Metamorphosis (part 1)

Part 1: The Caterpillar

Covid was one of the best things to happen to me as far as my agoraphobia goes. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…everyone HAD to stay home. For two years, I had the perfect excuse to not go anywhere. There were no vacations, no trips to the city, no concerts at the beach, no day trips, no overnight visits…nowhere to go, nothing to do. For two years, my comfort zone steadily shrank and my anxiety was practically nonexistent. That aspect of quarantine was wonderful. I was stuck at home, newly in love, and so content to just snuggle on the couch with him binging Netflix and Hulu. I still did weekly therapy, focusing on remote teaching, my new relationship, and the death of my exboyfriend. But, inevitably, life has started to go back to “normal” and I am left feeling very not normal. I knew Covid was a causing a huge step back when it came to my agoraphobia, but I don’t think I really grasped how much it negatively affected me. Before Covid, my “comfort zone” was an hour and a half or so. I still got anxious going somewhere new, but it was pretty manageable. I struggled with bigger trips and flying was still a huge obstacle, but I was doing ok. Over the past two years, my comfort zone significantly shrank to being about 25 minutes or so and I don’t like being in the car with other people. I especially am anxious about driving with my boyfriend and his two children. I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the need to expand my horizons and widen my comfort zone, but I haven’t actually acted on it. A couple of weeks ago, my friends went on an overnight girls trip to a place about two hours away. Even before Covid this trip was not one I usually went on, but this time I didn’t say no right away. I really did think a lot about going, but the length of the drive, coupled with a night at a bar and sleeping in a hotel was just overwhelming and I did not go. I obsessed over the decision, cried a lot, and was incredibly hard on myself for not being ready to do it. I realized that I had to stop just saying I was going to take drives and push myself and I needed to start just doing it. A couple of days ago, I drove (with my boyfriend) to my parent’s house, which is about 45 minutes away. Even though it is a route I had done hundreds of times in my life, I have only been to my hometown two times in the past two years and I had not driven that distance with my boyfriend before. It was the tiniest of accomplishments, but still was a step in the right direction and it was better than nothing. I decided that I am going to try to drive to the beach tomorrow morning by myself. It is about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I know the only way I am going to get better is to keep pushing myself to drive more often and go a little further each time. I am going to bed tonight telling myself that there is no pressure. If I start driving and can’t make it, I can go home and try another time. So…until tomorrow…

Time

Dear M,

When I think of you now, so much relates to time. Even from the beginning of our relationship, time was a factor. How many days would pass before we saw each other? How many days until you moved in with me? And then…how many days were you sober, how many days were in the coma, how many days were you in the hospital? As an English teacher, it is ingrained in me to find symbolism. The object that would most symbolize you would be a wrist watch. Very fitting considering how much you loved your Omega.

But time is different now when it comes to you. It is no longer days. After you died, it became weeks and then months and then finally…a year. I was dreading February so much. November always was my least favorite month because of losing my grandparents and getting divorced. February tried to take that title over.

With the date you died looming, my emotions were all over the place. But, strangely, on that day I felt so little. I had grieved so much for so long, it felt anticlimactic. I slept a lot, which indicated I was sad, but I planned to look through my “M box”- a tote of things I had packed up when we broke up and then stuffed new things into after you passed away. I told myself all year long I would look at it on the anniversary of your death (there needs to be a better word than “anniversary” for something sad). I finally did open the box at night and looked at photos and items that belonged to the dog and so, so many cards. It was sweet and I felt nostalgic, but I was not overcome with sadness like I thought I would be. I talked with my therapist about it afterwards and she thinks because I finally got answers about how you died, I had more closure than I thought I had.

A week or so later, my sister and I went out to dinner for your birthday. You would have been 39. I took her to “our” restaurant, which I had not been to since we broke up. It actually felt like a celebration. Again, instead of feeling sad, I was happy to remember you and all the good memories of our life together. It really felt like turning a corner. Being able to think about you and focusing on your life instead of you being sick or drunk or dead. I really celebrated your life on your birthday and it felt…right.

I will ALWAYS be sad about you being gone. It is just a part of who I am now. But, February is almost over and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I finally felt a sense of peace, of being able to move on, of being able to balance grieving your loss and remembering happier times with you.

There is a quote by Robert Frost that I always have up in my classroom: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” This past year, I have missed you, I have been depressed, I have been heartbroken, I have been SO angry, but my life has also gone on. I have been overjoyed, I have been happy, and I have fallen deeper in love with a wonderful man. I would like to think it is what you would have wanted for me.

