Thursday, May 1, 2014

Day 25: What Happens When Denial Stops Working

March 25, 2014

Here's how I'm going to look at what just happened- My little spirit said, "Listen, missy. Too much of that grief. I'm taking over for a bit so that you can have a rest. Let's pretend like you kind of just made this whole thing up." And while intellectually I know it's all very real, I went into a state of denial for about 24 hours that allowed me to sing in the car, laugh loudly in the office, dance around the classroom like the past month never happened, and genuinely feel normal again. I even made my bed this morning.

I sat in several language clinics this afternoon with students practicing their English. "Do you have a sister?" I do. *photo shown* Here she is. Her name is Amy. She lives in St. Louis. "Do you have a boyfriend?" I did. Here he is. *photo shown* His name is Gareth. He lives...he lived in Gyeongju. He is a...he was a professor at Dongguk University. He is...he was very funny and kind. He is...he was very handsome. I felt proud to show these pictures. Happy. Gareth used to use photographs of me in his lessons all of the time and tell me about it.

Then about 4:15, right in the middle of typing a quiz for later this week, the blinds came up. The curtain was pulled back. The lights were turned on. The needle scratched across the surface of the record and the music stopped. He's not here, I heard in my head. And in case that wasn't sinking in, I heard it all: Gareth died. Gareth fell from a great height and hit his head and died 3 days later. You crawled into his hospital bed. You kissed around the tubes in his mouth and his nose and his head and his chest. You held his hand and kissed even his toes. You kissed his eyelids. You noticed your tears fall on his eyes and it looked like he was crying. You wiped his tears. Your tears. You met his family and you stopped in the hallway to prepare them for what they were about to see. You saw his brain scans. You kissed goodbye. You got the call. You returned to the hospital. You listened to the constant tone indicating a heart that wasn't beating. You watched the chest continue to rise and fall until everything was disconnected. You found yourself, for the first time, shocked by the smell. The sounds. The after-effects of disconnecting someone from life support are not pleasant and somehow you'd never thought about that. What did you imagine? The machine turns off and everything is still and quiet? You wished this was how it could be.

You were presented with a wrapped piece of his skull. You watched as his brother, confused as you were, took it and placed it on your boyfriend's leg. You touched it. Everyone did. We all wanted to make contact with him. You watched his body get wheeled into a van and driven away. You picked out an outfit for him to be cremated in. You said goodbye again in the morgue, two days after he died. You told him the outfit that you picked was handsome and you knew he would have picked the same one. You watched his brother write his name on the outside of the casket, which was much too small for his western frame. You were handed his grey leather converse hightop shoes, which would not fit in the small space. You walked with him back to the freezers and slid him back in. You put the shoes in the trunk of your car. They're still there.

The next day you waited with his family in a stark waiting room while he was cremated. You were led downstairs to collect the ashes. You clung onto his father's arm and watched his remains come out of the cremation chamber. You watched as two men in lab coats and white masks swept his bones into a dustpan and brought them to a machine where they were ground into a fine powder. You held this same powder, warm, in a white-silk wrapped box and listened to his dad tell you how he was reminded of carrying warm and bundled Gareth home from the hospital as a baby.

You sorted through belongings. You sold his bike and watched someone ride away on it. You unmade his bed. You folded his sheets- the flannel sheets you brought back for him when you went home last summer. You checked all the books and collected a photo of you and some notes you had written which slid out of the pages. You sorted his clothes. You shared stories about when and where things were purchased. You spoke to him out loud. "You silly guy. Why did you hang on to all of these receipts?"

You celebrated him with his coworkers at a memorial. You allowed yourself to be loved on and to love his family. Once, in the car with them, while listening to a favorite song, you asked the brother if you could hold his hand. You held his hand. You pretended like it was Gareth's.

You said goodbye to his family and hugged them like they were your own. You returned home. You felt untethered.

Do you remember this? Do you remember this all? It is because he is dead. He has died. He is not in Gyeongju and he is not going to meet you this weekend. You will not talk about "Whew- we just went through a really rough patch and glad that's over!" because he is gone. And all the people in the world can tell you that he's still here with you. That his spirit is here. That he knows you love him. That he will always be with you. That he is at peace now. But the truth is he is gone. He is gone. He is gone.

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