Author: Marisa McGrath

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

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 28 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.

Tamika Palmer

I think about Breonna Taylor’s mom a lot.

I’ve never met Tamika Palmer, but in Breonna’s childhood pictures,

I see something like my mom and me–

Joy smeared from cheek to cheek, with her little one bundled up.

In quotes, her grief shakes the text.

I’ve never met Tameka Palmer, but she had a daughter who was five days younger than I am.

Meaning that while my mom held me in California, she held Breonna in Michigan at the same time.

Now, my mom says all lives matter,

And I wonder that if I were killed sensely while I slept if my killers’ lives would weigh as heavy in her heart as mine does.

My mom isn’t talking to me right now, and still, I am sure she loves me.

I wonder what that love looks like on the other side of murder.

I wonder if she’d pray so hard it’d tear the sky apart and render God deaf because her shrieks are so loud. If the ozone later would break in half and capsize the Milky Way Galaxy.

I wonder how she’d hear “all lives matter” when it’s so obvious that three men didn’t agree. If that’d sound like a bell tolling or a scream or just a “fuck you” to all the years I was hers and now I am but I’m not.

I think about Tamika Palmer a lot. I think about Breonna more. I had five more days by fate getting here, and now, I have endless years that I shouldn’t know I have this counterpoint. But I do.

I do. The only difference is that I am white.

My mom is white,

and Tamika is black.

And that’s why Tamika grieves while my mom says, “All lives matter”.