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Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Nothing

Remember that kid's movie, circa 1984, that featured a young boy, mythical creatures, and special book that transported its reader to an alternate reality? It was called The Neverending Story, and this is what I thought the movie was about at the time. I recently watched it again with my children just to share a bit of my childhood, and I realized that I hadn't a clue what message was actually being conveyed.

The movie is about grief. The young boy has just lost his mother. He lives with his father who is clearly hurting and is trying to raise his son without his partner. Of course I knew that grief played a role in the plot, but I'd had no idea just how intricately woven with pain it had been. I couldn't have, partly because I was a child but more importantly because I had never experienced profound grief myself.

As I was watching with my children, I began to wonder which character I was playing in our own never-ending story.  Was I the grieving father? No, I don't often hide my pain and I'm terrible at "pushing through" and ignoring it. Am I the child? No, I didn't lose a parent and the grief is different for those who have. I certainly wasn't the eccentirc book store owner, so who was I? The kids really started getting into the movie, and as children often do, they began asking questions about what was happening. That's when it hit me. I knew who I was. I am The Nothing.

In the movie, The Nothing is what every character is trying to avoid. They're trying to outrun it. What they don't know, throughout the interactive story, is that The Nothing isn't a being to be outrun. It is a force within them. It's the threat of being swallowed by grief. It is portrayed as all things devoid of color and light. It is...Nothing.

I say that I'm The Nothing, not to be melodramatic, but because it makes the most sense to me. My loss has turned me inside out and upside down. I no longer recognize myself, and no matter how hard I try to ignore it and push it down, that new part of me cannot be denied. It cannot be reversed, and it will not be quieted. What I mean to say is that many of my actions and reactions are unrecognizable to me, not only in the capacity that it's foreign to the "old me", but also in that it rarely seems human. I don't respond to situations the way that other people around me do, and I understand why, but that knowledge doesn't make it easier to feel like an outsider.

We recently got a family dog, and he ran away a few days ago. Let me tell you how this scenario goes down for The Nothing. I love my dog, and he's more "my" dog than anyone else in my family, but as I watched those around me react to his disappearance, I began to feel like something may be wrong with me. I received many condolences and offers of help to find him, and while I'm very grateful for the kindness of others, I was clearly not as distraught as even complete strangers were. Some people talked about how scary it is when your pet is lost. While I certainly understand that it would be a difficult situation for many people, I couldn't ever find that particular emotion for myself. Fear? No, I did not feel fear. At least not in the way that I've known in my life. This is not to say that someone else's emotions about a lost pet are wrong. This is not an evaluation of other people's feelings. It's simply a description of my grief process and the ways in which it has changed my life.

My youngest daughter, Morgan, was very upset about his running away, as he was actually her Christmas gift. I tried to console her, but I am incapable of telling her that everything will be fine when I couldn't possibly know the outcome. Furthermore, she's smarter than that. She's grieving too after all. She knows that she can't always have the thing she wants. She knows this at 7. And while I wish every single day that this weren't true, I cannot deny it. I knew what she was actually fearing when her dog left. She feared what I did. We felt that old familiar pang of helpless, hopeless loss. She missed her brother. She begged to have her dog back, but he wasn't who she was asking me for. I know this because only a week before we'd sat together on the couch and screamed and cried for the boy we love. She begged and pleaded with me to return her best friend. She needed him back. Couldn't she "have just one more day, Mommy? I'll be the best big sister."

And guess what? Our dog is back. He came back. Of course I'm happy that he's here, but goddammit it shouldn't have been that easy. Not when my son will never show up on my doorstep. "Praise God he's back"? No. Not here. Not in this house. I certainly hope that God didn't have anything to do with the return of my dog. We needed something much more soul-repairing in this house of The Nothing.

This may end up being the most spoiled dog on the planet. I play with him and he cuddles with me every day. But, when you are The Nothing, there isn't a single thing on the planet that can penetrate that darkness. And this is where the movie loses me. It seems as though The Nothing is deemed "bad" or as if someone were "giving up". I don't see it that way. I think The Nothing is inevitable, and that by navigating in the darkness we learn some powerful things about ourselves. It doesn't make us "better." I don't believe that word will exist for me, but it's part of the process, a part I believe should be embraced and not feared.

Regardless of whether or not I even wanted to "escape" this part of my process, it isn't possible. I can fight it (although I've got no fight left) or I can acknowledge it as part of me. I choose the latter because I'm tired, and because I've learned too many times over that I can "want" all kinds of things and even work hard to achieve them and come up empty. This is not to be confused with pessimism. I'm really not a gloom and doom person. I simply feel as though I live in a different reality. This makes living a human life with human relationships difficult of course. I'm living my own never-ending story. Not my friend's, not my family's, mine. And at this point in the film, I prefer my darkness. I prefer my process. I prefer a land devoid of judgment and outside influence. After all, I am...The Nothing.