By David Karp
“Change. How do you change yourself?….It’s easy to lose yourself or never find yourself. The older you get, the heavier that baggage becomes that you haven’t sorted through. So you run. I’ve done a lotta that kind of running. I’ve spent 35 years trying to learn how to let go of the destructive parts of my character. And I still have days when I struggle with it. We all have our broken pieces. Emotionally. Spiritually. In this life, nobody gets away unhurt. We’re always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces and something whole emerges… Life’s mysteries remain and deepen. It’s answers: unresolved. So you walk on through the dark ‘cause that’s where the next morning is.”- Bruce Springsteen, from a monologue in the trailer of his “Western Stars” film
I often found myself returning to these words in the second half of last month. For comfort and for reflection. Something Bruce Springsteen tends to do for me through his music and his words.
I’m sure you noticed, dear reader, that I have taken said second half of February off from writing. Not for better or for worse, just a matter of fact. It’s funny, because I actually started this post February 13th, but lost words and inspiration to find exactly what it was I wanted to say, as I knew that I had a bit of a dark woods to trek through.
It’s a strange time every year for me. I think and I reflect and I listen to what I have to say to myself.
And some years, those words I tell myself aren’t always kind. This was one of those years.
Thursday, February 12th, 2021 marked twenty one years since my mother passed away.
Twenty-one years. My God.
I’m not sure if it’s because of that sobering fact, or because something hasn’t processed fully, or because the nine year old boy who waved goodbye to his mother twenty one years ago is still waiting at the front door for a wish that was unfulfilled.
Time has passed. The story goes on. The chapters keep writing and writing themselves. And like any book, there are some hellos…and some goodbyes.
The hand I was dealt has come with more goodbyes than hellos. And if we could take out emotions from that statement, then those are just simply the facts.
I don’t know what it was this year, but I struggled a bit more with myself and my reality.
One night last week, I took a drive…nowhere in particular. Just a drive to clear my mind. To think.
One night two weeks ago, I pulled into an empty parking lot somewhere on Route 3 in Clifton, NJ where the only light shining was the cold white tint of the streetlights above me. I called my father up and I told him that I’m realizing as I get older, the memories are fading with the years.
It’s not a pleasant thing, but honest. I have now lived more life without her than with her. And that realization; the “what-if’s” that we as humans sometimes imagine; that mere revelation: it ran through my veins; unfiltered, unforgiving loneliness. A loneliness that lies somewhere deep in the forest of the heart and of the human condition.
And so we talked for an hour or so about her and the memories we did still have. As he is getting older as well, he shares the sentiment. We both struck a nerve and, as father and son, we talked it out.
And we learned.
One thing I learned that I didn’t know, is that she had a nickname for me. “Little Loof”. Charming? Maybe. I don’t think anyone knows why that was given to me, but it made me smile because it was another happy memory I could use to fight off the demons of the bad.
The memory from my last post was real. It happened that way, as best as I can remember from 21 years ago.
And that was the pain I felt this year. That loneliness. The fact that the most vivid memory I now have of her is from the day she died.
I knew I had to step away for a bit and look into myself and, for lack of a better term, accept that fact.
I’ve been learning a lot more about my own trauma these past few years, be it through my own self-reflection, therapy, my writing, other media I consume, and such. And as I understand myself and who I am, I feel like I understand her more.
It’s not that I don’t have happy memories of her. I remember one of the things I looked forward to the most in the winters is that she would make these amazing gingerbread men cookies. I would always watch her and help her with the dough and the cookie cutter. Our two cats would come out of hiding, and try and jump up onto the table where we would have to fend them off so they wouldn’t eat the dough. We’d wait together as they cooked in the oven and watch some of a movie or a cartoon, the smell slowly making its way to us from the kitchen as it cooked. And when they were done and she pulled them out of the oven…perfection. A sign of winter and happiness. Snow always seemed to be falling every year we made them, so when I see snow I think of gingerbread cookies. And I think of her.
The happy memories do exist, you see. Sometimes, though, I wish the most vivid one wasn’t also the most traumatic. I wish it played out differently and I wish I could of had a few more years of memories with her. I don’t think a year goes by where I wonder what my life would of been like if she were still around. What advice she would give me, what she would think of my faults and mistakes, what path she had thought of for me.
To remember her voice saying “I love you.”
But I know she did, and I know she does. And I know, as I age, I grow closer to her because, despite not knowing her my adult life, I do still feel her around me from wherever she passed on to. In little things and coincidences and events. In the love from the people I choose to surround myself by. From the love I have found for myself over the past thirty years, which was its own journey that I am still taking, though I have come a long way in the past decade. That’s a story for another time.
But I will say this: A lot of people, upon meeting me for the first time or spending more time with me in the beginning, often ask how I smile so much.
And oftentimes, I would want to shake them and tell them that I went through hell trying to find out how. And that smile wasn’t always real, despite whether I was lying to the outside world or myself. But I’m proud to say that the smiles I give are now genuine. Took a better part of thirty years, but I played the cards I was dealt with and I think I may actually have a chance of winning at the end of all this.
And I know some part of the hope in my heart was passed down from my mother.
I think I will stop here. I could write a whole book on grief and hope and my life thus far, but yes. Let’s stop here. I have only skimmed the emotional journey I have made throughout my life. A snapshot in a photo album of memories happy and sad. A journey that continues now. And so it goes…
To my mother, wherever you are: I love you more than any words I could write, but every word that I write for the rest of my life is in your honor. I may not have had a lot of time with you, and in a way I still hold on to some grief, but I know you are still out there watching and inside my heart, feeling. Guiding me through whatever light and dark that my life takes me. I strive to learn more every day, one day at a time. And I thank you for giving me that. I love you- Little Loof.
“What is grief, if not love persevering?”- Vision, in the 8th episode of Wandavision