Monday, December 3, 2012

I am glad you were born.

So...I started this post in mid September.  I never finished it.  But I wanted to post it anyway, because it sitting there, dangling, is keeping me from writing the next thing...
I'm posting it, as it was, unedited.  I know I planned a lot of other things to say.  I just never said them.  :)

I haven't written in weeks.  I guess there are a lot of reasons for that.  I have a new job.  I am busy.  I am a teacher and it's the beginning of a new school year.  My water heater broke and flooded the basement.  And this:

September 8, was Leslie's birthday.  She would have turned 39.

It was also the date of my high school reunion.  20 years.

These things are closely connected in my heart and terrifically separate as well.

I ran into a man at the reunion ( I guess I cannot say that I "ran into" was my high school reunion and he went to my high school so he was supposed to be there and so was I, but you get the idea) who said he had been reading my Facebook, blog, etc. and had thought "Amy needs some help.." And he assured me, and I believed him, that it wasn't thought in an unkind way.  But in a pretty honest way.  And he told me in a pretty honest way.

Hearing that from him made me a realize a few things. And before I share those with you let me share THESE things with  you:

  • He knew Leslie, too...back then.  Not the Leslie I knew at the time of her death, but the Leslie of middle school and high school.  And the me of middle school and high school, too, obviously.  
  • We'd had some wine.  Not enough to lie to each other while falling over.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Just enough to tell each other the absolute truth.  
So when Doug (we'll call him Doug for our purposes...and because his name is Doug) told me that he'd thought many times in the last five years that I needed to get some help because I was having a really hard time with Leslie's death it made me see some things really clearly.  Actually, it made me see that, while maybe I already DID see a few things clearly, maybe other people didn't know that I did.  

By the way, for the first time in a long time, I feel like my writing is making no sense.  But bear with me.  Maybe it will when I'm done?

The first thing is the most important thing.  I want you all to know this:  I am writing this blog for a couple of reasons but the biggest reason is that it is meant to be helpful to other people who are going through this.  In some unusual way, this blog is meant to be some kind of substitute for an unwritten self help book.  Maybe it will inform such a book to be someday written by me.  Sometimes I think it comes across like it's catharsis for me.  And it IS.  But that's not it's main point.

When "THIS" happened to my friends...I was really struck by how HARD it was and how little information there was out in the world that was specific to our situation.  And it was particularly odd to me in a world where Sex and the City and "Chick Lit" was creating this big cloud of interest around female friendships...and yet we were left hanging when we lost one another.

My goal in writing this blog was to open up to other women (and men) who have been through what I've been through...they've lost their best friend to murder and violence.

The other thing it made me realize is that sometimes "help" comes in ways other people don't recognize as "help".  Doug sees this all coming out of me in the last 8 months or so...all of you do.  For the five years before this...none of this came out of me.  That was the problem.  Sharing these thoughts with you is the help.

I feel better about this than I ever have.  Things happen that make it hard.  This summer, for example...whoa, right?  I took that whole James Holmes thing way hard.  But being able to share it here, with whoever my readers are, it made it real, it made it valid, and I got through it.

And for my readers who ARE going through this...those things will happen.  And you don't know when and you don't know why.  But you ride them out.  You tell the people who need to know and who can help you, and you work through it.

And maybe someone reads this and feels even a little bit better.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Looking so long at these pictures of you...

I heard a story on This American Life once about a boy whose mother had been murdered and his stepmother had (with good intentions, according to the boy, although that's hard to imagine) removed all the photos and memories of his mother from the house.  None of her recipes.  No blankets she had crocheted.  None of her record albums.  And no photographs of her.  Years later her had looked at crime scene photos in an effort to make peace with her murder.  And I totally get why he did that.  Sometimes I think I want to do that.  It creeps other people out, but I totally get it.  But what makes me sad about this boy's story is that he had forgotten what his mother looked like until he saw those photos.

There ARE days when I want to understand the crime so I want to see those pictures.  But If I ever did, I would look at this before.  This is my favorite picture of Leslie.  This is the girl I will always remember.

But I don't think it's just people like me and the boy on the radio who should look.  Look at the pictures of the person you lost.  Put them on your mantle.  Carry them in your wallet.  Don't obsess over them, but don't hide them away.  Nestle them in with the other pictures of your life.  Your best friend is dead, not disappeared.

This picture was taken at my birthday party.  It was a REALLY fun party, too.  If she had lived, I would STILL look at this picture.  The only difference is that she might pin it to her bulletin board, too.  It might be on her facebook.  I would click "like".

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I know what I believe.

I do not believe that living, breathing, walking creatures are ours to kill.  That includes James Holmes.

I feel better having said that out loud.  I mean, out blog....which is the new out loud.

I still don't know how to love him.  I don't know how I would love David Logsdon if he were here to wonder about.

But I do know that I do not hate them.  And I do not that I do not believe they deserve to die as punishment for their sins.  At least not by the judgement of man.

