This Strange Thing Called Grief

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Morning light spills into my tiny kitchen, painting ripples of light on the cottage walls -- the benediction of a new day. In my bedroom, over FaceTime, my boyfriend sleeps soundly beneath the companionable silence of long-distance love. Coffee drips slowly, punctuating the soft rumble of Josh Garrel's Break Bread. My cat, still a wide-eyed kitten, peers around my laptop as I type. Sunrise and thoughts of the future have raised me from sleep. Instead of classes and reading lists, jobs and new pages are the new rhythm of my life.

Cottage.

Boyfriend.

Cat.

Jobs.

So much has changed. In only two months.

It's strange how one can blink and home, friends, setting, even the you one once knew seems like a lifetime away.

It's a strange thing, this sense of fleeting oddness. Of permeating displacement. Of bittersweet melancholy. Of a quiet ache that slips quietly in during an ordinary moment that suddenly overwhelms. So much has changed. So much is different. For better, for worse.

Grief, I think, is the name for it.

The boy and I went for a midnight stroll on campus one night, beneath the softly glowing lampposts and canopied trees. Everything was hushed, still, and dearly familiar as ever. The occasional laughs and snippets of conversation from over-eager freshmen carried over the breeze as they too wandered with older students, part of the summer experience before their first semester begins.

In comes the new. The young. The bright-eyed.

We stopped almost immediately, he and I. The old. The ones who had come and gone. The quiet-eyed. Our hands linked, yet pausing.

Wavering.

Reduced to strange silence as we stood in a place that had been our home and that now, without our permission or even desire, was no longer ours.

This is strange, he said quietly. I looked up at him in the night shadows and lamplight mingled with moon + star light, and said nothing.

There was nothing to say.

How does one say goodbye to a place that has already forgotten you? To a life that is no longer yours? To a world that keeps moving without you?

We stood there for some moments, in the hushed darkness, silently paying our respects. Passing lampposts like lit candles by pilgrims, aware that no longer were we parishioners but merely visitors, moving through the leafy cathedral flanked by brick and stone, steps and benches.

It felt like a dream - one that tasted sad and sweet on my tongue. We continued walking, hand in hand, and I shivered. Understanding at last, that my time there had ended.

Time. So long and quick. So short and far.

I understood, too, finally, that time-travel was indeed real. We stood in the same place, upon stone and earth, and yet time was different.

Perhaps we were different. We're not young, the boy said, quiet thoughtfulness in his eyes. We are and we aren't. Not that young. Not young enough to belong anymore in the place that had been our home for so long. Time and space are different for us now.

We left hours later, quieter. Yet at peace.

It's funny, this strange thing called grief.

We mourn what was good almost as much as we mourn what was sad. Bitter and sweet. Change and solidity. Isolation and togetherness. Shadows and lampposts.

My cat curls on the toaster oven, basking in a patch of sunlight. So much seems different and unfamiliar to him. My boy sleeps on the screen of my phone, peaceful and dreaming. Two months ago we were merely friends.

So much has changed.

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