Aside 17 Mar

I really miss the days of my Tob.acc.o Brun.ette blog where the writing had a sense of cohesiveness and was occasionally even good. I’m sort of at a loss as to where to go from here and I cringe when I scroll down and read some of these posts.  I want to apologize for the recent displays of “Live! Nude! Grief!” and I must admit that I do regret outing myself as Wrecky Mc.Homewrecker. I don’t really understand my compulsion to put it all out there in the wake of K’s death, but I did and I guess there’s no going back.

………

Periodically I would ask K if we shouldn’t put some plan in place for notifying each other in case “the worst happened.” When we first met I was dealing with an ex-boyfriend who’d lost his mind in a Lifetime Movie sort of a way and I’d begun to doubt that I would survive the threat he posed and K had started to believe it, too, though he refused to admit at the time. Eventually that situation became resolved and our talk of death notification arrangements ceased until a few years later when K had to have a double organ transplant – a lifetime of Type 1 diabetes had taken its toll and he needed a kidney/pancreas transplant. After a few months on the waiting list I got a call: “They have organs for me. I’m on my way to the hospital. I’ll be in touch.”

I didn’t hear from him for nearly a month. After the transplants, there were some complications and he was very, very ill. It was weeks before he was well enough to get in touch with me and by the time I heard from him I was in a total panic and had been checking the obits daily for a good week-and-a-half.

I did it – the obit checks – because it was all that I could do. I had no control over any aspect of the situation, so I just searched his name every day never really expecting to see it pop up on my screen.

After he had recovered, I brought up again.

“Don’t you think we need some sort of plan to let the other person know if something bad happens to us?” I’d ask.

“No,” he said.

“But how will we know?”

“We just will. If something really bad happens, we’ll just know.”

So when K was diagnosed with cancer a little while back – a diagnosis that led to a battle he’d win (it was a different cancer that would kill him last year),  he was in and out of the hospital. He would get extremely sick – dangerously so – and then bounce back…go home. Then he’d be back in the hospital, seemingly deathly ill and then – just like that – treatment kicked in, he was feeling better and back home. The cycle for me was marked by a sudden end to phoncalls/texts/emails, which turned into an extended absence, leading ultimately to my nervous obit searching, and ending in his triumphant return in the form of a text: “Hey little mama…where you been?”

Through it all – the transplants and complications, and cancer, part one – his name was never among the deceased appearing in the results of my google searches. I came to believe that it never would appear – not for a long time.

So in early December of last year, it had been some time since my last communication with K – a little more than a month, the longest an illness had ever kept him from me. My last communication with him was on the day he was to receive a bone marrow transplant that would change his blood type to that of his donors – a medical fact he was particularly fascinated by. The procedure was simple enough to do, he told me, and then the cells would either grab on to all of his organs in a massive rejection or, he said, “this is the dream.” This was the closest he ever came to suggesting to me that our time together was probably running out.

He closed his email to me with: “While I hope to be feeling as well as I have today going forward, that may not be the case. I will try to get in touch and let you know if I’m sinking down before I’m actually down there and can’t get word to you. Take care, beautiful. And let me know how you’re doing. I love you. You’ll be okay, I promise.”

He received the transplant that night and 19 days later he was dead.

“If something really bad happens, we’ll just know,” he told me and I took it as a promise from him.

But he died the day before Thanksgiving while I was running trips back and forth to Newark Airport picking up relatives, drinking wine and catching up, dinner out in Manhattan…tapas followed by bourbon shots at dive bar on the lower east side and my love was in the morgue. I didn’t have a clue that he’d gone. I didn’t receive a sign or get a feeling. Nothing – in fact I was grateful for the distraction the holiday and its visitors provided from my worries about K and his health.

He’d been dead nearly two weeks when I was sitting in my office in early December starting my day with my morning coffee and a daily obit search when his name finally popped up in the online version of his home state’s newspaper. Unbelievably – I was shocked.

I read the notice – short, to the point, one or two lines including “no services at his request.” I read it over and over, trying to make it real and then I said, “So. He’s dead. Well, that’s that.” And I closed my browser. I think I sat at my desk for several minutes not thinking about anything and then I surprised myself by not falling apart.

“So it’s finally over,” I thought. I may have even said it out loud. Then I went to a meeting.

It was later, when I was alone in my car that the reality hit me – this man, who’d been my lover, friend, mentor, and a father figure for nearly half my life…was gone. Like, dead and gone and in the ground long enough that the casseroles had probably stopped turning up on his wife’s door step and I’d just fucking figured it out.

In the months since learning of his death, I’ve had the unique experience of losing a significant other from the perspective of the other woman – a title I’d never really applied to myself because of the long-term nature of our relationship and the many non-sexual roles K played in my life. And also because we’d always said “we were different;” that the connection we had was too deep and powerful to be adequately wrapped in the utilatarian brown paper and fraying twine of an “extra-marital affair.” Ours was a package deserving of glossy paper, hand-dyed in the richest of colors and tied expertly with a bow of the finest organdy ribbon. You see?

We were different.

Yet here I am, the one left behind and faced with the reality that I didn’t know he was dead for two weeks. I don’t know where he’s buried or his ashes spread. I don’t know if he went down quickly or fought – did he know he was dying??? His writings and personal affects belong to someone else. All I have is our correspondence and my doubts. And he was always the one to chase them away.

