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On Memory

Memory: the key component for any successful person.

It is memory that gives us traditions, a past, identity. It sets us apart from others. We remember our childhood and holiday traditions we practiced every year without fail. We remember our ancestors who travelled from foreign countries years ago and we somehow define who we are today by their sacrifices, challenges and accomplishments, however real or imagined. We remember the big moments in our lives that shaped us; our first love, our first loss, our first job, our first real responsibilities and occasionally reflect on them to see how far we have come (or not) since then.

You need memory to take you to new places, to motivate you, in your heart, in your mind, across the world or across town.

You can argue that memory is what keeps us alive. Literally, of course, as you must remember to eat, sleep, and drink, not step out in front of traffic and so on. But memory also keeps us alive as a whole collective, as well, in spirit, with life. You must remember laws, routines, and schedules. You must remember work repetition in order to grow and add to success. You need memory to voice language and communicate. It is memory that keeps us on time, knowing where to go, who we are to meet and what we are to do next. Without it, we would be lost.

The present is a future memory, its story is written moment by moment, to be recalled later as fact, fallacy, with truth or distortion. And there is always the past. If you don’t remember the past you are doomed to repeat it, as they say. But at least then it would be a new memory, for some, right?

And the memories we don’t have are equally as powerful as the ones we do and they can drive us to grow, to change, to not repeat an injustice, perceived or not, done to us, in childhood, perhaps. “My father never took me fishing”, he says, “and I missed that. I will take my son so he can have that memory.”…as if certain memories must be had in order to have been raised successfully. Interesting idea although one can never experience all memories thus repeating the cycle of perceived childhood injustices.

We carry all that we have with us as memories, to some extent.  Our homes have photos of those we love on the walls to remind us of that love. We have tucked away somewhere old love letters or school yearbooks, a record or an old shirt to remind us of our first loves that we have not seen in years but could not possibly have forgotten or of that concert we went to with our best friend and had the time of our life when we were young, careless and impressionable. We drive past our childhood homes with fondness. We attend high school reunions to be reminded of who we were and to see who we are now and how “far” we have come, how far others have come, changed. We carry our scars, physically or mentally, which remind us too where we have been with pride or with anguish. We wear wedding rings to remind us of our commitments and tattoos to remind us of our achievements, our losses, our favorite things or simply for the love of color and art.

But who are we if we lose our memory? Who are we if we continue to live but don’t know who we are? How do we show the world and the people in it how important our life was if we can’t recall our name?

I have often wondered if our memories are a blessing or a curse and I currently stand divided. What a gift to remember all that you have done; places you have travelled, people you have loved, skills you have learned, children you have had, food you have eaten, music you have made or listened to, conversations you have had, family and friends you have loved, lovers you have experienced, situations you have survived, homes and towns you lived in, photos you have cherished, events you witnessed or participated in, lives you have changed, people who have changed yours.

But for all the love and nostalgia and fondness of memories comes the ache, the pain, of remembering the loss of something great, something experienced, someone experienced.

Loss is a bitter, tragic thing. True loss, soul changing loss, is nearly unbearable and after surviving it, you come away changed, and it is inevitable that you will, sooner or later, mourn who you were, what you had and remember now what can never be again.

It ages you. It weakens you.  It makes you tired, to your core, before you have even begun. The ache you feel in your chest, words cannot define with any measurable justice. It is a feeling, a pain, an emptiness, a darkness, a weight. I heard this sadness once from a mother who lost her teenage daughter in a senseless car accident. Her wail was bone chilling, at a decibel not normally felt or heard by humans…it was the sound of a heart dying and I will never ever, could never ever, forget it.

My heart has made that sound twice and while the stories are my own for now, I am forever changed. Is the new me a better me for having experienced that or am I a sadder me who must also remember and mourn who I was and what part of me is lost to time forever?

