I tried to go back to Harvard the summer of 2018. It was way too soon. I knew I would finish the degree for Jacob (and finish his degree as well), but it hadn’t even been a year. There I was sitting in a house with roommates (what the fuck? no. the only roommate I ever want is Jacob or just myself) and Abraham, our cat (the last living thing to see Jacob alive) was not with me. The first day of classes started and I couldn’t even walk. I vomited in the bathroom. My roommate was fucking her boyfriend. I wasn’t ready. I left immediately.
Something I have talked about a lot on this blog is the lack of friendships and family during this process. Abandonment. And I needed someone. I needed to create “myself” again which meant having more than one audience to my life. I can’t remember who said it, but I read in a grief book something along the lines of – when you lose someone you were with for so long and it was only you two – you lose the one audience to your life. The one witness. It was written more poignantly than that , but Jacob and I were together since middle school. And even though we were very different and independent, our lives were witnessed only by each other. Every award ceremony, every achievement, anything and all things that Jacob knew about me and I him. This doesn’t become as painfully clear as when you realize your own parents and family don’t know you well. Or even Jacob’s family. My own parents didn’t know I could make Indian food even though Jacob and I took a whole class on it. Jacob’s mom didn’t know he could cut very quickly because he worked in a kitchen and that he loved Jalapeño peppers. Or his sister disagreeing with me over his favorite candy. All you can do is deep sigh about it, because getting angry doesn’t do anything. People take it personal because they want to remember “their version” of the person. But the thing is – I saw him every single fucking day. All parts. And no one can take that away from me. But, he saw me. Every day. He knows things about me still that no one knows. He was and is the only audience to my life. I used to think – if I were to die, no one would know things about me but Jacob. I thought this until I met Élise.
My mom found out about an organization called “Soaring Spirits International” and it is a private safe group for ALL widows. You get matched with pen pals your same age (and without children if you do not have any *** this is important) but they also offer a “Widow Camp” – which sounds odd, but it is bringing widows together for a weekend of healing and basically validation – mutual understanding. It was in Toronto. My mom said I needed to go – it was in November of 2018 – I went. I didn’t know what to expect. Until I met Élise – who would become my closest friend – a true friend – I would realize what actual friendship feels like. She was from Montréal (well Sherbrooke) so her first language was French, but she was my age – and Lukas (her late husband) was so similar to Jacob. He was a writer. He was intellectual. Funny. Caring. Me and Élise met each other by chance the first night of the camp where some widows were having drinks at the hotel bar. I was sitting by myself when a woman came next to me and said “are you here for the camp?” I said nervously, “Oh yes.” She gave my a hug and said “Oh sweetie we could tell. You can always tell a widow when you see one.” So, this nice old woman asking me to sit at a table was very necessary in order for me to eventually meet Élise 10 minutes later. The thing is – this camp is not gigantic but it isn’t small either – so the chances of you getting close to someone (exceptionally close) is not that common unless you go a few times – I got SO many numbers and e-mails of people checking in on me – but nothing quite as extraordinary as Élise. She just happened to call her mother-in-law outside and she came and joined us for a drink, a fellow widow and “long term camp-goer” invited her over in a similar way as I did earlier. I started talking to her and we talked for hours and hours. The next day we spent together and that evening was a night I will never forget (well, actually, barely remember). The thing is – I didn’t drink because I couldn’t bare the idea of “having fun” without Jacob. But – when you are with a fellow widow, it is almost like you give yourself permission to do these things. It is “okay” because there is a mutual pain that is understood. We sat outside and I told her about the Daniel Johnston story (which I will share soon on this blog) – she was the only one who said “let’s play him for Jacob” – she wanted to hear about Jacob. She loved him almost immediately. That night we drank a lot. The firs time I was drunk in a long time. So much so that I was in the lobby of this nice hotel at 2 AM and pissed my pants on the floor. Literally. Piss on the floor. Laughing felt so good, and I wasn’t guilty for it – again, with a widow – there is a “permission” feeling to be laughing alongside your pain without people thinking or saying “oh! you are so much better!” I remember Élise and I laughing so hard. It felt SO good to laugh. Jesus. I forgot what that felt like. I apparently went upstairs got a towel and came back down to wipe it up. The weird thing is – I never found that towel.
I ended up visiting Élise so many times in Montréal. The city felt like Jacob. Leonard Cohen’s energy was all over – it was Jacob all around me. In a good way – not in a depressing way like being in our hometown or where we had a beautiful life in Tallahassee. But a spiritual energy that felt good. It was light. I went to Leonard Cohen’s house (St-Laurent/Main – the last photo up top) and Cohen’s favorite places in the city. I climbed to the top of Mount Royal – the first time I was active in a year or so? Photos are also up top. It was my plan before covid happened to move to Montréal because It felt like home. Élise had her husbands ashes on an altar in her living room, like me. She also slept with his ashes during the first six months. She made me feel normal. She became the friend, soul sister, and kindred spirit that I never wanted (but that we needed).
