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Archive for the ‘the life that wasn’t’ Category

Tonight I’m lying alone in my bed, much as I was 16 years ago, with a minor ache or soreness around the right side of my rib cage. Then, it was his feet or his back, maybe. I don’t actually know. Some part of his tiny self always lodged under the right side of my ribs.

I constantly had to stretch and arch back while using my hands to massage and nudge him down and over to a different spot. He would flip-flop and roll around and I would see belly waves of protest as he repositioned discovering yet another pokey tiny baby part to jam under my right ribs. I’ll never know why that was his spot. 

Sixteen years ago tonight was pure raw pain and panic. Memories morph between foggy shapes and colors, voices coming and going. There are deafening mechanical beeps and whirs from all the machines attached to me. Nurses in the hallway shout and cackle to one another, oblivious, yet somehow still unable to drown out the loudest, most unnerving of the sounds. The absence of a sound. The vacancy where I should have heard the swift swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of a thriving neonatal heartbeat. 

I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but in my memory the morphine drip has a distinct odor. It smells like chemical death as I lay there pressing the button again and again and again praying for the IV cocktail to release me from the horror of my present reality. 

It didn’t.

But even through my drug and grief induced stupor, sometimes the vividness of a moment rises through the haze. I can close my eyes and I’m back in that cavernous hospital room. The blood pressure cuff is rhythmically crushing my right arm to the point that my fingers purple and bulge. Somewhere nearby there’s a new-for-the-occasion, terry cloth, powder blue robe that still hangs lifeless on the back of my bedroom door all these years later. Artificially induced labor contracts my body all night long preventing sleep–despite the gallons of morphine I must have absorbed. It’s not enough to soothe the screaming chasm of a broken heart. 

No drug would ever be enough for that. 

Tonight’s minor ache is a deliberate pain invoked as an outward, visible commemoration of that indelible internal scar. Tonight’s pain is nothing by comparison, yet it’s a poignant and bittersweet reminder. It’s a necessary connection. 

Pain is interesting. Usually we want to dull the pain. Or hide it. Or forget it. Tonight I’m grateful for pain. I’m grateful for pain that connects and reminds and softens. The discomfort of his tiny body ramming into the same spot of my ribs all day every day for nine months is now one of my most cherished, and painful, memories. 

Thus, I have honored him with an outward symbol of the major memory that unites us. 


We are encircled by snowdrop flowers that bloom every year around his birthday. 

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Thankfully I’ve never cared much for Valentine’s Day so today wasn’t as hard as it could have been. In 36 years I’ve only  “celebrated” or observed it 6 times–all of them with her–so it’s not like there’s a long tradition there to uphold or miss. 

It’s just any other day. The same as all the others that have now been abandoned. And thankfully now the pressure’s off to appear to give a shit about such an overblown day.

That being said, I remember the exact moment I fell in love with her. And that’s all I could think about all day. I wish I could rewind the years back to that spot and just relive those couple of hours at her apartment eight or nine years ago when she cooked me steak and zucchini with onions and we talked about writing and books and her stories. She vibrated with life when she talked about writing; her hands and voice literally shook with her passion for the stories and worlds and lives she had created. And she shared them with me. It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in my life at that point. 

I would live in that moment for the rest of my life–even if nothing ever advanced, even if it meant we never had a relationship–just to see her so alive, just to know she was happy and sharing something that brought her so much joy with someone who truly loved her talent and dedication to her art. I think it was the happiest I’ve ever seen her–except for the day my youngest son love-tackled her in the back yard and snuggled on top of her beside our buckets of tomato plants. 

My perfect Valentine’s Day–my perfect any day–would be to have those moments all over again. 

But mostly I wish we could go back to then so she could be that happy, that much herself and alive again. 

My perfect Valentine’s Day–my perfect any day–would be to know that she’s found that passion and happiness again. 

Even if it’s without me. 

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This past fall I read The 5 Love Languages: The Military Edition. I typically don’t buy into relationship books like that because I’m a bit of a cynic and sometimes a snob. I work in a bookstore and often stock the shelves with the various editions of The 5 Love Languages franchise, and I’m always equally as intrigued by their claims to restore and save marriages as I am skeptical of those claims considering how broadly and generally those claims sweep. “Reading this one book will change your whole life,” and “Contained within these pages is the secret to relationship longevity.” These are the kind of statements that make me smirk, roll my eyes, and stuff the book back on the shelf.

I take issue with the idea that one book, one person’s words, contains all the truth I need to get through life and relationships successfully. I think it’s an arrogant assertion to suggest that in all the time of human history, this one man holds the secret to relationship success and happiness.

The fact that these are shelved in the Christian Living section didn’t make it any easier for me to spend the cash on it. (Not because I have a general distaste for Christian books; but rather because of my very specific history with Christianity.) Of course, I’m someone who believes in accepting truth wherever I might find it, even if it did manage to blunder its way through a religious patriarch.

But I’d been intrigued by this particular edition, the military edition, for so long–every time I’d shelve in that section, I’d pick it up and flip through and read a few lines–that I started reading it on my break one day. Without even realizing what I was doing, I started underlining parts that resonated with me and writing notes in the margins. Couldn’t very well put it back on the shelf after that, so it came home with me.

I have plenty of criticisms of the book–The 5 Love Languages in general, not just the military edition. There’s too much god-ness for me. It’s stiflingly heteronormative and traditional in approach to gender roles, and doesn’t use or seem to know language that encompasses a variety of long-term, committed relationships, not just Christian marriages between a man and a woman. That being said, if you’re willing to mentally edit the overly-religious parts and to interchange pronouns to suit your circumstances, it’s truly an insightful and useful little book.

