For my godmother

Marilyn holding me as a toddler

Sitting in a hotel room in Colorado, big aching sobs, unable to think of anything else while the Food Network played in the background and my notepad lay on the floor. I couldn’t hold it in.

Then I was empty. It was all gone.

People used to tell me to write my feelings down.

That was dumb. I didn’t think I had feelings – not until you talked to me about them. Pulled them out, one by one, and showed me what they meant.

Big, loud feelings. Huge laughs. Weeping sadness. Needling anger. So much sassiness.

You showed me how to hold them all in my hands.

I can’t say I liked it.

Even now, sitting here, feeling all these feelings. Emotions. I liked them when they were smaller. I liked when they fit in my pocket. Zipped up or buttoned in.

Squished.

Mom wrote your eulogy. I wanted to write something, too – a memory of you. One to keep with me. So I would never forget.

But all that comes back is a feeling.

Warm, soft, home.

The last time I saw you, you watched me from the sofa. My son played in the other room. You talked about your grandkids. You asked me about my writing over the blare of the TV. You told me to watch out for the cat hair. We looked at pictures on your phone.

You told me you were proud of me.

You could do that – label your feelings. Share them with the world in a Facebook post or explain them to an awkward teenager.

You did that.

You showed me how.

Text message: I love you goddaughter. Love you!!
See? Just like that.

Still, I keep my feelings close. I take this one out, and I think about it, and it’s big. Bigger than me. Too much to hold. Too much to understand.

I keep it in my hands.

I don’t put it away.

It feels like garbage. It feels stupid and big and nothing like you. It feels sad. It hurts.

It’s not a memory. It’s the feeling of losing you.

Oh, there’s spiciness cut in. There’s the tang of a careless comment, the weight of an angry word. But that softens over time, and there’s sweetness laced throughout. The feeling – the knowing – that you loved me. That you knew me when I broke into the world and I knew you when you left it.

My dog died last week. That’s the kind of thing you’d get, you know? It was hard enough to lose you, but to lose him too? The house is colder. His hair is still on the floor. You better give him a couple of extra treats.

I’m not holding that feeling. I can’t. I can only hold so much.

So, for lunch, I’ll have a sandwich. I know you would approve. I’ll put this story up on my website and on Facebook, and I’ll let people see the shape of it. I have no idea how I’ll do it from here.

You taught me that the world is wanting. Wanting to be understood. Wanting to be treated equally. Wanting a sandwich. Wanting a hug. Always wanting.

And sometimes it’s our job to take their feelings in our hands, to learn the shape of them, and tell them they are okay.

Happy. Sad. Angry. Whatever.

It’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.

Marilyn holding me as a toddler