Author: Marisa McGrath

Woman. Millennial Misfit. Brave in my sensitivity and insecure about my own softness. Instagram: @marisa.mcgrath Email:

Being a Good Friend to what Hurts

I have a confession. It’s the kind that makes roller coasters of my thoughts late at night when everything but my brain is still. There’s a nameless heartsickness that visits me almost every nights and, sometimes, days too. Years collecting dust are doused with this scent, but it’s not as intense anymore. It’s still there. It never quite departs. The hurt, like a fruit squeeze too hard, drips all over my skin.

I used to call this pain an absence of romantic love. A boyfriend/ girlfriend/ partner remained truant for twenty-five years. My heart called search parties that turned up empty. I longed and prayed and chased with only this ache as my companion. And then, I found myself in relationships. I thought I’d name myself as theirs, but in the quarter century absence, I’d learned to love myself so fiercely that nothing less stuck. Inside something I prayed for, I found myself as my own answered prayer. So the heartsickness was never really that.

In astrology, Venus, the planet of love and romance, lives in Libra or Taurus. My venus is in detriment in the sign of Aries. Not only that, but according to degrees, my Venus in the final decan (at twenty three degrees in the fifth house) is further debilitated. I saw this as a curse for a long time, as a celestial prophecy that heartsick is my homeostasis. And then, I took a step back and looked at the whole sky when I was born: my moon (how I feel) is in Libra, as is my Jupiter, and they are always looking at my Venus across the sky as if to say, “I see you. Always, I see you”. And my sun lives in the 7th house of partnership where Venus typically rules, and my mercury (how I speak) and south node ( where I come from) congregate there too. The bigger message is that I’m loved from every angle of the sky, and that one place is getting love from all the others. And when love comes to that debilitated space, one that is stubborn and hard to reach, it is real. It is meant to stick.

I thought this pain was a checked box. I convinced myself it would dissolve with an award, acceptance, approval, attention, a job offer… it never did. What I’ve learned almost 28 years into something that might always ache a little is to breathe into where it hurts. Like a good friend, I rest my hand lightly on the shoulder of this burden, and say, “I hear you, and I’m not going anywhere. This feeling demands to be felt.” I taste the sour dripping juice of uncertainty as it trickles down my skin. Sometimes, I cry. The tears from a place of fear and gratitude. I have this big, dumb, squishy heart paired with a fiery disposition, and I worry the fact that I’m always me will exclude me from the things I want. I resent myself sometimes. Without fail, this cycle breaks. The tear transition from grief to gratitude. Thank you, universe/ God/ serendipity/ dumb luck for making me a magnet for everything that is meant to be here and a shield protecting me from things that were never meant to be. Thank you for the many loves and soul mates and incredible labors of my heart you’ve ushered in. And then, I let the ache go. I quit fixating on it for a minute. I surrender to timing I can’t control and uncomfortable real estate I never purchased but I’m living on in this moment. I feel my feet on the ground and the stars above me, and even when it aches, all the love and joy and optimism overpowers it. The pain isn’t me. It might be a part, but it’s not the whole or even the definition of me. It’s just a feeling I sometimes have to befriend and walk it home. Eventually, it always makes it inside, and I go to my home elsewhere.


They’re entertained witnessing a wild animal from a distance.

Whole industries stand on those domesticated exoticizing what refused taming, who refused the taming.
That’s the thing about an audience. Even when it’s not a performance, they call it that, think a natural state is barbaric and to numb is a branch of evolution.

The fascination lures the voyeur closer. And with soft steps and iPhone lens, they see the wild creature has fangs or talons or horns. All these adornments defending the wild’s existence.

Savagery extends beyond the details. A moving, wild thing can’t just move. It’s a prowl, pounce, stalk, prance, sprint. The sight of it close up is frightening.

Some hunters salivate at slaying the savage thing. Visions of hanging the hunted on mahogany so two things that once stood tall are now lifeless possessions so the hunter feels less alone in numbness. He surrounds himself with things more dead than he is.

Wild reminds the domesticated what they lost. The savage conjures grief and envy in the blanded because we are not born bland.

Some sawed off their horns, dulled their fangs, clipped their talons. And now they pay to gawk at an untamed thing. They call it an animal. They “rescue” it into captivity unaware of the ages where that savage beast rescued itself a million times. What you call sophistication, a wild thing calls amputation. What you seek possession of can only be free. You call it wild and crazy and savage and dangerous all because you fear that the reward for your taming doesn’t exist. Or maybe it just wasn’t as high as you were promised. You fear the power in the wilderness refusal. You envy and numb and keep looking because you can’t look anywhere else than where you wish you were but aren’t brave enough to be.

Gratitude One Year Later

I sit in traffic

Riddled with driving anxiety my whole life,

I loathed commutes

Distrusted other drivers and revved with the angst that is the only community on the high way.

I’m driving to work with blinding sunlight as the only passenger beside me

Just as I have since last summer

When work dragged me back .

