Reactions are revealing things. They are, I think, moments where we abandon language and emotion comes through – there is no thought, only action, reacting to whatever it is that has snapped us outside of our narrative stream. They are true, in a way that language, with its narrative construct and attached, sometimes forced, meaning, is not.
I found myself homesick yesterday for the first time in a very long time. I’ve been lucky to not be homesick for Seattle much; I keep in contact with the majority of people I love and am close to, and although it’s not perfect, we do what we can, and I know the bond is there. But yesterday drove home how much I miss my friends, because I so clearly saw, in action/reaction, what I don’t have anymore.
I know this, because I know what happened when Jessica died. I know how people reacted. I know how the people in my department, who were just becoming friends, who didn’t know her, reacted. They dogpiled me on a couch, hugging me. They squished half a dozen people onto a couch designed for two, and pulled me in the middle, so that I literally sat on people, and my skin was in constant contact with other people, nothing else. It took persistent action to be left alone. I couldn’t walk down the hall without someone there, touching my shoulder, holding my hand, insisting on giving me a hug.
There wasn’t a lot in the way of talking. Not about me, or Jessica, or death. The conversation continued around me, the normalcy of life moving on. But as they continued their work, they expanded their spaces and lives to include constant physical contact to ground me, remind me of where I was, and that I was loved, that it would be okay. I could break down crying in the middle of a conversation, and they would hand me a tissue and move on. No questions, no condemnation. Simple affection and understanding. They formed a physical net around me, they let me fall, they picked me up, and let me fall again.
And of course, the people who knew Jessica were the same and more. Rachel, insisting she would walk me the two blocks to my apartment, just so she could give me a few extra hugs along the way. Mickey, Stax, Lisa, and everyone else – all falling apart, all trying to hold it together, all cleaning out the apartment, planning the funeral, dealing with the police. All the things we had to deal with, not necessarily dealt with together, but still shared experience.
A far cry from life here. Different coast, different people, different perspectives. I have to try to see the kindness in gestures here, to see that being told I can’t cry, I can’t lose control, was seeing a larger picture than my narrow focus could – that it wasn’t intended to be as hurtful as it came across, that it is a different way of expression. That the offering of food was just that – doing what I asked for, gently reminding me to eat.
But instead it just hurts. It hurts that no one I went to with my heart raw and exposed made any gesture that I can understand on an emotional level, that I have to try to filter it through a logic lens that is not functioning right now. It hurts that the last time anyone gave me a hug, instead of me insisting on giving someone a hug, was in July, and a colleague I had just met after months of correspondence. Not someone here.
Holly, CHID office minion, used to say that everyone needs three hugs a day, and that we will starve an emotional death if we don’t have that sort of gentle, comfortable physical connection with other people. If you walked into the office and she was there, she would ask you – how many hugs today? And if you were short, she made up for it, would drag other people out of their offices to make up for it. And after a while, people just did it on their own. Because she was right – you feel better when you feel connected to other people.
I miss Holly, and CHID, and Seattle, and the coast that knew how to hug.