I was the other woman.

In recent years, we’d tried to move to a more platonic existence – one that maybe wouldn’t have to be a huge secret.  K’s declining health and his insecurities about his appearance – immuno-suppresive drugs had caused swelling in his face, he was collecting scars all over his body from countless surgeries and procedures, his weight fluctuated – were kind of making that possible by default.  When we met, he was 40 – fit, pretty healthy, looking good although in need of some style pointers. But even then he was self-conscious about our age difference and his feeling that I was “out of his league.” I told him had no idea men even had this kind of self-awareness. He said most don’t – this was his own special curse. So while we moved to a more platonic-ish (though far from celibate) existence because of circumstances, the emotional aspect of our affair still made the idea of presenting ourselves as “good buddies” a total joke.

……..

K always had a hard time with his feelings for me. He wasn’t one much for connections or commitment. His father left the family when K was an adolescent and his mother had health and personal problems that kept her from being a nurturing presence and, according to K, when he was diagnosed at 12 with juvenile diabetes it was more than she could handle. She washed her hands of him – he ran away for the first time shortly after his diagnosis and she didn’t come to look for him. He grew up in one of those states that to an east coast girl is a land of cowboys, closed minds, and wild animals that I can’t identify with any confidence (Antelope? Elk? Who knows?). That’s probably an unfair judgment call, but K didn’t have any objection to this assessment. He drifted through his high school years feeling like a ghost in the hallways – a perception that was challenged in recent years when he began to reach out to people from his past and find that most of them were happy to hear from him. He left his home after high school…or possibly during junior year, I’m not sure anymore… and except for a short marriage that ended when he walked in on his wife fucking another man, he would continue his drifting, going through women, jobs, towns and friends like he was keeping score. He got involved with crystal meth and wasted many years (his description, not mine) devoted only to the drug. He eventually moved to a warm place, got clean and early in the process met a woman who was a recovering heroin addict. She became very sick about three years into their relationship, just as it had “run its course.” She didn’t work – K supported her – she had no health insurance and so they found themselves at city hall, where they were married and she was promptly added to his healthcare policy. A few days later, K was at a writing workshop in a local hotel conference room working up the courage to approach me.

………………

Over the years K would tell me how in over his head he was. How surprised he was by the emotions he developed for me. How ill-equipped he was to deal with such a connection. How I was the best and worst thing that ever happened to him. How he couldn’t live without me; how he couldn’t live with me. That without me he had nothing; that because of me he had nothing. Ouch. That last one is the hardest.

In a black and white world where right and wrong are clear and are generally presumed to dictate human behavior (you know, that world where you all live), K and I would have ended it before it began, in the moments we walked out of the bar together and stood alone on a street just staring and wondering what next. Because the truth is that all the highs – the euphoric (I don’t use that word often, but it truly applies here) buzz that accompanied so much of our time together – the delight I took in getting to know him and in sharing so much of myself with another person – the unbelievable comfort I found in just knowing he was here on this earth with me – all of it…it was matched by immense personal risk and immeasurable heart ache,  disappointment and frustration; it didn’t ease over the years either… just came in waves. Especially for him. He was really quite fragile in some ways.

………………

There were many reasons that K meant so much to me, but perhaps the most selfish of them was the fact that we was my own private cheering section. Before I met him, I wasn’t even aware of how much I need this, but he took a great interest in my life and it was wonderful to have someone who cared so much. He would ask me about papers and professors – exam grades and course loads – how things were going with my roommates. I was a journalism major and I covered the metro/police beat for the university paper. He read every one of my crappy stories and would comment on them like they were Pulitzer-winning works. He was so proud of me when I won a Columbia Press Association award for a best national feature one year – he actually got choked up when I called him with the news. When I was awarded a “Reporter’s Notebook” – a weekly column with not just a byline, but photo! – he was thrilled. And when the prisoners at Rockview State Correctional Institute began sending me fan letters he grew wary and protective. When a few inmantes invited me to cover a religious dispute between them and the warden and I thought I was going to get to go “to a real life prison,” he was like, “Uh…fuck no. No you’re not, Kristin.”

There was a father-daughter element to our relationship that I admit is probably creepy to some people, but I’m not sure it’s avoidable in relationships where the members are in such drastically different stages of life – 20 and 40 are very different. But the emotional gap between 55 and 35 didn’t feel as vast. The gap was closing as time marched on. “Will you love me with varicose veins and wrinkles and stretch marks?” I’d started asking him. “Only more,” he’d say.

Timing was always a thing with us – in little ways and big ones. I remember him calling me one afternoon about hearing a song on the radio that actually made him cry.

“In the end, everyone ends up alone. Losing her –  the only one who’s ever known who I am, who I’m not and who I wanna be. No way to know how long she will be next to me. Lost and insecure. You found me, you found me. Lying on the floor. Surrounded, surrounded. Why’d you have to wait? Where were you, where were you? Just a little late, you found me.”

Was I born 20 years too late or was I just a few days late getting to Southern California? I never asked. I just made fun of him for liking The Fray.

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2 Responses to “”

  1. mikew March 17, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    good job tb. k would be proud.

  2. a March 19, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    I wish there were something I could say to help…

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