Last night was a bust. I barely slept, and instead laid awake reading about the Five Stages of Grief and being alternately irritated and comforted. I’m not sure if I buy into the model entirely. It has its points, but it’s also just obnoxiously tidy and cute. I don’t believe in emotions that come in five easy steps like that. I’ve never seen one.
So then I’ve been thinking about what I think grief is supposed to look like for me. About what I understand about loss. What it is and what it means.
You see, the shitty thing about being a young person is that everyone is always telling you about how young you are. You say something like, “Life is hard,” and everyone within a five-block radius who is even remotely older than you is immediately down your throat about how “you don’t even know” because you “haven’t even lived.” And then they laugh to each other in this really morbid and depressing way that suggests that at a certain age all this terrible shit happens to you all at once, and then you just “get it.”
I don’t mind telling you that I don’t believe in that at all.
I think age is a fucking joke. A person just lives. And you’ve just seen what you’ve seen whenever you’ve seen it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an old person or not. It just matters that something happened and you were there. Because all the terrible shit does happen at once sometimes, but it doesn’t wait around for you to get old enough to handle it.
And so I started to make a list of things I’ve lost and not found. Already. At my ripe, young age of 23.
Things I have lost --
My luck or my self-confidence or both, if I ever had either.
My ability to see the good in people, if there ever was any.
My father, if I ever had one.
I read the list back to myself around 4am, and it all sounded so melodramatic and pathetic, but, looking at it again now I’m not sure what else it could sound like.
This morning I have started to develop an elaborate treatise on grief because I received a liberal arts education that taught me how to make everything small and academic:
I don’t understand the expression “I am sorry for your loss,” because I think that loss is not something to be sorry about. Loss, so far as I can tell, is actually an explicit and uncomplicated feeling. It’s the thing you experience when you truly forget about something you once loved.
Losing something means it going away, completely and forever. For example, if you lose your sight, your hair, your hearing, they are gone. They are not coming back, and you must adjust, quickly and efficiently, to life without them.
Certainly, we grieve at the prospect of them going. We go through this grief in various forms: hearing aids and bifocal lenses and Rogaine. But when we come to a certain point, we are forced to make our peace with a new feeling: it is no longer about losing, it is about lost. And so, by the time these things we once loved are truly lost we are prepared to make our way without them. And, more than that, we may one day forget what it was like before we lost these things.
You aren’t then, sorry for my loss, of which I will be mostly unaware. You are sorry for the pain I feel before the loss settles in. You are sorry not because I’ve lost something, but because something is gone and I haven’t lost it yet.
I think, stupidly and naively because I am young, about when I lost this black military-style jacket at a summer camp when I was eleven. I think about how it was gone long before I lost it. I missed it for months, longing to wear it with every outfit and being dismayed again to find it still absent from my closet. For years even maybe, I grieved that jacket, but now-- now that I understand that I’m much older and have passed through puberty and that even if I found the jacket again, I wouldn’t be able to wear it-- now I have really lost it.
So, I determine, that I haven’t lost Gerald.
That I couldn’t lose him, even though I know he’s gone. Even though, really, if I am honest with myself, he’s been gone for a very long time.
No matter how much I repeat to myself that the man I grew up with is gone, never to return again, still he is not lost.
And I think this comes down to the fact that, in a way, he is me. And I am him. A thought that makes me sick, and also consoles me.
Perhaps in time my ability to hear his voice in my mind, and picture his face will fade. I may lose my knack for mimicking his speech patterns, and the way he told stories. But even then, when all of him is gone, he will still be half of who I am. Sometimes, far more than half. And so he can’t be lost. Because I will find him everywhere.
“Is this what Denial feels like?” I am talking to Mel through the bathroom door. She is in the shower, getting ready for work, but I have been lying awake for hours and want to get her opinion on some of these ideas I’ve had.
She shuts off the water. “What are you talking about?”
“Kubler-Ross. Five Stages of Grief. Do you think I’m in Denial right now?” Mel comes dripping out of the bathroom, wrapped in a Yale towel that Luke sent her. “It’s the first stage, so I kinda figure I must be. But your other options are Anger, Bargaining, Depression or Acceptance, if one of those sounds better,” I add. “What do you think?”
