I can honestly say that I feel incomplete without Dana while walking through Portland, especially with a family we both know and love. She is my phantom limb, because everywhere I look, a story runs through my mind, this seemingly-eternal conversation because when we talked, it was always a tennis or bowling match. We took turns with our favorite details, or one of us would set it up and the other would knock it down. We had a knack for comedy, an innate sense of who got the punchline because it sounded better in that woman’s voice.
Being Southern, we also never let the facts get in the way of a good story…. in the words of Armistead Maupin, jeweling the elephant. Details over the years began inflating… you know, like in a fishing trip where you catch an enormous fish and after ten years, you say that it was 10 or 20 pounds heavier? But it would only happen in the interest of making people laugh harder.
I also think about her a lot because hello… I’m officiating a wedding. I really had an aversion to a big wedding to her, and not because I haven’t dreamed of a pipe organ, brass section, and full choir since I was a teenager. It’s because while I don’t think this all the time, it is the place where I was the most internally homophobic. It was what if we planned a wedding, and they laughed at us or wouldn’t come? And, of course, I never really figured out who “they” were. I hate myself for thinking that way, but when Kathleen and I got married, you cannot believe how relieved I was that only my dad and my sister were with me. Barely a whisper, and incredibly meaningful. The only reason that my mom wasn’t there is it was a Sunday after church and she had her own church job. My mom might not have been as on board with the whole gay thing as I would have liked, but that would never have gotten in the way of attending a moment that important in my life. She would have recognized it wasn’t about her.
I think that as I began to wrap my brain around it, I would have been excited and giggly. It was being utterly caught off-guard by Dana talking to our priest about it without talking to me first. I know Dana well enough to know that it was just as spontaneous on her end, because we don’t plan things in advance. We’re both attracted to whim. We’re ADHD, so it’s one of the things we do best. I know for a fact that she did not mean to hurt me, and definitely didn’t know my thoughts & fears on the matter. What I learned about marriage was in the years we were together, not a ceremony. I learned by breathing it…. hour by hour by hour….. year by year.
Part of what happens with divorce is that you’re not only grieving backward, you’re grieving forward. A rock sits on my chest when I think of all we gave up. There were excellent reasons for it, but those reasons do not come with any kind of pain relief or inflammation reduction. If only acetaminophen and ibuprofen could handle emotions. For now, the best it gets is Klonopin, where it doesn’t stop my mind, but stops the physical reactions, like cortisol levels going through the roof, racing blood pressure and heartbeat, and being buried under all the lost jokes, all the lost laughter, all the best parts of knowing someone as if they are part of you.
I grieve the part of myself that died, because I am no longer the person I was with when I was with her and lose it when I pretend/predict how we would have grown. Tennis matches that would have added to our collection. But this grief, just like all my others, doesn’t go away. I just change in my reactions to it. Sometimes it feels like movies play in my head in the stories that might have happened, and I smile because they’re just as funny as when we were together. I just judge myself on how close I got the essence of our humor in my head. Like knowing after seven years and change of being married how close I got in what I think her response would be…. but never when I’m sad. Only when I am thinking about the Laurel and Hardy we became. When my mind divides itself and I’m both sides of the conversation, she’s still funnier than me. I am proud of myself for getting to the point that what she would think of x or y is no longer my first reaction.
I have pushed it down to third or fourth. Progress.
We’ve worked together and lived together, so there are very few experiences I have that there isn’t a joke between us, so the new memory connects to the old and my mind drifts, saying her punchline.
The difference for me is now when I think of her, I only remember her hilarity and nothing about the, ummm, unpleasantness. Because first I lost my best friend in the world, and I never mistake the part for the whole.