Updated: Jun 20, 2022
In The Before, I was afraid of the dark. I struggled to embrace the prickly, difficult feelings inside myself—anger, despair, shame. I made them wrong. Painful experiences from the past haunted me, and instead of befriending these ghosts, I cast them out, isolating the parts of myself I deemed unworthy of belonging. Depression would wash over me from time to time, a flood of unresolved feeling. Each torrent left me flailing to find purchase once again and fearful of when the next one would arrive. In a secret part of myself, I believed I was deeply and irrevocably flawed. After all, weren't we supposed to happy and successful all the time? Beautiful in every way? Good vibes only, right? #BLESSED. When I looked at the reflection culture was mirroring for me, I didn't see room for the reality of who I was. Only those parts I could cherry-pick and hold up as desirable.
Despite this dismemberment of myself, I'd managed to make some progress over the years. And slowly, I was inching my way toward integration, toward recollection of the castaways, those parts I'd judged and condemned because programming and society and survival told me to. But it was slow and halting, and who knows how far I might have gotten on my own even with decades to do the work. I was in the shallow end of the pool, with one toe on the top step, clinging to the railing for support.
Enter child loss. The full and total submersion into darkness.
If the sun were a candle and death a strong wind, then Evelyn's loss was a hurricane of black. In an instant, the flame was snuffed, everything vanished, and the world split open like a cracked egg. If I hadn't have been in a hysteria of pain, I might have cared how disorienting it was. But everything had collapsed into one thing, one person, for me, and that person was gone. Nothing else really registered.
Fast forward several years. Living in the dark might sound terrible to someone who's never done it, never allowed it, like the woman I was in The Before. But the truth is, the darkness was my safe space for a very long time. It made room for my agony. It never grasped at my despair, trying to wrest it away. It let me be. You can't imagine what a gift that is until you need it as desperately as I did. There were no demands and no expectations and no impossible standards for me to fail to meet. What there was was space. And quiet. The non-thing things. Everything I needed to move through my grief. To come to terms with our loss. To heal, slowly and organically, away from the pressures of the light.
And guess what I found down there? All the castaway parts of myself. Little, angry, sad, hurt pieces of me that were so grateful to finally be seen. I'm not sure why I ever made monsters of them. Why society tells us there is only one way to feel and only one way to be and only one way to look, who can say? How incredibly dimensionless and bromidic. Beautiful things grow in the dark it turns out. Healthy things. Balanced things. Thriving things. I'm not claiming you need to relocate permanently, but an annual visit would do you good.
When I needed it most, the dark was patiently waiting for me. I've spent the last four plus years since Evelyn died making peace with the darkness. And for a while, I thought that was my only work. But true to form, a strange compulsion overcame me in that time, the urge to blame, to solve for x, to isolate. Our brains love a puzzle. A death like Evelyn's cannot be reconciled, but it won't stop us from trying. There has to be a reason. A fault. Something we can shake a finger at.
I've talked about this many times, but it felt like I died when she did. Like I've been living in the flotsam that was left after we exploded. A shell of a woman. But maybe that woman from The Before didn't die as much as get buried under the rubble. Metaphors aside, I grieved her for a while. And then I turned on her. All her energy and light, the good things she was trying to do in the world, the hard work she'd put in and the progress she had made—all of it was worse than useless. All of it was at fault. Maybe if she hadn't been who she was, doing those things, maybe she would have seen, maybe she could have stopped it. When there is no obvious villain, we often step in to fill the role. We abhor a vacuum.
So everything that had mattered to her, everything that had helped her, all of her tools and beliefs and ideas and the philosophy she had cobbled together over years of personal experience had to be thrown out. In so many ways, she became enemy number one. She was the failure. She was the reason. She was the shame to be carried.
But she was me. And that got complicated.
I have made careful forays into the light since Evelyn died. They began small, with easy things. A smile. A laugh. A joke in poor taste. A hug. A breath. A spot of sunshine. A small corner of beauty. A moment of gratitude. As my tolerance grew, my trips lengthened. Whole afternoons where I let myself feel good. Creative pursuits. Bursts of activity. Time with friends. Bouts of joy and self-care. Indulgence in pleasure. An iota of stillness. Even on occasion, a few words of prayer. Though that mostly was bookended with I'm still not speaking to you and You owe me and a few fuck offs for good measure.
But in all that time, it was important for me to keep a certain amount of the light at arm's length. Maybe as punishment. Of it. Of myself. We both failed by my reckoning. Maybe out of fear of complacency, the belief that if we let our guard down, something terrible will happen. Because it did before. The belief that we are responsible, accountable, for everything. What a burdenous notion.
But here's what's beginning to occur to me:
I made my peace with the darkness after Evelyn died because frankly there wasn't much choice.
But in the process, I made an enemy of the light.
Now, I'm being called to make peace again. To find a way to finally hold both. To make neither wrong. To integrate all of myself. To reconcile with the woman I was in The Before. To embrace her and say, I'm so fucking sorry this happened to you. You didn't deserve it. It's not your fault.
It's not a once-and-for-all job. I've no doubt I'll spend the rest of my life shifting between these odds, pushing parts away only to have to go find them, make amends, drag them back. But it feels good to finally be standing here, staring into the eyes of who I was without judgment. And I'll never forget or reject the darkness that cared for me these last four years. So much of my love for Evelyn still lives there in my grief. I plan to visit regularly.
But I don't need to live there anymore. I'm finding, now that I'm ready, the light has been patiently waiting for me too.