The Very Bleak Day

Anyone who knows me personally, or even online, can attest that most of the time I’m “up” moodwise. Ryan and I have been binge watching Monk and to quote that character, “It’s a blessing and a curse.” Mostly a blessing. My brain is busy but not bad busy like it used to be. I don’t obsess over potential disasters (often), and mostly use my positive energy to try to bring joy to others and/or be really productive. I’m no stranger to sadness, and the littlest thing affects me. Sometimes it’s a TV show or songs from when I was kid that still get to me. I can’t listen to “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, or “Abraham Martin and John,” by Dion without welling up. But I enjoy the sense of feeling emotion, after a whole bunch of year of feeling numb, and pretty quickly bounce right back.

Last week though when I was working, multi-tasking with several instant messages going, emails rolling into my Outlook box, and a meeting starting in minutes, one email caught my eye. “Jimmy P has passed away.” I froze. Opened the email from a co-worker from our Los Angeles office. “Passed away unexpectedly.” Within seconds everyone was sending me instant messages. “Can you believe it? Are you okay? What happened? Does anyone know what happened?” We all sought each other out, unsure of what else to do. Jimmy couldn’t be dead. He was just here. I checked my phone. It was a month ago I’d last spoken to him which made me even sadder, wishing I’d talked to him since. It was a frenzy of messages to and from people. All of us wanting to offer comfort while needing it ourselves. A friend sent me a news article that said his car went over a cliff and landed in a ravine. This was the worst part. Not a heart attack while he slept peacefully, or a stroke, but an accident. Driving along, maybe headed to the grocery store, and then it was over.

I jumped onto a routine business call. Everyone was enjoying their usual banter when I said quietly, “Jimmy P is dead.” Silence. The shock from everyone who knew him could be felt. Our boss called an emergency meeting and mentioned counseling services, and we all talked about our memories. We were told we could take the rest of the day off, as long as we needed. Normally I would be fine. I expected to be fine. I’m a rock! But I was overcome with sadness and even with my chronic stoicism couldn’t fight it. Nor did I want to.

I went for a walk, hoping the arroyo and sunny shining water and lovely nature would alleviate the pain. It was so clear to me that day how much I avoid that emotion, usually successfully. I have minor dalliances with it, on my terms with TV and songs and sad stories. But this… As I stepped out the door I saw the gray, cloudy skies. Though it’s mid-March we’ve had a cold snap that’s dragged on for what feels like months. I grabbed an umbrella and started walking. The cold rain stung my cold face but I resisted using the umbrella. Rain and cold is so rare where we live, and it fit with my mental state. Sunny skies wouldn’t have been appropriate.

That day there were no bright colors. Everything was gray. A gray hawk in a tree with gray branches whose spring leaves hadn’t grown in yet. Gray geese walking in dark mud. Colorless puddles. I felt like I was in a black and white comic book. As the rain fell harder and I walked around the duck pond, my fleece jacket soaked, my feet slipping in the mud, I reveled in how grateful I was to be alive, to feel all of this. I raised my face to the silver sky as the rain washed over me. My umbrella was clutched, unopened, in my hand. It sucked that Jimmy P. was gone, that he left behind a wife and kids. That he’d only retired a year ago and had his whole new life to look forward to. He’d never get the dog I was always pushing him to get. It sucked that his last year on this earth was spent in quarantine, unable to enjoy the time off to travel. All the things he was going to do once the world opened up again, he’d never get to do them.

As I made the long walk back, freezing and not caring, a memory sprung to mind, of walking through Animal Kingdom in Florida with Husband #2. We’d gotten caught in a torrential downpour and everyone was running for cover. I’d lazed along, my face to the sky, enjoying the rain as it washed over me. I always loved the rain. Husband #2 reprimanded, “What’s wrong with you?” I ignored him and continued on my rainy walk. It was a forgotten memory. “What’s wrong with you?” It made me want to call him twelve years later and say, “No, what’s wrong with you?” I didn’t of course. In my life now I can’t imagine Ryan ever reprimanding me for finding joy and even solace in a rainstorm.

I felt no better when I got home but losing Jimmy P. reminded me how unexpected life is, how precious, and how for all your financial planning and eating right and exercising, it can all end just like that, That night I reached out to several people I don’t talk to often, but who I care about. Just checking in to say hi, letting them know I cared.

It took a few days but gradually my mood cleared. I’m still sad when I think of him being gone, and when I picture his family, when I look at the Christmas card he sent to us in December with his uncharacteristic quarantine shaggy hair. But as with all the losses and changes we experience, we have to carry on.

I added a Jimmy P. mosaic to my wall as a memorial. It made me happy as I was fitting the broken tile on the wall. As soon as I finished, it started raining again. One last day of bleakness. A couple of days later the sun came out and I was able to grout it. And now when I see Jimmy P. each time I walk onto my patio I smile. I think of all our great talks and all he taught me about my job. He was my boss for a while. I neglected to mention that. But he was more than that. He was a friend.

Thanks for all the happy times and for being my friend,

-Carly G.

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