Holley Hyler

A r t i s t

The Place She Always Was

June 8, 2018


Photo Source: Unsplash

[excerpted from a description I wrote of a photo of my childhood home once it was emptied]

Home, back then, was where she was. Always. When I got home from school, even though she was not up to greet me immediately, I knew that she was in her room taking her usual afternoon nap. She was back there – she was just sleeping.

After I moved, no matter when I returned, it was always the same. The furniture changed, objects were moved around, things got dirtier and dustier, but it was still the place where my mom was, and I could always go there to find her.

I could always go there to find her, until I couldn’t.

When I went into the house after she was gone, it hurt so much that I tried to tell myself the same thing that I told myself each time I arrived home from school. “She’s back there – she’s just sleeping.”

Now, the kitchen is empty, dark, except for the light coming in through the yellowed curtains. There was once a round table near the back wall, four chairs around it, one of them broken. There was a microwave, miscellaneous papers and catalogs strewn around it and on the table, water bottles on the floor under the window. The last time I visited my mom, she kept trying to give me water. I kept one of the bottles she gave me in my car for the longest time. I did not understand why, but I could not get rid of it, and to drink it felt like sacrilege. That bottle of water turned out to be the last item my mom ever handed to me.

No matter how inevitable something is, how many times you tell yourself it’s coming someday, it cannot prepare you for the void you’ll feel when you no longer find them at the place where you always found them. It cannot console what you feel inside when you cannot touch them anymore, when you have nothing but an empty shirt of theirs to hold. You can pretend they’re just sleeping or that the shirt is them, if you need to stave off the tears, but eventually your heart tells your brain the truth.

When it does, may God be with you.

Your last moments with someone – maybe if you are very lucky, you spend them holding that someone, whispering words of love. But maybe you spend them doing nothing. Maybe there is nothing more than a mundane conversation, a walk to your car with a sad wave goodbye, an unopened water bottle rolling around in the slot in your car door. As you drive away, the words you wished you could have said roll around in your head. You make a note to say them later, but then you forget. Except, you don’t actually forget. You just lose your courage to say them, because they are too honest. And honesty has never been your thing.

Death comes for all of us. It is so common that writing about it feels like a cliché. The comfort in that is that someday, I know I, too, will return home. When that day comes, my time here might feel like a distant memory, one that I would prefer, mostly, to forget.

When I get home, I know that she will be there. There are others I hope to see, too, those that I could not connect with here. Human rules and obligations are strange, and so many of them hold us back from loving the people it would do our hearts the most good to love. Jealousy and ownership are poisons that cut us off from love. There is nothing quite like the ache that comes from longing to hold someone that you cannot, no matter what the reason may be. I hope that when we all go home, we will see beyond these things, and love as we wish to love. No matrimony, no formalities, just love.

When I get home, maybe she will be napping, or she will be sitting in the kitchen and playing Sudoku. Maybe she will have picked up other interests in the time between now and then – what do unbound Souls like to do? – and that’s okay.

I look forward to going home.

What is Grief?

May 23, 2018


The Atlanta airport is sprawling and busy. It is full of people, and some of them get out of your way if they see you running. For once, I do not have to run to make my connection. I stand at the window of my gate, staring at the black storm clouds that bring the night before its time. Off in the distance, I see a sheet of rain, a lightning storm. Everything is so disconnected. It is raining there, but not here. I can see the lightning, but I cannot hear thunder. Black clouds loom everywhere.

This is grief.

I wear my mother’s sapphire bracelet. It has been over a month, and it feels that way, too. I sleep while wearing the bracelet, and I dream that I am outside her house, peering into her kitchen window. She is sitting up, head lolled to her right side. She is gone. It is the scene that the policeman described in real life. I am seeing it for myself, but I cannot get into the house to get to her. People stand in the driveway, asking me for things. They are coworkers, friends, people I don’t even know. I bang my head against the pink brick beside the window until I bleed, screaming at them, “She is gone, can’t you see? Go away. Leave me alone.” But they won’t. I weep openly. I bleed from my head. They still do not leave, and they do not look at my pain.

