Now my cuticles demand my attention. Pick at us, they insist. Yank away. Don't mind the blood. Keep going. At last, a use for Kleenex. As I blot at the blood, the counselor glances my way and says you have to find ways to release your anger.
"Keep a box of garage-sale dishes you don't care about," she suggests. "And break them when you're upset." She says you can lay down a blanket and throw the dishes at the garage, then roll the whole thing up when you're done. She's enthusiastic about how easy this is, as if she's relaying a remarkably simple recipe. It's hard to imagine her stepping on an ant, let alone breaking a service for twelve.
Would it be all right if I threw dishes at my former mother-in-law?
I want to ask the counselor. Marion, Ethan's mother, calls every other day now to insist that she come over and help me pack up Ethan's stuff for Goodwill. I dread the thought of her snoopy paws all over his Frank Zappa CDs and Lakers T-shirts. She'd probably want to chuck his frayed flannel shirts, which I've started sleeping in because they're as soft as moss and smell like Ethan. Marion's house is as neat as a museum. The only trace of the past is one family photo on the baby grand piano. It was taken the day of Ethan's college graduation, and he stands between Marion and Charlie, his father, who died a few months later of a heart attack. Ethan's smiling and the tassel on his graduation cap is airborne, as if it might propel him through the future. Marion looks up at him, bursting with awe.
Marion's always needling me to get ahold of myself. "You have to get back on the horse, dear!" she'll chirp. "Chin up, chin up!" Get-your-act-together euphemisms that say, Look, I'm a widow, too, and now I've lost my only son, but you don't see me driving through my garage door or inhaling pralines and cream out of the carton for break-fast.
I would like to bean Marion with a gravy boat.
Now, even the men are weeping. I'll bet the counselor feels she's making real progress here. I'll bet tears are to a grief counselor what straight teeth are to an orthodontist.
Still, dry eyes for me. Maybe I need the remedial grief group.
Maybe there's a book, The Idiot's Guide to Grief. Or Denial for Dummies.
Maybe this is going to be like ice-skating backward, which I never got the hang of. Or like Girl Scouts, which I got kicked out of for having a poor attitude. I didn't have any badges and wasn't enthusiastic about making my coffee-can camp stove and wouldn't wear that Patty Hearst beret while selling cookies. (It was hot and made your ears itch!) The troop leader, Mrs. Swensen, called my mother to say that I should find an after-school activity I was more enthusiastic about. She didn't know that I had been working on the cooking badge. I'd written a little report on paprika-although it was mostly copied out of the encyclopedia-and learned to make pie crust, rolling out the dough until it was as thin and transparent as baby's skin. "Too thin, sweetie," my mom commented, pointing at the huge disk of dough glued to the countertop. Anyway, I was relieved to be free of Girl Scouts, preferring to lie on my bed and listen to Casey Kasem's countdown, chewing banana Now and Laters and reviewing the repeats in the daisy wallpaper pattern to soothe my nerves. Flower, flower, stem. Flower, flower, stem.
Now, it doesn't look as if I'm ever going to get the grief badge. I look out the window at the brittle, leafless trees, their branches like bones in the sky.
And that's all the time we have today.
"The warmth of the body causes the patch to adhere," I explain to the Herald health care reporter who's interviewing me by telephone for an article he's writing. As public relations manager at Gorgatech, I'm supposed to improve the image of a scrotal patch product that's prescribed to men whose testosterone production is off-kilter on account of illness. A scrotal patch! Why can't I work on the headache product? The problem is, the patch doesn't always stick. Just imagine some poor guy in a sales meeting looking down and suddenly discovering a thing like a big square Band-Aid clinging to his sock.
From Good Grief by Lolly Winston. Copyright © 2004 by Lolly Winston
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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