Highlights From the 147,212 Stages of Grief

12. Learning not to dislike people who say they are, “Sorry for your loss.”

232. Thinking, ‘I am not breathing for just me now. I’m breathing for two,’ while standing on a chair in a Chinese restaurant staring at the groupers crammed into a fish tank by the window.

33,111. Nobody else remembers the right things, and all that you’re left with is what you do, and nobody’s left who can tell you that your memories are wrong, or that you’re remembering them the wrong way, or that you’ll forget a little more of them every night, and that you’ll fill in the gaps with made-up stuff, and that that’s okay, that it’s alright, and that you, you are doing just fine.

67. The point has come when one realizes that, no, time won’t tell anymore.

889. An older, rather dapper and doddering, hardscrabble and pleased-with-himself gentleman telling you: “Keep them dreams in your head, where they belong, kid. Wrong’s the reason. People don’t always behave as they ought to. Types like us get the worst news and split. So, just hoist up a few more of these here oilcans, because the telephone pole is reading me my rights, and time’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Listen. I’m going to relate something to you that’s not complete bullshit…hold on there a minute, what were we talking about?”

55,411. Pass the gravy, please, if that’s all any of this is.

10,010. And into the room comes that ecstatic condition many once or often refer to as a flash of excruciating devastation, and there are no more once-in-a-whiles to have, and so the condition ceases at some point, perhaps when a light is extinguished or flickers — and so small-time gossip takes the wheel of this sinking out-of-gas riverboat.

147,006. Not a cry, but a whimper, not for help, but for more whisky.

67. Not those big-time tears, but the Bush-Leaguers, the ones that shed softly, light, to a bewildered blink. Thinking oneself a “big, insensitive bastard” who wells up so calmly and takes the heart’s ruffling as a mere sign of age. Not so true, as it turns out, anything one might come to amass to fend off the quaking spasms of gulped hurt.

747. We are not insects. Splat is not your resignation. Buzzing is not your milieu. Stand up. Sit down. All is happening as it should.

1,243. Simplicity does not reign. Even when doors are not held, they get opened again, and if there are gates to hold back this welling, nobody’s in the habit of saying so.

2,249. Listening to yourself say things to yourself, not sure if they’re aloud or not, such as: “I used to work for the Gopher Sign Company out of St. Paul, Minnesota. We had a good run. The signs sold themselves: Parking signs; No Parking signs. We produced our own scrap. We took cover when the cooks retired. On off days I’d collect ticket stubs with my birthday’s date on them. People would bring them to me from odd corners of the city — rummagers, fledgling hat saleswomen, boycotters, label thieves, poncho hawkers, and blubber-fed postcard aficionados. I opened my mail only on odd-numbered days. Once in a while the night watchman would play the warped piano in the warehouse bathroom. It tinkled and jounced the atmosphere with a grainy death sentence. And sometimes, if things slowed more than normal at the factory station, I’d grow even less garrulous than normal, sink my chin down into my chest, rest my elbows on my desktop’s edge, and think about Ida Lupino singing One For My Baby in the movie Roadhouse. That job didn’t last long.”

19. Torn awake all the time, all through the night. Troubled spasms between dreams where she’s still there, lying next to you, mad as hell too, standoffish, and you’re wishing you were never there, had never gotten involved in this thing, and then dead awake at sunrise, missing the way her knees smelled, her body lotion, the distinct patter of her bare feet on the kitchen floor as you call her the best-looking lady in the zip code, and she reads the sports scores out loud in her Howard Cossell imitation or sings an aria from Mahler like Elmer Fudd or just tells you the time before she has to leave for the day from the place where you happen to be standing, and now you’re staring from ceiling to walls until the alarm blares just when you think you’re finally getting drowsy.

1,999. Movies and television get substituted for compassion and regret.

411. Numbers deleted from phones.

554. Numbers added to phones, again, and kept there until further notice.

140,535. Further notice.

133. Waking up drunk on the floor, in the fetal position, with arms wrapped around an urn filled with ashes at 3:47 in the afternoon.

