Burying the Dead

Just not this year

I didn’t think it would happen this year. Not that I thought I wouldn’t think about it, I just hoped it would come and go before I realized it.

But then the lights went up, and the ghosts came down.

And there I was- standing in the middle of the store, trapped between boxes of stuffing and cans of cranberry sauce that towered over displays of pumpkin pie- sinking to my knees, watching them die…one by one by one.

But we weren’t going to do this again, remember? That was the deal. I just had to make it through one more Thanksgiving and one more Christmas, and then next year would be happy. This year would be happy.

But it was too late. The countdown had begun, your ghosts were released, and all of us were going to hell.

Back to the accident, November 20, 2016.

But this year, it’s more than just the memory of it all. It’s now morphed into this fucked up source of shame. I mean, honestly, it’s been three years (or is it four?) And they’re dead, and you’re not. And it’s time to move on.

And then it turns to guilt. Because what kind of person could just dismiss it and move on? And then the rage comes because I keep ending up in this horrible place. And I refuse to live stuck in the past, but here I am. And I don’t want to write about it anymore.

But every night, they find their way in, under the covers and into my head, taking every thought prisoner, and stealing my sleep. And this is the only way they’ll relent – with an offering of peace.

And the hope, maybe next year, they’ll let me bury the dead.

It’s always the same scene that haunts me. But, it’s not of the accident. It’s a memory I’ve never had, in a place I’ve never seen.

I have no idea what his house looked like or how big his family was, or if he even celebrated Thanksgiving. But that’s where I go, to his living room- his family seated around a long table, lined with white porcelain plates with matching bowls and platters, all strategically placed around an elegant flower arrangement, candles on either side.

A younger version of him, maybe his little brother, strains to grab the bowl of stuffing his mom is passing to him, both reaching across the empty space between them, the one she always sets, where he no longer sits.

Dalí came to mind,
As I studied you from the side.
The way your head tilted back,
Pouring down your spine.

On my knees, shivering
Staring at my phone,
Pulling up blades of grass,
One by one by one.

The silence mocked me-
Staring at my phone-
It wasn’t going to ring,
No one was going to come.

Could you taste it, the smell:
Charred rubber and gas?
Could you feel it, the injustice…

I was holding my breath, while you were taking your last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same place she always sits, that’s always set,- scene isn’t any less tragic. have been all the trees piling up ont or  feeling in my sto

Have to say, this is really f*cking good. (Published in Voyage Denver Magazine)

I think we have a tendency to blame the demise of our society on social media. I get it, the constant stream of everyone’s “all things good” can make us feel like we’re failing miserably at the whole life thing.

But, there are some legitimate positives- getting to see snippets of our friends and families all over the world, for example. It can also be a gateway to connect with people and opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have access to, ones that can change our lives for the better.

Here is one such connection:

Voyage Denver Magazine is featuring a series, The Trailblazers: Rewriting the Narrative, “…to highlight and celebrate female role models, encourage more equal and just representation in the media, and help foster a more tight-knit community locally helping women find mentors, business partners, friends and more.”

Long/short, they saw this photo I posted on Instagram and wanted to share it on their site.  They followed up with an invitation to do an interview for the series.

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Photo by Jenna Sparks

My first reaction: Ummm, are you sure about that? But I knew the focus was on empowering women, and god knows, I have a substantial amount of knowledge on what NOT to do. And, I have acquired a fair amount of insight along the way.

So even if just one woman is inspired to rise up and “…take the world by the lapels,” (to quote Maya, the ultimate role model) then I did what I set out to do.

So thank you, Voyage Denver, for inviting me to share my hard-earned lessons-learned.

And I have to say,  I read it and thought, damn girl, that’s really fucking good. ;o)

http://voyagedenver.com/interview/life-work-brooke-breazeale/

Voyage.Denver.Image.Basic

 

 

Gone Fishing

I vividly remember the first time we met. It was a bizarre exchange when juxtaposed with the way our friendship evolved.

