Bitter or Better

“You don’t get to just come back into my life like that, like a f-cking zombie! I killed you!”

“I just want you back.”

“You don’t get it, Marty. You are dead to me, and I can’t have you resurrecting yourself.”

“You stopped calling, you stopped trying. How did you do it?”

“Well, I made you dead to me. Like you died. It was the only way.”

*Spoiler alert for the TV series, The Shrink Next Door.* The snippets above were taken from a conversation between Marty (Will Ferrell), and his sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn), after being estranged for thirty years. Marty had been manipulated by his psychologist (Paul Rudd) to cut off all contact with his family, among many other horrible things that will make you hate Paul Rudd, which I didn’t think was possible. The conversation hit me pretty hard, as I’ve grappled with how to handle and process a loss when the person being mourned is alive and well.

Even the most massive changes don’t happen all at once. It might start as a the smallest trickle, or a leak. In the earliest stages there is still room for denial. In the movie Titanic, after the ship was irreparably punctured by an iceberg, Thomas Andrews declared that no matter what they did, Titanic would founder. Bruce Ismay protested, “But this ship can’t sink!”, to which Andrews replied, “She’s made of iron, sir. I assure you, she can. And she will.” It brought to mind a conversation with my mom earlier this year when she said, “Oh, this is going to be really shitty.” It was, and surely not just for me. Nobody wins in a divorce. It is the death of a shared dream, not by just two people, but by your families and loved ones–and the death of a life you once knew.

On a run in the forest earlier this year, my friend KT and I had a conversation in which we likened broken relationships to an open wound. Do you go through the long, drawn out process of trying to treat it, or do you cut it off all together and be done with it? I consider myself an optimist. I hate closing doors and detest finality. I desire harmony and resolve. Unfortunately, those wants only left me in a holding pattern, waiting for a nice bow to tie on everything that wouldn’t come to be in the way I wanted.

So what does one do? I remembered a slogan that my college cross country coach, Brian Patton, had printed on the back of our team t-shirts: Bitter or Better. I don’t know that I totally understood what it meant. I didn’t have much to be bitter about then. I wouldn’t consider myself bitter now, but along the veins of death and loss, there’s undeniably a little part of me that died last year. Christmas was a lovely and relaxing day spent with family. It was also a stark reminder of one of those unpleasant firsts; the first Christmas “without”, after many years “with”.

I don’t wish for life to go back to the way it was, and I don’t wish to put off moving forward for the sake of a perfect resolution. Perhaps instead of trying to nurture a dying branch, it’s necessary to hack it off so the whole tree can survive. There is a lot of life to look forward to, and so many possibilities. Josh Shipp, a youth motivational speaker, said, “You either get bitter or get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.”

In the photo at the top, I’m standing in front of the beautiful Dover Oak along the Appalachian Trail in New York. It’s estimated to be 150 years old. As you can see, it’s missing at least one limb of its own. There’s a visible memory of what once was, and there’s probably a story there. A piece of her is gone, but maybe that’s how she could continue to grow and flourish at all.


Thanks for reading. If this struck a chord or resonated with you in some way, please consider buying me a coffee or becoming a monthly member (I just made some very pretty stickers for members). My sincerest thanks to those that have already done so. Another great way to support is by subscribing to my newsletter where you can read these stories first, and sharing this with a friend or family member that might enjoy it too.

In another news, I’m happy to share that my Smokies Traverse this past spring was nominated for the Fastest Known Time of the year! One of my dear readers Earl pointed out that this wasn’t only an exciting moment for me and my crew, but for all those that follow and support me too. That couldn’t be more true–I feel so grateful to have a community to share the ups, downs, wins, and losses with. If you’re reading this, that means you. Thank you, truly, for being along for the ride.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy (and hopefully thriving and flourishing) 2022.

Until next week! ~Mercury


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