December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)
Being alive doesn’t only entail positive feelings, and in my case the moment I felt most alive this year was one in which I was feeling inexorable grief. Eight days after Jack died, I went to see some plays at The Steppenwolf — three of them by the same playwright — and it was the most miserable experience thus far in my life. It wasn’t that the plays weren’t good but that The Steppenwolf was the place where Jack and I went on our second date. It was actually the first date we had after we had decided we were a couple rather than just friends getting to know each other. It was also the first time in my life I’d ever eaten Swedish Fish, a deficiency Jack saw fit to correct that evening by buying me a big bag and feeding them to me.
Since then it had become a habit to get a bag of Swedish Fish every time I went to see a play there, and January 30 was no exception. But as the night went on, I felt increasingly uneasy, and I started to develop tunnel vision. All I could see was a narrow ray of light shining onto the stage, directly in front of me, and all I could hear was the vague sensation of action around me. I didn’t realize until almost the end of the third play why I was feeling so off, and once I did it was difficult for me to sit there until the end. It was as though I had just learned he died all over again…and by the time I got to my car I was a grief accident waiting to happen.
The moment of aliveness has few smells or sensations other than deep and stabbing pain — the realization that Jack was absolutely dead and I would never hug or kiss or make love to him again. The cold reality that people die all the time, even people who are deeply loved and adored and wanted, hit me too harshly, to the point where I could barely breathe. The air was sucked out of my car; no matter how much I gasped, I felt as though I were drowning in my own tears. I’ve never cried so hard or for so long in my entire life — one hour-plus long wail of sorrow, screaming and shaking and damning the universe for taking Jack away.
I am grateful that I didn’t realize, at the time, that things would get worse before they got better. I was able to make it home that night by grace alone; I know I called a friend who had dealt with his own deep losses, and I know he came to my house to comfort me while I cried, and I know that I was able to bid him goodnight and head to sleep after I’d cried myself dry. But I don’t remember anything between pulling my car over to the side of Lake Shore Drive and opening the door for E; it’s just a blank spot. A spot filled with grief and silence and impenetrable loss, one which I hope no one I love will ever have to experience.
I knew someone, once, who said she hoped that she died first, so that she wouldn’t have to deal with losing people. Since the night of January 30th, I’ve thought that I’d rather everyone else die first, because I’d never want someone to lose me the way I’d lost Jack. Also, in retrospect: living through it once is proof enough that you can handle it a hundred times or more. Not that anyone would want to.