The glorious and triumphant return of now-19 year old Blogger, the revival of a once-grand and dare I say influential webspace that produced daily content, and the crippling anxiety of a young woman who no longer has any time or motivation to write, and feels like any ability she had acquired in the past through repetition and sheer will alone is now slowly slipping out of her grasp. Brief history of the Blog and Blogger can be found here.

Here be personal journal entries, observations, slices of life, questions and conclusions, as well as exploration of social and political topics seen through the lens of a Malaysian Muslim, feminist, lesbian, Marxist, and horse enthusiast.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Break Was Always In Another Bone

I am running backwards, carrying something, somebody maybe, and in front of me, in a sort of narrowing tunnel vision, he runs towards me. The only thing I see is the tarred road beneath our feet. My peripheral vision is white, I'm screaming at him to catch up, but the gates open wider and they come out in droves. Bullets rain down on us but no individual shooter is visible through the cloud of smoke shrouding our enemy, hunters, in its embrace. I am impregnable. He gets shot once, on the shoulder, and falls down on concrete - our neighbor's driveway. Smoke thickens, my screams increase in frenzy but not in volume, and he gets up only to be shot through the heart, bullet flying straight through.

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What I read about - well, the little that I do read about depressing or triggering subjects - try to invoke a supernatural tingling of the senses: a chill running down your spine, blood freezing over, face paling as your hands go clammy. Cold, basically. Ice. But all I felt was warm.

The sudden rush of blood, to my head, my ears, as if blocking my hearing from any more spoken words. Trembling hands, shaking body, those were warm. Making my way to my room, the circuit I walked around the house, lying down on the carpet next to my cat; I just felt warm. Feverish. The incredulity and disbelief were warm. The tears stinging my eyes, welling up but stubborn, were warm. Thinking hurts my brain, and it was warm. Getting the words out was hot. Everything was too hot, every single cubic metre I was standing on rose in temperature. Unbelievably, atomically, nuclear hot.

The last thing I want to do right now is write about it, because for some reason everything just comes out wrong. Comes out wrong when written, even worse when spoken. But I have a problem, and anyone who's still friends with me and have talked to me about deeply personal issues in the past year would be able to visibly see this. I'm trying to help myself out here. I'm trying to figure out how I went from being the girl who teared up at school almost everyday in Form 2, who broke down in Form 3 over every single trivial issue, who cried her way through camp last year, to being... well, whatever this is. Soulless automaton with the emotional capacity of metallic alloy.

The first time I cried, like really rain-pouring-down-my-face cried, after hearing the news was on the car ride, with my dad beside me but my eyes were shielded by sunglasses. I had 'Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind' in my ear on repeat, going through all the death-related Spring Awakening songs just because it felt like the thing to do. Of course the first tear fell after, when I had pressed shuffle on my library. It was during a Taylor Swift song. Not unexpected.

And aside from that, it was emotional shut down for two full days.

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Here's the thing, my mind as of right now is sort of stuck on the whole heaven and hell thing. Like, I grew up being taught to work my way up to heaven, the ultimate goal, the only path worth following. I'm all right with that, and with not questioning it, for now. I'm not going to say that I believe everything people say about it, about the afterlife and things that happen to you in the grave. That's what people say. And if we're being honest, I have no idea which part of all this as explained in the Qur'an is allegorical and which part is literal. But mostly, I'm okay with the bulk of the doctrine on the subject, I'm okay with not thinking too much about it, because I figure that once you're gone, you're gone. You belong to God and He'll put you wherever He sees fit. Even if it's all one giant metaphor, and you don't actually go anywhere after you die, that's completely God's business. It's in His purview and it's one of the things I'm willing to let greater minds than mine ponder on for now.