Mel looks confused as she wrings her hair into a hand towel, and squeezes by me in the hallway. “I think,” she calls from the bedroom, “that you should come in today before I pick up Luke and we should have an appointment, is what I think.” She reappears in the hallway in her underwear. I should have known she would say this.
“That’s not really what I asked,” I try to steer us back in the direction of my denial. She shrugs, going back to the bathroom and starting to brush her teeth. “I don’t know enough about psychology to give you an opinion on that, Kenz.” Her mouth is all foamy, and she spits. “But I do think,” spit, “ that I could really help you through whatever stage you’re in if you came for an appointment.” She puts down her toothbrush and cups her hands under the faucet, gathering up some water to gargle. She gargles for altogether too long, spits again and looks at me, leaning very seriously against the sink. “I won’t have this kind of time in my schedule once Luke is here, and so then you’ll have to wait til after he goes back to school.” There’s a long pause where she just raises her eyebrows in a very peer-pressure-y kind of way. So I figure that we aren’t going to talk about my theories on grief.
Mel works at custom juice bar called Juice & Harmony that her parents own. They opened the flagship Seattle store a few years before Mel was born, and, because of the crazy success they’ve seen, they now have opened several more storefronts all around the Pacific Northwest. Mel started as a bottom of the totem pole “Juice Slinger” in high school, because it was all she could fit in around her cross-country schedule, but since college she has really focused on her work and now has invented her own unique brand of juice therapy. Her official title now is a word she coined herself: Jutritionist.
It’s entirely impossible to take her seriously sometimes.
Basically what she does is meet with clients and help them to find juice blends to help them with whatever they want help with in their life, be that anything from weight loss to a messy custody battle. “You wouldn’t believe it, but usually diet is 9/10 of the problem,” she’s always saying to anyone who’ll listen. “And so really what I do is just common sense. By balancing out their internal state using specific juice and smoothie blends, I can help people to really see a difference in themselves and their lives. Even within the first day.” Someone should give Melanie her own infomercial. She would rock it.
I cave, and agree to come in at one o’clock and sit down with her to figure out a juice plan to help me “battle my grief.” I’d never tell her that really I think the whole juice thing is a little bullshit, but I do. And yet, the larger reality is that if Mel can help make any of this make more sense, I’d owe her big.
Not even fifteen minutes after she’s left for work I get a text from Kevin that reads: Crazy 3sum w/bartender thx 2 ur whoroscope. LOL. Lunch?
The place we agree on for lunch, this cafe next door to Mel’s juice bar, is by far the most Seattle-y place in the city. By this I mean that their wi-fi password is kale_chips and there are four, count them, four different adult Caucasian males inside with dreadlocks.
I get a curried tofu sandwich and grab a table to wait for Kevin.
He is 20 minutes late and hungover.
“Mack,” he says my name like he’s just found an oasis after weeks in the desert.
“You look like shit, Kev.” It’s an understatement. He has sunglasses on, and he’s wearing tall, mismatching athletic socks with basketball shorts and slide-on Adidas sandals. His dress shirt, sorely out of place in the rest of his outfit, is misbuttoned, and has lipstick on the breast pocket, which is both confusing and tacky.
We sit down, and I am painfully aware of everyone staring at us. It reminds me of the last time I went out to a restaurant with Gerald, the way people studied us trying to figure out what possible relationship we might have.
“You wouldn’t even believe me if I told you,” he starts. “It’s been a fucking INSANE couple nights, Mack,” his voice is far too loud for the room.
“Oh, I can see that.” The third dreadlocked man glowers at us from across the cafe. We are disturbing him. Shame is with me in abundance.
Kevin begins to detail his escapades with Stace and her roommate, the Chinese acrobat. It is precisely as disgusting as the worst thing you’ve ever heard. He’s just describing how to get into a sexual position called “The Reluctant Organ Donor” when I hear my name from the vicinity of the counter.
