You who I don’t know how to talk to anymore. You whose body comes to me in a dream only to be gone as soon as I say your face, your mouth, your arms, your breasts, your feet. What happens when you die? The broken light switch in the kitchen, the doorknob glistening in the saucer by the window. How can you get in? This solitude, no match for your solitude, which must want to be sung again in the clear strong throats of the living. You who must want to be useful again, now that the two of us can see the myths we made of ourselves. What use is this skin now that you no longer have it? Would you have lived differently, read other books, loved other men, spent more time in the woods, the mountains, the sea? What happens when you die? Teach me to listen so that I might know what you know now.
– Paul Lisicky, The Narrow Door
Tim always thought he was going to die before me. Part of it was our six year age difference, part of it was his family history of heart disease or all the time he spent drinking and smoking, but I think a part of him always knew his timeline was short. This unknown date crept into conversations more than once, even before he knew he was playing roulette with his life.
“I wonder how long we’ll be married,” he’d say on a lazy Sunday morning when we didn’t want to get out of bed.
“Well I’m not planning on ending things anytime soon,” I’d reply.
“Think we’ll hit a 50 year anniversary? Is that even possible?”
I did the math in my head. “You’ll need to make it 82, but that’s absolutely possible.”
Lying next to me, he’d grow quiet. “That’s unlikely.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
Another long pause.
“You’ll find someone better when I die,” he said. “You’ll move on and have an entirely new life.”
I’d jerk up and snap my head over. “That’s not true!” My eyes would peer through him. He felt a million miles away. “If you died, I’d be devastated. I wouldn’t know how to go on.”
As it turns out, we were both correct.
Tomorrow will be one year. When the anniversary of his death comes up, people tell me that they can’t believe it was a year ago… that it seems like just yesterday. To me, that Thursday summer night is so far away. It’s a lifetime ago, but I can still remember each detail. Since then, everything has changed.
On the night that Tim died, I thought and said a lot of strange things. When my friend rushed past the cops in my front yard and into the open door of my shattered home, she walked up to hug me with outstretched arms. As I stood there in my kitchen hugging her with the sound of EMT radio’s bleeping in the background I thought, Man I am so not a hugger. How long should I hold this?
When the crisis counselors sat in my backyard running through their checklist of questions to determine if I was a suicide risk, the practical reality of life on my own started to hit me.
“Does life insurance pay out if someone overdoses from drugs?” I asked after blowing my nose, red and wet from tears.
“Um, I… I am not sure,” the young woman replied. It’s no wonder my house was labeled as a crime scene, with my husband pronounced dead hours earlier and me in the backyard asking about life insurance.
Of all the crazy things I said and did that night, I had one lucid thought as my friend drove me to her house to spend my first night alone: I am never going to be the same. I was not going to make it through this unscathed, and as I sat in the truck with silent tears dribbling down my face – the thought terrified me. I was never going to be the same, and I didn’t know how deep these wounds would burn or the scars they would leave.
What I didn’t expect was that I would like the person I am now more than the person I was before Tim died.
I can’t tell you how many times in the past year I’ve stopped and thought, Man Tim – I’m sorry you didn’t know this version of me. You would have liked her a lot more.
I am a better friend than I was. Touching the cold arm of the person I held more dear than anyone else in the world showed me that we all will expire. I push myself to be more open and available to all the people who have helped me so tremendously. A late night here or an extra glass of wine there might mean I’m a bit groggy going to work the next day, but I haven’t regretted one minute spent with any of my friends.
I am braver than I was before. Nothing I experience for the rest of my life will hurt as much as losing my husband. Nothing. I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I ever realized, and face challenges head on these days. Sure, things could likely end in disaster… but life is not worth living if you don’t try. Am I scared to fail? Yes, but I’m terrified to not try.
Not all the changes are a glowing positive though. I don’t want to let myself be vulnerable when it comes to other people. As the days have passed, I’ve felt my heart hardening. Like turning the crank on an old school pencil sharpener, the point gets sharper and the shavings fall to the ground.
If something is amiss, I think the worst. Terrible news rarely shocks me anymore. I keep half an ear open and ready to hear that someone has passed away. My brain stays in a little bit of a darker place. Some of these aftershocks are tangible. I can’t call 911 – not even for something as simple as reporting a traffic hazard. A few weeks ago my friend and I encountered a mattress on the highway while driving to look at a horse. I held the phone in my trembling hands staring at the numbers before I finally had to tell her to call it in instead. I can still hear my voice squealing into the receiver the last time I called 911. Honestly, there are a lot of sounds from that night that I can’t forget. I do my best not to dwell.
