I am not the only traveler
Who has not repaid his debt
I’ve been searching for a trail to follow again
Take me back to the night we met
And then I can tell myself
What the hell I’m supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
Not to ride along with you
I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
Haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met
Lord Huron, “The Night We Met”
I have many images of you. You, in high school with your long, multi-colored hair and blue combat boots. You, smiling and goofing off with your friends. Playing lava tag after dark. You, in college partying. Laughing, joking, procrastinating.
You already knew then that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with me. You knew that you had to get your act together and graduate in order to make sure that life happened. And every weekend you traveled that 90 minute trek in your aging silver Oldsmobile Omega, laundry in the back, to visit me.
And me? I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you as well. Me, holding on to you for dear life before your three-week trip to Hawaii after graduation. Me, looking forward to you coming every weekend. I chose you. My best friend. My kindred spirit. The one with my sense of humor and sarcasm. The one that I could talk about the BIG THINGS with.
I have images of you. Looking at me. I didn’t need romantic gestures. I just had to look at those large, piercing blue eyes. All of my answers were right there in front of me.
I came across a photo album of pictures of you, and of us, from those high school and college days. The days before you had lines on your forehead and dark circles on your eyes. We had the whole world in front of us, and we had each other. We had everything. And we were so… care free. Seeing you in those photos struck me. You, unencumbered. What I wouldn’t give to see you look that way again.
Years of marriage chipped away at that a bit. The years with small kids are always weighty. Suddenly, we were now not just responsible for ourselves. We had another person, and then people to support. Little people who depended on us for food, shelter, creature comforts, and love. We got tired. Sometimes, we snapped at, or resented each other.
It was important to get away, just the two of us, to reconnect. Date nights, concerts, vacations… Seeing our favorite bands live was our mutual escape. Perhaps slightly more for me than for you. I think that you went out to them with me because you loved to see me happy as much as you wanted to see the band yourself.
Another image. You and me at Lollapalooza ten years ago. You got out your camera and took a picture of us. You wanted to capture that look of carefree joy on my face. The look of joy that brought you joy. That weekend ended with Arcade Fire on the South Main Stage. They closed with “Wake Up.” The crowd was so caught up in the moment that the main chorus became our joint anthem long after the band had left the stage. We all sang it as we moved like cattle through the crowds. We all sang it as we poured out into the warm summer streets of Chicago.
You never sought the sky. All you wanted to do was to get married to me, have a solid job, and have some kids. Five years after we were married, we had all of those things. I loved all of those things as well, but I got greedy. I wanted something more. I wanted a separate identity all of my own in the form of a career, and I invested too much into it, assuming that it would pay me back some day. And when it didn’t, I struggled. You tried to tell me. You tried to pull me back, but I wouldn’t listen. Until I had to.
You were not in the room when they told me that I had cancer. The staff told you to take the kids out of the room, because the resident hospitalist needed to speak to me over the phone. You were not prepared. You thought that we were on the verge of laughing about that time that I had to be admitted to the hospital over digestive issues. When you came back to the room, I told you what the doctor had said. Your entire demeanor morphed into shock and disbelief. You were not prepared to hear the words, “malignant tumor.”
You had everything that you ever wanted in life. But you were not prepared for the rules to change in the middle of the game. You didn’t ask for much, and you worked hard for what you had. A dark and arbitrary plot twist was not supposed to be part of your story. When you had to leave the hospital that night to get our kids settled in for sleep, I saw something in your eyes for the first time. Something that hasn’t gone away since. That something was, and is, fear.
These days, you are carrying it all. Taking care of me. Taking care of the kids. Taking care of all of your work obligations. I try to remind you to take care of yourself. I try, every day to show you how much I adore you. I try to make sure that you know how amazing you are as a father, a husband, and a friend.
I would do just about anything to hit rewind. To see the worry leave your face and the weight leave your shoulders. To see the hope that you once had come back. To see the fear finally leave your eyes. What I wouldn’t do, to go back to that place we once had, that we will never get to experience again. Even if just for one night.
But we can’t rewrite the chapters of the past. We found each other. That’s something. We created three beautiful human beings together. That’s something.
And I know how you feel. I know that you wish that your story could end with mine. That you could follow me into that dark tunnel. But you can’t. Because you have to stay here and finish raising our children. To let them know that you will not leave. To love them unconditionally. To be the one that they can always go to for anything.
I have many images of you, far in the future. Watching the kids graduate. Moving them into college. Holding our grandchildren. And maybe, some day, finding someone new. You, smiling with your friends, your children, your family. You, partying and laughing. You, living life, once again, with hope instead of fear.