So there you go.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sail on, silver girl

Music is weird the way it can make you actually FEEL the stuff you felt when you first heard it.  Sometimes, when I hear The Lemonheads or The Connells or Concrete Blonde, I can smell the basement of Nation Hall, the dorm I lived in freshman year.  I can feel the thin, mens' flannels we would wear over our babydoll dresses, worn and softened by the random dude who had it before he dropped it off at Name Brand Clothing thrift store.

And if I hear Ben Folds Five "Brick", I get really uncomfortable and squirmy, and I usually have to change the station on the radio because, when that song was being played a lot, I was with a guy who made me feel creepy and I was doing things that I wasn't proud of.  Now, when that song comes on, it's like I am that girl again, and I feel guilty and ashamed.

The night Leslie died, my neighbor, Amy (She comes up a lot, doesn't she? Guess that's why she's my BFF, too), asked me what songs I wanted her to download for me to listen to that evening.  I requested three songs:

Never Going Back Again by Fleetwood Mac
All Out of Love by Air Supply
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel

The funny things is, if you look at the lyrics, you can see all these poetic bits of goodbye and letting go, and loss in them.
"Come down and see me again..." 
" lost without you"
"I wish I could carry your smile in my heart"
"sail on, silver girl"

But that's not why I picked them.  I picked them because they made me, not just remember times I spent with Leslie, but FEEL the times I spent with Leslie.  

Bridge Over Troubled Water is from when we had to do this very weird thing at church about getting along.  It was weird because we all already got along.  Well, and it was also weird because the only person we didn't get along with was pretty hateful.  But anyway, Leslie and Brooke, and Dama and me....we picked this song as our song.  We were twelve, if that?  And we used to sing it.  Loudly.  Wrong.  Off key.  It was very fun.  And funny.  And sweet.  And true.   Listening to it, I was with them again.  Not just Leslie, but Brooke and Dama, too.  But not as we are now, but as we were then.  Sixth graders.  When everything was simple, but everything sucked.  

When I hear All Out of Love, I can still see the bedroom Leslie had in this little apartment she lived in with her mom just after high school.  I can see the poster she had on her bathroom door.  It was that Surrealist one with the train and the fireplace.  She had a cassette player on her dresser.  And we played that Air Supply cassette over and over.  Even then it was already cheesey and out of date, and that just made it more fun.  

Never Going Back Again was Leslie's favorite song, but she could never remember its name, so she would sort of sing the guitar part...da da da da da da da I'd know what she meant.  It was always funny.  It still makes me smile.  

For a while these songs always made me feel like crying but I listened anyway.  They were scab picking songs.  Today they just take me back there.  Not to the day she died or to the tragedy, but to the table in our church youth room, to the bedroom of that odd little apartment, and to the passenger seat of her Kia singing "da da da da da da da da".  I look over, and there she is.  They make me miss her less, not more.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Be with me...then leave. Namaste.

This blog is meant to be...and I want it to be...more of a help to those of you going through this, too, than it is a story telling session for me.  The last couple of weeks, however, have been a struggle for me and I'm being a little more self indulgent in my writing.  But I guess that's a help, too, maybe.  Because there ARE triggers.  Things will happen long after you think you have it together that throw you off again.  The funny thing for me is that I really don't feel like this is "long after I got it together".  In fact, I feel like I, in some ways, just started "getting it together".  But, regardless, the shooting in Colorado threw me for a massive loop, which you know if you read the last post.

Tonight's post is different.  Today I'm focusing on a choice I'm making that may relieve me of that particular obsession.  Maybe.  I also started on a new medication that's used to treat those with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) who suffer anxiety triggers (gabapentin).  We'll see how that goes.  But mostly, I want to make these changes for myself.

When I first began seeing my counselor for anxiety and OCD, she suggested that I try yoga.  I recently quit smoking (still struggle with that but I'm doing it) and I told her that I miss the inhalation of it the most...more than the nicotine.  When I felt anxious or stressed or under a lot of self pressure, the inhaling of a cigarette made me feel better.  She thought yoga might give me that kind of breathing and also give me all the other mind and body health benefits.

I'd always kind of wanted to try yoga but I was afraid I was too fat, too inflexible, too uncoordinated, too (fill in the blank).  But I wanted to feel...normal?...better?...okay?...human?...again badly enough that I was willing to risk it. 

My first yoga class was at 24 Hour Fitness.  The teacher suggested that bathing suit season was coming up soon and said "hit it girls!" as if Jane Fonda circa 1984 was my yoga instructor.  She also played Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" during class.  If you aren't familiar with that song, it suggests that we "go down" in that blaze of glory.  Also, it was hard.  Really hard.  And no one told you what to do if it was too hard for you.  Go down in your blaze of glory, I guess?  I got very mad during class...because mad is my go-to emotion.  Mad at the teacher, mad at myself, mad at the practice of yoga for being so dumb. 

A few weeks later, when I began at my current yoga studio on a Groupon, I was dubious.  But I took my first class with my sweet teacher Susan, and I instantly felt as if my life had been changed.  I DID breathe....and I DID feel better!  I thought about my body for an hour...but not about how fat it was....or about how it should be doing something else...or it ought to be calculating bills vs. salary...or listing things to do before tomorrow.  I only thought about how to move it and use it at that very moment.  And while that may be normal for some people, I had never, EVER, thought about my body that way before.  Ever.

