Category Archives: love

loss

On Wednesday, I learned of the death of a dear friend from college. I hadn’t been in touch with him for many years but hearing about his passing has left me absolutely devastated. He was the type of person who exuded an aura of thoughtfulness, strength, and intelligence and made the world a better place just by being in it.

I met him when I was a baby college freshman at the University of Michigan. I came from a small, conservative, primarily white town, and had lived, by all accounts, a very sheltered life. Coming to Ann Arbor, living in East Quad, which was without doubt the most liberal, flamboyant, artistic place on campus, was absolutely mind-blowing and numbing. I went to college thinking that it would be crewneck sweaters, football games, beer drinking, frat parties, and late-night study sessions in cute pajamas with my hair in curlers. It instead turned out to be complete chaos, depression, and confusion, struggling to make friends with people of all ethnicities and social backgrounds, people who were frank about their sexuality and gender-bending and didn’t view it to be a shameful secret; people who didn’t think jokes about minorities or gays were funny (not that I did, either; I’d just come from a place in which they were part of the social language). The highly liberal and artistic environment of EQ attracted many talented and amazing people and also a fair amount of drug abuse, instability, and mental health issues. In addition, my roommate suffered from terrible depression and by the end of the year, had come to grips with sexual abuse in her past that left her, many days, sobbing on the floor of our dorm room.

I had never given any thought to issues like race, gender, our government, what was happening in the Persian Gulf at the time. I had never lived outside the bubble of the world that I knew. In short, I was shocked and numbed and completely unprepared for the social experience, which was a thousand times more important than the educational experience.

At first glance, C. was a somewhat intimidating young Black man with a lot of muscles and a cool, insolent stare under his ball caps. At first, it seemed odd that he was living in EQ, instead of in South or West, where a lot of the athletic sports-loving types lived. He listened to NWA and Public Enemy in his dorm room and came and went as he pleased; people said he was a townie, and we assumed that he went back home a lot. In truth, he was probably just wandering. Over the year, he gravitated to our dorm room a lot and began dating my roommate, and thus began a friendship that lasted for a long time. Then I understood why he lived with us instead of somewhere else – he had no tolerance for anything without deeper meaning, just for the sake of being around people who looked or acted more like him. He was one of the most educated and intellectual people I’d ever met – his mother was a university professor at a nearby school, he spoke fluent French and was a star student in the Residential College’s immersion language program, he spent summers in Manhattan with his older brother. He had survived Hodgkins lymphoma in junior high and high school, and that experience gave him a wisdom that not many people our age possessed. He seemed to live as an observer much of the time, in his own head behind his eyes, conducting an internal dialogue with himself about what he saw; sometimes he shared that dialogue but more often he didn’t, keeping it private. He was a private person.

He laughed at me a lot, at my style of dress and my turn of phrase, and I know there were a lot of times that he thought I was a bit of a cracker, but he was exceptionally kind and protective – his presence was very reassuring and always made me feel safe and contented. Through him I learned what it was like to have a dear friendship that looked past the external and focused only on the people that we were inside. I learned a lot from him and felt proud that he was my friend.

C. went on to obtain a PHD in philosophy and he became a university professor himself, teaching Black studies and doing ethnographic research in high school classes. He spent time in Haiti studying transnational racism, education, and justice. He married a woman from the Dominican Republic, and they had a son.

In July, he was diagnosed with cancer, and by November, it had spread to his lungs. He was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve and he died in the early hours of December 27. His son is five years old and there are no words for how tragic and unfair it is that he will never remember more than bits and pieces of his father, who was such an extraordinary person.

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blunt force treatments and glass boxes.

magic in the city.

magic in the city.

It started out as a small patch that itched and felt like a heat rash. By yesterday midday, it had grown to a fist-sized area of maddening vesicles surrounded by a bruise. I walked into the Assistant General Counsel’s office to ask her about something and before I could finish my sentence, she was eyeing me.

“What the fuck are you digging at on your back?” she demanded.

I hadn’t noticed I was absently scratching while I talked to her.

“Lemme see,” she said, and I shut the door so I could lift up my shirt and show her the patch.

“Yeah, that’s shingles,” she said. “Call your fucking doctor and get in right away, cuz if you’re not already in terrible pain, you will be soon.”

And lo, I found myself at my old familiar Urgent Care. It seems to be exclusively staffed with eastern European doctors who are prone to viewing my ailments as invading armies that must be stamped out and annihilated with blunt force. No delicate sophisticated treatments for them; they prescribe me antibiotics the size of horse pills, a scorched earth strategy of leaving no small writhing germ behind. I like that.

In retrospect, it has been a pretty stressful summer, both at work and on the romantic front, so it’s not surprising that I find myself in bed dizzy and drowsy with antivirals, slathered in lidocaine cream. There have been scandals and sackings at work, investigations and interviews with stone-faced executives who tell you later behind closed doors that they just wish someone would take this cup from them. And on the romantic front, a meeting and a break up and a make up with someone that I am frighteningly fond of, and all the complications that arise from that.

Dating at my age and as a divorced working mom is an adventure and not for the thin-skinned. The men I’ve met have also been divorced and with children, only they’ve been divorced for much longer than I have. They seem open to having a relationship, to letting someone in, but being on their own has hardened them somehow. They say the right things, they do the right things, their hearts are right there, but closed off somehow, in a glass box. I can see it, but I can’t touch it. They know they can do it on their own, they have made homes and a family for their children, they are wary and protective of having that disturbed, even positively, by another factor to balance.

And I completely understand it because I feel the same way. I know I can survive. I love my home, I know I can make it on my own and be happy with Miss L and my job and the blessings that I have; I want more, but that ‘more’ will have to be pretty incredible, and it won’t come at the expense of what I’ve already earned through blood, sweat, and tears. However, I’m still flexible, and open, and the men I date, their glass boxes have grown heavier, shatterproof. I see that and I don’t want to become that. I don’t know how you date and not grow increasingly protective and closed off, but it seems that at some point, you have to be able to let things penetrate, even if it’s scary and hard.

So I have been spending time with a man that I really like. It’s a challenge, there have been stops and starts and many feelings of ‘this is too hard’ for both of us. But so far, we have struggled through it, and I am hopeful that our friendship will last. I’ve let him into my house, which is a huge step for me, to let someone see the flaws and beauty and small chaos where my private heart lives. A couple of times, I’ve had to tell myself, ‘I’m really proud of you, this is a big step, I know that everything isn’t perfect but it’s okay to let someone see that’. Deep breath, open the door, let someone in.

It’s nice to have someone to go for walks with and sit on the porch with, and see movies with. I don’t know if it will be more than that, but time will tell if we’re able to continue the process of letting each other in. I feel good about going slow with that. It’s hard enough to trust a single person, and incorporate them into your life; we have to know we can do that before we start with other aspects. I hope our glass boxes slowly dissipate, but for right now, it’s enough that we can meet in the middle and know we can survive.

in which life is good.

06.2015 peony

LIfe is really, really good lately.

06.2015 donut day

And not just because of National Donut Day, which we celebrated enthusiastically.

06.2015 sarge book

I am super excited to be back to running cautious distances with no pain and this morning I rolled out of bed and had my first ‘I feel really awesome’ run in a very long time.

I have a duathlon next week that could change my mind about all of this – run 3 miles, bike 10.7, trail run 1.5 – but I’m even excited about that, and about a 5k the following week.

Life is just really, really good.

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” – Maya Angelou