If Jack were still alive, would he love the person I’ve become over three more years of recovery? Would we have fallen out of each other’s lives completely? Would he have stayed sober — somehow, against the odds — long enough for us to get married and grow old together? Would I still love him if he also recovered and grew for three years?
The fact is that whatever romance there was — and there was plenty, and I mean romance, not lust (though there was that, too) — is in the past, in suspension as neatly and curiously as beetles in amber. What we had is frozen in time and can be interpreted in a hundred ways: he loved me but I didn’t love him enough, or vice versa; he should’ve stopped smoking/taken better care of his health; alcoholism had too strong of a hold on him; no human power (even, or especially, me) could save him; etc.
The person I am today isn’t the woman I was when I put things on hold with Jack so he could focus on getting sober, nor am I the woman I was when he died. In some bizarre way I think that if I were in a similar situation now — deeply and intractably in love with someone who relapsed again and again — I might have the knowledge to actually work through it without running away and leaving that person to his own devices. I’ve often wished I’d been able to do that for Jack, especially if I had known he’d only be alive for a short time longer. I treated him as though he’d just been diagnosed with a fatal illness rather than a man in virtual mental hospice. Perspective changes everything, and this is no exception.
The truth: Jack and I may have stayed together and moved to Brooklyn or wherever and had a fabulous life in NYC, but chances are almost certain he would have been here only because I wanted to be, and when the person you want to spend the rest of your life with wants to go somewhere, you follow them. But for health reasons he couldn’t walk for any length of time, and NYC just isn’t a place for that limitation. And the things that make me feel alive here — concerts and literary events and roaming neighborhoods and dinner parties with artsy people and a thousand other things — are all things that he would have 100% accepted as being good for me, but if he’d participated in them with me it would be more like an anthropological experiment for him — look what artsy people do! — rather than us doing something we both loved (or at least liked) together.
I think people have overcome worse, and I daresay our relationship never depended on common hobbies and interests but, rather, on a common view of life and how to approach the world. Our relationship would have survived Brooklyn, but I don’t think the Jack I loved would have. This city changes people in mostly imperceptible but always significant ways. I know it’s changed me, vastly for the better. It would have changed him, too… but in a way that likely would have caused him anxiety and sadness and homesickness that he’d push away because he knew just how important NYC was/is to my plan for my life.
Maybe this is all rationalizing and airbrushing the past. I know I tend to do that, especially when it comes to Jack. But I think it is also me realizing that the romance that seemed straight from the movies had its limitations, too, and most likely they were the city limits of Chicago.
I’m okay with that. It’s easier to let go of a dream deferred than one you had but lost. NYC “with Jack” was definitely the former, and I’m grateful he died not in a strange city (for him) because his fiancée wanted to be there but in a city that meant the world to him. He had friends who loved him up until the very end; I’m glad my dreams never took that from him. And I’m also glad that we never made it here together — between the two of us, NYC was always mine, and I’m grateful that it won’t be Jack, minus things that made me love him so very much.