But there was one problem: savasana.  If you're not a yoga person (I wasn't until two months ago and I had to look up what letter that word even starts with to write it in this blog entry), savasana is the final pose of a yoga class.  It's also sometimes called corpse pose, and as that name suggests, you just lie there.  Soft music is sometimes played, sometimes not.  No one talks.  No one moves.  Most people love it.  I hate it.  I mean, I WANT to love it.  But I can't.  No matter how beautiful the yoga experience is, something always comes in.  And it's usually something that I've been working hard on not obsessing over.  It's usually something that I've even conquered obsessing about in my every day life.  It's worry.  And I feel like it's laughing at me. 

And then James Holmes took lodging in my brain.

Savasana seems to be my brain's very favorite time to worry about James Holmes.  And last week during my very favorite class, David Logsdon, Leslie's murderer, joined him there.  And I cried all through my savasana.  And then I didn't go back all week.  That makes me angry...angry at myself and both of them for taking away the thing that was making me feel so...I don't know if happy is even the word.  I don't know if I know the word.  But I know that I don't WANT to not want to go back.

So I've made a decision.  I've decided that, if they want to be there so badly, I'm inviting them.  James Holmes and David Logsdon, you are invited to my savasana.  I don't know what you want with me, but I know that yoga is the place where I am finding myself.  Maybe you are part of me, too, now.  And I just have to figure out what to do with you.  I am opening my heart to you.  I am offering you peace.  I will probably cry throughout.  Maybe I won't.  My heart needs to let you I can get you out.  Because I can't give you all of my energy anymore.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wanted? Dead? Or Alive?

One week in.  This process just began for some people one week ago.

One week in, I was surprised on some days that I was still alive myself.  I remember my first trip to the grocery store.  I bought Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal Bread and a pound of butter.  I wore butter colored Old Navy pants and a pink t-shirt.  I saw a woman I knew.  Her name is Jody Kimball.  It took about 20 minutes door to door.  Every minute was difficult and surreal.  That was one week in.

I'm really sad to say that this has happened before.  There have been other public shooters since Leslie's.  And I think about her every single time.   I think about all the best friends who have been left behind.  They are part of the reason I started this blog.

But this one was different.  It was different from the very second I heard about it, even though I didn't know then that it would be this kind of dramatically different. 

I went to my friend Amy's that morning to babysit her daughter and my special baby bff, Sophie.  This is the Amy that my regular readers will remember 'found my purse.'  (Love you, Upstairs...always.) She and Soph were still in bed so I let myself in and got in bed with them.  We played with Sophie for a while and then I asked her, in a way that isn't rude, even though it seems rude in type, why she was still there.  She was supposed to be at work.  She said that she just needed a little more time with her baby because of the shooting.  And I had no idea what she was talking about.  She said there had been a baby shot at a mall.  And I said immediately that I didn't want to hear about it.  No babies, no malls, nope.  Sand, head, bury, please.  Not forever...just not right before I was responsible for that sweet girl all day. 

Around 10 am Sophie went down for a nap, so I lay on the couch and napped myself.   Not long after I fell asleep my cell phone (unpublished number) rang.  I picked it up and it was a reporter.  Woke me out of a dead sleep.  He asked me to "share my thoughts on this tragedy."  It took me a few minutes to even figure out what he was talking about because I didn't really know anything about it.  And it pissed me off.  I hate "personal interest" reporters.  )Sorry if you're that kind of reporter...I don't hate YOU, but I do hate your job.)  I told him that my thoughts were that in was, in fact, a tragedy and I hung up on him.  And then I sat and stared at nothing for about 45 minutes.  What WERE my thoughts on this tragedy?  Then the phone rang again.  A different number this time but I let it go to voicemail.  It was another reporter.  Why?  Why this shooting?  Why didn't they call me any of the other times?  I have no idea. 

But I think, it was because he was caught.  And he was alive.  And we were all going to have to think about him.  And think about him...and think about him...  At least me, anyway.

People say you're not supposed to give the shooter a name because that's what he wants.  I think that's sort of understandable, but kind of ridiculous.  How do you know what mass killers want?  Seriously, if anyone is capable of truly understanding what mass shooters want, then I don't want to know that person.  You SHOULDN'T know what they want.  You shouldn't be able to comprehend him in any way.

And not only that, they NEED a name.  Hes the Batman shooter.  He's the Dark Knight killer.  He's James Holmes.  He IS.  "That shooter" doesn't work for me.  Because I already have one of those.  If he doesn't get a name, then I don't get to talk about him.

And I have to because he's all I think about.  Pretty much all the time.   Every time I say his name I cry out.  Not tear up...cry out.  I cried out loud when I typed it.  I cry almost every time I see his orange headed face on tv, on facebook, on the internet.  I'll be honest, it's taken me several hours to write the last two paragraphs because I cry so much.

But I don't want to stop.  I have a compulsion to read and watch and know everything I can about him.  I want to know what other people think about him.  I am obsessed with James Holmes. 

