Posts tagged ‘Loss’

Excerpt from “Safe Mode”

Professor Heart Attack (not to be confused with Professor Heartache) used to always tell me that the future—and the now (then)—was all about information sharing and social networks. He had a bit of an obsession with Mark Zuckerberg (and, incidentally, with me). He used to tell me things like, “If I were Mark’s father, I’d tell him to marry you.”

It just so happened that I was a freshman at Princeton when Mark Zuckerberg was a freshman at Harvard. (No, I don’t know him personally. I know a handful of people who went to Exeter with him, but whatever. It doesn’t matter.) When I joined Facebook my sophomore (or was it junior?) year in college, back when it was called “The Facebook,” I had no idea what a key role it would play in my undoing.

I used to resent that Professor Heart Attack, more than 30 years my senior and (last time I heard) without a cell phone or personal email account, was so ahead of my time. He was seemingly compassionate, extremely intelligent, not at all attractive, cosmopolitan, wealthy, and—it turns out—deeply insecure and duplicitous. It seemed cruelly ironic that he—of all people—appeared to escape the disaster when most of us had our worlds ripped out from under us.

Of course, he hadn’t anticipated the ultimate irony. Neither had I.

October 19, 2011 at 9:37 pm 6 comments

Death Perception

I’m back in Texas to visit my family and friends, and today would have been Alex’s 25th birthday. They say losing someone gets easier with time, but I am not convinced. Sure, the pain is no longer acute (most of the time), but it seems to have seeped into every fiber of my being. I can feel it within my marrow, in the roots of my teeth, and on the soles of my feet.

When I first learned about death, I remember staying up at night and crying. The thing I struggled to process was the fact that I would probably live to bury my parents. I wanted to die before they did so that I wouldn’t have to endure that kind of loss. I never really thought about losing my brother. 

Almost two years ago, I moved for the first time since Alex passed away. On one hand, it was nice to get out of Portland because it was there that I received the horrible news. On the other hand, he was still alive when I moved there in October 2008. What I am painfully realizing is that every literal and figurative move I make from this point forward will occur without his earthly presence. That’s unsettling to really think about.

My last few visits to Texas didn’t feel as depressing as I had anticipated. It almost seemed like Alex was in summer school or on some fun trip. It felt like he simply never came back from college. Sometimes I caught myself eagerly awaiting his return, but I would inevitably remember that he’s not coming back.

Since the last time I came home, my mom moved from the house we grew up in. Now it’s clear he’s not coming back. I don’t even get my hopes up anymore.

I often feel sorry for myself. Then I feel bad about feeling sorry for myself, and then I feel justified. But sometimes I embrace my sadness. It is here to stay, and it’s an important part of me. At a certain point, the grief becomes so profound that it seems to transform into an empowering, enthusiastic force that propels me upward and forward. Maybe that’s what happens when we die: the agony and injustice and bullshit of this life launch us into a euphoric, boundless ascent.

May 11, 2011 at 4:17 am Leave a comment

Taking Back the Night: A Feminist’s Response to Yale’s DKE Incident

No means yes! Yes means anal!”  chanted the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity pledge class while marching across the Yale campus last week. This egregiously offensive and threatening speech must be punished, and we need to open up a dialogue about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses in general and by fraternity members in particular.  While I commend Dean Mary Miller and President Richard Levin for making a public statement condemning DKE’s actions, this should just be a first step in a longterm, comprehensive plan for creating a safer social environment in colleges and universities across the country.

Unfortunately, the DKE incident does not surprise me, and I can no longer remain silent about my experience.  In an ongoing attempt to reclaim my agency (which was, to borrow the words of Billy Joel, “something I’d never lose, something somebody stole”), I share my story and take back the night that fundamentally and almost catastrophically changed my life.

The president of a Yale fraternity raped me when I was an undergraduate.  I didn’t tell anyone about it for over a year because I was in denial about what had happened.  Like so many victims of sexual abuse, I blamed myself.  Shortly after the incident, I became bulimic and extremely self-destructive.  I cried myself to sleep almost every night—and, although I was never suicidal, I had a sincere death wish. Seven years later, I have overcome most of the shame and hurt associated with such a devastating loss of agency, but I continue to suffer.  Writing has really facilitated my ongoing quest to reclaim my autonomy and self-confidence. Below is a post I previously wrote about the incident.  I changed names and immaterial details to preserve anonymity:

I strode along the curb of Prospect Street toward Alpha Nu as he ambled—slightly drunkenly—on my right.  I met Tex, a Bulldog linebacker and president of Alpha Nu, at Josh’s track party that night.  The cross-country team had already had its first race of the season the day before, and I still felt a bit high from performing well.  It was the beginning of September, and fall always seemed to arrive early in New Haven.  The temperature must have dropped 20 degrees since the track party had come and gone, and I started to wish I had worn a jacket.

A black Escalade zoomed by, nearly splashing me with a wave of cold, grimy water.

