Five years and nine days ago, someone I was deeply in love with died.
Actually, by the time he died, I was no longer "in love" with him, but the depth of my love for the man had only expanded as the in love part of it compounded and intensified into regular old love. We met online and never met in person. It was one of those odd chance encounters when you're looking one way and life kicks you in the head to get your attention.
We met late one night. I sought him out to address some random comment he'd made and three months later, we still hadn't stopped talking. He was the first person to ever make me feel truly loved and cared for. The first one to ever convince me that I was beautiful. My own personal cheerleader in all things great and small. He believed in me and supported me and made me a better person just for knowing him. I can only hope that my contribution to his life was similar.
I'd known him for about four years when he died, but I'd been mad at him for the past two. The sort of angry where you know you don't have the right, but you can't help your feelings. The last time we talked, he called me on my birthday in July. We're both cancers, and I'd missed his, but he was extending the olive branch and I was happy to chat with him, but not too happy, because, you know, I was still angry. I was also at work, and therefore couldn't talk to long... ten minutes? five? Not nearly long enough.
I told him I'd call him back. I meant it and didn't at the same time. I knew I'd get in touch eventually, but righteous anger is a bitch of a thing to overcome when you're a natural procrastinator anyway.
That October he was in a very bad car accident. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt. WEAR YOUR SEATBELTS, PEOPLE. His passenger, and wife (see: anger righteous and otherwise, above) went through the windshield and became an organ donor. He was trapped and crushed and never got any meaningful part of his life back.
In that accident he lost his wife. He was paralyzed with only limited motor movement in his left arm. He woke up on a vent, which helped him breathe for months. He lost him home, as there was no one there to pay the rent. And he lost his favourite dog, who, without him around, ran away from the person who was taking care of her and drowned.
Still, he lived on for four months in the hospital. Once I got over my shock, I also got over my anger. I wrote him every day. Real letters. On paper. He never wrote back (see: paralysis, above) and we never talked on the phone again (see: vent, above). But those last four months formed an even tighter bond between us.
My guy was a really popular fellow and the web was abuzz with updates on his accident, his wife's organ donation and funeral, his recovery and eventual death. People who visited him told me he used to light up when he got that daily letter. They read my personal communications to him while he breathed through a tube. They spoke my secrets out loud.
In February, long-term care was ready to take him off the hospital's hand. He was slowly getting better, one baby step at a time. He'd gotten off the vent, but was only able to say a few words at a time. I never got to hear any of them. Arrangements were being made to move him when, in the middle of the night, he died. His heart just stopped. I think it was broken.
I cried every day for six months. I'm crying as I write this. The pain has faded, but the love hasn't. Over the course of our friendship, we exchanged gifts. Those few things I have from him are very precious to me. One of his gifts was a mixed CD of songs we'd discussed or shared. The night he died I took a long drive into the rural desert and listened to that CD while I stargazed and tried to absorb the loss. And, as songs sometimes do, one of them spoke to me that night--carved itself in my heart and is forever associated with him.
Here's where it gets. . .improbable (for the unbeliever). I felt him around me after he died. His spirit honored that connection we'd made in life, and stood by me after his death. It was both comforting and odd. He finds a way from time to time to remind me that he's still there, my biggest cheerleader, watching over me, reminding me to believe in myself, my beauty, my worth.
Last night, that special song came on while I was out writing. I took my fingers off the keys and sat back to allow myself to fully feel the joy of having known him. While seating myself in that old love I let my eyes wander and noticed a man across the way. I observed him for a bit, and then went back to my song.
When the song ended, the man I'd observed came over and started chatting with me. He said that I looked so interesting sitting over there, and wanted to know what I was doing. We fell into conversation and he talked about allowing oneself to be open to the universe, and the importance of travel and pursuing the things that bring you joy. When he left he smiled at me and reminded me to get this book finished. It needs to be done.
My Tony, he still finds a way to visit.
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