The first year without her
The first month feels like a year, and then a week, and then a year again. A cold, long, drawn out year with no seasons, and no clocks.The first few days are as cold as ice; way too chilly for Columbus Day Weekend. You stop crying, and you start cracking smiles at small talk but there’s still a pound of salt in your wounds and your friends see right through your grin, no matter how many teeth you’re making it a point to show. Old neighbors, classmates and even complete strangers rise from the rubble to ask how you’re holding up, including but not limited to that friend-of-a-friend you follow on Instagram but have never met in real life and that middle-aged man who does PR for your high school. Each “fuck off” you feel rolling off your tongue turns into something civil once it hits the air.
You wake up. You get dressed. You go back to work. You get on.
Everything reminds you of her.
Two months in, you start to feel feelings again (for-real feelings, not just that jolt you you get when you miss your train by half a flight of stairs). You muster up the courage to watch her favorite movies, listen to her favorite songs, but nine times out of ten you stop halfway through (if that far at all). The tenth time, you make it ’till the end, only to realize that the last 30 seconds of Dirty Dancing has never left you feeling more confused; that Patrick Swayze telling Jerry Orbach not to put Baby in the corner has just left you equal parts inspired, weepy, starving (?) and (#1) wondering why the fuck you just did that to yourself.
Your friends and family show their true colors. Some of their shades surprise you.Three months in, normal is the handsome stranger sitting at the end of the bar and you’ve finally locked eyes. Sure, you immediately break eye contact and you’re moonwalking away to go finish your pint glass of Pinot in the bathroom Cady Herron-style, but (moral of the story) normal is in arm’s reach. Even if it looks like Patrick Dempsey and you, like Amanda Bynes post-Is It A Bong Or A Vase?
The “I’m sorry for your loss” eyes grow infrequent and the harder holidays come and go as an empty chair — her chair — is filled by someone new (best case scenario: a three year old whose favorite song is Blurred Lines). Some days, that chair is all you can think about. Others, its the last thing on your mind. That, and the laundry list of things you still need to do (see: pay for her headstone, settle her bank accounts, tell that debt collector in Virginia that you’re not going to pay for that fucking X-ray she got in 2002 and that they can go shave their back now).
Something still feels like it’s missing.Four months in, the smell of hand sanitizer on the counter of a smoothie shop brings you back to the foot of her hospital bed. You forget how to breathe as you envision the nights she (more than likely) spent sleeplessly crying because you left her alone with a six inch television she could barely see and a 12 inch Subway sandwich, half of which she could never even stomach. You wonder how that PA — Johnny, Jason, James, she could never remember his name — is doing. You want to thank him for being there when you weren’t, but you never call.
Everything still reminds you of her.
The smell of cigarettes. Bay Ridge Pizza. The sound of Tom Bergeron’s voice.Five months in, you attend the local Saint Patrick’s Day Parade with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and her one month old baby boy. You wish, more than anything, that she could have met him — loved him — but you find solace in the fact that you got to tell her he was coming. The pregnancy of a childhood friend — unexpected, but welcomed — was one of the last big things you were able to tell her about as her blood pressure plummeted in New York Presbyterian’s immaculate emergency room.
You feel her presence every once in a while, some times more powerful than others.
Six months in, the floodgates open and that corner of your heart you’d roped off for all the shit you need to tell her finally overflows. One day, you swallow your pride, hold your cracked iPhone to your ear, and fake a call on your way home from work. You “talk to her” (while trying desperately to ignore the fact that you’re really just talking to yourself) for 13 minutes, just hoping she can hear you, and that no one can see you ugly crying from their cars.
You tell her all about being published by The Huffington Post, this season of the Voice (#TeamShakira) and that time you got shot in the nipple while paint-balling. You wish her a happy belated birthday, and pretend to hang up.
She would’ve been 60 this year.
Seven months in, there are finally more good days than bad. The afternoons get easier, but after midnight still stings worse than any sunburn she ever tried to prevent when you were feeling young, wild and free (see also: rebellious and completely against anything over 15 SPF).
You gather the strength to go through the Aldo shoe-box full of old photos you salvaged from the two-story house you used to share together. You have so many questions (Is this my grandpa? Who is this blonde woman you’re jumping from cliffs with? Are those bell-bottoms real and where can I find them?) but they’re all left unanswered. Maybe for now. Maybe forever.
The very same goes for how she feels about your outfit, or your highlights. A second opinion that was once second nature is no more, and it doesn’t help that you live with two boys.
Eight months in, you celebrate your first birthday without her. Your first birthday without her using the wrong form of “your” in a fold-out Hallmark card. Your first birthday waking up alone, and not to a voicemail of her singing, even though she’s only downstairs on the couch.Nine months in, you find a travel bag you never unpacked from her stay at Presbyterian. Inside are two unopened Burt’s Bees chapsticks, an orange prescription bottle, Dove deodorant and an eye-mask (when the fuck did she start sleeping with an eye-mask?) You can’t bring yourself to get rid of it, mostly because you have a feeling it’s illegal to toss 15 milliliters of Caphosol to the curb all willy nilly.
A small part of you keeps it just to keep it.
You tuck it away in the bottom drawer of your Ikea nightstand that won’t. fucking. stay. together. (#NoDisrespectToIkea but, in times of grief, the smallest inconveniences have a habit of feeling like the end of the world. Most days, though, you’re just thankful to have furniture at all.)
Ten months in, time starts to blur. You start to forget what it was like when she was around, if only for a second. The next thing you know you’re eleven and a half months in and seeing her favorite singer perform live from the Great Lawn at Central Park. You sob gracefully (you’ve mastered this) as girls around you in cut-offs and maxi skirts frolick in circles to Carrie Underwood’s 40-minute, very pregnant set at Global Citizen Festival. You pray for the love of God she doesn’t sing Jesus Take The Wheel even though you know damn well she’s going to.
She damn well does and you damn well lose your shit.
You go home and watch Dancing With the Stars over a Marie Callender’s chicken pot pie because, even at 23, you can feel yourself turning into her.Twelve months in and you accept that the month she died will always be the hardest (followed closely by her birthday, Mother’s Day, and for some odd reason Saint Patrick’s Day). It’s been 364 days since you held her hand and pulled the plug, but you still can’t bear to listen to old voicemails, afraid of what her voice on tape might do to you (even though you’ve heard her laugh every day since she died). Sometimes, you can hear her say funny things like “fuck you,” and “JACKass,” emphasis on the “Jack.” Most of all, you can still hear her say, “Got me” — her go-to whenever you would say you loved her more.
One year in, all the roads still lead back to her, and that’s okay with you.