I’m not exactly sure of the science behind our moods, whether it’s internal or external forces that dictate our dispositions on any given day. Whether something you dream, even though forgotten the moment you open your eyes, remains lingering in your subconscious, lending to your perception of what’s going on around you. What makes us get in our cars in the morning, follow our route to work, have some guy cut us off and then we react in a certain way? Some days we flip him off. Some days we just avoid the worst kind of road rage. And some blessed days there’s just a calm understanding that there’s something wrong with him that has nothing to do with us, and ooh, wouldn’t I love a donut with my cup of coffee?
Last week was a particularly–and peculiarly–emotionally rough one for me, and I didn’t know why. Nothing drastic had changed. Nothing hormonally going on. No extra caffeine or chocolate or lack thereof. No one was nasty to me. I’d been steadily writing, exercising, eating, working, walking through the mall and window shopping, even buying a pair of $10 bargain shoes. I’d been going to the bookstore, reading, communicating with friends and family. I changed the sheets in my room and had some blissful nights of sleep. But last Thursday, my night to go to the bookstore and write, I chose instead to stay in the house and write. I went up to my office, played solitaire on the computer for over five hours and cried. Friday, my day to food shop and go someplace like Starbucks or a local coffee shop to write, I again decided to stay home. I didn’t write. I sat in my living room and watched television and cried. Saturday. Another day to go to the bookstore and write. I went up to my office, wrote a paragraph, played solitaire for four hours and . . . yes, cried. I was set to go out to dinner with Lisa and a friend/client, (because those are indeed the best clients) and was just powering down my computer when the USB drive snapped and the metal part that contains all the data slid inside the casing. I lost it. Full on panic attack. I was shaking and chanting to Lisa, “I’ve lost everything, it’s my main writing zip, all my novels, all my short stories, I have nothing, I have nothing.” She sat me on the toilet in my bathroom, put one cold rag on my forehead and the other on the back of my neck while I proceeded to wail and cry until I thought my eyes were going to implode from all the pressure and shoot out of my head. She said she was going to cancel with the client. “No!” I shrieked. “I’ve been in the house all week! This was the night I promised myself I’d have to leave!” Now, do I have backups of my novels and hard copies? Yes. But as any writer will tell you, we have snippets, pages of novels that have no title, no flow that we randomly write down, type out so we don’t forget it. It’ll go somewhere someday, but do we back that shit up? No. I print all my short stories when I complete them. I completed one five years ago, printed it, and have rewritten it six times since. Do I have a backup of it? No.
Eventually I take some deep breaths, drink a glass of water and compose myself. I wash my face, get dressed, brush my hair and apply makeup in fifteen minutes, a miracle, really. When I go downstairs Lisa takes the USB drive and starts taking tweezer-like tools to it. I’m freaking out, but she pulls the metal out of the casing and says, “See. There it is. We’ll take it to the Geek Squad tomorrow.” Right. Okay. We go to dinner, it’s my first time meeting this client and she’s such a fabulous lady, it is why I now consider her a /friend. I tell her of my mini meltdown, focusing only on the USB crazy writer aspect, and she says I look fabulous for just having had a meltdown. I hide it well. But inside the past few days have taken their toll and my stomach is churning, so my dinner ends up in the restaurant bathroom twenty minutes after it is consumed. This will be a pattern for the next three days after every meal.
Sunday Lisa suggests we go to one of my favorite restaurants in Tampa, Bahama Breeze, which looks out over my God Place. I so need to go here, we both know it. There’s also a hotel lobby we want to check out on Kennedy, just outside of downtown. We frequently check out hotel lobbies for their vibes, see if they’re a good place to have business meetings, strategize, or for me to write and her to make jewelry designs. We saw this one on an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras (don’t judge) and wanted to go there. It’s not far from Bahama Breeze, so after lunch we go there. Something about it hits me the wrong way (and it’s nothing like it looked on T&T, surprise surprise, you can’t trust what you see on television, who knew?) and I end up crying. Just leaking tears, I’m not even aware it’s happening now, I just tear up at random and after four days of it I’m like, “God, I just want it to stop! This isn’t me! I’m happy! I’m an optimist!” Well, it is me, actually, as I’m a big crybaby. Sad tears, happy tears, there I am, cry cry cry. I laugh more than I cry, thank goodness, but I laugh so much, it’s only fitting that the tears come to balance it out, it comes with the territory, I get it. But this was ridiculous. My eyes were red. My skin was white and blotchy. Lines on my face. A droop I don’t like to see, a pleading in my eyes when I viewed them in the mirror, “Make it stop.”