I want to know what he's thinking about right now.  I want to know what he ate for breakfast.  I want to know if his teeth are crooked or straight.  I want to know what he has on his bedside table at home.  I want to know how clean his bathroom is.  I want to know what he smells like.  I want to know what his voice sounds like.  I want to know what games he played as a kid  What kind of beer does he like?  Does he have a grandmother?

I think about James Holmes when I am doing yoga, particularly child's pose because my face is to the mat and no one can see me cry.  I press my nose into the mat and I wonder if he's laying in his bunk in jail on his stomach pressing his nose into his mat.  Is he curled up like I am?  Is it to relax his soul the way I get into child's pose or is it because he is afraid?

I think about James Holmes when I am eating.  Does he eat when he needs comfort like I do?  If he did, what would he eat?  Or does he eat nothing when he's nervous.  And then I think how I wish I was that kind of person.  Because then I might still have an obsessive compulsive disorder, but at least I'd be thin.  And then I hate myself for a few seconds because I wished I was like him. 

I think about James Holmes when I am driving.  Did he drive fast or was he really careful?  Did he store that stuff in his car?  Was he worried someone would see it or did he hide it really well? 

I think about James Holmes when I look in the mirror and I wonder if he thought he was ugly.  Because I think he's pretty cute in his university I.D. picture.  I would have gone out with him.  Did he like the orange hair?  What part of this plan did the way he looked play  because I know it had something to do with it. 

I think about James Holmes when I am with my parents and my brother.  What would he say to his parents?  What did he say to his parents on a normal day before all of this happened?  Did he hug and kiss them?  Were they an affectionate family?  Did he have inside jokes with his sister? 

The worst part is that I think about James Holmes when I am going to sleep.  I lay in my bed and I wonder how he sleeps.  Not in the way that you might think, can that monster sleep at night?  But how does his body lay?  Does he snore?  Does he cry?  Is he scared of prison?  Does he miss his mom?  Then I cry because I miss my mom but I don't know how to tell her any of this.  And then I go to sleep and sometimes I dream that he kills Leslie but then he tells me that he's sorry.

Every day it gets a little worse.  I cry most of the day unless i have something else to do.  I don't stop thinking about him.  I just stop crying about it because it's like he's just there, but not being James Holmes. 

When I am not thinking about him, I am worrying about how messed up I must be because I think about him all the time.  I think about how I am obsessed with him but not with the victims he killed.  I think about how mad I would have been if ANYONE had thought that about Leslie's killer and not about her.  I think about how maybe I am a bad person because I think about bad people. 

I think about whether or not I want him to be dead most of all.  It's part of everything I think about.  I've always been against the death penalty.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  I thought I would die myself before I ever thought seriously that someone else should be dead...deserved to be dead.  

Leslie's killer was shot by the police.  He was still inside the mall, still shooting, and the police killed him.  He died just three minutes or so after Leslie did.  I know his name.  His name was David Logsdon.  But I rarely ever think about him.  He is part of this story.  But he is also part of the past.  He was dead before I ever even knew that my friend was gone.  There was no death penalty.  There was life preservation and that doesn't bother me. 

I remember the night my friend Brooke and I went to Leslie's apartment to get her burial clothes that I told Brooke that I needed to get in her bed.  We did.  I smelled her on her pillows.  We cried some.  I asked Brooke, an ordained minister, what she thinks happened to David Logsdon's soul.  I asked if she thought that he and Leslie were both with God.    And when I made peace with what I thought about that, he was gone for me.  I chose to never have another feeling about him.  I did not hate him.  I did not feel sorry for him.  I didn't wonder what he ate for breakfast, that's for damn sure.

And maybe that's what this is.  Maybe James Holmes is getting everything I wanted to think about David Logsdon but wouldn't let myself. 

Mostly I just want to know how.  How does this happen?  How?  How does a person get born and have a mother and play games and eat sandwiches and then kill people?  If he's dead, I may never get to know.  But if he stays alive I may never ever stop thinking about him.  This is probably the saddest week since Leslie died. 

And I guess that's how I feel about this tragedy,  Mr. Reporter. 

Get a dog. Get a life.

Some of my posts seem like they come all at once.  I write from my iPad a lot and the iPad does not post to blogger well so I save them.  Also, sometimes I think more than others.

I wrote this a few weeks ago because I saw the picture I use as my profile picture on my old, old livejournal.  

Neither of the creatures in the profile picture I use are me.  I am not the curly haired beauty or the fuzz faced stunner.  The photo is the incredibly lucky capturing of the sweetest moment between my two constant companions...Leslie Elizabeth Noble and Truman, my Old English Sheepdog.  Leslie was laying on my bed while we listened to music (because we were total geeks who hung out like 14 year old girlfriends an slumber parties sometimes even though we were over 30) and Truman was using his most sincere puppy dog eyes to garner an invitation to join us.  Leslie, not a dog lover, was won over that day.  She was a Truman fan from then on.  And I mean, come on...who is NOT a Truman fan? 

