Monday, April 18, 2016

A Grief Like This

When I was around the age of six, I couldn’t fall asleep without knowing someone else was awake. Since my parents have always been early sleepers, this resulted in a near-obsessive bedtime routine that lasted for years. If I were awake to hear the electric ping of the television turning off for the night, I’d listen to the sound of my younger brother’s breathing in the room next door. If he was sniffling, it meant his chronic allergies were keeping him up again and we were awake together. But if I outlasted both, which was often, it meant I was truly by myself, and vulnerable to hearing all sorts of horrible scratches, clicks and creaks—sounds a house only seems to make when you’re alone.

When this happened, I’d walk up to my window, look past the backyard, and into the windows of other people’s houses to watch the lit rooms for proof I wasn’t the only one awake. Curtains moving. The shadow of an adult vacuuming at 2 a.m. The harsh blue flicker of an action movie against a white wall. I needed so badly to feel company that I would create, invent, extract it from whatever seemingly innocuous details I could.

I’ve become much better at being alone in the two decades since. I’ve lived, slept and dined alone, and done all three with company. I’d mostly forgotten about this near-creepy childhood habit until a couple of years ago, while reading an essay by Ariel Levy in 2013. “Even if you are not Robinson Crusoe in a solitary fort, as a human being you walk this world by yourself,” she wrote. “But when you are pregnant you are never alone.” The essay doesn’t end happily, but even then, as someone utterly confounded by the idea of motherhood, my breath caught in recognition. “Maybe one day,” wasn’t the thought, but something closer to, “oh.” It felt selfish to admire pregnancy for this reason, but it also felt good.

In the couple of months I was recently pregnant I learned that, in the early weeks at least, this company isn’t so much a knowable presence as it is a series of questions and habits, all of which construct a new relationship with your self. Even though I’m no longer expecting a child, I’m accompanied by some of these questions and habits still. My outfits are softer and mostly waistless. I’ll moisturize twice after every shower for skin that’s no longer scheduled to stretch. Though I’ve been a stomach sleeper for years, I’ll often wake up on my side, only to remember such care is no longer necessary.

It’d be the easier conclusion to think that this continuance is a form of grieving—a way of working through the pain of what so much of medical literature tells me, for a woman of 28, is just a false start. But I refuse to believe either of these things. I refuse to believe the latter, because to use the words “false start” feels like a minimizing and betrayal to my body and this thing it has both done to itself and endured. I refuse to believe the former, because there seems to be so little inside or outside my life to help me understand what this type of grief is supposed to even look like.

Perhaps it’s most accurate to describe these habits as a form of biding time. In a lot of ways it feels as though I am just standing here blinking, my hands still in the shape of a promise they were holding that has since disappeared.

It’s disorienting and frightening to realize how hard you can come to love something without thinking for too long about its existence in the first place. Here is one way to fall in love with an idea.

by Chantal Braganza, Hazlitt | Read more:
Image:Sophia Foster-Dimino