Monday’s a little better. Sporadic crying. Tuesday dry, yee-ha! Today. Ah, today. It starts to come together a little bit. For I’m at my desk in my office, backing up my writing to a different USB (I put tape on the broken one to keep it from collapsing again, copied and moved everything and banished in to a drawer in my desk) when I see something staring at me. Dead center in my line of vision on my desk, peeking out right over the top of my computer. Jessica’s obituary. I put it there after her funeral and have stared at it every day since that I go into my office to write. Some days I cry. Some days it’s just, “Oh. There it is. That’s right. She’s gone.” Some days I pick it up and read it, poking the bear, how will I handle the information today. Whether I realize it or not, my body is absorbing its message. One of your best friends, most beloved family members is lost to you forever. Hey, know that thing your writing right now? Your biggest fan will never read it. Oh, that line was funny, too bad you can’t text her about it, warn her to wear her Depends. That song playing right now; remember that funny dance she did to it? And on and on. And these thoughts are coming subliminally through my head and down my arms into my fingers and onto the page where they don’t belong in a mid-grade novel. Or a comical story about former high school classmates Facebook shaming over Bruce Springsteen tickets. Those feelings belong somewhere, yes, but not everywhere.
On my desk is a variety of things, all of it geared to make me feel creative. Positive. Passionate. Some things come and go with where I am in life; Brett Scallions pictures were taped up when I was writing Bike Route. They came down when the muse dried up. Today after backing up the USB and shutting down, I was looking at a picture of myself and Vinny from 2012’s Glitz and Sticks. That was such a happy night for me. I was looking at his face and thinking how good it makes me feel. How open and creative. Passionate. Then my eyes traveled over to the obit, inches away from it. It was askew. I straightened it, then stared at it. Jess’ smiling face. It seemed to say, “Is this really how you want to keep thinking of me?” Like it tilted itself, wanting to be noticed. I picked it up and instantly started to cry. I instinctively knew it didn’t belong there anymore. Of all the pictures I have of Jess, why was I keeping the most painful one on my desk? Why was I keeping a reminder of her death instead of her life? I asked Lisa for her opinion. Was it awful of me to put it away? Was it denying her? “Rachel, it’s a death notice in a newspaper. It’s a factual listing of the day she died. There’s nothing for you to attach to that but loss. It’s a memory of a historical event in your life.”
There’s a picture of me, Lisa, Jess and her friend Jess that I asked a fellow diner to take of us in a New Orleans restaurant. It is one of my absolute favorites. Favorite pic, favorite memory. It was taken in August 2011 when Jess and Jess were accompanying Lisa and I on our move from Las Vegas to Tampa. I had booked a longer stay in New Orleans, knowing Jess would love the city as much as I did. I was right. So many times afterward she would ask me, “When are we going back to NOLA?” I assured her we would. Of course, we never did. But I bought a New Orleans souvenir frame to house the picture, which over five years later remains empty. Why? Because after her death I was sure the reminder of that happy time would tear me apart. I didn’t want to look at it. Instead I chose to delight myself with a clipping of her obituary. Right. Needless to say, that New Orleans picture is going up this week, replacing the obit which I relegated to a drawer.
I do believe feelings don’t just happen to us. There’s an energy, always, calling out to us, wanting us to be a part of it. To move. My crying spells, my breakdowns, all signs that something that wasn’t working for me needed to change. It was up to me to figure out what that was. It was a painful process, but I’m coming out of it feeling more aligned with myself, and closer to Jess. She would hate to see me this way. She was a comfort in my life, someone I would call when I needed to be babied, to be loved. And I celebrated that by tacking her obituary on my desk and crying over it every time I sat down to write. She would hate that for me. I can actually hear her voice chastising me: “Baby! Take it down!” Or better yet, replacing it herself with a funny pic, one of her making a face or an image of the Annoying Orange. She’s not here to do any of these things for me, so I must learn to do them for myself. That is the best way to honor her, to remember her. Everything else is just something to put away.