Only, now it is almost spring

And the air warms with fresh hope.

More cars crowd the concrete labyrinth funneling all the suburbs into Columbus.

Enraged horns sometimes blare through rush hour,

And some Dodge truck called “Rix Rigg” on the plate rides my tail

And I get to work where more cars rest in the parking garage than have in an entire year,

I have never been so grateful as I feel a city wiggling back to wellness.

Gratitude sometimes looks like all the tiny annoyances suddenly inspiring hope.

A note about loss

Tom Jones passed away before I was born. He was my mom’s brother. The one who raised her. She called him “marshmallow”, and she was 27 when he died.

I never met Tom Jones. Every picture I’ve seen is striking. He has a nose people visit plastic surgeons for and piercing blue eyes radiating with passion he’d gush out at the MET or the Louvre. Tom called people, “hunny” and told them off. His spirit joins the chorus of all those lost who called New York City home, and there are so many and the losses are so heavy. But when I stand in New York City, his is a solo thundering through the restless city.

Once, he sat at Sarabeth’s in New York City. A disheveled woman in a moomoo sat at the table closest to him. He scoffed that someone would dare present themselves so poorly at such a trendy establishment. The waiter leans over to Uncle Tom, and he whispers, “you have the distinction of sitting next to Elizabeth Taylor.”

Those were the funny moments. He nurtured his siblings. He abandoned a small city that could not love him as he was and is for New York. He would not let his love be a secret couched between the hills of Pittsburgh. He refused to love only in the dark, to taper his fervent sparkle for a world blinded by it. No, Uncle Tom moved where everything was sparkle. Like attracts like, I guess.

And then something came to rob him of his sparkle. As a nurse, he saw the black shadow overtake beautiful, bright boys like him. Gay men became imprisoned in bodies so compromised by AIDS until those bodies could no longer fight it, and then those beautiful bright boys were gone. And mass funerals erected around the city. And protests and screams poured through the gridded streets of New York. And the shadow caught Uncle Tom, too. He became a supernova– the last evolutionary stage of a massive star, powerful and luminous stellar explosion. Only it was a slow and excruciating fizzle. I know he was a Libra. I know his birthday, but I don’t know the date he died. There’s something powerful about my family, that I remember everyone’s birthdays but not necessarily when they left this earth. Because Tom wasn’t the way he died. That matters, but he lived so brilliantly, that date is a historical landmark. His death is when the light went out.

Loss is ugly. It incites chills and tears, and losing those closest to us has no beauty. It is not glamorous nor poetic. I feel the absence of a relative I’ve never met. I miss him, and I only know him in secondhand stories. My mother’s grief roots so deeply in her body that carrying me imparted some of her Everest grief to the next generation. I feel his loss in my chest. It lurks in family pictures and moments where I can hear him speaking, and I don’t know his firsthand voice.

An ex-girlfriend lost her sister to cancer years before I dated her. When I asked my mom how I could support my then girlfriend, my mom said, “it’s something you never get over. you get used to carrying it with you.” I carry him with me, too. His memory is a powerful and luminous stellar explosion, but his loss is broken glass in so many of our chests.

Delayed Answers

The reason isn’t always clear when something doesn’t work out. When my affection pointed sharply in one person’s direction, and although I could feel them my way, it never came to be. My brain rattled with reasons and theories tethered by loose thread. What I’ve learned is that we might not know why things don’t work out until we’re with someone who resolves that question. More often, I’ll wonder why things never materialized with person x. The 1am texting marathons and time together and those lingering looks incapable of being anything but desire. I double checked the signs against online articles and conversations with friends. “they like me, right? ” All the signs stood in neon. And then it was gone. The texts stopped coming and we drifted from close confidants to strangers. I’ve seen the answer a few times.

I’m standing unassumingly. My eyes idle without the impulse for signs, but they come to me. The moment always comes too late. It comes after the feelings have quit throbbing . The affections departed. And then, I catch it from a distance– first recognizing them and then who they are with. The glittered glaze over each other’s eyes. A simple touch on the shoulder, and I know. I know in the same way when I see my never-flame’s person post about them. I get the answer I no longer needed. It was never a complicated formula but a monosyllabic answer, and I wasn’t it.

I’ve never felt grief here. It’s relief. Relief to know that it wasn’t me but something else I could never control. It’s a relief to see someone I cared so deeply for being adored how they want, and there’s humility in understanding I couldn’t be that person. The selfless part of love is wanting our beloved to be happy even if we aren’t a part of that happiness. Humans are selfish creatures, and love is a fantastical thing because it grows us bigger than we are capable of being– to put someone else before our own egos. Love for ourselves allows us to let go. We understand that we deserve love without some inflection at the end– a question mark where an exclamation point should be. Happiness for another person doesn’t mean we continue lacerating ourselves to prove we’re good sports. It just means that we hear the signs and accept answers that don’t sound good. The answers don’t come when we want them. They arrive when they are ready.