I remember the first time she touched me. Not the first time we had contact. The first time she really touched me. We were in a desperately hip coffee house in Uptown Minneapolis. She was agreeing with me on some point I made and reached out and touched the back of my hand, ostensibly to emphasize her agreement. But it was that kind of touch that says “I kinda like you and I’m testing the waters”. I played it cool. On the outside. Inside it sent a gentle hum through me that lasted for days.
Upstairs in my dresser...her dresser, really...such a very Jill dresser...Old and worn and mostly functional but oddly beautiful because of its scars not in spite of them. There’s a drawer. The top right. In that drawer is a box. A fairly non-descript box with a bed of cotton taking up half its depth.
I’ve been back from Australia for a week now. I”m still not wearing my wedding ring. Not because I’ve made a decision that it’s time to move forward without it. Not as some form of therapy. Even though I can see the inside of that box in my mind I cannot bear the thought of opening that drawer, taking the top off that box and seeing Jill's wedding rings with my lumbering band wrapped around them. The same way my plodding soul is wrapped around her memory. Seeing those rings would cause me to crumble. I crumble so often, unbidden. I’m not feeling girded enough to volunteer for a crumbling.
I’ve had some people mention that my posts cause them to grab their wife or husband or significant other and hold them close. If my rather public self-flagellation inspires that, then maybe it’s doing something useful. Hold them close. Hold them long. You cannot imagine the depth of the void that comes with knowing that you will not get to hold her again. You will not drink in her breath, look in her eyes, hear her voice, place a hand on her back while she sleeps and feel the soft rise and fall of her breathing, feel her against you.
I remember the first time we kissed. Oh, my...how vividly I remember that. We were in a restaurant called the Black Forest. I don’t remember how or why we went there since, it turns out, neither one of us much liked the place. I remember standing up and leaning across the table and kissing her long and hard. I remember pulling away and seeing her look as excited and surprised as I felt.
Every week I’m on the road and I sit in restaurants. I have always, when given the choice between a table or a seat at the bar, chosen a table. Until the last couple of weeks. There is no such thing as a “one-top” table. It’s always a two-top. When I sit at one of those now and see the empty chair across from me while the waiter hastily removes the other setting...Jesus, it hurts. It hurts because she’s never there and never will sit across from me, again. It hurts because it reminds me of all the times I sat alone at two tops while on the road for work. I love my job. I really love my job. I have managed to land in the perfect role in the perfect place with the perfect partners and the perfect people. As much as I love all those things, looking at that empty spot spirals into calculating the number of meals I had alone because I was traveling that I could have had with her if I hadn’t been. And I hate sitting at a two top.
I catch myself walking along or sitting at a desk or any other every day activity and being hit with a little gust of longing and sighing out loud, “where’d you go?” I was in Melbourne watching one of the most fascinating street performers I’d ever seen. She played guitar and sang. She couldn’t play the guitar worth a damn. She sang with a voice so fragile and beautiful it’d make you believe in God. I turned to walk away, thinking I’d call Jill and tell her about this one. Six months later I still have those moments where I forget. I said, “where’d you go” more forcefully than usual. Louder than my normal whispered sigh. Halfway between a shout and the lonely howl of a coyote. Three dreadlocked dudes riding hover boards and wearing pants that can only be described as unfortunately designed looked at me like I was the freak. In retrospect, I think they were right.
I’ve had the odd experience in the last few months of feeling attracted to women again. Something that I’d shut down while JIll was sick and just wasn’t...I don’t know...possible?..after her passing. It feels good for a second. Really good. Affirming in a “hey, I’m still here and still alive and still a part of this world” kind of way. I’d read about that. That you wouldn’t for awhile and then you would and it’d feel good. I’d read that in more than one place. Here’s the part they neglected to include...right after that momentary warmth you ache. You hurt on a cellular level. It’s comprehensive and its deep.
My solution, when confronted with that, is to run. Sometimes literally.
Run somewhere I can be alone and I can cry and rage and wrestle ineptly with my confusion and sit back and let the loneliness roll over me like an avalanche. More apt a metaphor than I intended. I've read that many caught in an avalanche don't perish because of injuries or cold. They suffocate. Never thought loneliness could be suffocating. It can. The answer, sadly, isn't to be around people. I'm not lonely for people in general. I'm lonely for her. It's profoundly different.
Ultimately, it ends up with me, sitting in the dark, talking to Jill. I recognize that among other things this is how I keep from letting her go. I don't want to let her go...holding her was the best thing I've ever known. I realize this is a way to hold her close, even if it's only in my mind, my heart, my rambling and shoddy palace of memory. Holding her close feels good but...she’s not here
I remember the first time she came back to my place with me. We never even got the lights on. I remember every touch, every sound, every movement, every second of silky perfection. I remember watching her sleep. I remember not sleeping, worried that she’d wake up and take a look around at what a complete mess the place was and conclude I was a stupid little boy. I remember at 6am sneaking out of bed and quietly engaging in frenzied cleaning. I remember putting the last of the dishes I’d washed into the dish rack and turning around to see her leaning against the door frame grinning and shaking her head and knowing exactly what I’d been doing. I remember how hard she worked to keep from laughing.
Half of me desperately wants to keep clinging to these memories. The other half desperately wants to move forward. I can’t seem to completely disappear into the past. I can’t seem to bravely hurl myself toward the future.
I remember the last time she saw me...not looked at me, but saw me...pushing through the haze of the drugs and the pain. I remember seeing her see me and trying so hard to talk but having to say what she wanted to say with her eyes. I held that gaze until I saw the fog roll back in and she slipped off to wherever it is you go when you know you’re dying.
Six months later, I’m still holding that gaze.