What a difference a year makes. This time last year, I was slipping down the rabbit hole, consumed by grief again. I knew I would survive, I knew I’d be whole again, but I knew there was a lot of rocks on the road between then and now.
In the past year, I’ve gained a better perspective, I think, on what Dustin was and was not, what he was capable of giving, and what he was not. I was convinced he was my soulmate. I had just come from a devastatingly awful 3-year relationship, abusive in every sense of the word, and I was not removed from that experience enough to be able to objectively judge this new man who’d come into my life. But he was kind and sweet and caring and very protective of me, all of which were things I craved. I didn’t realize he was an addict at first, didn’t realize how troublesome his past was and how it would come back to haunt us, didn’t realize way too much until it was way too late.
I have a confession: I thought about leaving. All the time. I couldn’t abandon him–but I needed to. We were both drowning in his pain, and while I was sitting atop my fence, I went to bed one night with goals for a shared future, to get him the professional help he so desperately needed…and when I woke up the next morning, all those dreams and goals were ashes and dust. ‘Devastated’ doesn’t even come close to covering it. The guilt. Could I have tried harder? Did I give him enough? I rolled it around and finally let it slip through my fingers. What was done was done. Nothing would change that now.
So. Flash forward to August 2013 when the man who would teach me what it really meant to have and be a soulmate walked through the door of an anonymous barbecue joint. And from that moment on, it was pretty much all over.
And so. Now we’re planning a wedding. Yes, a wedding. Me, the woman who would never be a bride. Me, the erstwhile widow. Never saw that one coming.
I love this man with everything I’ve got, would do absolutely anything for him. He is also kind and sweet and caring and very protective, but he is also stable and mature and smart as hell. He is everything Dustin was and more, the happily-ever-after to the original Grimm’s fairy tale, the Disney instead of the Shakespeare.
It took meeting Adam to put my relationship with Dustin in proper perspective: a great, but ultimately flawed, love. It took meeting and loving someone like Dustin to make me fully open to loving Adam, because Dustin taught me how to love wholly: without fear, without reservation, and how to survive the consequences of loving that way. Dustin took my broken spirit and shattered it so thoroughly I had to rebuild from scratch, instead of patching holes and covering up cracks.
Now I’m in a bit of an odd position. I still love Dustin, of course. A part of me always will. Adam not only knows that, his own experiences with grief allowed him to anticipate and understand it. As he puts it, “How can you be jealous of a dead man?”
Adam was the man I was meant to be with, inasmuch as I believe in things like ‘meant to be,’ but I never would have been able to love or appreciate him the way I do if it hadn’t been for Dustin. So, in a way, I owe the success of this relationship to the spectacular loss of the previous one.
I told Adam early on that Dustin and I were a bit of a package deal. I could no longer separate who I am from that experience, because who I am now owes so much to it. In a way, it feels like I’m about to marry them both, which makes my head warp just a bit.
I don’t talk about this much…actually, not at all. I am expected to give up the old love in favor of the new. It doesn’t work that way. I have always believed that you carry a piece of everyone you ever loved with you, and they, a piece of you. In this case, more than a tiny piece.
Although I’ve accepted this as pretty much inevitable, I can’t help but feel ambivalent about it. Isn’t this a strange position to be in? I guess I’ll put it down to yet one more fucked up consequence of love and loss and grief, but I am really looking forward to not have this rolling around in my head and heart like a spilled bag full of broken marbles.
In another life did I do something right?
For you to finally find me and carry me home
You give me a world, where my heart is filled
There’s no room for sadness, for anything else
When I felt so lost, so alone and wandering
Through my deepest sorrow you reached though the dark
I look for your light, I try not to worry
‘Cause I know you’ll always carry me home
~”What If I” by Kirsty Thirsk
Just when I had given up hope of finding it, happiness dropped out of the sky, got comfortable, and announced an intention to stay as long as I wanted it to.