My son is 9 weeks old and was born to me in what I will say was the hardest year of my life. I am, at the moment, a blank canvas where, through a lifetime of experiences, he will paint a picture of who I am. Will his memory of me resemble what I actually look like? Will he pick up and paint highlights of who I was before, as if that light and color is never truly lost or hidden? Or will he paint a duller version of who I am, the only me he has known? Or, perhaps, by the time I see his painting of me I will have forgotten who I was, through time and aging, and through his eyes I will rediscover myself, my history, my legacy. If I have forgotten my life, my past, and lost my memory, in the end will it change who I am or who I was all those years ago?

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Golden October

Golden October brings leaves falling effortlessly like whispers to the earth. Dry from baking in the sun, brittle, as Summer turns to Fall. Fire hot yellow bleeds into burnt orange, blood red to rusty brown and some remain evergreen. A warm afternoon, a moment stolen in the golden light of the afternoon. The sound of small bids discussing plans for winter in the distance, the soft breeze blowing through the remaining tired leaves that are grasping on to the skinny branches of the old trees wanting only more time.  The faint sounds from the school children far off in the distance brings memories rushing. Warm skin stung by summers last kiss of heat, the fading waves of the crackle of leaves coming and going, rolling in and out in corners, on the street, in the yard, all around. This moment is simple and a touch of sorrow settles within me. But the moment is beautiful too and with no words nature gently retells me the story of my past, whispers from the wind, as comforting as old friends, and yet this moment has never happened before. Inhaling the present and exhaling age, my eyes close and I am momentarily still, forever lost in this moment, somewhere in the back of my mind.

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S7

On the subway, back facing forwards, my eyes fixed on the tracks as they pass. The whine of the car turns rhythmic in time, drowning out the sharpness of individual sounds made clear when we halt. On the longest stretch on the S7 we head towards Grunewald. Garden huts pass on my left as do thousands and thousands of green leaves and trees and bushes. For a moment the Regional train parallels us. I look at strangers seeing everyone and no one in particular. We all look so sad. No one is talking, no one is smiling. We all just gaze out of our window, our reflections looking back at us on sun and dirt streaked windows clouded with time, all consumed in thought. It’s quiet and the sun beams with energy. White clouds float stationary in an ice blue sky. For a moment time is lost and I exists solely in the moment, suspended, eternal, the notion of time is lost in my thoughts. My world is both the biggest thing I have ever known and the smallest blade of grass in the universe. A snapshot, a mirror, a moment, forgotten until my next journey on the subway when faces change but all reflections stay the same. Berlin, du bist so wunderbar.

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The Slow Process of Grieving in Silence

The other evening I stood in my garden and I was watering the plants after a very hot day, a very hot several days actually. It was dusk, the time of the evening when people go outside to water their garden after a hot day, when the mosquitoes awaken in search of their victims, the air is thick with heat from the day but damp now too now that the sun is gone. The time of evening when the painting of the sunset has faded to the muted colors of deep purple, faint pink and encroaching darkness, when porch lights come on but house lights stay off so windows can be opened as the breeze comes slowly.

I stood alone in silence in this moment and heard the sounds from my neighbor’s garden which was hidden from my view by trees and tall bushes, directly behind our house. The sound I heard was the sound of an outdoor dinner party and the muffled sounds of people talking with the often gentle interruption of laughter.

Now I know it’s not uncommon to hear people in their backyards on weekend evenings enjoying dinner and drinks with friends on a summer’s evening, but what was uncommon, for me at least, was not the actual hearing of the sound of laughter and the gathering of friends but the feeling I instinctively had as it bottomed out my stomach. My absolute first thought to myself as I sighed slowly with a very familiar pain in my chest was, “I can’t remember the last time I laughed like that.” And I searched my memory and really, I couldn’t remember. I was going back days, weeks, months….it can’t be months? Could it? My sadness deepened. But it wasn’t months, it wasn’t even a year. My God, the last time my heart-felt happy enough to laugh like that was before my twin sister died….nearly three years now.

