Monday, June 13, 2011

A Single Man

Time is ticking down on a strange inbetween place for me- finalizing one part of my life, and beginning the next. I have mixed feelings about it. None of it was my doing, or choosing. For the first time in my adult life I have fully realized I truly don't have control of the future. And for the first time in nearly 2 years, I am starting to understand that's ok, that no one really does, and that having the rug totally pulled out on you can be a cathartic and -freeing from attachment to outcome- experience. I mean if we could control our future at all, surely we would miss some horrible experiences, but would we have had some of the most amazing events of our lives that we never could have imagined into being? If I had a magic mirror I can assure you there's one little girl in the world who may not have come to be. And for that I think not knowing what's coming can turn from anxiety ridden to anticipation in one...tiny...heartbeat of a moment.

Early in this difficult journey- last February I believe-my sister asked me to see A Single Man at the Palace Theatre.

I looked up the content of the movie, and was concerned about how potentially weighted with triggers it would be. Two things overrode that worry.

One, I absolutely adore the Canton Palace Theatre and far prefer it's splendor to stadium seating, overpriced gourmet butter popcorn, rocking seats and drink cup holders. As with many things downtown in or around the Arts District, I wanted to reclaim it as my own as soon as possible and create new memories for myself that had nothing to do with anything of my life the prior 6 years.

And secondly (blush) I have had a huge crush on Mr. Colin Firth since he was Mr. Mark Darcy in Bridget Jone's Diary. And now that I'll be free to date I also like to believe his gorgeous Italian wife will walk out on him leaving him heartbroken with (of course) only me to console him. Hey- it could happen. Surely I'd be his first choice, right?

If I had any doubts whether I was ready to see such a film so early in my own traumatic grief process, the opening scene confirmed them for me. Mr. Firth's character, George Falconer, is having a nightmare he is drowning, then that he is at the scene of his partner's death. By the time his states via voice over, "for the last eight months, waking up has actually hurt," I realized that I was no where near ready for this material and thought about walking back out of the theatre. Instead I found myself transfixed with how accurate every line, every image, displayed the same exact experience I was having. I also was concerned about the fact this character, fictional as he may be, was already 8 months out and still so distraught. I was only about 2 months in, and couldn't for the life of me picture myself surviving that intensity for 6 more months. Looking back, I'm so glad I happened upon it. Rather than flee a sobbing mess I sat there nodding and feeling validated (and a sobbing mess) through every scene, and though I could have done without the tragic irony ending, I did get the point of the film-that life would perhaps someday start to feel normal again.

George's testimony to grief put my experience into tangible images and words for me. Lines like-

It takes time in the morning for me to become George, time to adjust to what is expected of George and how he is to behave. By the time I have dressed and put the final layer of polish on the now slightly stiff but quite perfect George I know fully what part I'm suppose to play.

Looking in the mirror staring back at me isn't so much a face as the expression of a predicament.

Just get through the goddam day.

For the first time in my life I can't see my future. Everyday goes by in a haze, but today I have decided will be different.

Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty.

If one is not enjoying one's present, there isn't a great deal to suggest that the future should be any better.

One of the most profoundly helpful things the movie provided for me, was something I was struggling to explain to other people- a physical aspect of my grief that was leaving me feeling like I was losing my mind. But thanks to A Single Man I had an artistic interpretation of this symptom to help others understand it.

The movie is shot in a way that it looks like an older 70's film- Zapruder –esq quality- all grainy and washed out in color. But when George connects with another human being, his grief subsides briefly and everything comes into focus and the colors become exaggeratedly brilliant. As his grief grabs hold of him again everything fades back into the dim world of someone struggling to heal. It didn't take long into the film before I realized this was totally intentional but only understood it because in fact my world was grainy/brilliant/too dim/too bright on a daily basis at that point. I would drive into my neighborhood where I have lived for 7 years, and felt like I was in a strange place- somewhere akin to another state entirely both literal and metaphysical. As cliche as it sounds, I was in a dream from which I could hope to pinch myself awake. Time held no meaning anymore as well, and I had to start taking a new path into my allotment as every time I pulled onto Diamond from Market I would recall the very first time, the very first invitation to dinner, the very first meeting of the child who I would come to parent for 6 years. My memory was playing tricks on me to the degree I felt like I had walked into my own non-linear adaptation of my world with sensory memory transporting me back- the smell of someone cooking on the grill, a fire pit going, sunscreen, lawn mower humming, the sun spilling into the kitchen at 5pm while I was trying to cook dinner for my now shrunken family. Bittersweet nostalgia enveloped me as well as living in a home that was no longer considered my own. I was a temporary and unwanted guest of the owner, being viewed like a pesty parasite, tolerated because the kind of exterminator required took a lot of money and effort. Better to just make the environment inhospitable enough that the unwanted occupant leaves of their own accord.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had another year of healing and a hell of a lot of legalities to get through.

After seeing the movie, I started reading a book on grief (would say which but honestly I read/skimmed about 5 of them throughout those early months) which explains these physical symptoms. However in true artistic interpretation, Mr. Tom Ford's film channeled the experience for those who may be blessed to the degree that they have yet to experience them.

The book references a term most of us are familiar with already- "Fight or flight response." Traumatic grief actually is interpreted by your body as an enemy attacking. The hyper stimulated state can last for months (mine did and still occasionally pops back up.) I found that until I made it through the first year I was nearly constantly in that state-even during sleep like George was. I am relieved to report that at 8 months I was a lot further ahead than George in many ways, though not quite ready to be jumping back into the water as he does in the movie.

The film finishes the way any Oscar worthy Indie films does. No spoiler from me, but I will simply leave you with the words from the film that best describe where I am today- ready soon to jump into the water again.

A few times in my life I've had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.

One integral part of my spiritual side which I lost was I stopped believing in "meant to be" December 28th, 2009. I struggled to hold onto it, because it justified so many things for me up until that moment that everything flipped from gray to black and white around me.

And though I actually still don't believe in "meant to be," I now see this as something that I needed to let go of anyway. "Meant to be" validates a lot of dysfunctional behavior and toxic situations for people-myself included. But I’m starting to find a little faith again. The Universe is mysterious, beautiful and hostile all at the same time. But the only direction I can go from here is back up into it.

Thanks…for “listening.”

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