Sunday, April 24, 2005

Chutes and Ladders

Grief is a strange phenomenon. This weekend has been absolutely wonderful. My friends got married on Friday evening and it was the most fun wedding EVER. With just a small gathering at their home, they were married by a friend of theirs, who is a judge, and another friend of theirs catered the entire event. It was very beautiful and very fun and filled me to my core with joy. One of my friends approached me and said, “I wish Chris could have been here.” He was. I felt him inside of me, outside of me and everywhere.

Saturday’s social activities began with coffee and a bagel with a close friend. Saturday evening I attended an opera featuring an actress in the play in which I’m cast. It was very beautiful and exciting music. I ended the night with a trip to the open mike, my first since Chris died. I had fun. I sang four songs. The open mike regulars were there right where they are every time. I like that I have friends there.

On the way to Carol’s I mentioned to her that I’m having a struggle concerning open mikes and my wonderful mood as of late. It feels as though I’m saying “I’m glad Chris is dead. Now I can go to open mikes again.” and that’s just not true. Carol said I’m just reclaiming things in my life that I had always enjoyed doing before everything fell apart. It makes sense. I just have to keep one step ahead of myself and realize that things are going to get twisted in my head for a while.

On the drive home, I was surprised by an ambush of tears and distress. It occurred to me how lonely the open mike was for me. I guess I never realized that everything I do and everything I did had meaning because I would anecdotally report my life’s happenings to my husband. I knew this night was coming; the first night I would get home after 1:00am and Chris wouldn’t be there. Because I have been feeling so happy for the past few days, I thought I was ready to go to the open mike, and I was, but I thought that since I was feeling so good, I’d be okay with returning home to an empty apartment and an empty bed. Grief is a strange creature. It calls the shots. I am no longer in control of this journey. I’m a passenger on a runaway train, headed toward Serenity and Peace Station, via Anguish and Distress Streets.

The first signs of sadness began after the opera. I didn’t really think about how attending the open mike would effect me. I thought that since I felt ready, it would be easy. I was ready, but it was difficult. Earlier, I spoke with Carol about how I was feeling some guilt for going at all. The truth is that I was feeling happy, which made me feel guilty which, in turn, made me feel angry that I have to feel guilty for feeling happy. I know. It’s confusing. What I finally arrived at is the realization that when I’m feeling happy, I get sad and that feels lousy, but better than feeling happy…oh…sort of. It’s a bizarre journey down Crazy Street.

I drove home squinting to see the traffic symbols through my tears and upon my arrival home, found that I didn’t really want to go inside. I cried on my front porch bench for a few moments as I thought about how deep my love for my friends is. I feel so safe and secure when I’m with them. I still enjoy the company of my outer echelon friends and acquaintances but my inner circle is so tight and safe and so full of love and I’m so lucky to have friends like mine. I got up, went inside, lit my Chris candle and watched our wedding video so I could see him alive again and so I could marvel at the expression of love on my own face as the JP had us recite our vows to each other. I have never loved like that in my life. We were two best friends who got married. His title was “husband” but what I really lost is my very best friend and for as long as I live, I’ll miss him from the deepest part of my heart’s core.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


It’s amazing how being excited about my future can feel like being mean to Chris. I know how crazy it sounds, but I cannot get the image of Chris being hurt that I am moving forward out of my mind. I know I created it myself, too. That’s the craziest part of all; that I know I created it myself and I still feel like I’m hurting him. I feel like I’m giving up on him; something I would NEVER have done, EVER, had he survived.

Last night I got my dress for the play that I’m in. It’s an absolutely beautiful Victorian ivory lace petticoat looking gown that comes up my entire neck. I put my hair up in a 19th century upsweep and stood in the ladies room looking at what I had become and it suddenly occurred to me that Chris was never going to see this. I felt sad. One of my favorite things on stage is how you can make yourself look so different than you do in life and I loved doing that for Chris. It was fun.

Chris never missed a show of mine, even going so far as to fly to New York just a couple of months into our relationship to see the show I was in at the end of a 10-day workshop I took. He was always there. And he h a t e d community theater. It annoyed him. But, still, he came. He always had wonderful things to say about my performance, even though I know he didn’t always think I was good. I did appreciate him always pretending to think I was good, though. It was something I had relaxed into. I learned early on about the benefits of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I was good just because he was in love with me.

Last night it hit me hard. I felt a sense of kicking myself, as though I did something to cause his death. I didn’t though. Cancer caused his death. Still, I am sometimes haunted by a sense of responsibility, even though we did everything we could possibly do to make him well. Last night I wished he was home when I got there. My electric timer turned on the lamp while I was out and for a brief second, I believed that I was going to open the door and see him sitting on the couch waiting for me, the Sox on the tube with sounds of a grand slam by Ortiz and the crowd going wild.

