23 years ago. 23 years ago my life changed simply by grabbing someone’s arm in a line, waiting to get into a bar.
Since today is my sister and brother in law’s wedding anniversary, it’s a day that’s always on the calendar. But my heart and my soul bring me back to it each year for different reasons.
At 19 years old I could not imagine how this man would change my life. At almost 43, I am just so grateful for all of it. Life is a Festival of Disruptions (to borrow the words from David Lynch and his artist festival each year). Some take you higher you could have imagined. Some so fiercely knock the wind out of you that you wonder if you will ever breathe again.
When you are breathing again, you realize all of it is beautiful.
Here is something I first wrote a few years back, as a Facebook post, updated for today:
23 years ago today, I met my first husband, Greg, for the first time. The Cannery Restaurant, in my hometown. I was tipsy, having just come from my sister’s wedding and still in my bridesmaid’s dress which was also semi covered in groom’s cake (a giant chocolate mousse golf ball that I made). Greg was in a suit, and standing behind the wedding party and chatting a bit with some of the guys. When the bouncer told us we could jump the line, I grabbed Greg’s arm and pulled him in with us. When we were inside and ordering drinks at the bar I asked him if he had gone to college with my now brother-in-law. He said “I have to admit something. I am not part of your party. I don’t know any of you.” My response? “Well, you do now. Let’s dance.” And we did. To a cover of Don McLean’s American Pie.
After that, we were together. From Feb 1994 until his death in May 2002, there was not a day where we did not speak or email (once email became available!) or communicate in some way. Even when we were mad and even when we were both taking some time and space to figure things out. Despite our age difference, despite being in completely different places in our lives, despite the fact I still lived at home with my parents for part of it, despite his soon to be apparent drinking problem and mental health issues, we were together. We were in love. There was nothing easier and nothing harder than loving my Greg.
Not everyone understood it. Not everyone supported it. And I totally understand that. Some of it could only be explained by the two of us. We met plenty of obstacles and roadblocks and challenges along the way. But, at the end of every day what I wanted more than anything was for Greg to be healthy and happy. And, I believe if you asked Greg the same question he would say the same thing. For both of us.
The last 11 years of processing his death and his place in my life have been a journey I would never wish on anyone. But, it has been extremely profound for me. It has altered my thinking, my tolerance, my priorities. It has taken away a lot of my fear. People wonder why I still write about Greg; why he still holds this place in my life. My answer? I grew up with him. It was wonderful and messy and fantastic and painful. He was a part of me. When someone loses a limb to disease or accident or war, they often speak of the “phantom limb” – knowing the leg is gone but still feeling it there. I understand that fully.
When he died, he left me beautiful letters. A treasure trove of memories. A heart full of love and longing. Grief. Painful, life altering grief. And that, ironically, may have been his greatest gift. For as we know, grief is the price we pay for love. And I would never change loving Greg.
He also left me a Sonnet by Pablo Neruda. I read it at his memorial service in CO and had our dear friend, Ellen, read it at his service in CA. I continue to hold Greg dear, and I continue to write about him because his song is important. And because he taught me so much of what I know about love. I can love because of him. I can be a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, because of him.
Pablo Neruda, Sonnet LXXXIX
When I die I want your hands on my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me once more
I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny.
I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want your ears still to hear the wind, I want you
to sniff the sea’s aroma that we loved together,
to continue to walk on the sand we walk on.
I want what I love to continue to live,
and you whom I love and sang above everything else
to continue to flourish, full flowered:
so that you can reach everything my love directs to you,
so that my shadow can travel along in your hair,
so that everything can learn the reason for my song.