Jenni, Part II: “Stay in your lane!”
Jenni did not give up on herself. I want to make that clear.
Her choice not to revisit cancer treatments (chemo, radiation, surgery) had to do with a diminishing quality of life, and pain management. It was the stuff below the surface of cancer: breathing issues, dysphagia, trigeminal neuralgia, trismus, hoarseness, sleep problems, altered sense of taste, and lack of appetite just to name a few. Not to mention the mental and emotional baggage along for the ride. Eventually, Jenni would have required breathing and feeding tubes — procedures which were impossible to carry out because of the multitudinous tumor activity in her neck. On that note, add to the list liver pain, where metastasis occurred.
Jenni frequently stated how much her body hurt, how tired she was. Yet she graciously obliged people with her company, whether she really wanted to accommodate them, or not — all while holding down a secret: she was in a lot of fucking pain. She didn’t downplay her agony — she simply didn’t let on just how bad it was. I had a hunch about this, based on some idiosyncrasies in Jenni that I noticed had cropped up over the past year. Gianluca confirmed my suspicion when he and I met for lunch a few weeks ago. It was a relief to know my conjectures were not just my imagination.
It’s taking me longer than expected to write these posts (there only will be three, and that should cover all I have to say about Jenni for a while). Everything is spelled out in my head — but getting my feelings and motivation aligned with my mindset has been challenging.
September was a busy month anyway. After meeting with Gianluca, the following weekend marked Retox, an annual retreat hosted by my ex-boyfriend, Matt. Each fall, a group of us convene on a mountaintop in Beersheba Springs, Tenn., where Matt’s family owns property with three houses. It’s a quaint getaway, where you can (if you so choose) sit around a four-day-stoked campfire, eat like a pig, drink like a fish, laugh like a hyena and sleep like a log. The past two years, Jenni and I traveled to Retox together. She loved the peaceful nature setting, the time away from her home and all the troubles that went with it… and respite from thinking about her illness.
“I’m already looking forward to next year’s Retox!” Jenni said to me on the drive home, after her first experience.
The second time we attended together, I reserved the sought-after “cabin” for us — the smallest house on the property, set far from the campfire, the other two houses and the kitchen (i.e. every place where the noisy action happens). Comparatively, the cabin is the poshest and convenient setup, with its own bathroom and kitchenette. Jenny needed privacy. She didn’t want to walk around wigless in front of everyone, some of whom she’d met for the first time that weekend. Also, she required white noise to help her sleep, which probably wouldn’t have gone over well in the quarters where the majority stayed.
Worried about Jenni’s future this year, I secured the cabin for her once again (recusing myself in place of Gianluca). I didn’t share my anxiety with Matt because I didn’t want to be dramatic or panderly, nor did I aim to use Jenni’s condition as a means to get my way.
Sadly, Jenni did not make it to Retox this year. Neither did I.
At first, I was set on traveling to Tennessee by myself. Several people from the group, including Matt, were cheerleading me to go. A small handful of people planned on heading up there a day earlier than usual, and I was excited about spending time with a pared-down party before the masses arrived.
But as the date neared, my heart just wasn’t in it. The three-hour drive during which Jenni and I gabbed the entire time, round trip… wouldn’t be the same. Sharing a bedroom with people other than her; the absence of exchanging silent communication cues between each other; no new memories to make, no new stories to tell; her delicious culinary works missing from the dining room table (Jenni was a chef)… the idea of these scenarios proved unappealing to me. Plus, there were a couple other aggravations I couldn’t be bothered with, that would have made my weekend even more un-fun and not relaxing. I have enough stress.
Stress. Throughout this bereavement, I accounted for stress. I also left room for sorrow, loneliness, disbelief, anxiety, disorientation, anger and a potpourri of grief.
Most days are OK now, but I had a setback just yesterday while working on this at Starbucks. A girl sitting at an adjacent table resembled Jenni: her build, hair, gesticulations, clothing, everything. I did a double-take, my face lit with recognition, and I almost lifted my hand to wave. Then I remembered, and I had a hard time keeping it together at my seat. It was difficult not to stare at this girl, to watch her as the next best thing to Jenni. It was like looking into another dimension.
Anyway. Something I did not carve out space for was resentment and annoyance… because I didn’t expect it, nor should I have. But it happened, the moment news of Jenni’s death spread. Jenni’s Facebook page started to get a little shit-showy (still is). I have a few words on that:
Remember how I said Jenni’s stories about the way people treated her often left me bewildered? Mmmhmm.
