The experience of sudden loss is jolting. I am left aimless and alone in our house with remnants of you everywhere, but you are not to be found. It's confusing.
I see your things. I can't walk into my closet without walking through yours. I see your shirts – hung meticulously and color-coded ready for your next wear. I see your hats – arranged in order of preference on a shelf meant for shoes, still smelling of your sweat and hair. I see your yoga shorts – waiting for your next Downward Facing Dog and quickly improving Kundinyasana. I see your pajama pants – the ones that say 'Dog Gone Tired' with cartoons of sleepy pups that you would lounge in on our lazy days. Your towel still hangs on its hook by the shower. I have been using it to dry off. Some days I don't though, instead I just grab it between my hands and smell it as deeply as I can, as if maybe I'll find you in the scent. I'm looking for you in everything, Teddy.
Yesterday I walked into a restaurant we only went to once. I was there to pick up some to-go salads for April and I. I made a quick choice on what to eat, my appetite is nothing like it used to be. I didn't allow my eyes arrive to the spot on the menu that contained sandwiches, because I knew that's what we'd shared that day we dined there together a few months ago. Conscious avoidance is key for me right now. They handed me a buzzer to notify me of my order being up. Damn, this was so familiar.
Buzzer in hand I walked over to the high-top tables to wait. I saw the table we'd sat in that day. I studied the man who was sitting there alone now. I noticed how much he was not you. I felt the new and familiar sense of panic land in my gut. I was about to cry. I made it to the bathroom and locked myself in before the tears hit. It was a single restroom and in the midst of my onset of panic, I remembered how I'd gone pee three times during our lunch together that day. We'd been drinking hibiscus tea throughout our meal. I'd sweetened mine with stevia. You didn't sweeten yours. The bathroom felt all too familiar. I gripped the sink and stared at myself in the mirror. Ugly tears streamed down my face. "Teddy," I cried out. I felt needy.
Even though it was a place we'd visited just a single time, it still carried our shared experience. And every experience we shared was so beautiful. Just that one lunch was special, even though it may have been mundane at the time – you and I never let anything be insignificant. I remembered sharing our plates, passing them back and forth. "I win!" one of us would claim, happier with our own meal. Then, we'd swap dishes, making sure the other person got half of the winner. I stood in that bathroom so alone yesterday. I knew that the last time I'd walked out of that stall, I'd walked back to you sitting at the table where now a stranger was seated, unbeknownst to my pain. And this time, I'd walk back to a buzzer buzzing to let me know that my salad, for one person, was ready. And that there would be no you to share it with from across the table. No you to win.
Coming back to the house after nearly a week of traveling and wandering has been heavy. Things are in order, thanks to compassionate friends and family, but items are starting to be put in different places. And to be completely honest, it's irritating me. Your Playboy magazines peep at me throughout every bathroom stack. They used to always be on top, your favorite 'reading' material, but now they've moved lower in the tiers; family and guests have shifted them more out of sight. I always loved that you read Playboy, one of your boyish habits that kept you unpredictable. In the kitchen, the salt and pepper shaker isn't in the window sill where you kept them, tidily. The olive oil is left on the counter, instead of put back in the pantry. The food in the fridge isn't organized in the way you put it and the selection has shifted. I think your almond butter has been eaten. 'Justin's,' we would call it – an inside joke, because the brand was actually 'Justine's' and I'd pronounced it incorrectly one day. We just decided that's what we'd call it instead, 'Justin's', no mind the mistake.
You always adored my incorrect pronunciations or mashed up linguistic expressions. A few months ago we sat on the couch in the den. "Killed two birds of a feather together!" I said, after booking airplane travel and a car rental on one website for an upcoming trip. The edges of your eyes brightened, your smile lines deepening, "I think you mean, 'Killed two birds with one stone,'" you said, "or maybe, 'Birds of a feather flock together,' but that doesn't really make sense." I blushed. You laughed. We both looked at each other and at the same time said, "Samanthics!" It was our made-up word for Samantha-semantics. They occurred often enough to deserve a nickname. You never criticized me when I made a mistake. You'd correct me maybe fifty percent of the time, but often let it slide with just a hint of an all-knowing smile on your face. You appreciated my imagination just as much as proper English.
