Epilogue

holding hands

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.

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Confessions of the One Left Behind

“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?

No.

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.

Fly Away, by Bernat Casero

Fly Away, by Bernat Casero