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Second-Tier Grief

There are parts of me sprinkled carelessly all over the canvas – an incoherent mess of a being that somehow pulls you with its abstract ambiguity and paints the delusion that this appearance is deliberate and not the remnants of collateral damage.

I am coming to see that there are layers to healing. I know this now because my first layer has – dare I say? – healed. I like dressing in light airy summer dresses with skirts that kiss my legs and strappy tops that architect tanned lines all over my skin. I don’t feel an anchor of shame sink into the pit of my stomach every time I laugh too loudly or even take a dig at you. I can stay in a social setting long enough for small talk about the weather to snowball into longer, deeper, far more significant conversations. I can sit in your room without hearing you walk in or needing to set the air conditioner on the freezer-setting that you insisted was the best. I can wake up in the morning with your voice in my ear and move on to a different thought without the guilt of recognizing you as a passing-thought. The first layer that was singed by our father’s words as they clung to my skin and set it on fire with the news of your death – that first layer that feels fleshy and pink and sore, but definitely healing.

But if you tell me to count how many more layers I have left to make it through still, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I heard there are three for just my skin, but what about everything that’s within? The sudden weight of my bones every time I’m standing at a wedding again with colours of the rainbow spilling all over as boozey dancers swing past us and memories remind me you won’t be coming so my body is so weighed down, I wonder if you have room for me underground. The back of my neck sticky with sweat and the sound of my voice swimming and screaming inside but escaping from my mouth as nothing more than a squeak, any time I’m handed a glass of whiskey in a room just big enough to hold all my social anxiety but I swallow it whole and pretend to fit right in. The pins and needles scraping at my insides as sisters complain of their brothers and brothers taunt them back and the two bicker and whine and laugh as I tell myself to focus on my breathing. The flames of dreams I saw us in together suddenly blown out without warning, and now their smoke dances within and I pretend not to be choking.

There are more. I’d like to say I could go on, but to be honest, I can’t. Because on most days, all these minute feelings gravitate towards one another and mesh into a cluster of emotions so strong, it becomes exhausting to rip them apart. At a doctor’s office, I can point to where it hurts but I have no idea how to untangle this large, loud, snappy, rubberband-ball of hurt and pain and fear and grief and anger so I don’t even know where to start anymore. So when I am asked how are you doing, I don’t mean to lie. As honestly as I can, I identify the little ball within as “fine”. I’m fine.

My first layer has - dare I say? - healed, and on the surface, I truly am fine. I can go to work and meet with friends and eat pizza on the cold Piazza steps and slather coloured lipstick and fool myself that I am comfortable in my own skin despite the rubberbands snapping within. The only time I am able to pull them apart and see their colors is when I sit in front of a white computer screen that takes too long to load and the cursor blinks at me patiently so eventually my fingers glue themselves to the keys and the clicking grows louder than the snapping and for a little while, I can straighten out the mess through words and point at what hurts.

And so there are parts of me sprinkled all over. Everything I write holds a small fraction of that cluster that I can’t seem to unpack on most days – as if a layman’s words have become a luxury, and I have to pack my words in superficiality and polish them into a posh vocabulary and dress them into garments far more literary, for them to finally be worthy of describing me. Instead of having a simple conversation with someone I love, I’d rather play dress up and hide behind blank documents that I call ‘art’ hoping that maybe if I can elevate my emotions enough, they might just float right out of me and I’ll finally be free.

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