You came up to my table and introduced yourself, said you noticed I was here every day, asked me what I did…

It was the first of many lengthy conversations, but this one didn’t end so well.  Somehow we landed on the subject of gorillas, then zoos. I, in my overly-opinionated, self-righteous fashion, blurted out that I thought zoos were prisons.

You snatched up the card you had given me, visibly irritated, said something to the effect of “we’re done here”, and walked off.  I didn’t fully understand what had just happened, but I felt terrible. I tried to apologize. You weren’t exactly receptive.

The next morning you walked over to my table and started listing off links I needed to look up. It wasn’t an ask, and you weren’t going anywhere until I did. You proceeded to explain all the projects your family had funded to improve the major zoo where you grew up. I acknowledged their contribution and apologized again. You seemed relatively satisfied and went back to your table.

The next day you walked in and came right over to me. Had I seen it? The huge gorilla painted on the wall next door? You were excited and adamant; I had to go right then and look at it. So I did, smiling as I walked out.

I was redeemed.

You were a talker, no question, but your stories were riveting- tales of celebrities, ambassadors, extravagant galas, exotic girlfriends, President Kennedy discussing the fate of our country at your kitchen table. You had lived a charmed life… but that was a long time ago.

We never went into details, really, but we both understood we were in similar places- everything had fallen apart and we were trying desperately to piece our lives back together. It seemed like you were, and you were determined to help me do the same.

You were always coming over with ideas- where I could publish, jobs I could pursue, people I should contact. I would ask how things were going, and you would always respond. “With me? Oh, everything’s fine…ya know, just pluggin’ along.”

The holidays were approaching and you knew I was struggling. You would check in every so often…”How ya holdin’ up, kiddo?”. “Fine”, I assured you, “…just pluggin’ along”.

Right before Christmas, you asked what my plans were. I avoided answering and assured you I’d be fine. You waited until I went to the bathroom and slipped an envelope under my computer on your way out. It was $100 bill with a message written on the envelope. “Just go do something fun, will ya?” By the time I saw it, you were nowhere to be found.

I still have the envelope.

Almost every time you walked by my table,  I would hear a single ‘doo-da-doo”. I wondered why you did that, but it always made me smile. Maybe that’s why: your way of telling me to keep my chin up.

The last conversation I remember having, you came over announcing that you’d just been paid. “Let’s go to the grocery store and stalk up. We can go right now if you have time”. “Absolutely not”, I replied. There was no way I would let that happen, regardless. But I also knew you weren’t in the position to do it.

But it wasn’t about the groceries, was it? You wanted to do something kind and you wanted a friend to spend time with. I denied you both. I could have just went to keep you company. But I didn’t. I was too busy ‘pluggin along’.  I thanked you several times, but no, I couldn’t possibly. You looked disappointed and left.

We didn’t interact much after that. I knew you weren’t doing well on some level. Every time I looked up, you were engaged in conversation with someone new. You weren’t reading as much, just talking. It bothered me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it did. It seemed exhausting for everyone involved. As if you were desperately trying to be heard, to convince everyone that your life wasn’t always like this…to be remembered.

But no one else seemed to be bothered by it. Because you were charming and intelligent, interesting and kind. And it was never just about you. You genuinely wanted to know all about the person you were talking to. You asked questions and listened attentively. You gave advice, and without fail, I would hear, “Good for you” from across the room.

You truly just wanted everyone to feel good. You wanted to connect and encourage and lift everyone up. And you did.

You didn’t show up Monday or Tuesday. By Friday, we started to worry. We knew you had to move out of your place. Were you just in the thick of moving? The following week we sent you an email. You didn’t respond. Nobody had your number.

‘J’ came over to me this week and asked if I’d ever heard back. He handed me the card you sent.

“Gone Fishing”

You were clearly saying goodbye, but it didn’t seem like that goodbye. I emailed you again.

But you didn’t get it. You were already gone

I’ve moved to a different spot. One where I can’t see your chair. The one that remains empty. Except now, it’s not empty because you decided to move. It’s empty because you’re dead.

