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Emphasis on Mess ~ Book 18 ~

This book is isolated. It was the summer after my first year in grad school and I spent it with all the other first-years in London studying theatre and seeing plays. It was an incredible privilege to dedicate so much time to the appreciation of theatre.

I am not going to write about the plays I saw . . .

Hamlet starring Simon Russell Beale;

All My Sons starring Laurie Metcalf;

The Shape of Things starring Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz;

Classics King John, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale;

New Works like Big Maggie and Three Dark Tales.

I kept an additional required journal for class that details all my scholarly observations if you are interested. (But you’re not. Trust me, you’re not.) I will probably burn those pages too, although I admit, I have gone back to fact-check my memory on more than one production’s details.

Instead, I’m going to write you…us… some good news and bad news.

It’s pretty early in my journal excavation for me to make any claims about what these books as a collection have to teach. But to this point, I think we can agree that a major theme is my broken heart and how I cared for it back then. The woman I was in my twenties felt abandoned. She dove into new cities and social circles where she drank, spoke, and laughed loudly from their centers, then retreated, alone, to write about her loneliness. If you knew her back then, “lonely” is not a word you would have used, but it would have been accurate.

When I embarked on this Journals Project, I suspected that the 1995 death of my sister would color the pages of each notebook. And I was right. And, I knew full well that the first few books would reflect my 1996 break-up. But I thought the first few.

First seventeen? Oh, hell no.

For fuck’s sake, Ginna, get your independent shit together. You are wasting all of your hotness.

Well, reader, the summer of 2001 is when I got my shit together. Temporarily. (I also got my nose pierced! …but that doesn’t really relate.) The change came at an enormous cost. Good news / bad news. Which do you want to hear first?

. . .

On one of the last nights in London, I came home to find my flatmates waiting for me with worried faces. My mom had called from Ohio and asked that I call her back no matter the time. Whatever it was, they knew it was bad. I knew it was bad. It was bad. A college friend of mine had died suddenly.

Yes, this is the bad news.

Eric was my age exactly. Same year. Same month. Same day. And I loved him so much! He was friends with my ex-boyfriend, but he didn’t let that ruin our friendship in The Great Breakup of 1996. However, after my ex got married, embarrassed and hurt, I drifted away from Eric.

One August morning, while I was no doubt watching a play in London, Eric woke up to do his morning PT and dropped to the ground unconscious. It was later determined that he’d had an undetected brain tumor.

August 4, 2001 Saturday
I had to sit down on the floor of our flat here in London. I felt so helpless and alone. All the people that could comfort me are so far away, and most of them I have made a practice of not speaking to.
I have a headache. I have thought so hard it hurts.
I keep coming back to the battle of my ego. Without an ego, what would I do? Attend the funeral and be as invisible as possible? Attend the funeral and be as kind as possible? Don’t attend?
I do not know. I do believe, however, that Eric would want us all to be friends. He would want me to be welcomed.
I am terrified of seeing Mike again. Mostly because I’m afraid of falling in love with him, but also I’m afraid that I might not. And how would I get around without my crutch?
I guess maybe I’d walk.

And then I wrote a prayer asking God for the grace to do the right thing.

The funeral was in Ohio on Monday, August 6, 2001. In order to get there, I’d have to leave Penn State no later than 6:00 AM after flying in from London the evening prior. On Sunday night in State College, I set my alarm and told myself that if I was able to get out of bed and see straight, I would drive the six hours to Eric’s funeral. If I was too groggy, I would not drive; I knew better. I was awake and alert 30 minutes before the alarm went off. So I went.

Are you ready for the good news?

It’s coming. Just one more tough part.

It was a terribly sad funeral. I mean, they’re all sad, sure. But this one delivered one punch to the gut after another. Eric was 27, handsome, fit, and beloved. (Only the good die young, right?) His young beautiful girlfriend spoke and it was just heartwrenching. The sadness in the room was heavy. Very heavy. And then there was this… recording. A song. Eric had written a song. I can’t recall the lyrics, but the gist of it was making the most of life. Then he recorded himself singing to his own guitar accompaniment.

I didn’t even know he had a guitar!

I had never heard him sing!

