Before this last week, my most recent memory telling a story which caused someone to cry was when Katie and I broke up. As we sat in therapy and I asked the question that ended our relationship, our therapist cried. I saw her wipe tears from her face. It was a human moment, a palpable window into her experience of us. All the effort and work we did failed and it was truly sad for all three of us to understand that reality. Seeing her wipe tears from her eyes validated for me everything I fought for. It gave me permission to feel the despair of it. If our therapist cried, I could cry too.
Fast-forward to now: I’ve dreaded September since the conversation with our therapist that ended our relationship. Katie came out to me on September 9th three years ago. Our 5th wedding anniversary is on September 12th. Our appointment to appear in court to complete our divorce is on September 15th. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been preparing for this month since we broke up. I knew it was coming and I knew it would be hard.
I took next week off from work to finish my quarter, but the reality is, I needed time to drink more wine than usual, to lay in bed longer, to find the energy to muster up the ability to finish my assignments. I hate this next week. I hate that it’s in September, a month I love in Seattle for the warm weather coupled with cooler nights. September is a month I associate with summer turning to fall, with the color of leaves changing. A month I loved because it was my wedding anniversary and embodied all the hope I had for my life and what it would look like. I’m still regularly told how amazing our wedding was and, while I agree, it’s sad to realize it represents a fleeting dream. A dream I’ve been mourning and trying to repair from the loss of for three years.
This past Saturday, I stayed home all day to complete a paper due. That’s what I do now. I stay home all the time, not because of a pandemic, but because graduate school sucks the air out of a social life. After I turned in the paper, I ate Domino’s pizza for the 4th meal in a row (dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner again) and queued up a true-crime documentary. As I finished my first of many planned White Claws, I got a text from Randy. In it was a picture of Adam, his husband, in the hospital.
I don’t really remember the sequence of events after, but I was in a Lyft to the hospital within 30 minutes. I remember throwing away the remnant of the pizza and wondering if I should tell my roommate I wouldn’t be home that night. I remember washing my dish and packing an overnight bag. I remember wondering if I should feed Carla and checking how many spare masks were in my bag in the event one broke. I brought my sunglasses even thought the sun was down and I didn’t lint-roll the cat hair off my yoga pants.
I waited in the lobby of the hospital for less than 10 minutes. When the elevator opened and Randy walked out, I could feel the anxiety, the energy of someone buried in the aftermath of trauma, in the play-by-play questioning of which foot to put in front of the other. As Randy opened his car to throw a bag in it, he insisted on driving. I pointed out it didn’t make sense for him to drive when he was the one crying. He handed me the keys. As I drove him home, he described not feeling like he’d done enough to deal with the day. His voice broke in that way your voice breaks when you can’t control the crying. I narrated everything he did accomplish despite feeling otherwise:
- He saw clients at work,
- He received the call from Adam that something was wrong,
- He canceled his remaining clients,
- He drove home and, somewhere in there,
- He made sure Jon came to stay with Amelia,
- He drove Adam to the hospital,
- He listened to doctors say there was a mass in Adam’s colon and
- He texted me.
In moments of trauma, it’s hard to interpret where you have control amidst the flood of information convincing you there is none. I haven’t studied this enough to speak eloquently to it, but in my experience, time slows down and my brain stops computing data rationally, only receiving bits that tell the story I need to hear to validate my existing self doubt. Sometimes a list of things I did do, no matter how small, remind me I have more control than I think.
I stayed the night Saturday night so someone was with Amelia in the event Randy needed to go back to the hospital. On Sunday, Amelia and I wandered the neighborhood. I watched her walk her bike up a large hill and ride down it with all the freedom a 7-year-old with no injury-fear. I went home to process and attempt reading. I failed.
On Monday, I went to the hospital to sit with Randy and be there for whatever news came next. Yes, the doctors told him, it’s cancer. I listened as Randy’s voice broke to update people while we sat outside the hospital. I listened as his voice broke explaining the guilt he felt about listing the worst-case-scenarios. I processed what it meant to not have a counterargument, to know Pollyanna and her bright side don’t live here anymore.
On Tuesday, Randy called me early in the AM to inform me in barely audible sobs “it’s serious”. I didn’t really need to know the details. I logged off work early to help however I could. I took out the trash and played with the girls in the front yard. I learned how 7-year-olds conceptualize the smell and folded skin of older people while watching bubbles land on the grass.
When Randy got home, he was a zombie, a shell of a person going through a deep and heavy aftermath. He snapped at his niece in a moment all of us understand as people who have been in crisis, but Zombie Randy felt terrible about. I asked if he needed a minute outside, a minute to let it all go. Zombie Randy went to his bedroom, looked back at me and verbally gave me permission to follow. He sat on the floor next to his bed and started crying. He asked me how I dealt with my life falling apart. I knew his question was aimed at the now shared experience of a plan derailing, of the life you thought you would have no longer being available to you. I told him honestly that I survived this past year because of him, because he was there when I needed him to be. Whether it was distraction or solace, I got it.
I told him I was proud of him. There isn’t a rule book for how to deal with this. I told him his entire life, all the trauma and all the work he did was meant for him to be in this exact moment. You see, Randy has done The Work. He has done the shit someone needs to do to be there for his husband who has Stage 4 Colon Cancer. I reminded him The Work he has done his entire life, the sexual trauma, the poverty, the anxiety, the OCD – all of it was designed to help Randy be there for Adam in this moment. He may not do it gracefully 100% of the time (or ever) and it may not be for the outcome we want, but there will be a point in time where we look back and know The Work was done. The fact Randy can narrate to anyone listening he knows which thoughts are the OCD and which are the grief is something I cannot express more pride for than I already am. Randy has worked so hard to be the person he is now and he has earned every part of the experience he is having. And he wouldn’t be that person without Adam or Amelia. I’m so proud to know them.
I’m reflecting on this now as someone who witnessed the unfolding of a prelude to a story. This is only the beginning. And it is really fucking sad. I know it’s sad because I’ve listened to people cry as I tell them about it. I can’t believe this month, the month of so many emotional anniversaries for me, is a month that will hold this particular anniversary for my friends. While I’m aware our versions of this story are quite different and would never seek to equate them, the experience of realizing your life would deviate from the hope you had for it is one shared, no matter the trigger. The sorrow and sadness are real.
I don’t want anyone to mistake my sadness for a lack of hope. I have a ton of it and just as anyone who has fought a scary diagnosis has said, I’m here to fight the shit out of it however I can. One way I can do this is by sharing The Love Story on this platform. The Love Family needs help and I’m not ashamed to ask for it. You can find their GoFundMe here. I would really appreciate any contribution you can make, whether that’s financial or sharing this post. This family needs it and would give it right back if the opportunity arose. As would I.
I hope you are all doing well and staying kind to yourselves. As always, you are loved, and you are enough.