And one thing has become painfully clear: your presence always filled the room.

Now, so does your absence.

—-

April 25

 

Look at you, just up and disappearing on us! I would be mad at you if I wasn’t so concerned.

I hope you found a new place you love. I hope you feel loved, because you are…and very missed.
Big hug and warmest wishes,

Brooke

Maelstrom

r.druatemer.drowning.                                                                                                                  ~ illustration by Rebecca Dautremer

Do you wish sometimes you had never met me?

No. I wish you had never left me. 

I had to… you would have never left me.

* Maelstrom: A powerful whirlpool in the sea or river. A situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil.

Remembering three boys I never knew

A year ago today, thirty minutes from now, three boys died. I hit them with my car, and they all died. I know it wasn’t my fault, most days. I was in the wrong place at the worst possible time. But there are still those moments when an undercurrent of guilt won’t fully submit to logic.

I think about them a lot, although not as much as what might be considered normal. Not because I am callous or unaffected by it. That’s not it at all. I just had to implement an emotional amputation of sorts. This was only one of a series of events that were so unbelievably heartbreaking, distancing myself from it mentally and emotionally was the only way I could avoid self-destruction.

But I think about them, especially on holidays. I think about their families trying to just get them over with. I picture the empty spot at the dinner table they pretend to ignore and the memories that must haunt them when they think about what they were doing this time last year. I think about what I was doing this time last year, which was sitting alone on a balcony in Arlington, Texas, just trying to get it over with, wondering why it was me who lived and not them, and kind of wishing it was the other way around.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about three boys who had their whole lives ahead of them. It’s to send out love to them, (wherever their souls reside) and to their families and friends who miss them terribly. It’s to say that I truly know the pain of having to wake up every morning and think about what I was doing that same day last year…when they were still alive…. when they still had their whole lives ahead of them.

It’s to say that I feel the weight of it all today, fully, and that it breaks my heart, and that I’m so very grateful that I still have my life ahead of me.

But I would give anything for there to be three less empty spots at the dinner table this Thanksgiving.

Original Post: The accident (warning: graphic in some parts…and sad.)

I tried, but it’s raining

I decided this weekend I was going to write something funny. (I am, you know. I mean, I can be). But it’s raining, and it’s been raining for two days straight. Who can be funny when it’s raining?

I contemplated putting this off and being funny tomorrow. Forecast for tomorrow: rain, all day.

So funny. Okay, well, I made an honest attempt to ride my bike while holding an umbrella. That might have made someone laugh. I didn’t, though. Because it’s cold, and my rain jacket and favorite boots are at the bottom of god knows what box.

So I arrived at the coffee shop later than I wanted to, wet, cold…and not funny.

I’m sure there is some eye-rolling going on. It rains here like 2 days a year. Most people are almost giddy, relishing in the anomaly and blatant reminder that fall is upon us. And all I can do is think of the last time I was cold and wet.

It was January. I was in Texas, completely alone and utterly heartbroken. And it almost took me under.

I had fallen for someone who changed his mind, risked everything and lost so much more. So there I was, packing up all of my things, yet again, trying to figure out where to go. Did it even matter? There was no home to go back to and no one waiting for me to come home…except Biscuit.

But it’s not January anymore, Brooke. It’s September, 9 months later. And it’s fall.  You love fall. It’s your favorite. People associate it with death and decay, but for me, it’s pumpkins. It’s crisp mornings, chunky sweaters and my favorite boots. It’s Halloween decorations and the crunch of leaves under my favorite boots. It’s snuggled up next to a warm fire with the person I love. And it’s Biscuit, sitting on top of a big pile of leaves, his red-orange fur blending in with the autumn colors all around him.

