My hiking buddy and I spent the early afternoon scrambling along and up and over miles of natural rock formations, pausing along the way to take in some of the most gorgeous views that our part of the U.S.A. can offer. She and I make a great hiking duo. We choose a different trail every time we go out, so we always encounter a surprise or two. The fact that we needed to use our upper bodies to traverse this trail that my app labeled “moderate” was today’s surprise, a moderate surprise as compared to some of the other situations we’ve gotten ourselves into. In the end, though, we always laugh. We laugh at ourselves and whatever behavior the hike inspires in us. And we laugh just to laugh, I think. I love days like today.
I talked to my cousin last night. She’s a mess—walking around in a daze, wearing her dead husband’s clothes and shoes, sleeping with her arms wrapped around his urn. Grief has taken hold of her and isn’t letting go any time soon, especially since she drinks all day. If she were working, which she isn’t due to a ruptured disc or something, I think she’d be a bit more in touch with her surroundings. She might have a chance to break out of the depression spell. As it is, she spends all day, every day, alone with a confused puppy that her husband bought her shortly before he left this earth, and drinking.
What can I do? I’m forty-six. I am also plagued with grief and troubles, but of a different breed. I recently reviewed a series of journal entries from 2012 in which I discuss my struggles with drinking, my worries over my cousin, and my fear that I might lose my father. Six years ago, I was where I am now, except for one difference—I was preparing to lose a parent. Fast forward to now. I’ve lost the parent, just not the parent I expected to lose first. While I circle the wheel of same-old-shit-different year, the unexpecteds sometimes throw me off my course, wake me up. I need that. Who woulda thought Mom would go first? I didn’t, but I was prepared for something big. Ultimately, I was prepared for death. My cousin wasn’t.
My hiking buddy told me that this same-old-shit-different-year scenario that I am stuck in is a result of unwillingness to compromise.
“We wanna be able to drink when we want to drink and eat what we want to eat,” she said, “yet we also want to be svelt and fit.” It just doesn’t add up. We gotta compromise. Then she joked about how we can’t say the word “svelt” without feeling like a Jewish mom: “Oh, she’s so svelt!” And we laughed like we do.
That’s what my cousin doesn’t have anymore—the laughter. She gave her whole self, her whole identity, over to that husband. He, in so many words, told her where to live, who to hang out with, how to behave, and what was funny.
“You got Netflix?” I asked her. “Watch GLOW—great eighties soundtrack. Marc Maron is hysterical. It’s a fun distraction.”
You know what she told me?
“I don’t watch anything anymore that would make us laugh.” US. Us. What does a woman do when there is no more “us”? Is it wrong to think ahead? To sit down with our spouses and hash out life insurance and wills? Six years ago, I was thinking ahead. I was forty, and my parents were in their seventies, and my husband and I hashed out our wills, and we discussed life insurance, and we discussed moving to a place where my mom could live with us… if the situation required it. Six years ago, I was struggling with my weight and with alcohol, but I was also preparing for this shitstorm that is life after forty. My cousin. She’s gotta get there.
I just don’t know what to say anymore. I wish I had sage answers to life’s questions. Maybe I do, but no one’s asking.