In all skills and abilities there is timing…. There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. ~The Book of Five Rings
Part V- Remember (Book of Void)
“By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist.”
“In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.”
Like the night prior, we poured from Minella’s at 4am, this time greeting the Sunday Inquirer’s delivery Van. Once it was determined it was in fact NOT the awaited Uber, we said our goodbyes- the diner no doubt glad to see us go.
There had been flying food, photos and friendships revisited. Only adding to the list of people with whom I want to spend more time. Over the course of the weekend this list would grow exponentially. There are sojourns to take.
How I managed to drag my ass out of bed and down to brunch 6 hours later is beyond me. I was the first one there and would wait nearly 35 minutes before the next arrived.
At breakfast I sat next to Dan and would come to learn he too had cancer; diagnosed with a brain tumor at the same time as Emily, 8 years prior. Whose immediate urgency of treatment versus quality of life and odds of survival freed him in a way I still hoped to find. We both knew there were conversations for us to have, far more connected than either realized. Instead we sat side by side in our shared love of people watching, a habit he confided others that weekend thought creepy. I said “Fuck em!” and we sat back.
We all said our final goodbyes. I packed up and Chris offered me a ride to the train station. My plan was to take the train into the city and then out to the airport. Decompress as the scenery flashed by.
Once on the platform I left Lou a message. I still hoped to see him before leaving PA. I tried, along with a young couple on their way back to Manhattan, to figure out how to procure tickets. The ticket office closed on Sundays and no kiosk in sight. After again texting friends, it was determined cash would be needed and this young couple didn’t have any on hand.
I gave them a twenty. We exchanged business cards. They promised to pay it forward.
I got a call from Lou. He was on his way to pick me up. His Dad said to “tell the tall blonde hello” for him. I am one of the few ever to be invited to Lou’s house growing up, to meet his family.
There are people so important, so close; it is hardest to write about them. For me, this is Lou. This is why his absence ached. So much of our friendship, our connection, what passes between us is often nonverbal. It never was about words with us. Just two people loving one another and seeing another for who they are. There is always a sense of grace and love present. And when we do talk, I wonder if to outsiders we would sound alien. Both so emotionally charged.
We drove through his old neighborhood, grabbing a slice of the best goddamn NY style ‘za and then headed through the back roads towards my old neighborhood, Inverary and The Willows. We wound our way past my first love’s mom’s house and the hospital where I was born. We sat in moments of silence with nothing but our hands connecting us.
We talked about the reunion, our lives, our loves, our passions, fears and dreams. The shape of the city and what was to come for its future. What we hoped for ours. And at the end he dropped me at 30th street station.
The reunion had started, perhaps accelerated, a collision of time. Everything pretzeled, folded in on itself. I was treading in a space where sheer joy and bone deep grief intertwined, felt in unison.
It cut too deep, amusing really, considering my friends refer to me as the deep end of the pool. More than one suitor warned before hubris had him jump in unprepared. And here I found myself drowning, struggling for breath. I wondered if this is how being with me could feel.
I felt jumbled. And sinking back into my life upon returning home proved most complicated. Mom had her neurology appointment to follow-up on her stroke. I needed to prepare to watch my niece for a few weekends as my little sister has her second knee replaced. My apartment was thrashed from my rush to travel. My scan was coming, the list on and on. And all I wanted to do was crawl into a ball, cry and heal quietly. But as is my way I sucked it up, pulled on my big girl panties, pushed forward and got back to work.
Life felt hard. Even my coffees with friends kept short. I, so fragile, feared how easily I might shatter. Yet I was sure when I got through this gauntlet I would yet again see all the glorious silver linings that had come from the past weekend.
Facebook was on fire, friend requests coming in, and emails being sent about. Photos posted from the weekend, everyone commenting. I wrote.
I shared gossip and stories, photos of the changes everyone’d made with classmates who didn’t attend. I realized there were ghost cats, moments of connection uncaptured. One photo eliciting “Isn’t that the love of your life?” there I was again in the quagmire of High School reunions. The past colliding with a lifetime irreconcilable in the present, he and I linked in their eyes. As I suppose it goes with childhood sweethearts. There was no denying, as he’d once said, we’d a long history. And for a time I loved him purely; when I was young and sweet, when we were Raggedy Ann and Andy. Two kids who showed up to school accidentally in matching sweaters.
On the plane home I’d watch Far From the Maddening Crowd. It left me yearning for the magic of a true romantic connection, a companion to hold me these days when the walls close in. Though, I know much of the last two years I could only have survived alone.
For me the years grew harder, the stakes upped, increasing the demands on me, on companionship. My course feeling even to me, at times, a burden, baggage I haven’t wanted to share. When you are living in increments often second to second, very few can join.
Over the years, I would come to learn that even at their very best, marriages are fragile, to know intimately the layers and depth of love, to understand that the love of my life would never be one man. It wouldn’t be a man at all.
