It was 13 years ago that we went on our first date. Thirteen years since we danced in his kitchen, and he asked for permission to sweep me off my feet, and I knew—I just knew—that I was going to spend the rest of my life with this man.
That's not really what happened though. There was courtship and romance; there was a ring and a wedding. There was a house in a family-friendly neighborhood that I was certain we would fill with children. But then ... then there was betrayal. And heartbreak. And pain. And tears, so many tears. And then I left. And then he died.
I have written about this anniversary before. I have written about his death. I have written about grieving for him, this man whose flannel I wear today as if it is my magic cape and will protect me from the world and from my own heart, as if it can in some way be a substitute for his arms around me. It isn't, though; it can't be. He is gone, and all that is left is a box of ashes. My precious, beloved Box o' Scott.
But I have not been honest. I have not told the whole truth. It's not that I've tried to lie. It's just that he's been dead almost three years, and I'm still not sure what the truth is. I have wanted—needed—so desperately to remember what I loved about him: how gorgeous he looked in a suit; how he'd sing the Mouse song he'd made up for me; how he would make me mac and cheese when I was sick because it just made me feel better; how he'd insist, every night, that we "make spoons," my body tucked so perfectly into his; how he'd call me his wife-in-law, just because it made us both giggle.
But it wasn't all joy and love and laughter. No real relationship is. There were stupid little arguments about stupid little things—and there were times when I couldn't breathe, and the whole world turned upside down, and I'd stare at him, this man I'd loved for so long, and wonder if I'd made a terrible mistake.
In grief, it isn't easy to be honest about such things, not because you don't want to be honest, but because you can't. It hurts too much. I needed to remember him at his very best. Like that day, so early in our courtship, when he was staring at me, just staring, with the strangest look on his face, and I asked what was wrong, and he just smiled, and then I realized what that look was. "You're loving me right now, aren't you?" I asked him, and he nodded, and I felt it. I felt it in every part of me, the love this man had for me. It is what we said to each other, always: I am loving you. We engraved those words inside our wedding bands and signed our cards to each other and whispered it to each other at night. I am loving you. Right now, in this very moment, I am loving you.
I wore our wedding bands, his and mine, until a few months ago. I'd stare at those bands, know the words engraved in them, remember the moment we exchanged them, remember how it felt when we held hands and our bands would clink against each other. In the last few months, I haven't let those memories fade, but I've allowed myself to recall the ones I'd tried so hard to forget. The night he told me he didn't think he should fight for me because maybe I deserved better. The day, after Thanksgiving, that I cried as I told him it was time to let go, and I hugged him, and he hugged me back but ... but only barely. The way he admitted, later, that he wanted to hurt me, that he knew I needed him to hold me but he wanted to deny me that final comfort. And a million other things—dark things, sad things, painful things that are so much harder to understand than I am loving you.
Today, for the first time in many months, I woke up thinking of him. I burst into tears and then threw up and then cried some more—for him, for me, for us, for the children we'll never have and the home that is no longer ours, and a whole decade of my life that I devoted to him, perhaps in error, perhaps because I was 21 and didn't know better, and besides, when a gorgeous man dances with you in his kitchen and asks permission to sweep you off your feet, how can you possibly say anything but yes?
It isn't easy to be honest about what happened. I don't have all the answers; I never will. I'm finally learning how to be angry with him—not only for dying, but for the things he did when he was alive. It was simpler, somehow, just to miss him. Just to grieve. The whole truth is so much messier, so much harder to sort out, especially when the only other person who has any answers is gone.
This is what I know now, 13 years after our first date, four years after I left him, three years after he's died: I am loving him. Still. Even though he's gone and can no longer love me back.