If you knew Jacob, you knew his obsession with Leonard Cohen (from a goddamn young age). There is an energy in Montréal that left me wanting more. Navigating widowhood without being in Montréal and talking to Élise – feeling as if I had permission to enjoy aspects of life, all of this would not be possible without her. She helped me understand that you should NEVER judge your own widowhood experience. And if people do? Who cares? Because I can always say “Jacob would understand why I did this. He would be the only one.” From making yourself vomit because you want a sense of control – to disgusting one night stand’s you participate in just to feel physical recoil- to “numb” the internal pain. She understood all of that. She did all of that. And she was not ignorant or someone to think that stuff was part of “moving on” – in fact, it is a part of self destruction – put a necessary part in order to figure out the shit show of a mess you are, that way you can help each other find a speck of light. My therapist said recently how she doesn’t like the expression “light at the end of the tunnel” but rather – “speck of light at the end of the tunnel” – damn, something so simple is so profound. Because here is the thing – when you lose hope, all hope or faith in anything – that is when you get suicidal. That is when it is so dark people should be worried (but often don’t notice because mental illness is ignored.) Élise gave me that hope. She saved me – and I saved her. She got to know Jacob through me. His photo is in her house. And I got to know Lukas. This is so important for us – to see people love and “know” our soulmates. Sometimes I feel like Jacob’s family doesn’t call me because I remind them of Jacob – same with my parents – they avoid talking about him because they want to “avoid thinking about it” – what a goddamn luxury. It is easy for you to say in your nice home with your husband and kids and business, etc. But it is just a bunch of ignorant bullshit. And offensive. When people don’t want to talk about Jacob it is unacceptable. And if I hear the whole “people handle grief differently” line I am going to puke. Get a new fucking expression – like “people avoid any sort of emotional investigation because they cannot sit with their pain or guilt.”
Anyway, I guess I got angry there for a second? I thought I was over that. Sometimes it comes back. So Élise stayed with me in Boston during the summer when I returned to Harvard in 2019 – she didn’t want me to be alone for Jacob’s birthday (June 27th – he would have been 29) and the anniversary of Lukas’s death (in July). It was just what I needed. A summer to adjust to being back in Boston. I actually loved that summer – and ended up “liking” being back in Boston. It was full of ups and downs but I was with all of me and Jacob’s things – my personality and his spirit – photos of our life but also of my new experiences -his altar with me. Living alone but investing emotional energy into friendships – random experiences with strangers that felt oddly “exhilarating”, being reckless, and living my life and “new normal” for the first time – actually, just living. The “new normal” hasn’t even arrived.
Here is a stark difference between Élise and a member of my family to make you feel less alone when people you thought were “closest” to you are toxic as fuck: you know what my cousin did on my birthday the day I arrived in Boston in 2019? She messaged me and said I was “mean and selfish” for shunning people out like my sister. I got so angry. I had a panic attack. I asked my parents “Am I mean? How have I been mean? I have been in bed, magnets in my brain, medicine, trying to stay alive, was that mean?” She said her parents (who were the whole reason I was out of town the day Jacob died ) did not call me on his one year mark of his death was…well, in her wisdom – “why would anyone want to call you? You are mean.” Damn. Heartless. Can’t expect much from an Aquarius. Ah… All I can do is laugh now. Truly. I just have pity. Not in a condescending way. But genuinely I feel sorry for her and many in my family ( and “friends” – which I realized when I met Élise I did not have any true friends) because they are emotionally immature. A lot of American’s are, actually. But that is a topic for another time. Stop saying to other people and yourself “But they are family.” No – that is not an excuse for toxicity. It is a line that is really destructive. Your family can be toxic. That doesn’t make them more valuable somehow? I remember Jacob’s older brother saying (lololol to the MAX at this one) that there was no way I could be in more pain because I am not family. This is a person who never visited us or saw Jacob since like – he was 20? Truly comical – before I got angry but now it is SO CLEAR it is out of guilt. Projection. You are guilty for being less than what you expected yourself to be – you felt like you let Jacob down – so sit with that reality and sit in the emotion. Forgive yourself slowly. Don’t project on ME. Don’t lash out on others. It is really embarrassing – emotionally immature – and as Jacob would say “man, I will never understand people whose first reaction is anger – it is so primal, like… stupid people do that, right?” Right.
I did not choose this life. I have no control. Do I have a lot of “baggage?” Yes. Do I have a lot of “issues”? Yes. But… I know I make people smile. I know I offer empathy to strangers. I know I am a good person, and if I can go to the grave knowing that, that is all I need. My real struggle now is finding a reason to live for myself – for so long it was to finish the degree for Jacob – then finish his degree – now “payback” my parents for having to see me in such pain. But what do I want? What is my drive to live? I don’t know… and I am desperately trying to figure that out before it is too late.