I miss his presence. I miss his smile, his sense of humor, the way he slept with his mouth open. I miss the way he looked in the morning before he put his glasses on. I miss his much anticipated arm draping over me in the night. I’d always know it was coming by the sound of him rolling over and I would move my own arm so his could fit around my waist and I always smiled. I loved the attention, even though he wasn’t aware he was giving it. I miss how he refused to wake me up to say goodnight to me when I turned in before him, even though I really wanted him to. I miss how he was able to talk me into walking with him to the mailbox on a Sunday to mail a letter, even though I walked right by it on Monday morning on my way to the T. He made the simplest tasks feel nice and after a weekend of food shopping, walking to the mailbox and enjoying a cup of coffee at the corner cafĂ©, I would come into work on Monday to an e-mail from him telling me he had a really nice weekend with me and thanking me. So sweet.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Place

Between the two trees where Chris and I got married to each other is a sacred place.

Last evening, after sharing good coffee and a lovely conversation with a friend at a downtown Starbuck’s, I began to walk alongside the Boston Common toward Park Street Station where I planned to board the T and head home. It was nearing 8:00 and as I meandered toward the station, I glanced in the direction of our trees and suddenly felt drawn toward them. Our trees. Our beautiful trees. We never meant to get married under them. The plan was to be married on the red line on route to Davis Square from Park Street Station. The idea was born of the fact that during our two year stay in Los Angeles, we missed the subways so much that the red line infiltrated many of our conversations. It seemed fitting that once we got back to Boston, we would get married on one of the cars. That was the plan until the morning of our wedding, January 17, 2004. Who knew that we would wake up to a bright, sunny 40 degree day when the temperature the day before dipped to 8 below zero? And the very next day, it snowed from morning until night. It was like the sky opened up just for us, just for our wedding day. Chris posed the idea that we get married above ground on the Boston Common. So we did and then took the red line to Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant to celebrate.

Last night, standing in the dark, between our two trees I was filled with warmth and love. I remembered our wedding day. It was perfect. Perfect because we were so much in love and so like one another. It was so simple. There was no primping and preening and making sure every last detail went exactly as planned. In fact, we went to Target that morning and did some household shopping (i.e. paper towels, bottled water, shampoo). There was no plan. Not really. We didn’t even know where, on the common, we were going to have the JP perform the ceremony. We just walked a bit until we came to our spot.

I hadn’t stood in that spot since our wedding day. I still feel warmth just thinking about last night. It’s like the trees could remember. They were there. They saw and heard everything. They could feel our love. It’s in that spot. The spot where I stood last night. I love that I can go there and stand, or sit and remember our day and remember my sweet, sweet, beautiful husband anytime I want to.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Solitary Divinement

All day long I work in a department of over 300 people. People call me, e-mail me, drop by to ask questions, favors and sometimes just to chit-chat. It has been a real God-send in keeping me distracted. And everyone is so nice. I’m lucky in that respect.

Yesterday, everyone was gone by 4:00PM, so I sat in isolation from 4:00 until 5:00 trying to distract myself by doing some work, looking at new apartments, making phone calls. Work is a very lonely place on Friday at 4 when the entire floor empties out. That’s when it started.

First, it was just a feeling of emptiness, soon followed by my absolute certainty that everyone was either going home to their husbands, wives, family or partners. I began to think about Chris and what we might be doing if he was alive. The weather was perfect and he would have been so happy that the winter is finally gone for another year. And right about now he would have been wrapping up his last chemo treatment and being completely well. On a day like yesterday, I would have walked to Harvard Square after work and Chris would have met me, possibly on the Cambridge Common to finish the walk with me and go out to dinner where we would have toasted to his wellness, our love and a long, long life together. It would have been just as beautiful as every other time we were together. But that’s a fantasy, now.

I got on the train at South Station, as usual, and began the ride home. Once off the train, I sat for a while in Davis Square and did my homework for today’s field trip. It was really nice out and everyone was getting ice cream at J.P. Licks. That’s where Chris and I might have ended up that evening, too. When I finished reading, I began my walk home. That’s when the lump in my throat began to grow. A 10-minute walk seemed to take 2 hours as I fought to keep the tears inside. My steps slowed and I couldn’t seem to get there fast enough. About five minutes before I reached my apartment, the dam broke and I just wept all the way up my street. Once inside, I allowed it to come. It lasted for an hour and fifteen minutes this time. I must have needed it. I sat in the chair that Chris died in and curled up and just thought about him, about us, about cancer. I spoke to him, telling him all of the things I miss about him and loved about him and how I wish he could come back and then I just asked him to hold me over and over again. I talked to God, asking him to help me get through this and telling him that I don’t understand why this had to happen. I just let it come and keep coming all the while knowing that it was good and right and that this is what I was supposed to be doing this evening. I knew it was going to help me tremendously when it ended…if it ever ended.

