It’s no secret that I love Grumpy Cat – her picture is plastered all over my office, for one thing – but this drawing seems to capture the last month of my life. No, actually, this captures how I feel when I’m grieving: angry, annoyed, and loveless. It’s a lot of negativity to dump on such a cute image, but I think that is a good way to describe grief in general, anyway.
It’s amazing to me that 20 years and so many personal losses later, I’m no better at dealing with grief than I was the first time around. Which is to say, I don’t really handle it well at all. Experience does not make expertise, in this instance. I think it is because grief is one of those emotions we try so damn hard to pack away and devalue. We don’t want it, we don’t want to pay the price it extracts, and we don’t like what it does to us once we’ve have it ripping through our soul.
So yes, it was my cat who died, but this represents not just the loss of a beloved pet but the final, utter destruction of my prior life. In some ways, isn’t that a good thing? I woke up in early 2008 with the stunning realization that I had no reason to live — I hated the life I had fallen into, I hated who I was and what I did to get buy. I had been fooled by the fact that I was, actually, getting by. I’ve been at the bottom, and I was a good few flights of stairs up from that. But I wasn’t anywhere else, either. To carry the metaphor, I was just plodding up a stairwell I had not consciously chosen to climb, with no clear idea of where I was going or what I would do when the stairs ended.
That changed, obviously, thanks to copious amount of therapy, graduate school, and a divorce. All did not go as planned but hey, I ended up in a decent job doing positive work, I have a few successful novels published, and a graduate degree. I feel kind of aimless, though, which was the whole reason I came up with a “5 Year Plan” for my 45th birthday last month.
But the plan was derailed out of the starting gate by the death of Dobby, who had to be put down due to aggressive cancer. He was only about 11 years old (rescue cat, exact age unknown) so it was unexpected.
Cue really horrible coping skills…
Okay, not horrible. Horrible was the irresponsible sex and prescription drugs I got into after my mother died, so yeah, let’s not do that again okay? Still, my coping mechanism is to essentially disappear. During and after my protracted breakdown in the months bridging 2007-2008, I was working temp at a job where I was paid really good money (for a temp job) to show up and keep a desk warm. In lieu of going insane sitting there bored out of my mind, I dove into fanfic, hard. I quite literally read the entirety of Hot Fuzz and Life on Mars fanfic as they existed at the time (not a lot, the fandoms were new) and then descended into the eternal pit of due South fanfic, which is endless. My eyes burned with reading, and then eventually with writing. I would wake up early before work to write fanfic, read fanfic all day at work, and then come home and drink heavily while writing more. (Eventually, I made an appointment with a therapist, because even I knew that something about that was unhealthy.)
This time, having read most of the Clint/Coulson fic in the Avengers fandom already, I decided to try Teen Wolf fic. Mostly, honestly, because my dear friend Selenay936 loves it and recommended a few stories. I figured if she liked them, they would at least be entertaining. Keep in mind I hadn’t actually watched a single episode of the show! But then that’s not uncommon for me, I’ll read fanfic by authors I like or recommended by trusted sources even if I have no idea about the show/movie it’s based on. Anyway, that’s pretty much all I’ve done for the last month, aside from go to work and do the minimal housework: read Teen Wolf fanfic.
At the very least, it’s given me some ideas for a het fiction series. Yay plot bunnies?
The thing is, I can escape reality this way, and hide under my chosen umbrella (in this case, fanfic) and avoid all those squishy heart-full emotions. Probably not the best plan, but a practical one. If there is anything the personal catastrophes of the 1990s taught me, it’s that surviving is the most important part of the process. Everything else is a slave to that until you’re ready to put the umbrella down. This pattern has gotten me to my 45th birthday alive, so I’m not going to be too critical of it. But at some point the umbrella has to come down, and you have to feel again, and you have to deal with the devastation around you.
For me, that means putting the fanfic gluttony aside and returning to writing.