“I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises… Man delights not me.” – Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.
I have found it very, very difficult to write.
It’s not just writing which has dissipated like mist and salt-tears, but simple tasks, too – laundry and cleaning, calling friends and family, going to the gym and eating healthily. I have felt so out of control, looking into my life as an observer rather than a participant; I’ve been waiting for something, anything, to get better, and I’ve been unable to make things better for myself.
I’ve been a skein of yarn, unraveling, red and rough; I’ve been the peeling skin of onions; I’ve been wine dried to a paste at the bottom of a glass.
Howard County, Maryland, where I live, lost a friend a few weeks past. Dennis Lane, local blogger – among many other roles – was killed in his home in May. I hardly knew him, to be honest, having met him a handful of times at HoCo blogging parties. Somehow, though, he found me -in the anonymity and confusion of the blogging world, Dennis Lane found my blog entry on bipolar disorder and validated it.
I can’t tell you what it feels like to be given that gift, to have a mental health condition and be respected for it, rather than shamed. Taking ownership of myself, of my health, through writing was one step in my period of recovery (which is, of course, ongoing) – being recognized as not only ill, but as strong and brave and well-spoken, was a step unlooked for but terribly precious nonetheless. What a blessing, Dennis gave me – a benediction, holy water, pink Tokay in a gilded cup.
And I have struggled to be worthy of it. Struggled, and lately, failed.
What dried up my writing and left it withering on the vine? Was it Dennis’s death? Was it trying to get a job and failing – most likely because of my recent work history, that downfall of my strength and my resulting outpatient hospitalization? Was it my rejection from graduate school, shaking me to my core and sowing insecurity and helplessness in furrows of feeling useless? Was it my parents’ divorce, my compulsion to lie and smile and pretend that everything was okay?
Was it the manner of Dennis’s death, touched as it was by mental illness?
Was it that fact that once, he did me a kindness, and now I don’t know how to return it, how to live up to it, how to continue without it?
I think it was all of those things, and more.
I went to the memorial service for Dennis – so large and well-attended that it was held at Merriweather Post Pavilion, the local and much-loved concert venue. My mother and I sat in the tiny, cramping seats, and we cried as we saw pictures of a man who lived life and lived it well. His sisters told stories about Dennis the child, the builder of tree houses, the unmalicious snitch; his friends, the stories of Dennis the prankster, the man of good humor, the performer; his fiancée, the stories of Dennis the husband, the lover of dogs, the early riser and the father to her daughter.
I’m not particularly good at grieving. I was conscious of some level of discomfort in myself, a voice which said that my grief would be inappropriate, having not known Dennis as anything more than a local giant of writing and radio and politics, someone who did something nice for me. He never knew how much that meant – I’m not particularly good at being a friend, either. I listened to the stories and saw the pictures and I cried and I thought – what now?
Maybe mourning him would be inappropriate; I think that honoring him would be better.
He was a good man. He had fun. He loved his family and a local brew and going to Clyde’s restaurant on the waterfront. He wrote because he loved the community, and I think because he loved writing. And maybe I have been mourning him, little though I knew him, and I think he wouldn’t have wanted that.
I’ve been grieving, selfishly, the loss of myself – job, school, parents; respect, validation, security. But now I know, shocked into wakefulness by the life and love of Dennis Lane – I’ve got to be more like him, just a man, who had struggles of his own but who unerringly, unfalteringly, wrote.
He was kind of a big deal, to almost everyone in Howard County – and he was a big deal to me.
Goodbye, Dennis, and thank you, so much, for the helping hand when I needed it most.
I’m going to try harder to live up to it.