I’m an emotional mess. It’s a somewhat contained mess. A shaken, bubbling can of coca-cola. Fizzing, running over. A distressed cap. Trying. Maybe it’s blown off. Maybe it hangs on until the flowing stops and all that’s left is a half-empty bottle, flat and wasted.
Chadwick Boseman’s death wrecked me. Utterly wrecked. Cracked me open.
People dying of cancer does that to me now. I take it so personally. This little voice in my head goes, “that’s gonna be you someday.” Most days I’m human about it. I shrug it off and wear my arrogance about life a little bit tighter. And then there are days I crawl under the covers and cry and cry until my chest buckles. And then there are cracks. Moments that should ordinarily be a quick tear when I encounter something that moves me but my body malfunctions and my grief flows out in barely contained guttural screams. It’s contained quickly. But it’s still a swollen river—it can only deviate from its course; fuck some shit up.
I watch a Filipino soap opera with my sisters for about one and a half hours every week day. It’s a ritual steeped in nostalgia. Watching Filipino soap operas is how I bonded with a lot of girls when I was a teenager. I’m desperate for it to be one of the things that bonds me to my baby sister now that she’s a teenager. The main character’s love interest died today. I’ve known that it was going to happen for a while because this is my baby sister’s third time watching it. I expected to cry a little because emotionally, I’m a permeable membrane—I feel everything. What should have been a little welling of tears turned out to be a stone in my throat, a bubbling spring in my eyes. A sob that needed taming. So I tamed it. Anyway, I’m kind of relieved he’s dead now. Anticipating his death was killing me.
My sister told me that the first cat I ever liked drowned. Was drowned to be specific.
I came home right after chemo and there was this beautiful kitten. It mostly just lay on the couch and meowed. I mostly just lay in my bed and quietly sobbed. We were both tiny and fragile but unlike the cat, I didn’t have nine lives. It followed me everywhere. I let it sit next to me the few times I lay on the couch. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why it liked me so much. I’ve never much liked animals. I didn’t pet or play with it. Occasionally I’d step on it accidentally, and it’d yelp and I’d apologise profusely. It always broke my heart a little, that it’d received so little affection, just apologising and letting it sit with me counted enough for something. Here’s a thing about life threatening conditions: they destroy your ability to conceive of abundance. It tells you that everything you’ve gotten up to that point in your life, no matter how meagre, is as good as it gets. And it makes you hopelessly greedy for love. I had so much love when I was sick and still, it hurt so much that there was a chance that that is all I ever going to get. That kitten reminded me that beyond cancer, there was a stranger that would want to sit with me. Maybe love me.
Now every time my sister reminds me of how it died, there’s a lump in my throat.
I really like kittens now. We have another kitten that has slowly warmed up to me. Now it curls around my legs when I go outside first thing in the morning and its basking in the sun. It lies between my legs when I squat for whatever reason. I’m hoping I can teach it to high-five. I have moments where I look at it and I’m reminded so much of the other kitten, I wail a little. A tamed wail.
I had a fairly reasonable reaction when I heard of Chadwick Boseman’s death. I thought it sucked but it wasn’t a personal loss. Later in the evening I got on Twitter and people were you know, tweeting, and I only realised I was screaming when the kitten started panic-meowing. Everyday since then, it registers afresh that he’s gone at least once a day and my brain freezes and my day gets noticeably worse. I feel a little ridiculous. Because, what right do I have to mourn him like that? But mostly, I am mourning myself. I am mourning the parts of me that are dead. I am mourning who I was. The person I could have been. The person I will never get to be. I am mourning my literal eventual death. It’s beautiful when it’s not knocking the wind out of me.
My chest is a house of hurriedly put out fires of grief. You know when you stomp on a little fire but you’re in a hurry or you’re distracted so you don’t confirm that it’s out. But then it catches something more flammable and it grows into an orange trail of destruction and you have to get a bucket of water or a blanket. If you’re lucky, you put it out for good but you’re out of breath and your eyebrows itch and your eyes twitch.
Maybe this is what processing trauma looks like.
I’m slowly coming back to life. It makes sense that my heart hurts.
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