The Scars to Prove It

I sit up from my first set on bench press and it’s good, it feels good, better than I’d anticipated after over a week away. No expectations, I said, if you just walk in and walk out no big deal, no pressure, Big Guy. But it is fine, it is better than fine, it feels good. Blood moving. Haven’t increased the weight on it like I wanted but haven’t gone backwards either. Feels good.

No pressure, Big Guy.

I’m smiling as I catch my own eyes in the mirrored wall. It has been eight days since I learned Nicole had died and things are different now. I’m not sobbing the day away, but I am not speaking much if I can help it. I am not drinking anymore – the numbing protective layer did its job at first but now just drags me down further into murky water, a thick coat, boots grabbing undertow. I am over the initial shock, I have had my long conversations with people I haven’t spoken with in ages, I’m all caught up on the horrifying details of the years I missed. I haven’t cried in days. I have been numb, but in a good way. Zen, almost.

I’m smiling as I catch my own eyes in the mirrored wall, underneath the skylight, and the sun highlights the grey hair in my unshaven face, and I’m aware of the grey in my sideburns, the grey on the side of my head. And I look at this man, this old man, this exhausted man with sleepless rings under his eyes, and before I can stop myself I think, “My GOD, we were just babies! We were just babies.”

I shove the thought away. No, I’m not going to break down in the gym today. No. Keep moving forward. No time for this. Not today. But I don’t have it in me to BE MOTIVATED so I’m not much for peppy, celebratory workout music. I put on something somber and I quietly lift weights for an hour, on Mars, where none of this has happened and nothing else ever will again.

*****

Morning yoga. It has been ten days since the bad news and the change in seasons has messed up my sense of timing – now the sun only comes up at the very end of my flow, and even then only if I run over time by 5 or 10 minutes. Yes, the Earth has literally shifted in the week and a half since I last did this, and I once again shake my fist at God for being the corniest screenwriter in existence.

I weigh myself and I’m not surprised by the results. I’ve numbed this grief with substantial amounts of alcohol and, in the unlikely event that I’ve eaten, I’ve eaten horribly. Whatever, it’s just a few pounds. I’ll lose them again quickly. Booze weight goes fast.

“Maybe,” I think for the first time, “I’m not going to go through with this dumb tank top thing.” I had great plans for how I was going to celebrate, the silly things I was going to do to cap this little project off, and at the moment it just sounds fucking ridiculous. Or, OK, it was always ridiculous, but now it’s a bad ridiculous. Now it is inane.

I’M STILL GONNA DO IT, because I know I will be fine in 17 days. I’m fine now, just not all that silly. But, yeah. Nothing feels particularly funny at the moment. Well, this does:

That cracked my shit up. Baby Mama and I have laughed over it every night at dinner this week. If things get quiet and I see a smile creep over her face: “You’re thinking about the shark again, aren’t you?” “YYYYYESSSSS!” And then she doubles over laughing.

The veggie pasta maker is working fine, by the way. Jhonen is even eating our funny squash noodles in tomato sauce. Healthy food, clean living.

Clean living.

*****

My phone goes off and it’s the usual. I get at least one a night, usually several throughout the day. “Just checking in. Thinking about you. Call if you need anything.” I’m genuinely thankful to have so many loving people in my life who, let’s get right down to it, are concerned because I’m not blowing up Facebook all day with dumb-butt nonsense like I usually do.

That’s a deflection. Most of them are long-time friends and they are concerned because of my history of depression, addiction, and suicidal behavior. Only some will outright say it. But I know it’s there, the concern, and I appreciate it.

I am fine. Or, to be more exact (as I’ve told many people) I am where I’m supposed to be.

It’s been a bear, this whole journey. Shit, I remember when they first put me on anti-depressants back in college and my body had a nasty reaction to them, and our buddy Maria grabbed Nicole. “He can’t be alone tonight! He need to be held!” We had just broken up, but I was still her problem. And Nicole, God bless her, she took me home. And she rolled her terrible eyes and gnashed her terrible teeth, but she held me until the sun came up and she knew I was in the clear.

Yeah.

I’m, all-in-all, in a much better place than I was back then, or when I came close to the edge in Atlanta. I have my little family. I have hope, when I probably shouldn’t. I keep believing something better is going to happen. I wish I could give that feeling to other people who need it. Needed it. Changing the tenses.

I guess really all I need right now is my Texas family. I feel so isolated here when things like this happen, and I know from experience that it’s better to go through this surrounded by your friends who are going through the same thing. I just want to be around people who knew her. I just want to be in rooms where I don’t have to explain this weird relationship (one friend this week described it as “metaphysical”, which sounds about right.)

Baby Mama is here, and she is a gem. If you ever have to grieve, do it around Baby Mama. She’s the best. We’ve been through about a half dozen significant deaths together and she’s got her shit down pat. And, best of all, I didn’t have to explain anything because Baby Mama was there back in the day. I just had to say, “It’s Nicole…” and her face dropped because she knew. That helps, in its way.

****

I am in the gym, on the treadmill, and telling myself encouraging things like You don’t have to push that hard, no pressure, let’s just get back into the swing of things. It has been thirteen days since I found out the bad news, but it is time to get back to it. No pressure, Big Guy. But, come on, no more excuses.

I keep thinking of excuses, however, because that’s what you do. I’m tired, I didn’t eat enough, I have to pee. I pulled something the day before while doing squats with too much weight on the bar. Whatever, you’re fine. Just walk it out.

I put on music. Still not ready to BE MOTIVATED. I put on something that reminds me of her, but I don’t want to be there, either. I find a nice middle, something gentle by Broken Social Scene I can really absorb, and I settle in. I run. And I tell myself, as I always do, “Just keep moving forward, man. Keep going. We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

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