Grief is imposing, like a looming sky of crackling clouds, a sentence of oppression without form or shape, an exile in catastrophe in chaos.
We are afraid to yield to it, to speak truth in its wake, lest we be consumed by torrents of absurdity, detained indefinitely by esoteric laws of feeling.
But grief is a bureaucrat; it will watch you writhe in the lobby forever if you don’t do your part of the paperwork properly. There is a process, and until we can bend our arc towards lucidity and parse through the fog of noncompliance, grief will idly glance at its monitor whilst you weep at its desk, unwilling to offer you a tissue but also not wanting to dismiss you and cut your appointment short because the person behind you is surely just as broken and mismanaged as you.
It’s somewhat unfortunate that grief is an abstract constant of the human condition and not a social worker or claims adjuster who hates their job. I was once able to get out of paying for a five-digit hospital bill I couldn’t afford because one of the social workers took lunch immediately after I showed up to the payment assistance office, incensing her officemate, who fast-tracked my application for debt forgiveness out of sheer spite. It’s difficult to play grief’s discontentment with the system against itself. At least if you’re an atheist, anyway. I’m sure there are altars and books of shadows constructed for this very purpose.
Alas, we the godless have only tools of the corporeal at our disposal. I have applied mine, however crass and crude, to aiding you in your journey to acceptance.
Grief is not unlike the dim sum buffet—a pocket of chaos wherein you lose long stretches of time, where doubt in yourself can fester, where you can feel alone whilst completely surrounded by others partaking in exactly the same creature routines as you, but seeming fuller in the doing of them. What can be learned in their comparison? This is rhetorical. I already know the answer, and conveniently, it’s one that justified going to my favorite Chinese buffet.
I made a listicle of food; try and meet me in the middle here.
Stage 1: Denial
(Represented here with various sushi.)
“This isn’t happening. It’s all in my head. I’m not about to eat a bunch of fried food and spend the rest of the day feeling 30 pounds heavier. If I was, why would I have all of this sushi? Sushi’s healthy for you! And with all this cream cheese and fish cake, it’s got even more protein! If I’m spiraling, then it’s to a perfectly stuck landing. I’m going to do all my errands and save someone’s life by pulling them away from a boulder on my way to Michael’s, probably.”
Stage 2: Anger
(Represented here with siu mai, pork stomach, beef stomach, ribs in black bean sauce, roasted duck, shrimp dumpling, pork bao, and twisted steamed bun.)
“This person thinks I’m a tourist—they think I’m only here for the easy stuff. You must not know ’bout me. I’m the intrepid, devoured from within by an insatiable lust for l’authentique. I will eat the innards and the gizzards of Old McDonald’s whole fucking farm, just you fucking watch me. Do cows have gizzards? Do I have a gizzard? Why shouldn’t I? My ancestors waded the mighty oceans, and compared to those cave-fuckers, I am a god. I condense Marxist theory into 140 characters or less and I summon the aid of satellites in space to give me directions to my ex-girlfriend’s house to give back the hoodie I’ve kept for a year because I was sure she’d come back for it herself and we’d talk about it and get back together but now it doesn’t smell like her anymore so there’s no point. If you are going to use the sriracha, please do so now, because I am going to douse my chicken feet and salmon heads with so much of it, it will be unrecognizable to you, just a bunch of hunks of blood and fire. Fuck you.”
Stage 3: Bargaining
(represented by an egg roll, chow mein, sweet and sour pork, orange chicken, stir-fried clams, and fried anchovies)
“Okay. I’ll just have one, one, plate of the stuff I really came here for, and then I’ll leave, no dessert or anything. I’m not a slave to my desires. I gave up writing fanfiction and being a Buddhist, I can stop this anytime I want. Yes, this is very good and satisfying. The chow mein’s a little charred in places, which gives it a firmer texture and a smokey flavor. The clams are more juicy than slimy, and this orange chicken taste distinctly like it was made with fresh juice. It’s splendid. Too splendid for one person. I must abstain from further plates to make sure others get a chance to eat this. In fact, once I’m done with this, I will go back through the line to make sure I left enough for other people, and just get myself a coffee to help all this digest. Yes. It’s a deal, world!”
Stage 4: Depression
“I didn’t do any of those things. I never do any of those things. I suck and I’m weak and I’m selfish and it’s a good thing that I shrink away from anyone I’m even remotely attracted to because in the end, not having to be around me and my intrinsic gluttony and cowardice is a kindness, a philanthropy. The world is better with me in here, listening to true crime and eating dim sum, quarantined from all the happy, beautiful people. This is why no one ever borrows my hoodies and never gives them back. Wait. I don’t have a hoodie. Girlfriends are supposed to have hoodies. It’s part of the Girlfriend Code. This is why everyone leaves me when the seasons start to change. I need to get a hoodie so I can be seen as a real girlfriend by society. If only I could pry myself from this vice of carnal gratification. But I’m weak. I suck and I’m wea—”
Stage 5: Acceptance
(represented by melons, rice cakes, sesame balls, coconut jellies, custard tarts, and an unseen mango shake)
“Okay, so, it happened again. I said I was going to try some of everything and ended up just eating three plates of the greasy, fried stuff. I can’t undo that. But! I did have some pig blood curd! And that was really good. And I ate all of my fish heads instead of just picking at them. I can’t reverse the mistakes I’ve made, but also no one can reverse my good choices and the ways I’m continuing to grow. I’m ready. I’m going to finish my dessert, bus my own table, thank the staff, and be on my way towards being whole again.”
Author: Jetta Rae
Founder of Fry Havoc. Can be found on twitter at @jetta_rae