How to Grieve Forever


Originally published in Word Riot in May 2015.

  1. Pack up your childhood room and head off to college, just as you planned to do before everything happened. Take your dad’s navy blue sweatshirt with a cerulean stripe across the chest. Take his tricolor golf umbrella. Take his Sunday slippers and a single plaid handkerchief that he once kept in his suit-jacket pocket.
  2. Leave your newly widowed mom alone with her bottles of Klonopin and the orange tabby cat that she adopted to soothe you. Stay so consumed with your own suffering that you cannot hear the echo of hers. Point the car, still registered in your deceased dad’s name, south on Michigan 52. See your complicated, three stoplight town in the rear view mirror. Feel as though that town was never really yours. Tell yourself you had always been a stranger there. Believe that getting the hell out holds some kind of answer.
  3. Blame yourself. Come up with the notion that your dad’s death was your fault: a bad deal you made with a ruthless God, punishment for your teenage ungratefulness. Hold tightly to that notion so that it might destroy you.
  4. Think about dying. Drive too fast on washboards of deserted country roads on the fringes of your college town. Speed down highways in rainstorms. Fantasize about crossing the double yellow lines. Work yourself up so that you become deeply tired. Turn back toward the dorm with cloudy eyes and the same reverberating ache at your center. Wonder what you thought you’d find out there in the dark, dark, Midwestern night.
  5. Try again another day to assuage your holed-up spirit. Try writing with cold hands under the bell tower. Try beer, Bacardi, Truth or Dare. Try Kodiak Wintergreen with your dorm girlfriends. Try dancing with strangers at frat parties and lesbian bars. Try dating others who are broken.
  6. Construe happiness as a sin against the dead and the remaining. Feel sickness rise like fire in your throat when your mom falls in love during your senior year. Feel betrayed that she does not plan to mourn your dead father for the remainder of her life, like you have set out to do. See her clean-cut, track-coaching man friend as a grossly inadequate replacement for your faultless father. Resort to the silent treatment when you are forced to encounter him. Wonder how your own mother could do this to you. Interpret her relationship as a sign that you are truly alone in this empty world, stuck in the hollow mornings, usurped of human solidarity.
  7. Pack up your dorm room. Sell your loft bed and futon to underclassmen. Fit everything you own in your brand-new Ford, a graduation gift from your mother. Take your dad’s Sunday slippers, navy blue sweatshirt, tricolor golf umbrella, and the handkerchief he kept in his suit-jacket pocket. Take a box of notebooks and half-full journals. Take your Norton Anthologies of everything.
  8. Point west. Blaze through the open heartland on the truck route. Arrive in Boulder in early May before the cottonwoods shed. Feel the dry, hot, Front Range sunshine on your freckled shoulders. Trust that the Rocky Mountains hold some kind of answer.
  9. Try to escape yourself. Introduce yourself to everyone you meet in Colorado with your first name, not the nickname you’ve used for the first 22 years of your life. Work as a temp to avoid commitment. Move in and out of rented apartments in five Colorado zip codes. Fill your kitchen pantries with books. Fall in love with beautiful strangers, but leave, always leave, for the next attraction.
  10. Wonder why you are so fucking lonely.