A marble in my pocket

At first, grief is like a fog you live in, an ocean you swim in. It’s all around you. You can’t see past it. The waves overwhelm you. All you can do is try not to drown.

See past the ocean? See through the fog?

That’s too much to ask.

It’s too much even to imagine.

Slowly the fog begins to condense, dripping down, joining the waves. Maybe some of it disappears—burned away, carrying part of you with it.

You see the sky. It’s still there.

The ocean pulls in around you, cradles you. It’s big, and deep, and for a while it’s calm.

Then clouds roll in and rain pours down. The air gets thick. Wind stirs up the waves. You’re tossed in a whirlpool, spinning, out of control. For a while, you can’t breathe.

It’s over. You’re floating. You’re breathing. You’re okay.

It keeps going like this. Some days you feel nothing. The water holds your body in suspension.

Some days a storm whirls you around, throws you under, leaves you with salt in your eyes and burning in your lungs.

Some days you’re heavy, and the water feels like a welcome, and you forget which way is up. The thing that sounds best is to quit swimming and let yourself sink.

But you keep surfacing, even though you’re tired, so tired.

You remember land. You think about putting your feet on something solid, what that felt like. You think about laying on your back in the grass.

The horizon is closer.

You hadn’t noticed, but the ocean is smaller. One drop at a time, it’s merging, compressing.

It keeps going like this. Slowly, so slowly. Day after day, the endless ocean of grief is folding in on itself. The waves get a little smaller.

The changes are minute. You can’t track them. You can’t measure the volume of something you’re in.

Hours or years or decades go by. Nothing changes at all until everything changes.

One day the ocean is gone. In its place, there’s a tiny, silvery sphere. So dense, so heavy. You pick it up and the weight makes you stagger. But you don’t drop it. You’re strong from all that swimming.

You put the marble in your pocket and step out of the mud.

Things feel different. Is it you, or is it the world? You walk funny. You lean to one side, and your steps are uncertain. You won’t be dancing anytime soon. But the weight is precious. It holds you to the earth, and your feet are in the grass, and you remember what a thing it is to be alive.