A few months ago, while eating lunch at my desk in the office, I happened upon a cycling blog - Fat Cyclist - that actually made me chuckle as I chewed my sandwich. One particular post "How to Use 'The Secret' in Cycling" was so clever and witty that I copied the link and posted it in an AOL instant message to Terrence, who was still in the middle of a bj League season in Japan.
I continued to peruse the blog, and as Terrence was typing, "Fatty is not anywhere near close to funny as I am," I was coming across this section of Fatty's bio:
Besides being a middle-aged guy who loves cycling, I'm also the father of four kids (2 boys, identical twin girls). Until August 2009, I was also the husband of a woman - Susan - who passed away after a five-year fight with breast cancer.
"August," Terrence typed. "That's pretty recent."
And because I have a morbid curiosity of comparing how someone else has dealt with death in relation to my own experience, I clicked on the link to the August 2009 posts in the archive and read:
I did a lot of grieving in the month before Susan died. More than I talked about here, it was clear she was slipping away. She was sleeping almost always, and only rarely did she remember what had happened the last time she had been awake.
It was genuinely more painful to have her present, but be in terrible pain and not lucid, than it is to finally have her be released from what cancer did to her.
But there are definitely times when things get bad for me. Like going into the now-half-empty closet. Or when phone solicitors call, asking for Susan.
Those kinds of things I expected.
What has caught me off-guard, though, is that a lot of the time it’s when something funny or good or interesting happens that I get spun around. Something interesting will happen and my twenty-plus-year-old habit of thinking, “I need to remember to tell Susan about that” will fire, immediately followed by the thought, “I can’t tell Susan about that.”
And that hurts. Bad.
Worst, though, is when I accidentally start thinking about the future. Not the near future; I have an idea what that will be like: school, work, bike rides.
It’s the distant future that gives me what feels like a panic attack. The future was something I thought I had figured out, at least generally, and I was really happy with that future. Now, though, I have no idea what the future looks like.
It’s like when I’ve written something I’m happy with, and then I lose the document without saving.
But those moments are just that: moments. And then they pass and I’ve got plenty to do, and a lot of really great friends, family, and readers to help me get through this.
And that makes a big difference.
"Real thoughts," Terrence typed into AOL Instant Messenger as we were both finishing Fatty's blog post.
"That's the exact feeling I told you about once." I typed back, "That instant, irrepressible urge to tell Rickey when something cool happens."
"I thought about that," Terrence responded.
"It made me cry," I typed, leaning even further forward into my cubicle so that my hair would conceal my face in profile from my coworkers.
"I thought you might have," he replied, not realizing I was talking about now.
"He's a good writer," I wrote back before swiping my finger below my lash line, checking for smudged mascara.
"It hits close to home for you ... Wait. Are you just reading this now for the first time ... at work??"
"Yea, I just took a break and googled 'cycling blogs' and I started reading Fatty's blog. It was so funny. But it's my fault. I read his bio and saw that his wife had died recently, and then I looked up his August 2009 posts."
"You looked for the worst part, baby."
I glanced at my half-eaten sandwich. I wasn't hungry anymore. "I just wanted to see what he had written about it. I didn't think he was going to say something that I would actually relate to."
"Of course, you would relate."
"Cancer and a prescription drug overdose are two totally different ways to go. One way provides an option to say good-bye and seek closure. And cancer is not something you do to yourself and is often unpreventable. It's the noble fight. And your loved ones fight with you."
"True, but death is death. Every time."
I can't tell Susan about that ... I know about that, but I don't know what it's like to have comfort in knowing that I was everything I could have possibly been for Rickey. Instead I was embarrassed. That's my secret. I know that I didn't do enough because I was ashamed of his addiction. It often makes me wonder if I could have saved him. But I can only let myself wonder about it briefly; otherwise the thought eats me alive.
My heart is always ripped to pieces when I watch movies like A Beautiful Mind (even though the plot is stretched) or hear something like what Oprah once said to Chaz Ebert, the wife of cancer-survivor Roger Ebert: "I would just like to say this to you, Chaz, as one woman to another ... you are incredible ... this woman refused to let him die. She refused to let him die. Years ago, during the first operations when everybody was saying, 'it's done, it's over,' Chaz called me and said, 'I refuse to let him die.' And she stood by him and has been with him and taken care of him and shown what true love is."
When faced with the ultimate challenge to be there for someone I loved, I failed. Miserably. Tragically. Irreversibly. In less than a year, I reached a threshold in which I felt that I could no longer deal with the person Rickey was becoming.
That previous sentence alone is the mistake I made. The prescription drug addiction didn't define him. It simply masked the boy I knew. I didn't probe and investigate long enough to determine the reality of what it was doing to him. I couldn't see the college sweetheart I had fallen in love with, and what's worse - I stopped trying to see. When confronted by adversity, I was not strong where he was weak. When the road got rough and he got lost, I hid behind ultimatums and threats, as if halfheartedly attempting to coax him back, rather than grabbing his hand and relentlessly dragging him the rest of the way. I wish I had dragged him.
My Tita Cita was right - the loneliest words in the world are "if only ..."
I hope Fatty finds comfort in knowing that he did everything he could do for Susan. That he stayed by her side until the very end. That Susan knew she was loved and had someone who'd walk to hell and back with her.
I seek solace in many places - lest I allow myself to spiral again and again into inconsolable depression. Maybe because my own self-pity won't bring Rickey back so I do the only thing I can because I can. Live. Maybe because my will to live and live well is strong. Stronger still than I may even realize now.
I search for refuge in realizing that I am not the first to suffer these consequences or feel the things I feel. There are others who have suffered like me, more than me. Tragically. Miserably. Irreversibly. And the real tragedy is not that I suffer now, but that Rickey is no longer with us.
Maurice Maeterlinck, a little-known author, summed up my biggest mistake and lifelong regret in one sentence: "When we lose one we love, our bitterest tears are called forth by the memory of hours when we loved not enough."
And dammit. That shit hurts.
Canada was for Rickey. I wish I could tell him all about it.