Tonight I hear the crickets and feel the warmth of a humid summer night, knowing how much you enjoyed these moments. You favorite times of year. I recall sadly how you never asked me what was mine. You were too preoccupied with your own experiences.
I will tell you now, unprompted, it is early Autumn evenings. Specifically the moments when Summer and Fall are briefly touching. Overlapping. The heat rolls back and the crisp smell of earth and the decay of leaves replace it. It’s sharp and vivid. My senses grow more alive. Alert. The ground feels firmer. The water tastes colder. And my heart feels more restless.
But I understand why you prefer the Summertime. Because I understand you. You love it when everything is dynamic. Playful. Summer is a time of energy and motivation. Passions run high. But I recall how you especially loved those Summer nights, when calmness takes over even in those wild-eyed months of strange intensity. You loved the lightning bugs. The cicadas. You drank in the heat and embraced the weight of the Southern humidity. Like a cloak that wraps itself around you, protective and soft.
I loved sharing those moments with you when it was just us and the stars. Just us and those lovely Summer bugs. I felt relaxed in the midst of your madness. I felt at peace when your mind finally stopped darting around, and it became– so very briefly– still. At last we were sharing a moment for what it was. Crystalized and whole. Pure and real.
When I think of you, I think of the expansive cornfields of Iowa. I think of the mountain streams in Appalachia. I think of the Elk herds in the Rocky Mountains. The quilt work patterned view of the land in the Palouse. I think of the pink hue of the sky at Slyvia Lake. The bleached white sands of Moab. And sometimes, if I can bare it, I think of simply you. The curl of your hair and the enthusiasm of your voice.
You were so child-like. You had a raw enthusiasm for things.
I loved loving you. I loved kissing your forehead and holding your hand. I loved figuring out ways to make you relax. I loved making you feel good. Important. Less insecure. I loved overlooking your flaws and reassuring you that I loved you for you. Just you. You didn’t have to try hard. Just simply be with me.
But no matter how I care to look at it– our story from the beginning, our story in its middle, and our story at the end– you were never really there along side me. You were in front of me, impatient and imposing. The one constant through it all was the unending gnawing loneliness inside of me that never abated. It was a constant pain fed over and over again by years of neglect.
By a turned back. A smile that didn’t match the eyes.
You kept telling me to prove it, that I loved you, but you withheld your own affections until my soul felt as desolate as the sands of Moab. How could I prove love to someone who didn’t believe in it? Who mocked it? You would have had me swim out into the furthest reaches of the ocean to prove it to you– to chase your approval– And then, upon tiring, would have expected me to drown in sacrifice to the ideas you had no intention of ever reciprocating.
Grief is painful when it’s experienced alone, but I see now that I was always alone. And when I recall it again, the pink in the skies above Sylva Lake are more beautiful. When I recall the desert, it is whiter and brighter now because I am no longer carrying your soul with me. I cast it back into the breeze, I watch it twist and moan. Pitiable and thin. To think I spent so long tethering myself to such a creature! To shed you from me now is as simple as a shake of my wrist.
Grief is natural, and its bitterness can be sweet sometimes. The scenes of your life play out in front of you in a colorful arrangement of nostalgia tinged with the empty knowledge of a chapter’s ending. Grief is easier if it’s held by the people who shared those scenes together. They can cusp it in their palms and pass it along to one another in wonderment at what life had gifted them despite its inevitable endings.
It is hard when grief is left to be managed by one person. Alone. But today I am tasting its sweetness. Today I am victorious because I, and my cherished memories, are finally free.