My advice to the grieving....get a dog.  Or a cat.  Or a ferret.  Whatever.  One of the most overwhelming feelings you have when grieving your friend is guilt.  And no, I don't mean the "why wasn't I there?" and "why didn't I do something?" guilt...although you may have that.  It's the "why can't I stop thinking about anything except how sad I am?" guilt.  When a family member dies, everyone has a certain expectation and understanding of how terrible it must be for you.  Dead sister = license to be flat on your back with grief for a week or two.  Or maybe that's just in my head...  Either way, I think it's pretty normal for those of us left behind BFF's to feel that way.  When I lost Leslie, I seriously felt as if my arms and legs had been removed and bricks were laid on my chest.  And then I was asked to carry on with my life in that condition.  I not only lost my best friend, I lost a connection I had to my childhood which was so often spent with her.  I lost a special bond to OTHER people I knew through her.  I lost my social life.  I lost my phone conversations and my workout routine and my shopping mirror and voice of reason in matters of the heart.  And how do you tell someone that you are sad enough today to be unable to function because you have no one to do the stairmaster with? 

Oh, and then the guilt that you are sad because of a stairmaster...  Your best friend was just shot in the head.  And you're sad because you have no one to make you feel better about your sta-dri workout capris being a bit tight in the bum. 

And you can't talk to her mom because, well, it's her mom.  She just lost her baby.  And in the worst moments of my grief, I could not relate to that pain.  And you can't talk to your mom because she's feeling grief, too, but, at the same time, she's feeling relief.  Because it wasn't you.  And you understand that.  But it doesn't help YOU because you can't find relief ANYWHERE in this situation. 

And you can try to talk to your friends.  But they'll tell you stories about how this or that happened to their friend....but if their friends aren't DEAD, then you want to scream.  Because if their friends aren't dead then it feels like there is no way they can understand and to suggest they can is ludicrous.  (My thoughts on "understanding" changed dramatically over the last five years, and I want to share that with you...soon...but right now I'm talking about that initial all encompassing grief so it's not relevant here.)

You can't talk to HER friends because you're all just blind people looking for the same button...

But you can talk to your dog.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's true.  Truman saved my life in those first few months.  He was the only person (and I realize I said 'person'...sue me) who never tried to make me feel better.  I am not suggesting there was something wrong with people who did.  It's a natural reaction and it was BECAUSE they loved me.  I do it, too...even when I know it's impossible.  But Truman didn't..  He had no feelings about anyone or anything in the entire world, but me.  There was no way to be selfish around him.  Had I suggested to Truman we might think about someone other than me, he would not have even comprehended the idea.  He listened.  He loved.  He hugged.  And he never, ever left.

Get a dog.  Get a life.  Get your life back.  It works.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I miss you, stranger.

When your friend dies, especially if the death is publicized by the media, you will be shocked at how many people reach out to you...people you've not heard from in years....maybe people you don't even like. And, if you're anything like me, your first impression of them will be "ambulance chaser" and you'll be annoyed, even offended. But, before you dismiss them as completely insincere, consider this piece I wrote after the suicide of a local news celebrity in November of 2011:

 I've been remarkably moved by the death of Don Harman (a local and well-loved weatherman on a local morning news network, for those of you not in Kansas City). Don committed suicide on Tuesday night.  Like so many other Kansas Citians, I'd watched Don that very morning like I did every single weekday morning for the last ten plus years.  I would wake up and turn on the tv while still in bed and turn it up loud so that I could hear it in all rooms of the apartment/house.  For the last four years, I have had to leave my house at 6:50, and when Don gave his 6:45 weather report I'd know it was almost time for me to leave. When I lived in Pittsburg, KS for my graduate degree in 2008, I was so desperately homesick.  Fox 4 was the only Kansas City channel I could get and Don and the others every morning made me feel at least a little connected to home for a little while every day.

A few years ago I would have felt weird about being so emotionally tied up in a television personality.  But the events of my life in the past several years have taught me something very important:  When tragedy strikes something or someone that affects you, there is an incredible need to make it say outloud to someone, "I knew her."; "I have been there."; "I am part of that."

After my life long bosom friend, Leslie, was murdered publicly in 2007 in a mall shooting, I got letters and phone calls from people that I had not heard from in years, from people we barely knew from high school, even from people who were actually kind of mean and snotty to Leslie and I and our friends in middle school.  Honestly, my first reaction was to be offended.  I was pissed off that people who didn't know her and love her the way we did would try to get involved. I was so consumed with grief that it was hard for me to comprehend that people who were not grieving WITH me could grieve her, too. 

But then I realized that none of them expected this to happen any more than I did.  They were shocked to find, just as I was, that mall shootings and rampage killings aren't just in Dallas and Colorado and on the news.  They are real.  They happen in our city, and to people we people we once people who are in our high school people we went to camp with when we were in Girl Scouts...and to people we were mean to in middle school.  They wanted to reach out to me not to be a part of something that they didn't deserve to be a part of, but to grieve for someone that WAS a part of them, no matter how close. 

 I recently met a man from Joplin who told me that, before this spring, when he said he was from Joplin, a lot of people responded with "Where's that?"  And he said that it was weird, but true, that that would never happen to him again.  And people (like myself) who had spent time in Joplin will always feel connected to that tragedy...even though I knew no one personally who died there...because I had been there.  It was a part of me, no matter how close.

