It’s very hard to let go. It comes in stages, like grief at losing your parent

Like breaking up with your boyfriend. You go through periods of obsession, thinking about things you did, about how hurt you are, about how angry you are, about what a bastard he is, and even though you need to move on with your life, your mind keeps returning to that energy bomb of the breakup. It’s a three-dimensional event — every feeling, hurt, smell, word, image is burned into your mind’s eye like the old CRT’s would burn their images into the screen, where they would persist, ghost-like, across all other computer or television activities, if you didn’t use a screen-saver to keep the pixels turning on and off to prevent such burning. The phantom experience is always in your mind, consuming your mental energy, in full, three-dimensional color.

But one day, you realize you went the whole day without thinking about him.

And part of you doesn’t want to let it go — it was big and it was a huge part of you, and returning to that energy is energizing, even as it’s a drag on your progress. It’s a habit that has been your experience for days, weeks, or months.

But at some point, time and circumstances pull on your brain and you replace that obsession or grief with other things. The energy fades and flattens like a pressed rose in a scrapbook until you’ve only got traces of your former life: the house where you lived, the time you went camping, his beard and glasses, her tendency to take long baths, the year it snowed so hard the city shut down. And these are pasted into that scrapbook with little yellowed corners pasted onto yellowing paper where you visit from time to time, but mostly you leave the book on the shelf of your mind, where it gathers dust as it’s revisited less and less frequently.

I feel a lot like this. My old self and my new self have gone their own ways, and the natural energy of the separation draws us together in quiet moments when nothing else is occupying my mind. But increasingly, I am beginning to feel that those remembrances are a bit like an obsession over a lost love or a lost life, and in the past few weeks, I feel it’s important to let him go.

It takes more energy to contextualize my current life with my old one. Just imagine simple things like going to a parent-teacher conference to discuss some sort of problem. It’s a lot more straightforward to simply go as a parent and come up with a plan with the teacher than to overlay that scenario on my history and my changes and to bring into consciousness the thought that “I used to be a man, a father to my son, and this teacher will be thinking about that, and I need to be on my best behavior and focus on my son and not worry about myself,” and in the moment I begin thinking like that, I subvert the very thing I want to happen: being present for my son.

It has been easy to let go in some ways — the daily routine of taking the kids to school, going to the university, running errands, meeting students, and interacting with all my friends and colleagues has pushed the old me out of the physical picture a lot faster than I had imagined. But invisible things turned out to be harder than I expected. I’ve compared transition to grief in this blog from time to time, and just like grief, transition doesn’t happen in one cinematic moment of revelation, but oscillates and pulses with progress one day, and regress another, paralyzing fear one day and virtually mindless happiness the next.

I wrote about my voice and how working on it really pushed my buttons last fall, but I’m finding that I am a lot less worried about it now, a few months later. Earlier, I considered voicework as a threat to my identity, but it’s also a form of letting go. The old me hangs on in all sorts of forms, and the new me holds on to him in the form of his voice, maybe because it’s comforting or because it’s one of the last things I recognize from my old life. But lately, I feel even these emotions receding into flatness, pressed into that scrapbook, and it’s both a relief and an occasion for sadness.

It’s like when my parents died. I wanted to feel the grief deeply. I didn’t want to let their memory flatten or worse, vanish. I would feel that tendency begin to arise and I’d force the feelings back to the present because I was aware of a horrible guilt at NOT feeling grief. Eventually, I began to realize that willing my grief to emerge out of conscious effort was self-indulgent, that I had a responsibility to Mary Jo, Lane, and Ezra, not to mention my colleagues and students. I don’t know if I made a conscious decision to let go of the grief, but I did make a conscious decision to quit forcing the grief to the surface.

That’s where I am with George. He’s long gone, never to return, and I need to quit forcing myself to recall his life, his struggles, and the epic choices he made a few years ago. These feelings come up by themselves naturally, in glimpses in the mirror or in words spoken by friends, and in writing this blog. But even these such moments will diminish over time until George feels as distant as those pictures of me in high school or in college, the experiences having been flattened by time into scrapbook particles of color and snippets of feelings and thoughts dredged up out of long-term memory.