This is grief, begging to be expressed. This is grief when you are giving too much of yourself away to people who do not deserve you.

I am brushing the tangles from my fine hair, hair that is like hers. It is knotted and damp after my shower. I flash back to the first time I tried to dye my hair at home. I could not get the color all the way through to my ends, which were halfway down my back. My hair became a tangled mess, more so than usual because of the hair dye. I grew frustrated, and hot tears poured down my cheeks. Then my mom was behind me, a comb in her hands. “Don’t cry, honey,” she said. In the present, I breathe as I do when a sob is imminent. I stop myself. I don’t cry, but the sadness bleeds into the rest of the day.

This is grief, when you have no time to feel it. This is grief when it feels too intimate to show anyone else.

I go out with family and drink too much beer. I decide to go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico at night. I purposely taste the salt water when I go underneath the gentle waves, baptizing myself. I can become new, I tell myself. I do not remember leaving the beach. I do not remember how I ended up in a bed.

This is grief, when it starts to drown you, inside and out. This is grief when you let go of your inhibitions and follow your impulses.

“Sometimes you look mad when you come in the door, and I don’t know what to say,” a coworker from my dream tells me in real life. I pause for a while, and then I say, “I’m not mad. I’m just unhappy.” I do not understand why I have to tell anyone this or why I have to comfort anyone when I am the one who needs comfort.

This is grief, when people see but do not understand. This is grief when people lean too much on you to be a light, to reassure, to love – things you are normally a natural at. But now, you just can’t. Everything hurts. Everything.

I scream in my dream. Dots of my blood line the pink brick next to the kitchen window. I cry in my sleep. And people – the fucking people – God, they won’t leave me alone.

She is gone. The fucking people bitch about their cars, their families, other people they want to fuck and play house with, the look on my face, and everything else under the sun that doesn’t matter now that she is gone.

And they won’t go away. They won’t go away, like she did, and I want them to.

I want them to go away.

This is grief.

Had I Known

April 15, 2018

Had I known

the last time I saw

you would truly

be the last,

I would have listened to you

a little longer,

hugged you

a little harder.

This is true,

but this knowing

would have stolen

from us, the gift of presence;

I would have been wondering

if I listened long

and well enough,

if I hugged you hard enough.

Engrossed in those questions,

I may not have observed you

well enough to remember

the way you smiled at me

before I got in the car to leave.

I may have missed the peace

in your eyes when I turned

and looked back at you,

that one last time.

And so it is better

that sometimes we

do not get to

say goodbye.

I felt you,

in the night.

Before you transitioned,

your tears became mine.

I am all right now

because I get to


your smile.

I miss you and love you, Mom. Rest well.

Do not look at me to be the Light

April 13, 2018

Do not look at me to be the Light.
I am drowning in my own darkness today.
I know not how to help you;
I do not want to hold you.

Do not look at me to be the Light.
I am weary, and I do not want you
to inquire after my well-being only because
I am not acting in the usual way
that helps you to feel secure.

Do not expect me to be the Light
because I have been this for you
many times in the past, when you
needed a gentle soul to lean upon.

Do not expect me to be the Light,
for surely you will be disappointed
when I choose not to help you.
Surely you will think me selfish
when I need to tend my own gaping wound.

Do not take my Light for granted.
It does not belong to you.
You can borrow it for a time,
when I am willing.

Do not put my Light upon a pedestal,
for it comes from me, a human.
Humans make mistakes;
humans get hurt, bleed, cry, fly into rages.

Do not ask me if I am okay
when you know I am not,
and you do not wish to hear
the true answer.

I grow tired of telling

Do not express love toward me
if you are going to take it away
when I show my rawness,
my human side that does
not live up to your expectations.