And Don Harman's suicide is like that for me.  Don WAS a part of my life.  He was in my life every day. I saw him more than I saw members of my own family.  He gave me information that impacted my daily life.  He told me when I got the day off work (snow day!) and when I needed to scrape my windshield and when I needed to put the car in the garage.  He made me laugh.  He did School Day at the K which all of my students and I looked forward to so much.  I never met him in person, but in a way, he was my friend. And I know a lot of Kansas Citians reading this feel the same way.

I can't say that I wish I understood how he was feeling because the kind of pain that could bring on suicide is something that I cannot comprehend and do not want to know.  But I do wish that he knew what a negative impact his death would bring to the hearts of so many.  Part of his illness, I know, was the inability to understand that the people and the city he left behind would hurt beyond measure rather than be "better off." But I do feel his loss and I am so sad for him, for his family, and for my city.
And I need to reach out now and say outloud that I knew him; that I hurt, too; that he was a small part of me and that part is empty now.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's a whole different violent thing...

When your friend dies, people will tell you thinks like "Allow yourself to grieve."  But when your friend dies a violent death, whether self inflicted violence or violence at the hands of another person, what they don't tell you is that you have TWO things you have to deal with.  I'm not in the business of suggesting that a violent death is somehow "harder" to process or deal with.  But it IS different.  Very different.

There are two tragedies that your mind has to process...the first is, of course, the loss of your friend, and the second, is murder or suicide.  Even though they're connected, obviously, you're dealing with both death AND deadly violence. As a society, we are somewhat conditioned to accept "death" in a certain way....she's in a better place, etc. But when you throw murder or suicide in there, you have this whole NEW thing to deal with, and in can sometimes get in the way of your grieving for your friend. I know that happened with me. I don't think I actually began to grieve...TRULY grieve for Leslie the PERSON until I had processed the murder. And that took a long time. For me, it was almost five years.  It's OKAY to need to process the violence right now. Being angry about it and having feelings about it does NOT mean that you are not a loving friend who is grieving his or her best friend.

I've seen people who have been able to deal with both things concurrently and be okay with that.  When I was teaching at a rougher, urban school, I saw CHILDREN who were able to process both violent death and loss at the same time better than I was.  But, honestly, I don't think it's about being "better" at it.  I think it's about how your brain works.  Maybe it's about how you and the person you lost actually connected, particular communications you shared, maybe even concerning death.  I know that one of Leslie's and my other best friends, Brooke, dealt with the loss first and began to face the murder itself much later.  

I had the experience of wanting to know the facts of the murder right away...including the ones that aren't usually well received by loved ones.  I couldn't explain to you then why I wanted (actually NEEDED) this.  All I can say is that I've been  a "facts" person for my whole life.  It strikes some people as odd, considering I am in a creative field, but even my art has its rigidity and structure.   I like things explained, under control and I like things to make sense.  And when they don't...can't...make sense, I guess I have to find out as much as I can and see if I can make some sense of it on my own...even if I have to fill in some gaps.  As you read through some of my writings, if you have an eye for details, you can even catch how some of the facts change as I learned new things, got new documents and bits of knowledge from random, and sometimes surprising, people.

What I know now, after LOTS of journaling, introspection, talks with friends and family over wine and too many cigarettes, and, recently, some really amazing therapy with a counselor who must have been hand crafted just for me, is that, the way my brain works, I needed all the truth and factual information that was out there before I could begin to miss my friend.  I was somehow afraid of "coming to terms" with what happened to her and making peace with it only to find out later that it was different than I thought.

And It was also a great way to avoid it..."it" being the reall hard part.  I kept pretty busy with the events of death.  And when a death is violent and, in our case, public, there are plenty of events to keep you busy.  There were facts to figure out, news media to avoid, documents to sort through, scholarships to give out, speeches to write...  And when all that was over, I could ruminate on all of that for the next three or four years.  And, in the meantime, I could avoid remembering that, on the day after her murder, when I went to her apartment to feed her cats, I saw the clothes she had been wearing the day before on the floor of her bedroom...pooled up on the rug as if she had just stepped out of them.  I could avoid remembering that SHE was gone. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

That day...

A few of the posts I make here will be old things...things I wrote a long time ago in various different places and am collecting them here.  That will probably happen mostly in the beginning.  The old things are good, though.  They are the reason, in some ways, that I'm writing this blog in the first place.  I wrote things then just because I needed to write.  Today I understand more about WHY I needed to write them and what they mean to the whole situation. 

The thing I'm going to post today is something I wrote in an online journal I was keeping at the time of Leslie's murder. At the time, I wrote it just to remember what happened.  Every day was becoming a blur and I was struggling to remember even how it all came about.  I needed to remember the exact facts (facts again...noticing a trend?) of the moment my life changed from "before Leslie died" to "after Leslie died".  Because, even now, that's still how I divide my life. 

But I recommend this if you are going through this kind of monumental tragedy...whatever it is.  Write it down...everything.  Even the bits that you think aren't important, because you might forget them and read them later and realize they were the most important bits of the whole day. 

I'm not going to go into it today because this thing is pretty heavy, but there is a bit in this piece that has ended up being on of the most important (and POSITIVE) bits of my whole life in the five years since this day.  For serious.  I love you, Upstairs Amy.  (For you strangers who are not Upstairs Amy or do not know who that is, we'll get to that....promise.)

