By the time this goes live, it’ll be my birthday. Another step closer to forty. The fourth year in a row of being jobless on this date. The third birthday without Jack. Not that the only one I had with him was anything to celebrate.
Yes, for that birthday he gave me the ring he had made for me, a ring I still wear with some regularity, sometimes on “that finger” and sometimes not. It depends on whether I want to close myself off or simply remember him. But he’d also relapsed a second time a day (or two or three, I can no longer remember) before my birthday and had moved into a halfway house. The halfway house where I went to meetings five or six days a week all through my first few years of sobriety.
Instead of a romantic dinner or watching movies on the couch with takeout, we spent a half-hour (more? less? again, I don’t remember) in my living room, thick tension between us, whatever love there was left — and there was a lot, always was — being slowly suffocated by Jack’s alcoholism. We never got to be “us” on my birthday, much less on his (later in August); all we got at every step of the way were reminders of just how much had been lost. I know this broke his heart even more than mine.
I miss him so much. Tonight’s the first night I’ve allowed myself to cry in so very long — it’s not fair. Not that he’s gone, that I can’t find work, that I’m close to disaster, that every day is a struggle like none I’d ever even thought to fear, that I have so very little where I once I had abundance.
Of course I imagine I’d be happy and secure and worry-free if only he hadn’t died. This might even be true, even if he hadn’t ever gotten sober. I might not have been so stunted by his death, the one event more than any other that has, time and again, brought me to my knees. If I haven’t relapsed, it might well be because I don’t want to do to people — my kids — what his death did to me.
Tonight, walking to the subway, a woman walked past me and exhaled, smelling like spearmint gum and cigarettes, which Jack always did. Yesterday at a meeting a man across the room, counting days, sat chewing gums with his arms crossed wearing loafers like Jack would’ve. He looked almost nothing like Jack but also everything like him, restless and chewing gum and newly back from a bender.
The point being: everywhere I go I am reminded of him and it happens when I can least handle it. Or maybe I see these things because I’m already vulnerable. It doesn’t matter. It’s my birthday and he’s gone. We never had much of a shot, despite our romance straight out of the movies and our plans to grow old together. I never had a real, happy birthday with him. I know that won’t ever change. But that doesn’t meant I’m not heartbroken every year on this day. Or at least that I’m not right now. Grieving is messy and snot-filled and painful and doesn’t take any reprieves, no matter how badly we may want them.