

The shirking prey, the darkest night, the darting truth.
Tell me, my guru,

What now? What can I do
without the branches of you?

"Stop," you say,
to choose

For I left, but I am not gone," you say.
"And I have news for you.

I am more than tree.
I am all colors, spirit-hewed.

Stop denying that same is true for you.

I promise, my owl
Everything you need, you already have
deep, deep, deep inside of you.

Go plant a new tree,
the tree of you.

Please believe me, you would
If you could see you as I do.

Strong as stalwart, as in your youth
Firmly-planted, leaves true blue.

There is no way out of this
You must go through."

But I am blind, wing-bound.
My vision slight, talons eschew.
I cannot be as I was once used to.

I am missing,
I am missing,
I am misssing

I am missing,
I am missing,
I am missing
me, too.

Frida and field trips

Last night, I lost it. Like properly. Like big, ugly tears. I couldn't see and I couldn't stop.

Last week, just a few minutes before leaving my therapy session, I lost it. Less ugly - there was someone watching, after all. But no less big and broken.

I broke down during those particular instances NOT because Kelly has died and is dead. Well, not directly.

Last week at therapy, I cried because my therapist asked me to identify some heroes for an exercise we are doing. I said Frida Kahlo almost immediately and when she said why, I choked on my sudden tears. I said because of her immense suffering and her wild power and her fucking resilience in the face of extreme tragedy and her ability and dogged determination to learn to paint and express herself from that place of persistence and pain.

I cried because I realized I had actually just described Kelly.

"Anger" an early prototype of a tarot card for a deck Kelly was flirting with making

Last night, I cried because I got an email from Bowie's school saying I wasn't picked to chaperone Bowie's first Kindergarten field trip. I not only wanted to go see a play with her, but I also wanted to make sure she was taken care of in the special way she needs right now (Kindergarten has been a tough for bathroom times). And for some reason, getting an email from her teacher saying, "I will take care of Bowie" made me weep. And then I wept for teachers who answer fucking emails all hours of the day after spending every ounce of energy on kids. And then I wept for the people affected by the California fires. And then I wept for the victims in Las Vegas and their families and friends...for Puerto Rico, for Spain, for Mexico, Houston, for women and minorities (and our climate!) in America under this President. And then I wept for this planet and the end of everything, how the knowledge that everyone I love will die means something different to me now and how it feels less hopeless but more deeply, deeply sad. And then I wept because there is so little time to get our life's work done and I've been wasting it. And then I wept because I am grief-tired and didn't mean to waste it and felt judged by myself.

And then I wept for Kelly and for how she was so much of my daily living and guide toward mystical lands and hand-holder on the mutually paced path of self-discovery and maker of massive salads and bringer of green smoothies and wearer of billowy skirts with combat boots and speaker of truth in the dark and preserver of privacy and believer in mother and then, and then...

sitting in the hot bath with cold tears running down my face,
I remembered when she told me that she thought I was doing it right. That I was a good mother.

That's when I lost it.
I wept for me.

For me, for me, for me. For Bowie not getting to know Kelly as an adult. For Kelly not being here to help me with my sacred altar. For all the new ways I'm required to be that I don't want to be.

And I didn't want to stay there because I didn't want to feel sorry for myself, surely other people's loss is greater - Brad, Kathy, Jay, surely it's not my place to feel sorry for myself, look at how beautiful a death we were given, look at the life she lived, look how I got to love her, look how rich this soil is, look at how much more color the world has, look, look, look!

But I couldn't lift my chin this time.
I couldn't look up
I couldn't look at other people's sorrow anymore. I could only see mine.
I didn't go looking for her in my tarot deck or the night sky.

And it was time to face the me part of the grief. Weeping for little Candace, young, pitiful, incensed, raging and indignant. I thought of Bowie wailing about a necklace she lost and I imagined what it would be like to so unabashedly express loss.

Likely, it looks just like this.