Monday, July 6, 2015

The happy ending and the to-be-continued

Two years ago, minus a couple of weeks, I was in shambles. I stood shaking over the body of the love of my life in a cold, sterile hospital room. I choked back tears and immediately began the long and arduous journey of figuring out how to go on with my life.

The weeks and months that followed were among some of the hardest I’ve ever endured. They were more painful than childbirth, lonelier than divorce and more confusing than astrophysics.

I swore during that time that I would never love again. I couldn’t imagine living a happy life ever again. I couldn’t imagine tarnishing Jon’s beautiful memory, the amazing life we shared, the wonderful and promising future we had, by replacing him. Ever. Had you tried to tell me otherwise and I would have painted you a fool.

But as the weeks turned into months I began to wonder if it was possible. I slowly started missing the companionship of being a part of a whole. I began to feel like I was missing something. More importantly I began to realize that in cherishing Jon’s memory I was directly rejecting one of his final pleas – find happiness again.

I slowly became open to the idea that my love life was not over.

I ventured out into the world of dating with a perplexing cocktail of optimism and reluctance, fear and excitement. It was one disappointment after another. There were good men out there. Handsome men. Smart men. Accomplished men. But none were what I wanted.

Jon’s memory haunted me. Nothing would ever be that perfect again.

Just as the loneliness gave way to acceptance and plans for an untold future, the frustration turned the time back right back to where I was before. There was not life after Jon; at least not with another man.

Just as I was ready to throw in the towel and live forever alone, but monumentally surrounded by love – by the love that had left, but endured beyond the grave, by the endless love of my children, family and closest friends – I stumbled upon Josh.

We met online. That’s something I used to hate to admit. It was embarrassing. It looked like I was trying too hard. It was pathetic, almost. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t just meet someone the good ole fashioned way?

I don’t care anymore because it worked.

Josh was the last person I saw before I clicked on the “deactivate” button. I saw his profile and paused. Maybe just one more.

It wasn’t his picture that captured me. He was handsome, but so young looking. It was his job – a history professor – that captured me. Two of the most amazing people I know are history professors. They are not only exceedingly intelligent – a quality I hold above all others – but also fun, relaxed, down to earth and open-minded. They were the coolest, most admirable people I knew. If he shared even any of their qualities, he was worth a second look.

So, I set about the annoying process of talking to him. There were the round of three multiple-choice questions. I don’t remember his answers or even the questions, but I must have approved of his answers. Then there were the “must-haves” and “can’t stands,” which always went completely ignored. Then the open-ended questions. Again, I don’t remember what the questions were or how he answered, but I must have been amused. So I went on to the messaging phase.

We quickly exchanged phone numbers and began texting. Then came the first phone call. We spent more than four hours on the phone that night. I will never forget them. Hours felt like minutes and before we knew it, it was the middle of the night and we both reluctantly hung up the phone. We both could have stayed on the phone all night, but life doesn’t allow for all-nighters on the phone. Nor do phone batteries.

We did that again two more times. By the third night we were chomping at the bit to see each other. We’d have probably both driven to one another in the middle of the night that last phone call, but he was in Kentucky at a history conference and I was home in Florida.

Josh hopped an earlier flight to get home sooner to meet me.

I already had plans. Ironically, it was a pre-arranged date with someone else I felt too loyal to cancel. I spent the whole day gnashing my teeth wanting to cancel and take him instead. I stuck to my guns and went on that date thinking of nothing but him the whole time.

The next day we met, finally. We had only been speaking a few days, but I felt like I had known him for years.

I pulled up to his house that afternoon. We planned to watch one of the World Cup games together. It meant next to nothing to him, but he watched me get riled up and excited. Angry when our team was losing, thrilled when they bounded back.

At one point I had come to the point where it was either, stop drinking so I could go home or crash on his couch. He nervously offered to let me stay making sure to be clear he wasn’t expecting anything. Normally I would have put down the beer and called it a day, but something told me it was OK to stay. So I did.

I practically never left after that night.

We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking. We shared entire lifetimes of experiences. At the end of the night we had shared intimate secrets, but still had not kissed. I was disappointed. Finally as we headed back inside to call it a night I looked at him.

Suave as he could probably muster he just looked at me and smiled and said, “oh, you want a kiss?” And like a lost schoolgirl I giddily said, “yeah.” And that was that. We spent only a few nights apart after that.

That was a little over a year ago. Since then he’s met my children, my dad, my mom and all of my friends. He’s seen me go to the bathroom and examined boo-boos. We’ve moved in together, picked out paint colors, shared household duties, adopted a puppy and mastered the art of cohabitating.

Then, just three nights ago, he proposed. I said yes.

Ours is truly a story of what can happen if you’re patient. He wasn’t just the right guy. He wasn’t just a nice guy. He was THE guy.

I told him about Jon and, unlike the other guys I had dated, he didn’t cringe or squirm. He thought it was a beautiful story and he asked questions and wanted to know about Jon. On the anniversary of Jon’s death, just one month after we had started dating, he took me out for the day to take my mind off of what was the biggest of all anniversaries.

We found a $20 bill just laying on the ground at Malibu Grand Prix. We had literally just walked by the area and nothing was there. No one else had come or gone, but there it was. Josh picked it up and said, “hey, thanks Jon.”

To this day Jon is a part of our lives. There are photos of him. The kids talk about him. And it never gives Josh even a moment of hesitation. He doesn’t want me to stop loving Jon because he knows I can still love him too. He wants me to remember and cherish those days because he recognizes something Jon too recognized – the bad things that happen in our lives can shape us into better people if we let them. Josh helped me turn a senseless tragedy into the ultimate learning experience and, ultimately, the best homage I could ever pay to the love I lost.

Josh helped me through the anxiety I still suffered following Jon’s death. He bought me a book on panic attacks. He encouraged me to get counseling. He practiced all the meditations and new behaviors I was told to learn. When I cried, he held me. When I needed to talk, he listened. When I needed to be alone, he took the kids for a walk.

He has been my savior.

But yet when he proposed I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret, guilt even. Ironically the day he proposed was the same day Jon and I started dating. He didn’t know that at the time.  But I told him and didn’t think for a second I shouldn’t. He understood the symbolism behind that.

I worry about Jon’s friends and family thinking this is too soon. I worry it is some how an insult to those people. But in my heart I know this is right. Part of my even thinks Jon had a hand in the whole thing.

The bottom line is, there are happy endings. Even when happy endings seem so unlikely. The world threw me the ultimate hard ball, but my repayment for healing and learning and remembering was a love just as good as the love Jon and I shared.

I hesitate to say, but it may even be stronger for it. Jon and I could have and would have spent the rest of our lives together. Ours would have been a happy marriage. I’m still sad I was robbed of that and even sadder Jon had to leave this world to miss the amazing experiences that have come since his death and all those that will follow.

I watch Josh and I’s new puppy play with Jon and I’s no longer puppy and I think, “gosh, Jon would have loved this.” It makes me sad.

But I’m so much stronger now. I’ve accomplished so much in his memory. And Josh has been at the wheel for the past year. I dreamt of my happy ending and now I’m living it.

Out of the depths of darkness rises light. I can’t wait to marry Josh. I dream of all that will come of our lives. We daydream about being a power couple, but what we miss in the excitement is, we already are.

Thank you to all who have endured this journey with me. To all of my friends who have held my hands through grief, loneliness, sadness, panic attacks and even drama, I couldn’t have done this without you.

My journey is not over, it’s only just begun. I can’t wait to write more of the happy ending and continue to prove that it is possible to love two people all at the same time.

One does not diminish the other.