I’ve worked my way through all the bad metaphors.
I’m in a fog. I’ve lost track of time. I’m running in place. I’m taking things one day at a time.
Then, explaining to a family member what life has been like since the day that shook our family, I described it as that moment when you’re driving out in the wilds somewhere, making great time, enjoying your 80s playlist, when suddenly the phone screen goes wonky.
You have no bars. You have no GPS connection. You have no music.
The satellite is gone.
You’re off the map.
You’re not entirely off the grid, necessarily — there’s some limited information still in the cache — but you’re definitely without the trusty data-driven guidance you had come to take for granted.
You see no names for the roads you’re on. You see no highway markers. There are no warnings about hazards in the road. There’s no electronic voice telling you “in one mile, bear left.”
You can’t panic; especially if you’ve got kids in the back seat. You can’t stop because that does you no good. All you can do is keep driving, keep singing the lyrics to Bananarama from memory, and hope the satellite finds you again soon. Until then, you identify whatever landmarks you can, and use all your best instincts and skills to get you safely to wherever you’re going.
Or at least to the nearest gas station.
This is me. This is my life right now.
It’s rough. And if you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll tell you just that.
“I’m okay. But it’s rough.”
There’s no map, no guide, no step-by-step list of turns, no single most efficient, crowdsourced, toll-free route when it comes to processing the complex grief around the death of your partner’s ex, the mother of your stepkids; the same way there was no map, no guide to processing the complex grief around the death of my own ex, the father of my biological kids.
It’s a very small, very strange club to be in (which is probably why if there were a handbook it wouldn’t sell very well), and I wish it on no one.
So I am just doing the best I can, minute by minute, taking all the good advice when and where I find it, and making up my own journey as I go along.
Last night though, as this wholly unreal month of May, 2023, rolled to a close, something clicked.
With family visiting from out of state, I joined my mom to take them around DUMBO and do all the good touristy things one does with small kids in tow — pizza at Juliana’s, a walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park, a ride on Jane’s Carousel, scoops at Oddfellows Ice Cream, the requisite photo on the cobblestones of Washington and Water.
The plan was to drop them off at the stairs up to the Brooklyn Bridge before dark, so they could walk back to Manhattan with the sun setting behind the skyline.
At the spur of the moment I decided to join them. Flip-flops and all.
It turned out to be exactly what I needed — but not for the reasons I had expected.
Sitting on the A train for the quick ride back home from Chambers Street across the East River, I realized that there had been something so unexpectedly meaningful about that walk straight across the Brooklyn Bridge:
You know where you’re going.
You know where you will start and where you will end.
There is only one path to take.
There are guardrails in place.
And aside from the possibility of lingering too long on the pedestrian path to take a photo and needing to jump out of the way of a speeding bicycle, there really is no way to do this wrong.
I haven’t felt that comfort of predictability for days now.
Most of life will certainly not be as simple as keep going, use your instincts, and trust you’ll get to where you’re supposed to be.
Either way, I think your only real option is to keep moving forward.
And to lean on the guardrails when you feel wobbly.
Liz Gumbinner is a Brooklyn-based writer, award-winning ad agency creative director, and OG mom blogger who was called “funny some of the time” by an enthusiastic anonymous commenter. This was originally posted in May 2023 on her Substack “I’m Walking Here!,” where she covers culture, media, politics, and parenting.
Banner photo courtesy the author.