A Taxonomy of Grief, In the Wake of the Orlando Queer Massacre

A Taxonomy of Grief, In the Wake of the Orlando Queer Massacre

I have thrown all of my shortcomings at it,
this hole that won’t go away.

I have thrown cocktails into it and candy and tastykakes.
I have blasted it with computer games and obsessive internet scrolling.
I have gone shopping and bought things that nobody needs.
I have hired N.K. Jemisin to distract me with stories
of some other planet, worse than or better than our own.
I have considered the young, open-faced human,
warm and insubstantial, who talked with me on and off
for something like an hour in between serving me delicious food,
eyes suggesting openness to contact comforts that I crave,
who looked at me like a new adventure or maybe like a lifeboat.
Cards were exchanged, but I am nobody’s life raft, today,
tumbling, as I am, over the cliff of my own dangerous despair.

I know my addictions. None of them surprise me.
They slip in, unknocking, like old friends who have my key on their chain.
Familiar, they whisper niceties that I know are fictional,
but that I try to take comfort in, anyway.
They tell me to look away, look away, look away
while they bind and gag my heart
to hold the pain at bay.

In my better moments, when I have looked that black hole hard in the eye,
and seen the grief and fear and rage that it is made of,
the grief and fear and rage that threaten
to eat my flesh and obliterate my bones,
I’ve cracked open wide and in those moments
when I could not contain my insides,
I have teetered on the verge of crazy,
losing my grip on the ground that holds me
and sometimes fails to hold me
down.

I have flooded that dreadful emptiness with a monsoon made of my own salt and water.
I have offered it every emotion I know how to make – in full technicolor.
I have made many, many, many words, ill-considered,
ill-advised, and unconcerned about appearing wise.
I have trampled toes and elbowed eyes in my flailing about,
I have picked fights with friends and lovers and strangers on the street
and my own, tender, sweet vulnerable self, panicked and unskillful,
shredding my flesh in trying to claw the hollow out of my heart.

I have done every single thing I do when grief is too great to bear.
I have doubted and condemned myself, compared myself to other people –
Would they be emoting and leaving their DNA all over every accessible surface –
hardwood floor, bed, public bathroom tile,
asphalt, armchair, carpet, kitchen counter,
restaurant table, bookshelf, fridge door,
dirt, grass, dressing room,
laptop, paperback, brick,
airplane window, human shoulder,
tree trunk, sandwich, smartphone,
stucco, steering wheel?

The rain I make is great and terrible.

I am Alice drowning in the flood of my own tears,
swimming against the current, fighting,
rejecting reality, foundering,
submerged, shipwrecked, bedraggled, choked,
exhausted, in shock and suffering
from exposure. Half-dead, at last
I surrender to the current
of life, the flow of where it’s going, like it or not,
and I wash up on some kind of unknown and empty shore.

I taste the emptiness and know it as space:
Open, awesome, infinite, and possible.

Having exhausted every maladaptive coping strategy at my disposal,
I give up and turn to wisdom, who has been there all along
whispering my name so tenderly, inviting me
to come and stay, come and stay, come and stay,
embracing my battle-weary heart with relentless compassion and interminable grace
offering me all of her tools to heal this grief and fear and rage.

Now I will sit quietly and breathe for a long time,
maybe forever, letting everything go but this moment,
and this one, and this one, and this one
listening to nothing but the bass drum of my own heart,
and the mellifluous whistle of my lungs
calling out across the expanding universe of space inside me
in incontrovertible evidence and celebration
of my own queer brown life,
infinitely precious and utterly tenuous, which,
despite the voluminous threats against it,
has not yet been lost.

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