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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Cosmic Rewiring

A falling star fell from your heart and landed in my eyes
I screamed aloud as it tore through them, and now it’s left me blind

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
You left me in the dark
No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight
In the shadow of your heart

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat
I tried to find the sound
But then it stopped, and I was in the darkness,
So darkness I became
~ “Cosmic Love” by Florence + The Machine, from “Lungs”

Darkness, like light, like love, has no end.

Grief is an infinite experience; I think I’ve mentioned this before. I was just coming to terms with how much I loved Dustin, just getting a grip on what a soul-expanding experience being in love with him was, and still is. Then, over the course of a night and a detox gone wrong, I lost him and discovered that grief is every bit as soul expanding, and not nearly as nice about it.

The varied facets of pain and anger and all the other weltering emotions are limitless, and the initial planet-busting impact of loss and grief took my spirit and blasted it apart. The spirit that had barely begun to stretch enough to hold that love was forced, too fast, to expand enough to encompass the grief that was the flip side of that love, its cost. My conscious self began to unravel, too much for the mind to take. In a very profound way, I died that morning, too.

The sun came up each morning and poured down fire. It didn’t matter. It burned up the trees and the crops and the grass, too, and it didn’t matter. It dried up the lakes and the rivers, and it didn’t matter. My light had gone out, no sun rising in my eyes, no moon to light the nights in wonder and in joy. I had come undone.

Like any great explosion, each new rupture was preceded by an intense compression. Arms wrapped around the midsection, curled up small or on my knees on the floor, struggling to breathe, I’d struggle to keep my insides from quite literally tearing themselves apart. Muscles moving and locking into place, heart ramming into my ribs, lungs seizing, back spasming, fists knotted, nails digging into palms.

Breathe, dammit. Breathe!

Since the expression of the grief had no other outlet than tears, all that force was driven inward, the bulk of the damage done to consciousness and spirit.

On the surface, of course, I looked like a wounded animal in pain. Inside, I looked like a galaxy torn asunder. Pinpoints of light, love and trust and happiness and hope, scattered thin across a dark and airless sky. But the center had held, that deep mass of love and loss where we had been us.

And it hurt every bit as much as it sounds like it would. It still does.

But for all that, grief is still a valuable lesson and powerful tool for growth. How many of us spend our lives locked up inside our own minds and bodies, never knowing a world beyond our own noses? How many of us live small, and love small, because we’re afraid? Afraid of shame, of being seen as we truly are? Afraid of being left, being alone, of being lied to, of being hurt? How many of us spend our lives scuttling under the useless umbrella of self-protection?

How many of us never learn we are infinite, with endless capacity for love and trust? How many of us never learn how to be brave enough to open ourselves to it, to encompass it?

I am not talking about God and religion. Regular church-goers have been some of the smallest people I’ve ever known, in every sense of the word. Religion has been particularly insidious at instilling a deep sense of shame and fear, and humans have a lamentable tendency to cling to anything that makes them feel superior to someone else. I don’t particularly care how anyone chooses to walk their particular spiritual path, but no one has got it figured out, and no one can claim dominion.

It comes down to surrender, as most acts of great bravery tend to do. To see that endless expanse and to enter it willingly requires sacrifice of both the ego and control, and a distillation of self into something else, something both more concentrated and yet diffuse. It requires seeing yourself as you truly are: not only the good and noble parts, but the ugly parts, the anger and the fear and the pettiness. It requires seeing it, forgiving it, accepting it.

It requires letting yourself off your own hook.

Grief is a particularly violent way to make that transition, but in the stripping away of self and illusions to the bare bones of who I am and was, I found an elasticity of soul that I might not have had otherwise. Our love was and is something extraordinary, but the day-to-day struggles with his addictions and mental illness could very easily have clogged the gears and eroded that capacity for the infinite.

Love and bravery aren’t vows you make one day and that’s it. You have to make them again and again, at every crossroads, at every temptation, at every opportunity to give up.

We were facing a lot of very hard crossroads, but we loved each other and we were willing to work and to try. Until one night he tipped the balance a little too far. He lost his life but gained his rest, and I was left with a staggering emotional price to pay, and pay, and pay.

I guess one way or another I had signed onto a lifetime sentence: love paid for by struggle with mental illness and addiction; or love paid for by astronomical loss. It seems like a pretty raw deal when I put it that way, but I will say this and mean it with every fiber of a being that has stretched to fold stars within:

He was worth it.

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Amicus Alter Ipse

Amicus Alter Ipse: A friend is another self

Amicus Alter Ipse: A friend is another self

Dustin was my best friend.

I don’t think I can emphasize that enough, or adequately describe exactly what that means to me. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider, always a half beat off from the rest of the world. I used to wish that I could be truly oddball, an outlier, because there are plenty of places for oddballs to find their own. But for someone not quite like you, it’s a challenge.

Dustin understood me, and he loved me. That had never really happened to me before. But he understood where my darkness came from, and how I’d gotten that way. It was the same place his came from. When he would give his snorted half laugh and shake his head with a twisted smile, I recognized my own gesture. He understood how compassion can come from pain, and how a hardscrabble existence and a spotty past doesn’t make someone a bad person. He looked beyond all the superfluous stuff and saw right through to the core of a person. To me.

You don’t have to know someone long, or at all, to recognize your own soul staring back at you.

Someone asked me once if I’d rather have love without understanding, or understanding without love. At the time, I thought it was a stupid and unrealistic thought experiment. How can you have one without the other? You can’t love someone you don’t understand, right? And then I was understood without being loved, and that stung. And I have been loved without being understood, and that was just tragic. Someone saw me for who I really was, and didn’t love what he saw. Someone else loved me but couldn’t truly see me, so we were constantly just missing each other, and never truly coming together.

The same things had happened to Dustin, of course. We had been charting similar trajectories our entire lives, so when we finally crossed paths, the magnitude of what we had nearly blinded us both.

“How do you feel about us?”

“To be honest, my heart is in the middle of an all-out war with my head.” He blinked at my answer. I don’t think he’d been expecting such a direct response.

“What does that mean?”

I squirmed next to him in my bed. “This just doesn’t happen to people! Fairy tales aren’t real, they don’t happen in real life!” I sighed. “But I’m giving up. I can’t fight this. Fairy tales are real.”

He laughed softly and pulled me close. Hand buried in my hair, his kiss burned my mouth, the way all his kisses did.

“I love you,” he whispered.

In the beginning, when I was still bargaining with a God who wasn’t listening and I didn’t believe in anyway, the hardcore survivalist part of me would grab me by the back of my neck and drag me in front of my new reality. Here. See this. He. Is. Gone. Deal with it. You can’t run from this. And I would stare into it, eyes burning, chest aching, my own apocalyptical sun.

Sometimes I fall into a deep well of I-miss-you. It surrounds me and I just sit with it, and let it happen. Because these days, I don’t have to dwell on it. It’s stamped into my dna, carved into bone, and there isn’t anything that can separate me from this truth: I loved, with everything I had, someone who loved me the same way. And he is gone.