Is it blasphemous to have ideas of heaven and hell that aren't concrete? I don't know? But I like the idea of eternal damnation for people who have done bad things with no repentance, so like I said, I'm stuck on believing in (as much as belief actually matters for things like these) the idea of a literal heaven and hell. I grew up learning about it, it acts as the ultimate courtroom with God as the ultimate judge and jury, and it's easy on me, and gives me something to look forward to and keep me in check. This is the one of few instances in which the easy way out is the out I'm taking.

The thing about grief, and I acknowledge that this has been said by practically everyone, is that it's not about the person who died. It's about the living. I listen to so many people talking about the soul and where it journeys to after death, to others still saying we have to do so and so to make the dead proud, to make the dead happy, to appease them and lessen their burdens. I do believe in souls, but I'm not too clear on exactly what the soul is capable of being sans body. Which is to say, before being effectively 'brought back to life' (whatever that means) for Judgment Day, are souls actually, like, anything. At all. Sure I've heard stories and had to read up on Barzakh, but the great thing about Islamic Studies class, and most of the things your elders teach you, is that they usually don't tie back to what the Qur'an says. So we keep on doing things to appease the dead. And I don't mean, like, recite Al-Fatiha or send prayers for them and their salvation. That goes without saying. But doing things to 'make them proud'.

Can we really make them proud and happy in the afterlife? Do they really look down on us and smile, or feel hurt and betrayed? Basically, are people anything at all once they've died? A soul is a soul, but are we, the living, at all capable of affecting them emotionally? These sound like pretty pointless questions to an atheist and I kind of want to laugh at them, too, sometimes. I... admire would be the wrong word, so maybe I envy those who hold such strong convictions on these matters. They believe what they believe, and they do it for themselves, mostly. If you do a good deed, but you do it for the dead, you're still doing it for yourself. Dead people will still remain dead and you're the one who will either enjoy the fruits of your labors or suffer the painful consequences of your misdeeds. Here we all are, trying to protect the feelings of the dead. I'm not even sure they have feelings.

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There's this whole deal where, if a parent dies, sibling dynamics really come to light. I don't think it matters as much (not to me anyways) if a parent favors one child over another. It doesn't matter as much when they're alive. But once they're dead, the divide really does become more pronounced. I feel for those hurting, for those closest to her, or closer, at least. The fact remains that the experience, being the first family death I have ever dealt with, was more awkward than traumatic, more emotionally-exhausting than devastating.

It feels strange, being the black sheep of the black sheep of the family, to be there and see everyone with their feelings in sync while I just felt sometimes numb, sometimes too hot for my skin. Mostly everyone cried openly, and I was dry for two days straight. They remember her so fondly, sit around trading stories while I mostly felt like vomiting. If I could sum it up in a few short words, it would just be 'I don't connect'. I don't connect with them, as a family unit, I didn't connect with my grandmother while she was alive, I don't connect with the feeling of regret at not having spent enough time with her, I don't connect with sadness and its mechanism, with grief and the grieving process. The only thing I could connect with was a creeping feeling of sickness, of hell-fire warmth, to the question of 'what the hell is wrong with me?'.

I thought a lot about family during those two days. And there was always the underlying sense that I'll forget about it all, completely, every single resolution I may have made, in a few days time. I wasn't wrong, of course. I'm not sentimental. I just don't do sadness. Extricating my tangled up ball of emotions, making sense of any of it, it's a hard day's work, and frankly, it's not really something I'm up for. The only thing I can do, and have done, is pray for her. I am literally at a lost as to what else to do. How else to grieve. What else to feel. It's like there's a manual on how to mourn the dead out there, and everyone's received it but me. Like, there's a checklist of things you should do and emotions you should feel, and I've gone ahead and done the exact opposite of everything on that list.

When Cory died, I didn't get to see firsthand how fandom reacted. I wasn't in my their houses, across oceans, watching them shed tears, if any. I saw my own friends, Hanna, Nisa, cry in front of me when I suggested we watch Glee Live, in memory of him. But those were the only expressions of grief that I got to see live, right in front of my very eyes, and it made the whole thing easier for me, because when I went home and cried, I didn't have to compare myself to anyone. I was a fan in a sea of other fans. We were all the same.