There’s plenty of truth and sound advice and experiential wisdom in there. I learned that my love language is not what I thought it was; or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I learned that my love language is more than I thought it was. I’ve always known, even before the phrase “love language” existed, that I feel loved and secure and confident in a relationship–no matter what kind it is–through acts, demonstrations, cooperation in tasks/chores, teamwork. Doing. Being on the receiving end of Doing is what has always felt like love to me. The 5 Love Languages calls it Acts of Service.

As it turns out, while that’s still true, what’s more true is that even when someone is doing and is a person of action in the relationship, I can still feel a lack. A distance, an insecurity in whether or not they truly love me. I realized through reading this book that a possible reason I could feel that lack or insecurity is because my love needs were in fact not being fully met. Yes, acts of service are absolutely vital for me to be a partner in sustaining a healthy, loving relationship; but also, I need words. Words of Affirmation according to The 5 Love Languages. My Words of Affirmation score was even higher than my Acts of Service score. I found this fascinating because I’m a firm, lifelong believer in walking the walk. Anybody can say the right words, but those words need to be backed up by action. That’s always been my philosophy, and still is. But it’s also my philosophy that solid actions need to be supported and enhanced by the right words.

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It’s as hard and time-consuming and soul-flattening as expected. Separating our stuff; packing hers; daily encountering the now vacant spaces all around me that were once crowded by her presence and influence. Logically, I’d expected to face fewer painful memories by removing the things around me that elicited those memories. That maybe by cutting out the physical reminders, I’d have a chance at moving on.

I had no idea the shadows would be worse. The places now where she isn’t, where her stuff isn’t, where her presence isn’t, those places are now somehow alive with memories where previously there simply sat inanimate objects that represented her. With those removed, it’s like the memories suddenly have room to breathe and move. Everywhere I turn I am haunted by the empty, the lack, the absence. The nothing.

To expunge is vital. Eliminate. Erase. To treat as though it never happened. Deep-six.

As much as that’s what’s needed under the circumstances, it’s impossible to carry out from a practicality standpoint. At least for the time-being. I mean, how do you carry on as though someone never happened to you when she’s still paying some of your bills, and when her army family readiness group can’t manage to remove your email address from their mailing list despite having been asked several times? Reading the excitement and anticipation of all those other family members who get to be thrilled now that the half-way point has come and gone, now that it’s even close enough to start counting down the weeks until they’re home…it’s just cruel. I thought I had earned that celebration too, and it would be more tolerable to swallow that I’m no longer part of that if I didn’t keep getting weekly status updates.

No. That’s a lie. It would never be more tolerable to swallow.

It’s kinda like when you’re in high school and everyone is talking about how great the party will be that you’re not invited to. It’s just hateful.

But we’re still too entangled which is what I’m working on solving.

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It’s February 1st and today I saw the first crocuses pushing through the slightly snowy mushy earth. Every year I look forward to this day–the first flowers waking up even when there’s still snow on the ground.

I gasped when I saw them surprised by their early arrival. Immediately I grabbed my phone to snap a picture and send it to the one person who would be as happy as I was to see it.

It was a fresh punch to the throat to remember in my excitement over the flowers that she’s no longer tied to the ragged threads of my heart.

It’s just not the same without sharing it with her.

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Phipps is gone. I mean, not really. But it’s gone for me. The magic it’s held for me all these years is dead.

I went a few nights ago with friends to enjoy the holiday flowers and lights, but it was just painful. Too many memories.

It was one of our favorite places to go together, especially in the winter–the warmth, the dirt and flower smell, the locally grown, delicious food in the cafe–it was flora therapy for both our souls. I’ve been looking forward to spending plenty of time there through January and February to help ward off the inevitable deep winter depression. To relive, in my imagination until she came home, those many calm and happy moments we had together strolling through the gardens, testing our memories for the names of various plants and flowers, just enjoying the company of someone who shared our mutual love of plants and gardening.

But now it’s poison. This place that was a respite, a safe haven from my various mental and emotional demons, this place that I’ve used to keep me emotionally connected to her while she’s away…it’s turned on me.

Her presence haunted every path. I could hear her voice reminding me of the names of flowers I can never remember. I could see her long fingers stretch out to gently hold still a single blossom for me to inhale. She’d always ask, “Does it sniff good?”

Everything smells sweeter when I share it with her. I learned so much from these visits, not just about plants, but about her, about us, about peace, about the soothing effect nature has on me, about the importance of shared interests and passions.

My love of growing things existed before we were together, and maybe it will continue even now that we’re over. But it really might not. She’s a true nurturer, a true gardener. She brought to life and cultivated this seedling interest I’ve always had, and it’s flourished and grown into a full-fledged life passion under her care and influence. It’s likely to whither and die without the gardener, and I’m honestly willing to let it. I will never enjoy poppies in the spring without her. Who will be excited with me when the first brave crocus or snowdrop (I learned from her that they’re called Galanthus) peeks its tentative greens through the frozen winter ground? I don’t care whether my paw paw trees produce fruit if she’s not here to share it with me. Every plant in my garden will wilt in the shadow of so many painful memories that used to sustain me while she’s been away.

But life will not be returning to my garden this spring because she’s not returning. What’s the point in having a beautiful garden to wander through when I don’t have her to share it with me? It’s just not the same to make rounds through the garden and talk to the plants without her. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in my yard or at Phipps…

…they’re all traitors now.

 

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Whatever time is, it’s cruel.

Thirty years. It took thirty years for us to connect and fall in love.

Six years. And we only got six years together.

However foolish it may be, I will wait another thirty years for her.

Even if it meant we’d only get another six years. Or six months. Or six days. 

I will wait. And grow and learn and better myself. I will wait through any amount of time for any amount of time with her again.

That will always be true.

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