On April 30th, 2002, eleven days after our first date, you told me you loved me.
We lay in your narrow bed in Park Slope, talking about everything and nothing at all. You said those three words. You took my breath away, Gary. You saw tears spring to my eyes, pushed my hair away from my face, and asked me what was wrong. I told you that I loved you too, and that I had something to tell you.
I took a deep breath, and began to tell you about my illness, the illness that has haunted me since I was 13: ultradian rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 1. It is incurable, and in my case, barely treatable. I gave you a brief rundown of my history, about the same that I would do with any new psychiatrist (two of whom retired while I was mid-treatment). I told you the truth: that I had never been arrested, never been hospitalized, and never harmed anyone other than myself. I told you that I had been on medication in the past, and that at that point when we were dating, I wasn’t on anything at all. I was manic pretty much all of the time.
At this point, fully expecting you to either recoil in horror or run away screaming, you surprised me by doing neither. You held me closer. I gave you the name of a book that I wanted you to read: An Unquiet Mind by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. I told you that it had saved my life. I told you that I wanted you to read this book, do some research, decide whether or not you wanted to go any further on what would be an absolute roller coaster of a ride, and that I had no judgement if you didn’t. I gave you a brief history, of my medications, my moods. I showed you the many scars from where I had cut quite deeply into my arm. This is your out, I said. You can walk away and never look back, and I wouldn’t ever blame you. Not even a little bit. You hugged me tightly, and promised to read the book. I gave you my copy when next I saw you.
You read it. You said it wasn’t really for you, and was probably more effective for someone struggling with the illness itself as opposed to an outsider.
You wanted to stay, you didn’t want to give up.
The 15 and a half years we were together were an absolute roller coaster ride, as promised. There was a lot of good, and a lot of very, very bad. We never did give up. Not even a little bit.
One of the very last books you read was Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher. As always, you were listening to it on audio. You had it on whenever you were awake, which included a lot of times when I was getting dressed, or doing something else in the house. The morning that I discovered that you were reading it, I was trying to put on makeup in the bathroom. I was listening to the narrator describe my life. Weeping, I walked into the bedroom where you lay in bed listening. I motioned for you to pause the narration. I asked you why you were listening to it. You said, “Do you want me to stop? I thought it would help me understand you better.” I replied, “No. I want you to finish it. And then I want to listen to it after you’re done.”
Even before you had finished reading it, you looked at me with a softness in your eyes, a softness I hadn’t seen there before. You explained to me that you thought you understood now. At least a lot better than you used to. I said that I was grateful for that, and that I was trying very hard to not resent the fact that it took someone else’s story about my life to have you understand my life.
I asked a trusted friend about this phenomenon, and he explained to me that it’s common with people who are struggling with PTSD, for them to hear someone else’s story and be able to relate to it much better than if the person they’re more connected to is describing it. Curious, but true. I trust him; I trust you.
The very fact that you understood that I could be fearful of showering, or brushing my teeth, or opening the mail! or any of the small, seemingly ridiculous things that I had been unable, incapable of doing at one point or another along my way, whether or not you actually understood why but that you understood that it *was possible* and that it was real, this was mind-blowing to me. A breakthrough. More breakthroughs would come in those last six days you were on this planet. Incredible breakthroughs aided by drugs that you had such terrible reactions to. And the time and in between after you read this last book and the day you died is bittersweet.
You died, and in those last bits of time we had I know that you understood me more than you ever had done before. More than you had ever been able to before. I knew that up until then, you were incapable of understanding me, not because you were stubborn (although you were). Not because you were obstinate (although you were that, too). But only because it was truly impossible.
I am joyful because we had those last few days where we understood each other, where you understood me, where you understood exactly the hell that I had been through. Exactly the hell that you had wreaked upon me. And I know that you were sorry. We had the rest of forever to figure it out. And figure it out we did.
I love you. I love you now, And I love you forever.