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.
It is a pretty good indicator of how fragmented my mind and attention are getting that I completely forgot that by this time next month, I will be a published poet. Who the hell forgets something like that?
Well, I do.
I can feel the regression speeding up, sliding further back into that dark place. I spent last night having nightmares that featured a lot of arguing with Dustin. I can’t remember what the arguments were about, or the things I accused him of. The things I blamed him for. For so many aching nights, for so many icy mornings, for so many tears.
In my dreams, I betrayed the strength he was always so proud of me for.
Then I came to in a bed that just gets bigger and colder every morning I wake up in it. My entire self is being pulled taut, the pressure building inside, the rage and the anger and the pain as present and as sharp as they ever were. I am condensing, can see hell rising in my eyes in the mirror.
Maybe there’s something wrong with me because I welcome the regression, welcome the chance to just give myself up to it so I can come out the other side sooner, and stronger.
And, frankly, because I miss him so much, and this is one of the few ways I can still feel close to him.
Everything I learned about surrender I learned from Dustin.
This weekend, I am going to make some good strong hot tea. I am going to curl up in bed with a cat. I am going to read “The Year Of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion and I am going to cry and cry and cry until I am exhausted and numb. I will stare sightless at the wall the way I did in the bad old days, but this time, I will sleep. All the time.
Oh, baby, here I go again. Nine months gone. I thought it would be better, less painful this time. I should have known better.
I feel like someone is pulling glass-covered strings out of me, one at a time, a thin slivering pain. I am running out of ways to say I miss you. Still, and always.
I felt so strong today, so alive. My life is moving in the right direction, I am finally happy. I thought of how you loved me, how that set my soul alight. How I glowed with it, how I still do. How I did the same for you.
But such light creates shadows, creates the spaces for the loss to move and breathe and curl. To be reminded, once again, that this is an endless process. Yin and yang, balance. Joy and pain, love and loss.
There is a part of me that isn’t ready to hope for more than what I have. Six months ago, I couldn’t even imagine being where I am now. Isn’t that enough? When did I become afraid of hope?
The loneliness has come back tonight, as deep as it ever was, swelling like still water suffering dropped stones. It’s been so long since you held me last…since anyone has.
But I know I have to walk this road alone. No one can do this for me, take this pain and carry it in my stead. I know you would have spared me this if you could have. I know, baby. It’s all right.
Even after all that’s passed, how hard it’s been, it was worth it. You were worth it, forever and always.
I miss you. I love you.
“You are the anchor that holds me to the ground.”
~Dustin to me, November 2011
“I need you like I need air to breathe.”
~ Me to Dustin, April 2012
I miss him the way a plant misses the sun; the way stars miss the morning sky. Together, we could fly. Apart, I am a bird with only one wing. I was his North Star, he was my lodestone. But….
A part of me is relieved that Dustin has gone.
Don’t get me wrong; I would give any body part you cared to name, give up years of my life – anything – to have him back. I also recognize that desire is among the most selfish I’ve ever had.
Dustin was suffering, and not in a temporary, transient sort of way. He was being torn apart, inside and out, by the mistakes he’d made, his addictions, so many wrong turns. A good argument could be made that I was the last thing keeping him here, and that at the end, even I wasn’t enough.
The life we were destined to have together was not only not going to be easy, it was going to be hell on earth for him. He was facing three major challenges: learning how to live a straight, law-abiding life for the first time ever, dealing with a severe mental illness, and kicking one of the most insidious addictions known to man.
That was a steep, steep mountain to climb. I knew what I was signing up for, had pledged to be right beside him the whole way. I knew there would be setbacks, backsliding. It was going to be so much work, and so grueling, for us both. He had doubts whether he could do it at all.
His manic phases often made him paranoid; he would be awake for days, then crash for several more. He had trouble focusing, of being totally present even during the time he spent with me. He was at war with his own mind, all the time.
If that weren’t bad enough, the withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl and dilaudid would nearly drive him out of what was left of his mind. Chills, sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, shivering, weakness, joint and back pain, rapid heartbeat…the agony in his voice could flay muscle from bone. His heart, mind, and body were already wracked by years of drug abuse and hard living; I was terrified he wouldn’t be able to survive the process as it was, and in the end, his heart gave out.
So if I had somehow been granted the power to roll back time, to undo what had been done, would I do it?
How could I do that? How could I put him through that deliberately, for no other reason than I don’t want to have to learn to live without him? How could I snatch away from him everything he had ever wanted? Peace, a sense of security and safety, of belonging, of eternal love? Freedom from pain and suffering, a release? What kind of monster would that make me, to sentence him to what was waiting for him here?
This is part of the price I pay for being the one strong enough to be left behind: I had to be willing to be left. To let him go. To put his needs, even at the end, above my own.
Of course, the impossibility of negotiating his return makes all of this a moot point, but I can’t help but believe that somewhere, somehow, it counts.
I love you. I’d do anything for you. Even let you go.
Because I can bear it, I can carry it. Because I was the only one of us who could.
Be at peace, dear heart. You are with me always.
Spill the bones across the table
Read a future there
Trace the pattern of a soul
Writ large on every bone
Of life, of love, of spirit and hope
Tumble the bones end over end
Sparking dreams and starting fires
Tell me the tale I haven’t heard before
The happily ever after for the one left behind
Find what’s left of me there
When they stop their restless fall
Maybe they’ll share their peace
Spin stillness in their wake
Maybe the gods will listen
And grant clear eyes to a full heart
Every slivered bone
Lined with loss, curved by grief
Startled as stars
Curling into their cores
Bracketing beginning and end
From stars whence we came
To stars we shall return
Lighting dark and lonely ways
In the night sky you wait for me