From here on out the writing was actually done on May 16th, 2007...seventeen days after Leslie's death.  Typos and all.

On Sunday, April 29th, Leslie called me on her way to the mall from the gym. She didn't say she was going to Ward Parkway...just shopping. I guess I thought it was Oak Park, or Marshall's, or even the grocery store. But I guess I knew she was going shopping for clothes or something because I had this feeling of guilt, even then, because I didn't want to go shopping for clothes with her. I didn't want to go for two reasons:
a) i was worried about the way she was spending money...really worried, actually, and I didn't really want to be a part of it.
but reason b) is the most guilt-ridden...and true. I was SO proud of Leslie for her weight loss. She looked a different person, really. And becoming thin, or at least normal sized, had been something she had wanted for a LONG time. But it was getting increasingly difficult for me to go shopping with her and sit in the dressing room of stores where there was NOTHING that would fit me and watch her put on size 8's and 10's. I felt jealous and annoyed. And then I'd get kind of blue and mopey, and I know she could tell. And then I'd feel guilty because if *I* had made it to a size 8, I would SO want someone to sit in the dressing room with me, beaming and jumping up and down, and telling me I looked great. So the next time, I would do that. I'd pretend I was gloriously happy. And I WAS gloriously happy...FOR her. But not myself. And then I'd go home and be blue and mopey by myself.
The truth is, I missed my fat friend. I missed the one I could commiserate with....the one person in the whole world who I knew TRULY understood. And I guess I knew she she still understood. But she'd come out of the tunnel and was waiting for me on the other side. I wanted someone to be in the tunnel with me. So I didn't go shopping with her much anymore.

And I didn't go shopping with her on the 29th of April.
She said, "Do you want to go to dinner with Christy (high school friend) and I tonight? Come be the single girl who pokes fun at the married lady with me."
And again I said no. I didn't want to go to dinner with the married lady. I said "no thanks." And she said "I understand. Feel better" she said at 3:26 pm. At 3:29 she would be shot in the neck and die instantly.
I told Leslie I do not want to be with you today...TWICE on the day she died.

That afternoon, I DID go shopping, but I went shopping for healthy diet food. And I came home to news of a shooting at Ward Parkway. I didn't even think for one second about Leslie being there. I didn't think about Leslie at all.

I called my mom as I walked the dog and asked her if she'd heard about the shooting. We talked about how a lot of Sion kids went to that mall and I said that I was glad no children had been shot. Then we talked about gun of the political issues we always solidly agree on...and we tsk tsked and said it was sad.

When I got back to my place, I put away the healthy food and I sat down to write my plan for food and exercise for Monday in the weight loss livejournal Leslie and I shared. She didn't respond...which was weird.
That evening, I had a pseudo fight with my neighbor. I wanted to get that off my chest with Leslie, because she knows about my neighbor. I called her at 8:30. no answer. No big deal, she often ignores my calls if she's out on a date or something. I thought maybe she had reconciled with Paul after her dinner with Christy or something. Called her again at 12:15. No answer. VERY weird. Called again at 1:15, by this time leaving messages asking her where the hell she was. I was starting to get kind of mad...but not at all worried. Finally I went to bed thinking maybe she had a REALLY good reconciliation with Paul.

On Monday morning Brooke called while I was drying my hair. I didn't hear it ring. By the time I got the message, I was pretty much going out the door to get to work...going to be late, as usual. She was obviously upset on the message asking me to call her back as soon as possible. And she ended it with "I love you." The bosom friends say "I love you" all the time, so it wasn't that she said it that was odd, but the WAY she said something was wrong. I knew she was upset, but I was going to be late. And I couldn't find my purse. I was running around the house looking for my purse. While looking, I decided to call would be early for Leslie, but I thought maybe she could talk with Brooke for a while so I could get to work, get my kids started on something, and then call her myself. When I called Leslie this time, her cell phone was OFF, and that just never happens. Again, I wasn't worried...just noticed it was strange. I figured Brooke had probably already TRIED to call Leslie, but, since she had turned off her phone, couldn't get her so I thought I had better call her. Screw work...bosom friend was upset. So I called Brooke...and my whole world changed.

Brooke was less noticeably upset when I called her...obviously still just as upset but not crying. She asked me if I had talked to Leslie. I said, yeah, I had, yesterday at about 3:30. Brooke said "She went to the mall." I said, "I know." She said "No, Amy, she went to Ward Parkway." I remember saying "No she didn't." But I really didn't know that. Then I started freaking out a little. I think Brooke must have thought I was going to go to work, or maybe she was just terrified to tell me, but she told me then that she didn't know much more, even though she did, and she said maybe I should call my mom and see if she knew anything. I think all of this is what was said, because I can't remember much from this point.

I called my mom and told her....shaking and kind of screechy..."Mom, Leslie was at Ward Parkway." She kind of screamed at me..."What!?" and I told her what Brooke said. I said, "Mom, I need you to call hospitals." I have no idea why I asked her to do that. And I have no idea why she so readily accepted. But she did. I called work and said I was going to be late. I kept trying to find my purse. I was starting to get a little frantic. I couldn't find it.

