I smelled cedar when I heard you died. Immediately transported back to that summer my family was building bidarkas in your wood shop. How Marci and I would go down to the river and wade up to our thighs in glacial runoff. Try to catch tadpoles with our bare hands. When our feet froze through we’d climb back up that steep dirt trail and sneak back into the building. Over and under beams, around contraptions and tools we didn’t know the use for. You’d find us giggling between an old truck and a dresser, ask us what we were doing. “Oh, we just came in for hugs!” Our standard response. And you knew we were bullshitting you, but you wrapped us up in big bear arms regardless.
You made appearances at all important functions and every quiet night around a fire pit you could. Always in your trademark hat, you listened contently and laughed loud. Always one of the first people I wanted to introduce my new partners to. “You have to meet Mike and Pat.”
The day you died I talked with your daughter and she said, “Good dads are precious.” And I think about how lucky we all were to have you. How you helped raise all of us, just like your wife did. Does. Is doing. There aren’t words for that kind of loss. It is not a sadness that sweeps over us like waves crash. It is not a heart cracking like a branch in the wind. It a simple and sudden hollowing out. An emptiness in a space you didn’t even realize someone was occupying. A piece slid out of a Jenga game and we all just hope it doesn’t come crashing down now.
That is the thing with death, isn’t it? We always expect it to end us, too. As if experiencing the hurt of losing someone is not something we were built to do. But it doesn’t have to only ache, does it? We climb back into our memories and let you wrap us in your arms again. We remember that belly laugh, that wide grin. We mourn the loss, yes, but in turn we celebrate the living you did. And oh, how you did.
Strangers. Our eyes met and I flashed a smile. The earth was magnetic, chest light and fluttering. He was at once my roots and wings. The world melted and there he stood. Alone. Spotlit. Deafening.
And I find myself having trouble writing about him. About the angles of his body complimenting my curves perfectly. The way we dissolve into giggle fits just by exchanging glances. How his hand regularly reaches for mine, like he needs to be touching me to be sure I’m there. That this is real. That we exist. Here. Together. Finally.
I catch myself wondering if I ought to be jaded. How the broken promise of forever-love should leave me unbelieving. Instead I let him put his hands on either side of my face and kiss me deeply upon greeting. I let my knees get weak and my face to ache from smiling.
There is nothing wrong with inviting love back in.
In the morning he gets up for work and leaves me sleeping. Twisting in the sheets that belong to him. Hours later I climb into the shower. The smell of his shampoo engulfing me in the steam. I breathe deep and boggle at my good fortune of just existing.
He is the first one from the new time. From the beginning years. The first one to meet me after the medication is settled. After I rediscover my own spine and plant my own feet. He is the first one to only see the scars and hear the stories. To not have the memory of the woman I used to be. To not remember how empty I seemed.
We recreate ourselves through others, don’t we? And this time I know how I want to do things differently. So when we’re scared we tell each other, just like when we’re pleased. I stand firm on what’s important to me. I make time to see my friends. I keep writing. I talk to my family. I remember to believe there is nothing wrong with me.
This man does not know the way I pulled my knees to my chest and sobbed about living. He does not know the suffering. And I can see it in the way he looks at me. I am not broken or fragile. I am not a time bomb, a loose cannon. I am not the person I used to be. I’m… Happy. Grateful. Ecstatic and thriving.