(Originally written in April 2017)
April 28, 2016: Early in the morning, Aaron Aites dies.
I, who had lived up until then, for fifteen years, as his partner, sit in the chair of the apartment where earlier, he had ceased to exist. I watch the sun go down. The room becomes dark. Large windows, high up on the 43rd floor, look out over empty night air. The room becomes merely shapes, dominated by his empty bed in the middle. The silence consumes me.
The next morning I wake, changed, in a different place.
The shapes are the same, but the light is the tepid grey of dirty dishwater: this place is murky, shadowed and nearly airless. Great billows of fog swirl around me. I can see the rest of the world, see that it keeps on moving forward, and it can see me. There’s a solid but invisible wall between us and I know that I am alone in an airlock that no one knows is there.
At first, I wander into a heavy fog that has gathered some distance off. Life passes minute to minute, most spent in blurry agonies of “why” and “no” and “please.” There is never an answer. Every morning brings the fresh destruction of my world, each day I try to reassemble it into meaning. But the building blocks are faulty, incomplete, they have holes, and they don’t add up.
People quickly lose the ability to see me. My pain covers me like a poison shawl, and even those who’ve known me for years avert their eyes. Only a few, mostly those who have spent time on this side of the wall, who have also been changed, can see me now. We call to each other but the air does something to our words: they vibrate and are disrupted by strange oscillations. Snippets of connection are harnessed and translated through screens.
(((It hurts. Please make it stop.)))
((((((I know… I’m sorry. I can’t.))))))
(((It’s so dark. I don’t know where to go.)))
Later, I trace these conversations with my fingers, to know they were real. To remind myself that even though I’m alone, someone at least knows I’m here, swallowed and hidden in the thick grey depths on this side of the wall.
One or two whole people try to reach me. They step through, knowing there’s a wall, listening and believing, though they can’t see it. They shine beams of light into the fog until they find me, repeatedly, and fill me with their light for an hour or a moment. I absorb this love, little bits of it at a time, and expel it in thin trails through my fingertips. By the light of these ribbons, I make my way to the wall. It takes a year.
And that’s where I am now: one year after Aaron died. A man I still can’t find the words to talk about, though he meant — and still means — everything to me. My wordlessness shames me. My last betrayal. I don’t know why I can’t describe him to others, except in tiny bits and pieces. I want to. I want to tell everyone about the sort of man he was (the best, the kindest, the smartest, the most honest and truthful and authentic and genuine and forgiving). When I try, I go blank. I can speak only in generalities. I avert my own eyes. It’s one thing for me to look directly at the person I lost. It’s another to drag that out of me into the empty air. He is a beautiful soul, but my words can not form the shape of him. I am a vessel that holds the pain of his absence.
So I live in this airless place with his death, with his memory, and I watch the world carry on, even pretend to be part of it. I miss him, or maybe I am him: I’m not sure now whether we separated or merged or both. I can’t tell if I’m me anymore or him or something in between, or just a ghost of a person who used to love and be loved, to have a home, and a purpose. I know that self-loathing has taken root in me and that I have to find a way around it, if I’m going to live.
I know that no one wants to hear it anymore: that I still miss him every day. That most of the time, I don’t have the will to do what it takes to survive. That the pain of living without him is still so strong, after a year, that it’s frightening to think about the future. That his life was stolen from him and there’s no one to rage at. No one to petition. No way to resolve it, or make it right. That I can’t tell him how sorry I am for all the wrongs I did him over all the years, and that I regret somehow failing to do this when I could have. That I hate myself for not making him feel as loved every single day as he truly was, and is, and will always be. That I battle demons now of a ferocity that most people can’t imagine.
But it has also changed, over a year. I have felt shame at not being better able to cope. So much shame. But there’s starting to be something else: compassion toward myself and even pride at having climbed a mercilessly uphill path, at having coped enough to still be alive. There’s defiance and pain now where once there was only bewilderment and pain. I see life on the other side of the wall and I believe in its beauty. I believe it‘s a precious gift, in a way that people on the other side can’t really understand or appreciate.
I won’t let this destroy me, even as some days are still lost in torrential memories, or sometimes in sheer terror at the loss of them. I will allow this to reforge me in a kinder, more empathetic, and stronger cast, broken and bruised but still fighting to mend and love in a world that exhibits far too little grace. This is what I want, anyway, and the wanting is new. It is a start.
Or maybe that’s a lie. Maybe that’s me wanting to believe that things will work out. I used to know what my life was, what it was moving toward. I — we— had a path and a plan. Or so we thought. Now, the rug having been pulled out from under me, it’s all a mystery. Things don’t always work out. The worst possible outcome is just that — possible. Things could still get really bad.
Some days a wash of fog still engulfs me and pulls me deeper into this place, away from the wall, from life. I have to struggle just to make it back, to place my palm on the cool solid barrier and pretend I’ve just stopped to catch my breath. I don’t know how to cross through the wall without leaving my love behind on this side. I’ll never stop wanting to protect him, and I’ll never be able to again. But I won’t leave him alone here.
I stand at the glass. I hold him in my heart and wonder what comes next.
(This post was written seven months ago and I never intended to publish it. I’m posting this today, Dec 22, 2017, because I received the below message from someone who told me that my writing helped them. So to Rebecca: this is literally only going into the world because you asked. And because you told me that something I wrote mattered, that it helped. And that made me glad. It feels good to help others. So a request of my own, to anyone who reads this, is that you let someone know if they have mattered to you, whether it was their friendship or something they put into the world. Life is hard and kindness toward each other is the only way through this mess. My love to all and happy holidays.)
I’m in a better place now. If you’ve lost someone you love, you will be too, eventually. xo