This was too much. I was totally unprepared for the song, its content, and to hear my sweet friend’s voice. Shortly after, I stood way in the back of the crowd as he was lowered into the ground. I wore sunglasses and sweat ran down the backs of my legs. I absolutely hate hot funerals.

Okay. Bad news over.

Good news now.

Going to Eric’s funeral was no doubt going to put me in the presence of my married ex-boyfriend for the first time in five years. And in the presence of our mutual friends who had, by most accounts, leaned to his side of our breakup. Funerals are not fun to begin with…

However, our mutual friends could not have been more welcoming to me. Lots of hugs, lots of tears. I shook hands with his pretty new wife. (Icy, but whaddayou expect?) Like Eric and like my ex, his new wife was in the military and she was striking in her Army Uniform. Sharp. Precise. Hair pulled back under a garrison cap. (Is that what they’re called?) Perfect nose. Perfect chin.

I was unshowered, unshampooed, jetlagged, and newly pierced in the nose. Despite my hand-me-down sundress which was certainly too short, I was sweaty from the long drive and nervous about seeing my ex-boyfriend. I was the definition of “Hot Mess.” Emphasis on mess.

Mike and I hugged and he whispered some kind words into my ear. My journal states that I hugged him with only one arm (I wouldn’t have remembered that) and that I said nothing in response. Not only do I not remember staying silent, I can’t believe it.

And that was it.

Are you wondering where the good news is?

Well, that was it.

Nothing happened. Everything changed.

Tuesday, August 7, 20021
Amid the confusion over the sudden and inexplicable death of my friend Eric, I realized that the young man even died giving gifts. What Eric left for me was atonement. Amends. The poetry of it is far too profound for me to explain. It was Eric, quite suitably who brought amends between Mike and me.

I looked at the two of them in their Army uniforms and I knew that I did not belong anywhere in this picture. Not even in the background. Not even in their memory of this day.

I would get back in my car, forever mourn the loss of my friend, and go be an ununiformed hot mess for the rest of my life. And I couldn’t wait.


7-27-01 I misses my sisses.

7-28-01 Dublin. Saturday morning. My nose is pierced now. I went alone. I marked my journey. the big Irish man with the hoop in the middle space between his nostrils pierced my nose for me. They weren't terribly nice to me when I came in. I faced my fear. They thought I would leave. They didn't think I'd really do it. My fear is a tiger. I opened its jaws and I climbed in. Sean said ( Sean is the big Irish man) Sean said it would take 25 to 30 seconds. That much was true. He didn't care to torture me. He was just doing his job… and he was good at it… and I told him so. He didn't care much what I thought. This is very likely a man with piercings in places I could never imagine. Even if his clothes were off.

. . .

Slang terms I learned in Dublin: snog, bog, boot in the bullocks, happy days, smash-faced, rat-faced, rat-arsed, and mingen.

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Oct 31, 2023

So very sorry for your losses (your sister, Eric…and the Mike heartache). Love how you found the gift of atonement amidst the tragedy…and that your efforts to make the long trek from London to the funeral were rewarded in multiple ways. Likely far more impact (and journal notes) than seeing another play - instead you lived your own theatrical event.

btw - another parallel of our past…I studied in London in ‘95 and lost two friends a few months apart in ‘98 (and wished I traveled home for the funerals), and also have an ex by the same name (who I last saw at a mutual friend’s wedding where I met his girlfriend/now wife). My journal refers to the “tumultuous…

Oct 31, 2023
Replying to

You're so right. The tumult doesn't stop, but it's maybe slightly easier to manage to the decades that follow the twenties. I never get tired of discovering our many parallels!


Oct 30, 2023


my first foray into your bloggishness.

what a year to start with! The years of Penn State when I knew you first. A window to your complex and wonderful spirit.

I look forward the the next….and the next…..

and dipping back into a past when I did not know you.

Oct 31, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Jane! I've already come across several references to you in the 2001 - 2003 journals. For instance, a pair of brown leather riding boots that you were going to sell at a yard sale, but gave them to me when we discovered they were my size! I loved those boots and kept them for a decade even though, the truth is they were a little too small. I will forward the next shared memory that I come across.❤️


Kelley McKinnon
Kelley McKinnon
Oct 28, 2023

😍 For fuck’s sake, Ginna, get your independent shit together. You are wasting all of your hotness.


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