You know that feeling when someone tells you something that most certainly seems like a total fabrication and your first response is a call out the bullshit with an unmistakable look of skepticism with your expression. But then the person keeps at it and the furrow of your brow, your pursed lips, your squinted eyes of disbelief slowly give way to raised eyebrows and an open mouth and you are left speechless to the truth of what seemed like a total initial lie? Well, I had that feeling but it wasn’t about a story that I had a hard time believing to be true….it was about laughter. It was about happiness or maybe more specifically, my sadness. 3 years. 3 YEARS my heart hadn’t laughed and aside from several moments of joy I have felt watching my infant son discover the world and me, I felt in that moment, completely alone.

Before my sister died I had felt sadness before, painful sadness from experiences that come with regular life and I also felt grief too. The pain and grief from losing others close to me through the ending of friendships or because there was too great of a distance to remain close or in some cases death parted us. But the overwhelming grief that engulfed my life after my twin died was so deep and so powerful that it made all other pains in my memory pale in comparison, or at least it feels this way now in hindsight.

For someone like me who has a hard time talking about myself in any great length on true personal matters in my heart, except for conversations with the selected few souls who actually “get it”, the new state of emotions I found myself experiencing was, at the very least, overwhelming.

Grief leaves you with an incredible feeling of alienation, you don’t feel safe anywhere, you don’t feel comfortable anywhere, something always feels wrong, really really wrong. You are not just scared but terrified, of living, of dying, of being alone, of being with others. Your memory just loops the news of death over and over in your mind. You see it 1,000 times in your mind a day, maybe more. Each time you rest, close your eyes, open your eyes. In moments of quiet, especially quiet, even through the loudest sounds, your mind loops. Noise doesn’t drowned it out, quiet doesn’t drowned it out, alcohol doesn’t drowned it out, sleep doesn’t drowned it out, quiet doesn’t drowned it out, company doesn’t drowned it out. Nothing drowns it out. The scene, the call, how time stood still, the calls you had to make, you couldn’t breathe, or talk, only tears, crazy burning hot tears, an invisible faucet turned on and left open, you have no control over anything. Literally. And in that moment, you realize it. And it is terrifying. Zero control of what happens next, of the future and when you realize that, the pressure of the faucet increases and you are wobbly on your feet, arm extended behind you to locate the wall as you feel the collapse coming. Even if you fall, it won’t hurt though. You couldn’t feel more that what you are feeling in this moment, not one feeling more. Dizzying, nauseous, spinning, empty. This is how I felt every single day for months, literally.

Another thing I came to realize is that even though friends and family have the best of intentions, they don’t understand. With friends you expect this to some degree but your family, surely they understand you, at least, they lost a family member too, right? After all, it is the same family member so the loss should be felt on some sort of an equal plane, even if it is only marginally, right?…..this is not true. This is not only not true but the consequences of differences in grieving can and most likely will tear your remaining family apart.

Two things I didn’t know to expect: 1. that after the funeral and chaos, the silence is deafening and for some reason no one likes to talk or feels comfortable talking about the person who died or hearing about your grief and loss and 2. people who had a difficult relationship with the person who died, over time, tend to start bending memory and the past in a way that makes them look better, makes the past look better than it was, and in the oddest of ways, a new past is being created out of the guilt of those who cannot get closure any other way that to change the facts of the past. And if you don’t fight this memory change, it will become the new memory in time and the true old memory will be lost to time. So you fight to preserve the truth, to honor your loved one. But with caution, if you fight to preserve the actual memory of how things really happened, you will be alienating yourself and people will wonder why you can’t just “let things go”….which will make you even more upset so you will fight harder to preserve the truth and those who want to change it will do it anyway and then the gap will grow and grow and grow and one day you will either find yourself constantly fighting to preserve the past and your loved ones memory or you will find yourself alone, and in my case, you will find both, at least emotionally, that is.