But my chunky sweaters and favorite boots are still in boxes that I admittedly haven’t had the stomach to unpack one more fucking time. And I got rid of most of my decorations because, to be honest, when you’re packing up all of your shit for the 7th time, they seem like the perfect thing to not have to carry up another flight of stairs or cram into a 400-hundred-something square foot space. And the warm fire, well it’s in the house I used to live in with my amazing husband, who is no longer my husband. And Biscuit, well, he’s dead.

So I guess this year, fall is about death because most of the things I loved last fall don’t exist anymore.

This isn’t funny, is it? Like not at all. But shit, it’s still effing raining outside.

Okay, let’s shelf death and heartache for a second. I wanted to make you laugh, not cry. Which I will say is one obvious perk to this weather. It’s hard to differentiate tears from raindrops.

Tears and raindrops. It really is kinda funny. It’s all water, which literally dictates whether life exists or not. But it can also take it away in a matter of seconds. It can wipe out entire villages, kill tens of thousands of people, and take us under with a force that makes breath seem like it was never an option.

But it can also bring us to a state of complete bliss within seconds: a cold sip of water on a hot day, or a hot bath on a cold night, watching it dance across the rocks of a river bed, or hearing it culminate in waves that kiss the sand, lulling us to sleep.

The ultimate paradox; we need it to live, but it’s responsible for so much death. It can bring us sheer joy or cause excruciating pain. It can’t always be seen, but it’s always present. And it never dissipates. It changes- adapts to its circumstances- but it never diminishes. It is everywhere, all around us, but so many die because they are deprived of it.

As it turns out, it is disturbingly similar to the very thing that always seems to end with tears, at least for me.

Which brings me right back to fall. A love, a dream, and a precious puppy all synced up with the season, their decomposition swift. And all I could do was stand by, completely powerless, and watch and cry and completely fall apart as they slipped further and further away…until all that was left was a mound of dirt covering up a hole I so desperately wanted to crawl into.

So here I am, staring at this puppy next to me who is snuggled up under his person’s feet, looking down at my feet, wishing I had my favorite pair of boots on because mine are wet and my toes are cold. And I’m right back to the last time I was cold and wet. And I think of Texas and my puppy sitting in the leaves, and…

It’s funny how predictable it all is, the whole cyclical thing: water, seasons, life, love.

But it’s love that life always circles back to, where it starts; it’s as essential as our first breath, but its absence can feel indistinguishable from our last. And just like water, we need it to live, but it has resulted in so much loss and destruction, at least for me.

Most days, I feel like I’m completely deprived of it. But the truth is, none of it has disappeared. Not a drop. It has changed, it had to; circumstances have changed. It can’t be seen anymore, but it hasn’t diminished. It’s just as it was before, filling me up completely…and leaving me gasping for air.

I know, I missed my target with this one. But I’ll try again next week.

Forecast: Sunny, all week.

——

An Addendum of sorts: Please take a minute to read Brandewijn Words latest post, Perspective. I’m beyond honored to be a part of it and think his perspective is beautiful and kind and so very needed. It just gets so easy to slip into judgment mode, to drift towards entitlement and self-righteousness contingent on our vantage point.

He ends with this, and it absolutely humbles me, but is also was a beautiful reminder. We truly are all in this together.

I make this promise to Brooke and to all of you. I will dig…deep…into her honest “telling of events” to find her and try to understand her world of this or thats. Because that is her world and her perspective… And those are the only ones that matters and the only ones I need to know.

That sums it up, right? Not his promise to me, but his commitment to question his vantage point, to do his best to know someone’s story and check himself when he makes an assumption or judgment. Ultimately, it’s to come from a place of empathy. Because we each have our story, right, with so many layers. It gets complicated and messy, and we fuck up and do things that we regret. We hurt people, we hurt ourselves. intentionally or unintentionally. But the beautiful thing is, we get the gift of being able to step back and check ourselves, to shift our perspective and do what we can to understand why someone says or behaves the way they do…to practice empathy.

Desert Curmudgeon also eloquently sums this up in Yippie! We’re all Gonna Die:

“Those of us who care do so because we can’t but feel otherwise if we are being honest with ourselves. There is no escape from the vulnerability of interdependence. I breathe because you do.”

