Seven years

Seven years ago June 18 was a typically balmy day in Charleston, South Carolina. I was in Charleston working on a short term gig for an uphill Congressional campaign that my girlfriend and I had joined immediately following my graduation from UNC Chapel Hill.

My girlfriend, Jamie, had been one of my best friends for the preceding sixteen months while we worked for John and Elizabeth Edwards. Our relationship had turned romantic in the aftermath of the Edwards campaign. Our year-plus of being best friends beforehand had lent itself to an accelerated romantic relationship in so many ways. This comfort level allowed us to cut through the grade school bullshit that clouds the early days of dating which was a gift.

Over Easter weekend Jamie had told her mother that we would end up getting married.

Mind you, this was the first visit I had made to Jamie’s hometown, so it came as a bit of a surprise.

So, yes, we planned to get engaged and married. Eventually.

One night a few weeks before June 18, Jamie had shown so much grace and poise that I decided on the spot to order her engagement ring. In order to do so, I called my Nana and asked her if I could draw down on some of the money that she had set aside for each of her grandchildren. I remember the conversation clearly.

“Nana, I’ve decided that Jamie is the girl I want to marry, and I want to order the ring.”

“Honey, you are sure?”

“Yes.”

“Well, if you are sure, ain’t no sense in wasting time. I’ll send it along…”

Around lunch on the 18th I received a call from FedEx that a package had arrived that I had to pick up at the shipping facility due to its value. Jamie and I carpooled, so I asked her if I could borrow her car.

I will never forget the sense of happiness and anticipation that came when I opened the box and saw the ring for the first time. My intention had been to drive to my apartment, hide the ring, and proceed with my day. Instead, I drove back to the office, could not resist showing a coworker, and started to consider proposing that evening.

Which, of course, I did, because I am seemingly incapable of waiting once I’ve determined my course.

Jamie had told me previously that she had seen a couple get engaged on the Battery in downtown Charleston, and she thought at the time that it was among the most romantic things she had seen. So, on the evening of June 18, to the Battery we went.

We walked. And we walked. And we walked. Mostly because I had lost my nerve. Eventually Jamie turned to me and said, “My head hurts, my feet hurt, can we go home now?”

A few steps more and I chose that moment to propose. I do not remember much of what I said, neither did she, but we both cried tears of happiness. And, you know, her aches and pains magically healed as we called family and friends to tell them the news.

Dreams

Do you remember the arrogance that comes with young relationships? A sense that your relationship will work, regardless of finances, distance, age, familial issues. A sense that your relationship is remarkable — that it will stand the test of time even if the statistics say it may not.

On June 18, all we could imagine was growing old together. We spoke of our life to come so often that I could see it in my mind’s eye.

In the weeks that followed Jamie’s death I had a recurring dream that featured a rambling beach house full of kids and grandkids, memories and moments, and dreams of what was to come. In my dream, I would round the corner with two Gin and Tonics in hand to find Jamie combing her gray hair, deep smile lines embedded on her suntanned face. She would look up and smile, I would place her drink on the counter, and we would kiss.

And then, of course, I would wake up with the realization that the dream would only ever be a dream.

Dates

Seven years later I approach June 18 with some trepidation. It is a bittersweet day, to say the least, as I recall that date, and our marriage, with great joy, but alongside that joy resides sorrow. Jamie isn’t here to toast our marriage any longer.

Dates have a particular resonance, especially once you have endured a great loss.

February 1, our first kiss. February 15, the first time we said I love you.

April 18, our wedding anniversary. April 22, the day we were attacked. April 24, the day Jamie died.

Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Fucking Valentine’s Day. Shitty Thanksgiving. Terrible Christmas. New Year’s Eve.

A dear friend asked me in April if I thought that the avalanche of memories that comes with the end of April would ever cease to paralyze. I still do not have an answer. I hope so. I tend to fall apart each April now. I tend to find myself lost each spring.

The truth is that the dates are a reminder of the time before — which might be the most painful part of each day of remembrance.

A person whom I love dearly, who is facing a severe loss imminently, shared words with me recently that spoke to the last lighthearted weekend before the news that has shaped her world.

It was an “a-ha” moment for me in many ways, because it helped me verbalize why the dates are so hard.

The dates are a reminder, a powerful one, of what it was to believe that life would work out. A reminder of joy, lightheartedness, love. A realization that while some of those feelings might return, none of them will carry the same lightness again.

How could they be so light when you realize the temporary, fragile nature of life?

I sincerely hope that those feelings return. I am an optimist by nature.

Friends

So how will I spend June 18?

With all credit to the Beatles, I get by with a little help from my friends.

Friends, chosen family if you will, and “blood” family provide the only means to survive enormous loss in my experience.

The first June 18 I sat on a front porch in my hometown with pizza and beer, my dear friend and her children, and my best friend. The next day I drove to Raleigh where Ashley Christensen, and her staff, provided healing through food at Poole’s Diner to continue remembering the anniversary of our engagement. A moment I will never forget.

This June 18 I will gather with friends at Death & Taxes, Ashley’s new restaurant in Raleigh, and we will toast to Jamie’s memory. We will tell stories, we will reflect on life, and we will talk about our lives now. We will fill the night with good food, laughter, and friendship.

And I will choose to honor the date, because it matters. Because our love story mattered. Because Jamie matters, still.

Ultimately, I will also strive to honor the moment, because our life is ultimately a collection of moments, small and large, that add up to something.

Cheers.

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