As a result, I knew all the players in Jenni’s life: who was dependable, who was flaky; who was selfless and in it for the right reasons, who was selfish and in it for the wrong reasons; who was genuine, who was sycophantic; whom she loved, whom she tolerated; whom she forgave, whom she cut off.
Over the course of Jenni’s illness, a swath of friends had either disappeared or disappointed her, at an incredible rate. Remarkably, of those who self-identified as a “close” or “good” friend to Jenni, few were consistent. I know which people weren’t able to be consistent based on varying circumstances (finances, transportation, kids, etc.), so this diatribe isn’t about them.
Also excluded are the saddened fans she won over from Strangers. Also exempt are people she may have met only once or not at all, but with whom she still shared a bona fide friendship (people living in Texas and Iran come to mind). Those are completely different dynamics and are not the focus of my ire.
I’m directing this toward the so-called immediate friends who had the means, time, resources, and opportunity to show they truly cared about Jenni as much as they alleged… and yet sprang to action only after she had to fucking beg on Facebook… pathetic.
Pathetic that Jenni had to plead to be remembered, and pathetic that people who claimed to be close to Jenni weren’t proactive on their own volition. They weren’t her friends; they were people who liked the idea of being her friend because, public image and attention. A.) Being associated with the sick-and-dying cancer girl = attention, and b.) Being associated with the Strangers podcast girl = attention x2 (more on the Strangers bit, later.).
Additionally, as grief-stricken expressions poured onto Jenni’s Facebook page, it was overwhelmingly perturbing to see excessive posts from try-hard tertiary friends, who inflated their relationship with Jenni as something more than what it really was — projecting an incongruent illusion. Ditto on those who flaked out on Jenni and then magically reappeared only to prove they knew her once upon a time.
Everyone wants the glory and recognition but doesn’t want to make sacrifices or put in the work.
I’m not saying the people who didn’t know Jenni deeply well can’t be sad, that she didn’t affect their lives in some way. Yet there is a socially stunted faction, with the emotional intelligence of a 14-year-old, painting a public picture that isn’t true, polluting Facebook with treacly, stomach-turning tripe and overwrought surface stories. Those people’s daily lives, routine, psyche, emotional investment aren’t going through an epochal shift… if any at all.
They aren’t losing phone calls, texts and visits; future plans; hours-long car rides and card games; concerts; sleepovers; hangouts and vacations. They aren’t losing a deep bond based on shared philosophies and commonalities. They aren’t slapped with daily reminders: a song, a TV show, a restaurant, or “that one time when…”
They’re not losing a confidante.
I can’t run and tell Jenni who ended up winning So You Think You Can Dance; or that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was on the Late Late Show With James Corden; or the results of my skin biopsy; or when I find a house to buy; or a funny thing Esben did. I can’t make my baklava or vegetable soup for her, nor can I enjoy the food she made. She can’t come over for Sunday night Italian dinners at my brother’s house. I don’t have that anymore — and this is the short-list version.
So, to the solicitous sympathy-seekers who fling dramatic, drawn-out falsehoods online and offline in order to net unwarranted “I’m sorry for your loss”es from an unwitting audience that YOU KNOW wouldn’t know any better: you should be embarrassed by yourselves, and admonished. Your delusional distortions are inappropriate, uncompassionate, and tone-deaf — disruptive to the grieving process for those who were fully vested and who don’t need to “Facebook slobber” (as I call it) all over Jenni’s page (nor their own) to prove shit.
Stop milking an acquaintance’s tragedy for your own benefit; it’s pathological.
Stop hijacking Jenni’s Facebook page — and stop decorating your own — with post after post of whatever scant context you have to go by; it’s creepy.
Stop camouflaging how close you and Jenni weren’t; it’s dishonest.
Stop manipulating the audience with misrepresented, cherry-picked anecdotes that tell only half of a story; it’s meaningless peacocking at this point.
Stop commodifying Jenni’s cancer to supply your own ego and agenda; it’s gross.
Stop invoking Jenni’s name at every opportunity corner, as a vehicle to con the audience — why would you continue to casually drone on about someone whom you didn’t know well, without friendship foundation or familiarity? It’s tasteless.
Stop appropriating Jenni altogether, you sick, sad, bunny-boiling fucks.
Do you not notice how
out-of-place out of line you are?
Who are you: Jenni’s post-mortem managers? Alfred, Lord Tennyson, penning In Memoriam A.H.H.? Were you in ‘Nam, too? Were you there, man? Get over yourselves. Say your piece, pay your respects, and move forward, like a normal person, as you would have done in 1997.
Or, as Jenni would say: “Stay in your lane!”
