This morning I found in my grandmother's closet a box full of letters from the mid-1940s when my grandpa was serving as a conscientious objecter to World War II. I felt intense emotion upon seeing them, no specific emotion I can name, just a fieryness of sorts in the soft part of my gut just below the solar plexis. I later told my grandma how I felt, or tried to, and she said, "I know."
It's hard for me to accept feelings without clearly defined stories attached, the kind that are specific effects of this or that cause: a stubbed toe; an insult; a sad ending to a book. And of course these feelings I felt this morning had a cause, and, obviously, a long, mysterious story. But the incident immediately preceding it was the mere opening of a box and finding pretty much what I expected to find. Indeed, I espected to feel thrilled at unearthing such a treasure.
I've never done grief well. My tendency is to just shrug off loss and move on asquickly as possible. My past is scattered with relationships that flourished for a while before I simply let them die, turned away and never looked back. It's like I've continually divested myself of intimacy, and I feel sometimes as though I'm a gennocidaire, an eradicator of my own history, usually for reasons too stupid to recall. And I've been on the receiving end, too, quite recently in fact, excised with a machette slice of words over an incident that's bad, sure, but, in my mind, not worth nuking five good years, so I know that it hurts, but I do it anyway, probably will again.
And then there's death. My first response is usually, Oh well, what can you do? And I figure that ought to be enough. Shed a few tears (but more than likely not), share a few stories, and that's that. It's not like we don't expect one another to die.
But then you open up a box and you realize they're gone. Just that: gone, a presence in and of itself, like no matter where you turn the goneness will be there, because it just showed up, just then, when you didn't think it would. And it's just the feeling, no story through which to control it, name it, give it a reason to be. Those are the feelings that seem like they might never go away.