“We should hold each other more
while we are still alive, even if it hurts.
People really die of loneliness, skin hunger
the doctors call it. In a study on love,
baby monkeys were given a choice
between a wire mother with milk
& a wool mother with none. Like them,
I would choose to starve & hold the soft body.”

-Robin Beth Schaer

When I think of the man I was two years ago, I think of fog. How it shades and contorts what may or may not be in front of you. How it can cloud around the shape of you, clarity hindered. I think of how traveling through it can sometimes only yield more fog. Something endless. That’s what grief is to me. I’ve been digging. Trying to make sense of something that I won’t soon understand. I knew, two years ago, my grandmother was hurting and hoping I’d come home to see her for what would have been the very last time. I knew it to be possible that she was doing everything she could to hang on for just a little while longer. I knew I prioritized work over the miles it’d take for me to see her again and still, I’m working through that, a certain kind of fog that makes me feel bad for leaving and feel bad for staying. Unshakeable in more than a few ways. Two years later, I’m sitting in this coffeeshop wondering how it could be that I’ve let two years pass without fully writing about it.

She was a woman of steel with a soft center. Truly the matriarch of this family. A wonder of the world. I am convinced today just as I was two years ago today: everything that matters most to me grows three times its size once I no longer have access to it.

I’ve gotten a tattoo in her honor; I look at it every day—in the shower as the water hits it, in meetings when I roll up my sleeves, in small moments where the black ink is a heavy contrast against my pale skin—and I am reminded of her words. “I love you.” Some of the strongest words ever said simply to me. Some of the only that I’ve both understood and felt completely in the fog about. Still traveling, still making my way towards some sort of muffled light, and I am starting to think that perhaps this is what life is like once you lose someone you love deeply.

I believe there is a story in all things. It’s why I’ve taught a class about storytelling for the past two semesters. It’s why I’ve worked with students to help them see the value in their own stories and the stories surrounding them every single day. There are no small moments that do not have the opportunity to be of golden value. Everything has the potential to matter. The ways things came to be, how they’re existing, and the hopes folks have for them continuing are all stories and they’re worth telling. I’m not yet convinced that everything happens for a reason, or if these two concepts are related, but even when (especially when) things don’t make sense to us, they grow bones in mattering. That’s that.

I have several stories swimming around of my grandmother: going to the park down the street from the house that she and my grandfather built; her having a stroke across from me at a restaurant, her eyes meeting mine, face pale-white; her tripping and falling over a protruding water pipe in the sidewalk, blood rushing down her face but her insisting that she was fine; her living next to my father in a trailer park; me and a friend getting in trouble at a local store and her having to come and pick us up; going into the woods that she told us not to go into and building forts; moving in with her for a year during high school while my family could get on their feet; her crying every time I would leave home and asking when I’m coming back; and so many more. So many more.

The last two years have been difficult and I still have so much unpacking to do. Every good, bad, and indifferent memory I have deserves a safe space to come undone inside of me. My grandmother was, is, and always will be a strong part of my identity. The love she exuded is not lost on me. It’s in the work that I do every day. It shows up in the relationships I’m constantly working to build, even when I fail. It’s a central part of who I am as a person. It’s on my skin; despite shedding, it’s always there.

Every morning, I wake up a see a message I wrote to myself that I got from a StoryPeople print: “There is no future without love.” Although I live alone, I say it quietly to myself every morning as if it is a prayer—something holy that gives me strength, something spiritual that is bigger than I am. When I sit up, feet reaching the ground, arms stretching, I’m hoping the universe is listening. I’m hoping that somehow, the moon and the trees are listening. I’m hoping there will be others can find this message in their everyday lives and believe it. That we can see each other and understand each other, all the soft parts in us are worthy of acceptance, of light.

There will come a time when everything around me is gone. People will pass. Time will pass. The music will stop. Work will cease and the world will be determined to keep spinning the same old, reliable way. I will be left with myself. Healing will not be linear and it will not come easy. I have to come to terms with that fact—sooner rather than later—and know in my bones that, no matter how much I try, I cannot outrun my hurt. I cannot trick all that haunts me into being my friend. I have to face it. And the love that grows through all the breaking will make it worth it. So worth it.

So it goes.

Published by Robbie Williford

Writer from Flint, Michigan. Partial but slowly becoming. Educator. Storyteller. Bashful. Paying attention to the quiet.

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