Now I'm sitting on the same couch in our den where we booked those tickets. We were planning our trip to Chicago, which we took just weeks before your death. We went to visit your new, and unexpectedly early arriving nephew, William. We flew directly to Chicago. I got very nauseous on the flight, you rubbed my back and made sure I stayed hydrated. We took a taxi to your sister Berkley and her husband, Bob's, house in Roscoe Village. The taxi ride was more nauseating then the flight. When we arrived, my headache disappeared and the joyous reunion with your sister and my great friend/someday-sister-in-law ensued. I'd never been to her house before.
We laughed as we told Berkley and Bob the story of how I'd lied to my mom on the first night you and I had gotten together, nearly two years prior, also in Chicago. It was the night of the first Pink Party, a fundraiser Berk and Bob hosted for their late baby girl, Jane. They'd created a foundation in honor of Jane and were raising money for local maternity wards. We had both come to Chicago independently to support them. That was the night I reconnected with you after nearly sixteen years.
I'd told my mother that I'd gone back to Berk and Bob's house and fallen asleep on the couch until six a.m after the party, which was why I hadn't come back to the hotel room my mom and I were sharing. The truth was, I'd spent that night with you, in your hotel room at the Trump International after the Pink Party. A night that was prompted by flirty conversation, champagne, and you looking incredibly dashing in a well-fitting suit and a pink tie. I claimed I was on a 'man-strike', coming off a terrible breakup and a questionable choice in a previous partner. You ended my strike. I suddenly wished I'd shaved over the past month, an act that was supposed to prevent me from entering into a situation such as this one. My self control was drunk and disorderly.
That night that turned into the early morning too quickly. You whisked me past the concierge into your room, a suite I didn't know at the time was adjoined with your parent's suite. The turn-down service had left opera playing. We made love to an aria. We whispered, laughed, and told each other our deepest secrets until the sun began to rise. I kissed you goodbye and left, hair a mess, shoes in-hand, a run-of-the-mill walk of shame from the concierge's perspective. But it was a night that couldn't end there, because the next day, as I reconnected with my mom in Chicago and you flew to Florida with your family, we couldn't stop thinking about each other. Lust skipped in my stomach like a bouncy ball. I thought of the fancy suite and the good sex, but more, I thought of the laughter, the conversation, and simply the way you made me feel when I'd shared my secrets with you. As we continued to converse after that night: through texts, Facebook, phone calls, and online hangouts – we nervously agreed that the lust wasn't fading, that we had more in common then we knew how to handle, and that we had to give this, us, fate, a shot.
A year and a half later, Berkley and Bob welcomed a healthy baby into their lives. We were there, in their home, the day William came home from the hospital. We watched them, nervous new parents, as they sat his carrier on the kitchen counter. The cat sniffed him cautiously. The dog hid in a corner, nervous about the new noises, the new smells, and the audience. Berk and Bob watched their baby, hand-in-hand, not sure what to do next, they looked around like, 'OK. Baby's here. What now?' They'd been waiting for years for a healthy child in their life. They'd experienced a grievous and painful journey to get there, and now they were there. Still missing their daughter, but delirious at the arrival of their son. Ted, you took one photo with William on that trip. You held and oogled him. My ovaries screamed at me with giddy excitement as I watched you cuddle your nephew, a pure tiny infant. You looked over at me, "Uh oh!" you said when you saw my face, turned on by the sight of my soul mate loving on a baby. We laughed, a knowing laugh. We were both excited – for William, for Berkley and Bob, and for the future and cousins we would create someday.
You died less than a month after that trip. You died before knowing that your other sister, Hopie, was also going to give you a new nephew. You died before knowing what I could give you. And now I sit here, on our couch, in our den, snuggled up in a blanket that is made for two. A blanket we used to playfully fight over, and then share, both winning, as we sat, watching a sitcom at the end of our day. Now I have no one to share the blanket with, no one to share my meal with, no one to book travel with, no one to tell me not to end this sentence with a preposition with, and no one to fantasize about our future family with. I have lost and I am aimless.