When Tim was alive, I was so many things to so many different people. Wife. Career woman. Daughter. Blogger. Equestrian. Friend. Without realizing what was happening, I floated from one being to the next. In the process, I lost the whole of myself. After he died, my world got shaken up beyond repair. The rules for each role mixed together and flew around me like flakes in a snowglobe. They are starting to settle back down, but the barriers are broken. I am just me now. Parts of each, but never wholly one or the other. I’m flawed and raw and a little bit crazy, but I’m still here.
Mostly I’m still here because knowing and loving Tim was the greatest gift of my life. Nothing else has played a more significant role in making me the person I am today. I keep him with me always. Sometimes it’s sharing a memory of him among friends. They indulge me and listen as I tell the tale. I wonder if they can see the peace on my face when I talk about him. I wonder if they hear the hurt in my voice.
I’ve adapted some of his sayings as my own. When I’m in a pickle, I’ll joke to someone “Oh me, what me do now?” in the silly voice he used to use. I am even tempted to say, “I don’t know. I’m keeping it real,” when someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to, but then I remember I outlawed that saying our household because he would tell me he was ‘keeping it real’ about ten times a day.
I miss his humor, but I hold on to what I can remember.
We still communicate with each other, Tim and I, although not in the ways I originally thought we might. The dreams have stopped. I haven’t had a real conversation with him since the last time he spoke to me about a week after he died, but he still sends messages. On the night that I set out to go on my first date in ten years, I came home from the barn to get ready only to find my house without power. A transformer had blown on my street – freak accident. Only a handful of houses were affected. As I showered in the dark and tried to fix my hair without a blow dryer I thought, Thanks Tim! And here you were telling me that I should move on after you’re gone!
Weeks later, he showed up in a dream to visit the friend who came to my house on the night that he died.
“Tim! It’s so good to see you! We all miss you,” she said to him as he stood in the doorway.
“Oh? That’s nice,” he said.
“Have you seen Lauren? You should go see her.”
“Meh” he shrugged his shoulders. “Tell her I’m okay.”
As my friend told me about the conversation, I silently sobbed into my phone and rocked myself in the lawn chair on my back porch. Most of you readers won’t recognize him in those words, but I did. And he knew that despite everything, I still worry about him so much. I don’t ugly cry much these days, but it happened after I heard that message.
When someone asks me how I am, I find that they typically want one of three answers.
- Most want to know that I’m fine. They care about me, and want to see me functioning normally with situations they can relate to. Me being okay makes a life a bit easier for them.
- Some want me to still be grieving the loved one they lost. I should typically be sad, and always pining for him. Life should not be better without him.
- The rarest of all want to know the truth.
And the truth? The truth is messy.
In the past year, I have felt both carefree by life on my own and burdened by the task of forever memorializing my husband. I have felt the twinge of excitement at the start of something new, and despair at the thought of no one ever loving me as completely as Tim did. I have been happier than I was ever before. I have been sadder than I ever thought I could be.
I tread water in an ocean that I don’t know how to navigate.
A few weeks ago, I rounded up some friends to go to something unique – a David Bowie Tribute Burlesque show at a small club. It was the kind of “Keep Austin Weird” event Tim would have found and drug me to years ago. Towards the end of the show, I stepped outside. Through the doors behind me, I could hear Bowie’s last single “Lazarus” play through the loud speakers. The vibrations from the bass came up through my feet as I leaned against the entrance to the building. It started to rain, and the droplets tickled the edges of my arms as I squeezed up against the wall for shelter. I thought about my friends inside.
The childhood friend who knew the Lauren before Tim, and knows the wildness I feel now isn’t exactly a new sensation for me. The barn friends who watched me slink around last summer, a wordless shell of my former self that took months to slowly re-awaken. The co-worker that has only known me as his fellow married friend – who worries about me and doesn’t know how to offer support. The new friends who never even met my husband, but join me for happy hours and brunch where we verbalize our interpersonal frustrations. As I watched lightning pop over the empty coffee shop across the street, I wondered if those people knew how much I loved them.
Bolts flashed across the sky ahead of me, and I thought about Tim. I would not be here without you. I would not be the person I am without you. We still reach out to each other across the ether. I struggled to find the right words to thank him, but the feeling is beyond vernacular so I just watched the lightning.
I watched the lightning, and I thought about him.