(Or, as Henry Rollins would say, “Sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up!“)
If anyone has license to carry on ad infinitum, it’s Jenni’s family.
Okay, Brittany. Then how come you get to do it?
Because this is my blog and I’m using it for its intended purpose: thoughtful expression, introspection, and catharsis. I’m sharing truthful reflections and feelings; reporting events and facts; building a foundation for Jenni’s accomplishments; advocating for her life; creating a body of work to outline a body that is no longer here. Within my own space and parameters.
And I’m grieving. Not sad. Not wistful. Not woeful. Not boo-hoo. Not down. Not “she randomly popped in my head today, so I think I’ll announce to everyone how saaaad I am and how much I caaaare and how much I miiiiiiss her.” I’m talking on-my-mind-everyday, lines-on-my-face, awake-at-night, changed-me-as-a-person, sick-to-my-stomach grief — which manifests for reasons specific to Jenni that transcend the obvious when one dies.
Now, Brittany, everyone grieves in their own way.
Yeah, I know. Also, don’t give me that bullshit. Pretty sure that aphorism applies to spouses, children, family and close friends, who have a strong, intimate foundation with the deceased.
To reiterate, I’m not saying people of all types can’t be sad and express themselves. But there is a difference between “sad” and “grieving” and a line between “healthy expression” and “OK, enough! Why are you still talking about this?” distributed across family, friend, peer and acquaintance tiers. Our present-day society is confused by these concepts, apparently. Thanks, Internet!
Unlike the piteous arms-length hangers-on, I’m not seeking a self-serving attention grab for bravado, or to show off to my friends, or to ingratiate myself to Jenni’s family and friends, or to feel better about myself, or to look like a hero, or to absolve guilt, or to profit, or to gain PR points. And Jenni was a part of my family as well as her other real friends’ families.
Also, I don’t advertise this blog to everyone I know — few people are aware of it. I don’t think I’m that special, and adoration is not my oxygen. People read this because they want to; they opt in, or they run across it via SEO. And I’m not on Facebook at the moment (my mom and sister are also Jenni’s Facebook friends, so this is how I know what’s going on). Even if I were on Facebook, I wouldn’t be so uncouth to bloviate on and on about Jenni, especially if it weren’t my place to do it. I don’t have a lonely-girl compulsion to inject myself front-and-center into everyone’s life narrative.
But hey, when one of your best friends dies, let us know how that goes for you — on your own blog.
I don’t mean to give the Braggadocio Brigade the attention and relevance its members desperately crave so they can increase their Klout score or whatever is important to them. But it’s hard to watch a shit-show unfold when Jenni isn’t around to refute anything. Oh God, wait ’til next year when milestone dates occur. *eyeroll* I won’t be reading by then.
Those doing the most public speaking were farthest from the situation: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” indeed. Some people flat-out fabricate their own reality… so much that the stories are sloppily inconsistent, thus proving they never really gave a damn about Jenni, only the attention they could osmose from her.
[6/27/16 edit: These are the same type of people who glom on to the death of legendary celebrities, as they suddenly realize what an “inspiration” the star was, and they’ve truly been the “biggest” fans forever and ever, their whole lives, really, guys! The recent deaths of David Bowie and Prince seem to have dredged up these annoying “profile picture change or you’re not a real fan” allegoric characters en masse on social media. No one else “gets” or “feels” the death more than they do; no one is more sad or crushed. Funny… we don’t remember you uttering Bowie or Prince (or any Prince proteges; or hip-hop, R&B, soul, funk, rap, blues, jazz, grime, jungle, house, disco, new jack swing; or any black artists for that matter) as influences, or owning/playing any of their music in the past… ever. However, emotional illusion is de rigueur: social survival, 21st century-style — you’re not relevant if you’re not getting attention. One of my favorite blogs, What Would Tyler Durden Do? sums it up best in this post: Mariah Carey One of Prince’s Many Dear Friends.]
It’s the silent or little-heard-from people who felt, and are still feeling, excruciating pain, who have deep holes where Jenni once filled. Truly emotionally exhausted people, who know where they stood in Jenni’s life and are confident about the place they made for Jenni in their own lives. They did right by Jenni while she was alive, and their conscience is clear after her death.
That’s authentic loss and grief. And we’re tired. Please, spare us the smarmy, idiotic disrespect to Jenni’s friends and family; and cut out the disingenuous, theatrical cause du jour. Remember, Jenni has parents, a brother, sister-in-law, niece, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Give everyone space to mourn in peace.
This song that makes me upset and uplifted at the same time, on those hard days. Not sure why.