My last blog post was five months ago. I left off with the notion that sometimes things have to break before they become better. Break the ground to plant the seed. Prune the tree. Break up, break out.
At the time, I had just finished a project and I wrote a blog post about the process. The project (titled “inquieta/in quiet a”) was a physical record of a video by the same name. To be true to the work I had in mind, I broke pieces off the components I had used to make that video. The assembled collage of broken pieces (along with a block print on silk tissue) had to be comprised of the original materials used in the performance video. I had to break a pitcher and a bowl that had returned to their roles as useful tools in my kitchen. I used a hammer. I broke them. From functioning to shattered in a matter of seconds.
And so went my Fall 2012.
In mid-September, my husband & two sons were held up by gunpoint when we stopped at a gallery on the way home from a family party. I had just walked into the gallery; they were in the car just outside when it happened. The opening was the only one in the area that night, and the crowd was gathered mostly inside. If I’d been by myself, I would have made note of the dark streets, the empty sidewalks. I would have been alert. I would’ve been on defense. And yet somehow, with my little family, I had the sense that a protected bubble surrounded us. We are together! We are fine! The safety of innocence. I walked inside; they waited in the car.
Later I learned that within minutes, two young men approached the vehicle, pointed a gun at my husband (the windows were down, a warm September evening) and they demanded everything they could see. They used the gun to gesture for the wallet. The men looked at my children. They took their things also. My youngest son was the closest & saw the gun; thankfully, he was too young to understand it in the moment. It did happen so fast. My oldest was in the seat on the furthest side of the car; he knew the gravity of the situation, but was spared the view of the gun. The men left.
My family came inside. My husband gripped my arm and told me what had happened. He had to say it twice. I screamed. We called the police. Several car-jackings had already taken place in the neighborhood that night. The policeman took the report. The evening ended with a drive home with questions from the boys– “why why why?!?”. The sense that my family was safe, protected– Gone.
For weeks the sense of just-missed-violence stayed with me. My sons were afraid at night. My husband (stronger than I am) held our family steady. I was shaken.
Around this time I told my sons that their cousin had just left to Afghanistan. A soldier. He’ll be ok! I assured my oldest son. He didn’t believe me.
October twenty-sixth. Another rushed weekday morning. The phone rang. The brother who mostly texts, occasionally calls: he was calling the house phone. Already I was concerned. When I answered, he was already crying. My nephew, my soldier, my first kid before I had kids, born when I was fourteen, he left behind his wife, his baby son, he left my brother, my nephew, all grandparents, he left us all. He was gone. He was taken from us. In far far away Afghanistan, he was violently taken from us by one man with a gun.
Grief. I thought I knew about it already. I thought I spent a year moving past grief, I thought I had broken already. When my best friend’s little girl died ten months before– I thought I knew grief. But this. My own nephew. This was the hard slap of the ocean wave, knocking me down & threatening to drown me, taking what felt like everything with it. And still I am not the parent. I still can’t imagine losing a child. This Grief. Not one big thing or one big event; this Grief was wave after wave, one little thing after another, in which each little thing became big, and each thing had me fighting to get my head above water. This Grief was all the interconnected realizations over and over, of what had been lost, and of the changed world that went on before my eyes. And really the world did keep going even when I wasn’t, even when I wanted it all back just the way it was before, better than it was.
Now: Faith. On the darkest days it meant believing there was a future even though I couldn’t see it, and it meant being patient in that darkness. Now it’s believing I can live again, even if sometimes it’s hard to breathe. I didn’t know what I was good for anymore, but I had to believe there was a way to live after being so broken. I used to be functional, useful, whole; then, I was broken apart. Faith is believing that what I have now, what’s left of me– something good has to come of this. I have to believe it. It’s time. I have to live again. I have to get on with it. It’s what I have and I have to make something with it.*
“Be sad, but not forever.” These are the words my soldier nephew left behind.
*Next week I’ll announce artwork I’m doing for the month of February. “I Will Find” is a new series that can be accessed online at www.i-will-find.com as well as various postings on social media.