Tex tugged me away from the road.  “Whoa! Let’s switch places. I’m more than twice your size.  No one’s gonna hurt me, and no one’s gonna hurt you while you’re with me.”  He ran his fingers through his dishwater blond hair, sweaty from dancing, and winked.  We held each other’s clammy hands. “That’s kinda sweet,” I thought.

“You’re big and strong and all, but that doesn’t make you invincible.”  I dropped his hand and softly punched his shoulder.  (This was my attempt at coyness.)  I had a weakness for “teddy bear” guys because they seemed so manly and so eager to protect, but I figured it was too early to let on that I might actually be into him.  I hoped to continue the interesting conversation we had begun at Josh’s apartment, and maybe we would kiss and caress for awhile. I hadn’t had many sexual partners, and I just wanted to date people and to generally take things slowly.

“Well, I promise you’re safe with me.  Besides, we’re almost there.  I apologize in advance for the mess.  I didn’t know I’d be meeting such a lovely lady tonight.” Tex put his arm gently around my waist, pulling me closer to him.

But Tex didn’t keep his promise—and, although he apologized for the bite marks in an email the next day, he never said he was sorry for all that transpired later that night.

I wish I could truly take back that September night, but I will never forget what happened.  When I talked about it with some close girlfriends, two of them admitted they had also been raped at Yale.  Both friends chose not to report the events because they didn’t think anyone would believe them.

In light of this, I don’t think hate speech like DKE’s chant should be protected by the First Amendment.  When one form of expression is so abhorrent and so offensive that it chills the expression and threatens the emotional well-being of others, the government should be able to impose liability.  Not only did some of DKE’s members deeply offend many students, but they also voiced support for a culture of sexual violence.  The young men who chanted and/or incited such hateful speech should, at the very least, be suspended.  They have assaulted the vibrant, tolerant marketplace of ideas that should thrive at all institutions of higher education. Through hate speech, these men supported heinous mentality and behavior, casting a pall over the Yale campus and beyond.

I am symbolically taking back the night that had taken so much from me.  Although I’ll never forget what happened, its effects continue to fade into a seemingly distant past.  I hope we all take a moment to consider the individual and societal ramifications of sexual abuse and hate speech and how we can learn from this recent assault on intellectual freedom, social progress, and humanity.

October 21, 2010 at 11:31 pm 3 comments

Goodbye for Now, Boyfriend

I just found out that our beloved cat, Boyfriend, died yesterday.  He was at least 12, but we’ll never know his exact age because he just started coming by our house one day and eventually decided to stay.  He was blind in one eye and had a cute little birthmark on his lip.  Boyfriend was a pacifist, a diplomat, and a master snuggler.

It’s been over a decade since I lost a pet and less than two years since Alex died, so Boyfriend’s death is really difficult for me.  I like to think I’ll see him again, though, and I find solace in that hope.

When asked whether animals have souls and could experience an afterlife, author and veterinarian James Herriot replied, “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. You’ve nothing to worry about there.”

Cats really are just little people in fur coats.

September 9, 2010 at 11:48 pm Leave a comment

Lolly’s Top 5 Michael Jackson Songs

5. “Black or White” (1991)

“Eat this,” Macaulay Culkin says, in an “If it’s too loud, you’re too old” sort of music video. Call it ironic, call it corny, but it’s the best pro-miscegenation song to date.

4. “The Way You Make Me Feel” (1987)

Work out, groove, or make love to this song: It will provide the appropriate soundtrack.

3. “Will You Be There” (1991/1993)

Michael Jackson released “Will You Be There” in 1991 on Dangerous and in 1993 on the Free Willy soundtrack. The lyrics read like a prayer: “Hold me like the River Jordan”; “Mary, tell me: Will you hold me?” Jackson expresses vulnerability, sorrow, and hopefulness as a gospel choir sings in the background, crescendoing and decrescendoing like ocean waves.

2. The Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There” (1970)

This love song manages to croon and groove simultaneously.  Michael and Jermaine harmonize perfectly as the lead vocalists, each of their lines flowing forward smoothly and sincerely. I imagine many brides and grooms use these lyrics as an inspiration for vows. I can also vividly envision teens and preteens in the early 70s swaying back and forth to the ballad at school dances. Mariah Carey’s cover of “I’ll Be There” was nominated for a Grammy in 1993.

1. The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” (1969)

Love and/or  lust isn’t as strong as you thought…until it’s gone…and someone else has a chance to do better. Young Michael sang this so sincerely that it almost seemed like he had experienced a broken heart. “I Want You Back” is naïve, honest, and groundbreaking. Like the love interest in this hit, we took Michael’s genius for granted.

I want it back.

June 30, 2010 at 4:10 am 2 comments

Celebrating “Semi-Charmed Life”

In the summer of 1997, my girlfriends and I camped out in a backyard tent and listened to “Semi-Charmed Life” on repeat for several hours. I’m the kind of person who tires after hearing a threshold amount of even the best music (How many times can a person really stand to listen to The Joshua Tree or Thriller?), but this Third-Eye Blind hit has never ceased to astound me.

