I’ve been trying so hard to figure out how I was going to frame the description of my grief on this three year anniversary of Michael’s death. Such a difficult topic. Sometimes I’m afraid to talk about it at all. Despite my independent nature and combative streak, I get tired of feeling like my emotions don’t fit into other people’s expectations of what grief is supposed to be. Like anything else that will ultimately affect everyone, apparently there are rules and measures. Or maybe “an app for that.” When I talk about my sadness, I often feel resistance, discomfort or sometimes disbelief. Mostly it feels like people think I’m supposed to be done. Which I definitely am not. Ultimately, I really don’t care about anyone’s opinions. The responses are often tiresome, though, and make me feel even lonelier than I was in the first place. I need to acknowledge myself and I intend to do just that. And funnily enough, I found an avenue into my current mental state by thinking about this book I read decades ago, one that made such a huge impression that I’ve never forgotten it. Geek Love. In the early 1990’s, Michael and I were on our first trip to New Orleans. He was attending a National League of Cities convention as he was an alderman on our local city council. His flight was free and he had a per diem for expenses. We decided to spring for my ticket and grab a mini-vacation. We farmed out the kids and were so excited to be getting away on our own. Almost always broke, we felt like we’d be in the lap of luxury at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, right next to the French Quarter. Unfortunately, the day before we left, the clutch went out on Michael’s truck to the tune of $1100. I was so anxious about money but pushed that aside and decided we’d deal with everything later and just have our good time.
On our first night we had a fabulous dinner at a famous restaurant and blew our entire four days’ per diem on that first meal. Kind of classic for us. We were off to a great start. Michael attended his meetings while I went sightseeing. I hopped on and off the trolley cars and visited shops on Magazine Street. I went to the Museum of the Confederacy which was small but stuffed with incredible artifacts. When Michael was free, we hit all the classic city highlights.
Beignets and hot chocolate at Cafe du Monde. Jackson Square and The French Market. The Aquarium and the Audubon Zoo. The Historic St. Louis Cemetery and the famous praline shops in the Quarter. We stopped at a pub well-known for muffuletta sandwiches and brought them aboard the Natchez for the requiste steamboat ride on the Mississippi River. We went to Preservation Hall and saw the Neville Brothers and Maria Muldaur. We ate at more famous restaurants including the brand new NOLA run by Emeril Lagasse who’d recently left his chef post at Commander’s Palace. We ate there too. Those few days were a gluttonous affair on every level and we headed for home with a surfeit of food and experience tucked away into our mutual memory bank. On the way to the airport, we stopped at a freestanding Borders bookstore because I’d already finished the book I’d brought to read on the plane ride. That’s where I found Geek Love, a brilliantly original eye-popping metaphorical novel about human nature which I just couldn’t put down. The perfect cherry on top of the rich sundae of our trip. In looking for the way to describe how I feel at this point in time, the title of that unforgettable book turned up in my mind and led me to my description of my emotional journey. I am living not in geek love, but in grief love. After three years as a widow, I feel fundamentally the same as I did right after Michael died. I am still in love with my partner and that love is wrapped in a grief that I expect will be my lifetime companion. I am not the person who will move on to a new companion with whom to spend however long the rest of my life will be. I’m still with Michael. Obviously his physical being is gone, much to my regret. But his essence is a discernible presence and its tangle with mine is still alive and palpable to me. In certain ways it’s quite marvelous and stunning. I had no preconceived notions about what I’d be like on my own. As it turns out, I’m exactly myself. But that self grew, entwined with Michael’s for so many years. And it was a mystical connection. We both felt it from the very beginning, when we first met. I can no more separate from him than I can from me. I was digging around in my journals, trying to locate the beginning of this whole melding deal that happened between us. I found a particularly embarrassing entry dated October 20th, 1971. I was a pretty dreadful writer back then, prone to excess verbiage and these vague, ill-defined sentences meant to sound pretty cosmic. I was just twenty years old. I’d met Michael in August of that year. As a former English major, I wasn’t too surprised to find some references to William Wordsworth in my notes, having read his ode above Tintern Abbey, where he had felt “the joy of something far more deeply interfused, a sense sublime”… After all, I was feeling deeply romantic. Here are a few excerpts that 49 years later, strike me as remarkable things for a young person to know, to believe and that actually formed the basis for a rich life with someone that actually lasted.
”The heightening joy in achieving an understanding, a relationship beyond the rampant superficiality, a connection that is omnipresent…transcending the physical, traveling to remote areas of consciousness and with that utter knowledge and depth, comes total relaxation and easiness that fill me with pleasure and bring me close to ecstatic tears.”
“We are not lovers, except in our minds. I don’t know if we’ll ever share ourselves in that lovely physical passion, but, suddenly, how irrelevant. For there, I know him, too. And that is enough.” Big thoughts, indeed.
And the rest, as they say, is history. By April of 1972, we’d taken the step past our magical friendship and moved in together to start the rest of our lives. We never broke up or took time away from each other, even when we got into the issues that are common in sharing everything. When things got tough, we went back to that initial remarkable experience of our friendship which helped us navigate everything. Even death.So here I am, three years out from that death. I wish I could talk with Michael all the time, sharing all my thoughts with him and listening to his in return, especially in this most stressful moment in history. But I can only send my words out to the universe. What I can do every day, is follow the advice I gave myself long ago and still share with anyone who’ll listen – find a small beautiful thing to love every day. Develop excellent coping skills because the bulk of life is about problems that require coping. I’m doing a pretty good job. But it turns out that the powerful grief I feel, although easier to manage daily as time goes by, is as much a part of me as Michael is. I’ll never put it away because it’s an intricately connected part of whatever is the thing called a soul. Inside me is a blend of wailing, ecstasy, fury and gratitude about what I was lucky enough to recognize when I was just a baby. I’m also glad I can understand the power of my newly titled “grief love.” In the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “ …The girl raised her eyes to see who was passing by the window, and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later.” That’s what I am thinking of on this eve of the third anniversary of Michael’s death. For as long as I’m still here I’ll carry those feelings and Michael inside me. I could’ve done a lot worse in this life.