I spent most of the last year and a few months so far gone in the depths of grief that I never looked beyond the next day. I went to school, to work, made art, took care of myself and my cats. That was it. I dabbled in dating but my hope, faint to begin with, was quickly waning. I didn’t want to deal with the whole mess: getting dressed up, makeup and lipstick, putting myself out there for judgement, looked over like merchandise on a shelf. I wanted what I had hoped to find with Dustin: an unconditionally loving equal partner. Someone I could understand and relate to, someone who would do the same with me.
Failed date after mediocre date. Already being lied to and taken advantage of again. I was so over the entire process. I didn’t want this game playing bullshit. I was becoming convinced trust and honesty and mutual respect were too much to ask for. When I thought of my future, I thought of a comfortable sunny apartment with studio space and cats, and that was it. Love was going to be for other people. I’d had my shot, and I’d lost it.
To be honest, a part of me was frightened. Happiness and love aren’t free, and the price tag of losing them was staggering. I was not going to risk that level of pain and tearing grief for just anyone.
So I set up one last date. I’d actually scheduled three dates for one weekend; figured I’d wipe out the dangling possibilities so I could get back to making art for my semester break. The second I cancelled as the suitor proved to be an inconsiderate jackass before we’d even met, the third cancelled for health reasons.
It wouldn’t have mattered, because the first was destined to be the last.
We had talked every night for the four days leading up to this date. I already knew he was intelligent, with sweetness in his voice. I wasn’t prepared for the kindness of his brown eyes, the empathy of his soul. I wasn’t prepared for someone like him at all.
Lunch date became a walk in the park, became drinks in a cafe, became dinner, became hours of conversation in the parking lot. Conversation just flowed between us as we became aware exactly how much we had in common.
He sometimes says talking to me is like talking to himself in a mirror.
As the date rolled on, I became aware of a powerful physical attraction, one that ate at my self control and completely wiped out my sense of propriety, such as it was. What kept my hands to myself in fist-knotting tests of my self control was his stated wish to take things slowly, saying he didn’t kiss on the first date because it’s presumptuous. I didn’t want to kiss him on our first date because I knew as soon as our lips met, it would be all over and we’d wake up in a hotel the next morning. I didn’t leave our first date as much as I fled, trying desperately not to make a fool of myself in a restaurant parking lot.
When his sister asked how our date went, he said, “This one could be trouble.”
Oh, honey, he had no idea.
Saturday dates became weekends spent together, wrapping ourselves around each other, taking long walks and short hikes, sitting together watching the stars wheel overhead, telling stories of constellations and history.
Weeks have become months, hours spent on the phone every night as we’re separated by time and distance and obligations. We have yet to run out of things to talk about. I know the contours of his soul as I do my own, as he has come to know mine.
I am more in love than I ever have been before, and given my history, that’s saying something.
This is it. We have found our home.
This is not goodbye.
How could it be, ever? You live on: fueling my heart, shining my eyes, whispering in my head and warming my soul. There is no longer any separation between us.
Your death still weighs on me, but not as much as it did. For all the mistakes you made, for all your missed opportunities, all your regrets, I have forgiven you. For all the things I should have done, should have said, should have seen, I forgive myself.
I can hear you in my head still, telling me I’m worth it when I wonder that I’m not, telling me I’m not alone when I’m cold in the night, telling me not to be so hard on myself when I make a mistake.
I know you heard the conversation he and I had about whether or not I’m a ‘good’ person, as opposed to a decent one. I could feel your anger at my answer, the one that sold myself short, the one that was too harsh.
You are right. I am a good person, after all. My inherent ability to divorce emotion from a situation makes me think I am harder, am colder, than I really am. You knew better, felt the heat of my heart and the warmth of my soul, felt my fears and my pain. You are the one who taught me to love on that grand scale, who took my scarred and beaten heart and broke it wide open.
I have promised you that I won’t date assholes anymore, the ones who use and abuse. I have promised you to only allow those people into my life who are good to me and for me, who give as much as they take. You taught me that I deserve better, and I will honor your dreams for me.
Now the time has come to try to sort out how we move on together, as two made one. How to rejoin life, how to love again. How to be brave.
Come, love. The road is clear, the light is green. Let’s go.
