You died. I couldn’t save you, and you fucking DIED. So obviously I have a savior complex now. It was latent before, subtle; then it kicked into overdrive. The new struggle becomes getting past it. Moving on from it. Dealing with the fact that I could not save you. Couldn’t have. Never had a chance. All that goddamn guilt.
You died, in our bed, on October 17th 2018, sometime in the afternoon. Probably wishing I was there beside you instead of working or out with the dog. Probably asking God “why me, why now?”. And I wasn’t there. I couldn’t save you. And THAT… that fucking kills me. I could spend my entire life trying to right that wrong, and it would never be enough. It would not change the past. It wouldn’t bring you back. All the money and all the friends and all the influence and the all the power in the world, cannot alter that heart breaking, gut wrenching page of history.
And now, as the year of shit hitting the fan draws near to an end, I must actually learn to live with that. To accept it. Radically and wholly. Fearlessly and openly. To fully understand myself, my trauma, and my path to recovery. I still get mad at God. I still hate and distrust most doctors. I still can’t look at penguins or Christmas lights or crystals or even this damn old Macbook, without thinking of you. Or speak to your mother, your brother, your grandma, without a searing blast of nostalgia for what we had and what we lost. But I need to do those things. I need to do them while there is still time. Because, as proven by exactly the reason I write this, time is short, and fleeting. More importantly, I need to FEEL all these things, and not just write them. To let my heart burst, break, bleed, stop, restart, regroup, regrow, and ultimately heal.
Because the only way through this shit, is THROUGH it. Not over it, not around it, not under it or beside it or past it. Through it. One foot in front of the other. Every. Damn. Aching. Painful. Step.
I loved you. I will always love you. And I will be okay. Even without you, I will be okay. You made me the best version of myself that I could be. It’s time I started being that self again. It’s time I honored your memory by re-becoming the man you saw in me, that you loved so unconditionally and so fearlessly. It’s time to get to work.
I will see you again, my angel. But until then… bask in radiant light, sing throughout the heavens, and walk the eternal beaches of paradise.
You were here. In the wee waking hours of the morning, you came to me.
You stood by the bedside as I wrapped my arms around you and buried my weary head in your bosom, and you stroked my shoulder gently. We talked of things that might have been. That will never be. I began to weep. But you wiped my eyes and said “No more. It has been two years. You are ready to move forward.”
Am I? Some days it certainly seems so. Other days drag on in loneliness and idle excuses for work. Yet if I am to trust your spirit, let me find peace.
You were here. If only for a moment. God bless your sparkling soul.
Wherever I am, you’ll always be, more than just a memory. If I ever leave this world, alive.
I’ve been packing and organizing and purging — the more I do now, the less I have to do when I actually begin escrow on a place. I had 2 entire boxes of unsorted planner/notebook stuff. Now fortunately, I know B. will want some of it, particularly the wedding themed scrapbooking bits. But a lot of these planners are dated to the year, so they can’t be useful anymore. As I skim through them to find the pages you actually filled in, I’m always amazed at how you can take something so mundane and bring it to joyful life with your creativity. And reading these entries certainly makes me remember just how lovingly devoted you were to me, and I to you.
Yet there is such sadness and regret in these pages. Because so many of them… SO, so many of them… are empty. The searing irony — these are “Life Planners”, after all. And your life, cut short, likewise leaves so many unfilled pages of potential. Such volumes of unwritten, un-lived words of unspeakable love and laughter, pain and pleasure, happiness and heartache, tears and triumphs. If only I had known. Had come back to you in time to rush you to the ER or to call 911 before it was too late. But it was. It is. Gut-wrenchingly late.
Occasional other reminders jump out as well. Adult coloring books with merely a few pages partway done. A random quote or journal blurb. Dozens of shanghai score-pad pages with stars and hearts over the winner’s initials. Haphazard bundles of coloring pens and markers. Thankfully some of this stuff can be donated and go to a good second home, while other bits can even go to one of our nieces for her artistic pursuits.