609. Hanging signs, painting brushes, spilling coffee on the sheets, fooling around.

6,512. How does one get others to pay attention to what one is capable of doing? In the airy consolation of anonymity flies the do-nothing and the too-much-doing just the same. We reach and expand towards our limits; but the eyesore of your own regurgitation becomes all too common. We give up before we’ve even given ourselves a chance. It’s easier.

79,909. Partitions that do anything but separate.

15. Spiteful acceptance.

16. Disavowal.

140. Songs take themselves out to breakfast: “How far, my love? How much will take this space and go? Just then seems when you were right here making toast in my kitchen. My love, my love, where’d you go?”

565. You can’t use the phone.

81. Voicemails, kept for an indeterminate amount of time, almost listened to again, but then not, saved and downloaded for future retrospection.

11,007. The chatter of gulls in the early morning fog wakes you from the most profound and restless slumber. You’re woozy and stunned, but alert enough to grind coffee and grope for the kettle. And then there’s the bread, the toaster, the pad of butter. It all gets in the way. But you get through it, on the stilts of still damp dreams, and muddle your way into the bedroom again, where you plop down on a stool and stare out the window at whatever’s out there. The bleat and wail of car alarms quakes the stillness, and you reconvene with your dreary emotional state, saying howdy to this hiding place that has become your prison.

990. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had decent clam juice in my cocktails.”

141. These boots were made for anything but walking.

77,778. Your heart’s just a couple of sign-holding panhandlers duking it out over the rights to a street corner by a freeway off ramp where everybody is getting off.

100. Having conversations with yourself while sitting on the toilet with the lights off that go like this, “Is it Friday? No. It can’t be. It’s got to be Thursday. No. But that makes yesterday…what then? Nothing. What’s the difference? All days are bad. Damn it. What? Nothing. Today is not today. Today is bad. Today must be Friday. Today is not a day. Where am I? Shit.” And hoping the neighbors can’t hear.

101. That door is locked for a reason.

775. Writing oddly separated sentences on napkins and on the last few blank pages of books, in parts, like this, which is Part One: “Other people’s sadness is so hard to imagine, the way they hold it, near, or push it far enough away to get by, the devastation peppered on their brows maybe, the careful shaky way they spoon sugar into coffee, that particular bend to their cut flowers, perhaps the lost gravity of all situations, cupped in their eyes, saying goodbye over and over, but when it’s yours, you know it much too well, it pokes and swats at you, robs your just-caught breath, rings your ears, and leaves you staring at car tires and window frames, wishing your mind would take a night off, for once, from missing and remembering.”

110, 100. Nothing depends on a fucking red wheelbarrow. Not a thing.

883. More singing, alone in a room with all the window shades pulled tight, the lights off, a martini in one hand, a bottle of vermouth in the other, a few olives resting in the crumb-and-dust-bunny-lined space between the carpet and the wall: “Do you remember things? The smell of things? The waft of your favorite pie? If the time won’t take, if the pie won’t bake, then we’ll have to be held in goodbye.”

41,410. Punctuation stops, i.e., “it won’t take and it won’t stay still it’s something that matters in the gist of being me in the tired happen of now that lends itself to a better way to rust or roam or never go less than away anyway that roughs up the lighter stuff in the time it doesn’t just take to be run out or over or between too now that this is just fact from figure and it doesn’t so the moon’s shape’s just a bowl of lettuce and we’re walking we’re always walking and all the sidewalks in the world just aren’t enough to hold any of it they never were so just be patient and kind because that’s all that matters you asshole you.”

999. Fumble!

1,666. Bedtime for doldrums. Go west, Spaghetti! Factories of fatigue. Denver’s lost in lamplight again. The hospital aroma of it all. Neckties wrapped around a wrist, asleep, or drunker than the piano’s slant. Not without it. An ectomorphic wish delayed into an endomorphic hope. And then, also, with the moods that don’t stick: strange weather we’re not having.

10,011. There is no room, here.