Carol called shortly afterward and of course she could tell I was crying. I couldn’t hide it. It was impossible to breath in or out of my nose at that point. I’m sure I must have sounded like Rudolph after his father forced him to wear mud on his nose. Man, I don’t know what I would do without Carol, Robby or Meira. They each seem to step in or call or make me laugh just when I need them to. But last night it was Carol. I cried like a baby telling her that I think I have finally accepted that Chris is never coming back. It’s not that I thought he was…but I felt like he was. Last night some reality set in and I’m sure it’s not the last time that’s going to happen. Carol and I agreed that it was a good thing that she was unavailable to go out last night because I know that if I had plans, this breakdown would not have happened and it desperately needed to happen in order for me to push forward. By the end of our conversation, we were both laughing again. She invited me to come on a dog walk with her but I was spent and instead took a long hot bath, put on my pajamas and robe and just relaxed for the evening and really took care of myself.

Friday, April 8, 2005


To say that it was not easy to have lived with and loved someone who became ill is to say that it was excruciatingly painful, for neither of those statements comes close to conveying the true horror and sadness of an event such as the one Chris and I endured together. I thought I was feeling anguish while it was happening, but it’s only in hindsight that I have become fully aware of the sadness that his disease and death have filled me, his family and his friends with…and acquaintances…and even people who had never met him. While Chris was alive and undergoing chemo, my emotions were anger, fear and extreme panic. After the chemo was over and the surgery behind him, when we thought he was cured, my spirit soared. I can still remember the carefree happiness that came along with “knowing” it was over and that he was going to be fine. Now that he has died, my body and soul are consumed with a black hole of sadness of infinite depths.

The truth is that I have the capacity to be quite happy, even euphoric at times…and those times fill me with dismay the moment I realize they’re happening. That’s the great conflict I’m facing these days. It’s what stops me dead in my tracks and makes me question myself and my love for Chris. I know that I loved him. I cherished him. And I cherish and love that I knew him; that for one moment in time, I came into contact with him, holding the door open and in effect opening the door into the deepest part of my soul. I didn’t even stop to take notice that I was falling in love. I was blindsided. For that to have happened just once in my lifetime, I feel extremely fortunate and blessed. I’m not expecting it to happen again, though I hope that it does. A love like ours can addict a person to love.

It has become apparent to me that each new experience for me creates another experience to be grieved. I can be happy that I bought a new set of dishes and then distraught that Chris didn’t get to see them because I know he would have loved them (They coincidentally match the salt shaker he picked up!). The new couch Robby and Gene gave me is so comfy and soft, but Chris wasn’t around to enjoy it and to add guilt to injury, he had to endure months undergoing chemo “resting” on an uncomfortable futon couch. We had decided to buy a new couch and an easy chair together, but he was too sick to come out and shop for them. I can feel happy that I’m beginning to remember what independence feels like, staying out without worrying that he’s not feeling well or that he might need something (like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream) but that independence comes at the expense of Chris’ death, too high a price to pay.

My mother always tells me that I have to accept things in life. Her own husband died of cancer a few years back so she understands exactly what I'm going through. She has a way with popping me back into reality. I'm grateful for that, and sad for her experience. What I, myself, find is that accepting whatever phase I’m in is less painful than fighting it. In fact, I realized that back at the 2nd diagnosis. I remember not really believing that it had happened again and then becoming aware that going with it just hurt less than screaming about it. That being said, my next order of business, is simply accepting that for a while, every time I find myself laughing, my laughter will be immediately followed by what can only be described as the initial shock of getting the news that Chris was going to die. That’s the cycle…at least for a while.

Thursday, April 7, 2005


There’s a place on the Esplinade where a ramp leads up to the Mass Ave. Bridge. On the first part of it, there’s a corner point with a railing and a lovely view of the Charles. There’s always so much activity going on; sailing, rollerblading; running; biking; sculling; kayaking and much more. Yesterday, on my walk home from Boston, I stopped at that corner for about five minutes, rested my chin on my arms, took in the scene and let the perfect river breeze blow my hair back. My brain emptied. Water does that to me. The most relaxing, comforting setting I can be in is one where there is a body of water; preferably the ocean. The ocean provokes deep relaxation and reflection within me.

Yesterday’s weather was so perfect that I just had to be outside. I walked from South Station to Central Square, popped into Whole Foods to get some things and then got on the train to come home. On the train, it suddenly occurred to me that I was feeling completely free and completely happy. Maybe it was the water. Maybe it’s the continued improving weather. I just know that I felt one hundred percent independent and though the events leading up to my newfound independence were and at times continue to be soul-shattering, I realized that I liked how I was feeling sitting on the train on my way to Davis Square. I thought back to a time before I met Chris. I had been alone for four years and lived as a fiercely independent woman. I’m not the type of woman who has always needed a man by my side. I don’t know if that has changed or not, but I suppose that remains to be seen. Sitting on the train, after my walk and my pause at the Charles, I began to feel a dream-like sense of familiarity from years ago; the familiarity of self-sufficiency.