When I posted a particularly poignant bit about you not having a baby, J. called you her superhero. That made my heart warm again. Yet cold in quick succession, reminding me that you, and perhaps by some extension, I, will never have that chance. I still say that raising kids in this pandemically-induced-quasi-apocalyptic society would be chaos, and that in a very small and somewhat selfish way, I’m glad that we didn’t, but my heart aches for you that you didn’t. If that makes any sense at all.
I wish things made sense. They still don’t. I loved you. Goodnight sweet angel.
The start of the new decade is brought to you by Steven King, Dean Koontz, and that episode of Supernatural where the globe was plagued by a virus starting with ‘C’ and a post-apocalyptic Chuck told past-future-Dean to hoard toilet paper like it was gold.
No, dear reader, I’m not joking. Look it up. Kinda freaky.
But let’s go back a bit. Winter started with more snowboarding. January was a fairly successful season, as was early February. I took the guys to the slopes. Chuck had a hell of a time learning, while Rex picked it up again after many years away. We decided to make the podcast seasonal, so we topped off season 1 and started making preparations for season 2. The new website is live, along with a fledgling YouTube channel.
Making friends with worship and sound crew at church led to something I never would have expected in the past ten years. But somehow, I think because of your exceedingly musical spirit, it makes perfect sense. One morning, as I arrived just a bit late to practice, F. was already at the board, and he just said “hey Nate, grab that mic.” And the rest of the team encouraged me — “egged me on”, if you will. So I did. And I stood up there and looked at the songs and the words. And I just sang along with them as they practiced. They started telling me how good things sounded with a low male voice in the mix — Rex is of course a low-mid tenor and the ladies are, while not particularly high (in fact, P. is quite low), still distinctly feminine. So I believed their encouraging words. And I kept singing. And that’s how I became part of the worship team.
As the winter got warmer and the snow started to melt, it was pretty clear the ski-season was going to be cut short. I used up almost all my prepaid tickets, thankfully, and got a few more middling-average days in. I screwed up my right shoulder though — doc says it’s probably the rotator cuff tendon. Super. At least nothing was broken though. I do have a gnarly new scar from the fall, just above my right eyebrow. If it were at all jagged you could call me Harry Potter.. but it’s basically just a straight 3/4-inch vertical line, with an ever-so-slight arc. You might find it sexy.. or you might have made me treat it with anti-scar ointment and prevented it in the first place. God I miss your doting.
Oh, and then. Get this. Kobe Bryant died. In a freak helicopter crash. With his young daughter. It shocked the world, for sure. And of course you, being the empath, would have no doubt been in sharp mourning as well. I mean sure, he was accused of rape.. Who knows if that woman was telling the truth or just after money and infamy. But he played some of the damned finest basketball in history. And just like that, GONE. Plastered all over magazine covers and newspapers and headlines, but gone. Legends never die, they say. Tell that to his widow and other children.
But all that pales in comparison to March 2020. The world has become engulfed in the throes of the worst viral disease outbreak it has seen in modern memory. It began, as many things do, in China. Not a xenophobic statement, just a fact — they are the most populous and most industrious country in the world, and if something is going to start, it simply, statistically, will likely be there. Coronavirus, COVID-19, took hold and spread like wildfire. At first is was isolated to Asia. But tourism and trade soon brought it across the globe, to our very shores, even to our own neighborhood. And of course our incompetent imp of a president failed so spectacularly to respond, to prepare and arm the public with concrete factual information, that we’re charted along with some of the worst-handled outbreak scenarios of the 1st-world nations — Italy, Mexico, Spain. “Tremendous” is a word he keeps throwing around, as if it means anything other than the magnitude of his own failure as a leader and a public servant.