This is not the situation when a family member passes, obviously. We are not all the same. I missed it, while I was away figuring my shit out, while I was out 'finding myself', but I missed the fact that my extended family developed and grew into a whole group of people that I don't think I even recognize anymore. It was my fault. I was the one who refused to go to kampong every time my mom would offer (which was rarely, but she went every weekend, so it's not like I wasn't aware of her schedule). Going back, going there, it was always like I was facing a monolithic entity, 'them' versus little old me. And it made me feel bad, and disgusted with myself, and I took the easy way out by not putting myself in such a vulnerable situation, by avoiding them altogether.

So when I was there with literally every single aunt and uncle, all my siblings, my cousins and their children, all the extended second aunts, second uncles, I was exposed to everyone's grief, everyone's live reaction played out right in front of me. I felt attacked, surrounded, accused, when Nisa pointed out how I didn't cry at the Glee Live viewing session, how she felt almost betrayed that I couldn't cry in front of them because I told them I don't cry 'in front of people'. I felt that again, for two days, magnified around a thousand times over. Everyone either cried, or told stories of how they cried, for how long, how hard, and then they told anecdotes of how they found out, and then more about crying.

I had a permanent frown on my face, but every time someone (mainly my parents and sister) wanted to talk to me about it, about my emotions or whatever, my tone would be light. I would throw in a giggle if I could do it without offending anyone. And just, what the hell is that? I don't understand that. When I slammed the car door shut, stuffed earphones in my ears and started blasting music, I cried from the time my dad turned the engine on to when we reached home. But when my mom invited me to sit on her lap, started talking about death with all the fervor of a zealot, all I wanted to do was flee.

I think I've only talked to one person about this, and it was about mourning Cory, a person I don't even know who has impacted my life less than twenty other celebrities I could name. It's this whole performance thing. I find it weird. I'm not saying anyone's acting or pretending to be sadder than they are - this is tragic, it's sad, people cry, pretty standard stuff. But just having to perform your grief in a way that people expect you to. That's just weird. Sometimes I wonder if my cousins or aunts and uncles look at me and wonder why I'm not more devastated, or worse still, if they don't find my stoicism surprising at all, because I haven't been close to any of them, not even my grandparents, for a long time. That I put the distance there, so it's not surprising that I want to keep it there. And wondering if any of them ever wondered about this is the worst feeling ever.

So, yeah, obviously grief is personal. And what that means, literally, is that it's all about you. It's all about me. I don't really understand it, if we're supposed to be mourning the dead, why are we mostly only dealing with our own feelings? The dead don't feel in the way that the living do, or maybe they don't at all, so we're never crying for them, we're crying for ourselves. Maybe that's also part of why I'm outwardly so indifferent about this. If I cry, if I show even a modicum of emotion, who am I doing it for and why? When I'm alone, and I'm crying, or trying to sort through my feelings of sadness one way or another, it feels like I'm actually doing something, it feels like I'm actually trying work towards a goal, the goal in question here being healing.

Every time I'm not crying I feel guilty and in denial, like, am I just pretending that it never happened? That everything's fine and she's still alive and well. Because that happens a lot. Mainly because of that aforementioned distance. Let my mind wonder for a bit and travel to a place that's anywhere but the present and you've got me already thinking that she's still alive, until I crash back to reality. It makes me wonder whether I'm even acknowledging it at all. It doesn't feel quite like I'm repressing any and all emotion. I cried so obviously I entertained some version of grief. The fact that she has passed away has penetrated my head, like I saw her, dead, being bathed, clothed, lowered. It's penetrated, but the thought is fleeting. A lot of people say the whole experience feels like a dream, looks back at it with disbelief, but it's flimsier for me because I didn't have such a close relationship with her. It feels like if I'm not thinking about it all the time, the fact will just slip through my fingers.

