“When I Am This” – Part One

Surviving Grief

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash


The writing in the notebook grew progressively less legible, and coherent, with each page turned. The earliest pages were filled with the small, slanted script that my dad had once described as “pretty…but it’s hard to make out what it says.” After a few entries, the letters became larger, with some straying from the college ruled lines altogether. By the middle, there weren’t any words at all: just large, sloppy spirals on pages that were strained almost to the point of ripping due to the heavy hand I had inflicted.

Originally, this had been my collection of morning pages: a creative exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, where one creates three pages of stream of consciousness writing first thing every morning. The words began to fail me at the same rate that my mom’s life slipped away due to cancer.

In the final pages of the notebook, there is nothing at all.


Clarice had wedged herself in the small space between the roll-away entertainment center and the living room wall. It wasn’t too strange: she was 14 at that point in time, but had spent most of her life as an outdoor cat. According to this chart, she was 120 years old in human years. There was weariness in her sleeping form, and she didn’t respond when I strained to reach and pet her.

In the early afternoon, I found my cell phone wedged between a couch cushion and an arm rest. I don’t remember how many missed calls flashed on the screen, but it was a lot. All of them were from my big brother, and the voice messages he left were all the same – “Call home” – except for one.

As the last voice mail began, Clarice slowly rose. She sat at my feet while the message played, placing one paw on my left foot just as my brother said, “Dad passed away.”

Clarice looked at me with green eyes that had long since become blurred by age. Her sides expanded as she sighed, stood, and went back behind the entertainment center.


There are nights when I know I am dreaming, but this was on the borderlands.

Sean was walking beside me, until he suddenly and inexplicably wasn’t. Instead, I turned to see him reclined in one of two lounge chairs placed upon a concrete patio overlooking the Mission Beach boardwalk. There was a man in the other seat, a matching drink in his hand as he leaned over to talk and laugh with my husband. There was an easy, relaxed energy between them, as if the prior seconds during which they met had stretched into a lifetime of friendship.

I watched all this from the sidewalk, just on the other side of the railing separating private property from public beach. It looked easy enough to walk in, but I somehow knew I couldn’t.

While the other man talked, Sean looked up, eyes twinkling as he smiled and raised his beverage in my direction. “I’m going to be here awhile. You’ll have to go on without me.”

As real as everything looked, as familiar as the pavement beneath my feet felt and the salt in the seaside air seemed to tickle my nose, I knew what he meant. I nodded and turned towards a stretch of sidewalk that normally would have brought me toward La Jolla. Instead, there was a low, dark gray fog that hid the path ahead of me. I walked toward it and everything around me lost its shape and color before I woke up.