“Kenzie? Shit. Hi.”
Neil does this thing where he blinks a lot. I don’t know if he knows about it or not, but I noticed it at lunch the other day. Sometimes when I’m talking, he starts blinking very intentionally like he’s got something in his eye. It’s a little distracting, really, but also kind of adorable because it makes him seem like a very focused and also sleepy puppy dog. Anyway, before I know what to do, Neil is standing at our table, doing this blinking thing at me.
“The fuck’s this?” Kevin lowers his sunglasses at Neil, revealing a pretty nasty black eye. “Sex wound,” he smirks at me, but I don’t really notice or care.
“Neil. Hi.” I swallow audibly. My “hi” sounds all gaspy and windswept, as if I were seeing Neil on a cliff for the first time years after a torrid love affair. Which is to say, it was entirely inappropriate.
Then nothing. If there were supposed to be more words in this moment, everyone forgot what they were. I sit staring at Neil, who shifts his gaze from me to Kevin and back, blinking the whole time. I assume Kevin was doing about the same, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.
Finally, Neil looks around, trying his best to be casual and says, “I didn’t know you liked this place. It, uh- doesn’t really seem like you.”
“Oh. Well yeah. It’s not really me,” I say.
“Fuck off. You suggested it,” Kevin interrupts.
“So. How are you?” Neil continues, getting this very intense look on his face. “I’ve been thinking about you a lot the past couple days.”
Kevin lets out this very deliberate “ha” noise, and puts his sunglasses back on, leaning toward me with sarcastic curiosity. “Yeah, Mack. How are you?”
“Neil, this is my friend, Kevin.” I hear myself use the word and regret it but it’s too late. “And Kevin, this is... Neil. He’s um, a trainer at my roommate’s gym. Well, he’s going to be. He’s going to be a trainer at her gym. Soon.” This is my worst introduction ever. The two of them shake hands.
“I’m just,” Neil shifts looking impatiently at the counter for his food. “I was in the neighborhood because I was talking to Mel about some of her clients... she might want to refer some people to me. You know, once I’m certified.” Neil shrugs a little, and then lowers his voice, “I’m not really-- this isn’t really my kind of place either.”
“Oh sure,” says Kevin, and I kick him under the table.
“Sure, no, I know. You’re more the... waffles type,” I say in this weird voice I didn’t know I had. Neil laughs this funny tiny laugh and then all of a sudden looks all shy about it.
“Well, anyway,” he says, “It was good to see you, Kenz. You look good... better.”
Better? What is that supposed to mean? I don’t really make words back, I just nod. He puts his hand on my shoulder and I flinch. Kevin laughs under his breath and Neil goes, “Right. Okay,” and then goes and waits at the counter for his food before disappearing out onto the street.
Once he’s gone Kev’s eyes get all bulgey and excited. He suppresses the biggest smirk I’ve ever seen and then asks a bunch of questions about Neil that I don’t really answer. It pretty quickly stops being fun for him and he gives up and finishes his gross sex story. I’m half-listening but mostly I just stare out the window, replaying that moment over and over. It has left this funny feeling in my chest, and I want to understand what it was about being with Neil again that was so unbearably weird. When the only time we’ve ever really spent together was with a corpse, I don’t know what I expected. That we could just go ahead and be normal friends? I wish he would come back in and sit with me, and I also really don’t. We don’t actually know each other at all, I keep reminding myself. You don’t know him. But I can still feel where he put his hand on my back. Why did he say I looked better?
“I don’t even know him,” I say aloud to Kev, who has just finished saying the word “wetness”, which probably made horrifying sense in context.
“What? Who? Are we still talking about the awkward sandwich guy?”
“Sure, okay, Neil.” Kevin looks wholly uninterested and I don’t really blame him. “All right. You don’t know him. Got it. I didn’t say you did.”
“I’m just saying,” I try to cover, but it’s useless. He knows I’m acting weird because he knows me too well. That’s the best and worst thing about Kevin.
I glance up at the clock, 12:46. “I have that appointment, actually, so I should-- you know. I don’t want to be late.”
“You okay, Mack?”