And oh poor Atlas
Was a beast of a burden
You’ve been holding on a long time
And all this longing
And the ships are left to rust
That’s what the water gave us
So lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow
Pockets full of stones
I don’t even know how to begin to describe what this weekend has been like for me, but if I had to sum it up in one word it would be “numb.”
Somewhere along the line, a switch was flipped, something hit redline, and my emotional systems just shut down. For most of Memorial Day weekend, I didn’t try to be with him and his memory, I just existed.
Sunday was the anniversary of Dustin’s death. For weeks I’ve been haunted by that day on my calendar, and when it came, I couldn’t feel a thing. Not love or happiness, just a dull aching and a blank stare.
And this after I felt I had finally turned a corner with my last post, felt something profound settle into place. After months of gut spilling across the internet, “Alchemy” was the only thing I’d written that gave me a sense of peace.
On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if I was deliberately avoiding the issue that day, if I’d found a way to run from the pain and the loss and the longing, if I shut down in self-defense. I’m so tired of the hurting, of the tears. Now I am worried that on all the days I should have been brave enough to sit with the pain, I became a coward.
Given the whopper of a nightmare I had that night, I may be onto something there. Something dark is moving in deep places.
I need to find an outlet, a way to get through this. I am blocked creatively, couldn’t even write for days. My internal landscape is stagnant and still. When I look into my future, it’s through a dark glass.
Dustin gave me something I’d given him, unconditionally: he accepted me, just as I am and was, and he loved me for it.
I know I am not for everyone. My life isn’t where I want it to be, I’m carrying extra weight and have other physical issues I’m not pleased with, I have zero tolerance for bullshit, I can be a challenging partner, I can be logical to the point of insensitivity, and I can divorce emotion from a situation a little too well. I am intelligent-which should seem like a plus–but I’ve discovered the hard way that most men who say they want a smart woman generally mean only as long as she’s not more intelligent than he is.
And now here I am, having lost the one damn person who reveled in all the things that most other people think make me strange, who didn’t want to make me into someone else, who wanted to spend every morning of the rest of his life waking up next to me, who wanted to be by my side in the trenches as I tried to move my life–our lives–to a better place.
I would really, really love to throw something at the wall right now.
I had hope, for a while, that maybe something new was waiting to come into my life when the time was right, but no. I should have known better. Hope and I have always had a fraught relationship, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s let me down yet again. I am surprised by how much it hurt. Especially when I look at what I have to offer right now, and feel like a fool because I should have seen that coming.
And there it is. This is the reason I shut down, the one thing too many. That subtle rejection magnified the scope of my loss, drove home how lucky I had been, once upon a time. This, combined with the anniversary, ripped the bandages off the wounds, amplified the longing for what I’d had. I went back into survival mode.
And now I am going to pay for that.
Enigma ~ “La Puerta Del Cielo”
I am unfolding, collapsing like a house of cards designed by M. C. Escher, endlessly falling. I stroke the pillow where his head used to lay, whispering. Through a fall of tears like a grey morning’s rain, my lips still shape his name. I listen to the whispers, brush of edge against edge, fingers against fabric, disappearing in a silence that stretches through the horizon, trying to find the we that was in the spaces left between.
Oh, love…oh, my very dear. Baby….
I hear the calls of the night birds, feel the tidal pull of gravity. I am going under, eyes closed, hands open and empty. There is no fight left in me now. I am not giving up, I am just giving in.
Come to me…
I am adrift here, aching but unaware, lost in the reaches of time and hope, traveling the endless spaces left between. My lips make a mantra of his name. I am waiting, calling, conjuring.
There is only you and here…
No end to this, to what we were, what we still are. No beginning. Arcing above and below, filling the night sky, infinite. All my stars fall and collide.
Fill me. Make me whole again…
From behind my eyes, he sees again. My lungs fill with his breath, my heart with his blood. Thrill and pulse, nerves stretching to feel once more. Bones shudder and twist.
Oh ache, oh beautiful…
Love, endless. Seamless. Whole.
Come, love, we were meant to fly.
