Prolonged Performances of Grief


"Matty" Photo Credit: Molly Choma

Matty and I are texting back and forth about the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. At the end of last season, a terrifying sociopath with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire bludgeons someone to death, but we don’t get to see who. Tonight, we find out who dies. Even though Matty and I live together, I didn’t watch it with him. I left the house because I needed to start drafting this blog post already! But the morbid curiosity! I could not focus, and writers are notoriously good at distracting themselves – so it’s been confirmed via text that two main characters have been killed. My reaction to one of the names was “noooooooooooo,” and Matty’s response after he summarized the final scene was “I’m feeling very hollow.” Without being in the same house, Matty and I know that the show will have to go on without them…

Our marathon viewing of The Walking Dead’s Season 6 was one of the few TV exceptions in the three years Matty and I have roomed together. Matty treats shows and movies–and having shared experiences of characters and stories–as a way of bonding. It’s quotidian and benignly sweet, something that families do when boredom sets in, and pure TV entertainment and that crumpling comfort into the shared crease of a couch is just what you need to be and feel “together.”

For three years, I have turned down countless asks from Matty to watch Game of Thrones, Firefly, other shows and so many movies that I don’t even remember their names. If I’m not in the mood, I’ll straight up fall asleep to any show or movie. I thought I’d be wasting my time. And if I were looking at myself honestly, a lot of it was just some self-important bullshit: “I don’t have time,” is mostly a sincere statement for someone who’s over-committed, but it can also be a crutch and a diversion for someone who struggles to be present and to love other people deeply.

And then, there’s just plain taking the time that you have with someone for granted...

For three years, Matty has lived less than five feet across from me on the main floor of a 1940’s bungalow we’ve been renting in North Portland. He has been my person in many ways, intellectually, creatively, my nachos dinner-maker, my roommate, my business partner, he was there when I spiraled in despair after leaving D. He was also there for all my naivete and confusion, and he pushed me forward, always stumbling toward love, even when it was taboo.

"Fancy: Backwords Press team at Wordstock's Bookmark Ball 2015"

When my current partner and I met, I divulged a laundry list of what were – on paper – red flags. Matty was reticent and wary, and told me to run the opposite direction. Then Matty met him, and because we’re the kinds of people that reside and choose to live in nuance, he gave me what I needed to trust my gut and heart over my head, he said, “go for it.” My partner and Matty are the kinds of people that love in generous, full-hearted ways. They’re both demonstratively huggy without reservations, all the time. And considering the health benefits of giving and receiving hugs, they have it right. It isn’t that I don’t hug, but I tend to come up to people excitedly with hands waving, or cooly with my hands in my pockets. An observant acquaintance once told me that I was “self-contained” which I think is a tactful way of saying “reserved” or “closed-off.”

There have also been several times when I’m having an off-day, and Matty has asked, “do you need a hug,” and I’ve responded, “nope.” I can be very distant. Cold. Sometimes, I just want to get whatever I’m working on on my laptop done, okay? Damn these fucking feelings – I don’t have time for this shit. The denial of a hug, of any hug, of that “don’t touch me, don’t come near me, I’ve got this,” comes from a place of pride, but also a really lonely and damaged place. The first time I watched Brené Brown’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” I felt depressed, and outed, because I knew that I had never actually loved without reservations o