Have you ever felt like your heart was being shredded? That it was just so full of sorrow that it might explode through that tight place on your breastbone? And do you know that feeling you get in your throat, right before your tears start spilling out onto your cheeks and off the bridge of your nose? Like it’s so tight it would hurt to swallow? That’s how I feel right now.
I hate loss. But I think the grief that comes with loss has the potential to be purifying. Whenever I cry, Teddy takes my face gently in both his hands and murmurs, “Aw, hon…” while he carefully wipes the tears away with his thumbs. Teddy loves me. I can feel it in his touch; in the way he puts his hand on the small of my back every time we cross a street. I see it in the way he looks at me with love even when he is completely exasperated with me, and the way he takes care of me, and my cats, and my home. He seems to take pleasure in making me breakfast every morning he is here, and waking me up with a kiss and a “Good Morning Kitty”. During the week, when he is at work as an air traffic controller for the Marines, and we are apart, he still wishes me a good morning kitty and sends a kiss via text. Every morning, without fail, no matter how early he has to get up. And at night, when we cannot sleep in each other’s arms, he says goodnight the same way. “Goodnight Kitty. Sweet Dreams. Kiss. I love you.” To which I always respond, “Goodnight Baby. Sweet dreams. Kiss. I love you too.” There is some thing so tender about being the first thing someone thinks of in the morning, and the last thing they think of before they fall asleep at night. But he was that for me, just as I was that for him.
There is no real reason Teddy and I broke up. We fought very little and laughed a lot. We had adventures together. We supported one another through difficult times and life altering changes. And we cheered one another’s successes. We fit. There was harmony. And joy. A lot of it. The biggest struggle was perhaps the distance. We saw each other only on weekends and sometimes, during the week, the stress of being apart would create tension. Teddy used to joke that he was going to stop calling me because the only time we ever fought was on the phone. He was right. The second we were in each other’s presence, any lingering anger or fear would instantly melt away.
There is this book called “A General Theory of Love”. It talks about why we are attracted to and fall in love with certain types of people, but from a neurobiological perspective. It’s nerdy and spot on, and so of course I love it. They use a term called “limbic resonance” to describe that feeling of mutual attunement that lovers have with one another. From a neurobiological perspective, limbic resonance is literally two nervous systems that are dancing together. This happens not just between lovers, but also between mothers and infants and even close friends and siblings. It has the effect of helping people to regulate their emotional states. Teddy and I had this in spades. He would walk in the door, and I would feel my whole body relax. Apparently I did the same for him (which, for those of you who know me and my high levels of anxious energy, seems absurd).
I have never felt more cherished than I did with Teddy. Despite our thirteen-year age difference and him being the younger one, he was, unfailingly, the man of the relationship. With him I knew that I could relax, because whatever “it” was, would be taken care of. He found my spastic outbursts (which usually led to me inadvertently inflicting pain on him or myself) amusing. If I hurt myself he was there in a half second, arms wrapped around me, making sure everything was ok. He never let me open a door. He made sure he walked on the street side of the sidewalk. He fixed things around the house that I presumed were either unfixable or completely out of my scope of knowledge (which is of course, limited). If I was particularly overwrought he would just hold me in his arms, and tell me to breathe, and kiss me until I calmed down. He wanted to talk about things. He put our relationship first as much as he could, especially given the demands of his job. He didn’t expect me to be anything other than a woman, and accepted that meant that I would be emotional, irrational at times, excited about house wares and clothes, and uninterested in sports. He loved my femininity. And it didn’t hurt that he knew how to shoot a rifle, fight, and wore cammies to work.
At times, we felt our age difference. Particularly when we had to listen to each other’s music. Especially when we talked about the future. Teddy was perhaps more committed to a future than I was for a long time. He saw the differences and believed they were workable. I saw them too, but at 36, I saw them from a different vantage point, and felt I could never ask him to commit to a lifetime with me. I wish I were wrong. I still hope that I am. I know in my heart – the same one that is aching with the pain of our separation – that I am not. He knows it too. But then again, our hearts often lead us astray.
A month ago, Teddy got orders from Quantico. He leaves for Okinawa in December for the rest of his enlistment, which is 2 ½ years. I am not going with him. One of the last things Teddy said to me was that he couldn’t stand being together knowing that we had an expiration date. That it felt forced. And that is no way to be with someone. He is right. For the past month, since we got the news, neither one of us has slept well and our time together has been marked with tears and grief at the impending end of our relationship. It seems so stupid that two people who bring each other so much pleasure and joy should have to separate. Teddy has a huge, generous heart. I do too. And so together, we would take all the joy and love between us, and we would, without ever outwardly discussing it or agreeing on it, spread it around to others. We liked to help people, our friends in particular. We liked to share our joy and our good fortune with others.
I hate loss. But I hate the Hallmark, pop psychology sentiments that people thoughtlessly offer in times of loss even more. Along with the expectation that we just “keep going”. So I was thrilled when my friend Meghan recently sent me the following quote: “I admire those who buck the cultural expectation that we move on quickly after a loss as huge as the end of a [relationship]. If we do not suffer a loss all the way to the end, it will wait for us. It won’t just disappear. It will fester and we will experience its sorrow later, in strange forms.” It was like salve on a wound. And it’s the absolute truth. I have seen the later forms of undealt-with sorrow. It’s not pretty. So while I sit here, hating the ache in my heart, and the stickiness of my tears, feeling lonely as all hell and a little angry at the world, I also feel grateful. Grateful to be able to sit with my pain and see it through to the end, however long that may take. Grateful to have met and fell in love with Teddy. Grateful for the exquisite year we spent together. Grateful to know that there is, out there, a man who loves me just as I am. Even if he isn’t mine anymore. And even if it means I have to miss him.