I remember the moment I checked my voicemail at 12:30 p.m.on June 20, 2006. I’d just gone grocery shopping at the Marina Safeway in San Francisco. I was about to call for a cab to take me home because there was no way I could carry 10 bags home on foot. I laughed at myself for only going in for five things and ending up with twenty-five. Staring at my phone for the first time that day I felt my eyes grow wider. “ Fifteen missed calls? From who? Wait, it’s a Vegas number. Is Lys ok? She hasn’t called me back in a few days. Oh god, please let her be ok.” I began bargaining with god on that spot of concrete slightly out of the way from other shoppers. My breathing was getting shallower, but I forced myself to listen to the first message. Words like “Coroner office” and “Call us right away” came bleating through the phone. My fingers seemed to have a life of their own, because seconds later the woman who’d left the messages was on the other end. She asked me if Alyssa Martin was my sister. I shook my head, but managed to mumble yes. She asked where my mother was and I told her she was on a trip to NYC. She told me someone would need to fly to Vegas because my twin sister, Alyssa, was dead and it looked like a suicide. I don’t remember what I said to her to get her off the phone, to get her to stop saying what felt like horrible and impossible things. But I do remember screaming at the top of my lungs and falling to the ground. I remember the feeling of the person I’d always been disappearing right before my eyes. It was later that I coined the term “The before and after line of tragedy”.
The before and after line of tragedy
I began to realize after my twin sister died, that there is this invisible line in time separating who we are before trauma happens and who we are afterwards. And part of that line in time is that very clear moment you recognize as the very last instant when things are what they’ve always been. A moment when the world makes sense and things are normal- maybe even comfortable. And then there’s this after-moment when you realize everything is different and you can’t go back to that before-version of you or your before-version reality. Before the trauma, you were this version of yourself that you recognized and perhaps spent years getting to know. You were the right-side-up you when the world made sense, who maybe questioned things less, took more things for granted, and navigated the world with ease and confidence. But who is this new version of you now after the tragedy? How do you reconcile both versions? The one you remember, and the one you’re just now getting to know?
For the first time, maybe in our lifetimes, this disease politicians like to call “the great equalizer” has in fact unified all human beings in a shared global experience of trauma. Many of us have lost loved ones and are grieving personally. And on a collective level, we’re grieving our former lives and who we were before the pandemic. As we wait for the vaccine to give us a chance at normalcy again, we’re trying to figure out how to grow from this experience, while nursing our emotional and psychological wounds. Things we didn’t worry about before, like breathing the same air as others, is now something we have to think about and take action to protect each other from in the event we’re carrying the virus. Doing every day things like going to the grocery store, sitting outside at a cafe or even going to worship have become fraught with anxiety. And to some degree, we’ve all got a touch of PTSD and I don’t think it’s hyperbolic of me to say so.
In Real Life will take time
Which brings me to my latest adventure- going to the salon. After our second shelter-in-place order and four months of waiting, I was finally able to see my hair stylist. For a lot of women, going to the salon is akin to being welcomed into a sisterhood oasis. This warm and safe haven that provides respite from the world of men. A place where we can go to unwind, chat about our lives, form friendships and shed unwanted versions of ourselves. Hair is kinda a big deal for many of us. Needless to say, it’s a big deal for me and I was very excited to see Liz (my hair stylist) after so many months. We had so much to catch up on. That is until I got there. After two hours of chatting I began to get fatigued. Had she always been this chatty? I have no idea what exciting movies I’d been watching. Wait, what book did I last read? All of these questions designed to keep the conversation flowing left me wanting the comfort of my own four walls. Had socializing with people IN REAL LIFE always been this hard? Could it be that COVID had made it harder for me to connect with people in person? Granted, I’ve always been a introvert and we’re notorious for getting what many call “introvert hangovers” but this seemed a little excessive even for me.
I realize now, that it's going to take time for me to adjust to connecting with people in person. And maybe it will take a lot of us time. We've been changed by this pandemic and that's ok. Perhaps there's something beautiful about being a bit wobbly. Perhaps needing to get used to things like IRL people will give me the chance to meet fragility, fear and fatigue with loving kindness. Or maybe I’ll just head straight for my bed :)
Sending so much love.