We are in the month of November again. Time has marched on since November of 1996, when my grandfather died. I was in college and it was my junior year. I had to miss a few days of class. Thankfully the soccer season was over, I didn’t swim that year, and lacrosse was in the spring. All I was missing was class. I remember talking to my professors about it and getting extensions on everything that was due before Thanksgiving. I would have the entire break to finish all of the assignments I was going to miss.

I was in a poetry writing class that semester, plus a Shakespeare class, an American studies class, a British Romantic poetry class, and a special topics class on the 1996 presidential election. There was a lot of writing; both essays and my own creative writing for poetry. It was one of my better semesters gradewise and it always takes me a minute to remember that my grandfather died that semester. What I tend to remember is that there were some amazing people in that poetry class who would go on to publish poetry and novels after college. I always felt like I didn’t measure up in that class and I really struggled with what I did write. You would turn your work in to the professor and he would make copies of everything in a packet and you picked up the packet and made edits for class. In class, we all talked about the edits we would make. My poems were always ripped apart. I lost motivation to write anything of substance because I felt so insecure about my work. There was an upcoming reading and you could read as little or as much as you wanted to read. I told the professor I didn’t want to read anything. He tried to talk me into one or two of my “better” poems, but I didn’t feel comfortable with reading anything I’d written so far.

I had never been to an actual funeral or calling hours when my grandfather died. His events were my first close brush with death as someone aware of what death actually meant. It was a strange place to be. I was 20 years old and my brother was 17, but we acted like much younger children, daring each other to touch his face. I did it first and found myself repulsed by how his skin felt. We weren’t close, my grandfather and I. He was abusive as a parent and a sexist, racist asshole as a person. He bragged about his grandfather who was even worse. I hated his grandfather and I hated him too. I wasn’t upset when he died, just numb. Throughout the calling hours, funeral services, and in between, I watched the adults around me. My mom was just there supporting my dad. My aunts were all tears. My grandmother was working her hardest to win the Academy Award as most dramatic woman who lost her husband in a drama. I watched her closely; the way she sobbed while lightly touching his face, sobbing that he was the love of her life. It disgusted me. Her alcoholic, mostly silent, asshole of a husband was someone she actually hated. She talked all the time in front of me, my brother, HER HUSBAND, and her own children about her life “after”. After he died, she meant. They (she and her daughters, my aunts) were going to have so much fun without him. They laughed and talked about this ALL THE TIME. And here he is dead, and she’s gunning for an Academy Award about how much she’s going to miss him?? Psycho. My grandmother was a psycho.

Inspired by her behavior, the shithead of a person my grandfather was, and the numbness inside me, I wrote my very best poem ever. It was detached, cruel, but brilliant. Something about a bad man, living a bad life, dying a sad death, with a widow that suddenly cared, but only after he was gone. And the real victim; my aunt who is my father’s youngest sister. She has down syndrome and my grandfather was her best friend and protector. The one thing he did right was taking care of her. She had a job, went to multiple programs for people with DS, was part of a bowling league, and spent most of her days out riding around with him. She was the only one who lost out when he died. Her life after his death was not a real life. No job, no bowling, no friends, and barely leaving the house. She had been functioning at a 10 year old or so level, but after he died, she wasn’t forced to do anything. And she dropped down to a toddler level of functioning.

I read that poem at the reading. The day I returned to campus, I went to my professor’s office and showed him the poem I wrote while I was gone. He was shocked and added it to the class list. In class, there were no corrections. People were blown away by it. We had started to figure out who wrote what and people were shocked it was mine, since I had struggled so much. With that, I decided I could read it. But only that one. When it was my turn, I walked to the podium silently and didn’t smile at all. I read the poem while tapping into my numbness, and you could hear a pin drop afterwards. I silently walked back to my seat and sat down. And then the tears fell. The numbness was too much and my feelings were toppling over that wall of numbness. I was losing touch with who I was and started to feel the trauma of my childhood more and more. I was talking about it some with my girlfriend, but only enough to start the slow leak of pain that dripped out of my soul. Not enough to process anything, only enough to start a tarry blackness inside of me that would hurt me for decades to come. That pain is what drove me to be suicidal. I knew I was hurting from the little bits of trauma I would allow myself to admit I suffered through, but there was always a hint of more trauma hiding behind that.

November would continue to haunt me for years to come. November 1999, November 2007, and the good things in November 2010 and November 2020. November looks to be decent this year and I am hopeful that nothing bad will happen this November. I don’t really think anything can happen that will feel as terrible as Novembers 1996, 1999, or 2007 did. I really think the big win this year is that it took me until November 2 to really think about how hard November can be. I always see November coming in October, and sometimes the dread fills me earlier than October. But this year, the dread only started yesterday. Dread of what, I don’t know exactly. Just remembering that those days in Novembers past were really hard to get through. The pain is always there, but much less than it used to be. And maybe it’s because I have never grieved the loss of who I was before these events. November 1999 and 2007 damaged me in a way that can never be fixed but I am tougher than I used to be. I am still surviving, still fighting, and still refusing to give in to the extreme pain that threatens me from time to time.

That’s all I can do.

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