Mike left around 3am Saturday morning, headed out to West Virginia. It's his first major solo backpacking trip since we've been together. Three nights out in the mountains alone, with no cell service. Our only form of contact has been a satellite device that lets him send me preset “all is well” messages with his location every few hours (this is proving to be a complete Godsend for quieting my mind, which is trying like crazy to create horrific stories of him breaking a leg or being mauled by a bear while I’m sitting on the couch watching TV).
I don’t have to tell any of you the sort of feeling this trip brings up. Especially if your person died from a sudden loss, while they were away on a trip. This specific trigger is one I have known I would have to face, some day.
The old me would not bat an eye over this sort of event. I am not a needy person, nor have I ever been. I can spend hours and days alone, and enjoy myself so completely in the space of solitude. For me, it is grounding. Drew was often on trips for work, long weekends or week long trips, sometimes out of service for most of the day. So I was used to this sort of thing before. Well, the old me was.
There were a few tears as Mike and I went to bed Friday night. The memories of my last moments face to face with Drew came flooding back, and filled my head so completely that it was impossible not to feel it all. Moments sitting across a cafe table over lunch, with the most stupidly melancholy music playing in the background. Moments when both of us knew what we feared deepest, that it was our final goodbye. Because of the dangers of his job, there was always a slim chance it'd be the last time we'd see each other. We’d already had those talks though, so instead, we chose to smile as we looked into each other’s eyes. We chose to see this trip as a whole new adventure, and nothing more.
It's an odd feeling, looking into your partner's eyes trying to fathom the immense possibility of their laughter and voice and presence being gone. One I still can’t fully grasp to this day, despite my having experienced it. There is simply no way to fathom someone you love, with a strong heart and a healthy body, going so quickly from full of life to lifeless. It had never even occurred to me before just how fragile his strong body would be in the midst of a trauma. I don’t think any of us can grasp the complexity, and the simplicity, of this fragility… of this silent slipping of the soul from between our fingertips - which try with all their might to hold on.
I've thought a lot this past week about all this, and moreso this weekend. About the uneasy feeling I will always have when my partner leaves now... Because I know in the hardest way, there is never any guarantee he'll come back. Not a morning goes by that I don't imagine Mike in a car accident as he goes to work too. It’s never a panic, more of a passing thought than anything else… I have just come to allow the thoughts to be there and to pass as they will. It’s like scar tissue that my blood must flow over each day. It will simply always be.
I’ve thought about life and living this week too. About fear. About making the most of it all. We can't just exist in a vacuum to protect ourselves. Well we can, but what sort of life does that leave us? What sort of legacy does that create to honor the dead with? Life is for living. I will never regret supporting Drew's dreams of being a commercial helicopter pilot… even if what he loved is what killed him. I am so proud he got to do what he loved and be supported doing it in his short time here. It was worth it. I know with a full heart what it meant to him that I stood behind his dreams, even if they meant months apart at a time, and the possibility of far worse.
I'll feel the same with Mike too, for however many days we have together. Because if something were to ever happen to him, I would want him to have tasted every breath of beautiful life in the outdoors that he possibly could have while he was here.
In the hours of unknowing, the times that I begin to worry something bad could happen, I try to remember that ALL of our hours are unknown. We fool ourselves into a false safety that is never really there, and then we try to live within the walls of that, missing out on so much more sometimes. For the walls are but ruins, and they do not feed the soul.
This trip of his has given time for the wheels to turn quite a lot. We’ve become safe since I moved here. We’ve begun to live within the so-called “safe walls” of our own respective ruins. And maybe that was needed for a time, as we adjusted to a new life and many new scary things, like stepping into love again after loss. Just loving again, after all, is risky enough.
As the new year approaches though, I cannot help but feel a call to return to something more. I think it’s time we began to step outside those walls once again...