When I think back to the last year and half, specifically the year Chris and I spent in Brighton, I can’t believe that girl was me. Though I tried very hard, I can’t remember what it felt like to be me the past year and a half. I don’t remember what my thoughts were. It’s like a void formed in my head and in my very being from the time we got Chris’ first diagnosis until yesterday. Where the hell have I been all this time? Lost. Carol said it sounds like I turned off all of my emotions for the past year and a half. I think she’s right. I couldn’t feel. It was too horrifying. Besides, I had to be there for Chris. I may not have had any control over his illness but I had complete control over how I acted when I walked through that door every night. It was the most important part I would ever play; the part of the happy, light-hearted, worry-free wife. I did it to make Chris’ life as happy as it could possibly be. He deserved to laugh and he deserved as much happiness as I could possibly muster up. And I did it. And now I don’t remember what that felt like. I think it’s possible that I spent the past year and a half trapped in deep desperation which I cloaked in blanket of “okays”.

But now I’m beginning to feel like me again and that conjures up a vision of healing wounds.

I loved my husband with absolutely everything I have inside of me and I always will and part of me will always feel lost without him. I’m becoming independent again. I’d rather spend the rest of my life squished up against Creej, holding on and encircling myself in the safety of him. Other widows do that. I don’t want to, though. That’s not who I want to be. It’s going to take time, work, faith and as much strength as I can muster, and when all is said and done, I’ll be okay.

Monday, April 4, 2005

The Opening Scene

I have said that Chris and I meet in choir but the truth is we met on the way out the door of Brookline High School after a Martin Luther King Day choir concert, which was to be Chris’ last experience with the choir. He was beginning grad school the next day and didn’t have the time to remain a member. so the truth really is that although we were in choir together for several months, we didn’t really meet until the very end of the choir experience.

I got lost in the school and decided to go out the first door I could find. I had parked my car in front of the school but when I came out the door, I was confused and didn’t know where my car was. Chris was about fifteen to twenty feet behind me and I was holding the door for him to exit. He admitted to me months later that he was so shy that he slowed down so that he wouldn’t catch up to me.

I said, “Excuse me.” And Chris replied, “Yes?” I asked him if he knew where the front of the school was and he said he didn’t and that he wasn’t from around there. I said, “Oh. Where did you come from?” and he said “Somerville.” I was living in Somerville, too and offered him a ride home, which he accepted.

We both walked to my car. On the ride home, we began talking about ourselves and what we liked and what we have done. Chris told me he had graduated with his B.A. in Theater, which made me very happy because I love theater. I felt completely safe with him because I was convinced that he was gay. He was singing in a choir and that, along with the theater degree was all I needed to know to make my sweeping generalization about his gender preference. Because I felt so safe, I was able to be myself. Chris asked me how old I was and I said, “31” to which he nodded in approval, which only made me think, “This 20 year old guy is okay with me being 31.” I thought it was kind of strange. He looked very young. He told me he was 28 years old, which was fine. He was gay, it didn’t really mean anything to me at the time based on the assumption I had made. We continued to talk.

During our ride, someone cut me off and I yelled at the top of my lungs, “You mother-fucking prick-bag!!!!” and turned to Chris and said, “Oh. I’m sorry. I have a horrible mouth.” He said that was okay and that he swore, too. We kept talking.

When we finally reached his house, which was only a 10-minute drive from mine, I stopped the car and said, “Here we are.” And Chris thanked me and then said, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me some time?” I thought, “This gay man wants to be my friend.” and, very uncharacteristically, said, “Absolutely!” He smiled and handed me his business card which depicted him as a professional bass-player. I remember thinking, “Oh, great, a fucking musician.”

When I drove away, I was beaming. I kept saying, “I got asked out!! Somebody asked me out!!”

Chris later told me that he went upstairs and did a little dance for him roommate, saying, “I got a date! I got a date!”

We were just two of the same person, me and Chris.

I wish I could watch that entire scene from outside of my own body and see what it was that made us click during that twenty minute ride. Fate was obviously at play there as the conversation unraveled the layers of our personalities exposing us to each other and ultimately bonding us together for the following six years.

After Chris died, I escaped to Keene, NH where I stayed for four days (I think. It’s still hazy.).

When I got back to Somerville, I drove down Waterhouse Street and stopped the car in front of the house Chris lived in when we met; the house he came out of when I rang the doorbell to pick him up for our first date. I imagined him sitting next to me, just like when I drove him home that first day. I remembered him asking me if I’d like to have a coffee with him. I closed my eyes and as the tears rolled down my face I said out loud. “Absolutely.” and drove away for the last time.