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….
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
After months of grueling mourning, after months of anger and pain and sadness, after months of struggle and heartbreak and endless loneliness…I cobbled myself together, went back to school, picked up a paintbrush.
After weeks of sleep deprivation and juggling of school and work and assignments and artwork, of nary a moment to myself to just breathe, I slid sideways into Spring Break and inhaled deeply.
And in the midst of all of this, all this fuss and bother and rushing here and there, when I finally came to a moment to breathe, I found a new woman waiting there for me. A bolder, stronger version; broken but whole, the cracks welded together with gold and silver. Still hurting, but my star is rising; I have become ascendant. I am finally rising above Dustin’s loss.
I still miss him, his warmth in the dark. I miss his insights and his sense of humor, his kindness.
I don’t miss his love, because I never lost it. And the strength and courage born of the love we shared has given me everything I needed to not only survive, but relearn how to thrive.
I have opened two online stores recently to sell my artwork, I am doing well in both my classes, I am eating better and losing weight. I found myself taken by surprise when someone asked me for a coffee date. A just-getting-to-know-you, pressure-free thing. And when I didn’t immediately shoot the idea down, I realized that somewhere in all my busyness, I had come a very long way indeed. So I accepted, all bewildered at myself.
I am not to the point where I can deal with things like expectations or hope for more. I am going and I will be open-minded, and those two things are so monumental that they’re more than enough.
This life is enough.
“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.
In just a few days it will have been four months since I lost you.
I don’t want to believe that you’re gone, that you’ll never hold me again, but it’s hard to win an argument with reality.
Our anniversary is coming up, and I can already feel the tenuous progress I’ve made so far start to come apart. I’m crying almost every day again, having trouble sleeping despite the trazodone. I don’t know if I can do this, but I don’t really have any other choice.
I am also fast approaching the story of our first meeting, and I’m scared. I have to let it out, let it go, because inside that perfect day has grown thorns. The only way over it is through it, and that journey will be dark, and it will hurt. It will hurt like the beginning, the volcano erupting again, because I am losing you all over again.
You told me a year with me wouldn’t be enough. That a lifetime wouldn’t be enough. We just never had enough time, and that cry beats in my head and my heart like war drums. And now, painfully, ironically, all I have now is time. And I don’t want it, any of it.
Don’t tell me if you had to choose, if one of us had to go early, that this is the way you would have wanted it to go. I know that. I don’t care. You aren’t the one left behind, left to pay the price. You got the easy part.
So now, on the day that should have been a celebration, I will be alone. On that day, I’m going back to that place. Our first date, our first kiss, our first acknowledgement that something big and beautiful was happening between us. That seismic shift in our souls, making room for the half of ourselves we never even realized had been missing.
And I will try so hard not to cry in public, to not make a spectacle of myself, and I will fail miserably. Some things are too big, too important, to hold inside. And I know you will be there with me, and I’ll know how much you’ll wish you could hold and comfort me. I’ll know.
I’ve always known.
We need to talk, honey. I love you, baby, always and forever, but I can’t keep being so sad all the time. I’m wallowing, and you know that’s not my style. I miss you so much. I’m so afraid of what I’m forgetting, what I’m losing every day. I’m afraid of losing you.
I can’t keep starting and ending every day fighting tears. I can’t keep remembering you more for your loss than the good times we had together. I am haunting my own life, not living it. My mind is starting to creak from the strain.
You should know by now that there is no one in my heart but you. The place you occupy in my soul will always be yours. You will always be first in my heart, and if, by some miracle, someone else should enter my life, it will only be because you have gone on. Anyone brave enough to try to share my life will always be second to you.
We are together forever, now. If you can’t be here to live your life, then I will have to live mine for two. But I am struggling every day, and I need to let go some of the anger and the pain. I want you to be proud of me, I want to live a life you would be proud of. I am so proud of your spirit and your heart, and how hard you kept trying, despite everything. I can’t bear the thought that I’m letting you down. I know how much you love me, and I want to be worthy of it. I will have bad days, I will cry for as long as I need to cry, but I can’t go on feeling guilty and sad every time I laugh. I don’t love you any less, but I can’t love you at all if I lose my mind completely.
Help me. Help me find a way to keep loving you, to keep you, and have some hope of happiness. Show me how to live again.