Six is a funny number. It’s sleepy.
Five has more oomph. Major milestones are always a dividend of five. A solid half or a quarter on your way to something. High five. Five fingers. When it comes to horse shopping (something on my mind a lot lately), five figures.
Six is less ostentatious. Maybe even a little ominous. 666 doesn’t really fill you with the warm and fuzzies, but here we are. Tim died six years ago. He was 36 then. I am 36 now. Everything—and nothing—has changed.
I thought five years was going to be a significant milestone. I planned this big hiking outing to Enchanted Rock, the last place we spent the weekend together before he died. Only when I got there, they sold out of day passes the car before me. I had to turn around and drive home. Like so many things last year, Covid changed protocol. And even though I’m someone who prides myself on my planning, I wasn’t prepared. In the last six years, there have been many things I wasn’t prepared for.
At this point, I’ve written so much about my grief. It has all begun to feel a bit repetitive. I write about how I never thought I’d be here. Didn’t expect to be a thirty-year-old widow, and certainly didn’t expect to still be alone so many years after. I reference the worst times. They mostly seem bound to this god awful Round Rock apartment where I sifted through his private papers—old love letters and notes from group therapy from a part of his life I never knew. Boxed in by those soulless tan walls, I rocked in place to soothe myself as I listened to the voicemail from the Travis County coroner finally declaring his an accidental death. It was that apartment that I came home from the vet without BT. That room where I always had trouble sleeping, listening to the coyotes yip after rabbits in the fields behind the building.
Those days are far behind me now. I don’t go there often.
I’ve written about how I often feel alone in my experience. There are so few people in my life that know what it’s like. But lately, I feel like this solidarity is a choice I’ve made—and probably not the right one. It’s a lot easier to say, “My husband passed away, but it was a while ago,” with a smile or reassuring remark. Hearing that from someone so young makes people uncomfortable. They live comfortably in a reality where it can’t happen to them (spoiler alert—it can).
It’s much harder to talk to someone who knows. When I do, I have to face it. Even though it was “a while ago,” when I remember what it was like coming home that day my breath falls short, my heart rate increases. When I really remember, no time has passed at all. I think it would have served me well to have more of those conversations over the past six years, spend more time with others who have walked this walk. Grief is not an endurance race with a finish lane, but I have often felt behind or stuck.
Something I have thought about a lot lately is what would Tim think of the world if he were still here. No part of me wishes that he died, but I’m glad he hasn’t had to witness a lot of the past year. The anxiety of Covid, especially when it comes to his mother being at risk, would have broken him. He would have wept over George Floyd. Tim felt things so deeply that I wouldn’t have wanted him to see so much of this hardship and tragedy. Yet, I wish he could play with his niece, who he would adore. I wish he knew Lucie. She’s such a playful goon. He would have happily gotten down on the floor and wrestled with her—his favorite way to play with dogs. Even with all the stress and sadness, there is still joy. We’re all trying to find the slivers.
Ever since he died, I’ve had this sense of “catching up.” Our six-year age difference was never a big deal, but it was something we were both aware of through the relationship. Mostly in those silly, “You were in middle school when this song came out?!” kind of moments. I used to joke that I was young and vivacious. When he or his friends called me a baby, I’d quickly spurt back how they were just jealous because I would outlive them (let me tell you, that joke has not held up well). But now I’ve caught up. In a few months, I will have outlived him. It’s extremely unsettling.
I feel like I understand him so much more now. In my 20s, my career was just this thing I did to try and pay the bills. He was the breadwinner, with all of the pressure that comes with that, and I felt like my role was to be supportive. The big logistics of adulthood all landed on him. It feels unfair now, but I didn’t understand those pressures back then. Now I’m in my own corporate rat race. Large decisions are mine alone. It was overwhelming at first, but I freeze less now when it’s time to pull a trigger. Still, there’s a weariness that piles on over time. I regret I can’t share the understanding with him now.
While time is not kind to our bodies, it gives the gift of maturity. Many of the things I cared about or said to him from 21-30 seem so trivial now. I wish I could sit down with him for coffee and chat with the insight and experience of these past six years. But beyond whatever metaphysical connection there may be, the person he knew is frozen. I’m not the same person anymore.
Tim always felt things deeper than I do. Unless a horse or a dog were involved, I turned away from sentiment. Though he was kind about my perceived heartlessness, the disconnect frustrated him. These days, I feel so deeply. I can’t handle any violence on film or media. At first I thought it was a result of the trauma, but just yesterday I watched a nature documentary where a pack of African wild dogs chased down a herd of Wildebeest. As the herd sprinted away, a stray calf trailed behind dangerously close to the snapping mouths of dogs. I could picture what was going to happen. I’ve seen the takedown so many times before. But the mother Wildebeest slowed her gait to fall back with him. Galloping, she darted behind her calf and flanked the dogs. They spun off her thick shoulders to smash down into the dust. The Wildebeest caught back up with the rest of the herd. Watching this, I felt the lengths a mother will go to for their child. I thought of Tim’s mother, and felt a hollow spot grow inside my heart.
It’s not blood or violence or gore that triggers me. It’s knowing what it feels like to lose.
Most days, there’s none of the sadness or the dark thoughts. Occasionally I feel ridiculously sorry for myself and have an epic pity party. More rarely, I’ll cry to a friend or my therapist. Mostly though, mundane life crept back. After Tim died, my perspective entirely changed. So many things that used to seem important, like horse showing or housework, barely mattered. My pendulum of what consisted of “happy” or “sad” burst wide open into emotions I didn’t realize existed. I thought I would hold onto it forever.
But it’s all slowly shifted back. The worst of the pain sits like a shadow, a memory of how bad it was. Even though I’d like to admit otherwise, I do in fact “sweat the small stuff.” I think—I hope—this entrance back into normality is another form of healing.
Which means that today I didn’t make any grand plans. I took the day off from work, and am finishing this post on my couch with Lucie splayed out next to me. We’ll go for a hike before it gets too hot. I may get crazy and buy some stuff for my patio this afternoon. Plant a few flowers. You know, the wild and crazy times of a 36 year old woman.
I’ll think about Tim some throughout the day, surely more often than a day that doesn’t hold as much significance. I will go through the mental gymnastics of conjuring up his smile, his walk, his laugh—something that is more difficult to reconstruct now. I’ll notice and appreciate the things he’d like but isn’t here to see. But also, I’ll run the dishwasher. Talk about something he wouldn’t give two shits about. Look online for ponies with price tags that would horrify him.
Because as big of a part of my life he continues to be, I’m more and more of my own person. I used to live for him. To honor his memory, write and share his story, love him forever. And though for year six and seven and eight and forty-two I will continue to do those things, the person I have to live for is me.