Mad

I’m so fucking angry all the time. This is not a comfortable emotion for me. I have always historically been a crier. No matter what the situation, my gut reaction was to get upset and cry. Not anymore. Sometimes I think I just have no more tears to cry. And when they dried up, I became filled with rage instead.

I feel so shut off from everyone right now. Part is that is self-preservation and protection. I am escaping into myself by withdrawing from people and situations and emotions. The other part is that I find myself just wanting to lash out. At times when I would normally be sympathetic or be able to show that I care, I feel myself harden, the anger percolating dangerously close to the surface.

This started- no surprise- right after M. died. The circumstances of his death are still unknown, at least to me. People tell me that “it doesn’t matter HOW he died, the end result is the same”. I am consumed by it. I still NEED to know. I drive to work drafting emails in my head to send to his mother, sometimes demanding the truth, other times begging for it. I read so much after he died about the stages of grief, desperate to understand. Denial…check. That lasted a couple of weeks. Then came anger aaaannnnd I’m still there. Stuck. I kind of feel like I moved through the other stages, but kept anger tucked in my back pocket. It is a weird comfort, years of pent up anger finally being unleashed, but it is directed all the wrong places. It is like a firecracker- scalding hot and bright red and then it explodes and just goes everywhere.

I have always avoided anger. The absolute worst feeling is knowing or thinking someone is mad at me. And I seldom get mad at anyone, even if I have just cause. It just has never been my go-to emotion. Now, I don’t know how to stop being mad. And I get angry at the dumbest things. I feel like I have been pushing people away, especially my boyfriend. And I don’t even know how to explain to them why because I don’t understand it. It seems too simple (or like a lame excuse) to say, “I’m angry because M. died”. But I’m SO ANGRY BECAUSE M. DIED.

The worst part is I feel mean. I know I’m hurting people who care about me and who genuinely want to make sure I’m okay. And I know I’m doing it in the moment and I don’t care. That is the complete opposite of who I normally am as a person. The person I am pushing away the most is my boyfriend, who is so lovely and wonderful and probably so very, very confused. I just don’t know how to articulate how I feel (which is also very unlike me). My anxiety is so bad right now I just want to be left alone and I know if I continue to act like this, I am literally going to be left and alone.

Renovations

Dear M,

I am making some renovations to my house. I finally had the front steps and walkway redone. I think about how you used to drive by the house after we broke up and I can’t help but think about how seeing these changes would have affected you. Would you have liked them or would you feel despondent, like I was moving on without you?

More so than the front of the house, I have been preparing the back deck in order to repaint it. I remember years ago when you painted it for the first time. I can’t even remember if it was before or after you moved in…I think it was after? Some of my fondest memories of you were just cool summer nights where we sat out on the deck together, listening to a baseball game, grilling, etc. I know that I was still teaching summer school at the time, because I would get home and change and help you with the deck. The freaking spindles took 1 million hours to painstakingly paint. It was not the most enjoyable job, but it looked great afterwards.

Over the past couple of years, the paint has been peeling and chipping off and I decided it was time to do some touch-ups (which naturally turned into a huge project where I am now repainting much of the deck). I feel guilty and sad. I don’t like having to re-do something you did because it makes me feel like I am replacing something that you worked hard on and took pride in. Since we broke up and you moved out and now especially since you passed away, each new thing I do without you feels like I am moving further away from you, but unfortunately that is inevitable as time moves on. I hope you know that me scraping away your old paint is not an attempt to erase you or your memory.

I asked my students to select and write about a quote about life that was meaningful to them. I shared with them the Robert Frost quote that has been in my classroom for years and years: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” I have always liked this quote and I used to interpret it to mean that even when life is difficult and you feel hopeless, you have to persevere.  After losing you, I interpret it differently.  Now when I read it, I think about death and how when someone’s life ends, the world doesn’t stop.  You may want it to because you are grieving for the person you lost, but the world around you keeps spinning, other people keep living their lives, and you just have to accept that even though there is sadness and loss, you cannot just sink down into it…you have to keep going.

