About a month ago, my friend’s grandfather died. He was in his eighties and had been ill, so his end was not a surprise, but she was still pretty upset over his loss. Of course she was, because it doesn’t matter how expected the death was, a death is a loss and loss hurts. Unless that death was Hitler’s. We’re all glad he’s dead.
While listening to her talk about her grandfather and her family’s plans to memorialize him in a get together the following month, she suddenly teared up and said, “I don’t know how you do it.” “Do what?” I asked. “I don’t know how you don’t show any emotion. You’re just…” she made a straight-line motion in the air with one hand, her other wrapped around her one-year old son. “I don’t know,” I said, trying to feign that her observation took me by surprise when in fact, I was pleased she noticed my stoicism. Since my brother died last summer, I’ve made locking down my emotions into a full-time job, and unlike most of the jobs I’ve held, I am good at this one.
I have a few tactics I use to not think about my brother, but the most effective one is baseball. I’m an involved Cubs fan. I keep score by hand, I know every player’s stats, and I never, ever miss a game. That’s 162 regular season games, plus more post season games if we’re lucky. Each of which are approximately three hours long, often longer. Since they play almost daily, that’s at least three hours of guaranteed time during the day when I get to shut my brain off and listen to Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer make bad jokes and describe what color batting gloves each player is wearing. Add that to eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, two hours of running and related workouts, one hour cooking, one hour walking the dog, one hour doing laundry, three hours of unstructured intellectual pursuits (re: watching TV), running errands, and texting my friend Jill updated versions of my Bitmoji, and I’ve managed to keep myself too busy to feel anything about the worst day of my life. Basically, Baseball is the glue that is keeping me together. Full disclosure, I’m listening to a game as I write this. No joke. It’s the Cubs vs. Milwaukee at home. Anthony Rizzo just flew out to center. Poor Rizz has been in a slump this season, but I know it won’t be for long, as Anthony Rizzo is not someone who is married to his routine. When he starts to slump, he makes constant, small changes to mix things up for himself in the hopes that by getting out of his comfort zone, he’ll stumble onto something that works. He’ll use another guy’s bat, he’ll move back in the batter’s box, he’ll choke up an inch or two. In game 4 of the 2016 NLCS he famously used teammate Matt Szczur’s bat, which was an inch shorter and much lighter than his own, and smashed his way back on top, hitting a solo homerun and two RBI singles in the game. I think I need to take a note from Rizzo and mix things up because, despite fooling my friends into thinking I am the Babe Ruth of emotions, on the inside I am as fucked up as the Philly Phanatic.
You see, the Cubs have days off occasionally, and so does my resolve. My feelings usually manifest themselves in the form of frustration and anxiety, targeted first at the state of my apartment (EVERYTHING IS FILTHY THIS PLACE LOOKS LIKE A FRAT HOUSE), then at my husband (YOU LEFT YOUR SHOES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR NOW YOU MUST DIE), then, finally, after frantically scrubbing a sink load of dishes and starting a fight with my husband, I break. I cry, no, I more than cry. I heave, I wail, I gush and crumble. I cry so hard I cannot breathe, I cannot talk, I cannot think. I become so consumed by hurt that I genuinely worry I will die. I wonder if that is what my brother felt in his last moments. Did he suffocate under the weight of panic and fear, or did he float away painlessly in a lazy river of methamphetamine? If addiction can offer any one kindness, I hope it’s a swift, painless death. It would be the least addiction could do.
I’ve been grieving, or rather, trying not to grieve my brother for almost a year now, and it’s no longer working for me. I’m in a slump. But instead of carrying on the way I have been, I think I’ll try a different bat.