“I just don’t like to be late is all.” I’m already getting up from the table. My body shifts into auto-pilot. Just get out and go. You just can’t be here any longer. Just get out.
“I thought you said it was right next door.” I’m putting on my coat and my scarf. Stuffing my wallet into my bag.
“I did, but, you know. Early is on time, on time is late, blah blah blah.” I kiss Kevin on the cheek. “Your treat, yeah?”
“Mack,” he starts to say, but I am walking away and out the door before he can finish.
The fresh air is good, but as soon as I’m outside I search the street for Neil. Despite my desperation, he’s nowhere, because why would he be. I feel so shaky, and weak, and crazy that for a second I think I should just sit down on the curb, but then I start to worry that Kevin will come out looking for me. So I practically run until I’m inside Juice & Harmony. I close the door and then press my back against the wall next to the Juice-To-Go fridge and close my eyes.
When I open them, the high school girl behind the counter is giving me a weird look.
“I have an appointment with the Jutritionist,” I tell her, like it makes me seem less insane.
She shrugs and says, “Ohhhhkay...”, but eventually she goes into the back to get Mel.
In the few minutes when I’m alone I can’t tell if I’m going to cry or laugh. I try both but don’t really manage either.
“Everything is just so fucking fucked up,” I whisper to the ceiling fan, and it totally agrees.
Mel is wearing the Lululemon equivalent of a pantsuit. She has her hair swept up into this perfectly imperfect bun, and she’s wearing a little more make-up than usual because of her impending boyfriend. She looks absurdly healthy.
“How’s your morning?” She asks me while we’re getting settled in her office. She has a bowl of fruit on her desk, and she offers me a banana. I take it but then I don’t want it and just sort of play with it while I talk.
“Weird. I don’t know,” I say and it’s starting to feel like my standard response.
“So. Talk to me.” Mel says, “Why are you here?” Then she goes all quiet and patient, and she makes this see-how-professional-I-am face.
“You told me to come in,” I say, because I’m a brat. She takes a deep breath and then smiles heavily at me.
“What are your goals for our time together?”
I squint at her, trying to get her to break focus but it doesn’t work. I sort of wish Mel would be more Mel right now, but then I think that this is about as Mel as she ever is.
I start like nine different sentences, trying to figure out what it is that I need to say. “I guess... I don’t know... I guess, I’m having a...” Until finally I come out with it. “My dad died.” Mel blinks at me a couple times, then nods, closing her eyes like she understands anything.
“I’m sorry,” she says in this very neutrally compassionate voice.
“Yeah, well. Yeah.” I wonder if there’s more, but it doesn’t seem like it. My mind is just this low buzzing static. I sort of look around her office. There are a lot of charts and diagrams and food pyramids, and all of them make me feel like I am never eating anything right.
“Grief can be a complicated emotion,” Mel says next. “It’s one of the hardest emotions to prepare yourself for, because it’s so often brought on by the unexpected.” I love that she says this. I love that she wasn’t an expert on grief when she got out of the shower this morning but now she has all kinds of thoughts on the subject. I laugh a little, and she takes a bite of an apple and then pulls a clipboard out of her desk.
“So, to help us to get started, I want you to fill out this client intake form.” She hands me the clipboard. The form is my least favorite kind of form: lots of big spaces for writing in paragraphs of details about things your goals and frustrations. “The first half of the page is the required client information and then you can look over the other questions and decide what you think it’ll be helpful for me to know while we’re working together.” She hands me a pen and gets up from her desk, heading out of the office so I can fill out the form in solitude. “The back of the form is just the billing information, and because you’re my friend and I love you, you can skip that stuff.”
“I can pay you, Mel.”
“I know you can. But I don’t want you to.” And then she’s gone.
JUICE & HARMONY
Melanie Breslow-Sweet, Jutritional Specialist
Initial Client Intake Form
FULL NAME: Mackenzie Elizabeth Adams
WEIGHT: I don't know. 146? On a good day?
ALLERGIES: Penicillin (?)