Obviously most of this belongs in my memoirs, not in this journal to you. Yet I find it helpful to write to you as if I’m telling you stories of the world that you’re missing while you bask in paradise. It’s unthinkable that there could be any other eventuality.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of change and breaking news. Counties issue “lock-down orders” only to rescind them the next day. The state and federal governments change their guidelines for “social distancing” — a new colloquialism that will surely go down in history as a defining moment of this decade and the generations living through it — as well as self isolation, quarantine protocols, and limitations on gatherings, almost every other day. People panic-buy bread and toilet paper en-masse as grocery stores and warehouses struggle to keep shelves stocked. Schools close. Businesses start to follow suit. The economy, having started the year quite strong, stronger than most would give the current administration credit for, is now in utterly unprecedented free-fall.
Finally, on March 20th, today as I write this, California joins New York and a couple others in declaring a state-wide “shelter in place” order. Meaning, citizens are to stay in their homes except for emergent or urgent needs, or beyond that, to stay close to home and forgo all forms of travel, barring critical events and life-or-death situations. Which means, obviously, that most non-critical industry is on some level of partial or non-operation for the next several weeks. My employer, thank God, has a sensible and morally upright CEO, who has kept communications up during this time and has enacted payroll protections and measures to ensure employees do not panic about their immediate future. What things will look like, how things will change, if the governments continue to enforce lock-down policies, is a another matter entirely.
All this means, of course, that many people suddenly find themselves having to work from home. As I and many other tech workers have done for the past several years. Teachers, for example — God love them for their creativity and their get-shit-done attitudes — have had to literally re-architect educational processes overnight. And successfully, by all accounts, which is nothing short of a miracle.
Imagine if we’d had had children. I mean, they’d only be toddlers, right now, but still. What a world to be raising them in. Is it wrong that I almost wouldn’t wish that? That I’m almost relieved that that is not our reality? I can’t discard all of my cynicism, after all. Your optimism and light-full spirit did wedge its way through my cold heart, but a man does not change so irrevocably, completely, utterly, wholly and absolutely, in one lifetime.
Something I did accomplish today, that I’m slightly proud of, is that I did my usual 2 and 2/3rds mile run with an average pace of 8 minutes and 59 seconds per mile! YES, under 9 minutes per mile!! I never thought I’d see that happen, at least not this quickly. This comes after a recent doctor appointment informed me that I weighed in at 155 pounds. Unfortunately, my cholesterol was still a bit high, but only slightly. So, anyway, yay!
I’m writing all this because I realized how long-winded and philosophical I’d been in some recent text or email exchanges, which of course means that my brain needed to get its thoughts out onto the page. I can’t really explain why this happens. Is it still your spark? Is it me, just growing my own spark? Do we nurture this fledgling seed together from opposite sides of some metaphysical veil? Such questions are not productive.
I loved you. Pray for this world. Pray for our families and friends. I’ve said it at your passing, and I say it now in unison with millions of others: Things will never be the same.
It is now 2020. The start of the first decade which you were meant to see, which we were meant to live through together, yet you did not, and we will not. Is this as momentous as it seems? Time is still so strange. I wake from a dream of you, feeling like you were just here with me yesterday. Yet I feel a thousand days pass by each night I don’t come home to you waiting in bed for me. There are people and moments that find you but a distant memory, while other people and more moments carry the raw, searing loss of immediate heartbreak. I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.
Life does go on. Our nieces keep growing, our dog keeps acting goofy. My job is steady, my friends are supportive. Our families are healthy, mostly. There will always be a missing piece, though, won’t there? Always a void, a space or a word or a thought or a smell, where YOU were supposed to be. Should be. Can’t be. Will never be again.
Sometimes we try to fill that void with something else, or someone else. Other times we weep. We scream at the universe and ask why. We stare blankly into the bleak long dark, hoping that somewhere along the way you found the light. Knowing that you did. That you now sparkle with the burning brightness of a million suns in the glory of Heaven. That you ask us not to weep, or to scream, or to stare. But you ask us to live, to love, to give of ourselves. To put forth into THIS world that little sliver of luminescence, that bit of spark, that flake of glitter, which your soul left behind in ours.
