I didn’t think I was going to write about it this year. I thought I’d let the 7th anniversary slip by quietly, that I’d healed enough to not remind the world that I’d lost someone I loved. But why not hop over to his Facebook page, which I’d “memorialized” a few weeks after he died, to write a short message? After I posted it, I scrolled down and realized it was too similar to last year’s. Scroll up. Edit. Scroll down again. Too similar to the one I’d posted two years ago. Scroll up. Edit again. Scroll down again. Three, four, five years ago I hadn’t said anything. Six years ago I’d announced a memorial dinner I’d hosted. Barely anyone came.
Between Five and Six were other posts, friends (and me) wondering what he would have been doing when he turned 50 that year, wishing him imaginary happy birthday greetings. And photos. Pictures of his wedding, his wedding to his ex-wife when he was so, so young. He was thin and full of promise. It was before he’d grown cynical, before drinking would cause four heart attacks before he turned 30, before smoking and drinking and genetics would conspire to produce peripheral artery disease, before walking became painful.
There were other photos, too, ones his roommate found on his computer after Jack died. Photos I’d taken of Jack, photos he’d kept. His roommate sent them to me, too, along with a photo in the same folder that Jack had taken of me, coming out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, the first weekend we spent together. The photo was labeled “towel thief,” which he teased me I was, because I’d teased him that he had kidnapped me.
We did everything “right.” We didn’t kiss until the third date. We didn’t sleep together for at least six weeks. We made sure it was right, that we knew all of the important things about each other. I knew he’d found his father dead of a heart attack when he was eight and his mother was 41 when he was born and his parents thought he was a miracle and they loved him terribly much. He knew I only had one dimple and the name of my first dog and the worst things I’d ever done and how I was afraid I’d hurt him.
Neither one of us could have known that he would be the one to hurt me and that I would be the one who’d have a broken heart that would heal, in a way, but would never again be the same. But Jack, being Jack, had he known that, would have stopped everything before that first kiss. Me, being me, would have been able to convince him I didn’t care, that it was worth it. I might even have been able to trick myself into believing it, too.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve been in a bona fide relationship, a good while since I’ve had sex. I don’t miss it. I don’t even miss the companionship or the warmth of another person in my bed. Nor do I miss having someone to talk to or someone with whom to watch movies or eat dinner. After a few false starts and bad matches, it just isn’t worth it. I don’t want something half-way right. I don’t want something that is almost good. I don’t want to settle.
And, yes, I know that as a 43-year-old woman, I’m not supposed to say that. I can’t afford to say that. Except that’s true (1) if I want to be in a relationship, (2) if I want to have children, and/or (3) if I feel incomplete not getting married before Age XX. None of these are true. I’ve been married twice (at ages 18 and 23). I’ve already had children; I am physically incapable of having more, and I’d rather adopt a mountain lion than a child. And while I’m not averse to being in a relationship, it’s not something I actively want. So, yes, I can damn well have standards for the things I deserve and expect from a partnership.
Back to the anniversary.
There’s been an unusual number of people over the last year who have lost their partners unexpectedly & have crossed my path. Seeing them grieve, seeing their grief so raw and jarring, being able to tell them that I really do understand what is happening in their lives…I viscerally remember what those early days were like. Yet it is as though they happened to a different version of me. My relationship with Jack also feels as though it was experienced with a different version of me.
It all seems like an entirely different lifetime, a ghost of a past, an existence I can barely remember—except I have the scars. I have those cracks in my heart, where it broke. I cry when I see the pictures. When I remember, really remember, it hurts so much. When they told me it wouldn’t necessarily get easier, just different, I guess this is what they meant.
Last Wednesday I was downtown for training for one of my new jobs, and I had an appointment for my migraine Botox injections a couple of hours later just one street over. I was near Trinity Church, and I always go in when I have time and I’m in the area. I find it a peaceful and a wonderful place to meditate, even though I’m not especially religious. That particular day, I felt the need for more privacy, I don’t know why, and I ventured back to the All Saints’ Chapel.
Almost the minute I got settled, my mind wandered to both Jack and my grandmother, who will be dead 17 years this April. I was overwhelmed by a deep desire to ask both of them for help, guidance, and protection, and to offer me the love and strength they had given me when they were alive and a loving presence in my life. Tears rushed down my face, and I was grateful that I’d chosen to sit in the front row of chairs and not the middle or the back. I told them both that I loved them and missed them, and that I hoped they could be proud of me. And I hoped they knew I was trying really hard, even when it seemed I was giving up. And then I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was drained of all energy. I got out my headphones and listened to a calming meditation so I could let the tears dry up and my emotional system regulate itself.
My grandmother, gone 17 years. Jack, gone 7. They were the only two people I ever really felt loved me unconditionally. They’re also the only two people I’ve ever buried. And the only two people whose loss I felt would kill me. But here I am. It hasn’t.
It really doesn’t get easier, just different.