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Love is a weird thing to factor into all of this. I don't think I was close enough to my grandmother to really learn to love her, or showed that I loved her, like a lot of my other cousins. I cry because of shock, and because it's the natural emotional reaction to a person you know, to a family member, passing away. On a more shallow note, I don't even know what actually constitutes as love, nor do I actually know what it looks like in a tangible form. And a lot of that makes me sad as well.

Sometimes I wish I could get a hug from someone and have it mean something. I wish that when I'm crying and someone soothes me, I'd feel a spark of gratitude. When someone rubs my arms, my back, asks me if I'm okay. I wish that had any effect on me at all. I'm not, like, a robot. I feel. It's just that I want to know what it feels like to draw strength from other people. For someone other than yourself to be the source of your happiness. Does that sound lonely or sad? I don't really know. I just know I don't get anything out of someone trying to console me. I don't even get anything out of anyone showing that they care. Well, that's not entirely true. I appreciate it, a lot, and some days it makes me feel good and warm inside (the good kind of warm). But when I am actually face to face with a major life-changing event, with death, I'm just numb. I told two of my friends. I haven't talked about it with anyone who's not willing to carry the brunt of the conversation. I don't initiate conversation. When my sister attempted to find out how much I cried, I deflected and joked that 'I don't cry'. This is all just one huge circular babble about how emotionally crippled I am.

I don't know whether it's too late or even worth it to salvage my relationship with my extended family. Now seems as good a time as any. But I'm not that girl. I'll never be that girl. I won't join group WhatsApp sessions or feel comfortable hanging around my older cousins without my sister as a buffer. Like, as horrible as I felt these past few days about how I had, in effect, severed my ties with them to the point of no return, I don't think I'll ever put in the emotional effort to fix it, to get to know any of them better, to go back to a time when I was not only part of, but central to their group. It's just hard? To watch other people, like my siblings, do it, go around and talk to people and be able to do it and do it well. I'm not sure whether I just haven't tried hard enough, whether I'm too shy or maybe embarrassed to try, or whether I have tried and the results just traumatized me from giving things a second chance. Or maybe I'm stuck in a weird in-between of all of those reasons, or maybe I'm just making up reasons for the fact that I'm an antisocial interaction-phobic person, who's too scared or anxious to make connections and build relationships with people that I just took the easy way out and decided I'm not even going to try in the first place.

On the ride home, I got the lines 'what happens if the cut, the burn, the break was never in my brain, or in my blood, but in my soul?' and I understood what it meant. If all this time I was just making up all these excuses, Reasons Why I'm Not Compatible with My Extended Family Members; Reasons Why I Push People Away; Reasons Why I'm Not Even Sure I Love Anyone In My Family. But they're just reasons. And I'm just... broken? somehow.

I said that grief was about the living, and there can't be a better example than this post. I could have talked about the few memories that I did have with her, but they just seem somehow irrelevant now that the clothing line of memories have been cut. I will make no more memories with her in them to hang up and that feels weird. To talk about her, about her life, about her feelings, seems weird to me in a way that doesn't seem weird to anyone else. Maybe because they were closer to her than I was, maybe they just knew her better. I don't think there's any way to express how bad I feel about my reaction, and how bad I feel to the fact that my reaction is the thing I'm most focused on, more than actually trying to sort out my feelings about her death like a normal person would. This is my grieving, and these are my feelings, and I'm still not an inch closer to figuring out how the fact that my grandmother passed away on Monday is at all related to any of the things I talked about, and whether what I've done so far, what I've felt so far, is enough to honor her memory.

I feel like I'm not doing this properly, mostly I feel like I can't. I'm not talking about what I'm supposed to be talking about because I haven't even thought about it. Everything feels surface and shallow and breakable. I feel wrong, and like I've done wrong, and like I am wrong.

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