In a season’s shift your wheels had turned
And you came to me in the afternoon
Your beauty always took me by surprise
In a spell of days I pulled it through
The thread of hope I clung onto
Always knew the body would win
~”The Way Sound Leaves A Room”
by Sarah Jaffe, from “The Body Wins”
Dustin had been gone only a week or so before I realized there was a very real possibility that my mind would crack under the strain, and perhaps already had.
The initial threats to my sanity were obvious: our future vaporizing before my eyes with nothing to replace it, the knowledge of how much it would hurt and how that pain would be something I’d carry always, the realization that I was now profoundly alone in this world. Other things ebbed and flowed as the weeks rolled on: the soul-consuming anger and rage, the loneliness and the fear, the anxieties and the panic attacks, the sheer relentlessness of the grief.
But a week into Dustin’s loss, staring at my phone, I couldn’t bring myself to delete his phone number. How would I know he was calling me if I deleted it?
He wasn’t dead, you see. He couldn’t be. It was an elaborate plot, a desperate ploy to get himself out of whatever trouble he’d gotten himself in this time.
I couldn’t delete his text messages, his emails. I couldn’t delete his numbers or those of his mother and his local contacts.
I wasn’t alone now. Of course not. I just had to get back to the places he had been, talk to enough people that he had known, and I would conjure him back to my side. He was coming, he’d never leave me. It was all just a mistake. That’s all. Just a tragic misunderstanding. I just had to wait, and hang in there, as I always had. He’d be so hurt when he came back if he thought I had lost faith and had begun erasing him from my life…
I knew he was dead. I had felt him die, felt his spirit bid me good-bye. I knew he was never coming back. But at the same time, I believed just as firmly that he was out there, working his way back to me.
I believed two utterly contradictory things at the same time, with equal conviction. My mind had come undone, split in two.
I didn’t know how that was possible. I didn’t know how long I could maintain that dichotomy without losing what was left of my already fraying sanity.
I didn’t know if I’d become insane or not. Nothing I did seemed to sway the hopeful half, the half that had run off from reality and did a wide-eyed swan dive into magical thinking.
That half ruled my dreams, where he came back and took me in his arms, kissed my forehead. Said he was sorry for scaring me but it was all over now, we were together now, it was going to be okay.
Then the sun would rise and I’d wake from my fitful sleep, and in the burning of that drought-ridden summer, I’d be alone as I ever was. But I’d check my phone, just in case.
Every time my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. Every time the notification for an email would chime. Every time I left work, checking for him in the parking lot. Waiting for me in the driveway at home.
Every letter. Every voicemail. Every instant message and Facebook post. I’d look for him in the street. In the places we’d been. Haunting the corners of my eyes, sitting beside me in the car.
He was everywhere, and nowhere. All the while, I would watch and wait for the final straw that would push me over the edge into outright madness. A part of me hoped for it.
I now know that this dual-mind magical thinking is common among mourners; that grief itself is, in most respects, a kind of temporary madness. The only reason it isn’t classified as an illness outright is because most people eventually overcome it. Logic comes home to roost, fanciful dreaming is given up.
I stopped looking for Dustin behind every car in the parking lot. Stopped expecting his arms to be around me when I woke up each morning. Stopped feeling phantom kisses against my hair, the pressure of his arm at my waist. Stopped jumping every time the phone rang.
Behind my eyes, the magic died.
But I still have his number. His texts. His emails. I can’t give them up, not yet.
He’d be so hurt, you see….
And then you cry fresh tears, because you do not miss him as much as you once did,
and giving up your grief is another kind of death.”
~Laurell K. Hamilton
This endless undoing has left me raw. I am honestly not sure what is worse: that I still miss him so, or knowing that the pain and loss I feel now, as wracking as it is, is a dim shadow of what I experienced last summer. Knowing that when this bottleneck is done, a large part of the grieving process is done, or at least as done as it ever will be. I am losing him all over again.
Last week and the early part of this week were as rough a period as I’ve had in a long time. In my dreams, he came back and we picked where we left off, planning a future together. In my nightmares, I screamed at him for all the things that hurt then and still do now. Either way, I woke gasping for breath in an airless room and an empty bed.
The anxiety came back, thrumming along the nerves. I felt hunted and trapped. I know what’s coming. I know it’s going to hurt.