It wasn’t only my sister that died 3 years ago but my family, the family I grew up with, my sisters and my mother. In 3 years I lost my twin, my two older sisters and my mother. I will not buy this new picture of the past that they paint so now I stand alone. I am now an orphan. But I am not just an orphan I am an orphan that also has become a mom for the first time. I have no mother to talk to for advice, no sisters to give me tricks to the trade. My son has no Aunts, no grandma on my side, my son has no memory of our old big family holidays surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins. There is no noise, no chaos, no huge family holiday meals. No group photos or stories or laughs to share together. For him, he doesn’t know any better but for me, this loss on top of the loss of my twin is nearly too much to carry. It leaves me wondering how something so empty can feel so heavy?

And if this is not the state of mind that I live in, the 2nd state of mind is living with the loss of my twin sister, my best friend, and what feels now like the best part of me. The 3rd state to live in is the world that still continues to go on regardless of me, my past, my losses, my grief. This is the world everyone else lives in. Three years in and I cannot balance these three states and I feel like I am failing in all of them. There is no way to live fully in one state, disregarding the other two. Growth comes from a fluidity of balance, to not stay in one too long so as not to create a new reality. I cannot manage this yet. I am overwhelmed with emotion when I stay in any state too long and trying to live in all three of these states simultaneously leaves me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmingly sad and unmotivated.

When my sister died my feeling of emotion went into overdrive and I have had to keep up a continuous process of dealing with these emotions and it is exhausting. Not like tired exhausting but like fatigue exhausting and fighting fatigue is ironic because you need energy to fight and the one thing you don’t have when you feel fatigue is energy, of any kind. I wake with this feeling most days. Imagine a battery that used to have 95% starting energy each day now is only 60% full on my best day. Losing my sister took 40% of my full battery away, without warning, 40% of me, of my life, of my happiness, was gone in an instant. I would love to optimally start and/or stay at 70% but it is not likely and most days I say I live at 45%, a bad day takes me lower, a good day up to 60, and very few days have taken me further. And the desire to exceed 60 is not only exhausting for me because I know how much energy it takes to get there, it is extremely sad to recognize this. My best is not good enough anymore, I lack the energy to give more, and I also fight to not just give in to all of it and say fuck it which also adds to my fatigue. I am running standing still, I am exhausted before beginning, I am sad in this state.

I read articles and stories here and there about others grief and how they dealt with it, what their advice is. If you are looking for advice, I don’t have any. I have no tricks, no compromise shortcuts, no quick ways to make things seem better. I write this for two reasons. The first one is for me because of all the things I have read about grief, I still never hear it described how I felt it, how I feel it, so for me to write this and re-read it makes me feel sane. The second reason is for the person who feels alone in their grief recovery or is new to this process. You are both absolutely alone and completely not. And it may or may not give you comfort for me to say this but know I know how you feel. Which isn’t saying much, I guess, other than it says you are not crazy. I get it. And believe it or not, there are others out there that get it too. Not a lot, but they are out there. Struggling alone, struggling alongside you. We are alone together.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I made it through yesterday, today I am trying and I have to hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

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Dare

“You won’t do it.” And with that I ran. Running so hard my chest burned, lungs pumping, arms and legs moving in sync. Blocking sane thoughts to stop, I realize I am screaming. Rooftop pebbles crunch underfoot. Pinpoint focus on the edge and it is approaching, fast. Past the point of no return. I can’t breathe. Red faced, hot. I am almost there. In 3, 2, 1….edge, one foot, balance, two feet, push, arms extended, like a stone bird, release. Freedom, weightless, horizontal with the skyline, motion, timeless, rushing wind. Silence. I am all things and I am nothing, eternally.New Iphone Pics -03302012 286

Rain

The drops fall from the gray sky relentlessly. Sometimes so full, round, directly down from above, as if stones were being thrown from the heavens. Other times a fine mist covers all, blowing in the wind. You can actually see the wind moving like waves in the ocean, like a never-ending transparent blanket is being shaken out in slow motion. The small drops of fine mist being treated to a more exciting, slower decent from the clouds. Nothing is dry. Absolutely nothing. For days now…and it’s summer.