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Father’s Day. June 21, 1992.

My dad died on Father’s Day

Kinda sounds like a punch line to a twisted joke. It’s not, though. That’s really the day he died.

I can’t remember the exact day we found out he was dying, but I remember the day exactly. I had called in sick to school, because my dad was, and I had to take him to the hospital to find out how sick.

I helped him out of the car and waited until he got his bearings. I casually linked my arm through his so he didn’t have to ask for help. His pace was painfully slow. I wondered if it was because he was in pain, or because he didn’t want to find out why.

I just wanted him to hurry. I wanted to get this over with. I needed to study for my SAT the next morning. There was a party I wanted to go to later, and I needed to go to my friend’s house and grab the jeans she said I could borrow.

I wanted him to hurry- so they could start the surgery, so we could find out what was wrong with him…so they could fucking fix it.

I woke up a few hours later, laying on the lobby floor with my head on my study guide. They said it would only take around two hours. It had been almost four. I opened my book back up to the algebra equations, shut it, opened it again, and flipped over to the vocabulary section.

I’d learned a good trick for memorizing vocabulary. You take the word and use it in three different sentences. But the sentences had to memorable, something funny or bizarre.

Aberration: a state or condition markedly different from the norm

  1. My dad’s yellow skin is an aberration.
  2. Sitting in a freezing cold hospital lobby by yourself waiting to hear if your dad is going to die is an aberration.
  3. A 17-year old girl without a father is an aberration.

I laughed to myself. I was using death as a study tactic…an aberration, to be sure.

He came up behind me, asking if I was William Breazeale’s daughter. My book slipped out of my hands when I jumped up, sending my notes flying in all directions. We both watched in silence as the pages drifted to the ground. I looked up at him and tried to smile. He didn’t smile back.

“The surgery went well. There were no major issues. But we did find cancer in his pancreas that has spread to his liver.”

I slammed the door behind me, and his head shot up. He hated it when I slammed the door. “Sorry, dad!” Did I wake you? God, Sorry. How are you feeling?”

I cringed every time I asked him that. What the hell was he going to say? “I feel amazing. That last can of Ensure you shot into my veins tasted fantastic and is digesting perfectly. I’ve been tortured for the past hour because I’m too weak to make it to the bathroom. Other than that, I feel great.”

He attempted to smile. “I’m fine. How was school?”

“Fine. I have to go back, it’s only noon. I just came home to check on you”.

“It’s only noon?”

“Yeah. You hungry?”

“No.”

“Well, were you able to drink some of the juice I bought you?”

“No. I haven’t felt like it.”

“Dad! You have to eat, whether you are hungry or not. You are literally wasting away! Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?”

I stormed into the kitchen and brought back a glass full of juice. He took a small sip, giving me a look that made me sit down and gulp the rest of it down.

Jesus, Brooke. He already feels horrible and now you’re yelling at him, telling him how terrible he looks.

“Dad?”

“Will you make sure I’m here, that I’m with you when you go?”

He smirked slightly. Well, I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises”

“No dad, I’m being serious. You have to promise if I’m not here, you won’t leave me until I get back.”

“Brooke, I can’t promise you’ll be here when I die. But I promise you, I’ll never leave you.”

While the next few weeks dragged on, I acquired a slight obsession with the calendar. Every morning I scrolled across the row of days, then down the column of weeks. Which day was it going to be?

I flipped to the next page looking for…an aberration, I suppose. My eyes landed on the only words on the page.

Father’s Day.

I laughed out loud. You’ve got to be kidding me. My dad is going to die on Father’s Day?

Of course, I didn’t tell anybody this. How morbid and sad was that? The worst part was that I didn’t know which I felt more, sad or relieved.

I had a date. This was going to end at some point, and it was going to be soon. I would be able to leave the house again without having to find someone to watch him. I could go out with my friends without worrying about him. I wouldn’t have to give him morphine shots anymore or clean up after him when he didn’t make it to the bathroom. And I wouldn’t have to sleep outside his bedroom door, hearing him moan in pain, crying myself to sleep because there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.