It is hard at times to try to “move on”. I hate that phrase- I do not think I will ever, nor do I really want to ever, move on. Moving on sounds like another way of saying “get over it” and that is impossible. I will never move on or get over your death, rather I think it will just become a part of me. A new sidewalk and a fresh coat of paint do not change the structure of the house, just the cosmetic appearance. The tiny cracks in the foundation are still there, deep underneath what the eye can see. That is just what happens to an old home…things are replaced and repaired…it is a never-ending cycle. And that is like life- every loss and traumatic experience adds a little crack to your heart, but that doesn’t mean the whole of the person is damaged. There is a Carley Simon song that has a lyric that really resonates with me…

“So don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.”

The Sign

Dear M,

Ever since you passed away, I have been OBSESSED with getting a sign from you. Just something to let me know you didn’t suffer at the end and that you are okay. It got to the point where that was all I was thinking about and I was trying to interpret random things I saw to give them meaning.

A coworker of mine has the reputation of being a medium. I went to talk to her about it. I don’t know if I really believe in that (I’m sure you remember my last visit to a medium lol), but I was willing to try anything to feel better.

What she said actually made sense. She said that when young people die suddenly, they are sometimes confused about what happened and it takes time for them to accept it. She said that it would be too difficult for you to be able to send me a sign until you were at peace. She also said that I am too upset to be able to really receive a message or a sign from you because my emotions would block them. So, I guess we have to wait until we are both ready.

My sister had a dream about you a couple of weeks ago. She said that in it, you two were standing next to each other in your apartment and watched your last moments and then saw you pass away. She said you were really confused about what was happening and then finally came to a defeated acceptance. She said you kept shrugging your shoulders and repeating “I guess it was all too much.” When she told me about the dream, both of us were able to visualize you doing that.

Then a guy that you went to middle school with wrote on your Facebook page that he had a dream about you where the two of you talked about your death and cried about it together.

Will I ever dream of you?

I feel like I am going through the stages of grief, but I don’t know that I will ever accept your death. I don’t know that I will ever be able to move past how you died. So if it is true that you have to accept being gone, too, I don’t know if you will ever be able to send me a sign. But I really need one so badly, my love.

Lastly

Dear M,

I spend a lot of time thinking not only about all of the things you are going to miss out on in the future, but also about the “lasts” of things you did before you died. Many of them are unimportant, like what was the last thing you ate, what was the last song you heard, what was the last show you watched on TV, etc. Yet, others feel significant, like who was the last person you spoke with, what were the last words you said aloud, who was the last person you hugged…

I know that I was the last person you loved. I know that sounds assuming and kind of obnoxious. When we saw each other in December, I kept hoping you wouldn’t ask me if I was dating someone. I feel a sense of guilt for loving another man now. I think you and I both knew that we were never going to be together again, but I think there was a part of you that hoped for that. If not because of still loving me, at least knowing that being back together with me would have provided you with comfort and care and stability. I didn’t want to tell you that I had moved on because I was afraid it would create a downward spiral, that it might cause you to relapse in the event that you were maintaining sobriety. Even up until the end, I truly never wanted to hurt you.

But you hurt me. Sometimes I feel frustrated that I was never able to express anger towards you. When I found out about you being unfaithful and hiding how much you were drinking, I couldn’t be mad at you because you were in a coma. When we broke up afterwards, I didn’t want to show anger towards you because I wanted to be supportive of you trying to get sober and you were still so sick.

Even now, I don’t feel a lot of anger towards you. I feel angry that you are gone, but not directed at you. But I also feel guilty that I have moved on. It is really hard to mourn you and love someone else. I feel like my heart is split, like I can’t devote it fully either way. I am happy now with him and I hope that you would want that for me. I can hear your voice saying, “fuck that guy” (lol), but I think deep down you knew you could not give me what I needed or deserved.

He was with me when I found out you were gone and has been unwavering in his support ever since. He lets me cry, gives me space when I need it, listens to me talk about you. I can’t imagine how hard it is for him, but he is so patient and kind.

I feel guilty that I was the last person you loved, but I love someone else. I did love you- I truly did and I tried SO hard. I learned the hard way that it is just impossible to love someone who does not love themselves. It makes me sound conceited to say that, but I know it is true and I am grateful that you knew what it felt like to be truly loved, even if you couldn’t always accept it. You told me many times that no one ever really cared for you the way I did. I am glad I was able to give you that gift, that I was able to love you when you felt unworthy and you couldn’t love yourself.