And that is difficult, to say the least. It’s hard to find the time, the energy, the motivation, the inspiration, to do that which you truly would ask of us. But we try.
Oh God, I try.
I loved you.
You are forever in our hearts. To the final dying beat.
The holiday season is generally difficult for ALL who are grieving the loss of a loved one. It is doubly so for those who grieve one who specifically genuinely loved and enjoyed Christmas. I didn’t even bother putting up decorations, neither last year nor this (being now the 2nd holiday without her). I was admittedly quite lazy and last-minute (or even late) with the gift-giving, and probably will be so again — though hopefully at least a little less lazy. So I was quite sure that this season, I would be just as Grinch-y.
Now, to fully appreciate this story, you need to understand how in LOVE my wife was with the music of Pentatonix, in particular their Christmas albums. The bowel-rumbling bass tones of Avi, specifically, would give her goose bumps. So just keep that in mind.
This week, as I walked into my grief counseling appointment — the last one, I had decided, at least for a long while — they had, as everyone does this time of year, some Christmas music mix playing in the background at the front desk. I pay my co-pay and sit. And then I hear it. The bouncing quasi-African-tribal-ish beats of PTX’s rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful. I can’t help but tap my feet to the rhythm. It stays with me as I work through the therapy session, confiding and venting and questioning, and all the things one normally does to their counselor. As we wrap up and say goodbye (for now), I wish her a Merry Christmas. The first time I’ve said it this year. I walk out the door and immediately pull up the Youtube video so I can listen to the whole song.
Hot on its heels comes Go Tell It On the Mountain, another unconventional rendition of a classic that hits all the right beats and all the good feels. And even the more traditional Little Drummer Boy makes an appearance. I defy you to listen to these songs and NOT feel a little warmer inside, a little spark of cheer.
And then it happened. I was “in the Christmas spirit”, as it were.
I was filled with the memories of our holidays together. They swept over me like a warm tide upon the cold stony shoreline. The happiness and excitement you exuded from every pore as we decorated our various apartments and trimmed our various trees. The warmth and aroma of your baking holiday treats for family and friends. The pure unbridled joy at seeing your loved ones happy as they opened your carefully selected and meaningful gifts. The cozy heart-healing cuddles in bed as we watched our traditionallineup of holidaymovies. And always, always your extra special, extra mushy, romantic, heartfelt, soul-stirring handwritten card to me. (Often penguin-themed.)
I was no longer weighed down by the grudges I held against all who were happier than I was because they had not lost a spouse so close to the season. Nor did I require the constant re-validation that my feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, and confusion, were all perfectly valid and reasonable. Because they were. And are. But so are happiness, joy, generosity, charity, peace, and love. And so much more important are these. So much more healing to the soul. So much more warming to the heart.
Because that is what you, of all people, would have impressed upon me, upon us, during the holidays. Peace. Joy. Love. Your smile, your laughter, your happiness, your sparkle, your very essence, is what lives on in us — if only we let it.
I cracked the laptop screen on vacation. The one that we got for you special, the Macbook Pro with all the upgrades. I was so disappointed with myself. It happened near the end, too. It’s a hairline fracture. Noticeable, but not productivity-hampering. Just enough to really irk me that I let it happen.
We finally gave away the rest of your clothes. I mean, all of the stuff that was worth saving but not brand-new/like-new-that-might-be-sellable-LuLaRoe stuff. Most of it went to J & M up in Oregon. They absolutely loved it, it was like early Christmas for them. There were some things that didn’t fit their style or size, so I returned home with a small bag of clothes to donate to wherever. I left it sitting in the closet, not on the floor but near floor-level.