I wouldn’t have to do any of those things, because on Father’s Day, June 21st, my dad wouldn’t be dying anymore. He would be dead.

I spent that morning with my best friend and his family. I reluctantly agreed to go to church with them, cringing at every metaphor emphasizing the importance of celebrating “our father.”

We headed to a movie after. I asked if we could stop to buy a Father’s Day card before we went. I’m not sure why. He obviously wasn’t going to read it.

We made it to the front of the line just before the previews started. I grabbed my ticket, turned to his dad, and asked him to take me home.

I closed the front door behind me, making sure not to slam it, then peeked my head in his room to see if he was still breathing. I plopped down next to him to sign his card. The pen was out of ink. Of course, it was out of ink.

I went into the kitchen and started digging through the drawers, then stopped. I thought I had heard something- a moan or a whisper. I kept digging. The noise wasn’t coming from him. He’d been on a constant stream of morphine and hadn’t made a sound for days. I grabbed a pen, then dropped it and sprinted to his room.

He was dead.

“No, no, no. Dad, NO! You promised! Did you seriously just wait until I left the room to leave me? I sat down next to him, studying his face for some sign of anything. There was nothing. He was gone.

“How could you do this? I came back for you. I made everyone miss the movie for you. You were supposed to wait until I came back!”

The tears I had been holding in for weeks unleashed. He couldn’t just give me this one thing? He couldn’t just let me say goodbye?

Or god, maybe he was trying to hold on for me. Maybe he was scared, trying to work up the courage to do it, and I’d left him. I grabbed his hand, my head buried in the blankets, my mind reeling. I had left him alone…and now I was.

My guilt morphed into fear. I couldn’t move. I just sat there, crying, clinging to his hand.

Until I felt it, a gentle squeeze. I looked up and saw a tear make its way down his cheek.

That was 25 years ago. Yes, it was terrible, but it was so long ago.  The reality is, I haven’t had a dad longer than I had one.

Now, when I see my friends worrying about how badly they are fucking up their kids, I wonder what issues of mine are directly linked to him. My dad was an amazing father, but not always a great one. He, like all of us, had demons he never quite figured out how to conquer. Whether he was drunk or sober, wealthy or broke, in love or lonely, I just never felt like he ever found happy.

I’m sure watching my dad struggle negatively impacted me in various ways. But I also think it’s what made him, and our relationship, beautiful. I saw his humanity. I saw him keep a smile on his face when things were terrible, or conjure up some sort of silver lining, or scrounge up his last dollar for me and my sister.

Even if he wasn’t happy, he always made sure everyone else was. His life could be a complete mess, but he would do whatever he could to fix everyone else’s. He could be reckless and stubborn, but he was the person you went to when there was nowhere else to go. He was patient and kind and generous. And although he was guarded with his words, we never questioned how much he loved us.

For me, the most tragic part of all of this is the fear that he didn’t live the life he wanted because of me (us). I think he sacrificed so many of his dreams for us. That is the very last thing I would have ever wanted, and it breaks my heart.

Usually, Father’s Day doesn’t phase me. But today, as I sat watching the constant stream of fathers and daughters waiting in line for their coffee, I thought about him.

I thought about the past year and how desperately alone I’ve felt, and I realized something. Yes, I’ve felt lonely, to the extreme, but I’ve never felt truly alone.

Maybe this is just what I want to believe, but I think my dad had something to do with this. I think he has never been more present in my life than he has over the past few months- the beautiful souls who have come into my life; the books that have ended up in my hands; the words that have mended what we all thought was irreparable damage. These are the things that reminded me what love feels like, what hope feels like. These are the things that saved me.

Perhaps my dad knew that he was losing me, that I had lost myself, so he immersed himself in my day to day to remind me that he’d kept his promise.

He would make sure I made it back, and he would never leave me.

 

 

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