I dropped my hair dryer in the toilet today.
Normally, this wouldn’t be an event worth noting, but it was the hair dryer I bought with Maggie. One day last spring, she and I went to Sally Beauty Supply in Boone because Mags decided that she wanted to get hair extensions. I told her this was insane, because her hair was already long and healthy and gorgeous, (and in the words of our friend Emily, she popped Biotin like it was candy), but we must choose our battles in life, so I hopped in the Honda Civic and rode along. She picked out the ones she wanted and asked the girl working there every single question she could dream up about use and care and maintenance and all that, one element of which was a special hair dryer. Obviously.
It was a Helen of Troy Professional Ceramic Series. I really didn’t even want or need a hair dryer at the time. I’m one of those let-it-dry-overnight girls; I just bought it because it was on sale, and because I didn’t have one, but mostly because Maggie was getting one and we always had this (awful) rule that if anything was on sale for under $30 it was “free and we had to get it”. Using a hair dryer actually makes me look like Hermione Granger in the first Harry Potter movie. But we called it “our hairdryer” just like all the other things we have duplicates of, like our pink Polo hats and our white J. Crew scalloppy lace blouse and our blue and purple Asics running shoes that I already had but then she bought one day too when I drove through Hickory to see her and we went on a rampage of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Our hair dryer and our hat and our blouse and our running shoes. Our treasures, now.
The hair dryer is propped up in my bathroom strategically so that it’ll drain, if that’s a thing. I don’t know if it’ll work ever again. And that makes me inexplicably sad. It makes me want to never replace it, not even with the exact same brand, not even if I drove the 3 hours to that exact same store, because it wouldn’t be the exact same hair dryer. It makes me never want to use another hair dryer, out of some desperate sort of solidarity. It makes me want to put all of our other treasures in a big glass display case and never touch them, to preserve them forever, so that they’re never lost.
This is, more or less, how I'm doing these days. Okay, with a dash of crying over a hair dryer.
The thing is that the question, “How are you doing?” gets a different answer every ten minutes and said answer is subject to a combination of things including, but not limited to, how many people have already asked that day (as frequency of asks rises, curt succinctness of answer does also), the day’s ratio of pizza consumption to exercise partaken in (with optimism likely to be higher at the end of a trendy mind/body Lululemony PureBarre class with hip music that makes me feel like mind/body fitness elitist), and when the last time I washed my hair was/how my general hygiene is (styled: I’m managing // wet topknot: I made it out of bed and count that as my success for the day).
I was wearing a black and white striped maxidress the moment I found out Maggie died, and for about seven days in a row I washed it and rewore that and that only in some sad act of denial and connection to her all rolled into one. As if that dress was a lifeline to her, and I needed to be wearing it to be able to face the day. Armor, by Calvin Klein.
There are certain outliers known to send me over the edge, such as the strangers and newscasters on Twitter, some of whom are genunitely supportive and some of whom are not (yes, I can tell the difference, person who was moved by my blog post vs. here-are-my-19-conspiracy-theories-so-what-do-you-think?)
I don’t know exactly what happened, I don’t really want to think about it in detail, I don’t want to hear your guesses, I don’t want to read the news reports that say “here’s what we know but there’s a lot we’re still not telling you” in twelve elaborately different ways. Maybe all that stuff is helpful for some people – trying to put the pieces together – but it’s just not helpful for me. I have immense respect for the detectives and police officers who worked thousands of hours to bring someone into custody, but every time I got a call from one them asking me to clarify parts of text conversations with Maggie or had I ever heard her mention so-and-so or whatever they need from me that day, it was like everything in me shut down for the remainder of the day. I can’t dig through it all. I can’t carry it.
I can’t. And that's okay. There are a lot of things I can’t do, like pull answers out of the sky or find any real solace from scrolling back through two years of texts and tweets, or patch up the holes that I have in my heart now that ache from wishing I’d done every single thing on the planet with that girl, that I’d never flaked on a plan, that I’d drug her out of her apartment every time she tried to flake on something with me.
There are a lot of things I’d have done differently if I’d known I was going to lose Maggie so soon. I’d asked her every single question in the entire world. So many things I wish now. Mostly that it’s all some sick joke and lie and nightmare, and next that I had one of her big Nike sweatshirts to curl up in and that it would smell like her permanently.
Everybody’s grief is relevant.
Everybody’s grief is real, and it’s valid, and it’s theirs.
Life is the hardest thing I can think of.
Losing Maggie has gutted me, and I need to feel that.
I want to pull out the positives. I want to sit and have a whole day where all I do is pull all the silver linings out of all the things in my life that look horrible and all the things in everybody else’s lives that look horrible and then write a blog about “oh but look at all these good things strewn among all this stuff that looks like trash” and “the trash won’t look like trash forever” and be the Silver Lining Ambassador forever for everyone.