All I can do is wait. This already hurts so much, how much worse can it get? Sleep has already once again become something that happens to other people.
I finished school for the semester yesterday, earning A’s in both the classes I took. I am proud of myself, and relieved it’s over, at least until summer semester starts in four weeks. I need the time to pursue art. I need the freedom to stop compressing myself into a stable box in order to function well enough to meet my obligations. I need the time and the space to let this roll out of me until I’m wrung out and empty.
So many layers to peel back. So much emotion to open myself to, to allow to run through me, to leave me clean and empty and ready for what happens next.
To help, I scheduled a spa package on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the day before the first anniversary of his death. I’m getting the works: full-body massage, facial, manicure and pedicure. The luxuriousness and the decadence of it is something he would have loved. He had very expensive taste, did my beautiful boy.
My spa day is also probably the only way for me to receive caring physical touch at a time when I will rather desperately need it. Sometimes that’s the way it goes, so I found another way to deal with it. Yes, I know it’s a sad commentary on my life, but I am trying very hard not to dwell on it. I start wallowing in self pity and I will really start disliking myself.
He is a part of me, always, indelible. This process, one that began the moment we laid eyes on each other, is the internal rearrangement necessary to finish making room for him in my heart, soul and mind. His physical self is gone from me, but not his heart and spirit, but the integration with mine is incomplete. I have a feeling by the time this anniversary period is over, we will have gotten there. I will be able to move on, carrying him and our love with me seamlessly.
“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Ye gods, these nights just won’t quit. I keep clinging to the idea that this won’t last, but damn, I’m not sure what’s going to be left of me by the time I come out the other side.
I hold together fairly well during the day, although I seem to be on the verge of tears a lot of the time. But once the sun goes down, I start to unravel.
I stare wide-eyed into the dark. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I listen to the sound of my own breathing and the ghosts inside my own head.
I hate being alone at night. I’d give almost anything to have someone’s arms to curl up in at night: for comfort, for support, for the sense of safety and security.
But that wouldn’t be fair, so I sleep alone.
I dream of him, every night for the last week. Last night it was as if he’d never died, and we were back to trying to figure out how to make our lives work together. I woke up feeling like my chest had cratered in, my head aching. I am sleeping only five to six hours a night.
Every night I struggle for air, every morning I wake feeling hungover, exhausted and in pain, both literal and figurative. My joints are aching again, my ribs tender and sore. Grief slides within the muscle, twisting and binding. It wraps the bones, invading the joints. Every night, I am being unmade.
My friend Sarah urged me to get it out on paper:
let it spill
make a mess
get it out
So I did. I picked up some charcoal, scribbled with some white pastels, and the drawing above is the result. It is only the second time I’ve ever created art from an emotional place, and the first time I think I nailed it perfectly. The eye is open just a hair too wide: startled, staring, haunted. Disbelief and pain.
I am a little startled at the result, actually. But I feel a little better, and I’m hoping against hope I won’t dream tonight.
I still have 22 nights to go.
You are the hole in my head
You are the space in my bed
You are the silence in between
What I thought and what I said
You are the night-time fear
You are the morning when it’s clear
When it’s over you’re the start
You’re my head, and you’re my heart
“No Light, No Light” by Florence + The Machine, from “Ceremonials”
In the night, the voices echo: his, mine.
I am curled onto my side, staring blankly at the wall, listening.
I’d marry you tomorrow if I thought you’d go for that kind of thing…
I swear to god, if you let anything happen to you…
My eyes close. Open. Darkness, pale light. Haunted in the silence.
I don’t know how you do it, but you calm me down, every time…
I need you like I need air to breathe…
My left hand is open on the sheet, palm up, fingers curled, unmoving. My eyes shut. Open.
We’ll be old people together, I promise…
You don’t get it, do you? All I want is you…
There is no sound other than the whirr of the ceiling fan and the hiss of air between my teeth.
You’re the anchor that holds me to the ground…
You are the love of my life. You always will be…
I never knew it could be like this, how it is with you…
You say all these beautiful things and I want to turn around to see who you’re talking to….