tldr: redeyes. red eyes.
cw: deals with miscarriage among other difficult topics.
On the redeye from LA to Boston, a kid slept on me for hours, sprawled between myself and her older sister. Throughout the night I dared not move, twitch, breathe. It was quiet. She slept quietly. Peacefully. And the entire time, I could only think of my younger sisters who would be around her age if they were still here. Sisters born sleeping quietly. Peacefully.
My therapist says I’m grieving. My mom agrees. This word doesn’t feel like it sits right though. And I know words are useful. They can help you organize your feelings. You can put them into little boxes, and playlists, and understand what you’re going through. So, I want to know what the right word is for this.
There’s this quote I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.
“Picture a wave. In the ocean. You can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts when it passes through. And it’s there. And you can see it, you know what it is. It’s a wave.
And then it crashes in the shore and it’s gone. But the water is still there. The wave was just a different way for the water to be, for a little while. You know it’s one conception of death for Buddhists: the wave returns to the ocean, where it came from and where it’s supposed to be.” –The Good Place
It’s the natural motion of the world. Everything returns to where it’s meant to be. A friend reminded me of this quote when I was telling them about how I was feeling, and I felt so angry.
When the wave returns to the ocean, the place it is meant to be, at least you’re still left with the water. You have the memory of the shoreline rising and receding. You can run into the water and let it rush over you, crash over you, drown you. You can drown in the happiness that the wave was once there. You are left with something.
This feeling doesn’t feel like that though. Instead, I feel like I’m left with nothing. This booming silence, like a dog trying to dig a hole in the carpet; wanting to get somewhere further, but with nowhere left to go.
The wave was never there.
I’ve been thinking about them a lot more this summer. I think it’s a consequence of getting older. I have friends who are talking about their dream wedding, where they want to live after college, who they want to be. I never noticed this as fully before.
Maybe it’s that I never knew too many seniors during my freshman year. I was online, and so were they. Their goodbyes, and our conversations, happened virtually. This year, I got to be with the seniors. I got to see them ‘for the last time’. I ate cubes of cheddar cheese with people dressed in suits and dresses from their senior ball. And then, they got a little bit older. And so did I.
As I’ve gotten older, so have the images of my sisters in my head. Before, they were just concepts. They weren’t people. They were never there. But now, I can start to see them.
I can see myself picking them up in a hug coming home from Boston. How I imagine saying goodbye. How they would be in second and fourth grade. How, that’s the age when I finally started to become a person. More than a concept, more than a drop of water in the wave that would eventually form. And then, eventually return to the ocean.
This summer, they’ve been coming up more and more, in moments and items I never saw fully. In my mom’s Honda Odyssey hitting 115,000 miles. Realizing we got the car to seat seven, not five. In reading my noncustodial parent’s autobiography. Understanding they might’ve stayed together if they had another child, probably not for the better. In my birthday. Swallowing the fact that a short two decades is still more than they will ever experience.
It’s been eight years since Emiko, six since Piper.
I tried to picture how I felt then, but couldn’t remember much. But the more I’ve talked about the time with friends though, the more I’ve recalled, and the more I’ve felt. It’s funny how that happens. My mom used to say that I never felt things fully. I just let things develop.
I was “mature”. Quiet. Peaceful. I could see the bigger picture, or at least feel like there was one in motion. So, I would let my feelings wash over me, holding my breath til it passed, hoping to see the image at the end. But when this didn’t happen, the dam would come crashing down. And I would feel everything. This dam was strong. It stood for eight years.
So when I thought back to eight years ago, I didn’t remember much. And then I did.
I remember the first time, with Emi, my mom telling my siblings and I she was pregnant. I can vividly picture myself running to the dining room, taking down a whiteboard, scrambling back to the couch, and starting a list of baby names.
And when I was told the first time, that Emi hadn’t made it, I remember erasing the board. I thought it would hurt my mom too much to do when she got back from the hospital. I didn’t want it staying up for months on end. I didn’t want to have to scribble over the markings with a pen for the slate to be wiped clean. So I wiped the board down, and went to bed.
The second time my mom told us she was pregnant with Piper, I can’t remember this list being made. Maybe we just didn’t want to get our hopes up. Maybe I didn’t want to erase the board again. But I remember feeling pretty adamant about how “If she’s a girl, I think Piper is a good name.”
So two years later, when I was making a name for myself (trans joke), I remember telling my mom that I had given my name to someone who wouldn’t use it. But when my mom told me I could also have the name Piper, I decided against it. It didn’t feel right.
I just kept remembering moments like this, one after the other.
I don’t think grief is the right word. I don’t feel like I’m grieving them. I associate grief over a person with remembering the moments you spent with them. I don’t have any memories like that, but I miss them. Well, I miss the idea of them.
To some extent, one could argue I didn’t feel my feelings because I kept pushing them down but I don’t think that’s really fair. As I’ve said, in my mind, they weren’t people then. They were barely concepts, but now I picture them.
I picture phone calls home to Emi my freshman year of college, talking about the new math facts she would’ve been learning in second grade (and picture myself getting way too invested in common core math). I picture her liking math like her big sister in New York.
But Piper, I picture being extremely interested in social justice. Watching The West Wing and The Newsroom in elementary school way too young, the same way I watched Numbers and House M.D.. Drinking coffee, much to my mom’s dismay.
And I think about them. I think I think about them more than my siblings who are alive, which feels weird. But the same is true about my grandpa who passed away last year, who I barely knew. And in this weird spiral of memories and thoughts and feelings, I’ve been worrying.
I worry that the closest relationships in my life will be ones with no tangible or actual connection, instead just imagined personalities I made up.
I think back to this memory in seventh grade, when one of the kids kept kicking me below the desk. He was bigger than I was and there wasn’t much I could do about it. After class I went up to the teacher to ask if I could go to the nurse’s office, lifting up my jeans to reveal bruises and scrapes. She said yes, of course, horrified. And when I got in the car that afternoon my mom asked what happened. I said “a friend kicked me during class”. She responded, “that’s not your friend then.”
It’s weird. I used to feel connected to everyone. Whenever I referred to someone at school I would call them my friend. Maybe this was my way of hiding from my mom that I didn’t have any. How could I when I spent nearly every moment outside of class in the library. But now, I find it hard to refer to anyone that way, at least in my head. I can see my relationship with them. I can feel some connection. But I can’t tell if it’s real. It just feels so hard to understand what that relationship is, and I hate that I can’t tell how the other person feels about it.
Maybe, in this way, it isn’t so unbelievable that I feel closest with Emi and Piper. Tangible relationships are so much easier to be let down in.
“I liked the imaginary people on the entertainment feed way more than I liked real ones, but you can’t have one without the other.” -Martha Wells
But these types of relationships are, of course, the ones that can grow. The ones that leave something behind when they end. The memories, the ocean. So maybe I grieve the memories of my sisters or the lack thereof. But maybe, moreso, I am having the painful realization that I want more memories and feelings and connections from those who are in my life now. And that– those types of feelings– one could drown in.
In the morning, the little girl kept shifting. From laying on me, to her sister, and then the tray table in front of her, able to withhold her entire tiny stature.
The plane started its descent. I softly poked the little girl to wake her up.
“The tray table needs to go up. It keeps you safe.”
The plane landed, and I left.
The wave was never there.
2 thoughts on “054. Quiet. Peaceful.”
thanks for sharing such a personal piece, paige. i think i would label this as grieving, if i went through the same emotions. you can grieve things that never were. i’ve been lucky i’ve been spared the worst of griefs in my life, so i don’t have any idea how it must feel, having that wound that sort of reacts every time you touch it. yeah i dunno
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