Two years, four months. It hasn’t gotten any less than this. Has not eased up. no. Has intensified, solidified. And that, I believe, is a good thing. Yes.
I’m fairly astonished that I had this much clarity only four months out. In fact, I am damn sure that this was my brain in ultra survival mode.
It is exactly the entirety of my body my psyche my soul. It is exactly what I have been settling into for the past eight hundred fifty-two days
no longer so foreign so alien.
I am learning how to meet people where they are and also to recognize that no matter how much love I have for someone how much hope sometimes it just isn’t enough to be sustainable. not without harm. I don’t want to be in pain over love anymore. I can’t. I won’t.
This is what fifty looks like. This is what a widow looks like. This is what bipolar disorder and chronic pain and grief looks like. This is what an artist looks like. A potter, a printer, a spinner, a knitter. The smartest girl in the room, almost always. This is what a cisgender, heteroflexible, polyamorous woman looks like. This is what a woman who loves, is in love, and is loved in return looks like. This is what the day after the day after a major depressive episode looks like. This is what finally being comfortable in my own skin looks like. This is what the beginning of accepting that I deserve to be treated with love, care, and respect looks like. This is what not taking anyone else’s shit anymore looks like. This is what broken and damaged looks like.
This is what healing looks like. I am perfectly imperfect. More beautiful for my flaws.
Gary, I wish you could see me now. You would be so proud.
“…I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vext the dim sea: I am become a name; For always roaming with a hungry heart Much have I seen and known; cities of men And manners, climates, councils, governments, Myself not least, but honour’d of them all; And drunk delight of battle with my peers, Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades For ever and forever when I move. How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life Were all too little, and of one to me Little remains: but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, A bringer of new things; and vile it were For some three suns to store and hoard myself, And this gray spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought… …There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail: There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners, Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me— That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old; Old age hath yet his honour and his toil; Death closes all: but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks: The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends, ‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
(excerpted from Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
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. Always, glitter.
Six years ago this weekend, Gary gave me the gift of a six-hour studio workshop class at The Arm Letterpress in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to learn how to properly print letterpress. It was the formal beginning of my love affair with this art, this absolutely not-obsolete, tactile beyond measure, satisfyingly delicious art. Handling cast iron machines built a century ago and built to last well beyond the next, sorting and discovering type in metal and wood and photopolymer and even some that’s 3D-printed, adding incredible words like “kerning” and “forme” and “quoin” to my neverending/always thirsting vocabulary, watching and listening to the movements and sounds these machines make, rhythmic and steady, heavy and sweet, showing others how to do, how to make, how to be one with the type; this is one of the best, most lasting gifts my husband has ever given me. The gift of education and knowledge.
Thank you, my love, for believing in my hands, knowing the magic they possess, trusting my excitement to carry forward.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss you, that I don’t think about you, that I don’t have something to share with you.
I’ve grown stronger, and softer, and wiser. I’ve grown in ways you would expect, be proud of. Become even more resilient, because I’ve had to. You always had my back even when neither of us knew it. Even when it was too difficult to say so, to share so.
I’ve met people who you would like, who you would love, and I’ve told them so. I’ve made changes; some small, some not-so. Evolved, mostly. Become, more. The way The Velveteen Rabbit Became.
Anyone I let into This Widow’s Life has to measure up to your memory, is judged against your bar, and a very high bar it is indeed. I can reach it on tiptoe, in bare feet. You remain the smartest man I’ve ever met. The most difficult partner I’ve ever had. The most worth-it partner. You had to be, we had to be, for me to not give up, for us to not give up. And we never did.
I tolerate less, and more. Funny, that. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, stand firm, hold my ground. I give no quarter; this far and no further.
Those I have let in, those few, I think they know, I think they realize what a gift it is. You did. Even though it wasn’t until the very-very end. So bittersweet; but I am not bitter.