707. Gently the sweep of crowded loss maroons not your craven doings. You weep in public sometimes. You scold the TV. Preaching transmogrifies to just shutting-the-fuck-up in suspect places filled with strangers who do not complain or try on the fit of your patience. A laugh. A moan. A teetering on the cusp of sticky memories that have no place to go. So you tell a companion: “When I first met Anna I’d just seen Bergman’s The Passion of Anna, and every time I’d see her I’d raise my voice, ‘The Passion!’ It was great. She hated it. Which made it quite something, in my book. And Bergman’s a real fucking badass, in my book, by the way. And our rented apartment in Paris had this unique musty lime scent to it that grew with the windows shut. At first it seemed to be choking us, invading the air of our lives with its stinky tendrils, and so we opened up all the windows to let it out. But over time we grew so familiar with it that we didn’t want to live without it. I still catch a whiff of it sometimes. It’s hard to describe. Something damp, gluey, shellac-ish — a moldy citrus-like thing with a dollop of ginger and vinegar and wine — refreshing and dank and pungent, like falling in and out of love.”

140,002. And then, suddenly, this too: “And there are no letters in the mailbox, and there are no grapes upon the vine, and there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore, and there are no diamonds in the mine.” But you are not singing along this time. And Leonard Cohen is dead…is dead.

808. Be that as it may, or may not be, we can take the huckleberry cake and give it away to rusty figures of fame. Even if there are no more anymores to have. Even if, or be that as it might not be. Even if.

47. Shaving in the broken glass of the mirror you smashed six-and-a-half years ago, thinking, ‘Just 6 more months to go.’

776. Oddly separated sentences, Part Two, “When it’s yours, sadness won’t relent, even when you sleep, it grinds wholesale in your dreams, miserable moments stuck on repeat, last and first times, and all the gunk stuck between your mind’s tiles, until it wakes you to the terrible shock of consciousness, but maybe if you, let it out of the yard to wander, it’ll get lost for a bit, and run into somebody else’s, and spread itself around some, to diminish the rot it keeps, in small rooms, a speck in the grandest ballroom the universe’s got, now, maybe, it’ll lessen somehow in the tenebrous dirge all the others make, or just be drowned out, for a while.”

291. Unnecessary roughness becoming necessary to your survival. Beginning-less days. A flood threatens the circus. Watch for clowns in crosswalks wearing their street clothes.

1,977. Go for a walk. Read the headlines. Check your pulse. Look at a nice view. Sit on a bench in the shade and think about days gone: “The old-gym odor hung heavy in the late afternoon’s hush. The squeaks of sneakers vanished. Bowed deliverance taking odd shapes in the arcing ceiling’s shadows — all the kids home now, all the balls heaped in a rolling cage — as the moon winked its way out of the fugue of daytime sleep and into the spooling drift of bleak and tattered clouds. Big Gulps to quench that after-scrimmage thirst. To lie awake most of the night dreaming about that girl two grades ahead — the one with the purple hair and all the safety pins clinging together her torn leather jacket — in the throes of the restlessness of frenetic youth.”

7,710. All out of stock on prayers, you whisper through your smoke-stained gloves, “I miss you so much.”

313. Broken light fixtures. Holes punched or baseball-batted or tennis-racketed into drywall. Cigarette burns in the carpet. Records snapped in half or cracked to smithereens. A nose that does nothing but bleed.

41. A pinch of blight sneezes its way through the backs of your knees. A splinter of rusty need never tweezed by remorse until now rises like peptic acid in your throat, until this hankering gush ebbs. There are a lot of places like away, like, “Nobody’s left to like the things that I do.”

229. There are soggy Mormons moping in your cereal’s gloom, oyster pirates foraging for scraps of scavenged quiet, and in the rowdy crucifixion of forever-less-than-current events. All tied up at none-to-none.

12,745(a). Jilted and haggard and habituated to the constant drain of it all.

777. Oddly separated sentences, Part Three: “I will wake early tomorrow, go forth in the morning’s final touch of rain, settle on a bench in Union Square, and watch the blinding-bright day rise and shine over the Dewey Monument, from beneath my umbrella, and think of you, and think of you, and think, of, you.”

12,745(d). There’s always something left, something wasted, ruined, abject in the lees of it all.

6. Get over it. Don’t get over it. Don’t need to get over it. Never will get over it. Don’t want to get over it. Nothing to get over. Scared of not getting over it. Want to get over it. Need to get over it. I don’t need to get over it. I’m over it.

108. Here, there, now, then, when, for never and never.

11. The house always wins.

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