The last time I started a post was 360 days ago, on “COVID-19 Pandemic, Day 154.” My friend had just died.
It was covid related, but not covid. He wasn’t rushed to the hospital with shortness of breath, no invasive intubation, no taking his last breaths through a machine, surrounded by healthcare workers made unrecognizable by PPE.
Rather, he was found alone in a hotel room, abandoned by the acquaintance he relapsed with. He had battled drug addiction but it seemed like he’d won—he counseled addicts for years, owned a thriving business, was dating a stunningly beautiful woman who had seven years sobriety under her belt. He meditated, he motivated, he loved the gym. Loved to race around in expensive sports cars. He was extremely social, his mom later shared on social media that in his journals he wrote that “it was his goal to be best friends with as many people as he could.”
We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. The last exchange between us was a few years ago, on Instagram. He DMed me just to let me know it was good to see me doing so well. We had a warm exchange; two people trying to do the best for themselves and happy to see each other succeed.
I guess that’s the underlying reason why his death still has me in tears as I write this, over a year after his passing. He was a damn good person. He overflowed with fun-loving kindness and warmth. Watching videos he had posted for his business still brings pain to my chest, an opening to my throat. Heartbreaking.
When I learned of his passing, I bawled. My husband ran downstairs, in fear that I was hurt. I was. I spent that night and the following day going through my old photos, sure that I had seen one of him a few months prior during a quarantine-boredom-induced trip down memory lane. He was a friend to me during such a painful time in my life. I wanted that picture, I wanted to have something that others didn’t, proof that he was a friend to me, evidence that the pain I was feeling was valid.
I never found it. A few days later, I began writing a post about covid deaths not just being about an inability to physically breathe; that some, like my friend’s, were the struggle to stay afloat during the collective trauma of undergoing a global pandemic, a political nightmare, and being unable to reach out and take advantage of the majority of our healthy coping mechanisms. He was not alone: drug overdoses rose 30% in 2020.
I began writing the post to process my own emotions, but ended up concerned that it was exploitive. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be so hurt over the death of my middle school friend: we hadn’t remained close enough, I didn’t know him as well as others. As if grief is a pie that has limited slices. As if only those most present in a life have the privilege of mourning its loss.
Isolation does that to a person. Everything gets second guessed and nothing seems appropriate. It’s hard to feel your own feelings when you’re not regularly getting a dose of “I get that” or “I’d feel like that, too!” or “I hear you” from a supportive friend.
I didn’t know if it was “okay” to share my feelings but I couldn’t carry on writing about covid without writing about his death, either. His passing was my most gut-wrenching personal experience in relation to the virus, and to omit it from the story I was telling would be dishonest. I was updating about covid semi-regularly, I “needed” a wrap up if I was going to move on and go back to talking about literally anything else.
Ripping off the bandaid, here’s that wrap up. It’s a year later. I made calls on behalf of the democrats, made effort, did my part and voted Trump out of office. A vaccine is here and everyone in our home, other than my too-young three year old, has two doses of it. I’m disgusted with those whose political affiliations or media consumption about falsehoods have stopped them from getting a vaccine themselves. I go to the gym, I see friends, I mask up my preschooler if I take him anywhere. With this Delta variant thing, I don’t know what the next months will look like and how our lives will change. I don’t know if I really care, I can’t waste my time thinking about that. I’m not afraid of another April 2020: when the days got longer, scarier, more alone. I know I can weather a quarantine in ways that I couldn’t back then. Because I’m in therapy, baby.
The other day I was messaging casually with a friend. When I asked how she was, she replied along the lines of looking forward to when things are back to normal. To be frank, I wanted to ask, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” Last summer, I was already sick of hearing about “back to normal”—I was treading water, gasping for air while my responsibilities, mental illness and a life full of traumas were bags of rocks tied to my feet. How dare someone try and point out the island in the distance, as if it’s supposed to give me hope? I had to figure out how I was going to carry that load and survive with whatever would work for me in that moment, minute by minute.
Maybe that plays a role in why Greg’s death was so hard on me. I was still fighting for my mental health and I learned that someone else who did all the things—achieved lofty goals, lived well and righteous, studied self help, helped others, had a healthy lifestyle—still succumbed to his own. [He had so much potential. He was already doing so much. Why him? Why him?]
Maybe I still wasn’t sure I was going to make it myself. Greg deserved life like I did, but that didn’t stop me from calling a suicide hotline in April 2020 to say “I want to kill myself, but I can’t because I have kids and that makes me feel even more trapped and hopeless.”
Can we talk about suicidal ideation openly now that Meghan Markle came out on Oprah, or no?
Anyways, that’s what happened for me back then. A year later, I’m thriving. I knew I had to do whatever it took to take care of myself, to grab the mask from an overhead compartment and allow oxygen to expand my lungs. I worked out. I gardened. I started painting regularly. My art has reached a level I did not see coming. I lost over thirty pounds. I have a great skincare routine. I take care of my appearance and dress the way that I want, not how I think a Fairfield County mom should. Therapy is regular. I’m medicating my ADHD. I have friendships that are meaningful, deep, and I allow myself to be vulnerable and communicate that I need them when I do. My marriage is flourishing as we’re both getting advice through professionals. I’m processing my childhood of neglect and trauma. I’m no longer “no contact” with my mom; not because she’s better but because I am better and no contact doesn’t serve us, boundaries do. The local recycling community my friend and I created on Facebook has 3.6K members. I have an exciting trip planned and a few already taken, the kids are doing better than ever. I’ve mended ties with an old friend whom I missed. A small neighborhood magazine is featuring our family in next month’s issue.
Life is good. I’ve been learning so much. That’s what I want to write about. Covid may continue to hit us with curveballs, as it has, as it does. But I want to talk about the swerves I’m making, not the ball that’s headed my way.