If you stop and watch it fall sometimes it seems as though you are watching emotion itself. It is like listening to classical music, soft and gentle, then slowly the volume increases, the beat, the pace. You can feel the eruption starting and you know it will come but the anticipation and not knowing when it will happen is consuming. It’s like sex in a way. And always there is the climax of emotion, although anticipated it still feels like you have never experienced it before, not this way, not this time. The crash of the cymbal, the crack of the thunder and blinding blink of lightning you can almost feel when the storm is above you.

But, perhaps you haven’t felt it like this before but you won’t know until you quiet your inner self and watch. This is the beauty of it. The journey. Knowing what will come next, watching it, and yet still waiting for it to develop, not knowing if you are correct, always being both right and wrong at the same time. The storm, the song, our life.

It’s raining again. And I watch for a moment and wait. Anticipation, that is what rain brings.

The Firework

Futures Past

Shadows cast long as the sun sets behind * My companion of memories trail in my mind.

I walk alone in this world surrounded by people * My spirit and body ages me feeble.

In a veil of grief that shadows all life * My heart so frail, wounded, as if cut with a knife.

Emotionally bleeding, no tourniquet in sight * Sometimes I feel I should give up the fight.

Like colors that fade from an old photo left in the sun * All my emotions robbed of me, all nearly save one.

This feeling of loss I can’t shake it or fill it * Torturing myself, there is no way to kill it.

Simultaneously running and yet I am standing still * The only reason I stand here is out of sheer will.

I feel as though I am not going backwards or forwards * For the specific feeling I have in this language there are no words.

Not the first to feel this and certainly not the last * I question this life, my future, my past.

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Missing You, Missing Me

I miss you. I miss you missing me.

I moved to the other side of the world and was separated from you in a way we never were before. I missed someone, I missed you, in a way I never missed anyone before. It made me so sad to know I couldn’t just drop by and see you, spend the weekend hanging out and making dinner together. To watch bad movies the way you loved to do or simply just drink coffee in the morning in the sunshine on the stairs with you they way we used to do on the weekends. I miss trying to help you, to fix you, to make your life happier and when your life was happier, I was happier. Oddly, what made me feel better was knowing that you missed me too, sometimes so desperately, the same way I missed you although I was never very good as articulating how deeply I missed you the way you were able to. To be truly missed, to know that someone loves you so much, they think about you and when given a moment to themselves they fill it with the thought of calling you to share some part of their day, big or small, usually 3 calls or messages a day for all the small things, the everyday life, so simple and mundane and beautiful and sometimes sad…I miss you. With my whole heart. In a way I didn’t expect. And I miss you, missing me.

I also miss me. I miss the me I was before I missed you so badly, so permanently. Before I realized that I am not who I thought I was once you left. I will never be again who I thought I was. All of me changed when you left. I miss the me that used to smile easily, the me that used to enjoy going out and enjoying life, the me that didn’t have a hard time working at my job, the me that was dependable and strong and there for others. The me that was always strong for you when you couldn’t be. I miss the me that saw sunny days, that looked forward to holidays, the me that called or messaged you 3 or 4 times a day to say nothing really at all. I miss the me that constantly worried about you and I missed the me that was planning ways to move you here so we could be together, grow old together the way we planned. I miss the me that didn’t see IT coming. I miss the old me that simply just missed you and I miss the feeling of knowing it was always just a few more months until we saw each other again.

I miss you now in a way I will never get over, a hole I will never fill. I can miss you all I want and I do but what I will never have again is you missing me and knowing just how much we loved each other, spoken and unspoken, in the comfortable way you can sit in silence with someone and know nothing needs to be said because it already has been and our hearts are happy, full, complete. Soul mates, sisters, friends, you were my twin. You are my twin. Like breathing I will go on missing you and I do miss you so terribly, so desperately, my unfortunate new normal.

Missing you, missing me, forever.

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