The phone rang again and it was my mom.
And she said "Baby, we're coming."
And I said "Is she dead?"
And she said the thing that made me know it.
She said "Are you by yourself?"
And I screamed at her. I screamed "IS SHE DEAD!?"
And she just said "yes".

And then I just remember falling.

I must have hung up the phone because it rang again. It was my mom. She said she was calling my friend Susan, the counselor at my school to come over. She said she was on her way with my dad.

I started looking for my purse so frantically, like I thought Leslie would be inside. I called my neighbor Amy and I screeched at her not "Leslie's dead!" but, "I CAN'T FIND MY PURSE!!!"

Amy came down and we found my purse. But Leslie was not inside.

But I am still looking there...

How to survive the death of your BFF...the beginning.

Deciding on the title of this blog took me weeks.  Okay…maybe years.  I have always considered myself to be the creative type….you know…good with words.  I wanted to avoid the tired, overused “surviving death for dummies” kind of thing.  I wanted my title to let you know that I had something to SAY….maybe something you hadn’t heard before, but definitely something you needed to hear. 

But, see, I’ve been thinking the things I’m about to blog about for all those years that I’ve been trying to come up with a name.  And every time I think them, I think…man, I wish I’d known that years ago when I really needed it.  But I didn’t know how to look for it.  And I fur sure wasn’t sitting in my pajamas for the nineteenth day in a row, eating my seven millionth piece of buttered toast and seventeen millionth vodka tonic for breakfast thinking about googling something like “The Girlfriend’s Widow” or “Goodbye Bosom Friend.”  I wanted to know how in the hell you got up every day after you’d just lost your best friend.  I wanted to type in “How am I going to survive this?” and have an answer come up that did not say things like “give yourself time to grieve” and “remember the good times.” (gag)  I wanted honesty. 

So, I’m going to give you honesty.  This blog is about how I am surviving my best friend’s murder.  And, hopefully, it will help someone else survive his or her friend’s murder or suicide or accident or illness or any kind of death. 

In the spirit of honesty, I’m going to tell you the truth.  I’m going to tell you what happened to Leslie.  What happened to Leslie matters.  I don’t think that everybody’s story is ever the same.  I think we can still relate to each other, though.  But I don’t think you will ever understand anything I ever say in this blog without knowing the basic facts.  I mean, facts are what honesty is based on, right? 

Maybe I should say some sort of disclaimer…like they do on This American Life.  The following may be disturbing to some listeners.  But I can assure you, they won’t be more disturbing to you than they are to me, and I am surviving writing this.  In fact, writing this is part of surviving, so maybe reading will be, too.

Leslie was my best friend.  She’d always been my friend…since I was eight years old, anyway…but she hadn’t always been my best friend.  Life has a way of moving people around like a wave.  Sometimes people are near and sometimes far, but always part of the same body.  But I’ll talk more about that another day.  Anyway, she was my best friend on April 29th, 2007.  On that day, she and I were supposed to meet at the gym.  Leslie was a day sleeper.  A napper.  And, true to form, she’d fallen asleep and missed our gym appointment.  A few hours after we’d planned to meet, she called me from her cell phone.  It was a hot, sunny day…very hot for April.  She was driving…on her way to a local mall.  I could hear the air conditioner humming in the phone.  She asked me if I wanted to come shopping with her.  I wasn’t really mad at her for missing the gym appointment, but I’d already gone and was continuing on with my plans.  I’m not even close to as spontaneous as Leslie was.  I never have been…never will be.  Makes me feel a little uncomfortable to veer off course.  Actually, after that day proved to me that staying with the plan can keep you alive, I’ve been even more rigid in my particularity.  So, I declined her invitation.  We chatted some more.  She was supposed to have dinner that night with an old high school friend of ours.  We talked about how she was married to a cute guy with a cute baby and we were knocking on death’s door at thirty-three and both alone and barren.  She told me she was pulling in to the parking lot at the mall and couldn’t park and talk at the same time.  I told her I loved her and she told me the same.  We hung up.  Three minutes later, a stranger shot her in the back of the head through her car window while her car was still running and her purse sat in her lap.  And that was the end of Leslie’s life.  She was thirty-three years, seven months, and twenty-one days old. 

From the moment I knew that she was gone from the earth, I also knew that I would grieve her very differently from everyone else.  And I mean that in two ways.  I knew that I would grieve for Leslie very differently than I had grieved for my beloved grandmothers, both who had passed in their eighties.  But I also knew that I would grieve for Leslie very differently than anyone else who loved Leslie would grieve for her.  I already craved facts that were not available to me.  Facts, facts, facts.  Facts. 

She was my best friend.  I knew facts about her that no one else knew.  I knew facts about her that her mother and her brothers and her sisters and her father wouldn’t even dream of knowing.  I had questions they didn’t want to know the answers to.  I had screams that no one could hear and could not begin to make the sounds that people were pretending were coming out of me. 

And I could not get the facts I needed from anyone.  Because I wasn’t Family.  I was just family.  You know what I mean.