From Creative Coloring Animals by Valentina Harper
This morning, 6:30: I woke up, 45 minutes from home, in my boyfriend’s apartment, feeling weighed down by defeat that life is too demanding and Donald Trump is too popular and I’m more tired than I want to be from running yesterday and I’m sick of the socioeconomic reality of the Bay Area that even though my boyfriend and I both make good money we still don’t make enough to afford places to live where we are free from the fascism of sharing walls with neighbors who don’t care for the art of a light considerate footstep and a low-volumed television after 10:00p.m.
I took my early morning drive over the hill, stopping for a hazelnut coffee at Panera, a tiny rituals of self love I’ve developed that brings me exponentially more joy than the $2.17 it costs. Arriving back in Santa Cruz, I went to my Saturday morning exercise class, an hour of weight lifting and aggressive cycling that catalyzed me leaving with an anchored soul, a spirit elated, the tension exhumed from my body via dumbbell and TRX.
My uncle this week took his own life. He was one of my heaviest drinking relatives. Being married to my dad’s sister, he wasn’t a blood relative, and I haven’t seen him in a decade, and I don’t have any pleasant memories of him, really only memories where he was drunk, crabby and miserable, so I am not sure how to grieve him, how or when it will hit. In the meantime, I observe through texts with my mom and sister the ways in which my extended family is processing the loss on the East Coast. Within hours of the death they’d decided by consensus to tell everyone that “he died suddenly” rather than really be honest about what happened, learn from what happened, heal from what happened. They will have an extended (drunken) Irish wake and funeral with a hall rented out for the huge party, etc, and I’m reminded that I didn’t so much move to California as defect from my family/culture a decade ago in a way not entirely dissimilar to how people seeking a less soul -constricting life defected from communist Russia. I am grateful I am not there among the drinking and denial and don’t have to submit to the voluntary extraction of my life force that attending the spectacle of death rites would require. Were I physically located on the East Coast, the family would have mandated my rigid attendance and interaction, and no permission would have been granted for my individual need to grieve quietly and in my own way.
But I do mourn that this spectacle is the reality of my heritage. This spectacle is the predictable consequence of denying alcoholism, repressing pain, and subsequent disease, a spectacle that, without therapeutic intervention, will continue to cycle and perpetuate through the bloodline forever. I mourn the reality that my extended family feels deep soul pain, whether they chose to acknowledge that pain outwardly or not, and I mourn that when they don’t acknowledge their pain, I can’t reach them. This is the tragedy of inter-generational Irish trauma: the loss of opportunity to build relationships with the people I’d prefer to have relationships with, if doing so were healthy for me.
The book All the Single Ladies increases my gratitude that as a 23-year-old in 2006, I even had the option of moving to California a decade ago and living alone, instead of feeling immediate pressure to marry and birth children. I mourn my grandmothers, who really had no other available paths other than marriage and kids, and in their landscape of inter-generational Irish trauma and narrow life choices, I mourn how their lives might have been more free, of obligation and also alcoholic trauma, if they’d simply been born later. I am humbled that my defection and my healing were and are in large part possible because of the era in which I got lucky enough to be alive.
All the Single Ladies as well as Helena Fitzgerald’s fantastic essay in Catapult this week have amplified my feelings of love for living alone, having a space of my own, having a place to retreat to where I don’t have to serve anybody else even with so much as eye contact or a supportive facial expression. At home, I can just be collapsed into myself, honest with how I really feel, resting. My boyfriend is visiting his mom today which means I have been free, this whole afternoon, to do whatever I want, an unimaginable luxury, which has so far meant lying around watching Mr. Ben Brown’s youtube South Africa videos and coloring an ostrich in an adult coloring book and the word I’d use to describe the afternoon is majestic.