Keira, while I was gone recording the podcast (@RARCpodcast | iTunes | Google), got into this bag of your clothes and pulled out a shirt. She didn’t chew or bit or otherwise maim it, she just pulled it out of the bag and left it there on the floor nearby. As if she’d smelled your scent, faint though it must have been, for a brief moment, investigated, and found that you were not there.
If only I could tell her how many times I’ve done that. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, metaphorically. Spiritually even.
I saw you last night in my dreams. More clear and close than I have in over a year. I felt your hand squeeze mine, for the very briefest of moments. I tried to capture that moment, to hold on longer, to curl up into a ball of warm memories, a puddle of desperate longing. It almost worked.
I saw your eyes. Your big, beautiful, blue-green eyes. They were closed for a blink, but they opened up and looked back at me. For the very briefest of moments. I knew that moment was fleeting. Light and time were already beckoning me to wake. Just a little longer, I beg. But no.
I heard your voice. Your sweet, strong, comforting voice. We had an argument that passed just as quickly as the dream itself. Even in that, the pangs of familiarity pulled at my heart. And we reconciled, and became as one. And it was gone.
You were sitting across from me, listening to me talk about something that was about to happen, as if it already had. You had no words, only your loving and knowing eyes. Are you still with me? Do you keep vigil on these lonesome roads and dark nights? Do you still love me?
Today is.. would have been.. our 9th wedding anniversary. That day was a whirlwind! We didn’t spend the night apart like many couples do; we didn’t feel the need to. We forgot to bring our wedding favors — our customized M&M’s. But we distributed them later at a family gathering. Your mom burned her hand on a curling iron. You got so anxious you couldn’t eat. We trekked all over the University of Redlands for pictures. And you in your 5-inch zebra heels. We almost forgot to pay the photographer! I had to borrow a check from your aunt and pay them back later.
Nine years ago, you said ‘I do’ and made me the happiest man in the world. We planned, prepared, and set everything in place as best we could. We celebrated the beginning of a new life, together with our family and friends.
And almost one year ago, minus a week or so, you suddenly and inexplicably left this world. There was no warning, no preparation, no setting, and no goodbye. And we mourned the loss of your life, alone and apart.
Til death do us part.
When a bride and groom say those words, they don’t actually think that they’ll truly become reality. At least not before they grow old and frail. That’s way far off in the future, not something anybody should worry about anytime soon. Living will? Death folder? Life insurance? PAH! Nonsense. A problem for future selves.
Let alone the emotional, physical, and mental implications. When you do this right, your spouse becomes your WORLD. And don’t get me wrong, you can and should retain some of your independent interests and person-hood; but by and large, you become intertwined together as one new entity, as ‘US’. So then to suddenly lose that half (or at least, large part) of your life, your “new self” that was/is ‘US’, is quite literally devastating. It’s like violently tearing apart a zipper that’s been stuck together for years and years, happily rusted together at nearly every turn — it’s gonna hurt like hell, and you’re gonna lose some pieces.
Hold every memory.
We made so many memories in our relatively short time as US. Disneyland, beach days, Halloween parties, Christmas light tours, snow days, County fairs, occasional vacation trips, surprise Valentine scrapbooks, lazy stay-in-bed-all-days, steamy and wonderfully passionate nights… I will never forget any of them. Yet even as I say that, I know some of those memories are fading. Thank god, despite my protests and eye-rolls, you always insisted on taking plenty of pictures. I will always cherish them. And, as you know from my occasional zealous need to organize things, I will probably continue to find some excuse to sort and sift through them every so often.
Those scrapbooks, in particular, will continue to be some of my most beloved possessions. The time and thoughtfulness you dedicated to them was unparalleled. Your creativity was a marvel to me, unmatched in my eyes by anything but your love and devotion. I cannot thank you enough for these treasures, even as I mourn the loss of never seeing any more of them in my future.
I tried to do them justice when I constructed your memorial video and music playlist. I’m sure that I fell far short of potential. Yet who even thinks they’ll ever need to undertake such a task? Surely, again, not until you’re 80. And then it should have been our children’s job. Not mine, nor yours.