DIETARY RESTRICTIONS: I really hate tuna fish, and tuna fish casseroles. I also try to avoid stringy greens like okra and stuff. I prefer sugary food, but that’s not really a restriction. Oh! No goat’s milk.
REASON FOR APPOINTMENT: Death in the family. Grief. Bossy roommate. Weird boy stuff
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO GAIN FROM THIS EXPERIENCE:
To be more in control of everything my feelings...? Or to understand them better. Just to feel better, I guess. Can that be a goal?
WHAT WOULD BE A SUCCESSFUL OUTCOME FOR YOU:
Feeling less crazy would be ideal.
WHAT ARE THE WEAKNESSES OF YOUR CURRENT DIET:
All of it.
How much shitty Mexican food I eat in any given week.
HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO FOOD:
Life partners in an open relationship.
HAVE YOU EVER WORKED WITH A JUTRITIONIST BEFORE:
Are there even other Jutritionists in the country? In the world? I honestly thought you were the only one.
IF YES, WHEN? WHERE? WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE?
Like I said, I didn’t even know there were more. But I’m sure you’re the best one anyways. The real Slim Shady.
When she comes back into her office and I give back the clipboard she rolls her eyes, scanning over my answers.
“Do you actually want my help?” She puts the clipboard on the desk and looks at me like Mel for the first time. It makes me feel like a total ass.
“Yes,” I sort of murmur. “Please.”
She sits down and waits for me to talk, and I think about how many times people have done this to me in the last four days.
“I saw Neil?” It comes out as a question even though it isn’t one. Mel looks up, surprised.
“He was at that place next door to you,” I say, looking past her at a chart about the average Americans caloric intake, which is maybe the most depressing chart I’ve ever seen. “I was having lunch... with Kevin.” Whenever I say his name to Mel, I think this must be what it feels like to go to a confessional.
“How was it?” She takes a piece of paper out of her desk and makes a little note on it, then looks up at me before writing something else.
“Kevin’s disgusting. You know that.” I shrink down in my seat, because I know that too, and thinking back about his text, I’m ashamed of myself for going to lunch with him at all. “But, you know. He loves me,” I add, and I’m disappointed to find that it sounds really just so pathetic out loud.
“I meant how was it to see Neil,” Mel goes on, like she didn’t even hear Kevin’s name.
“Oh. It was fucking weird.”
“Weird bad?” Mel makes more notes.
“Weird I don’t know.” I wish she would stop trying to Valery me. I don’t care about getting Valery-ed, especially by Mel.
“I think you do know, and you don’t want to say,” she says. I don’t believe that any of this is what a Jutritionist does, under normal circumstances. But then again, I suppose Mel sets the bar for that.
“It’s not a big deal. It’s just... he--” I make eye contact with Mel, and then immediately divert my gaze back to the calorie chart. “He, I don’t know. Seeing him... it reminds me of everything.” She leans back in her chair and nods. “He reminds me that Gerald’s dead... and of the stale smell in the Holiday Inn... just of everything.” I can tell by Mel’s face that this is the kind of breakthrough she was hoping for, but I’m not even sure if it’s not real. Some of it feels true, and yet, mostly I feel like I am not even in my brain anymore, like my mouth is just going and going, while my brain wanders aimlessly in the background. Studies showed that 35.5% Of American women were morbidly obese in 2008.
Mel scribbles something else on her piece of paper. “That must be hard,” she says, finally.
“I don’t know. I guess so.” Between 1970 and 2003, the average American increased their caloric intake by 523 calories a day. “So can we talk about the juice?”
“Kenzie, it’s important to work through--”
“I really just want to talk about juice now.” I hold her gaze until she looks away and out the window.
“Okay.” She sighs and puts her pen down. “I have a lot of ideas about things we can start you on.” Her eyes pass over my face a couple times, and so I press my mouth into a happier looking shape and nod. “And I warn all my clients that the sudden shift in diet can have a pretty intense effect on your moods in the first couple days.” She gets up from her desk and grabs a “My First Month with Juice” form.
“That’s fine. Intense is fine.”
“Okay, then. Well. Let’s get started.”