Memories: Part 1

Dear M,

All throughout the day, I think about how I want to write to or about you. It is just so, so difficult to actually DO it. I have so much I want to tell you or things I want to write about you- about us- but now that I am sitting here, I have writer’s block. I think it also makes it real. If I am writing about you being gone…that means you are gone. How is that possible? It has only been two months since you passed away and I can already feel vivid memories of you fading away. I want to remember everything about you. It feels like the harder I try to recall certain things, the harder it is, almost like they just have to come to me organically. So many things remind me of you.

It’s crazy because I think throughout the day how I want to talk to you, but even if you were alive, we were not communicating like that. I see something funny or a meme or a news story and my gut reaction is to text you. Then I remember.

Baseball season is starting. I think a lot about all the things you won’t ever do again- like watch another opening pitch or take your nephew to his first Yankees game and buy him a hot dog and souvenir. Obviously anything related to baseball or MLB reminds me of you. I remember when we went to the new Yankee stadium for the tour. It was such a beautiful day and I have those photos of you and us in the dugout. When you got your new job, I remember decorating the house with baseball balloons and cupcakes and plates and decorations and big league chew packets. The people at the party store probably thought I was having a party for a seven year old 🙂 Even though going to games at the stadium were fun, my favorite memories were us on the deck. You would bring your computer out and stream the game. The dog (and sometimes the cat) would sleep at our feet in the sun. Sometimes you would grill and when it got dark out, we would turn on the strands of lights and burn citronella candles. I remember us hanging those lights- it is such a funny memory. We spent an hour positioning them around the deck, stapling them so carefully to the posts. When I flicked them on for the first time, it was beautiful. Then you went to adjust one and got shocked and the whole strand blew out. You were so angry and frustrated, but we both managed to laugh about it. Then we tried again, but used clips instead and they are all still hanging to this day. The little black mark is still on the vinyl of the house from where the bulb exploded.

Last night, I was reading old emails between us before I fell asleep. I haven’t been able to do that- or to look at letters or cards or anything like that, so it felt like a step. It was so bittersweet to see the evolution of our relationship, from hooking up to starting to care about each other, to becoming “official”, to the struggles of being long distance, to you moving in with me, etc. Many of them were mundane, everyday, silly conversations, but a lot of them were about feelings (or “feeeelings” as you would sarcastically say lol).

One of the first serious emails was from November of 2011 and in it I wrote to you: “I know you think this world wouldn’t really be drastically different without you in it…but please know that MY life would be missing something if I didn’t have you.”

Several people have said to me that I had to have seen your death coming. I didn’t. I really, honestly didn’t. I’m so angry that in some ways if does seem like the world is not drastically different without you in it. I want to yell from mountaintops and tell random strangers that you are gone and about your life. He existed! I know there was nothing on social media, I know there was not an obituary, but he died!

But, my love, the other thing I wrote is undisputedly true- MY world is missing something without you in it. It is forever changed and will never be the same. I will never be the same. And I promise to try to hold on to every single memory that I can.

…as we sailed into the mystic

My love, this is it. The blog I never wanted to write. I have put it off so many times, dreading having to do it, making it real. You’re gone. I can’t bring myself to even say the word “dead” out loud. Not about you. It has been six weeks now. How is that even possible? How is any of this possible?

The moment I saw your mother’s email, I knew. I feel like I shook my head for hours, for days. No. No. No. It can’t be real. I just wanted to deny it. If I didn’t accept it, it couldn’t be true. After everything you (we) went through, how could this be? It was the week before your 38th birthday.

I have struggled with the end. How long were you alone? Did you suffer? Feel pain? Know it was coming? Were you drunk? Were you going through withdrawal? WHAT HAPPENED? I’m grateful suicide was ruled out almost immediately. I wouldn’t have believed that anyway. I feel actual pain in my chest when I think about you lying there on the floor. I drove by your apartment that Friday night. Were you alive then? I have tortured myself about that. I know there was nothing I could have done to save you or stop it, but why was I so compelled to drive there that night? That can’t just be a coincidence, can it. I cry every single time I think of you being alone. No one should be alone at the end of their life. You didn’t deserve that.

I don’t know how to accept that I will never hear your voice or see your face again. How ironic that only months ago, I dreaded running into you around town. But then I saw you in December and we talked and it was just…nice. It was familiar. You were not 100% yourself, I could tell that, but you seemed okay. You were supposed to be okay. After being so sick for so long, that was supposed to be the ending. You were supposed to get sober and be healthy and okay. And now you are gone.

