Sometimes you stand looking forward and step back and back and back. You think there’s nothing good behind you, just an expanse of future failures, missteps, tumbles, the hole that you accidentally dug for yourself ten years ago, the broken ankle, the quicksand, the cold shadow of that lie you told, an old disease come back to ache your bones, a swarm of wasps buried in the ground.
But then you step back once more and your hand touches silk, brushed cotton, a sheet on a line that smells of the ones you love. A dog’s tongue along your wrist. A tiny flower that releases a drunk, vanilla-scented honey bee. A laugh over something funny that you haven’t heard yet. The unexpected kindness of those who flit about your life, sweet moths. The good things you did last week, last month, last year, that come back to you, filled with light.
This year has been like that. So much dark and you step backward through it, falling, falling, having fallen, and feel stunned when you look up to find the promise of stars to guide your way.
The last time I blogged here, my grandmother had just passed away. I was heartbroken, away from my family, and to top it off, buried in the middle of what might have been the worst work experience I’ve ever had. Someone that we trusted completely dropped the ball on us. The action wasn’t malicious, but the result was the same: in the middle of grieving, I suddenly had to start working 16- and 18-hour days seven days a week to do a job that we had already paid someone else for (on top of my own work, which already exceeded a full-time job). That went on for weeks, and the repercussions of it all lasted for months, and affected our entire team. I didn’t go home to be with my own family during my grandmother’s death. I had to cancel a trip to see my partner’s family. I worked through sickness brought on by the stress of everything. Everyone else took on more work, because I couldn’t do it all. I was turning into a horrible person from lack of sleep, no exercise, and too much stress. The low point for me was sitting alone in the house, so sick I could barely sit upright, while my partner was away visiting his family, and I realized I’d done nothing but work and sleep since he’d left three days before — and that I had another three or four days left of the same.
It was a dark, dark time. I felt like the stars were just being snuffed out around me, one by one.
Why am I telling this story? Why do any of us tell stories of our darkness?
I don’t think it’s for sympathy. Or to show how brave we are. Or even to have other people respond with nice words and kind thoughts. I think we tell stories of the dark because it shows that none of us are alone. That we have all wandered in the shadow, and that sometimes we are wandering there side-by-side, and we don’t know it because we can’t see each other or reach out or even call out for help.
The shadow didn’t lift for a long, long time. I can’t remember when it started going away, but I know that family, friends, and loved ones helped, that getting the work done helped, that finding a way to grieve for my grandmother and connect with my family helped. I tried to remember what I loved — great books, music, writing, movies, exercise, cooking, playing games — and I brought them back into my life. Even if sometimes I didn’t want to, I faked it. I faked loving those things until I could actually love them again. I remembered who I was. I apologized for who I’d been. I started to look forward again, and to walk more confidently in the world.
That seems so long ago, but really it isn’t. The light has been so bright since then, and I am so grateful every day for that. Here are the stars that are currently shining away my dark:
We adopted a dog from the Everett Animal Shelter. Her name is Ampersand (we call her Amp for short). She’s 2+ and a lab-something mix. She’s wonderful and there are few things as star-shining as belly rubs and face licks.
My baby sister (she’s 15 years younger than me and is awesome) got married and I got to be her maid of honor. She and my dad and I cried a lot, but always in a good way. Also, yes, that’s my dad in a pimp hat hanging with his two daughters. He’s a very good sport.
We went to Gen Con, and Numenera — the game of our hearts — received a number of ENnie awards, including Product of the Year. I can’t even begin to say how much it means to me that the gaming community gave us their support in this way. It’s such an incredible honor. We also came out with our new game, The Strange, and so far, it has been very well received.
It is light now, but I know that it will be dark again, and I know that I can live with that and through that. Despite it all, I don’t want my life to be only light. The darkness molds my bones into steel weapons with its cold hands. Dark squeezes the muscle of my heart until its beat is fierce enough to thrive anywhere. The shadow I’m walking through is my own, and it means somewhere there is light enough to cast it.
I want what Mary Oliver wants in her poem, “When Death Comes”:
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
PPS — Did you know that the average color of the universe is called Cosmic Latte?