I have sat down and tried to write this episode over a dozen times. The words would flow and then they’d stop. How does one possibly sum up ten years into words? Ten years of missed milestones, ten years of laughter followed by tears. Ten years of working through grief, it’s a constant battle and ten years of choosing not to be angry at the person who took your life. Ten years have passed since the day I slammed the shot glass down on to the lid of your casket. Ten years have passed since I stood in that snowy cemetery watching as they lowered your cobalt blue casket into the frozen ground. Ten years have passed since I threw a handful of tobacco and dirt onto your casket. The spiritual leader was right, he said “you need to walk away and never look back because Charlie has moved on from this world.”
Not looking back is harder than it sounds. I walked arm in arm with your brothers to the limo and fought the urge to take one last look. It’s been ten years since I have stood in that tiny cemetery, though I have not been back to see you, I do order flowers every spring and the caretaker places the Muppet like dog statute at your feet. That hole in the ground holds only your shell, for I know your spirit is free. That you have journeyed on to the land of never-ending happiness. That each day you peek through the clouds to see what I am up to, I’m sure most days you are laughing while scratching your head and on other days you are pushing me onward.
Onward was the only direction I could go. Your death left a hole in me that I will never fully be able to describe. Why you got called home in the middle of our story, is something I will never understand. Charlie spent eight years of his life chasing after me, waiting for me to be single so that he could make his move. During those days his mama would often tell him “Let her be Charlie, it’s just not your turn yet.” When his turn finally did come, when I finally realized what he knew long ago I submitted fully. To those on the outside looking in it seemed odd to get engaged after just a few short months of dating. In reality we had spent eight years romancing the idea of growing old together. He was eleven years older than me, yet he was filled with childlike wonder, a wonder that was so infectious that you couldn’t help but smile.
Smiles were hard to come by in the early days of grief. I lost my way a few times. But soon the hours faded into days and the days into weeks and the weeks into months. My world stopped on February 16, 2012, yet despite my tragedy the entire world kept on spinning. And I had a choice to make, I could let it spin right on without me or I could spin with it. I made the choice to rejoin the land of the living. I could feel you with me on the hard days, gentle signs here and there letting me know that I would be ok. I had to learn that it was ok to not be ok and that grief is a never-ending process. You have good days and then you have bad days too. Mainly I had to find someone who understood that they have a seat at my table because you lost yours. That our story was cut far to short and that you Charlie left a stack of unfinished business in your wake. I will always be your unfinished business, the love that you did not get to live out.
Because I am your unfinished business, I do everything in my power to make sure my shit is in order. I have become that person who tells her friends that she loves them and checks in on them frequently. I have become that person who makes sure her friends and partner feel seen, that they feel like they matter, and that they are validated on the daily. You Charlie taught me to love like this, you taught me how to love on those who cannot see the good they add to this world of ours. And that is a gift, a gift that will keep on giving.
You told me once “AJ if you make one person feel valued, that person is going to go out and make someone else feel valued and then that person is going to go out and make someone else feel valued and so on and so on, is a ripple that will continue so long as folks feel valued in your presence.” He was right. Each day I do my best to create ripples wherever I go, and I extend my table to make sure everyone I meet has a place where they feel valued and loved. That they have a person they can turn to when the shit hits the fan, a place where they can unleash their deepest darkest secrets and desires without judgment. Charlie said to me, “Be the person people trust and once they trust you, they will relax in your presence and your friendships will deepen.” That is what I want, I want the deep complicated friendships and not the surface bullshit. I want the mess and not the perfectly posed Instagram photo. I want to love like Charlie did. I want to trust without question and develop bonds that will live beyond this lifetime. I do not want to leave any unfinished business in my wake, instead I want to leave a legacy so deep one will never find the bottom.
If anything, these past ten years have taught me is that life always moves on and that if you don’t look up you will hit rock bottom before you can even get the screw cap loose from the bottle. That in order to survive this thing called life we need friends that we can count on, ones that will love us without question and ones that will always have our backs. We need to surround ourselves with people who listen first and offer advice second. Surround ourselves with people who know that sometimes all we can do is offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Words have a time and place and sometimes they are best left unsaid.
Mostly I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me to move on, people who let me know “hey its ok to fall in love again.” People who pushed me back into the dating pool. Those first few times out of the gate were rough. The dating game had changed, it was hard, and I am sure Charlie was up there laughing his head off going “girl don’t you dare slip into another hoe phase. We have already done that.” With time it got easier. With time my heart realized that it would always love Charlie, however there was space to love someone new. That new walked into my life on Veteran’s Day 2014 and I have never looked back. Jay has allowed me the space to love the both of them equally. He realized that in order to love me fully, he also had to learn to love Charlie too. He had to learn how to love someone else’s unfinished business………