I am so angry with your family. But then I think about what they have lost and my heart aches for them. You told me so many times you didn’t want a memorial. But they didn’t even do an obituary. It is like they came up here, cleaned out your apartment, took your truck, and poof- you didn’t exist anymore. Nothing was allowed on social media, people wrote happy birthday messages to you days later and didn’t even know you weren’t alive to read them. “Hope you had an amazing day!!” My heart hurts. I am in so much pain. Everyone kept saying to me, “you did everything you could for him. You saved his life many times. You shouldn’t feel guilty. There’s nothing you could have done.” I know that, but I also don’t know that.

We were together for nine years. So many good times. So many difficult times. I loved you. I know you loved me. I picture your hands. All the times over nine years that they grabbed my butt. That they held our niece. That they pet our dog. That they played with the cat. That they flipped burgers on the grill. That they poured another drink. That I held so tightly while you were on life support in the hospital in a coma. What was the point of all of that? I still suffer from going through you being sick…and for what? You just being gone less than two years later? How can that be?

I know you suffered, my love. I know the depression was so dark and deep inside of you that you couldn’t see the light on many days. I know you didn’t want to drink, even as you fell further into the addiction. I know you wanted to be better- for yourself, for me.

I have one of your last voicemails saved on my phone. It was from after you got out of the hospital. You apologized over and over and said, “someday I’m going to send you a letter making amends.” I believed that. I wanted to forgive you, for both of us. Now I will never get that letter. So much is left unsaid between us.

I still just can’t believe you are gone. I read article after article about the stages of grief. I desperately search for anything I can interpret as a sign from you. I feel so alone. I cried nonstop the whole first week and every day since. The sadness is physical. I forget for a bit and then remember you are gone and it is like a pain in my chest. I sleep all the time. I feel numb and then I feel guilty for feeling numb. I’m angry at everyone for the littlest things. I just don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the right to feel all of this. I let you go. I saved myself. Maybe I could have done more? How was I supposed to know this would happen, though? You were supposed to get better. Friends and my therapist “weren’t surprised” that you passed away. “You had to have known this was going to happen.” No. No, I didn’t. I really, truly didn’t. You were so strong, you survived so much. People like my dad have lived for decades with alcoholism. 37. You helped throw me the most amazing 40th birthday party and you will never turn 40. Or 39. Or even 38. How is that possible?

I’m so sorry, my love. I always cared, I never stopped. In my heart, I truly believe you knew that. I just could not watch you self-destruct anymore. There’s so many things I want to talk to you about, to tell you, and now I will never have the chance.

I thought there would be more time.

Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful 😉

Unanswered Prayers

I used to be a huge Garth Brooks fan and I just heard a song that I haven’t listened to in many, many years. It is called “Unanswered Prayers” and the lyrics include the following lines:

“Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’
To the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
‘Cause some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers”

I am not religious at all, but I can appreciate the meaning of this song. Sometimes the thing we want the most is not what is best for us. I don’t really believe that “everything happens for a reason”, but I do think that there is a reason for everything.

When my exboyfriend was sick and his alcoholism was at its worst, I hoped and wished for him to get better so that we could have a future together. I do not really pray to god, but I do talk to my Mama (my deceased grandmother with whom I was very, very close). I remember pleading with her to save his life, to help him survive the coma, to help him get better.

The most important thing at the time was his health and our relationship- and my feelings- took a backseat for a long time. But that was going on long before he got so sick. His problems, his addiction, his depression was always at the forefront. I would ask my Mama to help him, to help us as a couple. But that never happened. He never got help and the consequences were devastating.

I know now that my Mama was not ignoring my requests. She was simply giving me what I needed, which was to NOT give me what I wanted. If I had stayed with my ex, I would have been stuck in his sober/relapse cycle for my whole life. And even if he did get sober, I would have just been waiting with baited breath for him to drink. I would have been suspicious every time he stumbled over a word. That is no way to live- for me or for him. My Mama gave me the opposite of what I thought I wanted and I ended up with failure, but freedom. I realize now that is what I needed more than saving my relationship.

And after the pain and suffering and excruciating loss came something unexpected…a new relationship. One that is light and healthy and equal and secure. I never thought I would be with someone who took care of me. I have never been in a relationship that didn’t include drama and arguing and codependency.

If my “prayers” had been answered by me asking for the wrong things, I know that I would not be happy right now. I believe that it was a gift to NOT get what I thought I wanted, because I know, without a doubt, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and with who I am meant to be with.