Perhaps in making this demand,
I may never be loved again.

So be it.

So be it.

So be it.

sweeping up eggshells

March 12, 2018


Source: Pixabay

eats at me
until there is

I’ve decided to
let there
be nothing;

be broken.

Then perhaps
the ones
I love
will not fear

shattering me
on accident,
becoming the

by which
I reject myself.

How To Break an Artist’s Heart & How to Love One

February 16, 2018


How to Break an Artist’s Heart

  1. Say nothing.
  2. Pay no attention to the small, meaningful gestures she makes with her life. Leave her in a state of wondering whether you hate everything about her or feel indifferently toward her.
  3. Don’t support her. Don’t buy magazines she’s published in. Don’t buy her paintings. Don’t even express interest in her columns or paintings, if you cannot buy them.
  4. Ask her about her day job. Ask her if she is married. Ask her if she has any kids. But do not ask her about her art.
  5. Say nothing.
  6. When she opens up to you with the honest feelings she normally only expresses with her paintbrush, or a poem, say something mechanical, with no feeling behind it. Say something like, “Good.” “I guess that’s for the best.” “I felt that way once.”
  7. Repeat Step #6 until she can confide in neither human nor canvas for a lengthy period of time.
  8. When she expresses an interest in collaborating with you, make a vague comment like, “It’ll work out some day,” and then forget about it.
  9. Let her fall in love with you. Reject her in a way that still leaves room for her admiration for you. Tell her that you love her; forget that you said it. Become her muse; reject her art by ignoring it all. When she tells you that she wrote something about you, say nothing.
  10. Say nothing.

The effects on this list are magnified x100 if you are family or extremely important to the artist. Effects on the artist may be extreme and include, but are not limited to: lying in the fetal position for several hours, needing multiple Reiki sessions, or passing out on the couch after drinking a whole bottle of Barefoot Pinot Noir and watching The Great Gatsby.

How to Love an Artist

  1. Be genuinely curious about her work.
  2. Ask questions without judging or assuming you know the answers.
  3. Show literally any emotion except indifference.
  4. Invite her to coffee or lunch when she expresses an interest in collaborating with you. Even if it doesn’t eventually work out, your interest will mean a lot.
  5. Let her give you things. Respect that you’re her muse, even if you do not feel the same, or cannot offer anything in return. Treat her heart as a jewel, because it is. She is immortalizing you in her art.
  6. Make her something with your art.
  7. Ask what her tattoo means.
  8. Show her a song that reminds you of her.
  9. Pay attention. This can come in phases or be regular in occurrence – frequency and quantity do not matter so much when your attention is given with care and enthusiasm.
  10. Understand that loving an artist is not that hard. Artists have a high threshold for rejection and pain. Do not call an artist “overly sensitive.”

Please note that the effects of even one or two people loving an artist nullify the effects of one hundred carrying out the steps listed under “How to Break an Artist’s Heart.”

Force of Nature

January 29, 2018

Some love comes in like a force of nature. You cannot hope to survive it, and you do not hope. You cling to what feels like stability until it is washed away, and you die with it. As you die, you think, with desperate longing, “If only I could have kissed him, once.” You think, “Does he care that I am washing away?” The wind whispers, It does not matter. But how can that be, when it seems to be the only thing that matters? What you think is hope keeps you breathing, though it is faint. Finally, you realize there is nowhere left to go, that hope was the shadow of need. Your heart is tired, and you long to drown. So you do.

Some love comes in like the gentle waves on the beach, before the moon is full. When you wake in the morning, you hear the waves lapping in the distance. You know where you are. As you glance out of the window, the sun kisses the water, planting the fire of passion in your heart. It is not a passion that cries out for release. It is curious; it is playful. It encourages you to see where your heart wants to take you next. You think, “I would like to kiss her.” The part of you that longed and needed has died. When you hold her hand, it is only a reminder that you can always go home. So you do.

© Holley Hyler | January 2018

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