You call it a birthday. I call it something different: Variations in Grief, Op. 62. When I got sober, I joked that I'd outlived Jesus; in four short years there will be no small part of me that will hope I won't make it the next so I won't have to wonder why some people live to be 49 and others keel over from heart attacks while the women they loved are left to pick up the pieces of broken hearts.
I hate that I loved him, that he loved me.
I mean, I love that we met, that I had the chance to know what that felt like. Otherwise I never would have learned how to stop wasting time on all the wrong things with all the wrong people and living in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons.
But they were right, all the people who said it wouldn't get easier but that it would get different.
If by "different" you mean difficult to explain to people when you tell them you're sad your fiancé died and, when they ask how long ago it happened, you say, "seven years ago," and you're met with a very long silence.
If by "different" you mean you still don't want to date anyone because why bother? What are the chances of lightning striking twice?
If by "different" you mean you begin to wonder if you imagined it all.
Things are stressful and confusing and unclear for me right now—the reasons for which are jumbled, even!—and, as always when this is true, I convince myself that if Jack were alive he'd have made everything better. Of course I never consider an alternate reality. I never entertain the idea that perhaps he'd still be in a vicious cycle of relapse. Or maybe he'd have fallen in love with someone else. Maybe, without a broken heart, I'd have been able to let him go and keep drinking on his own, and I'd have fallen in love with someone else on my own, and my life would be on its own different trajectory. Maybe the past hellish seven years never would have happened. Maybe I'm right for all the wrong reasons: if he were alive, all of the problems I have right now would be gone.
That doesn't exactly help me now, though.
Because he isn't alive.
He died. He's dead. He isn't ever going to be not-dead.
In less than a month, I'll be flying away not only from the city in which I thought I'd be marrying him but also the city where I thought we'd grow old together. I'm leaving still not knowing where he's buried, not knowing whether he died knowing how much I loved him, whether he knows how sorry I am that I made him stop wearing socks with sandals, how sorry I am that I let my ego get in the way with him being the person he wanted to be, how regretful I am that the last time we had sex ended with tears and me pouting because it wasn't what I wanted it to be.
He would have given me anything I wanted—the moon and a side of ice cream made with unicorn tears—and he knew I only had one dimple and he understood that I all really care about is wanting people to have a good time and to see that I'm trying really fucking hard at life. And I still couldn't give a guy a break.
And he died getting ready to go to a party to tell me how proud of me he was.
He died of a heart attack while withdrawing from alcohol, while getting ready to go to a party where he knew he had to be sober, and it was probably the hardest thing he would do that day. But he did it for me, and it was probably excruciating.
And then he died, and it was even worse, having a heart attack, already in withdrawal from the vodka, but then also alone, on a cold floor, knowing that the woman he loved would be finding out that he'd died on what should have been one of the happiest nights of her life.
I've done a lot of difficult things, but I've never done that.
I'm supposed to be working right now, because I'm supposed to be getting sleep tonight, because I'm supposed to meet up with a friend for an excursion tomorrow. But it's easy to reverse that tape and say I don't feel like going out so why not just sit here crying and work through the night?
Because I need to be around people who remind me that life is bigger than a dead fiancé buried in an unavailable grave, that's why.
Because in 27 days I'm getting on a plane to Thailand and a week after that I'll be living in Shanghai and when I was a little girl and read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler living in a museum for a little while was about the biggest cultural escape I could imagine.
Because I can't muck things up in the future by dragging my heart behind me in the past.
Because crying is meant to reset the brain and cleanse the emotional palate, not muddy things up and get me stuck in the goop.
Because Jack of all people didn't like to see me sad.
Because he wouldn't have wanted this.
Because if there is another dimension somewhere he's hugging me from wherever it is and telling me to get on with it, to go kick some ass.
Or whatever it is he used to say.
Because I've forgotten whatever it is he would say. And what he smelled like. And what he felt like.
The only thing I remember is what his arms would feel like under and around and atop of mine when I would play big spoon to his little as we'd drift off to sleep, from the moment of the first weekend he whisked me away to his apartment joking he'd kidnapped me and he made me breakfast and called me a towel thief, even snapping photos of me coming out of his bathroom all wrapped up in one.
The photo was on his computer when he died, in a folder of photos he'd taken, sure enough called "towel thief."
I just can't with him, not really, not even his memory.
There won't ever be anyone like him again.
There doesn't have to be.
On August 17, he would have been 56.
He never will be.
But he would have been.
So instead of a happy birthday, I have this.
Variations in Grief, Op. 62.
Birthday wishes: That there is a better place. That he found it. That it includes relief from the relentless suffering. That perhaps he can see what I've made of myself. That he finds it impressive to some extent. That he doesn't think I'm making too many mistakes. That he can find a way to let me know it's okay not to be so sad. That I can let go of the idea that I need him for things to be okay. That I can let go of needing him. That I can be okay without him.
That I can be okay.
There's always next year if this one doesn't work out.