I’ve been having a pretty hard time lately. (Tawni code: when I say I’m sorta bummed, it means I’m trying my best not to fling myself off a cliff.) I haven’t talked about it much because I don’t like talking about my pain when it’s happening. I’m like a dog. I just want to hunch in a corner and be left alone and lick my wounds. I might bite you if you ask too many questions. I will certainly lie and tell you I’m fine. I will write about it when it’s over though. (If I write about it when it’s happening, I sound like a histrionic teenager. There are lots of amputation and crucifixion metaphors involved. Trust me. The world never needs to read this shit.)
During the the past month, I ran home twice to the mountain where I was raised, as I often do when my world is imploding. My precious family is there, as is the church my beloved father founded. I attended church, trying (and failing) not to cry like a crazy person as my brother led the congregation in singing the old songs that speak so deeply to the secret places in my soul.
I also did a lot of praying on my father’s grave, which for me is the most sacred ground in the world. Daddy’s grave sits in an unembellished desert cemetery. There are no rosebushes, no carefully tended lawns, no finely hewn sculptures. Just simple people buried in simple graves, most of them grown over with yellow weeds and cactus. Years ago, I went to be near my daddy and was greeted by two rattlesnakes coiled on his headstone, ready to strike. That’s how “Old West” Daddy’s grave is. Often, hawks visit me there, and once, inexplicably, a lone black lab puppy, when I went to mourn the loss of my beloved elderly black lab, Octavio Pawz.
Daddy wanted to be buried in the middle of nowhere. Actually, he wanted us to dig a hole on the mostly uninhabited New Mexico mountain where we lived, put a post in the ground, prop him up against the post, and throw some dirt on top. We found out after his death that the government frowns on those sorts of shenanigans, so we did the next best thing, which was bury him in a pine box in an unadorned cemetery a few miles from the church he founded. His red tombstone is engraved with a hawk, his name, my mother’s name, my brother’s name, and my name. Timothy John Hackett, Beloved of Christine, Bryan, and Tawni, it says. I love that we are all enshrined together like that. I love that my soul is permanently tied to the souls of some of the people I cherish most in the world. I love that maybe someday, hundreds of years from now, someone will find that marker and know nothing about our lives except that we belonged to one another.
My father was a falconer in life, and since his death, he often appears in my dreams as a hawk. This week, noticing the profusion of weeds on his grave, I whispered, “Daddy, it looks like no one loves you, but I do.” Just as I said that, I saw a stain around the face of the hawk on his headstone, looking like the shadow of a halo. I realized that the stain was in the shape of my mouth. In the 22 years since his death, I have kissed that hawk on his grave so many times, it’s permanently marked with an imprint of my love. Moved, I wept. To me, that dark spot said something about the sacred power of love to last long beyond the supposed finality of death.
But in spite of all that praying, and the myriad other stuff I was doing to try to pull myself up by my proverbial bootstraps, I just kept feeling worse and worse with every day that passed. It was like my bootstraps had been stretched way too far and were simply refusing to yank up anything. Yesterday, after I dissolved into a puddle of tears in the middle of the Walmart vision center, I drove to Daddy’s grave. Kneeling there in that ugly dirt, I threw the pretty prayers out the window and cut to the chase, telling God that I felt like I was dead inside, and I needed nothing short of a miracle. I think there were F-bombs involved. Ok, there were F-bombs involved.
Today, I was scheduled to leave New Mexico and fly off to Minneapolis to visit my beloved soul sister Polyxeni, one of the few people who actually knew I was suffering and why. She understands me so intimately, sometimes we dream the same dreams on the same nights. In fact, we became friends because she approached me, a near-stranger, to tell me she’d had the weirdest dream about me. The “weird dream” ended up being a picture I had drawn for someone I love very much, a picture that meant a great deal to me, and I hope, to the person for whom I drew it.
Polyxeni is one of the strongest people I know. She has one of the truest hearts, some of the most unshakable faith, I have ever seen, which is why she was the person I called 30 seconds after the personal apocalypse that gave birth to all this depression. She loved me so much, she started to cry with me. “Polyxeni,” I said, “you can’t cry too. I need you to be strong. I need you to keep believing.” I said it because I knew I was going to fall off the edge of the world. My knuckles were already white, losing grip, peeling away from stone. I knew I needed someone strong to catch me. And she did. Every time I fell, she wove her heart and hands into a net that saved me. Thank God, thank God, for Polyxeni and all of the other human angels that bear me up on invisible wings when I plummet.
This morning, before dawn, I woke up with a beautiful sense of peace and joy, which is odd, because most recent mornings, I’ve felt as if a ton of bricks came raining down on my head before I even opened my eyes. As I was flying out of Albuquerque, I had a transcendent experience watching the sun rise over the world. Of course, language can’t do it justice, but suffice it to say that something about watching those colors explode over the Sandias while listening through my headphones to Hozier sing about going to church woke up the best part of me, the piece of me that believes and hopes and fights for her truth. I haven’t seen her for a while now.
Watching the dawn unfold like a intricate web being pulled between mountains, one pink strand at a time, I wished I was a painter, knowing there was no way I would ever capture the perfection of that moment in words. Gratitude for the gift of life swelled inside me. I was acutely aware of the holiness of my own breath. I was in awe of the mystery of my blood pounding centimeters beneath my skin. When Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” gave way to Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance,” I felt the old, bitter woman in me shut her lips tight, sensed the delighted little girl in me starting to shimmy.
I missed that little girl. She sees all the colors, not just the black. I’m not sure that she’ll stay forever. Maybe it will only be a week. Maybe a day. Maybe an hour. But even if she disappears again, at least I know she’s still there, sleeping inside me, ready to wake up when the next gush of life’s sacred water washes over her like a flood. I’m glad she’s here right now, whispering in my ear, reminding me as she always does, that even at its worst, life is a fucking miracle.
(P.S. My inner child is a big fan of F-bombs.)
(P.S.S. I promised myself many years ago that I would be transparent and live a life of truth, meaning I would wear my ugly and my pretty on my sleeve as often as possible, be true and honest about what I really was and what was going on inside me, even if it made me look bad. Clearly, I failed at that while I was depressed, but I’m making up for lost time. I often have people tell me that they are jealous of me because they think my life is always easy, and I’m perpetually happy. I just wanted to clear that up. It’s not, and I’m not. Life is a sometimes heady, sometimes horrifying combination of beautiful and agonizing for everyone, I think. My beautiful loves, we’re all in this exquisite mess together.)
(P.S.S.S. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here are Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.”)