Here’s to Us.
As the song goes, from P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma album:
What about us? What about all the times you said you had the answer? What about us? What about all the broken happy-ever-afters? What about us? What about all the plans that ended in disaster? What about love? What about trust? What about us?
We thought we had the answers. We thought we had our happy-ever-after. We had plans. And indeed, it ended in disaster. You were taken from this world, from us, from your family, from me. And we don’t get to be ‘US’, anymore.
But when we were… Oh, it was beautiful. You gave me purpose, life, beauty, laughter, tears, joy, happiness, heartache, inspiration, passion, ecstasy, agony, purity, drive, desire, wholeness, openness, and most of all, love.
The greatest of these is Love.
Today, as I have every year since that first time I saw you in that perfect white dress, with your curled blond hair and your ruby lips and your ocean eyes, I say thank you. For all of it. Everything you did for me, everything you made me, everything you gave me. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Through hard times and happy times. As long as we both shall live lived.
And though you live no longer, in this world, know that you will always live on in my heart. I may or may not find love again; yet even if I do, it will never be the same. You were, are, and always will be, my soulmate. And I will see you again in Paradise.
Sometimes what you really need is to simply be among friends; to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. For in these small moments — where your troubles and worries and woes fade away, even for the briefest of breaths, the most minuscule of milliseconds — life feels worth living again.
Yes, I just quoted myself. I made it up right here on the spot. You’re welcome. =P
I treat most of my journal as an open-ended letter to my dearly beloved K. I think of it as though I will someday reminisce with her in paradise over all the things that we’ve experienced while apart.
In other news, my new friends and I finally (it’d been months) had another game night! Well, we played Shanghai instead of DnD, but it was really what we all needed; and C. wasn’t finished with the DM setup anyway. The only one who’d played (Shanghai, that is) before was K., but everybody else knew general rummy rules and compared it, much like you did, to Phase 10. I brought Rubio’s fish tacos for everybody, which, since it was a Tuesday, was one helluva deal. Except W. who had to have a veggie burrito because he’s watching his weight and going to wrestler-training. Yeah, don’t ask. (Love ya buddy!) Also the huskies got along as usual, playing and exploring the new house.
It was a wonderful night. We drank beer and played cards and laughed hysterically at all kinds of nonsense and randomness – from metal band antics to spur-of-the-moment-made-up-songs. It was just as fun as the game-nights we had with cousin J. and her gang, for those few years while she was close by. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely happy again.
Am I allowed to?
You’re not with us. You would have brought perfect balance to the group, with your eclectic sense of humor, your way of saying or quoting off-the-wall things, and your proclivity for fumbling words in a way that was utterly and uniquely you. God how I miss that.
I say you would balance the group out perfectly, because: A. is the accountant, math and numbers expert; C. is the creative type, musician and storyteller; K. is the former-bad-girl-turned-super-sweet-pastor’s-wife and infant nurse; W. is the semi-boisterous intellectual and history buff; I of course, the tech geek and peacemaker; and finally, there would be, should be, you: the psychologist and the empath, the one who knows best how our minds work and how our emotions ebb and flow.
The fact that we all had to get up for work the next day didn’t matter, because we realized that this kind of quality time with friends is too valuable and too infrequent to waste. I mean yes, we still dispersed by 11, but that’s not the point! =) . Also, you would have insisted we get a freakin picture, because we don’t have a single solitary one to post anywhere. But you know, sometimes, that’s the way it should be.
And now, of course, I’m alone again. Sitting to write this journal entry and wondering when or what I might have to regale you with next. Are you even listening anymore? I wish I could tell. I wish I could see you, hold you, kiss you, cry to you, wash this all away in torrents of tears and a tidal wave of lost time. Perhaps you would forgive me. Perhaps I would forgive myself. Perhaps I should try.