I was grateful for work the next day. Something to get my mind off of grief. Well, for a little while, at least. Yuki was my first patient, and she always helps me feel better.
“I heard about Jake,” she said. “You OK?”
“I have no idea” I replied. “Is it OK to feel sort of frozen inside?”
“However you feel is OK,” Yuki said. “Everybody feels it differently.”
After I prescribed the herbal remedy for Yuki, Luna suggested I take a house call that had just come in. I felt there was some sort of conspiracy between my friends, for the house call was to my friend Jeanette Hairston’s home.
I saw her roommate first. It was a simple diagnosis–just a cold which our herbal remedy would fix right up.
Jeanette, however, seemed a little loopy.
“I been trying a little home remedy myself,” she said. I suggested she try, instead, a cup of strong green tea and a nap.
“Give a call if you still feel badly when you get up,” I said on my way out the door.
I passed the rest of my shift logging research results. I couldn’t focus enough to run tests, but entering the data let my mind clear while my heart slowly thawed.
Yuki called as I was leaving the clinic.
“Come meet me at the Blue Velvet!” she said. “Let’s hang out together.”
I took the train there. The prospect of an evening surrounded by people, conversation, and music was way more appealing than a long night at home, just me and my feelings.
“Yuki!” I said when I saw her, “you get Best Friend of the Decade award!”
She laughed. “You think I’m going to let you alone at a time like this? I know you, Charlie. I know what you need.”
Miranda was there, too. Now I knew there was a conspiracy! We shared a quick hug.
“You heard about Jake?” she asked. I hugged her again. I’d met Miranda the same day I met Jake, back when Miranda and I were little kids.
“You holding up OK?” I asked her.
“I’ll be all right,” she said.
We sat at the bar, sharing stories. I told about a time when Jake had tried to teach me to weed the garden, and I’d pulled out all the clover, instead.
“Very thorough,” Jake had said. “Next time, pay attention to the shape of the leaf of the plants, so you don’t pull out the very ones you want to keep.”
Jake had launched into a short lecture about beneficial plant communities and rhizomes and such. And I realized, for the first time, that that had been my introduction into this field of science and herbal medicine that is becoming my life passion.
Miranda and the others left. I wasn’t sure where Yuki was. For a moment, the bar was silent, and I felt a deep pain inside.
“It hits you in the gut, doesn’t it?” said Cassandra, who took the bar stool next to me.
“Grief’s a funny thing,” she said. “After Father died, I couldn’t eat for a week. Then the next week, I had a headache. Then finally, I thought I was having a heart attack. It was grief. All of it.”
“Are you OK now?” I asked “You look pretty chipper.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “You just get used to it, that’s all. I still feel like there’s a dagger lodged in my upper left chest, right below the clavicle.”
“That’s the subclavian artery,” I said. “You should have that checked out.”
“No,” she replied. “I’m fine. I hardly even notice it anymore, only when I really tune in. You get used to it. You’ll see.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to get used to phantom pain lodged in my body. I wanted to move through grief, in its own time, and come out the other side. I tried to explain this to Cassandra.
“Not me,” she said. “I like feeling that tightness there. Every time I do, I remember Father. This way, I’ll never forget him.”
“You know,” I joked, “there are other ways we can remember our friends and family. Like hearing a favorite song, for example. Or telling one of their favorite stories!”
“We could,” Cassandra said. “Or we could feel pain and smile anyway.”
I left before sunset. Yuki had left a while before. For some reason, I wanted to catch the sunset from the ferry. I wanted to stand on the deck, facing the ocean, and remember all the sunsets that Jake and I watched together. I wanted to discover what I might feel–what was there, besides pain, that was left of him that I could still feel while I watched the sun go down?