When I was a teenager I discovered that there were four things that counteracted the salacious nature of grief. They were, in no particular order: sex, substance abuse, travel and hurting other people. There are, of course, much healthier antidotes to the feelings that loss inevitably brings, but in my adolescence these four were the most immediately recognizable.
I was fourteen years old both when of my parents were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. Being an only child, the ensuing years of hospital visits, surgeries and chemo treatments were lonely ones for me. I was eighteen when my mother died and twenty-five when my father succumbed. The years in between were tumultuous, to say the least.
With no guideposts, and no one to explain the effects of anticipatory grief, regular grief, extreme grief, or anything remotely grief-related, I threw myself at whatever I could, and in the beginning that meant boys. Thinking about boys, pursuing boys, kissing boys – all of those endeavors felt like the very opposite of the death and grief that shrouded my life at home.
I lost my virginity a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday, to my high school boyfriend Henry, one afternoon in his bedroom. The act itself was sweet, fairly painless and by all accounts, quite innocent. But above and beyond those things, I found the act of sex to be the very thing that momentarily quelled the gnawing rage inside of me.
But I also realized that it wasn’t necessarily the sex I was after, but the promise of it. Those moments before two people who want to touch each other do, are unlike anything else this world has to offer. Those moments are also the fantastic opposite of when two people part, something that was being forced upon me in my young life over and over.
Laying in bed with Henry, tangled in each other’s arms, both of us flushed with longing and desire, nothing else mattered. Everything about my life disappeared and for brief, bright instants I wasn’t weighted down by the sounds of my mother retching in the bathroom after chemo, or the defeated look on my father’s face as he sifted through medical bills at the dining room table.