And if forced (I mean gun-to-head forced) to pick the conventional “one” man as the love of my life it would have to be my first husband. And I can tell you the mixed pain and depth of love necessary to encourage him to leap, when scared, into the arms of the woman he felt was his soulmate. Who would become his wife for the last 16 years, and come to know and love him fully.
I know for a fact we have more than one soul mate in life. That everything is transient even when you manage to hold on to it. And as many men I have loved will attest, I find joy when others find their perfect match.
Timing is everything. Just when I didn’t think I could take another minute of full-circle feeling. It arrived: an email from an ex.
Matt was the one with me when Libby died. Who knew intimately the connection I had with that little light. Who was with me when I got the news, when my soul leapt from my body and I collapsed to the bathroom floor. Who was there at the hospital, at her funeral and spoke in tribute when I was unable. Who held me up and kept me from also slipping away, when my soul so desperately wanted to join hers.
And like with Spencer that first night at the bar, I sought to deflect. Not wanting to infuse my bad news into his very happy life. Selfishly not sure I was capable to the task of catching him up on the last 15 years that had lapsed between us. Years that unlike the reunion were full of people and relationships he knew all about. Besides, I convinced myself, he and his wife were expecting their first child, a little girl. The timing was wrong.
And like Spencer had, Matthew called me on my crap, squashing my deflection, reminding me in no uncertain terms that we were too intertwined for the bullshit line of “not wanting to insert my chaos into his life”. In being a good friend he was calling foul. “Bad news” he said “to good friends and good people is never timed well, because good people don’t deserve to have bad things happen to them.“
He went on to share that being with me had taught him what to expect and not be willing to tolerate in a relationship. And that a part of the Matthew and Dana story would be getting a new life in the Madison and Matthew story. After sharing with his wife our Christmas night spent in the hospital and his desire to honor “Libby”, the sweetest of souls, they were naming their first daughter Elizabeth. Everything flooded in on me, collapsing on itself at the base of my tub, buckled in a heap of tears and shower water.
Eventually, I pulled myself together and headed to work. At lunchtime checked my inbox. There was a message to me from Matthew’s wife. Home alone in her third trimester as he served over in the Middle East.
I have always been one of the guys. This, at times, is a very frustrating role to play. Wives and girlfriends have often seen my relationship to the men in their life as a threat, especially with the few I actually dated. But those who know me realize this is the farthest thing from truth. My reverence for marriage in all its complexities huge, something I’ve never crossed.
The love of my life isn’t one person. It isn’t a child, a parent, a husband. It is a grace, a light so blinding your heart opens wide. It is moments of intimacy so melded you can’t possibly separate joy and grief. Found in the laughter of girlfriends. The love of my life lives in the words of an ex’s wife’s email.
A woman who in acknowledging I may have been the love of his life revealed how entirely she was his. Who could see me so completely even though we’d never laid eyes on one another in person. Who is capable with such eloquence of giving me peace in knowing that if my next scan reveals what I most dread, that my cancer is back, I could face it without fear. For I have loved well and been loved in return. I have touched another’s heart and in a butterfly effect, the ripples of my soul have touched this life.
I believe the greatest gift we can give another is to see them. Truly see who they are. To have that reflected back is unfathomable. This would be the greatest gift of my life. This magnificent soul would bring so much light to me in a time it was most needed, words containing grace beyond measure.
I was so excited to hear from Matt that you had reached out to him. I know that may sound odd but I will explain. He has wondered about you for years.
Sometimes in life there are people that irrevocably change the course of our futures. For Matt you were one of those people. I would put you and his parents at the top of the list for influencing positively the man he has become. You were the woman who shaped, the one he measured all other women against. You set the bar high!
After losing you he took a hard look at himself and strove to be the kind of man that would never lose a woman like you again. He met other women but he couldn’t seem to settle for less than the ideals you ingrained in him. You motivated him towards the life he wanted. What words could I possibly summon to thank you for that?
You meeting Matt and the things you two shared, the life you showed him, it changed him forever. The person he has become is one that positively influences those around him. It is like he has this magical way of effecting people in his life. You once called him a white lighter and I can see why. In so many ways he saved my life, and I know that if he hadn’t met me my life would be down a much darker sadder path. He is my Dana. You see I wasn’t always the woman I am today and I have worked hard (with his support) to be the person I am. He somehow saw past a lot of walls and problems to the core of who I am and somehow brought that flickering flame to life. He taught me how to be me, just like you taught him how to be him to draw him out of his shell. He says I wasn’t that different but I know what a life changing experience knowing him has been for my soul. I wasn’t always easy to love and yet he stuck by me with a quiet calm patience. That patience in part was learned from you.
So as I sit here I am humble to all the joys in my life. I am thankful everyday for what I have now and my little slice of happiness. I hope that reconnecting with Matt gives you back some of the happiness that you have through your butterfly effect given so many. So in the simplest of words that seem so inadequate, THANK YOU. I hope that someday we can meet so I can give you a gigantic hug. I know you both have over a decade to catch up on but I just had to let you know I will forever be grateful to you for the influence you had on Matt.