My calendar tells me that in 67 days, Jack will have been dead for six years. In a little less than six years, I will be as old as he was when he died, bridging any gap between us, eclipsing the person he was then and the person I’ve grown to become in his absence. A person who, ironically, could not exist had he not died. A person who has spent 1,257 days in New York City, not a day without food or shelter (albeit some days with a negative bank balance). A person who has climbed cliffs, gone bungee jumping, traveled thousands of miles on her own, survived surgeries and cancer diagnoses, grieved deeply and long, and still, as Robert DeNiro’s character in Raging Bull might say, never let the world knock her down (well, for too long, anyhow). And still not a single day with a drink, because doing so would have made whatever he died for, and I still can’t make rhyme nor reason of it all, even more pathetic than it already is. Also, I’d hate myself for letting him (and a thousand other people, and myself) down.
It’s not often, now, that I cry over Jack. The last time was when I was in Chicago, on B.’s birthday, when a series of disappointments came crumbling to fruition, and by happenstance I was already sobbing when I drove past the apartment he lived in when we first started dating. It was that apartment where he and I spent our first three nights together, over a three-day weekend in which he “kidnapped” me and proceeded to take care of me like a princess. It was possibly the most intimate three days I’ve ever spent with a person. He showed me the scars on his leg, from when he had surgery to repair damage due to his peripheral artery disease—not unlike when House, on House, M.D., has a romantic moment with Cuddy and she has to tell him it’s okay that he isn’t perfect, that he has scars, that she loves him in spite—perhaps because of—the things about him that make him flawed and not like everyone else.
After he died, a friend of his went through his computer and emailed me all of the photos on Jack’s computer of me, Jack, and/or the boys that I might want (there were hundreds of them), and the one that touched me the most was one taken that first weekend together, as a joke, when he accused me of stealing his towels after taking a shower. In fact, the file was even named “Amy Stealing Towels.” And this is the memory that was conjured up as I drove past that apartment on Argyle St. as I was already sobbing, and it made me sob even harder, thrusting me back into the fantasy world I used to live in almost all the time right after he died, the one in which if he were still alive, my life would be perfect and peaceful, with nary a care or worry, because he would make everything OK and nothing bad would ever happen.
The truth is that my life was just as complicated then as it is now, possibly more so because I hadn’t yet learned to let go of many of the things that vexed me so terribly. I had child custody and support battles, problems with my older son, financial insecurity, job instability, health issues, hard-to-treat depression, and clutter that seemed to grow when I turned out the lights, just like I do now. Life wasn’t any different, and my problems weren’t any lesser; they just seemed easier because I had someone in my life who brought happiness and joy along with him, and that made life itself happier and more joyful. He didn’t solve any problems. He wasn’t a superhero or a magician or an amulet that kept bad juju at bay. He was just a man who loved me very much and was willing to rub my back at the end of a long day, cook me dinner, and hold me tight in a way that made me feel very, very safe.
A few days ago I posted on Facebook about a care package I’d come home to six years ago, sitting in the foyer of my apartment building after Jack heard that I hadn’t been feeling very well. I still have everything that was in that care package (minus half the tissues and a couple of the packets of the Theraflu, which were put to good use in fighting my illness), tucked into a box marked “Jack Memories.” Also in the box—along with cards, movie and theater ticket stubs, concert mementos, and various other scrabs of our short time together—are a few of his T-shirts tightly wrapped inside of a plastic Jewel bag with the hopes that they’ll retain his smell (I’m afraid to open it, that the smell might escape, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the endeavor).
But I also posted how it still seemed like no one else will ever compare. That was two days ago, on Friday. And after writing that, and thinking over it quite a bit, I decided to just give up trying. Not only trying to give up finding a Jack 2.0, but to give up trying to find anyone. It’s not as though I’ve been actively looking, mind you. But I’ve always had my radar up, one eye open. I’ve checked Hinge and OkCupid every other day or so, and I’ve engaged in conversations half-heartedly with men I knew weren’t really right for me just because I felt I “should” be doing things like that because, well, it’s been almost six years now. And I’ve dated people of course, but I haven’t really dated dated anyone. After the post, though, it occurred to me that if I was going to keep comparing people to Jack, even subconsciously, then I might as well just stop wasting everyone’s time (including my own) and be happy being alone. Which I am, pretty much. I actually do like being alone. And so, Friday night, I reconciled myself to simply being myself. No flirting, no hidden agendas, no trying to attract anyone, and—if I did happen to do so (which I highly doubted, because I’ve been in a weird “I feel super unattractive” funk lately) I’d have no expectations of what he could provide for me in terms of comparing him to Jack.
There’s a lot my Jack fantasy leaves out of the narrative. For one, even if Jack had lived, and even if I had convinced him to move to New York (the latter being a huge “if,” and one he would have done only because I wanted it, and one he likely would have ended up resenting me for), our life together here would be absolutely nothing like what my life is here today. His health issues prevented him from being able to walk a couple of blocks, never mind the amount of walking I do on a daily basis. There’s no way he could accompany me on my travels around the city, much less my day trips out of it. Going to Coney Island would have been an ordeal for him, so much so that I would either have started doing all of the things I enjoy in New York City alone… or stopped doing them altogether (more likely), which in turn would have made me an entirely different person. And that person probably would have been unhappy, although maybe she wouldn’t have been. Maybe Jack would have been enough. Jack and Brooklyn.
I’ll never know.
But it’s what I tell myself to make it hurt a little less, to heal a little more quickly.
Not even 48 hours after I decided I was content flying solo, I met someone who made me think a copilot might not be so bad. He reminds me of the early days with Jack, though of course it’s premature to know whether that’s true. We’ve only had a very short time together. By the time this post has been live for 48 hours, he could be a wisp of a memory. Or he could be the person who reminds me Jack wasn’t the only person in the world with the capacity to show me kindness, to understand the way my mind works and appreciate my one dimple and quirky (sometimes maddening) inconsistencies.
2,142 days is a long time to miss someone, an even longer to time to look for someone you won’t ever find. I can’t imagine I’ll ever forget what Jack was to me (how could I?), but I can put aside the notion that he was the only place I’d ever find magic. It’s been all around me this whole time, tucked away in corners I’ve been passing by all along.