Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"The past didn't go anywhere"--Utah Phillips

My best friend from high school and I recently reconnected through Facebook after 15 years of no contact due to a falling out we had. Back then, she was involved in things I couldn't condone and didn't understand, and was too young and clueless to know what to say to her about it or how to say it. Anything I thought to say would've come off as judgment, and I didn't feel I had the right to judge her, so I said nothing. But I never forgot her, never stopped regretting how it had ended, never stopped wishing I could fix some of the damage of that ending, even if I couldn't fix the friendship.

She finally showed up on Facebook; I ran across her name as I was looking through a list of kids I graduated with, marveling at how we all had aged, and I sent a message-cum-apology. And then I waited a couple weeks, not entirely expecting an answer, but knowing I'd done what I could.

When the answer finally came, late because she's a proud Luddite, I was almost afraid to open it, but I did, and when I read her words, I let go of a breath and a weight I'd been holding since we parted not-so-amicably. She was glad I found her, and had her own apologies to offer. And with that, a piece of my past that I had always regretted was rewritten.

It was surprising to me that it was possible to change the past, I guess. As a widow, you have to live with a million things you can't change or undo, starting with the death of your beloved. It's not news, I suppose, that as long as we are alive, we can make a change; I've done it before. And truly, I have finished unfinished business with A, despite his death. But this particular reunion expunged one of the great regrets of my life, one of the kind that haunts you until the end. I thought back to those early days of grief when I wondered what the point of life was, or rather, the point of mine specifically, and realized that this was probably one of those things I still needed do before I left this world, and before I could leave this world without too many backward glances. I feel less encumbered since it happened.

If it had stopped with the exchange of FB messages, that would've been good enough, but we've had two long conversations on the phone since, and marveled that our divergent paths have not only brought us back together, but that our thoughts and philosophies are also oddly in line. The connection is still there.

As we were talking last night, my chronic pain came up, and she asked me if I was under any stress. I was enjoying probably the best day, across the board, I've had in the last 3.75 years, and I said "Not particularly." And it was true; my stress is everyday stress—work crap, physical crap, the occasional marital moment, chores around the house.

But my voice wasn't convincing, even to me, and I alluded to the last 4 years being "rough" and it being a long story. I wasn't sure I wanted to get into the whole thing with someone with whom I've only just reconnected, because, honestly, I'm not sure this reunion will be a lasting one. I hope it is, but I just don't know, and there's really no point in spilling my guts if we're just going to fade out of each other's lives again. But she said she wanted to know if I was comfortable telling her, and so I did.

I told her about A, and how we met, and how he died, and how that all worked with E, and what it had done to me; I gave her the Sgt. Friday version, just the facts, really, plus how I was actually pretty okay now, and just really missed him. So yeah, I had stress, and yes, there are still undercurrents of that that I'm sure have an effect on me. But yesterday I was having a really good day, and I didn't want to go deep and end up crying. And you know, you just can't explain all that to someone who hasn't been there. I'm not even tempted to try.

She offered her sympathy and comforting words, and hoped it hadn't hurt me to talk about it, and I told her, no, it was nice to talk about him. So few people ever offered their sympathy because of circumstances, and no one bothered soon enough. I never got "The Look," the pitying one the other widows grew tired of, or the tilted-head "How ARE you?" from all and sundry. And I'll admit there have been more than a few times I wish I would've been thrown a grander pity party than I received. Maybe the grass isn't greener, but you can't blame a gal for wondering.

But when I got off the phone, I realized that it actually wasn't nice to talk about that. That's no fault of my friend's; it's just that I realized in hindsight that I don't really want to talk about his death anymore. What I really yearn to talk about is his life, who he was, what was so great about him, why I fell in love with him and remain so to this day. I want to talk about my awesome boyfriend and all the little things he did that were so hilarious and clever and brilliant and loving. But it's kind of late to do that; people don't mind when you share the occasional amusing anecdote about a dead person and everyone can nod and say, "Yep, that was A…what a guy…" if they knew him, or "Ha, that's great!" if they didn't. However, if you want to gush like a schoolgirl about your dead lover, people are going to question your grip on reality.

I think it's that, as much as anything, that cements him in the past-tense, and I feel like I've just bumped up against that hard enough to bruise. To me, the love is alive, the connection to him is still present and strong, and I know he's out there, somewhere. Maybe he's reading over my shoulder as I write this. I don't know. But while our love is as much "now" as ever for me, every story I have is "then," and with every day, it gets further into the past. How do you share that past/present reality with another person and have it make sense? How do you explain how you're still giddily in love with someone who you haven't conversed with, who hasn't walked the earth, in years now?

You don't. But that doesn't mean you don't want to.

That's the bitch of widowhood (well, one of a gazillion); so many of us were left with a love unsullied. We are loyal dogs waiting at the door for a beloved human who is not going to pass through it. When they left us, we were in love, and they haven't done anything to wreck that beyond their absence, so the love remains intact, if frustrated. If anything, my love for him has deepened as I've processed my grief and our joint past, and understood and forgiven both him and me for all kinds of things.

He was tall and thin, but muscular, and I loved to run my hands across his back. He had a million freckles. He had beautiful blue-green hazel eyes and a white goatee. He looked awesome in a tool belt. He always held my hand, and when we'd drive anywhere, he'd kiss the back of it as the spirit moved him. He was a good cook. He was respectful and good, but swore freely. He was funny as hell. He loved to dance. He made me hot chocolate with 2 packets of mix. He always opened my door on his truck and handed me my seatbelt. He felt things deeply. And I adored him more than words can ever express.

Shit. Crying now.


  1. Wow. That was beautiful. Thank you for that.
    I lost my boyfriend six months ago, to what was (probably) a cardiac arrhythmia. I was talking to someone about him today, someone I hadn't talked to in a while...You really captured how I've been feeling.

    Thank you.

  2. You're welcome, and I'm sorry that you are walking this road, too. Hugs.