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Life After Death

Often times things die way before we realize they’re dead. It’s the decay that gives away what has already been decided. We were that way. And though I’d like to say “I had no idea”, I had an idea. I could see the rot and smell the stench, but I wasn’t prepared for the gore. Knowing someone is dead and seeing their dead body are two very different things. This wasn’t just death. It was slow and painful and somehow sudden all at once. People teased us about the “seven year itch.” I never gave it any real thought because it never occurred to me that there would be any reason for real thought. I was very wrong.

I met her on a sunny day that was the same as any other. She was pretty but not knock you off your chair pretty. She was my favorite kind of attractive. Just plain cute. Chestnut brown hair and beautiful blue eyes. I’d resolved in my mind and heart that I would never marry a white woman. Superficial as it sounds, I had good reasons. But she overwhelmed all of what had made sense. Because the two of us didn’t make a whole lot of sense on the surface. She chased me, no matter what she decided to tell people about halfway through our marriage. Why she decided to rewrite the story I won’t ever know because I won’t ever ask. Revisionist history would become a recurring theme in our relationship. I knew within the first month of dating that she would be my wife. And even though she swore she only wanted kids if her husband did, I knew she would bear my children. That woman made the most beautiful babies. Which meant that we had a beautiful little family. So many of the things that had defined me from my teenage years into my mid twenties were gone. Replaced with pride in this little cosmos. I knew how to be a husband. I didn’t execute it perfectly. Plenty of flaws. But I knew what it was supposed to look like and could do my best to match it. The same for fatherhood. My body wasn’t the same after injuries, surgeries and poor maintenance. But I knew I could love my boy and my girl. They’d never question who or what I was or where they stood with me. I was determined that they would be happy, healthy, kind and confident because their mother and I were committed to that goal. At least I thought we were. 

The beauty of life is frequently spawned by some tragic ending. In our case the babies and the life that ensued took a toll on the woman I loved in a way that I didn’t know was possible. Even if I had known, I would never have known what to do. They say “hindsight is 20/20.” If so, I must have cataracts because I still can’t see it. More accurately, I still can’t understand it. And when I saw the dead body for the first time, it crippled me. I knew in that moment that everyone I ever knew, and billions more that were and are oblivious to my existence, would move on from the horror with little to no emotion and even less effort. That’s what we do. Aubrey Graham astutely surmised “I know the truth is you won’t love me until I’m gone. Even then the thing that comes after is movin’ on.”

I decided, then and there, to make a pact with my soul: I would not move on. I would not forget. I would not be better. I refused. It was non-negotiable.

In the meantime, life continued. I wasn’t sure what to do so I kept doing the only things I knew had to do: Take care of me and mine.

What I didn’t do was sleep regularly or consistently or take care of my mental and emotional health. Some of the friends that had meant so much, not only to me but to our family, suddenly were the source of contention. Albeit unintentionally. Regardless, I couldn’t shoulder the weight. I collapsed. Not physically, just on the inside. Nothing made sense. Nothing felt right. I loved her but it was like someone had wrecked my brand new car. Yeah it still runs, but I'm not sure it’s safe and it certainly isn’t pretty anymore. Pretty and safe aren’t necessary for some vehicles. But if I was a car, I’d be a track car. I was built for optimal conditions and a great team. I knew how to run that kinda race. But what happens when you take an Indy car off road? That’s what happened to me. I still haven’t made it back to the track. Sometimes I can see it. Other times everything is as dark and muddy as a West Virginia hollow in late November.

I’m not sure what to do, to be honest. At the moment I can’t sleep and I’m ALL THE WAY in my feelings. I find that writing helps to allay some of the weight that comes with this kind of “death.” I do know that I’ll be looking for “decay” everywhere I go for the rest of my life. In fact, I often find it when it’s not actually there. Being completely honest, I’d rather think there is trouble and be wrong than think life is abundant and robust only to open a door and find a bludgeoned corpse.

If it’s a choice between a pact or promise and a human life, always choose life. I chose death. Not intentionally or directly, but by choosing stagnation. It was as arrogant as it was detrimental. If you aren’t growing, you’re dying. The old adage “get busy living of get busy dying” applies directly to me. I never wanted to learn anything from any of this. I didn’t want to understand her. I didn’t want to understand our demise. It wouldn’t have mattered if I DID want to understand because I couldn’t. I still can’t. I probably never will. A good friend once told me “you don’t have to understand everything.” That premise is diametrically opposed to essentially everything I’ve ever believed. Everything is math. Everything can be reduced to basic logic. But not this. It’s either illogical or I don’t have the fortitude to come to terms with what the deduction will produce. That is to say, I don’t want to see the body but I gotta accept the death. Because death is reality. And the reality I existed in for over 30 years is dead. 

New life spawns even from the most unlikely sources. NRM says “life just finds a way.” Rarely does it not. I feel like my life is finding a way. I’m different than I was before. She is too. Better? I don’t know. Perspective is so interesting. I’ve mused that it is absolutely incredible how two people can live through the same experience, in the same space and time and have completely different thoughts, memories and feelings about the events. I don’t know if she’d tell you she’s better. My heart, and probably my ego, really hope she isn’t. As if her growth and or success has a direct correlation to my inadequacies. I think this is literally the first time that thought has ever occurred to me. I’ve let this define me. I’ve been letting it cause a second death. And though I’ll probably always tell you I’m not truly better as a human being than I was before the end of my former life, I know that there are things I’ve learned and improved that weren’t being learned or improved prior. The kids seem to be what they would have been, even if my soul is crushed every time I acknowledge that there is a part of their life that I will never be a part of again. I worried so much that they’d be broken. Yes, they are sad at times and I’m certain that there are times they are unsettled. But they will build an immune system that will aid them in survival that I never had to build. It’s time to put what pieces I have left, together. I made a vow. Two, really. One was broken for me, the other is left for me to break. Will I? I honestly don’t know. I still feel guilty imagining a new life in which I’m happy, healthy and successful. But then, I’ve never had a vivid imagination. Either way, I’ve got a long road and a lot of work. New life. More life.

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