As thirteen-year-olds, we only somewhat understood the sexually and chemically charged lyrics. Also, the breezy, fast-faced tempo made it difficult to decipher what lead singer Stephan Jenkins was even singing. It didn’t help that we couldn’t just “Google” a line from the song and retrieve the lyrics. I recall mistaking “And I speak to you like the chorus to the verse” with “And it speaks to you like the birds in the forest.”

Now, of course, I realize that “Semi-Charmed Life” is the seminal anthem of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. It was also my brother’s theme song. We played it at his memorial service, and it was awesome to hear “Doin’ crystal meth will lift you up until you break” and “How do I get back there to the place where I fell asleep inside you?” blast in a room full of relatives, young people, old people, Christians, atheists, and floral arrangements.

I went to Newport Beach this past weekend and had a great time slowly running my bare feet through the sand. I thought, “I believe in the sand beneath my toes / The beach gives a feeling / An earthy feeling / I believe in the faith that grows.” I thought about how hard it really seems, sometimes, to get through this bittersweet, ironic, defeating, gratifying, semi-charmed life. I thought about how I can’t not believe that there’s life after death. I simply cannot accept a reality in which I will never see Alex again.

I’m not listening when you say goodbye…

April 1, 2010 at 6:14 am 1 comment

Lighters Up

Lighters up
like at a Queen concert
if Freddie Mercury were still alive
if you were still alive
singing Bohemian Rhapsody

Mama, just killed a man
a lot like Miss Jones,
I think I just shot her son

I think it just snowed in East Texas
Who knew
memories of you would get me
singing Randy Travis
higher than the pine trees
that grow tall upon the hill

The one in the summer
where we used to smoke pot
I thought, what’s wrong
with this neighborhood?
urban life decay

I look for you everywhere:
in crossword puzzles,
clouds, thin air, Rumble Fish,
katamari damacy, Disneyland, flour bags,
snow, the Aurora Borealis, grocery stores,
dreams, nightmares, everywhere
Wouldn’t you?

Lighter’s up
its flame
cathedral champaign
and my bleeding heart
A most beautiful ruby red.

December 9, 2009 at 6:50 am Leave a comment

A Message from Aunt Kathy

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Dear Alex,

Where are you? What are you doing? Can you still hear our thoughts?

I know our time on earth must be a small blip compared to eternity, but it is still hard for us to comprehend.

Every time we hear certain songs, we believe you hear them also and we treasure those brief reminders.

We love you so much. We miss you so much. We are still having a hard time understanding.

September 8, 2009 at 7:32 am 1 comment

Happy Birthday, Little Brother

Alex's Tree 2     May 11, 2009May 11, 1986 was the most significant Mother’s Day our parents will ever celebrate. I don’t remember you coming home from the hospital, but I do recall sneaking up to see you in your crib. We fought like wild animals until I went off to college, but unconditional forgiveness followed each of our clashes.

In my absence, we started to grow closer, and I wish we had more time to continue on that meaningful trajectory. Our visit to New York was a blast as you bargained in Chinatown and navigated the subway. People started to ask if we were fraternal twins. I took this as a compliment because everyone I know thinks you’re incredibly handsome. We laugh and sometimes even talk the same. The high-pitched hoot distinguished us in theaters, hallways, and classrooms. I’ve hardly laughed like that, though, since you left. I wish I could, if only just to hear your voice.

Yesterday, I saw the live oak tree planted in your memory. Dad can see it from his office, and there’s plenty of space for its roots and branches to flourish. It will outlive me and my children and my grandchildren, and I like the thought of that. I wish you could have lived to see old age. Maybe I will be fortunate enough to do so.

Your birthday always coincided with my return from college for the summer. When I visited home this weekend, I almost expected you to drive up in your red Civic and talk smack with me. Pluto’s not fat anymore, and we have a brand new toilet upstairs. That’s about all that’s changed since January. Seems strange. It still baffles me that time has the audacity to progress as usual in your absence.

There’s a hole in my heart, but I can’t seem to bleed to death. I feel at once devastated and honored to live the rest of my life in your memory. The dichotomies that often govern our existence are overwhelming. Perhaps, over time, you can help me reconcile the contradictions, loose ends, shades of gray, and injustices within this life.

It’s so difficult to articulate my love for you, and I never had the chance to tell you just how proud I was. Am. I guess that’s because all of those feelings of compassion, fondness, and respect we shared went without saying. I know you knew how much I cared. And for that, above all things, I am endlessly grateful.

Happy Birthday, Alex. The intense sorrow following your death can never compare to the endless joy your life created. Today marks your twenty-third year. And in death, as in life, your gifts continue to arrive.

May 11, 2009 at 7:25 pm 9 comments

Alex Vicarious

alextree3The hole through my lip

Throbs faintly to remind me

Of your countenance.

March 23, 2009 at 11:27 pm 5 comments

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