Change

I have a friend who’s entering her ninth month of pregnancy. I saw her the other night and commented on how beautiful her hair has become. She informed me that when you get pregnant, the hormone that makes your hair fall out (100 strands a day or so) stops being produced, so you stop losing your hair. So she’s got crazy-thick, gorgeous hair.

The catch: after the baby’s born, she’ll lose her hair four times faster than she used to. Babies steal your hair. That’s fucked up.

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When I was in New York, I stopped with a friend of mine to see the inside of the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I thought I’d light a candle for my father, who was Catholic.

At first I thought we were the only two people inside the church, until I saw a nun praying close to the front of the church. I saw the prayer candles, but I had to take a different entrance to reach them. I went back out and in the other door. It was very dark in the corner by the candles. I’d never done this before, so I was a bit nervous. I dropped my backpack and read the sign on the wall. “Prayers, 25 cents.” There was something that cost a dollar, but the fact that I had to pay a toll at first really threw me off. I dug inside my backpack and found a quarter. I dropped it in the slot. I looked around for matches, a lighter. Nothing. The sign read “Push button on top.”

The candles were lightbulbs.

I ran back out to find my friend. I dragged her inside. “You aren’t going to believe this,” I said to her. I pointed to the candle display. “No, there must be matches and real candles around here somewhere,” she said, squatting and then standing on her tiptoes looking around. “How else are you supposed to light the candle?”

I held out one finger, placed it above the candle and pushed the red button. “Pop!” The light came on.

“It’s like a game of Trouble,” I said.

“Weird!”

“I know.”

“I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s not normally like that.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Out in the foyer, which I’m sure has a different name entirely when it’s a church foyer, we read the information painted on the walls. According to the history of the church, it had already burned down twice. I guess they just weren’t taking any more chances.

“Why didn’t you light a candle when we were at the big St. Patrick’s Cathedral?” my friend asked.

“I didn’t know I could.”

Sometimes my lack of religious knowledge makes me shy. I really figured I couldn’t go into that church without an invite. I didn’t want to disrupt anything. My mom tells a story about getting in trouble for taking communion before she was old enough. I know there are many rules. I just didn’t want to be disrespectful.

But dropping a quarter into a slot and then pushing a button? That didn’t feel like the right way to pay respects.

Actually, my father loved gambling, so that drop-a-quarter/take-a-chance action might just have been the exact way to pay my respects.

September is a hard month for me. I tend to fall into a little bit of a depression. A psychologist once told me that it’s probably because I moved so much as a kid that the month of September fills me with the anxiety of starting over, going to a new school, wondering what’s going to happen to me. I think there’s something to that. My nerves are shot for the entire month, and I don’t sleep well. Last September was brutal, and this September is painful for a completely different reason.

Dad and I didn’t talk every single day. We caught up with each other every few weeks, or even once a month. So the first couple of months after he had died, it didn’t feel real, or even possible. I live so far away from Texas, that it was easy to pretend that everything was just fine, and nothing was different back in Houston. It’s now, in these later months, that I really feel his absence. It’s now that we’re planning holidays without him that involve things he never would have done that it’s noticeable. It’s different. I talk to my mom more now than I ever have. And there’s still the impulse to ask, “How’s Dad?”

The loss floods in whenever I’m alone. I’ll be driving home from a meeting, and the radio will go to a commercial. The sound inside the car fades away. I’m driving on auto-pilot, seeing without really looking, just driving home instinctively. It starts at my face, a cold feeling in my cheeks, my mouth dries up. My feet feel numb. And there’s just this empty ache inside of my stomach. Sometimes it’s so hollow it feels like there’s a hole right through my body, like a cannonball accident in a cartoon. That’s when I find myself howling, tears falling into my lap as I wait at a red light, the grief hitting me like a train. Bam! I’m destroyed, taking a left off Sunset, wishing there was something to stop me from shaking and crying. I see other drivers watch me. I know I look insane, but I cannot stop it. It lasts until I pull into my driveway and turn off the car. Until I hold my keys in my hand (my keychain holds the only thing I kept of my father’s — a tiny screwdriver that he wore on his keychain for as long as I can remember). I hold my keys in my hand and I concentrate on breathing. I pull it together. I’m fine.

I’m so rarely absolutely alone that when it happens sometimes my body takes over and pushes out all of the sadness and rage that’s been storing up, giving me headaches, causing my nightmares, making me wish for October. It’s so exhausting that I try to avoid being in that situation. It makes me feel like I’m aging. I’m hardening. I’m becoming someone else. With every aching sob I become a different person. Loss changes the way your insides feel, makes your bones ache at the marrow. Your voice changes. Your eyes see differently. I don’t want to be a different person. I don’t want this knowledge. I’m not ready.

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