Didn’t We Almost Have it All

D

Dear Walter,

I finally found the one. We dated for a couple of years until he died on me. I was beyond devastated. How do you bounce back when then you’re supposed to be with dies on you? 

-Deeply Devastated

Dear Deeply Devastated:

I’m sorry this happened to you. I too experienced a similar thing. My first boyfriend died when I was 22. And the ghost of that relationship haunted me until 30. 

At 17, I met the first man I ever loved. He walked around Union Station dressed in sweats. A place ubiquitous for cruising where gay guys would meet in hallways, stairwells, and bathrooms for casual encounters. 

A friend and I scanned the mall for men. We were too young for bars. So my friend Easy taught me how to get creative. He was Easy like his name suggested. 

Easy rushed by me to the first guy he saw. He towered over us at six feet tall. I stood back and watched. 

“No, I want him,” he said while pointing to me. 

My heart sank as I walked over. “My name is Tracy but you can call me Cal,” he said. “Ditch your friend and come with me.”

And I did. We walked from Union Station to where he lived. 

“Put your hood on. You kinda look like a girl. My brother is home and he doesn’t know about me.”

I pulled my dreads down to shield my face as I crept up the stairs to his bedroom. 

We had sex. 

It was my first time. I was too nervous to stop or say no. And I was relieved when it was over. I learned that I’m not a fan of dirty talk. I laughed as he grew frustrated. I spent the night in his arms. I felt so satisfied with a stranger. As a virgin susceptible to confusing sex for love. I fell in love at first sight. 

The next day, I went home to prepare for high school. I thought about him all day—all week. Over the next six months, we would meet at his place and repeat. 

Until one day, I tried calling him and another guy answered the phone. He spoke in a gay accent. 

“Where’s Cal?” I asked.

“He’s by the pool,” he said.

“Can you put him on the phone?” I asked.

“No, Walter, you need to stop calling my man,” he said. “I’ve heard all about you.”

Well, that made one of us. The tears poured from my face as I gazed in the mirror at the shell of the person I’ve become. I couldn’t believe he did this to me. And after I said I love you. I should have known when he didn’t say it back it was a red flag. Instead, he opted to say, “I care about you a lot.”

A couple of years later, he resurfaced. He called one day saying that he was in the hospital for a week. He was found unconscious on his apartment floor. He had kidney failure and was placed on dialysis. 

“I’m sorry I hurt you. I was in an on again off again thing with my ex,” he said. “We were together for five years, and it was hard to let go. But I’m done with that.”

He picked me up from Ralph Lauren, where I worked. He struggled walking up the grand staircase leading to the Ladies department. I stood perched on the top of the stairs like a prize.

I waited with a mixture of fear and fascination. My body froze when we hugged and a shiver entered my spine. He was a shade darker like he spent a month in the sun. He had a knack for Abercrombie and Fitch clothing, wave caps and designer sneakers. 

But $400 shoes couldn’t chase away his blues. Seeing him go through dialysis was heart-breaking. Two hours a day, three times a week, his arms were marked with boils and blisters.

He was a recovering drug addict. I never saw him get high. Once, I waited outside his bedroom while he “prepped.” He emerged with blood-shot red eyes and dilated pupils. He grabbed me by the shirt and pinned me against the wall. I’ve never seen him like that. My heart raced as I wrestled my way around him. 

Maybe I was dangerously in love? In too deep that I felt only he could love me. Love shouldn’t hurt but we don’t always get what we want. 

My relationship weighed me down like the iron chains that bonded my ancestors. Just when I tried to escape he lured me back in. 

“When I was in the hospital, I realized all those people from my past never cared about,” he said. “You were the only one and I treated you so foul.”

I waited two years to hear him say that. And it took nearly dying before having that epiphany. 

We had a fight that changed everything. He was upset that I didn’t take his condition seriously. I sat still like a statue frozen in time while he yelled at me.   

A few weeks later, I moved from Maryland to DC in a studio apartment on 16th street. I called him to tell him about it. His mother answered.

“This is Tracy’s mother, Who is this?” 

“I’m Walter, is he available?”

“I’m sorry, but Tracy passed away a couple of days ago,” she said. “And the funeral is next week.” 

I hung up the phone. I peered through the window at the blur of trees as I wiped my tear-stained cheeks. I never got to say goodbye and I was unhappy with the way we left things. I never went to the funeral and I never told anyone. It was my way of making it disappear.  But I will always love him and his spirit wraps around me like a cashmere shawl.  

This relationship set the precedent of a near-decade of failed ones. I wished I had the courage to go to the funeral. But it was too painful. Who knows what other secrets lied beneath. 

Rest in Peace Tracy. You were everything to me. 

After a decade of dating, I learned that it was paramount to acknowledge his passing to deal with the ghost of my past. To improve the relationship I have with myself I needed to forgive myself and others for past mistakes. 

Saying goodbye is tough, especially when your lover dies. To not acknowledge his death would be like he never lived. And we both deserved better than that.  

And you can do this too. No one will ever replace him but you can still move on. That’s what he would want. This relationship marked by tragedy, can be the set back that launches your come back. Hope is like a cashmere sweater you put on to get you through winter. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But if we open our hearts and minds the possibilities are endless.

And you’ll emerge come spring — reborn. 

Love, 

Walter

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