Saturday night I went to a social-network event and ended up meeting someone. We chatted at the event for a couple of hours then moved to a quieter pub to chat for a couple more. We’re set to go out later this week. He seems like a nice guy, with the normal sort of life someone has around 40 and being divorced with kids. He made me laugh, a lot, and knew how to banter with me. That’s important, probably the biggest thing for me, beyond being reasonably hygienic and not living with his parents.
Much more about him doesn’t matter. I know enough by now to know that by Thursday a thousand things could come up to serve as an excuse for bailing. We’ve been texting on and off today, but even that means little. Show me a dozen single women in their late 30s and every one of them will have stories about guys who gave all the “go” signals and then disappeared into the ether. I don’t take it personally. Once you’ve found someone who’s loved you the right way — for me, Jack — you learn what the important things are. Waiting around or even worrying about whether a text message means X or Y is a waste of time.
Regardless. In all the time we talked, including basics of past serious relationships, I didn’t mention Jack. I don’t know why, really, since he asked if I’d been married and I told him not only about both marriages but also my long-term relationship with The Philosopher. I could have said something. I just didn’t.
Of course now I wonder why. Maybe I didn’t want the pity that usually comes along with that. I remember having sex with someone else the first time after Jack died and telling him afterward. That was awkward; probably more information than a random Brooklyn bartender working on Fire Island on Saturday nights wanted to know about the woman who dragged him to the beach after his shift ended. But it was cathartic for me, telling someone that what I’d done was different than just anyone in that situation.
Not-telling is a strange thing. I don’t like being the person who’s always mentioning it, something I’ve done frequently enough that it comes out half ten-second elevator speech and half a long made-up word: I met a guy and we were going to get married but he died. It’s the condensed version for non-sober people; people in recovery get a few more details: He kept relapsing and we broke things off so he could get well but then he died. But I’ve told it so often that the words just don’t want to come out so easily anymore. In my mind, it’s simpler: I loved him; he’s dead. I’m not shying away from the topic. I’m just tired of wearing it on my sleeve.
But today I’ve been thinking of the flip side of not-telling: if relationships move forward, either friendships or romances, there’s some point where you have to tell. It’s just too big a part of me to have that little Jack-shaped hole in my heart remain hidden. Maybe the not-telling is protecting myself, not wanting to be That Woman, some sort of tragic figure holding on forever. I don’t think so, though. I think it’s more that I’ve become more than a woman who lost the love of her life. I’ve become someone who, yes, suffered that loss… but who is moving (or, in many ways, has moved) forward.
That’s weird to realize. There are still days — moments, really — when I get sad thinking of Jack. If I really allowed myself to think about the specifics in those moments, I’d likely have a difficult time getting out of them without a total sobbing session. But mostly I am moving on. He’s someone I want around when I’m already feeling sad — I have this wacky fantasy that my life would be perfect and I’d be safe if he’d only lived — but is no longer the source of my sadness. Grief finds me when I’m weak and intensifies what I’m feeling, but it no longer makes me weak all by itself.
If you’ve ever lost someone you’ve loved romantically, you know how tremendous this is. Twenty-nine months ago, the idea that I’d ever reach a place in which grief wasn’t the overwhelming factor in my life was outlandish. But here I am. Here we all are — or can be — if we put one foot in front of another and keep walking. The steps, one by one, were sometimes (often) difficult but together they brought me here.
Who knows what will happen with this guy or a dozen guys after. All I know today is that he makes me laugh and I feel good about the person he seems to be, and that I didn’t tell him about Jack, even though I could have. That’s enough. If I could get “here” from the “there” of deep grieving by putting one foot in front of the other, I can do it to get from today’s “here” to a different “there.” All I have to do is keep walking.