But I don’t have that in me right now. Usually. Maybe tomorrow. But not today.
Instead I just picked myself up from my bathroom floor, crying because I dropped a hair dryer in the toilet and it felt like another piece of Maggie slipping through my fingers.
And I think that’s a perfectly fine – and perfectly brave – place to be.
I think there’s something to be said for letting ourselves be where we are. For honesty. For admitting that some days we just can’t see the silver linings.
I know I’m usually the queen of positive redemptive take-aways, but I’m in a season where those seem scarce. Or at least clouded for now. So I’m content with learning how to be honest with myself until things clear up and I get some perspective back. I’m alright with being functional and upbeat one minute, but then in bed with pudding and Netflix and tissues the next.
And also with “Well, I just got done crying on the bathroom floor about a hair dryer that might not work anymore because it’s making the fact that I don’t have Maggie anymore a little more real,” being my answer when people ask me, “How are you doing – really?”
It doesn’t mean I’m bitter and closed off, it just means I’m being honest. If you want to know how I’m doing, I’ll tell ya. It adds some nice variety to “I’m okay, and you?” Besides, that's a total lie right now.
I believe I may start saying what a favorite author of mine, Anne Lamott, just said about having to put down her dog: “no matter how hard you strive to present a good face, it is so hard here. It's like Old Yeller meets the Hunger Games; plus the parking is terrible.” Because fine and all fine all the time is just the absolute farthest thing from the truth. Right now.
I know God is good and He loves us and what man intends for evil He can redeem for good. I’m thankful for those truths. I know that Maggie would want me to remember them. I cling to them every single morning when I wake up and remind myself of them when I say my prayers for all the things that I’m grateful for that happened that day. I believe them with everything in my heart and soul and body, absolutely. I know also that she’d want me to wake up every day and figure out how to love people the best I can, in all the ways I can. But I forget. I forget those things. There are lots of things going on right now, specifically in the news about my best friend, that are making it harder and harder to live out of a place of worship. God is good and sometimes I still get really, really sad. Because things hurt. (You can put another verb or adverb in that sentence if it helps you.) And sometimes I need to focus on the hurt. I need to feel it all the way.
My grandfather is a veteran. He is a strong man, full of resilience, and I look up to him for that. Each and every one of his pep talks to me ends with, “Hang in, be tough.” And as soon as we hit that point, I nod and hug him and say, “Okay,” and don’t hear a thing after that. Because I so resent that idea. To me, it says, “Shut it down, stiff upper lip, don’t let your weakness show.”
See, I’m full of resilience, too. But I’m more of a…
Hang your weaknesses up like banners. Stay open. Even if it just about kills you, please try to stay open. Even if it’s just to one person, even if it’s only between you and God, even if it’s just to yourself. Stay honest and stay open. It hurts. I know. But it hurts more to stay closed. Sometimes you can’t help it, and I know that too. But fight like hell to stay open if you can. Even if that means you’re irritable. Even if you think it’s harder to love you. Even if it makes zero sense to anyone else in the world that you cried because you dropped a hair dryer in the toilet, it makes sense to you, so it’s important and it belongs to you. Own it. Feel it. It’s alright. Even if you can never stand to buy another hair dryer for the rest of your life. That’s your grief. That’s your banner. I’m betting that letting it fly will help someone else down the road, but let’s be selfish and not think about that part until later.
…type of person.
So that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to give myself permission to be wherever I am whenever I’m there. Sad, fine, happy, whatever that is. I’ll get back to the silver linings. Right now a lot of us are walking through things that really are not silver linings – things that have gutted us – and we need to hear that it’s okay. It’s okay to be there. It’s okay to be honest. There are other people who can be our Silver Lining Ambassador Kings and Queens right now, who can be strong for us right now, until we get our sea legs back. We’re not there yet. I’d like to think we all will be eventually. But it won’t be the same. We’ll have new heart skills, how to care for the people who have been gutted the way we have been gutted. There will be people in our lives who need that heart skill in us, so take your time. Nurture it. Feel it all. Honor it. Honor your pain. Remember the good memories, don’t dwell in the muck, don’t get sucked into it, but honor your pain and nurture it so that it will heal and we’ll get to have our shiny grief survival badges ready. People will need them.
The only thing that makes me smile more than rising above the muck in the news and thinking about Maggie up in Heaven is thinking about Maggie up in Heaven smiling the first time I’ll be able to use my new grief heart skill to help someone through losing their Maggie.
Give it time, my friends. Give your precious souls time.
Every single second of your pain is for something, and worth gold. Solid gold.